Daily Archives: June 20, 2014

News Ireland daily BLOG Friday

Friday 20th June 2014

Garda are constrained by budget cuts, says acting Commissioner O’Sullivan

 

Nóirín O’Sullivan tells policing event that force has ‘adequate’ resources to meet obligations

Acting Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan said she believed the force still had adequate resources for policing.

The Garda force had been hit by budget cuts that “constrained” it, but it still had “adequate” resources to meet its obligations, acting Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan has said.

And she insisted some investments were being made.

“This year alone we have bought 140 new cars which are augmenting the fleet. But when new resources and new finances are made available we can prioritise on where those new cars need to go and what types of cars and bikes we need.”

However, despite the reduced resources she believed the Garda was “policing very well”.

“Yes, the numbers have fallen slightly under 13,000,” she said in reference to the total strength of the force and the number former Garda commissioner Martin Calllinan said they should not fall below.

“Nevertheless, we do have adequate resources to police,” Ms O’Sullivan added.

She was speaking at an event in Farmleigh, Phoenix Park, Dublin, in which stakeholders in the justice and policing areas were meeting today for a consultation on how the new Garda Authority would be introduced.

This week the head of the Garda Inspectorate, which reviews all elements of policing in the Republic and advises the Garda and Government on the need for reforms, expressed the clear view that policing was struggling.

Chief Inspector Bob Olsen said the Garda did not have the resources it needed to carry out its work in the way it should.

The IT infrastructure enjoyed by police forces in other countries was not available to gardaí.

Garda vehicles were being switched from urban to rural areas to get more mileage from old vehicles.

It meant the fleet would all require upgrading at the same time and was a financial “time bomb”.

He had previously said Garda training had ground to a halt and that he and his staff were meeting detectives who had never received any training on how to be a detective.

Yesterday the Public Accounts Committee was told by the secretary general of the Department of Transport, Tom O’Mahony, that some parts of the penalty points system were on hold for years because neither the Garda nor Irish Courts Service had the IT it needed to operate them.

Ms O’Sullivan pointed out that Garda recruitment was about to begin again in the weeks ahead, saying it was something the organisation was looking forward to.

The new recruits would enter a Garda culture where the standards expected from them were clear.

The Garda culture needed to “tell them what those standards, values and behaviours are and ensure that the training is adequate and robust enough to foster those values in people”.

The Guerin report, which indentified serious shortcomings in policing in Bailieboro, Co Cavan, “represented an opportunity to review some of the policies and practices around investigations and supervision over sight and management”.

She said an online survey of Garda members since she had assumed her post on an interim basis following the snap retirement of Mr Callinan two months ago reflected the concerns that the main Garda representative bodies had been raising.

“I know the perception is that morale is on the ground. Certainly people are hurting, people are concerned and they were very concerned at everything that has happened.”

However, she believed the visible leadership she had demonstrated and her efforts to travel around and meet members of the force “not alone reinforced confidence in people that it’s business as normal, but that we can build on what has happened in the past, we can learn lessons and get stronger”.

She would “shortly” be in a position to talk about her plans to reorganised Garda Headquarters and also the reforms put in place as a result of the Guerin report.

She was aware of comments by independent TD Clare Daly in the Dáil yesterday when she alleged Mr Callinan, while still in office, had made attempts to contact the main Garda staff associations to ask them to express no confidence in the Garda Siochana Ombudsman Commission.

“I am aware of the reporting today which also says that the Garda associations have refuted that but that’s all I know about that.”

She said the Garda whistleblower Sgt Maurice McCabe had returned to work and continued to enjoy the support of senior management in that regard. However, she did not want to go into specifics about the circumstances of any individual Garda member.

NTMA raises €500m in successful sale of three-month bonds

 

Taking advantage of positive investor sentiment towards Ireland, NTMA receives bids of €2.1 billion

Minister for Finance Michael Noonan with NTMA officials in the Treasury Holdings building in Dublin

The National Treasury Management Agency (NTMA) has successfully auctioned a further €500 million in three-month Treasury Bills.

Taking advantage of positive investor sentiment towardsIreland, the NTMA received total bids amounting to €2.1 billion – 4.2 times the amount on offer. The three-month notes were sold at an annualised yield of 0.105 per cent.

Ireland’s borrowing costs have been trading near record lows of late on foot of two recent credit upgrades and further European Central Bank stimulus measures, including an interest rate cut, earlier this month.

he NTMA has raised €6.5 billion of Ireland’s long-term money this year already, bringing it 81 per cent of the way towards its full-year funding target of €8 billion.

Today, the yield on 10-year Irish bonds remained at 2.4 per cent, keeping the State’s borrowing costs below those of the UK.

Investors are buying bonds of peripheral euro zone states amid signs the region’s debt crisis may be over.

The so-called “yield grab” was fuelled earlier this month by comments from ECB chief Mario Draghi that Frankfurt was prepared to take more action if the new measures fall flat.

The cost of posting a letter is to increase from July this year

  

Communications regulator gives An Post green light to raise cost of a stamp to 68 cent. 

An Post has been cleared to increase the cost of postage from July 21st next.

The price of sending a letter is to increase next month. The communications regulator ComReg has given An Post permission to raise the price of its stamps, with effect from Monday, July 21st.

The standard domestic letter rate for items up to 100g will increase from 60cent to 68 cent while the standard international letter rate will increase from 90 cent to €1.00 for items up to 100g.

Despite the increase, An Post said the new rates will remain among the lowest in the EU countries including Britain, France, Belgium and Italy, and well below the EU domestic average of 71 cent.

A range of discount options will continue to remain available to businesses buying stamps in bulk and using meter mail, Ceadúnas licence and bulk-mail services.

A spokeswoman for An Post said the increase is necessary due to “ongoing cost reduction initiatives” and to “stem the unsustainable financial losses” arising from the Company’s Universal Service Obligation where losses totalled €55 million in 2013 .

An Post’s annual report published in April of this year showed that in 2013, the company made an operating loss of €11.4 million in spite of an increase in turnover of 0.5 per cent and an extra €20 million from a stamp price increase. The operating loss in 2012 was €17.5 million.

More than half of all mobile phones are Smartphones

 

Broadband subscriptions and speeds also increase, according to new Comreg report

With the rise in smartphones comes an increase in data volumes, which rose by 48.1 per cent in the year to the end of March to reach 13,897 terabytes

Smartphones are more popular than ever before, according to new figures published by the Communications regulatorComreg.

Its latest quarterly report shows that 57.2 per cent of all mobile phones in use in Ireland are smartphones, up 12.2 per cent for the first quarter 2013.

The study reveals there are now 3,206,880 active 3G and 4G users in the country.

With the rise in smartphones comes an increase in data volumes, which rose by 48.1 per cent in the year to the end of March to reach 13,897 terabytes.

According to the figures there were 5,619,777 mobile phone subscriptions in total in the first three months of 2014, down 0.1 per cent on the previous quarter. Ireland’s mobile penetration rate for the quarter was 121.9 per cent.

Average Revenue Per User (ARPU) was €26 per month, down from €28 on the previous quarter. Comreg attributed the decline in ARPU to cheaper mobile phone plans and increased sales of bundled products.

The total number of text messages sent by mobile users in Ireland was over 2.02 billion in the first three months of the year, down 25 per cent on the same quarter in 2013. The number of multimedia messages (MMS) sent declined by 7.4 per cent.

Fixed voice and mobile voice traffic also declined during the quarter. Fixed voice traffic was down by 1.3 pe cent while mobile traffic fell by 0.8 per cent.

Comreg’s report shows that broadband subscriptions rose by 0.7 per cent versus the previous quarter to stand at 1.7 million at the end of March. The estimated household broadband penetration rate was 67 per cent.

Average broadband speeds continue to rise with 56.7 per cent of all subscriptions equal to or greater than 10 Mbps, up from 32.2 per cent for the same quarter a year earlier. Approximately 37.7 per cent of all broadband subscriptions were equal or greater than 30 Mbps up from 21.3 per cent.

The number of WiFi hotspots and access points increased by approximately 18.4 per cent and 16 per cent respectively on an annual basis.

Overall industry retail revenues for telecom companies decreased by 3 per cent, according to Comreg. Total retail revenues in the twelve months to March totalled €3.13 billion, down from over €3.22 billion a year earlier.

A Great View of Earth of the Summer Solstice

  

An image of the midnight sun over the northern reaches of the western half of the globe.

A new satellite image beautifully highlights the Earth forming a perfect crescent as the midnight sun beams down on the far northern reaches of the globe

Planning to host a party for the summer solstice tomorrow? Here’s a view that will help build some excitement, courtesy of a satellite positioned about 36,000 miles from the Earth’s surface.

Brian McNoldy, a tropical storm researcher at the University of Miami, grabbed an image of the Earth as GOES-West, a satellite operated by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, that shows the Earth at local midnight last night. It beautifully highlights the earth forming a perfect crescent as the midnight sun beams down on the far northern reaches of the globe.

While the solstice is officially at 6:51 a.m. Eastern on Saturday, McNoldy explained in an email that the image captured is a pretty close representation of what it will look like from the same vantage point. In other words, this is a solstice drill that’s as close to the real thing as possible.

McNoldy also shared another bit of trivia: you won’t see a similar view from the opposite side of the planet. GOES-West, which in satellite parlance sits in a geostationary orbit above the 135°W meridian, snaps a full Earth picture at local midnight everyday. However, GOES-East, its aptly-named partner on the other side of the planet, operates on a slightly different schedule and the closest you’ll get to this view is a photo taken at 12:45 a.m. local time. That view, while still pretty spectacular, would show a warped crescent as opposed the perfection of GOES-West’s view.

Feel free to add that to your trivia game at your solstice party.

The solstice is commonly referred to as the longest day of the year, a statement that leaves most folks in the Southern Hemisphere shaking their heads. A more accurate description of the solstice is that due to the position of the Earth’s orbit around the sun, the North Pole will be angled as close to the sun as possible this year. That makes it seem like the longest day of the year in the northern hemisphere but the shortest in the southern hemisphere. After Saturday, the two hemispheres’ luck will start to reverse which each day getting shorter in the northern half of the globe and longer in the southern half.

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News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Thursday 19th June 2014

AIB says it intends to repay the €20.8 billion bailout from Irish State

 

The banks chairman tells shareholders that repayment of bailout was ‘constant focus’ of his board

AIB chairman David Hodgkinson told shareholders today that the bank intends to repay the €20.8 billion in bailout funds that it has received from the State since 2009.

“This bank will over time repay the €20 billion to the State,” he said in response to a rambling question from shareholder Niall Murphy at its annual general meeting in Ballsbridge. “That is our intention. We have to create a viable institution and we are well on that path.”

Earlier, in a prepared statement, Mr Hodgkinson said it was the “constant focus” of the board of AIB to repay the State and he said the bank had paid €2 billion in recent years to the exchequer in fees related to the Government guarantees and coupon payents on its contingent capital notes.

Mr Hodgkinson also revealed that AIB chief executiveDavid Duffy has agreed to a permanent contract with the bank, having previously been on a three-year contract that was due to end in December.

There was no financial update from AIB at its AGM this morning, given that it had issued an interim management statement in May and its results for the first half of this year will be published on July 30th.

Mr Hodgkinson said a number of milestones had been met by the bank recently, including approval for its restructuring plan by the European Commission. He reiterated that AIB had returned to post-provision profitability during the first quarter of this year.

Mr Hodgkinson said AIB plans to deliver mortgage approvals of between €7 billion and €10 billion each year out to 2017. Lending drawdowns by customers in its combined businesses were 60 per cent higher during the first three months of this year when compared with the same period of 2013.

He said mortgage drawdowns in the Republic were 50 per cent higher during the first three months of 2014 when compared to the same period last year.

The AIB chairman added that mortgage arrears in Q1 was “stable”.

“We are fully aware of the distress suffered by many customers in financial difficulty and we are making real and tangible inroads into restructuring their borrowings,” he said.

On SME lending, Mr Hodgkinson said credit demand is improving and lending approvals in the first quarter of 2014 were 25 per cent higher than the same period of last year.

The bank is to hold an extraordinary general meeting later to deal with a proposed capital reorganisation.

AIB currently has in excess of 523 billion shares in issue, 99.8 per cent of which are held by the State, and the bank plans to simplify this structure.

European court rules against Dunnes Stores in copyright case

 

Karen Millen the designer says Dunnes should not be allowed copy its skirt and top.

A sweater designed by Karen Millen in 2005 (left) and another design which appeared on the shelves of Dunnes Stores outlets in 2006.

The European Court of Justice has ruled against Dunnes Stores in relation to arguments it has made in the case where British fashion company Karen Millen is complaining about the copying of its designs.

A number of questions were referred to the court by the Irish Supreme Court concerning the interpretation of EU regulations on the protection of fashion designs. The outcome is seen in some quarters as having ramifications for all high-street retail chains.

In the High Court, Ms Justice Mary Finlay Geogheganruled that Dunnes, in offering for sale a black knit top and blue and brown shirts, infringed Karen Millen’s rights to unregistered community design under council regulation (EC) number 6/2002 in each of the three designs.

The issue was then appealed to the Supreme Court, where Dunnes argued that as Karen Millen had failed to prove the individual character of the designs at issue, it was not the holder of an unregistered community design.

It said the individual character of a design must be assessed by reference not only to one or more individual designs made available to the public previously, but also by a combination of features taken in isolation and drawn from a number of earlier designs.

In its judgment, the court in Luxembourg said that the individual character of a design must be assessed by reference to one or more specific, individualised, defined and identified designs from among all the designs which have been made available to the public previously.

“Consequently, that assessment cannot be conducted by reference to a combination of features taken in isolation and drawn from a number of earlier designs.”

The Supreme Court had already rejected some of the Dunnes Stores claims and a full hearing of the appeal by the Irish retailer can now go ahead after the rulings from the Luxembourg Court.

In the European court’s judgment, it says that the British fashion designer put the shirt and top on sale in Ireland in 2005, and that the items were purchased by representatives of Dunnes Stores. “Dunnes subsequently had copies of the garments manufactured outside Ireland and put them on sale in its Irish stores in late 2006.”

Irish consumer prices are 18% higher than the EU average

 

Figures from Eurostat also show alcohol and tobacco prices are on average 78% more expensive than the EU.

Even after six years of austerity, consumer prices in Ireland are on average 18% higher than the European Union norm, prompting renewed concern about the country’s competitiveness.

According to figures from Eurostat, Ireland is considerably more expensive than most of its European neighbour’s when it comes food, alcohol, restaurants, hotels, transport and electronic goods.

The figures, which are based on data from last year, ranked Ireland as the fifth most expensive of 28 member states, behind Denmark, Sweden, Luxembourg and Finland, with prices estimated to be 118% of the EU average.

This placed us ahead of countries like the UK, France,Germany and Spain.

Despite the country’s large agricultural sector, the price of food and non-alcoholic beverages here was 17% higher than the average.

In terms of alcohol and tobacco, Ireland ranked as the most expensive state in the EU and by some way, with prices 78% higher than the average.

However, the study noted the large price variation in this category reflected, in the main, differences in taxation.

The Drinks Industry Group of Ireland called for the reversal of excise duty on alcohol, saying the “unfair” excise rate was a tax on jobs, tourism and consumers.

The cost of restaurants and hotels in Ireland was found to be 28% above the average, placing Ireland third behind only Sweden and Denmark as the most expensive place to stay and eat out.

Ireland was also ahead of the norm in terms of the cost of personal transport equipment (111 %) and when it came to consumer electronics (105%).

Clothing was the only category in which prices here were found to be below the average, in this case by 2%.

Alan McQuaid, economist with Merrion Stockbrokers, described the figures as disappointing, especially as the only countries with higher prices than Ireland were the traditionally tax-high states of Scandinavia and cash-rich Luxembourg.

“We were a lot closer to the EU on the prices front at the height of the crisis, though we were higher on average at the height of the boom.”

“The data highlight that Ireland is in danger of becoming uncompetitive, charging more for its goods than other EU member states.”

Mr McQuaid said higher taxes were clearly a factor, noting the VAT and excise duty hikes that were implemented as part of the fiscal austerity process.

“With an increase in corporation tax being ruled out, and little scope left for income tax hikes, then the only option left is indirect taxes, which of course add to prices.”

“The other key issue which these figures highlight is the underlying cost for retailers – e.g. rents, insurance and wage costs – are higher than elsewhere. You cannot look to have one of the highest minimum wages in Europe, and then not be surprised that prices are more expensive than the rest of the bloc.”

Whatever about wages, he said the Government need to address the issue of high insurance, rents and other administrative costs.

“Overall, the figures are no great surprise and despite the low headline annual inflation rate, should be a reminder to policymakers not to rest on their laurels and take things for granted.”

Recent consumer price data from the Central Statistics Office showed suggested annual inflation was running at just 0.4% in May.

A breakdown of the figures showed, however, the cost of renting a home rose more than 20 times faster than the average level of inflation over the past 12 months.

Meanwhile:-

The rate of jobless households in Ireland is far above the European norm

 

About a quarter of Irish households are currently jobless at a level “far above” the European norm in a situation described as “not acceptable” says Taoiseach Kenny.

A new report by a Government-sponsored think tank has found that 23% of Irish households are jobless, compared to a European average of just 11%, and that 56% of Irish jobless households have children.

The National Economic and Social Council warned that these households have a high risk of poverty, with the danger of passing on joblessness and poverty across generations.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny has now pledged to break the cycle and reiterated the Government’s commitment to “continue the plan to dismantle the passive welfare system” which had “abandoned such large numbers of households to lifelong dependency on the State”.

“This is essential if we are to break the cycle of poverty and unemployment associated with jobless households,” he said.

The report, ‘Jobless Households: An Exploration of the Issue’, found that those who live in jobless households are more likely to have no educational qualifications, to have never worked or to be in the unskilled social class.

They are also more likely to be renting their accommodation, to be single or parenting alone, and to either have a disability or to live with someone with a disability.

The NESC has pointed out that because of the multiple reasons for joblessness, a one-solution-fits-all approach will not work and that packages of support must reflect individual needs.

Adult literacy, child development, family supports, addiction services, disability services, housing, education and training, public and community employment as well as engagement with employers must all form part of a tailored service to cater for people’s circumstances, the NESC said.

Helen Johnston, author of the report (pictured), explained that the reasons for household joblessness are complex – but the age, level of education and health of the adults in the household are all factors.

Blind dog reacts to seeing his owner and family again
 

Duffy is an Irish terrier that has risen to YouTube fame thanks to a video put up two days ago by his owner, YouTuber Benjamin May.

According to May Duffy had gone blind from complications with doggy diabetes. However, after regulating the dog’s condition, Duffy was able to get a restorative surgery to bring back his sight again.

As he darts around the room with an Elizabethan collar—the cone given to pets after surgical procedures—his tail is wagging and he starts to whine with excitement. But enough of this play-by-play. Take a look at the video above.

After the successful operation adorable Duffy is let into the room where his owners are waiting and is overcome with doggy delight.

He clearly recognises them and not knowing who to greet first the happy chappy chases around the room in ecstasy.

You Tuber Ben Myer uploaded the smile-inducing video two days ago.

He wrote: “This is my Irish Terrier Duffy. He’s a rescue dog and he’s had a lot of struggles with his health.

“He developed diabetes and lost his eyesight. With medication we got his diabetes stable and he qualified for eye surgery to give him back his sight. Here is seeing my parents afterwards.”

A record number of flamingo chicks raised in Gloucestershire England

  

A total of 35 fluffy chicks are being raised at the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust in Slimbridge, whose flock is the largest in Europe with 245 birds.

A Record number of chicks are being reared at Europe’s largest greater flamingo flock. A total of 35 fluffy chicks are being raised at the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust in Slimbridge, Gloucestershire, England.

The wetland centre’s flock is the largest in Europe with 245 birds and the number of newborns has smashed the previous record of 25 set in 2010.

Mark Roberts, aviculture manager, said: “It is really quite incredible as the wet weather in May certainly made rearing challenging for them.

“Their nesting island is now made out of sand rather than mud which has been shown in recent studies to be better and they really like the environment of Flamingo Lagoon, so I think it must be down to these factors.

“It is a stunning sight to see all the chicks around the nesting island and the observatory has been busy with visitors enjoying watching all the action.”

Now the successful flock is taking great care rearing the bumper yield of chicks using supervised ‘creches’ to allow the parents time to themselves.

The chick’s parents still crop feed the bird but for long periods of the day the chicks will stay with each other with just seven or eight ‘nanny’ adults supervising them.

Mr Roberts added: “The creches are fun to watch. If a plane flies over or if there is any other disturbance that they deem a threat the chicks all huddle together with the ‘nanny’ birds forming a protective ring on the outside.

“Flamingos are extremely sociable birds with a complex hierarchy. This emphasis on flock behaviour starts from when they are just days old when they join the creche.”

Four of the world’s six flamingo species are classed as ‘Vulnerable’ or ‘Near Threatened’ by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

It is thought there are less than 30 breeding sites left in the whole world.