News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Saturday/Sunday 1st & 2nd November 2014

A reverse on water charges would need a 4% tax increase says Kenny?

 

O Connell Street on Saturday as thousands flocked to the city to demonstrate against the water charges.

Fianna Fáil’s Micheál Martin dismisses the Taoiseach’s estimate as ‘utterly bogus’

Taoiseach Enda Kenny has said that a reverse of water charges would result in a cost equivalent to the top rate of tax being increased by 4%.

In his first formal response to nationwide protests against water charges yesterday, Mr Kenny strongly defended the establishment of Irish Water while acknowledging that there were serious problems with the new utility.

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin said the claims by Mr Kenny were “utterly bogus” and that a 4% tax increase would provide many multiples of the money to be raised by domestic water charges.

Mr Martin said Revenue figures show a 1% increase in the top rate of tax would raise €233 million in a full year. He claimed that net revenue from Irish Water is set to be about €150 million when recently announced concessions are taken into account.

Mr Kenny framed the water charge protests in the context of the next election, saying those who opposed it had not alternative funding proposals. He was speaking before the Fine Gael presidential dinner in the Double Tree Hotel in Dublin last night.

In a clear reference to Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin, he said in Easter 2016 the Irish electorate would have a choice between continuing “to re-elect a government which pulled the country out of an economic swamp or hand it back to those who wrecked it or to those who offer no stability or consistency on how we pay for any of those services.”

Mr Kenny said the Government appreciated that people had legitimate concerns but argued there had been a great deal of misinformation peddled, including the assumption that people would be paying money to a private company. “Such is not the case and will never be the case,” he said.

Siptu president Jack O’Connor today backed calls for a referendum on the ownership of Irish Water.

The trade union declined to support yesterday’s demonstrations but said it was now backing calls from Sinn Féin and the Greens for a referendum to ensure Irish Water remains under public ownership.

Mr Kenny said the Government was now preparing a definitive plan to meet the concerns of people. “Over the next couple of weeks we will set out what people really want here which is certainty and clarity about how much they pay and what they pay for, how they can pay that and what they can get in return,” he said.

He said the Government would do this in conjunction with Irish Water and its parent company, State-owned Ervia.

He also argued that the set up of the company was necessary as it allowed a vehicle to be set up off balance sheet that could raise funds to repair the infrastructure and deal with the inadequate water services that had existed until now.

“I am not prepared to increase income tax by four percentage points at the top rate or do away with the tax package in the most recent budget,” he said.

Yesterday tens of thousands of people took to the streets in towns, cities and villages across the country to protest over water charges.

Meanwhile back at the ranch?

New pressure on Government as Drogheda mayor resigns from FG over water issue

  

Kevin Callan said there is huge annoyance across the country over the issue. The mayor of Drogheda has resigned from the Fine Gael party “in light of the overwhelming levels of public dissatisfaction with the handling of the introduction of water charges by the Government and Irish Water.”

Councillor Kevin Callan said he has conveyed his deep dissatisfaction at the manner in which the Government has handled the issue to the party’s general secretary.

He said there is a huge level of annoyance in the uncertainty of what is being introduced “with civil unrest being experienced across the country in a way not seen before”.

Mr Callan said the “project that is Irish Water is toxic politically speaking and it is a bridge to far, those responsible for this debacle of creating such a monster have in my view no option but to take the honourable course and resign”.

Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams welcomed Mr Callan’s decision to resign.

The Louth TD said he hoped that others in Fine Gael would follow Mr Callan’s example and stand with the people rather that the Government on the issue.

Meanwhile, staff at Irish Water can benefit from an annual salary increase if it can be shown that pay has risen at rival or similar firms, as part of their controversial pay reward system, RTÉ’s This Week has learned.

The ‘Pay Progression’ mechanism was agreed between management at Irish Water’s parent company Ervia and unions last year.

The benchmarked pay increase mechanism is separate and additional to the payment of performance bonuses, which emerged last month.

Similar to the bonus system, once a salary increase has been approved, then staff who only “partially meet” their work targets are also eligible to benefit from a pay rise, according to details of the mechanism seen by RTÉ.

A spokesperson for Ervia said there was no automatic entitlement to pay increases.

She said the pay increase mechanism would not apply until after the current pay freeze at Irish Water and its parent company, which is due to be reviewed in 14 months’ time at the start of 2016.

Any pay increase would depend on whether there was a growth in salaries at comparable firms and whether the company felt it could afford it, she said.

No pay increases had been paid yet, she said, nor would the mechanism kick into action until after the current pay freeze at the earliest.

The potential salary increase is calculated using an annual survey from private consultancy Towers Watson, which examines pay at other firms.

If there is “positive market movement” then this is reflected in any possible pay rise by Irish Water and Ervia staff, if it gets board approval.

On top of the basic salary increase, there is also a further salary top-up for those who receive a positive performance rating.

In the event of the company approving a pay increase, it means that in any calendar year some staff could benefit from a performance bonus, plus a salary increase, plus a top-up on that basic bonus depending on both performance and their existing salaries.

Staff at all grades below CEO and directors reporting to the CEO are can benefit from the salary increase mechanism.

The only staff who are excluded from the salary increase mechanism are those who fail to meet any of their annual targets or those whose pay is already 20% above the market median level.

The extent to which staff can benefit from the possible pay increase depends on where they are within their salary range.

Salaries at Ervia and Irish Water are roughly based on a range of between 80% and 120% of the market median salary.

In the event of a pay rise being sanctioned, there are additional top-ups for those who are at the lower scale to median of the scale and who also achieve a high annual performance rating.

In some cases, staff who perform poorly, but who are already on the higher level of the scale, can be awarded a salary increase, but with a deduction of 1% or 2% taken off the increase.

In that scenario, if the recommended pay increase was 5% they would just get a 3% or 4% increase in that year.

However, if the recommended pay hike was just 1% or 2% then the minus element would cancel out the gain.

However, there is no mechanism to lower salaries at Irish Water or Ervia if the Towers Watson survey shows that pay at similar companies has fallen. In this scenario, there would be no pay increase, the spokesperson said.

The ‘Pay Progression’ and performance bonuses were part of a suite of pay-related reforms brought in at Ervia and at Irish Water last year, which Ervia has said led to savings of €34 million over several years.

It led to the withdrawal of annual guaranteed increments. There is a huge responsibility’ to get it right says Brian Hayes. 

Meanwhile, Fine Gael MEP Brian Hayes has said it is essential for the Government to establish Irish Water as a public utility so that the cost of providing water services does not add to Ireland’s debt.

Speaking on RTÉ’s The Week in Politics, Mr Hayes said “a huge responsibility” rests with the Government to get the matter right.

The Government is set to make a final decision on how to implement the charges this month, following nationwide protests yesterday against the payments.

Sinn Féin deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald said she was not going to pay her water charges due to what she termed “utterly outrageous threats” by the Government.

Speaking on the same programme, Ms McDonald said: “It’s not because I can’t pay.

“It’s not because I object to paying fair taxation, but they have frightened the life out of families the length and breadth of the country.”

Fianna Fail’s environment spokesman Barry Cowen has claimed that “public confidence is shot in the vehicle that is Irish Water”.

Mr Cowen said his party agrees “with the concept of water charges, but want a fair and equitable system”.

Meanwhile, a senior Labour TD has called for the Taoiseach and Tánaiste to take control of the controversy surrounding water charges.

Former minister of state Joe Costello said the Government must rethink the establishment of Irish Water before water charges can be imposed.

Speaking on This Week, Mr Costello described the debate surrounding the establishment of Irish Water as “totally inadequate”.

He said “poor communication” had led to many people worrying about charges.

“Very few people understand what’s actually there [in terms of charges] and I think that has been a failure as well,” he said.

The Dublin Central TD questioned whether Irish Water was fit for purpose, describing the body as “an extravagant quango that’s looking for performance-related bonuses before it’s set up”.

He also said that it might be useful for the Government to consider a referendum that would enshrine Irish Water as a national public utility within the Constitution.

Mr Costello said he did not have concerns that Irish Water would be privatised by the current Government or any future governments.

However, he said there are public concerns that the company could possibly be privatised down the line and to allay those fears it might well be useful to consider a referendum.

Sinn Féin now the most popular party in the Irish state

 

Dissatisfaction with Gerry Adams’ leadership has grown, a new survey finds.

A new opinion poll has found that Sinn Féin is the most popular party in the State followed by Fine Gael. Dissatisfaction with Gerry Adams’ leadership has grown. Pictured are Sinn Fein TDs Pearse Doherty, Mary Lou McDonald and Mr Adams.

A new opinion poll has found that Sinn Féin is the most popular party in the State followed by Fine Gael.

Support for Sinn Féin was at 26% 4 percentage points ahead of Fine Gael at 22%, Fianna Fail at 20% and independents/others at 23%, when `don’t knows’ were excluded’, according to the Millward Brown poll.

Support for Gerry Adams’ party is up four percentage points since the last Millward Brown poll in September, despite the party facing questions about the Mairia Cahill controversy in recent weeks.

Ms Cahill, from Belfast, claims in 1997 she was raped as a teenager by a suspected IRA member and then interrogated by the IRA about the matter.

However dissatisfaction with Mr. Adams’ leadership has grown and is at 56%, up by 8 percentage points since September.

Support for Fine Gael has fallen by 3 percentage points since the last poll, while Labour’s support has fallen by 2 percentage points since September to 7%. Dissatisfaction with the Government is at 73%, the poll found.

Dissatisfaction with Taoiseach and Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny is at 67%, up by 9% points, it found. Dissatisfaction with Tánaiste and Labour Leader Joan Burton has grown to 56%, up 8% points since September.

The result is despite a Budget in recent weeks which brought income tax cuts for many voters. However the Coalition has faced growing public outcry about forthcoming water charges which culminated in yesterday’s mass protests across the country. The protests were supported by Sinn Féin and other left-wing parties.

The poll finds 41% of voters intend to pay water charges when the first bills are received early next year, 25% do not intend to pay.

In the poll of almost 1,000 people taken between October 21st and October 31st voters were asked which party or independent candidate would they give their support to if an election were held tomorrow.

Responding to the poll, Sinn Fein TD Mary Lou McDonald said it shows a “very strongly esabilshed trend across all opinion polls” and a deep disaffection with the Government.

Does drinking lots of milk really do a body good?

  

Drinking lots of milk could be bad for your health, a new study reports.

Previous research has shown that the calcium in milk can help strengthen bones and prevent osteoporosis. These benefits to bone health have led U.S. health officials to recommend milk as part of a healthy diet.

But this new study found that drinking large amounts of milk did not protect men or women from bone fractures, and was linked to an overall higher risk of death during the study period.

However, the researchers said the results should be viewed with caution.

Women who drank three glasses of milk or more every day had a nearly doubled risk of death and cardiovascular disease, and a 44% increased risk of cancer compared with women who drank less than one glass per day, the researchers found.

Men’s overall risk of death increased about 10% when they drank three or more glasses of milk daily, said the study, published online Tuesday in BMJ.

“The study findings have, for myself, been strong enough to cut down on my milk consumption,” said lead author Karl Michaelsson, a professor in the department of surgical sciences at Uppsala University in Sweden.

Still, the findings only suggest an association and not a direct link, said Mary Schooling, a professor at the City University of New York School of Public Health, who wrote an editorial accompanying the study.

People should not change their diet based on these findings, Schooling said.

“We can’t draw conclusions at this point,” she said. “We need a study involving people who genetically can and can’t digest milk easily, and compare whether those who can digest milk have a difference in cardiovascular disease, death and fractures from those who can’t.”

The study involved more than 61,000 women and 45,000 men in Sweden who previously filled out dietary questionnaires for other research projects, the women in the late 1980s and the men in 1997. All were older than 39 years of age.

Researchers compared their reported milk-drinking habits to health data kept by Swedish officials, to see whether milk consumption could be linked to risk of death or health problems.

The investigators found that a large amount of milk in a daily diet did appear to be linked to an increased risk of death in both men and women during the study period.

In addition, excessive milk drinking appeared to actually increase a woman’s risk of broken bones, compared with women who drank little milk.

The risk of any bone fracture increased 16% in women who drank three or more glasses daily, and the risk of a broken hip increased 60%, the findings indicated.

Lots of milk did not appear to either protect against or promote broken bones in men.

Michaelsson and his colleagues said the increased risk of death they observed could be explained by the high levels of sugars contained in milk, specifically lactose and galactose.

Galactose has been shown to prematurely age mice in the laboratory, Michaelsson said, noting that the milk sugar promotes inflammation.

By contrast, a high intake of fermented milk products with low lactose content — such as yogurt and cheese — was associated with reduced rates of death and fracture, particularly in women, the researchers reported.

While interesting, these findings are too preliminary to warrant a change in nutritional guidelines, said Isabel Maples, a registered dietitian in Haymarket, Va., and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

About 55% of older adults — 44 million Americans — either have osteoporosis or are at high risk for brittle bones, Maples said. She added that the U.S. Dietary Guidelines recommend three servings of dairy per day, not just for bone health, but also to reduce the risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure.

“They don’t base the guidelines on fads. They don’t base it on trends. They don’t base it on what has been the traditional advice. They look at the scientific evidence,” she said.

“The Sligo Masters” tells of great legacy of Irish traditional music

  

When you cast your eye back over the past hundred years in the history of traditional Irish music, one of the seismic events was the arrival on America’s shores of the Sligo-born fiddle player Michael Coleman.

He would be the first of a significant wave of fiddlers from Sligo to settle in New York City, giving rise to a steadfast musical phenomenon that we call the Sligo/New York tradition that carries on vibrantly to this very day.

In August a new documentary was showcased at Fleadh Cheoil na hEireann in Sligo Town explaining its origins through the personal lives of Coleman and two contemporaries, James Morrison and Paddy Killoran, whose early pioneering recordings in the 1920s and 1930s would greatly influence Irish traditional musicians on both sides of the Atlantic for generations to come.

The new film The Sligo Masters, produced and directed by a Sligo videographer Micheal O Domhnaill and his Omedia production company, introduces us to a legacy that is as important today as it was when the trio of Coleman, Morrison and Killoran were furrowing new ground in America.

A team from Sligo led by musician and academic Oisin Mac Diarmada, historian Martin Enright and O Domhnaill came to New York a year ago to film some background for the project to reinforce the Big Apple ties and continuity.

The story starts with Coleman from Killavil just outside of Gurteen in South Sligo who was born in 1891 and reared in a household of music. Like many, he tried London first and then New York, arriving in 1914. His fiddling prowess was evident early on.

The Gaelic Revival started at the turn of the 20th century, and the nationalistic fervor that accompanied it sparked a greater interest in the native music and dance of Ireland. There was also a great deal of sentimentality and melancholy for the old country among many of the Irish emigrants forced to leave for Americay because of political or economic reasons.

Coleman’s music embodies those elements, and with the nascent recording industry springing up in New York City in the 1920s, new recording companies were eager to hit the ethnic marketplace. Coleman, who relied solely on his music for a living, became a successful and popular artist.

Those records were in great demand in America and Ireland and had a profound influence on his fellow musicians at home and abroad. Sadly Coleman’s personal life didn’t fare as well, with alcohol taking its toll. He died in 1945 and was buried in St. Raymond’s Cemetery in the Bronx.

Simultaneously, Morrison from Drumfin near Riverstown immigrated to New York a year later than Coleman in 1915. Similar to Coleman, he was a dancer as well as a fiddler and ardent Gaelgoier in Ireland who had to emigrate, but he was fortunate to land music jobs as well and recording opportunities in the 1920s and 1930s before The Depression took its bite.

His income was supplemented by owning a dance hall in the South Bronx heavily occupied by Irish immigrants. Then he started teaching music to a number of students and he was dubbed Professor Morrison.

His health failed him and like Coleman he died at 54 in 1947 and is buried in St. Raymond’s. One of his last remaining fiddle students, Veronica McNamara from Jersey City, opened this year’s Morrison Festival in Riverstown in early August.

On their heels came Killoran from Ballymote (1904-‘74) who also benefitted by the early recording craze after Coleman and Morrison had their day. He also got more involved in big band work and his Pride of Erin Band even toured in Ireland, something that neither Coleman nor Morrison ever had the chance to do.

Not only did he bridge the gap from 78s to LP records, he kept the Sligo tradition flying in New York and was soon supplemented by Lad O’Beirne and Andy McGann and even Longford’s Paddy Reynolds.

The fascinating 58-minute documentary also contains insightful observations from fiddler Brian Conway, the contemporary link in the chain and our resident New York music sage Don Meade and many more familiar with these masters. It can be ordered from the http://www.fleadhcheoil.ie website.

The video’s release this summer was especially relevant given the fact that Sligo Town hosted Ireland’s biggest cultural celebration of Irish traditional music for 10 days for the Fleadh Cheoil na hEireann which was opened by President Michael D. Higgins.

When Sligo last hosted the fleadh in the early 1990s they celebrated two other important links in the Sligo/New York musical chain when Martin Wynne (Bunninadden) and Andy McGann (born in New York to parents from Sligo) were honorary chairmen for their work in New York.

Sligo is known for its vast contributions to traditional music in the past and the present. So it is no surprise that an abundance of local talent fueled this year’s fleadh with on gig rigs, television screens and sessions indoors and outdoors.

With crowd estimates of 350,000 said to inundate the town during the festival with a spend of approximately $50 million, Sligo was making new history that would bode well for another successful fleadh returning to Sligo in August of 2015.

Equally impressive for those who could not make Sligo this past August was the extensive media coverage both on television and radio through TG4, RTE, BBC and RNG. TG4 presented nine hours of live broadcasts over its Irish-language television network reaching almost a million viewers over the final weekend of the fleadh. Facebook and Twitter was abuzz with live results from the myriad competitions that took place over four expanded days this year.

Breathtaking images of Ireland taken from space

  

“The land of green. Éire, Ireland BlueDot,” tweeted Alexander Gerst to his 181,000 followers as he passed above the Emerald Isle.

The image, showing Ireland on its side, reveals amazingly clear skies for a November afternoon with only a few clouds covering parts of the country

Another shot from the International Space Station revealed it was just as clear and crisp in Dublin this afternoon, as first time astronaut Reid Wiseman revealed in his birds eye view of the capital.

“Day 160 and my first glimpse of #Dublin #Ireland through the 800mm,” the flight engineer tweeted to his 357,000 followers.

The pair are among five men and one woman living aboard the station, a $100 billion research laboratory that flies about 418 km above Earth.

The current Expedition 41 trio – Wiseman, Gerst and Max Suraev – are returning home November 9, Nasa said.

They checked their Sokol suits, which are worn during a Soyuz launch and entry, for leaks and started preparing for their departure.

Ireland’s glorious weather visible in latest snap from space

In June Wiseman posted a snapshot of the Emerald Isle seen from space tweeting: “Hello Ireland, been waiting to see you”.

Previous tweeting astronauts include two-time shuttle veteran and Hubble Space Telescope repairman Mike Massimino (1.3 million followers online) and former station commander Chris Hadfield of Canada, who has nearly 1.1 million followers on Twitter.

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