News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Friday 23rd May 2014

Irish Revenue splash out €24k on gifts for foreign experts

 

The Revenue Commissioners spent thousands of euros showering international tax officials and economic experts with gifts.

The revelation is sure to outrage cash-strapped homeowners forced to cough up hundreds of euros in property tax.

Revenue is deducting the property tax from pay packets and has warned it will pursue those who fail to pay the household charge through the courts.

Meanwhile, figures released by Revenue showed it forked out €24,580 over four years on corporate gifts for delegates at high-level international tax and customs meetings.

Gifts were also bought for economic experts who held workshops for Revenue officials free of charge.

Last year, €2,115 was spent on a silver engraved bookmarks and €1,752 was spent on chocolates for bureaucrats attending European Union Presidency events hosted by Revenue in Dublin.

More than €5,400 was spent on pen sets two years ago and €80 was forked for two crystal bowls.

In 2009, custom-designed plaques set the taxpayer back €6,063 while €1,450 was spent on business card holders.

Other gifts include crystal coasters, ogham plaques and shamrock crystal pieces.

A Revenue spokeswoman said it was “customary” for tax officials to exchange gifts as “gestures of goodwill and/or as a thank you for sharing their time and expertise on issues of relevance”.

“Small gifts are also given as tokens of appreciation to experts for presenting at Revenue workshops or training seminars free of charge,” she added.

“Where appropriate, such gifts are also given to attendees at high level international conferences hosted by Revenue.

“It is in this context that the small gifts outlined were purchased.”

It’s not just officials from Revenue who receive and give gifts, heads of state maintain a similar tradition.

Earlier this month, it emerged that a painting danced’ on to canvas by Michael Flatley was one of the most expensive gifts received by the Taoiseach.

PTSB Irish Bank could return to private ownership by 2017,

Masding tells agm

 

Permanment TSB bank has a reasonable chance of returning to private ownership by 2016 or 2017, chief executive Jeremy Masding has said.

The head of the state-owned bank added he was looking at the progress made by both Bank of Ireland and AIB in becoming more attractive to investors.

The comments come as a cloud of uncertainty hangs over the bank, which was once the country’s biggest mortgage lender.

ATTRACTIVE

At its AGM yesterday, chairman Alan Cook told angry shareholders that the bank was doing a “pretty good job” as it fights for survival.

Mr Cook said it was the board’s belief that the bank would be “sufficiently attractive” to have it returned to private hands by 2017.

“It doesn’t mean it gets sold to a North American bank or a UK bank,” he said. “In theory it could be a progressive injection of capital by private equity companies, it could be flotation, it could be from a trade sale to another bank. Frankly it’s just massively premature to be assessing those options.”

Mr Masding later told reporters that over time Permanent TSB would become an “investable entity”.

“I think now that we are getting some momentum, and I look at the progress that Bank of Ireland and AIB seem to be making in becoming attractive investable vehicles… I’d like to think that over time we will become an investable entity.

“I see no reason why that timeline isn’t reasonable.”

Improving market conditions mean the bank is looking to sell €1bn of boom-era Irish developer and property loans and a €465m book of subprime residential mortgage business, known as Springboard, this year.

Ahead of the AGM yesterday, PTSB issued a trading update to the stock exchange and said its mortgage arrears had fallen 10pc from their peak last year.

Impairment charges are expected to be significantly down this year on those experienced in 2012 and 2013, it said.

PTSB said in March that its cases of home loan arrears of more than 90 days peaked at 15.1pc in September, while arrears on buy-to-let loans reached a high of 21pc in December 2012.

New mortgage approvals to the end of April were up 80pc year-on-year, with €118m worth of mortgages drawn down in the year to date, from across the country. This is a 425pc increase year-on-year.

Parents should tell their kids food is ‘tasty or just say nothing’

A Study advises

  

Generations of children have been told that eating carrots will make them see in the dark, and that spinach makes them strong, but now research suggests that telling youngsters a dish is good for them will turn them off it.

The study concludes that young children are less likely to eat a particular food if they have been told that it is healthy.

It suggests that instead, parents should try to make their sons and daughters eat nourishing foods by simply telling them it is tasty, or saying nothing at all.

The study is based on a series of experiments involving around 270 pre-school children.

The youngsters were read different stories in which a girl was given some food for a snack. Some of the stories gave the message that the food was healthy, some gave the message that it was tasty and others gave no message at all.

Researchers then looked at how much of the food in the story – for example crackers or carrots – the children ate after hearing a particular tale.

The study, due to be published in the Journal of Consumer Research in October, found that children ate more of a food when they had been told that it was tasty, or when they were given no message, than they did when they had heard that the food was good for them.

It concludes: “We find consistent evidence that making food instrumental in achieving a goal, relative to presenting the food as yummy or with no message, decreases pre-schoolers’ consumption (current and planned) by leading to lower taste ratings. When food is presented as instrumental, children conclude it cannot be as tasty, and therefore they reduce consumption.”

Lead researcher Professor Ayelet Fishbach, of the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, said: “Pre-schoolers seem to think that food can’t serve two purposes, that it can’t be something that makes them healthier and something that is delicious to eat at the same time.

“So telling them that the carrots will make them grow tall or make them smarter actually makes them not want to eat the carrots. If you want them to eat the carrots, you should just give the kids the carrots and either mention that they are tasty or just say nothing.”

Mental illness as bad for life expectancy as smoking, Warning

   

  • Serious mental illness can reduce life expectancy by 10 to 20 years
  • The average reduction in life expectancy for heavy smokers is 10 years
  • Abusing alcohol and drugs reduces life expectancy by up to 24 years 
  • People with mental illness may also find it harder to access medical care because of stigma

Many mental illnesses are as bad for our health as smoking, shocking new research has revealed.

In fact, life expectancy for people with mental health problems is less than for heavy smokers, experts have found.

Serious mental illness can reduce a person’s life expectancy by 10 to 20 years, when the average reduction in life expectancy for heavy smokers is eight to 10 years, according to researchers from Oxford University.

Mental illness can reduce a person’s life expectancy by between 10 and 20 years

But mental health has not been given the same public health priority as smoking, they said.

The study, published in the journal World Psychiatry, analysed previous research on death risk for a whole range of problems – mental health issues, drug and alcohol abuse, dementia, autistic spectrum disorders, learning disability and childhood behavioural disorders.

The authors examined 20 papers looking at 1.7 million people and over 250,000 deaths.

They found that the average reduction in life expectancy for people with bipolar disorder was between nine and 20 years.

For schizophrenia, life expectancy was 10 to 20 years lower and for those with recurrent depression, it was seven to 11 years lower.

Those who fall victim to drug and alcohol abuse lose between nine and 24 years, the research found, while heavy smokers lost up to a decade.

‘We found that many mental health diagnoses are associated with a drop in life expectancy as great as that associated with smoking 20 or more cigarettes a day,’ said Dr Seena Fazel, of the Department of Psychiatry at Oxford University.

‘There are likely to be many reasons for this. High-risk behaviours are common in psychiatric patients, especially drug and alcohol abuse, and they are more likely to die by suicide.

‘The stigma surrounding mental health may mean people aren’t treated as well for physical health problems when they do see a doctor.

The average reduction in life expectancy in a heavy smoker is eight to 10 years making mental illness more dangerous

‘Many causes of mental health problems also have physical consequences and mental illness worsen the prognosis of a range of physical illnesses, especially heart disease, diabetes and cancer.

‘Unfortunately, people with serious mental illnesses may not access healthcare effectively.’

But she added that all of this could be changed.

‘That means making sure people have straightforward access to health care, and appropriate jobs and meaningful daytime activities.

‘What we do need is for researchers, care providers and governments to make mental health a much higher priority for research and innovation.’

Dr John Williams, head of neuroscience and mental health at the Wellcome Trust, which funded the study, added: ‘We now have strong evidence that mental illness is just as threatening to life expectancy as other public health threats such as smoking.

Mark Winstanley, chief executive of Rethink Mental Illness, said: ‘Our Lethal Discrimination report showed that more than 30,000 people with mental illness are dying needlessly every year – that’s more than one avoidable death every 20 minutes.

‘Signs of heart disease, diabetes and cancer are being missed because people aren’t getting the right health checks.

‘Obesity and smoking are also huge problems – 40 per cent or all tobacco consumption is by people with mental illness, yet they aren’t getting the support with lifestyle changes that other people expect and receive.’

White-Tailed Eagle Chicks hatch in Clare and Cork

 

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 in Ireland in over a century. The crime is under investigation by the Garda.

The chick born in Glengarriff, the first of the year to hatch, unfortunately 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 Galway have 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.

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