Daily Archives: May 4, 2014

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Sunday 4th May 2014

Higher overall Irish water fees as a €50 charge is ruled out

 

New ‘hardship measures’ agreed for some welfare claimants and pensioners

The Coalition is close to a deal to cut water charges for some welfare claimants, but many householders who do not benefit from new “hardship” measures will have to pay higher fees.

Although Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore have yet to sign off on the revised plan, negotiators from Fine Gael and Labour have settled their differences over some of the most divisive elements of the initiative. They are understood to have reached agreement in principle to eliminate a €50 standing charge, which was to be imposed regardless of usage and other allowances.

Labour, in particular, had major reservations about the standing charge, which would erode the benefit of allowances for households with children, and this had complicated the discussions. Agreement in principle on special provisions for pensioners living alone has also been reached.

Under the draft deal, such pensioners would pay between €40 and €48 a year in quarterly instalments of €10-€12. A senior Labour source said this meant certain pensioners would now pay “little or nothing” for water.

a Annual fee

At the same time, the source acknowledged that the average annual fee for householders bearing the full brunt of the new water regime will rise.

This is because the Government is still committed to raising €500 million a year from the water charge, which is one of the final outstanding elements of Ireland’s bailout deal with the troika to be implemented. The average annual fee was pitched at €240 at the outset of the latest negotiation, which followed a bitter Cabinet row between Fine Gael and Labour Ministers in the run-up to Easter. However, the extent to which the €240 will rise as a result of the new “hardship remediation package” is still unclear.

The ultimate scope of this package and the range of beneficiaries remains to be finalised, it is understood. The draft plan on the table is under discussion between political advisers and civil servants but not yet between Taoiseach and Tánaiste, it is understood. Still, negotiators are working on the basis that settled welfare entitlements – for example, for specific medical conditions – would determine whether householders have the right to benefit from the water hardship package.

Having failed to strike a definitive accord this week, the negotiators are now working to ensure all aspects of the agreement can be endorsed by the Cabinet when it meets next Tuesday. While Mr Kenny pledged many weeks ago that voters would know what fees would be charged before local and European elections on May 23rd, a Fine Gael push for an pre-Easter deal fell foul of Labour claims that the larger Coalition party was trying to railroad the deal through.

Two days ago, however, Mr Gilmore said he recognised that the lack of clarity over the water fees was making life difficult for Labour candidates. The campaign started badly this week for Labour with a call for Mr Gilmore’s resignation by substitute MEP Phil Prendergast.

Soundings from Fine Gael sources point to a willingness to provide a measure of relief to Labour over the new water charge.

Sligo County gets 10% (€908,000) of fund’s for 6 unfinished housing estates

 

Sligo has been allocated the largest share from a new fund for unfinished housing estates.

The county will receive almost €1m – close to one tenth of the total €10m Special Resolution Fund, which will tackle issues in 86 unfinished housing estates across the country.

Sligo is set to receive €908,877 to complete six estates, whilst Donegal has been approved for €851,101 to complete eight estates and Longford has been allocated €844,072 for four estates.

Wicklow secured the least amount of funding, and was granted just €43,000 for works on one development. A further €12m is also to be invested from third parties, including developers, lenders and bond-holders.

The biggest recipients of private funds for the completion of estates were counties Galway, Meath and Sligo, which between them, will account for close to €5m of the €12m.

Unfinished estates

Minister for Housing Jan O’Sullivan announced the funding while visiting the Fionn Uisce development in Galway city. It will receive €250,000 for completion works under the fund. She said there had been substantial progress in tackling unfinished estates, with the numbers of such developments dropping by 50% since 2010.

“We estimate that there are more than 2,100 families living on the 86 estates earmarked for funding,” she said. “They have had to endure many years of frustration and I am glad that this will now be at an end.”

Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore also praised the new fund. “One of the things we set out to do was complete the unfinished housing estates and get them back into operation,” he said. “We’ve about 56% of the unfinished estates completed.

“Even better news is that 72% of all of the housing units in unfinished housing estates are now completed and are now being lived in.”

Some answers to key questions on Irish rural broadband

 

So the Government says it’s going to fork out up to €512m to roll out state subsidised fibre broadband to remote rural areas. Lots of questions remain. Here is what we know, together with some of the key questions about such a service.

The “core” lines will be fibre broadband

The government swears that this is not an exercise in providing some unspecified “high speed” broadband. It is “fibre”. That means relatively high-end broadband speeds.

Every village “will get” fibre

This is important. A government spokesman has clarified to me that each of the 1,000-plus rural villages named in the Department of Communications’ will see the fibre physically arrive into the village and not some nearby hill. That means 15-strong Blacksod in County Mayo, Spanish Point in County Clare and other such far-flung places.

Rural homes and businesses may still need phone lines or roof antennae to connect to the service

Here’s a minor catch: if the fibre is simply “arriving” in each village, it won’t reach most rural-dwellers. That’s because many live in the wider townland area, often several kilometres away from a village.

A key question, then, is where the fibre goes once it reaches the village. Does it stop at a single point? Does it carry on into each business or home? (It won’t.) Or does it simply attach to an Eircom phone line cabinet?

No details as to this ‘last mile’ delivery are yet forthcoming. But it’s hard to see beyond phone lines, wireless providers or even mobile 4G signals being used to connect homes and businesses to the rural fibre. “Details of appropriate access points are to be identified as part of the process,” said a spokesman for the Dept of Communications. “These could include buildings, cabinets or base stations,” he said. “The Department will engage intensively with industry to ensure the optimum routing of the fibre for the purposes of next generation access.”

This will have a massive impact on the actual speeds the service delivers. If, for example, it becomes a fixed wireless service (connecting to the fibre pipe), it could be limited to 10Mbs. That’s still far better than many rural areas experience now. But it’s also still miles behind 150Mbs available in urban areas.

The Government has backed away from promising minimum speeds. 

The last time the Government proffered its “National Broadband Plan”, it specified a minimum speed of 30 megabits per second (Mbs) to every rural home in the country.

This was never achievable on any kind of manageable budget and the government had to conceded that it wasn’t deliverable.

Now the government has declined to nominate any specific minimum speed.

On one level, this is sensible recognition of reality. On another, it’s disappointing: the EU has based much of its continent-wide digital targets on minimum speeds being attainable.

Big questions remain over the mapping

The government insists that all listed villages will get fibre. And it has costed the venture at between €355m and €512m. But it will not say how its assessors – Prisa Consulting and New Era – came to that figure, or how many km of fibre are involved.

This information, it says, is “commercially sensitive” ahead of a tender process. But it’s a pretty crucial bit of the jigsaw and one that goes directly to the credibility of the proposed project.

It could be three to five years before it’s fully rolled out

The timeframe here involves the government spending much of the rest of the year consulting existing broadband companies such as Eircom and UPC and then getting approval from the European Commission for its state intervention.

After that, it’s a question of drawing up public tenders. And only then – perhaps in late 2015 – will the actual fibre networks begin to roll out.

Coastguard cliff rescue ends terror for Staffordshire terrier (Bella)

  

Emma Jervis with volunteer rescuer Kieran O’Connor after she was reunited with her Staffordshire Terrier, Bella. The dog fell 150ft into a ravine at Rabbit’s Cove in Glandore and was rescued by coastguard teams.

A dramatic May Day cliff rescue ended in elation as heroic coastguard volunteers returned to its owners a dog that fell 45m.

Bella, a Staffordshire Terrier adopted from a rescue shelter, plummeted to rocks at the bottom of a steep, inaccessible ravine at Rabbit’s Cove in Glandore.

The dog’s howls were heard by its owners as they searched for her on the West Cork cliff top.

Incredibly, the two-year-old Staffie suffered only a broken leg after the fall onto rocks.

She was reunited with her overjoyed owners by rescue crews as darkness fell on Thursday night.

Coastguard volunteers from the Toe Head-Glandore Unit swung into action following a frantic call for help from Bella’s owner, local photographer Emma Jervis. “We got help from a local boat at Union Hall to try and access the cove at sea level but the swell was too high. We couldn’t even see her,” she said.

Emma and her partner Clo Reddin’s hopes for their pet’s survival were dashed as they returned to the cliff in tears.

The pair could barely believe it when they heard Bella’s anguished cries still emanating from the rocky depths below.

“We couldn’t believe she was still alive,” said Emma. “But the situation was heartbreaking as there was no way we could get her out of there.”

Coastguard cliff and water rescue teams were tasked at 7.15pm. The deputy officer in charge of Toe Head Glandore Coastguard, John O’Mahony, said: “The reason we go in in a situation like this is that, if we don’t go, the owner or another civilian might put their life at risk.”

The coastguard D-class inshore rescue boat was launched from Union Hall. The crew managed to navigate the inlet’s rocky mouth to the shoreline where they scaled slippery rocks to reach the distraught dog.

Armed with treats, they gathered the whimpering Bella and carried her back to the boat. Minutes later, the dog and her owners were reunited at Glandore Harbour.

“She wagged her tail and she was so happy to see us, it was such a huge relief, they were minding her so well,” Emma said.

“Thanks especially to the coastguard for rescuing her, they were amazing.”

Statins (cholesterol reducing tablets) could increase your daily fat intake

   

The Indian Express reported a study which revealed that individuals taking statins (cholesterol-lowering drugs) tend to gradually raise their consumption of fat and calories.

It’s a 12-year study on statin use involving 27,886 men and women participating in a 24-hour dietary recall interview for cholesterol levels and body mass index. It was found that statin use increased from 7.5% in 1999 to 16.5% in 2010 in the group of participants. The cholesterol levels reduced in statin users but their daily calorie intake raised by 9%, and fat consumption increased by 14.4%.

Non-users did not show any significant changes in either measure. Body mass index raised in statin users by 1.3 compared with an increase of 0.4 in the non-user group. The effect was seen despite control over factors like age, race, education and conditions like of diabetes and high cholesterol. (Read: Is it necessary to take statins for preventing heart diseases?)

How do statins work? How they prevent heart disease?

‘Cholesterol is a type of fat made by our body. It’s essential for good health and is found in every cell in the body. However, if you have too much ‘bad’ cholesterol (low-density lipoprotein or LDL) in your blood, it can cause fatty deposits to build up on the walls of your arteries. This is known as atherosclerosis – a condition that narrows your arteries.

Statins work by reducing the amount of LDL cholesterol your body makes. They do this by blocking an enzyme in your liver needed to produce cholesterol. This slows down the production of cholesterol by your liver. By reducing cholesterol, statins can help to reduce your risk of having a heart attack, stroke or developing peripheral arterial disease.

There is some evidence to suggest that statins may also work in a number of other ways to help reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease.

One promising benefit of statins appears to be their anti-inflammatory properties, which help stabilise the lining of blood vessels. This has potentially far-reaching effects, from the brain and heart to blood vessels and organs throughout the body.

What precautions should a person take while on statins?

‘Too much of a good thing can be bad, but too little of a bad thing can be even worse. So, first of all, patients on statins should have regular blood tests to monitor their lipid levels,’ says Dr Bela Sharma, senior consultant, internal medicine, FMRI.

Other important things to remember:

•  Adherence to prescribed medication dosage is extremely essential. 

•  Avoiding drug interactions, mainly with drugs (erythromycin, simvastatin, cyclosporine) that block liver enzymes.

•  In case you experience any adverse side-effect, consult your doctor immediately.

706 people continue to fight for four one-way tickets to Mars planet

 

706 people continue to fight for four places in the Mars colonization program Mars One, a participant of the project, resident of Los Angeles, Sue Ann Pien said on Friday.

More than 202 thousand people filed applications for participation in the first stage of the selection program, which ended in September, 2013.

The first six groups of Martian colonists – consisting of four people each – should be formed in 2015; after that, they will begin their seven-year preparation for the mission.

It is supposed that at first, several robots will be sent to Mars and from 2016 to 2020, they will construct residential and service modules.

The launch of the spacecraft with colonists on board is planned for 2022, and their arrival on Mars – for 2023.

The one-way flight will take about seven months. The first group will consist of two men and two women. After that, every second year, other colonists will be sent to Mars.

According to General Director of Mars One, Bas Lansdorp, English will be the official language on Mars.

The Mars One project was launched in 2011; the idea belongs to the homonymous Dutch company.

The goal of the project is to conduct a manned mission to Mars followed by foundation of a colony and to broadcast all events on television.

Mars One expects to receive a part of funds necessary for the project from sponsors and another part – from the income from the interactive reality show featuring all the aspects of the planned mission, starting from the selection of colonists to the flight to Mars.

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News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Saturday 3rd May 2014

Sinn Fein leader Adams may be charged in connection with 1972 murder of Jean McConville

  

Gerry Adams, the leader of Sinn Fein, will learn later today whether he will be charged or released in connection with the abduction and murder of Jean McConville, a mother of 10, from her Belfast home in 1972. Mr Adams, 65, denies he was involved in the widow’s abduction and murder.

As detectives continued to question Mr Adams, Sinn Fein’s deputy leader, Martin McGuinness, claimed the arrest was politically motivated. Speaking in Belfast yesterday, he said that an “embittered rump of the old RUC” force were “cynically exploiting the awful killing” of Mrs McConville – accused by the IRA of collaborating with the British authorities in the early 1970s.

Mr Adams is alleged by former republican colleagues to have ordered Mrs McConville’s murder and secret burial in 1972. The IRA later admitted killing her and her body was found on a beach in County Louth in 2003.

Alex Maskey, a Sinn Fein Assembly member, said yesterday the party would not stop supporting the Northern Irish Police Service, but would “monitor and review” its relationship with the force.

Northern Ireland’s Justice minister, David Ford, called Mr Adams’s arrest “entirely appropriate”. “Given the scale of the concerns expressed, of the information – which I accept is not yet evidence – it was entirely appropriate that should be followed up.”

Thousands protest in Dublin against Ireland’s abortion law

 

Pro-Life Campaign aims to ‘dismantle’ legislation introduced by Government last year

About 4,500 people rallied in Dublin today at a Pro-Life Vigil, which organisers said would be “the first step in a campaign dismantle the abortion law”.

While gardaí on the scene put the crowd at what the organisers described as a ‘National Vigil For Life’ at about 3,000, the organisers said there were 15,000. The crowd filled about a third of one side of Merrion Square.

Organised by the Pro-Life Campaign, the rally heard recommendations that people should not vote for candidates from parties who had “broken their pro-life promise”.

There was also strong criticism of the media which, speakers said, had helped push the Protection of Life in Pregnancy Act through last summer without critically analysing it.

Cora Sherlock, deputy chairwoman of the Pro-Life Campaign, said the passage of the legislation last July was a “shocking example of the tragic breakdown in Irish politics”. There had been no honest debate about the legislation, she said.

“The politicians and the abortion lobby said there was a real need for abortion legislation to save women’s lives. We know there was never any need for this legislation. Essential life-saving medical treatment is there that was always legally available.

“The media failed abysmally to ensure the content of abortion law and the Government’s claims about it were critically examined. The media were pushing the law instead of critically examining it,” she said.

“Most seriously the tragic death of Savita Halappanavarwas misused by major players in politics and the media.”

She said they were more concerned with getting abortion legislation passed than accurate reporting.

Such journalists, she said, were more concerned with setting the agenda than reporting on it.

“There is something rotten at the heart of Irish public debate.” She said this was as a result of “corruption” and the pro-life movement could not “sit back and tolerate this any longer”.

It was important the pro-life electorate be “mindful” of the parties that had let the movement down when casting their votes, she said.

Caroline Simons, legal advisor to the Pro-Life Campaign, said after last year’s “setback”, they had no idea how many people would turnout today.

“We realise it’s going to be a difficult road back but we are massively encouraged that so many people are ready to get on board at this stage to help turn things around.

“Senior members of Fine Gael assured their backbench TDs that once the abortion bill passed through the Dáil they would have nothing to worry about because the pro-life movement would be crushed and beaten. How wrong they were.

“Your presence here today is proof that we are wasting no time in starting to rebuild. It’s going to take time, but when the public comes to realise the full horror of what the new legislation involves support for the repeal of the law will gather pace.”

Lynn Coles of the Women Hurt told the vigil that in recent weeks she had counselled a woman who had been considering an abortion. She decided to proceed with it.

“She took her own life on Tuesday. Abortion took not only her baby’s life but her own. She leaves behind a husband and grieving extended Irish family on both sides of the Irish Sea. The media will not cover her story. This is the reality of abortion.”

Over 160 new allegations of clerical sex abuse in last year

  

A total of 164 new allegations of sexual abuse were reported to the Catholic Church’s child protection watchdog between April last year and the end of March 2014.

This is according to the annual report of the National Board for the Safeguarding of Children in the Catholic Church in Ireland (NBSCCCI) which was published yesterday. The report notes that allegations of abuse are down from the 242 the previous year and most of the complaints relate to alleged abuse between the 1940s and 90s.

The biggest number of allegations relate to the 60s, 70s and 80s. The board said all of these complaints have also been passed to gardaí or the PSNI and where appropriate to the Child and Family Agency.

The watchdog has undertaken reviews of safeguarding practices in all 26 dioceses and initiated a three-year training programme, according to the annual report.

Teresa Devlin, who took over last year as CEO of NBSCCCI, said the board’s small team is committed to ensuring “past mistakes are not repeated”.

In its report, the board said the Church needs to have clear standards regarding support and supervision of priests and religious out of ministry.

“This means we need to develop a framework for assessment, clarity around canonical processes, good supervision, and support place so that we can reduce the likliehood of re-offending and therefore safeguard future children,” it said.

Ruairi Quinn Minister happy to take abuse from ignorant Irish teachers

  

Ruairi Quinn has criticised some teachers’ actions at the recent ASTI conference as “ignorant, ill-judged and bad-mannered”.

The Education Minister was commenting on the raucous reception he received at last week’s conference, and said certain members had done “a disservice” to their union as a result of their actions.

Mr Quinn was heckled and booed by a number of delegates throughout his speech at the event in Wexford, with some teachers shouting to drown out his speech.

One delegate even used a megaphone while the minister spoke, and others shouted “lies” and “rubbish”.

Mr Quinn admitted that such attacks were hurtful, but insisted it was all part of living in a democracy.

“It hurts, of course. Some people say you must have a very thick skin to which I say, yeah, but it’s still skin,” he told Galway Bay FM.

However, despite the reception he received, he insisted that the protests showed that true democracy is in place here and that everyone has a right to their voice.

THE PRICE OF DEMOCRACY?

Mr Quinn stressed that he had never thought of giving up politics as a result of the abuse, and that he was not facing a situation like politicians in Ukraine. “I live in a democracy,” he added.

“No matter how ignorant, ill-judged or bad mannered they were – and I think some of them were – I think that’s a price a democratic open society is prepared to pay.

“There are very few countries in the world where, not Ruairi Quinn but the Minister for Education will go to a conference where a minority of teachers in a very disrespectful way will express their anger and disgust.

“Nobody died, nobody got injured. It’s called democracy and I’m very happy to say that I live in this country.

“I’m proud to live in this Republic and I’m proud to think that citizens can come and say what they said and how they said it.”

China and US in crucial talks on cutting carbon dioxide emissions

 

Tentative moves to reduce pollution could be the most hopeful single development in tackling global warming for almost 20 years

“Just a patch of blue sky big enough “to make a sailor a pair of trousers”, my parents’ generation would say, may herald a break in dismal weather. Against all expectation, rather more than that seems to be opening up amid the dark clouds that have so far shrouded the prospects of the world agreeing a new treaty to combat climate change.

China and the United States – by far the world’s greatest emitters of carbon dioxide – have started far-reaching, if little-noticed, talks on how to cut the pollution, in what is being described as the most hopeful single development in tackling global warming for almost 20 years.

Both are accelerating their efforts to control their own emissions, a considerable change for the two nations, which together account for more than two in every five tons of the greenhouse gas spewed into the atmosphere worldwide each year. The US’s refusal to join the Kyoto Protocol was long the major obstacle to progress, while China – exempted from that limited treaty – has increased its emissions to exceed those of the US and the EU combined.

What’s more, it was a clash between the two countries that did more than anything to cause the 2009 Copenhagen climate summit to end in disappointment. So the prospect of them co-operating in paving the way to the next one, in Paris at the end of next year, is significant.

This week, moreover, another unexpected development brightened the skies even further. The conservative-majority US Supreme Court – which has generally opposed Barack Obama’s environmental policies – backed, by a surprisingly large 6-2 majority, his attempt to crack down on pollution from the power stations that emit 40 per cent of the nation’s greenhouse gases.

Chief Justice John Roberts and his fellow conservative, Anthony Kennedy, joined the court’s four liberals to reject a vigorous challenge by polluters to Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations designed to clamp down on smog from coal-fired plants that drifts across state boundaries, helping to cause an estimated 34,000 deaths a year.

True, the measure does not directly address global warming. But it is expected to cause the closure of the most polluting plants, which are also the biggest emitters of carbon dioxide. And, much more importantly, the court’s decision appears to endorse Obama’s strategy of making combating climate change one of the main themes of his second term of office.

Frustrated by Congress in his attempt to introduce climate legislation, the President dropped his issue in his first four years, while privately regarding it as his biggest first-term failure. Now – partly at the prompting of his daughters – he is making a much more determined bid to tackle it, this time by trying to bypass Capitol Hill.

His strategy is to rely on executive presidential orders to reduce emissions, implemented by the EPA; next month he is due to issue some to cut carbon dioxide from power plants. His opponents have been hoping the courts would stop him, hence the significance of the Supreme Court’s decision. If it had ruled against Obama, his climate strategy would have seemed severely damaged; instead it appears to have cleared the path for it to progress.

In China, too, action against conventional pollution, largely from power plants, is presaging measures on climate change. So- called “airpocalypses” in Chinese cities, with concentrations of deadly particles up to 20 times higher than international safety limits, are causing the country increasingly to move away from coal, which provides 70 per cent of its electricity. Most of the new Chinese generating capacity installed last year relies on renewable energy; old coal plants are being closed, and some experts expect national carbon emissions to peak by the next decade.

A year ago China and the US agreed to phase out production and use of hydrofluorocarbons, potent greenhouse gases used in refrigeration, and the world’s fastest-growing climate threat. The hope was that this would presage wider co-operation, and the signs that this is beginning are being hailed as the most important development since the Kyoto Protocol was concluded in 1997.

It does, however, leave Europe – hitherto leading the attack on global warming – on the sidelines, perhaps deservedly so, as its leaders have grown increasingly timid since failing to make enough of a difference in Copenhagen.

David Cameron, however, has – since the winter floods – begun to re-emphasise the importance of what he initially made his trademark issue. This September he will have a chance to show whether he means it at a special summit called by UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon to try to put momentum behind a new international treaty. And, since voters formed their first impressions of him as environmentally concerned, crucial credibility – in an election year – may hang on his performance.