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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