News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Wednesday 10th April 2014

Irish Permanent TSB bank increases court actions against their defaulters


Chief executive says bank has exceeded Central Bank target for offering solutions

Permanent TSB chief executive Jeremy Masding said there had not been any write-downs of debt yet.

Iris permanent TSB has significantly increased the number of mortgage holders in default whom it is bringing to court, the bank has told an Oireachtas committee.

Having focused on more manageable cases in the earlier stage of the crisis, it is now focusing more on arrears cases where there are greater difficulty.

The bank has offered “long term treatment arrangements” to 61 per cent of its customers who have mortgage arrears of more than 90 days, chief executive Jeremy Masding told the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform.

He said the bank has exceeded the Central Bank’s target of 50 per cent by the end of December 2013.

The committee also heard that the bank has significantly increased the amount of legal action it is taking against customers in arrears.

Permanent TSB had 22,109 private home mortgages in arrears of more than 90 days at the end of last year, and 3,815 buy to let mortgages in similar arrears.

Mr Masding told Michael McGrath of Fianna Fail that up to 20 per cent of customers in arrears are not involved in “meaningful engagement” with the bank in relation to the their mortgages.

The shift towards a greater focus on such customers has meant an increase in cases where the bank is taking legal action and it expects the number of repossessions this year to be “in the hundreds,” Shane O’Sullivan, managing director asset management and non-core units, told Pearse Doherty of Sinn Fein. This compares with 60 repossessions last year.

The eventual figure is likely to be between 2,000 to 4,000 repossessions, he told independent deputy Stephen Donnelly. These would constitute a mix of private home mortgages and buy to lets, with the latter being the majority.

While there were 1,095 legal proceedings initiated in the final quarter of last year, for private home mortgages in arrears, this number increased to 2,609 in the first quarter this year.

Mr Masding said two thirds of the bank’s mortgages are tracker mortgages and that this was costing the bank up to €100 million per year in cost of funds.

Mr Masding said the bank had issued mortgages totalling €105 million in the first quarter of this year, compared to with €14 million in the same quarter last year. “So that’s almost an eight-fold increase in just 12 months.”

The committee was told that the bank is not pursuing people whose homes have been sold leaving a shortfall in the repayment of the mortgage, if there is no economic reason for doing so.

However Mr Masding agreed there had not been any write-downs of debt yet and so the debt was “left hanging” over the persons concerned.

He said the bank was involved in a pilot programme involving assisted voluntary sales and was learning as it went forward, he said.

While 90 per cent was the highest loan to value ratio being offered, the norm was 70 per cent to 80 per cent. The mortgage period was down to 25 years.

The committee heard the bank’s debt to the European Central Bank had been reduced to €6.5 billion as of the end of last week, compared with almost €11 billion in 2012.

Mr Masding said the past year had been transformative for the Permanent TSB group and that the bank had made very significant progress on re-entering the retail market, particularly in mortgages and current accounts.

Food Safety Authority Ireland launch new online calorie calculator


New tool designed to help food businesses tally calorie count of menu’s

Pictured at the launch of the Food Safety Authority of Ireland free online MenuCal calorie calculator were Minister for HealthJames Reilly with Dr Mary Flynn, Chief Specialist: Public Health Nutrition, FSAI and Noel Marrey a chef at the Bracken Court Hotel.

The Food Safety Authority has developed a new online calorie calculator to enable food businesses to calculate the calorie content of the meals they serve.

The tool, which was launched this morning by Minister for Health James Reilly, was developed in response to complaints from the food sector about the cost involved in providing calorie information for customers.

The authority says Menu-Cal is the first of its kind in Europe and has already attracted interest from other countries seeking to adopt the system. The provision of calorie information on menus, first mooted by the Minister almost two years ago, is intended to help the fight against obesity by encouraging consumers to opt for lower calories options.

“Displaying calories on menus in food service business empowers consumers to make better choices and creates a demand for healthier food in small portions from food businesses,” said Dr Mary Flynn of the FSAI. Consumers overwhelmingly supported the measure and a majority of food businesses were also in favour, she said.

Menu-Cal was a “game-changer” in the fight against rising obesity, she said.

However, the Restaurant Association of Ireland claimed forcing its members to display calorie counts on their menus would cost the industry €110 million, or €5,000 each per year. It arrived at this figure by estimating that each chef would have to spend 20 hours per month calculating calorie counts for a 40-item menu.

“How does the Department of Health suggest that we pay for this without having to pass on that cost to employees, reduce their hours or cut staff? It’s not easy for a business to cough up €5,000 in the morning. The banks aren’t lending us any money,” said RAI chief executive Adrian Cummins.

He claimed the data provided by the Menu-Cal calculator may be in breach of the Consumer Protection Act, adding that the experience of introducing calorie counts in the US had been “disastrous” because most customers paid no attention to them.

Dr Reilly told reporters he had no plans to make calorie information mandatory in restaurants, saying he preferred the carrot of a voluntary scheme to the stick of legislation. However, he refused to rule out the possibility of legislation in the future.

“This is not about the nanny state. It’s about informing consumers so they can make informed decisions.”

Four year campaign leads to success for Donegal diabetes group


A dedicated paediatric diabetes clinical nurse specialist is to be put in place at Letterkenny General Hospital in the coming weeks, following a four-year campaign by the parents of children with type 1 diabetes in Donegal.

Yesterday, parents and their children presented a petition containing almost 20,000 signatures to the Minister for Health, Dr James Reilly. A group of parents from the Donegal Diabetes Parents Support Group, along with the CEO and chairperson of charity Diabetes Ireland, later met with the Minister to discuss this serious issue.

Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune condition, not related to weight or a sedentary lifestyle. It is not preventable or reversible and is most commonly diagnosed in childhood. Around 19,000 people in Ireland are affected.

Recent figures revealed that there are 105 children under 16 with diabetes from Donegal who are attending Letterkenny General Hospital, seven of whom have been diagnosed since January 1. Meanwhile, a further 40 teenagers aged 16-18 are attending the diabetes transition clinic at the hospital.

Last month, parents held a protest outside Letterkenny General over the state of diabetes services available to their children.

According to recommendations made by the HSE’s Diabetes Expert Advisory Group, there should be one paediatric diabetes clinical nurse specialist for every 100 children and/or teenagers with diabetes. However, despite Donegal meeting this criteria, no such post is in place.

In fact, the diabetes paediatric nurse in Letterkenny General has been moved to a shared post with adult diabetes services. This, the parents insisted, deprives their children of a quality service.

Parents have also highlighted the fact that there is no funding to develop paediatric diabetes services in the HSE’s 2014 service plan for the north west. Furthermore, the nearest paediatric diabetes centre of excellence is in Dublin and the post of consultant paediatrician with a special interest in diabetes in Letterkenny Hospital remains vacant.

Concerned parents last met with the Minister when he visited Letterkenny General in April 2013. At that time, he told them they were ‘reasonable people with a reasonable request’.

Last night, the parents, along with Diabetes Ireland CEO, Kieran O’Leary, and Diabetes Ireland chairperson, Prof Hilary Hoey, met with the Minister, as well as Department of Health and HSE officials.

“The purpose of this meeting was to discuss the demands of the parents for a dedicated paediatric diabetes clinical nurse specialist in Letterkenny General Hospital and we are delighted to announce that Dr James Reilly and Mr Bill Maher, CEO of the North West Hospital Group, announced that this position has been sanctioned and will be filled in the coming weeks,” Diabetes Ireland said.

Those attending also discussed the possibility of locating a regional specialist centre for paediatric diabetes care in the north west. Currently, all five of the country’s centres of excellence are located ‘south of the Dublin-Limerick line’.

“Parents feel their children are entitled to fair and equal treatment regardless of their geographical location, and demand the gold standard of care available in other parts of the country. This issue received a favourable response and extensive debate and further meetings will take place in the coming weeks to explore how to further develop paediatric diabetes services in the North West,” the charity said.

Speaking after the meeting, Denise, Gillespie, spokesperson of the Donegal Diabetes Parents Support Group, said that the parents were ‘absolutely delighted’ with the announcement about a paediatric clinical nurse specialist, and they ‘look forward to further discussions’ on the development of paediatric diabetes services in the region.

Retailers group says Irish coastline is an open door for smugglers after Donegal seizure


Retailers of Ireland are calling on the government to step up their fight against smugglers.

Irish retailers want the Government to invest more resources in protecting Ireland against smugglers.

Retailers Against Smuggling made the call after a consignment of black cigarettes were seized in Killybegs, Co Donegal yesterday.

The ship, which arrived from St Petersburg, had 6,200 cigarettes with a retail value of approximately €2,860 on board.

Revenue seized the craft and illegal cigarettes and questioned a Russian crew member.

Benny Gilsenan, spokesman for RAS said smugglers are increasingly targeting smaller Irish ports and harbours to offload their consignments.

The Irish coastline provides an open door for smugglers. It’s hard to believe that a ship would travel all the way from a Russian port to Donegal, but this is exactly what happened.

“While we commend Revenue for their vigilance and dedication in making this latest seizure, we are calling on the Government to make more resources available to catch these criminals.”

Revenue seized more than 40 million black market cigarettes last year.

Retailers Against Smuggling represents almost 3,000 independent retailers across Ireland.

They want more portable scanners to protect the coastline.

Gilsenan also called on the public to contact the Revenue about suspicious activity in confidence on the free phone number 1800 295 295.

Brenda Power defends a controversial travelers article


Irish Journalist Brenda Power (above left with a friend) has defended an article she wrote critical of the Irish traveller’s lifestyle.

The Equality Authority and travellers group Pavee Point have both called for the article to be withdrawn.

However journalist Brenda Power this afternoon defended the article on Joe Duffy’s Liveline, condemning the Equality Authority for attempting to ‘shut down debate’.

“This is par for the course for the Equality authority and the Irish Council for Civil Liberties to basically close down any criticism or debate on the lifestyle of travellers specifically with regards to the feuding that goes on.

“The crime here appears to be commenting on this kind of savagery but not actually conducting it.

She claimed that the attack on boxer John Joe Nevin would have attracted a greater level of outrage if it had been conducted by a member of the settled community.

“They said I was inciting risk? If anyone is inciting risk it’s them. They’ve singled me out for targeting by a group of people not known for settling their disagreements with debate, they settle them with machetes.”

However Martin Collins of  Pavee Point defended the group’s criticism of the column.

“The article is full of generalisations, assumptions and stereotypes. She is unleashing her own stereotypes.

“Let’s not confuse free speech with hate speech, as this article constitutes hate speech. It infers all travellers are inherently violent, lazy and drunk.

“It’s populist, sensationalist, dangerous and irresponsible,” he claimed.

M/s Power then questioned Mr Collins on why the group hadn’t issued a statement condemning the attack on John Joe Nevin.

Mr Collins responded that the group didn’t have time to issue statements on every issue involving a member of the travelling community.

However M/s Power interjected the reason they didn’t do it was because “these feuds and savagery are so common you’d have no time for anything else”

“I think its indefensible that that lifestyle continues to be perpetuated and defended by you in this day and age. Encourage people to settle and take jobs to send their children to school”, M/s Power said.

Mr. Collins said the aim of Pavee Point was to improve living conditions for travellers: “Brenda, we want all those things. Let’s be clear Pavee Point have made it clear we want employment, we want education. Pavee point is working very hard to try and achieve those things.”

Mr. Collins then claimed that the article M/s Power wrote undermined the group’s work.

“I undermined your work? You don’t think someone setting upon an Olympic medallist with a stick with four inch nails in it undermines your work?” she asked.

“You have got to reassure the settled community that this kind of  behaviour is unacceptable in the travelling community. I think you should find the time to issue to odd statement condemning traveller’s behaviour.”

Mr. Collins also disputed M/s Power’s claim that the group was trying to shut down debate.

“Everyone has an opinion and everyone should contribute to a debate on issues between travellers and the settled community, we’re all for that”, he said.

However M/s Power disagreed: “You’re not. Once it’s what you want to hear you’re all for it. Once it’s the Irish Times line you’re all for it.”

She claimed that any time the group disagreed with something they went to the Equality authority.

Mr. Collins told host Joe Duffy that the group would be making a complaint to the Press Ombudsman about the article.

Two volcanic islands merge in the Pacific Ocean


A volcanic island in the Pacific Ocean has merged with its neighbour to form one landmass, NASA scientists say. 

The merged island is a result of eruptions on the seafloor that have spewed enough material to rise above the water line.

In November 2013, a seafloor volcano in the western Pacific Ocean spewed enough material to rise above the water line.

The new island, or “niijima” in Japanese, sprouted just 500 meters from Nishino-shima, another volcanic island that had last erupted and expanded in 1973-74, NASA said.

Four months later, the new and the old are now one island, and the volcanic eruption shows no sign of abating.

On March 30, this year, the Operational Land Imager on the Landsat 8 satellite captured an image of Nishino-shima, depicting the extent of the new island.

The niijima portion of the island is now larger than the original Nishino-shima, and the merged island is slightly more than 1,000 meters across.

Two cones have formed around the main vents and stand more than 60 meters above sea level, triple the highest point of the island in December.

Volcanic lava flows are reported to be most active now on the south end of the island.

“This is a great example of how volcanic islands like this in the Bonin Islands grow over hundreds to thousands of eruptions,” volcanologist and blogger Erik Klemetti said.


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