News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Sunday 27th July 2014

Ireland in talks to repay IMF portion of bailout loans early


The International Monetary Fund managing director Christine Lagarde with Minister for Finance Michael Noonan and Italy’s Economy Minister Fabrizio Saccomanni.

Move could save exchequer billions of euro in interest payments

Ireland would need the full agreement of EU member states to separate the IMF and European portions of the bailout package.

The Government is in discussions with its international lenders about repaying some of its bailout loans early, in a move that could save the exchequer billions of euro in interest payments.

Behind-the-scenes discussions have been going on between Dublin and European capitals to seek political support for the move, which would need sign-off from EU countries including Germany.

The Government is seeking to restructure only the IMF portion of its €64 billion bailout loan repayments, as it costs more because it commands a higher rate of interest than the EU loans.

But under the original bailout agreement struck in December 2010, any move byIreland to repay its loans early must apply to both the IMF and European portions of the package. While Ireland’s EU lenders could revise this clause, such a change would need the full agreement of member states.

Dublin officials have been assessing the appetite among member states to sanction such a move before a formal application is made.

Currently, Ireland is paying about €1 billion a year in interest on its IMF loans.

The cost of servicing the IMF loans is about 5 per cent – more than twice the interest rate charged for the European loans.

Twice market rate

With Irish 10-year debt currently attracting a yield of just over 2 per cent in the market, Ireland is effectively paying more than twice the market rate for its IMF loans.

With most parliaments heading into summer recess any formal decision would not take place before the autumn, and hence is unlikely to be actually in place before this year’s budget in October. However, a reduction in interest rates could be a significant boost to the exchequer in the coming years.

While attention has focused on the Government’s pledge to secure retroactive direct bank recapitalisation for AIB andBank of Ireland, a decision to allow the early repayment of bailout loans may be more palatable to certain countries.

However, sources in Brussels said some euro zone members may resist any move to allow Ireland to repay its IMF loans early, as the EU would then take on the full risk of holding the outstanding loans.

Irish Government must find a way to fund universal healthcare

fairly and painlessly as possible


MacGill school hears much work to be done before universal health insurance is rolled out here.

Anthony Staines says we really have to think carefully and we have to explore the models. Whatever we bring in, it’s going to change.”

The current health system is full of “galloping inefficiencies and galloping waste” but a new system must be found for taking money from people as painlessly as possible and as fairly as possible, the MacGill summer school has heard.

Anthony Staines, professor of health systems at Dublin City University, said it costs €4,000 a year for every “man, woman, child and babe in arms” in the State to pay for the system as it is structured.

He was giving a briefing on the Government’s plan to introduce a system of universal health insurance by 2016.

He said there was a serious job to do to design the new universal health insurance system and that he and his colleagues were not all agreed on how that system would operate.

“We are not trying to sell any particular solution,” he said. “We really have to think carefully and we have to explore the models. Whatever we bring in, it’s going to change. Parts of it are going to work and parts of it are not going to work.”

He said we could not just clone a system based on one in another country, but had to create one of our own.

“There’s no such thing as a perfect health service. Every health service has problems.”

Prof Staines said he had colleagues in Dublin who had 8,000 patients in their diabetes clinics. No other country had such a system.

“This is just inefficient. We need to send the money where the care should be delivered.”

Privatisation concern

He said he would personally be very concerned about privatisation of the healthcare system.

“If all else fails, the minister for health can sack the chief executive of a hospital group. He can’t sack the chief executive of the Mater Private,” he said.

But he said the private hospitals provided necessary capacity for the system. “So we have to find a way of bringing them into the tent.”

Prof Staines said much better information systems would be part of the new healthcare system, as would much more effective use of nurses.

He suspected there would be more large-scale practices with many GPs – probably salaried and not partners.

“I do think that is the way forward. That we make much more use of the skills of our nurses who are a remarkably competent group and we use our GPs in a different way.”

Directing resources

Money in the healthcare system also needed to be directed at helping people take care of their illnesses at home and in the community.

Prof Staines said we did not at present have the structures to allow us to work out costs in the healthcare system.

“We are running information systems that would be regarded with contempt by a supermarket branch manager,” he said.

Louise O’Donnell, head of the Impact trade union’s health division, said universal health insurance for a family of four could cost as much as €3,600, making property taxes and water charges look “modest by comparison”.

She said the figure was based on former minister for health James Reilly’s “optimistic” estimate that the basic UHI package would cost €900 per individual.

The biggest burden would fall on families that have no health insurance and no medical card.

The HSE pays up to 27 times more than NHS for generic medicines


The HSE pays up to 27 times as much as Britain’s National Health Service for some generic medicines.

The higher costs here are despite the HSE’s introduction of a reference price for 20 of the most commonly used generic and off-patent medicines.

The Sunday Business Post reports that drugs including those to treat dementia, cancer, asthma, psychiatric conditions and high cholesterol are all far more expensive here than in the UK.

Last year legislation was introduced to allow pharmacists to supply generic substitutes of some of the most commonly prescribed medicines and reference pricing for authorised medicines began.

Ireland is not on the road to become a low carbon society, 

 says Environmental Protection Agency


Ireland is not on track to become a low carbon society, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

It says we need a clear vision in Ireland for how we generate, how we supply and how we use clean energy if we are to play our part in lowering emissions of carbon dioxide, mainly from fossil fuels.

Laura Burke, Director General of the EPA was speaking at the annual MacGill Summer School in Glenties, Co. Donegal.

“Emissions of carbon dioxide, mainly from fossil fuels, are the big driver of climate change globally, and here in Ireland, where they make up 65% of our emissions. If we don’t move – and move with urgency – then we will face the consequences of increasingly negative impacts of climate change.”

She said Ireland needs to plan for and we need to move to zero fossil carbon energy in the next 30 years – by 2050 at the latest. “The stone age didn’t end because we ran out of stones. We now need to think the same way about fossil fuels – the fossil fuel age must end long before the supply runs out.”

The phasing out of fossil fuels has already begun in Ireland. Renewable energy reduced CO2 emissions by almost 2 million tonnes in 2012, replacing imported fossil fuels and saving an estimated €.25m in costs of fuel imports and emissions, according to the EPA. This is nowhere near enough progress M/s Burke said.

“We are not on track to a low carbon society. At this rate, we are not even on track to meet our targets under the EU Climate and Energy package for 2020. Missing these targets will entail costs for Ireland, and will also increase the difficulty and the cost of achieving a low carbon economy and society,” the EPA Director General said.

The impacts of climate change are already being felt in Ireland, according to the EPA, and in the coming years and decades, our coastline will come under ever greater threat because of rising sea levels and other changes in the ocean.

“Changes in the ocean and in sea levels will dominate our climate. We need to understand the impacts much better than we currently do. A repeat of this year’s storms, so devastating in parts of Cork and Limerick, would have been even more devastating if they came on top of an additional rise in sea level of 20 or 30cm. And even the most optimistic forecast shows our sea level rising by between 26 and 55cm before the end of the century.”

Campaign groups urge Irish public to use €2 plastic plug in water-charges protests


Anti-water charges campaign groups across Ireland are encouraging the public to remove their water meters and use a €2 plastic plug to keep their water flowing.

According to today’s Irish Mail on Sunday, nearly 300 of the devices have already been sold as part of a mass campaign of civil disobedience being run by more than 100 anti-water charges groups.

Irish Water has said it is aware of the practice and has warned people that tampering with a meter was an offence which could result in offenders spending three months in prison and paying a fine of up to €5,000.

More than 100 anti-water charges groups are due to meet in Cork next month to plan a national campaign against the levy.

A Solar Superstorm missed our earth in 2012

But yes another one could strike


In July of 2012, coronal mass ejections (CMEs) came close to hitting Earth, which could have left millions without power and trillions in damage.

Two years ago, the worst solar storm in almost two centuries tore through Earth’s orbit. Luckily, the storm’s path just missed Earth.

Now, scientists are shedding new light on the extreme solar event that didn’t make headlines but could have had a “catastrophic effect.”

“If it had hit, we would still be picking up the pieces,” Daniel Baker of the University of Colorado said in a statement released by NASA this week.

The storm happened on July 23, 2012, but if it had taken place a week earlier, when the storm site was directly facing Earth, billions of tons of highly charged particles would have rained down on the planet, scientists said.  These particles, which travel in clouds of plasma called coronal mass ejections (CMEs), would have reached Earth in about a day.

The resulting firestorm could have knocked out power for millions for months or years and caused more than $2 trillion in damage, scientists said.

While the 2012 storm didn’t strike Earth, it did come into contact with the spacecraft, STEREO-A, NASA said.  Since then, scientists have been researching whether a future galactic storm of the same magnitude is merely science fiction.

It’s not.

Physicist Pete Riley in a paper published in Space Weather in February puts the odds of a solar storm hitting earth in the next 10 years at 12 percent.

The last solar storm that made a serious impact blacked out Quebec’s power grid in 1989, and storms in October and November in 2003 caused transformer failures in North America and Europe.

The worst solar storm on record happened in 1859 and was observed by amateur astronomer Richard Carrington. Because the so-called “Carrington event” occurred before the electrical age, there wasn’t significant damage on Earth.

A 2009 report by the National Academy of Sciences said another Carrington event today would be utterly debilitating.

“The loss of electricity would ripple across the social infrastructure with water distribution affected within several hours; perishable foods and medications lost in 12-24 hours; loss of heating/air conditioning, sewage disposal, phone service, fuel re-supply and so on,” the report said.


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