News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Tuesday 14th October 2014

Irish budget 2015 focuses on ‘squeezing the middle’


Those earning hundreds of thousands will not make ‘astronomical gains’,

The two Government Ministers who announced the Budget have said it was principally directed at the “squeezed middle” or “coping classes” in society.

At a press conference in Government buildings tonight, Minister for Finance Michael Noonan and Minister for Public Expenditure Brendan Howlin said that most of the tax benefits were focused on households with income between €30,000 and €70,000.

Both argued that those with the lowest income had not been neglected. Mr Noonan said lower-income groups could not get relief though income tax so they had taken a tranche of people out of the Universal Social Charge net. Mr Howlin also pointed to the successive increases of €5 per month in child benefit that will be introduced in 2015 and 2016.

“The objective will be the same, to target the squeezed middle and to be fair to those in the middle,” said Mr Noonan, who said that those earning above €70,000 would not benefit more than those at €70,000, because the increase of 1 per cent in USC for those earning more than that amount would counter the decrease of 1 per cent in the higher income tax rate.

That USC change, said Mr Noonan, would mean that those earning high incomes in the hundreds of thousands would not make “astronomical gains”.

Mr Noonan also strongly indicated that the tax reforms to reduce the marginal rate over the next three years would not bring an end an USC. He said that there was a reluctance to remove a tax instrument that took in €4 billion each year. Mr Howlin pointed out that it was “harder to shelter income” from it.

Responding to questions that it was an election or giveaway budget, Mr Howlin argued that some commentators stuck in the rut about the bailout and the Troika

“We are no longer in a programme. We are are no longer bound by programme rules,” he said.

Both said the GDP deficit target of 2.9 per cent would be achieved and exceeded, although Mr Howlin did admit that the upturn in the economy in recent months gave him more options than he though he would have.

“Some of our political enemies (argued) the notion that we continue to reduce expenditure as we have done for seven years.

“That is okay if you subscribe to the old British navy maxim: “We will keep flogging them until morale improves.”

Mr Noonan said the thinking behind the ‘patent box’ was to get intellectual property inshore and to offer competitive rates compared to other EU counties such as Britain.

He said the Government would not outline its proposals regarding the introduction of such a measure until theEuropean Commission gave details on what was acceptable. He said that, given the international competition for foreign direct investment, the intention was to come up with an idea that would be “if possible, the best in the class”.

EU boost for cross-border economy


Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Brendan Howlin announced new EU funding for the next seven years.

More than half a billion euro is to be pumped into counties on either side of the Irish border, Dublin’s public spending minister has announced.

As part of the Republic’s Budget measures, Labour’s Brendan Howlin said new funding has been secured from Europe for the next seven years.

The money will come from the peace and interreg schemes.

The funds will be used to help boost the economy on both sides of the border, increase tourism as well as improve cross-border and cross-community relations.

Mr Howlin, delivering the first tax-cut and spending increase budget in the republic for seven years, said : “The Government attaches a high priority to these cross-border programmes, and I am pleased to say that draft programmes have now been submitted to the Commission by the Government in partnership with the Northern Ireland Executive.”

Mr Howlin said a special allocation of 100 million euro for the Border, Midlands and Western region would also form part of an overall 1.2 billion euro package of structural funds up to 2020.

“I am committed to ensuring that the benefits of our economic revival are shared across the whole country,” he said.

New housing scheme to create some thousands of new jobs


The house building scheme will create thousands of jobs

Thousands of jobs are to be created with a massive social housing building project that will turn the tide for Ireland’s battered construction industry, builders have claimed.

The Government has revealed 2.2 billion euro will be spent on homes for those most in need over the coming three years, as part of the Budget measures.

Public Spending Minister Brendan Howlin said the money will include 1.5 billion euro directly from the public purse.

Public private partnerships will bring in a further 300 million euro while an “off-balance sheet financial vehicle” will provide at least 400 million euro from next year onwards to the approved housing bodies, he announced.

Separately, 530 million euro is being spent on schools building projects.

The Construction Industry Federation (CIF) said the spending marks a turning of the tide for public spending in the sector.

Tom Parlon, CIF director general, described the announcement as deeply significant and very important.

“You have to understand that previously public spending represented about 50% of the activity in the sector,” he said.

“So the massive cuts in capital spending really hit the industry hard and added significantly to the increase in construction job losses.”

Mr Parlon vowed the spending would provide a huge amount of work for the industry and will create thousands of jobs.

“The next step is to get the details of these projects so that Irish construction companies can start making the necessary preparations,” he said.

“The sooner this information is provided the sooner Irish construction companies can start to plan for these projects.

“That is important when it comes to having the right number of staff on a company’s books and making other arrangements for their businesses.”

Ireland’s childhood obesity rates have levelled off since 2002


Ireland’s surging childhood obesity rates have reportedly ground to a halt since 2008, while adult levels have almost halved.

However, experts cannot say for definite if the drop was due to dietary cutbacks during the economic crisis.

Findings to be published in the open-access online journal BMC Public Health today show that, despite a threefold increase in childhood obesity rates from the 1970s to the early 2000s, between 2002 and 2012 the rates levelled off.

Specifically, over the 10-year period, childhood overweight and obesity levels remained static at 25%-37%, despite predictions that they would rise, while adult levels fell from 7% to 4%.

Although the issue continues to be a serious cause of concern, with one in four children being overweight or obese and one in 50 being morbidly obese, the study’s authors said there has been a clear drop-off in the problem since 2008.

However, the team behind the joint UCC and UCD research denied suggestions that the issue may be linked to families being forced to cut junk food out of adult and children’s diets to save money during the recession.

“We don’t have information on that from this particular piece of research; we can’t say for definite but we do know that it started to level off in 2008,” said study co-author and UCC lecturer in public health nutrition Janas Harrington.

“The World Health Organisation is looking at the causes for these trends at the moment through COSI [the Child Obesity Surveillance Initiative]. That’s looking at Ireland among eight European countries through a cross-section of children aged seven to nine years.

“This isn’t an issue that’s fixed easily overnight.”

Lead author of the study Eimear Keane, a PhD student with UCC’s Department of Epidemiology and Public Health, said that while research suggests prevalence rates of childhood obesity in Ireland have levelled off, one in four children remain overweight or obese.

“Obesity continues to have a significant impact on health and wellbeing, therefore policies that tackle the problem should be intensified,” she said.

The study would appear to contradict recent concerns raised by a number of obesity experts, who said Irish society is getting chubbier year-on-year.

At a summer Irish Heart Foundation conference, consultant endocrinologist Francis Finucane said 80,000 Irish people are morbidly obese, while separate research suggested 26.5% of Irish girls and 16% of Irish boys under the age of 20 are overweight or obese.

The Departments of Health and Education have pushed a number of policies to aggressively tackle obesity levels in Ireland.

They include discussing whether to ban vending machines in schools, adding calorie counts to menus, and sugar tax initiatives.

A new study claims more CO2 absorbed by plants than previously thought


New research shows that global climate models have underestimated just how much CO2 plants are able to absorb.

The National Academy of Sciences has published the research in its journal, Proceedings. Climate and earth scientists from the University of Texas have claimed that between 1901 and 2010, living organisms absorbed 16% more CO2 than previous models assumed.

CO2 absorption: Why the change?

The researchers say that they have found the reason for which climate models overestimate the increase in carbon levels in the atmosphere. Calculating how much carbon dioxide present in the earth’s atmosphere is essential to predicting the effects of global warming on temperatures, however they admit that their findings will not impact global warming predictions.

It is incredibly difficult to model the impact of CO2 absorption by the oceans and living things. However in this new study, scientists analyzed the diffusion of carbon dioxide in leaves, and concluded that more of the gas is absorbed than previously thought.

Extrapolating this discovery to a global level is incredibly hard, according to Dr Lianhong Gu at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in the US: “There is a time lag between scientists who study fundamental processes and modellers who model those processes in a large scale model. It takes time for the the two groups to understand each other.”

A new model?

The scientific community is optimistic that the research can help to clarify existing models, but do not believe that we will experience any delay in global warming due to increasing levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

“This new research implies it will be slightly easier to fulfil the target of keeping global warming below two degrees – but with a big emphasis on ‘slightly’,” stated Dr Chris Huntingford, a climate modeller at the UK’s Centre for Ecology and Hydrology.

“Overall, the cuts in CO2 emissions over the next few decades will still have to be very large if we want to keep warming below two degrees.”

As interesting as the research may be, it does not negate the need for swift action to prevent atmospheric temperatures from increasing to potentially catastrophic levels.

Research footage dive catches Humpback Whale taking a nap


A research dive team called Panga MX caught some amazing footage in Mexico of a humpback whale slumbering straight up-and-down in the water, with its tail facing the surface.

In the video below, an abbreviated version of a 20-minute observation made by the team, the whale can be seen gently bobbing in the water. Eventually it drifts toward the surface in a horizontal position, floating on its back (or stomach, depending on which side a whale considers “up”).

Whales have an interesting trick when sleeping — they do it with half of their brain still open for business, as DNews reported in this 2011 video recounting a study of whale sleep that included captivating footage of a pod of sperm whales snoozing.

As the DNews video notes, whales nap in fairly brief intervals, because they need to surface for air. Land mammals such as humans breathe involuntarily, but undersea mammals such as whales and dolphins have to consciously choose to breathe. Sleeping with a shut-down brain, of course, would make that choice a difficult one to make. That’s where the half-their-brain thing comes into play. A whale may be “sleeping” but it isn’t so down for the count — brain-function-wise — that it won’t be conscious of the need to come up for air.

One look at a humpback whale makes it easy to see why they need their rest. It must be tiring just being a humpback whale. They’re enormous creatures that can grow to nearly 60 feet long and weigh a whopping 40 tons.


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