News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Thursday/Friday 12 & 13th June 2014

Irish Government giving politics a bad name

by insisting on majority on banking inquiry


Alex White says: Government giving politics ‘bad name’ by insisting on majority on banking inquiry.

Junior Health Minister Alex White has said the political row over a Government majority on the banking inquiry is “giving politics a bad name”.

Mr White’s comments follows Taoiseach Enda Kenny’s decision to insist on holding a Coalition majority on the highly anticipated inquiry before its terms of reference are decided.

However, Mr White, who is running for leadership of the Labour Party, said it was “not critical” for the Government to hold a majority.

“I think this is frankly the kind of behaviour that gives politics a bad a name,” he added.

“I think the critical thing about a banking inquiry is that it gets under way.

I don’t think it’s critical that there is a Government majority on the banking inquiry.

What’s most important is that it gets up and running and we get answer and the public gets answer to questions that have been around now for quite a few years.”

The Dail was suspended on Tuesday when Mr Kenny told Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin that the inquiry’s terms of reference could not be drawn up until the Government held a majority on the committee

The Government was due to hold a majority but a mix-up in voting arrangements in the Seanad meant it failed to hold the balance of power.

Mr White said he believed the current cross-party committee will work together in a “proper way” and an “ethical way”.

“I would have every confidence that members of the Dail and the Senate and opposition will come together in the spirit of achieving what we need to see done, which is get answers to these questions.”

“I think they will work well together and the public would expect them to do that,” he added

Despite suggesting Mr Kenny fired former Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan, Mr White said he saw no reason why he could not remain in Government with the Fine Gael leader should he become Tanaiste.

He said there must be “equality” in the Coalition Government and there should never be a circumstance when the Tanaiste is are not informed when important decisions are being made.”

Earlier today, a senator said the Government’s changes to the banking inquiry would make “Hitler ashamed”.

Senators have also complained about being treated like “muppets” after the Government decided to add two members to the banking inquiry.

The move to add two Coalition Senators is to ensure the Government has a majority on the committee.

The Government is taking the step after a procedural mess up by the Coalition resulted in the opposition had a majority on the committee.

Fianna Fail Senator Ned O’Sullivan compared the Government’s actions on the banking inquiry to a dictatorship.

“Hitler would have been ashamed of it,” he said.

“The worst day in democracy since the Blueshirts,” he added.

His party colleague, Senator Labhras O Murchu said the changes had “a whiff of Communist Russia”.

The measure has been described as turning the the banking inquiry into a “kangaroo court”.

Fianna Fáil Senator Paschal Mooney the Coalition was telling the Seanad “be good little muppets and do what the Government want you to do”.

The proposal will increase the number of members on the baking inquiry from nine to eleven.

Fine Gael Senator Michael D’Arcy and Labour Party Senator Susan O’Keeffe will be added to the membership when a motion is put to the Seanad later this morning.

Labour Senator Ivana Bacik said the committee selecting the members was “ambushed”.

The Coalition initially proposed the inquiry team would be made up of five government representatives and four from the opposition side.

However, the issue was subject to a heated row last week after Fianna Fail’s Marc MacSharry was appointed to the inquiry team because the Government’s preferred candidate, Ms O’Keeffe, and some of her colleagues failed to turn up for the vote.

Fine Gael senator Maurice Cummins objected to Mr MacSharry’s membership, claiming that he suffered from a conflict of interest. He later withdrew the remark.

The Government is now adamant that it must have a majority and will increase the number of members from nine to 11.

Speaking in the Dail on Tuesday, Taoiseach Enda Kenny said the banking inquiry would not have a proper mandate unless it consisted of a majority of government members.

“Obviously there was a voting procedure that took place last week. But in order for terms of reference to be adopted and for a mandate to be given, the Government need to have a majority,” Mr Kenny said.

In a statement last night, the Seanad’s Committee on Procedures and Privileges indicated that it would not overturn the selection of Mr MacSharry, a Sligo-based senator.

It said that such a move could not be taken because the Inquiry Committee is not up and running.

“Once the terms of reference resolution is passed by the House setting out the subject matter of the proposed Inquiry, and the Committee tasked with carrying out the Inquiry is named, the CPP will have a clear role in the determination of whether a perception of bias arises in relation to an individual member,” the Oireachtas committee said.

Gerry Adams urges Minister for Health James Reilly to make statement to Dáil


Minister for Health James Reilly: said last month that a HSE review found the procurement of services from the consultancy was not in accordance with financial regulations.

Sinn Féin has called on the Government to publish the findings of a HSE review into how a private consultancy, part-owned by the chairman of a regional hospital group, was awarded a contract to review maternity services in the area. Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams also called on Minister for Health James Reilly to make a statement to the Dáil.

Noel Daly, chairman of the West-NorthWest Hospital Group, resigned late on Wednesday, saying he did not want his personal and professional reputation or the reputation of the group to be compromised in any way.

Last month, a review by the HSE audit unit found that the appointment of D&F Health Partnership to review local maternity services in the west and northwest breached HSE financial regulations. Mr Daly had stepped back from involvement in the consultancy but still held a 50 per cent stake.

Bill Maher, chief executive of the hospital group, said he learned of Mr Daly’s decision to resign “with deep regret”. “On behalf of the group, I wish to take this opportunity to thank Noel for his unstinting hard work and support over the past two years.”

In a statement, Mr Daly said he took on the voluntary role of chairman two years ago and had been happy to serve in furthering significant improvements in the health services. “The board and the executive are doing wonderful work with the support of the HSE and the Minister and his department and I wish them continued success in their endeavours.”

Both Mr Daly and Mr Maher declined to make any further comment.

As reported in The Irish Times in April, the report by D&F Health Partnership recommended major cuts to maternity services in the west and northwest.

A spokesman for Dr Reilly yesterday referred to the Minister’s comments in the Seanad last month, when he said that a review by the HSE found the procurement of services from the consultancy was not in accordance with financial regulations. He said HSE director general Tony O’Brien had written to the hospital group outlining his concerns and seeking to ensure the recommendations in the review were implemented.

The Irish national Men’s Health Week hits it 20th anniversary 


Men can avoid illnesses like diabetes and heart disease by eating right, regular exercise, and getting plenty of sleep.

This is National Men’s Health Week, an awareness campaign to encourage men to take simple steps to improve their health.

By practically any measure, women are healthier than men. Dr. Luis Diez-Morales, medical director of the Curtis D. Robinson Men’s Health Institute at St. Francis Hospital, said there are many reasons why.

“We do not like to go and see the doctor,” he said. “We don’t like to have colonoscopies. We don’t like to have a prostate exam. We do not exercise enough; we do not eat healthy; we have a diet that is very high in fat and carbohydrates. We also do not sleep enough.”

These poor health habits can be deadly. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, on average men die five years earlier than women, often from preventable diseases, like diabetes, heart disease and prostate cancer.

National Men’s Health Week was established by Congress 20 years ago to encourage men to adopt a healthier lifestyle, and prevent these illnesses.

St. Francis Hospital’s Curtis D. Robinson Men’s Health Institute is celebrating Men’s Health Week by offering free prostate screenings for uninsured and underinsured men in Hartford through the month of June.

Chairman of HSE West Noel Daly resigns as hospital group chief


Health Minister James Reilly is under pressure to make an emergency Dáil statement on the sudden resignation of the chairman of the West North-West Hospital Board.

Noel Daly (above picture) stood down from the post after being accused of a conflict of interest by Sinn Féin.

Mr Daly said he quit because he did not want his personal or professional reputation to be compromised by the row.

Sinn Féin attacked Mr Daly because he is a shareholder in a private healthcare firm that conducted a survey of maternity services for the hospital group, which the party claims reflected a privatisation ethos.

Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams said serious questions remained about Dr Reilly’s appointment of Mr Daly to the role.

“Mr Daly had no option other than resignation considering what has emerged about his conflict of interests, which breached HSE financial regulations,” said Mr Adams after raising the matters several times in the Dáil.

“This man should never have been appointed to this position.

“I want to know if the Government will immediately publish the findings of the review by the HSE into how D&F Health partnership was awarded a contract to examine maternity services in the Hospital Group’s remit.

“Mr Daly is a well-known promoter of health privatisation and was appointed as chair of this Hospital Group by James Reilly.”

Mr Adams, who is a TD for Louth, added: “Minister Reilly needs to explain how such an appointment was made considering the glaring conflict of interests involved.”

Census comparison shows differences between Republic and NI


Significant gaps in terms of average age, population density and household size

A comparison of the results of the 2011 censuses in the Republic and Northern Ireland shows clear differences between life in the two near neighbours.

The report by the Central Statistics Office (CSO) and the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (NISRA), published today, highlights clear gaps between the two jurisdictions when it comes to age, gender, marital status, population density and household size.

The population of the island was 6.4 million at the time of the two censuses, carried out within weeks of each other in 2011, with the Republic accounting for 72% (4.6 million) of the total and Northern Ireland 28% (1.8 million).

The report points out that, since 2002, the population in the Republic increased at about two and a half times the rate of Northern Ireland, at 17% and 6.9% respectively.

Across the island, the highest rates of population growth were seen in Fingal (79%), Meath (75%) and Kildare (71%) over the last 20 years with Belfast (-4.1%) and Cork city (-6.3%) the only areas to experience a decline.

The population density for the island as a whole stood at 78% per km2, an increase of 25% since 1991. The population density in Northern Ireland stood at 134 persons per km2; exactly double that of the Republic at 67 per km2.

Strong population growth in the Republic saw population density increase by 30% between 1991 and 2011. The Northern Ireland rate went up 13% in that period.

There are more women than men in both jurisdictions (3.24 million to 3.16 million across the island) with Northern Ireland recording 961 men for every 1,000 women and the Republic reporting 981 men for every 1,000 women.

The median age, the point at which half of the population is younger and half is older, was 34 in the Republic, the lowest of any EU member state. The median age in Northern Ireland, while higher at 37, was also comfortably lower than the EU average of 41.

“The highest median age can be seen in eastern areas of Northern Ireland, in particular in Ards, Castlereagh, Larne and North Down at 41. The lowest median age of 31 was found in Galway City,” the report states.

Children aged up to 12 years accounted for 19 per cent of the population of Ireland, compared to 17% in Northern Ireland, which the report says reflected higher birth rates in Ireland in recent years. Over 65s accounted for 15% of Northern Ireland’s population, compared with 12% of that in the Republic.

Berthe’s mouse Lemurs threatened with world extinction


More than 90% of lemurs are being threatened with extinction, the latest global assessment of at-risk species has shown.

They are among the 22,103 species assessed by experts as being in the three ‘at-risk’ categories of critically endangered, endangered or vulnerable to extinction in the IUCN Red List.

The latest update showed that 94% of lemur species in Madagascar – the only place they are found – were threatened with extinction, making them one of the most endangered species of animals on Earth.

Of the African island nation’s 101 remaining lemur species, more than one fifth (22) were critically endangered, include the largest living lemur, the large-bodied Indri.

Almost half, 48 species, were endangered, including the world’s smallest primate, Madame Berthe’s mouse lemur, and 20 were vulnerable to extinction.

Lemurs were threatened by destruction of tropical forest habitat, with illegal logging on the increase in the face of political uncertainty and rising poverty in Madagascar, and from being hunted for food.

Dr Chistoph Schwitzer, on the IUCN’s primate specialist group and director of Conservation at Bristol Zoological Society, said: “Despite profound threats to lemurs, which have been exacerbated by the political crisis in Madagascar, we believe there is still hope.

“Past successes demonstrate that collaboration between local communities, non-governmental organisations and researchers can protect imperilled primate species,” he said, calling for concerted efforts to ensure lemurs survived.

Dr Thomas Lacher, of Texas A&M University, said the high threat level to lemurs required significant action.

He said they served a critical role in threatened ecosystems in Madagascar.

“They also represent an important source of tourism revenue for the country, and as a result are a clear case where conservation can provide local economic benefits,” he said.

Lemurs are just one of the many species on the new endangered list. Almost four-fifths of slipper orchids (pictured above), which are found in North America, Europe and temperate regions of Asia, are also at risk of dying out, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of threatened species has revealed.

The new assessment found that the Japanese eel, a traditional delicacy and the country’s most expensive food fish, is endangered, while the Brazilian three-banded armadillo (pictured below) – the mascot for this year’s World Cup – remains vulnerable to extinction.

A global assessment of temperate slipper orchids found that 79% of the popular ornamental plants, which have characteristic slipper-shaped flowers that trap insects to ensure pollination, were threatened with extinction.

Their plight was the result of destruction of their habitat and over-collection of wild species for trade, even though international trade is regulated.

The freckled cypripedium, which has fewer than 100 individuals left in south-eastern Yunnan in China and the Ha Giang province of Vietnam, was endangered due to over-collection and deforestation.

The Dickinson’s cypripedium which has only scattered populations in Mexico, Guatemala and Honduras, was also endangered as its open forest habitat was being cleared for agriculture, the assessment found.

Hassan Rankou, on the IUCN’s orchid specialist group, which is based at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, said: “What was most surprising about this assessment was the degree of threat to these orchids.

“Slipper orchids are popular in the multimillion-dollar horticultural industry.

“Although the industry is sustained by cultivated stock, conservation of wild species is vital for its future.”

Elsewhere, the banana orchid, the national flower of the Cayman Islands, had been assessed for the first time and listed as endangered, due to loss of its habitat for housing and tourism developments.

All eight species of African violets, found in the Eastern Arc mountains of East Africa, were assessed and all but one were at risk of extinction, with three critically endangered.

The Japanese eel was listed as endangered due to its loss of habitat, overfishing, barriers to migration, pollution and changes to oceanic currents.

The Red List update also included a re-assessment of the Brazilian three-banded armadillo, which was believed to have declined by more than a third over the last 10-15 years due to loss of half its shrubland habitat and remained listed as vulnerable to extinction.

But there was good news for Israel’s Yarkon bream, a fish species whose status went from extinct in the wild to vulnerable as a result of a captive breeding programme and release of 9,000 fish into restored habitat in the country’s rivers.

More than 73,000 species were assessed by conservationists for the IUCN Red List, which is marking its 50th anniversary this year.

The latest update listed 4,554 species as critically endangered, 6,807 species as endangered and 10,742 species as vulnerable to extinction.


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