News Ireland daily BLOG

tUESDAY 14TH mAY 2014

Irish consumer sentiment hits fresh 7-year high in April


Irish consumer sentiment rebounded to a fresh seven-year high in April, a survey showed on Tuesday, but the authors warned that optimism about the overall economy was not translating into confidence about personal finances.

The KBC Bank Ireland/ESRI Consumer Sentiment Index climbed to 87.2 in April from 83.1 in March, its highest since January 2007, the year before a property bubble burst and a deep economic crisis took hold.

But while 51% of those surveyed said they expected the Irish economy to improve in the next 12 months, only 17% said they expected their personal finances to improve.

“It is good news that consumers feel the world is getting better but these data are not saying all their problems have gone away,” KBC Bank Ireland chief economist Austin Hughes said.

“While the survey may hint at some pick-up in consumer spending, there is little to suggest a dramatic increase is in prospect.”

Rising house prices and falling unemployment have helped boost confidence since Ireland emerged from its EU-IMF bailout late last year, prompting government ministers to hint at an end to the country’s austerity programme.

Economists polled by Reuters last month forecast gross domestic product growth of 1.7% in 2014, up from a 0.3% contraction last year.

Retail sales were up 8.9% in March from a year earlier although when booming car sales are excluded they rose a more modest 2.2%.

Tuesday’s survey showed the number of people who said the economy was likely to improve in the coming year was stable at around 50%, but the number who expect the economy to worsen fell to 14% from 24% in March.

Parents unite to fight for children’s medical cards

Adrian Pretorius and wife Dianna Ross, with their sons Ben and Josh at their home in Clonsilla. Picture: Arthur Carron  Wendy Fitzpatrick and son Eric at their home in Donaghmede. Picture: Arthur Carron

The Parents of seriously ill children have launched a national campaign to protect their medical cards.

Dublin man Peter Fitzpatrick and his wife Wendy were inspired and launched the ‘Our Children’s Health’ campaign after witnessing the struggle facing his brother-in-law Kevin Shortall and wife Tracey in trying to secure a long-term medical card for their cancer- stricken daughter Louise.

He said: “The simple fact is, no matter how ill, no matter how severe a condition your child has, there is no legal entitlement to a medical card in Ireland unless your circumstances meet the terms of a crude, outdated means test.

“Failing that, the success or otherwise of your application relies on the discretion of the HSE. Our goal is to change that.”

Louise (8) was only recently issued a year-long medical card, despite being diagnosed with leukaemia in 2012.

Meanwhile, Dubliner Mark Fitzpatrick said he was refused a medical card for his son Eric after being told he earns €70 a week too much to qualify.

His 10-month-old baby was offered a GP visit card instead, but Mr Fitzpatrick insists that by his calculations, Eric should get a medical card.

The Donaghmede man believes that a GP visit card will not be sufficient in assisting his young son’s medical needs.

“Eric got a diagnosis at 10 weeks old. It’s a rare form of epilepsy that will cause very weak muscle tone, so chances are he will never walk or talk.

“He needs 24-hour care, so his mother Wendy had to give up work,” he said.

Separately, Dianna Ross said that she would fully support this campaign, as her seven-year-old son Ben Pretorius was told last year that his medical card was up for renewal and would expire this February.

Ben, who has been seriously ill since birth, was only last week diagnosed as suffering from a rare form of epilepsy.

“He needs 24-hour care,” she said. “He can’t walk, can’t talk, and he can’t feed himself. He depends on us for everything.”

She quit work to become his full-time carer, and described her battle to secure her son a medical card as “a nightmare”.

“He was diagnosed with epilepsy first when he was a baby. They gave us a long-term illness card until he was three.

“When he was five, they sent out the forms for renewal.

“I sent them back, and they refused me. I was sent a GP- visit card in the post.

“I appealed that, and said I wanted the medical card so I got one. So now it is up for renewal again.” She is still waiting for an answer six weeks later.

Newly appointed Children’s Minister Charlie Flanagan said: “There are some difficult cases out there, I would hope that everybody who needs a medical card in this country would have one,” he said.

Irish home mortgages paid in Q1 2014 at lowest since 1972


Irish home mortgages paid in Q1 2014 were at the lowest since 1972 according to data issued Tuesday.

The Irish Banking Federation for positive impact has highlighted a 65.6%  rise over Q1 2013 but the inconvenient fact that is missing is that mortgages paid in Q1 2013 had plunged as the end of mortgage interest relief  at in December 2012 had resulted in a temporary spike in Q4 2012.

The IBF/PwC Mortgage Market Profile, published today, shows that a total of 3,425 new mortgages to the value of €568m were drawn down by borrowers in Ireland during the first quarter of 2014.This compared with 5,206 in Q4 2013 and a value of €898.

The Irish Banking Federation endorsed by PriceWaterhouseCoopers, the Big 4 auditing firm, says “the latest figures represent an increase of 65.6% in volume and 71.6% in value on the corresponding first quarter of 2013.  Although the first quarter is traditionally the weakest in any year, these latest figures represent the first time a year-on-year increase has been recorded in the first quarter of the year since 2006.”

What it doesn’t wish to highlight is that in Q4 2012 there were drawdowns on 6,043 mortgages with a value of €999m.

The lobby group says that key home purchaser segments of the market, First Time Buyers and Mover Purchasers, continue to dominate the market accounting for almost 85.9% of new mortgages issued.  In effect, over 90% (91.2%) of all mortgage credit now goes to the home purchasing segments of the market.

Noel Brett, IBF chief executive, said: “We welcome the notable year-on-year increase in the number of new mortgages drawn down during the first quarter of this year” – – as we have pointed out, there was no normal notable increase.

“Notwithstanding the fact that Q1 is traditionally the weakest of the four quarters in any year, the volumes recorded are the highest Q1 figures we have seen since 2010 and the first time we have seen Q1 year-on-year growth since 2006. Today’s figures provide further encouraging evidence that the market continues to recover. That said, we remain concerned that housing supply constraints in key locations are becoming a serious impediment to sustained growth; and this is reflected in the widening gap we see developing between the level of mortgage approvals and actual drawdowns,” he added.

About 13 Irish people die of cardiac arrest every day


Around 13 people die every day in Ireland as a result of sudden cardiac arrest, however some of these lives could be saved if more people knew CPR, the Irish Heart Foundation (IHF) has said.

According to the foundation, sudden cardiac arrest can affect people of all ages, including babies and children.

Cardiac arrest refers to the sudden loss of function of the heart. It occurs when there is an abrupt disturbance in the heart’s rhythm, causing the heart to stop beating.

A person whose heart has stopped beating will fall unconscious and stop breathing normally. If they do not get immediate medical assistance, sudden cardiac death will follow. Some 5,000 people die as a result of this every year in Ireland.

CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) is a first aid technique which should be administered as soon as possible to a person who has suffered a cardiac arrest. It can double a person’s chance of survival by keeping oxygen and blood circulating to the body’s vital organs.

Hands-only (compression-only) CPR is a technique that can be used by anyone who has not undergone CPR training. To highlight the importance of this technique, the IHF held a practical training session for senior politicians, including Fine Gael TD Mary Mitchell O’Connor, Independent TD Denis Naughton and Senator Jillian Van Turnhout.

The IHF said its aim is to double cardiac arrest survival rates in Ireland by educating the public on how to deliver hands-only CPR. As part of the politicians’ training session, fifth year pupils from Adamstown Community College in Co Dublin were able to show them in just 10 minutes how to carry out the technique.

It involves hard and fast compressions that go at least two inches deep in the centre of the chest. This keeps the heart beating manually.

“In the event of a collapse from cardiac arrest, every minute is vital, but without CPR or defibrillation, their chance of survival falls by up to 10% a minute. After just five minutes, that person may only have a 50% chance of survival.

“At the Irish Heart Foundation, our goal is that all adults and teens know the importance of calling 999 immediately and starting chest compressions, even if they have never been taught CPR before. These two steps can double a person’s chance of survival but without CPR, there may be no-one left for paramedics to save,” said cardiologist and IHF medical director, Dr Angie Brown.

In 2012, 93 people were discharged from hospital following a cardiac arrest, as a result of someone doing CPR or using an AED (automated external defibrillator) on them. An AED is a device that administers an electric shock to a person who has suffered a cardiac arrest.

This week marks the IHF’s 25th Happy Hearts Appeal, which aims to raise €500,000. This money will be used to fund a national hands-only CPR awareness campaign to begin in the autumn.

Heart pins will be on sale on the streets and in SuperValu stores nationwide for €2 from May 15-17.

“This week I am asking everyone to stop and think, would I know what to do if my loved one collapsed suddenly? Our hands-only CPR education campaign could save the life of someone you know. Two-thirds of sudden cardiac arrests happen at home and half happen in front of someone just like you. For just €2, you can support teaching more people how to save a life, maybe the life of someone you love,” Dr Brown added.

Giant planet around dwarf star a surprising discovery


First of its kind may reveal new insights about planets and brown dwarfs

The planet GU Psc b, seen in an artist’s conception, is about 10 times bigger than Jupiter, and is located about 50 times farther away from its star than the dwarf planet Pluto is from the sun.

A gigantic planet-like object like no other has been found circling a tiny star at a record distance.

The object is a kind of “super Jupiter” – a gas giant about 10 times bigger than the biggest planet in our solar system, says Marie-Eve Naud, a PhD student at the University of Montreal and lead author of a scientific report describing the planet. The study is being published in the Astrophysical Journal this week.

GU PSc b is 2,000 times farther from its star than the Earth is from the sun, 67 times farther than Neptune and 50 times farther than Pluto — more distant than any planet ever discovered by a long shot, said René Doyon, a University of Montreal professor who is Naud’s co-supervisor and co-author of the report.

But despite the vast distance between them, the planet is bound to its star via gravity, Doyon told “The planet is actually moving with its star.”

The researchers estimate that the planet completes its orbit around the star about once every 80,000 years. The star itself is located about 155 light years away, in the constellation Pisces, and is a small, young one, with just a third the mass of our sun.

May not be a planet

“Usually you don’t expect big planets around small stars,” Naud said.

The planet GU Psc b and its star GU Psc appear in visible and infrared images from the Gemini South Observatory and an infrared image from the CFHT. Because infrared light is invisible to the naked eye, astronomers use a colour code in which infrared light is represented by the colour red. (University of Montreal)

On the other hand, the unusual object is so big that it may not be a planet at all. It may instead qualify as a brown dwarf or a “failed star” too small to ignite the nuclear reactions that power stars.

“Either way this is exciting,” Doyon said. If it’s a planet, it shows that planets can form farther away from stars than previously thought, and may not always form from the “planetary disk” of dust near a star. If it’s a brown dwarf, it shrinks the known size limit of objects that can form in a way similar to the way stars form.

Regardless of what it is, it is physically similar to a planet and is very valuable to scientists seeking to know more about planets outside our solar system, Doyon said.

“These are truly jewels in the sky. We can study them in gory detail.”

Young hot and bright

The researchers even detected water and methane in the planet’s atmosphere, Doyon added.

The team found GU PSc b during a survey of young stars launched by Naud’s primary supervisor, Étienne Artigaud. He hoped that those stars might be circled by young planets, which are warmer, brighter and easier to see than older planets.

The new planet itself has a temperature of about 700 to 800 C despite the distance from its star. But because it is big and gassy, it wouldn’t be habitable even after it cools to a more comfortable temperature.

“What could be habitable is a moon around that planet,” said Doyon. He added that Jupiter’s moon Europa would have liquid water on its surface if it orbited Gu PSc b. However, the comfortable conditions wouldn’t last long, as the planet would continue to cool rapidly as it got older.

The team found and studied the new object using the Observatoire Mont-Mégantic in Quebec, the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope and the W.M. Keck Observatory in Hawaii and the Gemini Observatories in Chile and Hawaii.

Although the discovery is unlike any planet seen before, similar objects may be common in the universe, Doyon said. He added that researchers have already found another object much like it around another star


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