News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Tuesday 1st April 2014

Up to 15,000 customers had gas and electricity cut off in 2013 after non-payment pay bills

  

A leading charity warned far too many families are being left without light and heat

More than 15,000 customers had their gas and electricity cut off last year because they couldn’t afford to pay their bills.

 Misery: The reality of being cut off

While the number of homes being disconnected is down, a leading charity warned far too many families are being left without light and heat.

The Commission for Energy Regulation revealed 10,122 electricity customers and 5,895 gas customers were cut off in 2013.

But there was some good news as there was a sizeable fall in the number of disconnections for non-payment from the previous year.

The CER figures show there was a 31% reduction for electricity customers and around 16% for gas users.

Much of this fall is being put down to a rise in agreed settlements and greater use of pay-as-you-go meters.

But St Vincent de Paul said the number being cut off is still far too high. A spokesman added: “There are a very troubling number of households who must resort to payment plans.

“In Great Britain, for example, there were just 453 electricity disconnections in 2012 and in the same year SVP provided €11.1million in helping people in Ireland meet their energy costs.

“SVP has long stated to the minister that the crisis is about arrears, the inability to pay bills, as opposed to disconnections alone.”

The CER has confirmed the number of electricity customers accepting a meter jumped by 80% to 26,591 last year.

Across all companies in the gas sector another 18,519 customers were given a meter, up 45% on 2012.

The St Vincent de Paul spokesman called for wider use of PAYGO systems and for payment plans to be made less costly.

There are growing fears that the introduction of water charges later this year will make it even more difficult for those on benefits and low incomes to pay their utility bills.

The spokesman said in some cases families had to choose between heating their home or providing food.

He added: “We see it every day where people are having to make choices, often between eating and heating.”

It is not only domestic users who are finding it difficult to pay their bills as a recent report showed the price of electricity to industrial users has risen dramatically in recent years.

The National Competitiveness Council revealed yesterday that electricity costs in Ireland are among the highest in the EU.

Ireland and what we can learn from Silicon Valley

(The Small Business Show)

  

The Small Business Show examines how Ireland is embracing innovation that is the hallmark of Silicon Valley and how SMEs are at the forefront of this.

This is one of the most exciting times in Irish business, although it may not seem like it as many SMEs still raise questions over their futures. This week’s Small Business Show is centred on the question of whether Ireland can emulate Silicon Valley?

When you break down where Irish SMEs are now to where they were a number of years ago, it’s clear to see things have changed, not least in mentality and in innovation. That latter word of innovation has long been misdirected at the technology sector here in Ireland. Innovation is the trademark of technology — of that there is no doubt. But trademarks are representations of something; what defines them is not exclusive.

On last week’s show and in these columns, I spoke to Doireann Barrett from the Gluten Free Kitchen Company in Tralee, Co Kerry, a great example in food innovation.

Now, spiral out to sectors such as agriculture, professional services, retail, and even construction: Innovative ideas have come to the fore to help drive these industries forward and, as such, demand for them has not only increased in Ireland but across the world. Necessity really is the mother of invention.

Silicon Valley in California is the place to be for innovation and entrepreneurs. It’s where the capital investment is, where the movers and shakers are in world technology and thinking. Coupled with an ability to fuse together nations and races from around the world in the same place and you have an equation for top end success. This is what the ultimate innovation hub looks like.

However, we’re not capable of something like that in Ireland, are we? Actually, yes, we are. We see that we are already on the road to creating businesses that are innovative for their own reasons.

Venture capital, one of the biggest drivers of innovation, is becoming a standard sight here in Ireland. The likes of SOS Ventures and Atlantic Bridge are putting investment capital into Irish businesses and getting results to match.

For so long, we have stood and looked across the pond with envy, wondering what they have that we don’t. The reality is that we have it — we just need to nurture it. The venture capital is here, the thinkers are here, the entrepreneurs are here, and, what’s more, the hunger is here. Never before has Ireland seen so many entrepreneurs so enthused about its future.

There are many challenges ahead for the economy and small business. But with fresh thinking and new approaches, we are slowly creating the solutions to things that for so long have just been problems.

If Silicon Valley is the dream, then Ireland’s reality needs to be this road of new ideas. If you will it, it is no dream.

Irish country house prices rise by up to 3% for first time since 2007

  

A new report shows property prices outside Dublin went up in the first three months of the year.

According to Daft.ie, it is the first quarterly increase outside the capital since mid 2007. Today’s figures ending a run of 26 straight quarters of falling values outside Dublin.

Cork and Galway city centre properties rose 2% and 3%, respectively.

Meanwhile, prices in Dublin are 15% higher.

Daft says there are currently fewer than 2,300 properties listed for sale in Dublin, the lowest since June 2006.

Fewer than 800 Dublin houses are coming on the market each month on average, or 10,000 homes over per year.

Daft’s in-house economist Ronan Lyons said: “In a city of roughly half a million households, this translates to just 2% for sale – a healthy market would see at least three times this amount coming on to the market each year and perhaps as much as six times.”

He added: “The end of price falls around the country is unsurprising when taken together with the figures on supply.

“The total stock of properties sitting on the market fell from 54,000 in March 2012 to 43,000 in March 2013 and to 33,000 in March 2014.

“To put the last two years into perspective, between early 2008 and early 2012, that figure had been stuck persistently above 50,000.”

Update 9.30am: Meanwhile, MyHome is tracking a slight fall in prices outside Dublin, of .7%.

Both MyHome and Daft, as well as DNG, all confirm that prices in Dublin are continuing to rise, though by varying amounts.

Irish adverse weather symposium set for NUI Galway

  

A recently-published report by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) makes dire predictions about the adverse effects and impacts of climate change.

The Irish Met Society and NUI Galway have joined up to organise a Symposium on ongoing work in Ireland in researching and monitoring of our atmosphere.

The Symposium, which will take place in the Martin Ryan Annex Lecture Theatre in NUI Galway, includes presentations on atmospheric monitoring and research activities of national bodies such as the Environmental Protection Agency, Met Éireann and the Marine Institute.

It will be held on Saturday next, 5 April from 10.45am and will be followed on Sunday by a trip to the NUI Galway Atmospheric Research Station at Mace Head in Connemara. All details are available on the Irish Met Society website at http://www.irishmetsociety.org.

The Symposium should be especially relevant to bodies such as local authorities, farming and other organisations where the weather can have an impact on their work. The aim of the Symposium is to encourage more synergy between the various agencies that are active in atmospheric monitoring and to promote greater use of the data collected.

It will provide an opportunity for members of the public and individuals directly involved in Atmospheric Research and Monitoring to inform themselves on current activities in those areas.

A highlight of the day features Dinah Molloy, a researcher with the Scott Polar Research Institute in Cambridge. She uses the weather records kept by captains of whaling ships in the 1700s and 1800s to describe the climate at that time. This is of interest in the light of this week’s IPCC report, which refers to how recent weather events such as melting ice caps, more intense rains, more frequent storms and heat waves were brought about by climate change.

A presentation on the work of the European Centre for Medium Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF) in monitoring air pollutants and their effect on the weather brings an international flavour to the event. Other presentations highlight the work of scientists in NUI Galway at an international level, through their work at Mace Head since 1958.

This work is led by Professor Colin O’Dowd, a recent recipient of the Royal Irish Academy Gold Medal for outstanding contribution to the Environment and Geosciences. Aspects of their work will include research on the impact of aerosol particles on the sunlight reaching the earth.

Other organisations that will be describing their work are Met Éireann, the Radiological Protection Institute of Ireland, the Marine Institute and the Environmental Protection Agency. The monitoring of radiation levels in the atmosphere, in particular in an emergency situation, is the focus of one presentation.

Other presentations describe how data on the atmosphere are gathered at sea using buoys and on land through a network of observing stations. Improving the accuracy of air quality forecasting is addressed in a presentation by the Environmental Protection Agency.

These are the ten counties with the highest rates of bowel cancer

 

The Irish Cancer Society has highlighted these ‘hotspots’ (left map picture) as Bowel Cancer Awareness Month gets under-way.

The Irish Cancer Society has revealed the ten counties with the highest rates of bowel cancer in Ireland.

Today marks the start of Bowel Cancer Awareness Month, during which the charity is hoping to advise people on what lifestyle changes to make to reduce the risk of bowel cancer.

These include more exercise and a healthier diet, both factors that can reduce the risk by between 30 and 40 per cent.

Research has estimated that between 30 to 60 minutes of exercise can offer the “best protection” against bowel cancer.

Bowel Screen is also advising those aged between 60 and 90 to be screened for the cancer.

Figures from the National Cancer Registery show that Cork has the highest rate at 57.90 cases per 100,000 people.

These are based on studies between 1994 and 2011.

A number of the counties with the highest rates are centred around the north-west of the country.

“The high levels of bowel cancer incidence in certain parts of the country could be due to lifestyle or genetic factors,” a statement from the Irish Cancer Society read.

Here’s the full list:

•          Cork – 57.90

•          Leitrim – 56.39

•          Louth – 54.97

•          Dublin North – 54.49

•          Westmeath – 54.23

•          Dublin South – 53.87

•          Cavan – 53.44

•          Mayo – 52.98

•          Waterford – 52.29

•          Sligo – 52.28

Norfolk Storks could be first to breed in the wild in Britain for some 600 years

 

A pair of storks which have built a nest on top of an 18th century chimney in Norfolk could become the first to breed in the wild in the UK since 1416

The storks have built their nest on an 18th century chimney at Thrigby Hall Wildlife Gardens

In Britain they are usually confined to the walls of nurseries carrying baby bundles in their beaks.

But now a pair of white storks is set to make history by producing their own offspring in this country for the first time in nearly 600 years.

The female bird is expected to lay her eggs in the next few days after building an impressive nest of twigs on top of a 35ft high disused chimney.

If the eggs hatch they will be the first storks known to have successfully bred in the wild in Britain since 1416, the year after Henry V celebrated victory at the Battle of Agincourt, when a pair nested on top of St Giles Cathedral in Edinburgh.

The four-year-old birds have built their traditional elevated nest on an 18th century chimney at Thrigby Hall Wildlife Gardens near Great Yarmouth, Norfolk.

They were also spotted “copulating furiously” a few days ago, according to hopeful staff at Thrigby Hall.

Other storks which have had their wings pinioned to stop them flying away have been successfully bred in zoos in recent years.

But the pair at Thrigby Hall are semi-wild as they are able to fly and can come and go as they please.

White storks, which are a traditional symbol of childbirth, breed mainly in continental Europe in summer months before migrating south to Africa in the winter.

They often nest close to human settlements but rarely visit the UK with only about 20 spotted each year.

They often nest on top of manmade objects like chimneys, rooftops and telegraph poles.

Ken Sims, 72, director of Thrigby Hall Wildlife Gardens, said the birds on his chimney had been bred in captivity in Cumbria and the Cotswolds.

He said: “They are resident at the wildlife gardens, but they can fly and they are allowed their semi-liberty.

“They go off into the countryside and the Norfolk Broads to feed and they come back here.

“We gave the storks a helping hand, by building a structure for their nest on the hall’s front chimney, but they turned their back on our handiwork and have built their own nest on one of the rear stacks.

“They have been seen mating several times and are very busy adding twigs to their nest so we’ll be keeping a close eye on them over the next month or so to see if they begin feeding activities, which will mean that chicks have arrived.

“We attempted to encourage stork breeding in 2008, but sadly the hen disappeared and the male stork flew into a powerline and died.

“We are hoping to have more success this time. It will be a day for great celebration if our storks manage to breed successfully in their traditional way.”

A previous attempt by a pair of storks to nest on an electricity pole at Horbury Bridge in the Calder Valley, West Yorkshire, ended in failure in 2004.

Mr Sims said it had been his policy in recent years to not pinion birds at his wildlife park to allow them greater freedom.

He added: “The building of a nest together is part of their courtship display and an indication that eggs are on their way.

“They were seen copulating furiously around five days ago and we think they were doing it a couple of days either side as well.

“We are pretty confident that we will get some young storks. It could be that eggs have been laid already, but we can’t see as the chimney is so high.”

White storks facts:

  • White storks are tall and slender birds with a distinctive long neck, bright red bill, long legs and black wing feathers.
  • They grow up to 125cm (50ins) tall with a wing span of about 155 to 200cm (61 to 79ins) and feed on worms, amphibians like frogs, reptiles, insects and small mammals including voles.
  • They usually breed in the warmer parts of continental Europe and spend most winters in Africa before returning north in the spring.
  • Some occasionally visit the UK in spring, but only around 20 are spotted on British shores every year.
  • Once they have built their nest the same pair will often return to the same site every year to breed.
  • The nests can weigh between 60 and 250kg (130 to 551lb) and sometimes cause chimneys to collapse.
  • Storks have long been associated with fertility and fidelity and the myth the birds delivering babies down the chimney is known worldwide.
  • The story was popularised by a 19th century Hans Christian Anderson story called The Storks.
  • Adult storks continue to care for their young even after they have fledged which led to a belief the young birds were taking care of their parents.

This is thought to explain why an ancient Greek law about taking care of your parents was called the Pelargonia, from pelargos, a stork.

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