News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Tuesday 20th May 2014

The Government ought to make water charges fair, equitable and affordable for Irish people

 

Decisions ensure security of quality water supply for the decades ahead?

The debate on water charges has filled airwaves and newspaper columns in recent weeks and rightly so. It is good the public is debating issues around water as a precious national resource. But there has been a lot of misinformation about the Government’s water reforms.

It’s important to remember why domestic consumers will soon pay for water. Water just like other utilities such as gas and electricity, is costly to deliver, so the “user-pays” principle must apply. And we also need to radically reform the way we deliver water services.

The public water and waste water systems are not fit for purpose and need fixing. We are dealing with the consequences of years of under investment: 40 per cent of water is lost through leakage; almost one million people have drinking water supplies at risk; 23,500 people are on “boil water” notices; and our waste water infrastructure – vital to keeping coasts, rivers and lakes free from pollution – is inadequate.

Water services can no longer be primarily funded by the exchequer with no link between usage and funding. If we want to protect public health, our environment and provide for sustainable economic growth, we need a secure, long-term funding model to provide investment in water infrastructure into the future.

Water funds ring-fenced: Domestic water charges are a necessary component of our reforms. Charging will commence in October, with households receiving their first water bills from January 2015. Water charges will be ring-fenced for water services and will contribute significantly towards increasing infrastructural investment to the levels needed. Last week, Irish Water published its proposed 2014-2016 capital investment plan.

The establishment of Irish Water means services are now delivered through one national utility rather than 34 separate local authorities, resulting in greater efficiencies and economies. Critically, the transition will be seamless, as the partnership with local authorities allows local operations’ experience to be combined with Irish Water’s strategic network and asset management expertise.

There will be independent, economic regulation of the new utility. Protecting consumer interests is the primary responsibility of the Commission for Energy Regulation. The CER will critically examine Irish Water’s operational costs and capital plans, take decisions on a “water charges plan” and exercise its powers regarding Irish Water codes of practice on customer engagement.

The Government has sought to make water charges fair, equitable and affordable and to protect the most vulnerable. Charging will be based on metering, which the OECD says is the fairest form of charging. The assessed charge for those households which won’t have a meter right away, will be based on occupancy and will be a strong proxy for usage.

Fair prices: To increase affordability, the Government is providing a free allowance for every household. It is also providing further supports for groups highlighted as potentially vulnerable: the absence of a standing charge will benefit those living alone; the additional free allowance for children under 18 effectively means children’s consumption will be free; people with high water usage due to medical conditions will have their bills capped; and pensioners, people with disabilities and carers who receive the households benefits package will receive €100 a year to assist with bill payment.

The policy decisions taken by Government mean the average charge should be €240; a person living alone will have approximately 40 per cent of their water needs provided and will pay about €138 per annum; and a family of two adults and two children will have over half their water needs provided, and pay about €248 per annum. Irish Water will have flexible payment options.

I have also secured Government agreement to fund a free first fix on leaks identified on the customer side as a major water conservation measure.

Politicians are often accused of short-termism. The objective of the Government’s water reforms is to deliver sustainable investment and long-term improvements to our water and waste water systems.

The difficult decisions we have taken will ensure security of quality water supply for communities and businesses and the protection of our environment in the decades ahead.

We are confident that security of good quality supply will attract more inward investment to Ireland from water-intensive industries such as in the pharmachem, ICT and agrifood sectors.

Ireland needs more than MEPs in the European Union

 

Irish politicians have played a staunch role at the heart of Europe, but their influence is waning and work is needed to address an impending fall-off in top jobs, 

Between May 22 and 25, European citizens from 28 member states will democratically choose 751 MEPs to take their seats in the European Parliament. We should not underestimate the task we face as voters in choosing who will represent and communicate our best interests at the heart of the EU. But nor should we be blinded to the fact that in Europe’s heartland, Ireland needs more than its MEPs.

We are all familiar with the presence of high-profile Irish political figures in Brussels. Most Irish European commissioners have been drawn from the ranks of the Irish cabinet. It is likely Ireland’s next nominee for the commission will share that background.

Many of us are also at least cursorily acquainted with the names and profiles of incumbents and candidates for seats in the parliament. However, the Irish presence in Brussels (the headquarters of the EU) is more substantial and more numerous than this.

For a small state like Ireland’s record in securing high-profile and powerful positions within the administrative ranks of the EU institutions is singularly impressive. Former ombudsman Emily O’Reilly currently occupies the position of European ombudsman. Catherine Day, from Dublin is secretary general of the European Commission and the highest-ranked EU official in Brussels.

She succeeded another Irish person, David O’Sullivan, who has since had a distinguished career as chief operations officer of the European External Action Service and was recently appointed EU ambassador to the US. This highest of EU ambassadorial roles was previously held by John Bruton, a former taoiseach.

It is clear that throughout 40-plus years of membership of the EU, Ireland has been disproportionately represented at senior administrative levels in the EU’s major institutions. This pattern is less pronounced at lower administrative levels, but here, again, Irish officials are present. All of these officials, and many more since 1973, have dedicated their professional careers to serving the EU.

Their nationality is important, but not overwhelmingly so. What is important are the knowledge, skills, attitudes, and values they bring to their roles. However, as the retirement of senior Irish Brussels-based officials looms, the prospect of a lesser Irish presence is becoming very real.

There are fewer younger Irish available to replace their more senior colleagues, and furthermore, today’s Irish graduates are not qualifying in sufficient numbers for EU positions or internships.

This trend is likely being affected by the diminishing range and choice of European studies programmes and modules in Irish universities, and by low fluency levels in a second language. It may also reflect a broader public disinterest in the EU and the limited (or maybe discredited) appeal of public service. Collectively, these developments mitigate against a strong Irish presence within the various EU administrations.

The absence of Irish officials is troublesome. It is not political figures alone who influence the EU landscape. We need knowledgeable and skilled administrators, too. We need leaders and innovators, problem-solvers and pioneers, thinkers and trailblazers.

We need a new generation of Irish men and women who are interested in the EU and who are qualified and equipped to work there. In serving the EU, these officials serve Ireland, too, by positively influencing the European environment within which we all live and work.

The factors which disallow a strong Irish presence in Brussels can be overcome but it will require some reorientation in how we protect and project the interests of the State. Knowledge and understanding is key, and so, rolling out an enhanced civic education to all Irish schoolchildren is imperative. In addition, there is value in embedding the study of the EU across a diverse range of university programmes, and in determinedly encouraging the study of international languages.

Elevating the quality of political and public debate on the EU and placing worth on public service are similarly vital. Then can we hope to produce a new and strong generation of skilled and competent Irish-EU officials. Amid the hype of the European election campaigns, we would do well to remember that in serving Ireland, we need more than MEPs at the heart of the EU. And therein lie some important challenges and choices for this and future Irish generations.

Irish State pays out millions to treat mental health patients abroad

“Figures revealed by Senator Ronan Mullen mep candidate for europe” who demands action from Health Minister Reilly

  

Irish psychiatric patients are being sent abroad for treatment, at a time when the health service locally closed a mental health unit in Ballinasloe, 

The cost to the Health Service Executive (HSE) of sending patients abroad for treatment for mental health problems could be as much as €3.1 million annually, as it costs an average of €13,000 per month per patient.

Payments of hundreds of thousands of Euros to private foreign hospitals comes despite the HSE West having spent a whopping €2.9 million refurbishing the 22-bed mental health unit in St Brigid’s Hospital in Ballinasloe, which is now controversially closed. Independent Senator Rónán Mullen, who obtained the figures, says it is an outrageous waste of taxpayers’ money.

The European election candidate in the new Midlands-North-West constituency, from Ahascragh, has demanded action from Health Minister Dr James Reilly. He said it was a matter of grave concern relating to the human dignity of the patient but also to their family and loved ones who are forced to travel abroad also.

“It is scandalous that we are closing top facilities in Ireland, and in particular admissions units situated in therapeutic locations like St Brigid’s in Ballinasloe while at the same time sending people out of the country for treatment.

We are training doctors and nurses who are much sought after around the world for their skills and expertise, and it is a nonsense for the HSE to suggest that Irish people cannot be treated by skilled Irish clinicians on Irish soil, ” Senator Mullen said.

The HSE has confirmed that twelve children with mental health problems are currently being treated abroad, and eight adults are being treated in private hospitals in Europe. It is understood that some of the patients have received mental health treatment abroad for several years.

Ronan Mullen takes Miriam O’Callaghan and RTE to task on selection bias of MEP’s debate panel of speakers

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Senator Ronan Mullen and with his fellow candidates Ben Gilroy, of Direct Democracy Ireland; Thomas Byrne, of Fianna Fáil; Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan, Independent; Mark Dearey, of the Green Party and TJ Fay and Mark Fitzsmons, both Independents, on RTE Prime Time’s debate of Midlands-North-West MEP candidates last night

You may have seen Senator Ronan Mullen on Prime Time’s second panel debate of the Midlands-North-West MEP candidates on Monday night last.

During Senator Mullen’s appearance, he took host Miriam O’Callaghan to task, accusing RTE of bias, censorship and of being too cosy with Government parties – an outburst that earned vocal approval and agreement from Mr Flanagan.

Senator Mullen’s claims came on foot of Senator Mullen and Mr Flanagan’s annoyance over their exclusion from the first panel debate.

This morning, the RTE Player had the debates from last night posted but it stopped short in the second panel’s debate, just before Ms O’Callaghan turns to speak to Mr Mullen and when Mr Flanagan is in mid-sentence – therefore those looking back this morning cannot see  Senator Mullen’s outburst.

In total, of the 44-minute video posted, 37.15 minutes consisted of the first panel’s debate, with the remaining seven or so minutes consisting of the second panel’s debate – with the seven or so minutes consisting only of contributions from Thomas Byrne, Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan and Mark Deary.

The two debates in total were actually approximately an hour and 15 minutes.

Now, in the last few minutes, it appears the Prime Time debate has been removed from the RTE Player entirely.

Prior to the the second panel’s debate, an earlier panel consisted of Senator Lorraine Higgins, from Labour; Cllr Matt Carthy, of Sinn Féin; Mairead McGuinness, Fine Gael MEP; Jim Higgins, Fine Gael MEP; Marian Harkin, Independent MEP; and Pat ‘The Cope’ Gallagher, Fianna Fail MEP.

The first panel consisted of sitting MEPs and those candidates whose parties, or Independents, who won 10% support or more at the last election – a set-up which prompted complaints from both Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan and Senator Mullen.

Online medical card campaign kicked off by nine-year-old girl receives over 25,000 signatures in just one day

 

The ‘Our Childrens Health’ online petition has received over 25,000 signatures in less than one day.

The campaign was launched this afternoon in Dublin by nine-year-old Louise Shortall who was just recently granted a one year medical card, despite the fact that she was diagnosed with cancer two years ago.

A spokesperson for the campaign, which was initiated by little Louise’s family, said this evening that the volume of support was so great that the site has temporarily crashed.

However, they are asking people to remain patient and supportive as they hope it will be repaired soon.

“There were over 25,000 during the day but as soon as the evening news bulletins carried the story of the campaign launch the site couldn’t cope with the volume of traffic,” Kevin Shortall said.

“We were taken by surprise by the huge numbers wanting to sign the petition, but we’re working to fix the problem and design the site to be able to carry a much larger number of people at any time,” he added.

The ‘Our Children’s Health’ campaign is calling upon the government to amend the 1970 Health Act so that all children who are seriously ill or suffer from a congenital condition receive a medical card for the duration of their treatment.

Peter Fitzpatrick, cofounder of the campaign, said today that it has been received positively and that they will remain in action for as long as they need to.

He was inspired to start the campaign after he seen his family become embroiled in the medical card fiasco with the HSE, as his brave niece was consistently being issued with temporary medical cards, despite the fact that she is due to undergo treatment until next year.

Scientists track great white shark Katharin off the coast of the US

 

An enormous great 4.3-metre white shark that is being tracked during her swimming along the US coast has eager scientists and fans following her every move.

The 4.3-metre shark, named Katharine, surfaced near Key Largo, Florida on Monday night, announcing her presence with a ping from a tracking device placed on her dorsal fin last year.

Weighing one tonne, Katharine is being followed by the website Ocearch, which is run by a group that tracks a number of sharks to learn more about their habits.

Researchers follow Katharine’s migratory movements with the help of the tracking device Ocearch attached to her in August 2013, which “pings” the researchers whenever it comes to the surface.

In the past month, Katharine has appeared off the coast of Georgia before swimming south to Florida, coming within a few kilometres of Miami Beach on Saturday, according to the website.

Although the website is updated every half hour, Katharine doesn’t surface nearly so often.

With almost 4000 Twitter followers, the great white’s @Shark. Katharine account, managed by Ocearch, is dedicated to answering questions about the life of sharks and debunking myths.

Tagging their posts #GoKatGo, followers have cheered on the great white as “Katharine” weighs in on subjects like eating humans.

“What makes anyone think we’d really want to eat them #notmyflavor”, she “tweeted” on Tuesday.

Through Katharine’s movements, scientists hope to gain much more information about sharks than just her whereabouts.

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