News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

The water charges now a symbol for Irish Government’s many failures

  

The water charges protests of last week showed that tens of thousands who took to the streets of Dublin mean what they say. “No Water charges”

When it comes to water charges, this Government just does not get it. The politicians in power got a drenching in last week’s two by-elections, and also from the thousands of people who took to the streets of Dublin to protest about the charges.

Water charges have become a totem for the utter failure of ministers to deliver.

Of course, the creation of Irish Water has been shockingly shambolic.

It is an arrogant and self-satisfied organisation that has completely failed to explain what it at, with its boss John Tierney keeping a disgracefully-low profile.

Why is he not telling an austerity-ravaged population why it has to put up with bonuses being paid to Irish Water staff? Why is he not telling us honestly if we really need to give our PPS number over to the company?

And this is to not even mention the scandal of consultants minting it from Irish Water.

The setting up of Irish Water has been a mess from day one, but it is more than that.

Irish Water is now a totem for the rage against austerity in general.

The rage is because of the failure to reform, broken election promises, bloated public sector pay at the top level, the prevalence of so many quangos, the private sector pensions levy, public sector waste, sky-high income tax, multiple levies and charges, a legal sector that has escaped consumer-friendly changes, misbehaving banks, cronyism and on and on.

Many of those on the streets nine days ago protesting about the water charges are those people who go to work every day, pay their way to ensure that there is money there for everyone else – including the politicians.

They don’t resent paying their share to ensure the vulnerable are looked after, but they are also aware that middle-income earners have borne the brunt of austerity.

The Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) found the bulk of the burden of tax increases over the past five years has been carried by those on middle incomes.

These people were promised radical change when the Government came to power.

Instead, they are getting water bills from a puffed-up new utility that sees fit to pay bonuses.

Why does a monopoly utility company need to pay bonuses to staff? It is not as if its engineers can go off and work for another water company in this country.

Only in Ireland do you get this nonsense, where the general populace pays for the privileges of a few.

Modest tax breaks delivered in last week’s Budget are all very well, but the middle-income earners are still likely to extract revenge in the next election over the failures of the last few years.

And when asked what influenced their vote, the answer will come down to two words: water charges.

Irish Central Bank urged to relax mortgage rules on 20% deposits

   

The Government is increasing pressure on the Central Bank to reduce its controversial 20% mortgage savings demand for new homeowners,

Although the Central Bank is an independent institution, there are growing calls from within the Cabinet for the rules to be relaxed.

Some people said this weekend that they agreed with Environment Minister Alan Kelly, who last week said the 20% rate was “too high”. Mr Kelly described the 20pc requirement mooted by Central Bank Governor Patrick Honohan as “excessive” and called for a “more sensible target” of 15% to be set for first-time home buyers.

A number of ministers are unhappy at the Central Bank’s intervention at a time when the Government is attempting to stimulate the housing market. Several Cabinet members stressed that a consultation process was still ongoing until December and that they were hoping changes to the rules could be made.

Sources within the Department of Finance have indicated that the new stiff laws may not be applied to all new loans, but rather to only a certain portion of the new loan books.

It is understood officials in Finance Minister Michael Noonan’s department agree with the principal of people needing higher deposits. However, how the mechanism is ultimately applied still needs to be ironed out.

A source in the Department of Finance said recently “This wouldn’t be for everyone, but what percentage of the loan book it would apply for still isn’t clear. What is clear is that there will be changes.” Mr Kelly received a lot of backing from his Cabinet colleagues last week.

A number of ministers are in favour of some relief being given to house hunters in the Dublin area, where the massive shortage of housing and spiralling prices has effectively shut them out of the market.

“Maybe it is a generational thing within the Cabinet. Some of the older ones sort of agree with it, but there is certainly a body of opinion against it. The rate is simply too high.”

The growing unease within the Government over the 20pc deposit rule is also being echoed in the banking sector.

Ulster Bank chief executive Jim Brown warns that strict new Central Bank rules on mortgage lending will prevent first-time buyers from being able to purchase homes.

Mr Brown said the “unintended consequences” of the new sweeping rules may also see first-time buyers “struggle to save a higher deposit” as rents soar.

In response to the criticism, the Central Bank said it had nothing to add to the position it laid out last week. But it is understood the bank’s viewpoint was based on detailed research and it will only listen to contrary views which are similarly based on evidence.

Mr Brown also warned the new restrictions could have the effect of pricing first-time buyers out of the market,as they would struggle to save for a deposit while paying soaring rents.

He added: “A rebound in property prices following a crisis is not unusual. However, we recognise the need for the Central Bank to take steps to avoid overheating the credit and property markets. The measures though could have unintended consequences around home ownership which go to the heart of Irish society. The proposals, as they stand, will impact the ability of many first-time buyers to acquire their home. In addition to this, other hopeful first-time buyers will struggle to save a higher deposit while paying increasing rents.”

As part of the new measures, the Central Bank also proposed that mortgages be capped to 3.5 times borrowers’ salary. Under the rigid new demands, young borrowers looking to buy a mid-range three-bedroom house in Dublin valued at €300,000 would have to stump up €60,000.

As property prices and rents continue to soar in the capital, many young borrowers now find themselves in a Catch-22 situation where exorbitant monthly rent payments nullify their ability to save up enough for a deposit.

In Tuesday’s Budget it was announced that social housing will receive a massive €2.2bn boost in capital investment over the next four years, which will result in the construction of 10,000 new housing units. However, this will not help the coping classes who do not qualify for social housing and have to search for finance for a home on their own.

Eye implants may spell the end of reading glasses

   

Glasses may soon be a thing of the past as corneal inlays, implanted into the eye.

Glasses may soon be a thing of the past as corneal inlays, implanted into the eye with a simple surgery, can correct vision without the need for corrective treatments, scientists say.

A thin ring which is inserted into the eye could offer a reading glasses-free remedy for presbyopia, the blurriness in near vision experienced by many people over the age of 40, according to a new study.

The corneal inlay device undergoing clinical review in the US improved near vision well enough for 80% of the participating patients to read a newspaper without disturbing far distance vision needed for daily activities like driving.

Researchers said presbyopia affects more than 1 billion people worldwide. As they age, the cornea becomes less flexible and bends in such a way that it becomes difficult to see up close.

While the most common remedy is wearing reading glasses, a host of new corneal inlay products are in development to treat the condition, with three types currently under review by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

The theoretical advantage of using corneal inlays over wearing reading glasses is that corneal inlays prevent the need for constantly putting on and taking off glasses, depending on whether the person needs to see near or far.

One of the devices is the KAMRA inlay, a thin, flexible doughnut-shaped ring that measures 3.8 millimetres in diameter, with a 1.6 millimetre hole in the middle.

When dropped into a small pocket in the cornea covering the front of the eye, the device acts like a camera aperture, adjusting the depth of field so that the viewer can see near and far.

The procedure to insert the implant is relatively quick, lasting about 10 minutes, and requires only topical anaesthesia.

To test the inlay’s efficacy, clinicians conducted a prospective non-randomised study of 507 patients between 45 and 60 years of age across the US, Europe and Asia with presbyopia who were not nearsighted.

The researchers implanted the ring in the patients and followed up with them over the course of three years. In 83 per cent of eyes with the implant, the KAMRA corneal inlay allowed presbyopic patients to see with 20/40 vision or better over the three years.

This is considered the standard for being able to read a newspaper or drive a vehicle without corrective lenses. On average, patients gained 2.9 lines on a reading chart.

Meet Dublin Zoo’s adorable new arrival who finally has a name – Samiya

  

The name of newest member of the Dublin Zoo elephant family has been revealed.

Samiya, meaning ‘incomparable’, arrived into the world on September 17 last, and has been officially named following a public competition on the zoo’s Facebook page.

The female weighed 68kgs when born, around the same as an adult human, and is a gentle, quiet and timid calf.

Dublin Zoo said she was in awe of her older sister, Asha, and spends the day following her around the Kaziranga Forest Trail. She only returns to her mother, Bernhardine, to feed.

It’s been a remarkably successful year for Dublin Zoo’s elephant breeding programme under the stewardship of director Leo Oosterweghel.

Samiya was the third elephant calf to be born in recent months, with three arriving over a 10-week period.

The first calf, a bull, is named Kavi and was born on July 17. Just over a month later, he was followed by Ashoka, another bull, who arrived on August 19.

Dublin Zoo is considered a world leader in animal husbandry, and such is the success of its breeding programme that researchers and keepers from other zoos travel here to learn best practice.

The zoo is home to a family of Asian elephants, which are under increasing threat with as few as 25,000 to 33,000 now believed to be living in the wild.

Smaller than their African cousins, Mr Oosterweghel says they are an “incredibly harmonious” family and are a key attraction for visitors.

The zoo’s policy is that only names from the animal’s country of origin are chosen.

Kavi means poet or wise man, and Ashoka is named after one of India’s greatest emperors.

Due to a production error in today’s Elephant supplement, a picture of assistant director of Dublin Zoo, Paul O’Donoghue, was used on page two instead of Dublin Zoo Director Leo Oosterweghel.

Ancient Scottish creature was first to ‘have sex’ some 385 million years ago

  

Birds do it, bees do it, and everybody else does it? And so did the early ancestors of humans that lived in Scotland as far back as 385 million years ago.

Scientists have traced the history of vertebrate sexual intercourse to an ancient armoured fish named Microbrachius dicki.

Microbrachius means “little arms” and refers to the genital limbs that locked male and female fish together when mating. And dicki, well…

The three inch long placoderm – a primitive armoured fish – frolicked in Scottish lakes millions of years before fins evolved into legs.

A study of Microbachius fossils revealed the first evidence of their primitive sexual organs.

To transfer sperm, males had grooved L-shaped claspers which were held in place by small paired bones on the female.

Lead scientist Professor John Long, from Flinders University in Adelaide, Australia, said: “Microbrachius means little arms but scientists have been baffled for centuries by what these bony paired arms were actually there for.

“We’ve solved this great mystery because they were there for mating, so that the male could position his claspers into the female genital area.”

Similar copulatory claspers are seen today in some male sharks – but most present-day bony fishes fertilise eggs externally, outside their bodies.

The new discovery implies that external fertilisation evolved from internal fertilisation involving sexual intercourse, and not the other way around.

Microbrachius also seems to have made a head start in trying out interesting sexual positions. According to Prof Long, the fishes probably “did it” sideways.

“This enabled the males to manoeuvre their genital organs into the right position for mating,” he said. “With their arms interlocked, these fish looked more like they are square dancing the do-se-do rather than mating.”

The discovery, reported in Nature journal’s online edition, highlights the importance of placoderms in vertebrate evolution.

“Placoderms were once thought to be a dead-end group with no live relatives, but recent studies show that our own evolution is deeply rooted in placoderms, and that many of the features we have, such as jaws, teeth and paired limbs, first originated with this group of fishes,” said Prof Long.

“Now, we reveal they gave us the intimate act of sexual intercourse as well.”

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