Daily Archives: May 22, 2014

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Thursday 22nd May 2014

Alan Shatter donates his severance pay to Jack & Jill Foundation

  

Justice Minister Alan Shatter held the post for three years.

Former Irish Justice Minister Alan Shatter has announced he will donate his severance pay to charity.

Mr Shatter was entitled to 70,000 euros (£56,691) after resigning from his post earlier this month.

He resigned after receiving a report into allegations made by a police whistleblower.

He said the money would go to the Jack & Jill Foundation, which supports families of children born with serious neurological conditions.

Mr Shatter made a statement to the Irish parliament (Dáil) on Thursday afternoon.

He said he was surprised to find out that he was eligible for severance pay, as legislation abolishing such payments had been passed.

Mr Shatter said if he retained the money, it would be worth around 34,000 euros (£27,535) but, because of tax incentives for charities, it would be worth in the region of 50,000 euros (£40,492) to the Jack & Jill Foundation.

Stood down

He added that he hoped the donation would be seen as an appropriate way to mark the end of ministerial severance payments.

Mr Shatter stood down as a cabinet minister on 7 May after receiving a report into how he and his department handled the issue of police whistleblower Maurice McCabe.

The whistleblower had raised concerns that senior officers had acted inappropriately in getting penalty points removed from the driving licences of well-connected offenders.

Mr Shatter said at the time that he disputed some of the report’s findings, but he was going to take responsibility so as not to distract from the government’s work.

A day before his resignation, a report by the Republic of Ireland’s data commissioner found that the former justice minister had broken data protection laws by disclosing, on live television, police information that an opposition parliament member had been using his mobile phone while driving.

€27m in salaries and expenses will be paid to our 12 Irish MEPs by 2014 “It’s astonishing” 

   

Oh our Pat ‘The Cope’ Gallagher has costs totalling an ENORMOUS €2,174,314 before end of term.

Ireland’s 12 MEPs cost the Irish taxpayer an average of €2m each in generous salaries, expenses and allowances.

For the first time, it was disclosed the full extent of the MEP gravy train, which has cost Irish taxpayers €24m in total since the politicians were elected in 2009.

According to the figures, six of the 12 MEPs have cost taxpayers more than €2m.

The top claimant was Fianna Fail MEP for Ireland North West and election candidate Pat ‘the Cope’ Gallagher, who had costs totalling €2,174,314.

In contrast, Fine Gael’s Ireland South MEP, former GAA president Sean Kelly, had combined costs totalling €1,630,609 for the period.

Independent MEP for Ireland North West Marian Harkin, who got €2,154,028, told the Irish Independent that people needed to know what their MEPs were claiming.

Independent MEP for Ireland East Nessa Childers received €2,040,899. Fine Gael MEP for Ireland North West Jim Higgins got €2,099,520 and Ireland East FG MEP Mairead McGuinness got €2,051,750.

For all of the MEPs elected in 2009, their gross salaries amount to €427,120 until the end of 2013. They are each entitled to staff cost allowances of €255,000 a year plus office cost allowances of €51,600 a year.

Calls from within the parliament to end the “generous and bloated expenses regime” have to date been opposed by a majority of MEPs.

MEPs are not required to provide receipts proving how they spend their expenses, with the EU saying it is a “matter of honour” that the money is spent correctly.

The substantial costs incurred relate to:

  1.  Salaries paid to MEPs;
  2.  Expenses paid to cover their travel, up to and including business-class flights and first-class train tickets;
  3.  Expenses on hotels and taxis;
  4.  Keeping staffs of up to six people each;
  5.  Maintaining offices in Ireland and in Europe.

The figures were compiled using data from the European Union, publicly available information and voluntary declarations from the MEPs.

Fine Gael’s MEP for Dublin, Gay Mitchell, who is not running again and who did not respond to queries from the Irish Independent, had combined salary and expenses costs totalling €1,978,528 for the period up until the end of December 2013.

Fianna Fail MEP for Ireland South Brian Crowley had combined salary and expenses costs of €1,914,761.

Our figures relate to the period from when the MEPs were elected in mid-2009 to December 31, 2013. As a result, the final total cost of our representatives will be closer to €27m when 2014 costs are included.

Three of the 12 MEPs elected in 2009 have since retired or stood down from their seats.

Former Democratic Left leader Proinsias De Rossa, who retired as Labour’s Dublin MEP in February 2012, between salary, expenses and staff expenses, received €721,636.

His replacement, Emer Costello, accumulated salary and expenses totalling €896,498 for the 22 months up until December 2013.

Hotels

The current junior transport minister, Labour’s Alan Kelly, and Socialist TDJoe Higgins were each paid salaries of €167,076 for the period up until they were elected to the Dail in February 2011. They both also received travel expenses and staff cost allowances totalling €535,689, bringing their total costs to €702,765 each.

Mr Kelly’s replacement in mid-2011 was Labour’s Phil Prendergast, who accumulated salary and expenses totalling €1,188,566.

Socialist MEP Paul Murphy replaced Mr Higgins, and has accumulated salary and expenses costs of €1,343,117 for the period.

Improved mental health services will reduce A&E admissions,

says expert Siobhan Barry 

  

A mental health expert says the policy of admitting psychiatric patients to emergency departments needs to be “looked at”.

The statement comes after Fianna Fáil’s mental health spokesperson Colm Keaveney claimed that staff at the psychiatric unit in University Hospital Galway have asked the Health and Safety Authority to examine patient safety concerns at the facility.

The HSA says it is aware of concerns at the unit, and is engaging with staff.

The news comes after Professor Shane O’Neill’s resignation as Beaumont Hospital’s clinical director over the issue of assessment of psychiatric patients in the emergency department.

Siobhan Barry, clinical director of the Cluain Mhuire Service, says community centres should be the focus for mental health services, and not acute hospitals.

“I think we do need to look at that specific problem in as much as the necessity to present to emergency departments is reduced when community services are sufficiently developed that people don’t need to go to emergency departments,” she said. “And that has not happened.”

Faulty gene ’causes night munchies’

  

A faulty gene could lead to late-night snacking, new research has found

Scientists appear to have traced the irresistible pull of the refrigerator at 2am to the “night munchies” gene.

When the PER1 gene is faulty, the natural mechanism that synchronises sleeping and eating goes awry, they believe.

This can lead to “night eating syndrome”, the inability to avoid feeling hungry at night which in some people can disrupt sleep and lead to over-eating and weight gain.

The discovery was made by conducting tests on mice with two human genes, PER1 and its partner PER2, which has previously been linked to sleep disturbances.

When PER2 was defective in the mice, as expected they dozed off earlier than usual. But de-activating PER1 affected eating behaviour, leading to mice wanting to eat when they should be sleeping.

“For a long time, people discounted night eating syndrome as not real,” said lead scientist Dr Satchidananda Panda, from the Salk Institute in La Jolla, California.

“These results in mice suggest that it could actually be a genetic basis for the syndrome.

“We really never expected that we would be able to decouple the sleep-wake cycle and the eating cycle, especially with a simple mutation. It opens up a whole lot of future questions about how these cycles are regulated.”

When the researchers restricted access to food, offering it to the mice only at normal meal times, they found that even animals with the faulty PER1 gene maintained a normal weight.

Over a 10-week period their weight was no different to that of animals with functioning PER1 genes. This showed that the weight gain caused by faulty PER1 was entirely due to meal mistiming and not other metabolic factors.

The scientists believe that normally, PER1 and PER2 are kept synchronised and turned on and off at the same time, keeping sleep and eating cycles aligned. But a mutation in PER1 can break this link, leading to an urge to eat at night.

Diver narrowly avoids being swallowed by a 40-tonne whale

  

This diver had a lucky break when he narrowly avoided getting swallowed by a whale.

Rainer Schimpf was filming the annual sardine run near Port Elizabeth in South Africa when the 49-foot-long Byrde’s whale swam up from the depths to feed on the fish.

A video shows just how close the whale came before swerving at the last minute to avoid him.

Schimpf was knocked back by the force of the huge creature as it breached, but was uninjured.

He captured some amazing pictures of the whale swimming up from beneath him before it disappeared back into the ocean.

Always remind us never to come between a huge whale and his dinner.

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News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Wednesday 21st May 2014

Irish householders pay among the highest prices in Europe for electricity

Irish prices rose twice as much as the rest of Europe last year

  

A new Eurostat report shows that Ireland has the fourth most expensive electricity in the EU.

Irish householders pay among the highest prices in Europe for electricity and they rose twice as much as the rest of Europe last year.

A new Eurostat report shows that Ireland has the fourth most expensive electricity in the EU and the price rose by 5.1pc in the second half of 2013 compared with just 2.8pc across Europe.

Consumers in Ireland pay €24.10 per 100 kilowatt hour (kWh) of electricity which is 20pc higher than the EU average of €20.10 and 34pc higher than our nearest neighbourBritain.

That makes us the fourth most expensive country in Europe for power behind Denmark, Germany and Cyprus.

Irish electricity prices are up to three times higher than the cheapest country Bulgaria, and twice as high as Romania.

The Eurostat figures show that gas prices in Ireland have soared by almost 15pc since 2011

When it comes to gas meanwhile Irish prices are closer to the average in Europe but prices rose by seven times as much here as elsewhere in Europe.

Householders here pay €7.20 per 100 kWh of gas  which is only marginally above the EU average of €7.10, although the price is 22pc higher than in Britain.

Irish gas prices rose by 7.4pc in the second half of 2013 compared with the same period of 2012 while across Europe the average price increase was just 1pc.

Irish gas prices are up 16pc since 2011 which is nearly twice as much as the rest of Europe in that period.

When Eurostat adjusted prices into ‘purchasing power standards’ to take account of general differences in the cost of living in member states, Irish electricity prices were 10pc higher than average, but gas prices were slightly cheaper.

Good news:-

Permanent TSB’s core business bank is now profitable

   

Permanent TSB’s core business bank was profitable after impairments for the first four months of the year, according to its interim management statement.

Moreover, the 99.2% state-owned bank reported a big increase in mortgage lending and a stabilisation in mortgage arrears.

All three domestic banks — Bank of Ireland, AIB and PTSB — have reported a return to post provision profitability so far this year.

The three banks face a stringent set of stress tests later this year as part of the ECB’s comprehensive assessment of the banking system, which also includes an asset quality review. If any of these banks fail the stress tests, then they will be required to raise capital.

According to the PTSB interim management statement the group continues to maintain a significant buffer against regulatory requirements, “with capital attrition reducing as loss levels have abated.”

The bank reported a drop in early and late stage arrears across all portfolios with overall levels 10% below the peak reached last year. It expects this year’s impairment charge to be “significantly reduced” from 2013 levels.

Under its restructuring plan, that is still awaiting approval from the European Commission, the bank has been split into three entities: a good bank; an asset management unit that will run down its distressed assets, including mortgages, and a separate UK division.

According to the interim management statement, the asset management unit has met its Central Bank target on mortgage arrears, with 19,000 sustainable treatments offered to customers and 15,600 accepted.

The net interest margin which is a key indicator of profitability, is improving at a rate similar to last year, on the back of a growth in retail deposit volumes and an overall reduction in the cost of funds.

However, if the ECB reduces the interest rate at its next monthly meeting in June, then this would negatively impact the net interest margin, warned the bank. PTSB had roughly €15bn in tracker mortgages, which are directly priced off the main ECB rate.

New mortgage approvals are up 80% over the first four months of this year compared with last year. PTSB’s market share for new mortgages is now 13% compared with 1.2% at the end of 2012.

As well as an increase in new deposits, there has been a 60% reduction in borrowings from the ECB, from peak levels in 2007.

The loan to deposit ratio is 142% overall and 124% for the good bank.

Little brain tumour toddler Aoife gets back her medical card

 

A Toddler girl who is battling a brain tumour has had her cancelled medical card reinstated as the HSE apologised for what it called an administrative error.

Three-year-old Aoife Keogh, from Blessington, Co Wicklow was diagnosed with a brain tumour last May and was given a medical card for two years to cover treatments.

But in April, the card came up as invalid when her mother, Carly, attempted to use it in a pharmacy.

M/s Keogh wrote to the HSE two weeks ago but had heard nothing back, and yesterday her story appeared in apology

By midday the HSE had rung the mother-of-three to personally apologise, and reinstated her with a working card.

“It’s just such pure relief – there’s no other way to describe it,” said Ms Keogh. “I never expected such a quick turnaround because I’d had such little dealings with the HSE.”

The Blessington woman said the confusion over the card was, “quite stressful on top of everything else that is going on”.

“Yesterday at around 12.30pm I got a call from a person over medical cards and he apologised for the hassle of everything and confirmed that the card would remain in place until June 2015 as previously agreed,” said Ms Keogh.

A spokeswoman from the HSE explained that Aoife’s card had come up for review 18 months early and then invalidated because of an admin fault.

“Due to an administrative error at the medical card processing centre the family was brought into an additional review in error,” she said.

The spokeswoman also stated that, “the HSE wishes to sincerely apologise to the Keogh family for the genuine errors involved in the processing of their case and the subsequent distress and upset caused to them”.

Aoife, who is the youngest of three children, suffers from a life-long condition and will have to live with brain tumours.

But it is hoped that her current bout of chemotherapy will be her last, said Ms Keogh.

The mum-of-three also said that she was not alone in her plight.

“There are so many other people who haven’t had their story in the media and their children need help,” she said.

Ms Keogh’s story came to light after she spoke to members of Our Children’s Health campaign.

The group is currently lobbying the Government to have a piece of legislation updated allowing terminally ill children and youngsters living with congenital conditions to have immediate access to medical cards.

Big confusion,

After months of confusion surrounding Aoife’s card, which originally kicked off last December when her mum was asked to fill in review forms, it took just half a day to sort out.

Ms Keogh had written to the HSE saying she had a card until June 2015 and that filling in the review forms was quite time consuming.

The HSE replied to her in January saying there was no need to fill in the forms but in April she discovered her daughter’s card had “just stopped working”.

James Reilly says €108m in health savings not achieveable

Minister says matter for Government as to where money will now come from

 

James Reilly says:  

“We don’t want doctors looking after patients nurses could be looking after; we don’t want nurses looking after patients that health care assistants could be looking after.”

More than €100 million in previously-anticipated pay savings in the health service this year are not achievable, Minister for Health James Reilly has said.

He said it was a matter for the whole of Government to determine where this money would come from.

The HSE’s service plan for the year was based on €290 million in savings being delivered under the Haddington Road agreement, as well as a further €108 million in pay savings.

Consultancy report

The Irish Times reported last month that a consultancy report commissioned by the health service had forecast that the Haddington Road deal may only produce €212 million in savings, plus or minus 20 per cent.

Dr Reilly said the €290 million target could be achieved at a stretch.

Proposed measures set out in a new HSE plan aimed at bridging the gap between the €212 million figure and €290 million target, such as changing skill mixes, were at the heart of the row between nurses and health management over the weekend.

Speaking yesterday, the Minister said the €108 million in savings which was set out in the health budget for the year was not achievable.

The consultancy report had shown the savings were “not available in the manner originally perceived”.

He said this was now a matter for negotiations between theDepartment of Health, the Department of the Taoiseachand the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform.

Separately, the Minister accused the country’s main nursing union of leaving itself open to the charge of “scaremongering” in its claim that patient safety would be put at risk in the move to alter the ratio between nurses and healthcare assistants. He said the changes had been agreed under the savings attached to Haddington Road.

The Minister also stressed he wanted to put to bed the idea that the model of care could not change, saying “the model of care has to change”.

Standards slipping.

This country was a long way off the London Royal College of Nursing advice on standards of one nurse per 2½ health care assistants in community service units, he said in Kenmare Co Kerry, where he opened a primary care centre which brings the town’s eight GPs and other practitioners under one roof.

Dr Reilly said in some big teaching hospitals in Ireland there were nine nurses to one health care assistant. In some other countries the ratio was 2.8 nurses per health care assistant.

“I want the patient looked at in the lowest level of complexity that is safe, timely and efficient and as near to home as possible,” he said.

“We don’t want doctors looking after patients nurses could be looking after; we don’t want nurses looking after patients that health care assistants could be looking after.”

Expensive

There had to be an end to “inappropriate use of very expensive time”.

He said the expanded role for nurses in taking over colonoscopy examinations and such from doctors and managing patient care as practice nurses, meant they too had to give a little bit.

White-tailed eagle chick hatched in Clare is sibling of shot bird

 

First births of the year take place in Mountshannon and Glengarriff

The first white-tailed eagle chicks of the year have been hatched in Co Clare and west Cork in recent weeks, it was announced today.

The rare birds were born in nests at Mountshannon, Co Clare and Glengarriff in west Cork, according to the Golden Eagle Trust which runs the reintroduction programme .

The chick born in Mountshannon is a sibling of a bird which was shot and killed three months ago. The deceased bird was one of two chicks born to the Mountshannon pair last year which became the first chicks to fly from a nest inIreland in over a century. The crime is under investigation by the Garda.

The chick born in Glengarriff, the first of the year to hatch, uunfortunately died at two weeks old. This was likely due to a combination of bad weather and inexperienced adults, Golden Eagle Trust project manager Dr Alan Mee said.

Nesting pairs at sites in Kerry and Galwayhave also laid eggs which have yet to hatch. At least half of the fourteen pairs of eagles across four counties have nested and laid eggs in recent weeks. Some pairs, including a nest in Killarney National Park, failed to breed.

These are the latest chicks in the reintroduction programme which began in 2007 with the release of 100 young Norwegian eagles in Killarney National Park .

Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht Jimmy Deenihan described it as a “very promising development” after the shocking killing earlier this year ” “That was a dark day for this ambitious project to reintroduce these magnificent birds of prey into Ireland,” he said. “I hope these young eagles will have a long life in our skies,” he said.

The pair at Mountshannon gives the general public a chance to see some of the most “spectacular birds” at “close quarters”, he said.

Dr Mee warned about risks of disturbance during the early stages of nesting which would be detrimental to success and could result in chicks being left unguarded.

“We would caution people not to approach the nest area but instead avail of the unique opportunity to watch from a nesting pair of sea eagles from nearby Mountshannon pier,” he said.

The increase in the number of nesting pairs is “encouraging” and “bodes well for the future of the species” he said. White-tailed eagles can live for 25 to 30 years and generally mate for life.

“Ultimately the viability of the reintroduced programme depends on these chicks going on to breed themselves in Ireland. Each step brings us closer to that goal,” he said.

The reintroduced birds came from Norway and the Norwegian Ambassador to Ireland also welcomed the news: “ This is an excellent example of international cooperation on the practical level, aiming at preserving nature and biodiversity for the benefit of future generations,” Roald Næss said.

The white-tailed eagle reintroduction project is managed by the Golden Eagle Trust with the National Parks and Wildlife Service. One hundred white-tailed eagles were released in Killarney National, park between 2007 and 2011 and 29 have been recovered dead mainly due to illegal poisoning.

The birds were historically a part of the Irish landscape before being made extinct here in the early 20th century due to human persecution.