News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Tuesday 4th November 2014

Ireland’s tax returns running an astonishing €1.1bn ahead of target

 

Exchequer figures show State collected €3.1bn in tax in October

The exchequer deficit at end October 2014 stood at €8.51 billion compared to €10.521 billion in 2013. The figure represents an €1.76 billion improvement on the official target, thanks to rising tax receipts, an increase in Central Bank surplus income and reduced interest expenditure.

Tax returns this year are running almost €1.1 billion ahead of target after a surge in revenues last month, new figures show.

Exchequer returns for October show the Government collected €3.1 billion in tax, €389 million or 14.3 per cent more than targeted at the outset of the year.

However, some €220 million reflected revenues delayed from the pension fund levy in September. Tax revenues for the month were up €169 million or 6.2 per cent, with VAT, corporation tax and excise duties each ahead of target

The figures, released this afternoon by the Department of Finance, show that the revenues since the start of the year now stand at €31.98 billion, €1.09 billion or 3.5 per cent ahead of profile.

The exchequer deficit at end October 2014 stood at €8.51 billion compared to €10.521 billion in 2013. The figure represents an €1.76 billion improvement on the official target, thanks to rising tax receipts, an increase in Central Bank surplus income and reduced interest expenditure

Rape victim Mairia CahillI says it feels like she is being publicly abused all over again by the IRA

  

RAPE victim Mairia Cahill has accused members of the republican movement of actively trying to undermine her attempts to highlight the issue of sex offenders being exiled from the North.

The Belfast woman was responding to the release of two letters by Breige Wright, who is one of four people said to have been involved in the kangaroo court.

The letters, released through Madden and Finucane solicitors, appear to show that Ms Wright supported Ms Cahill in dealing with her abuse ordeal.

In a statement accompanying the letters, Ms Wright claims that she was subject to a “media onslaught” since Mairia’s claims were aired on the BBC Spotlight programme last month.

“There has been a deluge of inaccurate, prejudiced and selective reporting of all aspects of this case.”

“Particularly, my relationship with Máiría Cahill and in terms of the support that I offered her,” the statement said.

“My intent was to try to help Máiría. I believe that these letters demonstrate that Máiría accepted and valued that support,” it added.

The letters were sent by Ms Cahill to Ms Wright in 2005 and 2008. Her raped is alleged to have taken place in 1998.

But in a statement to independent.ie, Ms Cahill today said the letters “corroborate” her account.

She added that they illustrate she was in “turmoil” following her ordeal and that Ms Wright was present during the interrogation. And Ms Cahill accused Ms Wright of “hiding” behind her solicitor and called on her to answer questions from the media.

Mairia cahill speaking to media following a meeting with Taoiseach Enda Kenny TD outside Government Buildings, Dublin.360p high

“This selective drip feeding of information without context is designed to frighten me to go away. It will not work. Although I feel like I am being abused all over again by the IRA in a very public manner,  it will not deter me from continuing to deal with the serious issue of Republican perpetrators of abuse being moved around this country and covered for by Sinn Fein,” Ms Cahill said.

While Ms Wright was one of four people alleged to have been involved in the interrogation, all charges against her and three other individuals were dropped in May.

Their solicitor, Peter Madden, complained that their acquittals have been “ignored or devalued” as they have been subjected to “trial by the media”.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny said last month that he would be happy to meet with the four individuals to discuss their alleged role in the Kangaroo court.

But Mr Madden told RTE that a meeting would undermine the review currently being carried out by the prosecution service in the North.

A Kremlin award for Irish charity worker Fiona Corcoran

 

Greater Chernobyl Cause was set up to help victims of 1986 nuclear incident but has since widened activities

Vladimir Putin has presented an award to Fiona Corcoran, the Irish charity worker, in acknowledgement of the work of her Greater Chernobyl Cause in Russia.

Vladimir Putin has presented an award to Irish charity worker Fiona Corcoran in acknowledgement of the work of her Greater Chernobyl Cause in Russia.

The Russian president handed M/s Corcoran the Order of Friendship medal at a ceremony in the Kremlin today to thank her for her “outstanding humanitarian work in Russia.”

The Greater Chernobyl Cause was originally founded to help victims of the 1986 incident at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Ukraine that was then part of the Soviet Union.

The Cork-based charity has since broadened its mission to work with children, the homeless and the elderly in Russia, Ukraine and Kazakhstan.

Mr Putin was accompanied by Patriarch Kirill, the Primate of the Russian Christian Orthodox Church at the award ceremony in the Kremlin’s gilded Saint George’s Hall.

In a speech of thanks, M/s Corcoran told the Russian president she was accepting the award “on behalf of the people of Ireland and other supporters who have helped us in our very long journey.”

Ireland, like the countries where the Greater Chernobyl Cause works, had endured terrible tragedies in the past. Historic memories of the Great Famine of 1845 have fostered a tradition of charitable giving in Ireland, she said.

“The award which you have bestowed on us today will bring our work forward for the very needy. As we say in Ireland ‘go raibh mine maith agat,” she said.

Supported by Oscar winning actor Jeremy Irons, among others, the Greater Chernobyl Cause works on projects such as rebuilding dilapidated orphanages and hospices, shipping humanitarian aid, organizing food programs and supplying medical equipment.

In Russia the charity runs a hospice in the remote village of Ivanskoye, 200 miles north east of Moscow and organizes a soup kitchen for the poor and homeless.

Charitable giving was frowned upon in Russia during the Soviet era when the communist authorities took responsibility for citizens’ needs. Many Russians have grown fabulously wealthy since the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991 and a culture of philanthropy is beginning to take hold.

M/s Corcoran becomes the first Irish citizen to be decorated with the Russian Order of Friendship which is bestowed on individuals for their “outstanding contributions to strengthening friendship and co-operation between nations.”

Irish homeowners get mortgage writedown’s in AIB scheme

 

More than 1,300 distressed mortgage-holders have secured debt writedowns with AIB thanks to a pilot scheme.

The scheme came about when the Irish Mortgage Holders Organisation (IMHO) entered into an arrangement to act as a third-party broker to advise distressed borrowers in their dealings with the AIB group.

The IMHO outlined figures today that show that in its first year it agreed 1,330 long-term resolutions for people in mortgage arrears.

Resolutions

It said between 75 and 100 of those deals involved debt write-down on family home mortgages of €1,000-€190,000, where the families were allowed to continue living in their homes.

A further 279 resolutions included debt write-down involving properties that were then voluntarily sold, with most of these in the buy-to-let sector.

The IMHO said that the initiative is available free of charge to all AIB Group customers – including EBS and Haven – experiencing residential mortgage difficulties.

In 30% of the cases they examined, customers who were facing repossession proceedings managed to achieve a long-term sustainable solution.

Some 43% of clients needed assistance completing the standard financial statement.

David Hall, CEO of the Irish Mortgage Holders Organisation, said: “The pilot with AIB has resulted in a very significant number of families and individual homeowners having their mortgage challenges resolved.

“Those involved often appeared to be trapped in intractable cases. The relief to clients has been invaluable, allowing them to move on with their lives, making affordable mortgage payments.

“We welcome the Oireachtas Finance Committee’s recommendation in their report on mortgage arrears in July, which recommended that this project be rolled out nationally involving all banks.”

AIB said the scheme, which is free, has delivered significantly for customers who might not otherwise have engaged with the bank.

It has now decided to extend the scheme for another 12 months. The IMHO team is now receiving over 125 calls per day.

The extension of the scheme means that, in many of these distressed-mortgage cases, a resolution can now be achieved within eight weeks.

Mothers who drink while pregnant could face legal proceedings following test case

 

A test case will decide whether a mother who drank during pregnancy should pay compensation to her disabled daughter

Mothers-to-be who harm their unborn child by drinking alcohol could be committing a criminal act.

Mothers who drink during pregnancy could face legal proceedings following a test case which will decide whether a child born with foetal alcohol syndrome can be awarded compensation.

On Wednesday a council in the North West of England will argue at London’s Court of Appeal that a child born with serious health defects as a result of her mother’s drinking habits should be considered a victim of crime.

If successful, it could pave the way for drinking during pregnancy becoming a criminal offense.

The child, who cannot be named, was diagnosed with foetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) at birth, a condition which can cause which facial deformities, problems with physical and emotional development, and poor memory or a short attention span.

She is now six years old and living with foster parents.

Her mother has never been convicted of any offence, but during an earlier tribunal hearing she was alleged to have “maliciously administered poison so as to endanger life or inflict grievous bodily harm” – a crime under section 23 of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861.

However the charities The British Pregnancy Advisory Service (bpas) and Birthrights say finding in favour of the council would seriously undermine women’s autonomy while pregnant and their freedom to make decisions for themselves.

“Viewing these cases as potential criminal offences will do nothing for the health of women and their babies,” said Ann Furedi, chief executive of bpas.

“There is a strong public interest in promoting the good health of pregnant women and babies, but, as long-standing government policy recognises, this interest is best served by treating addiction and substance abuse in pregnancy as a public health, not criminal, issue.

“Both the immediate and broader implications of this case are troubling. Making one particular form of behaviour during pregnancy into a criminal offence would lay the ground for criminalising a wide range of other behaviours because they may too pose a risk to the health of the baby.

“When we consider that the taking of necessary medication, such as treatment for epilepsy or depression, or the refusal of a caesarean section could be seen to fall into the category of maternal behaviours that may damage the foetus, the trajectory of such an approach is deeply worrying.”

The case has been going on for four years and it the council are successful it could set a precedent. The solicitor for the council are also representing 80 other children nationally who have suffered physical and mental damage because of their mother’s drinking.

In 2011, a hearing ruled that the mother’s drinking was “directly attributable to a crime of violence” and so the child was eligible for a payout.

However, this decision was overturned in December by the upper tribunal of the Administration Appeals Chamber, after the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority challenged the judgement. On Wednesday the council will appeal that decision.

Department of Health guidance says that “women who are pregnant or trying to conceive should avoid alcohol altogether”.

But then it goes on to say that “if they do choose to drink, to minimise the risk to the baby, we recommend they should not drink more than 1-2 units once or twice a week, and pregnant women should not get drunk”.

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence also concedes there is “uncertainty about how much alcohol is safe to drink in pregnancy”.

In the case of the six-year-old, the mother is said to have “consumed grossly excessive quantities of alcohol” and had been “using drugs”.

Alcohol is dangerous during pregnancy because levels of alcohol in the baby’s blood stream rise as high as the mother’s, yet its liver is not developed enough to break down the toxins.

Astronomers identify mysterious object at heart of Milky Way

 Schwarzschild black hole

A mysterious astronomical object known simply as G2 has intrigued and confounded researchers ever since it was found to be on a near-collision course with the supermassive black hole at the center of our galaxy.

When it failed to produce the predicted celestial fireworks over the past few months, astronomers were left scratching their heads. Now, one team thinks it has figured out why nothing happened: G2 is not a gas cloud but a strange, more stable object formed from a pair of recently merged stars.

Clouds of gas and dust near the center of our Milky Way galaxy make it extremely difficult to observe things there. When astronomers calculated G2’s trajectory in 2012, they thought it was a cloud of gas in an orbit that would take it very close to the Milky Way’s central black hole, known as Sagittarius A* (Sgr A*).

Researchers predicted that, as G2 neared the center, the black hole’s intense gravity would tear the object apart and drag it toward the hole’s surface, producing a shower of radiation that could reveal much about the environment close to Sgr A*. But as G2 passed by this summer, the galactic center was conspicuously quiet.

A team led by Andrea Ghez of the University of California, Los Angeles, used the twin 10-meter Keck telescopes in Hawaii to observe G2 between March and August—spanning its expected closest approach and the months that followed. Viewing at the infrared wavelength of 3 micrometers, which can penetrate the fog around Sgr A*, the team found that G2 “continues to survive in orbit—it has not changed,” Ghez says.

A gas cloud alone could not have survived a pass so close to the black hole, she says; she concludes that G2 must have a star at its heart, surrounded by a shell of dust. “It’s an unusual star, large, calculated from its brightness,” she says. The star is twice the mass of our sun but 100 times its size, the team reports this week inThe Astrophysical Journal Letters.

Ghez thinks her group has caught a pair of binary stars in the act of merging. Binary systems are common throughout the galaxy, she says; near the center, the black hole’s gravity encourages them to spiral together. The result is a new star so hot that it swells up like a freshly ignited young protostar. Studying how such objects form might help scientists solve mysteries surrounding Sgr A*’s close neighborhood, such as why it contains many more young-looking stars than expected but almost no older giant stars.

Not all researchers agree on the nature of G2. A team led by Stefan Gillessen of the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics in Garching, Germany, which originally identified G2’s trajectory in 2012, observed it in spring 2014 using the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope in Chile and published the results in July. They said their observations showed that G2 was behaving just as a cloud of gas should: stretching out before the close approach and pulling together again after it.

The lack of fireworks was no problem, they said, because any gas stripped off G2 during the flyby might take months or years to fall onto the surface. “So far there are no fireworks, but the gas is doing what was expected,” Gillessen told Science in August. “It’s fun to see how it is unfolding in front of our eyes.” His team noticed that another apparent gas cloud, dubbed G1, had followed a similar path 13 years ago and suggested that both clouds could be individual “knots” of denser material in a continuous gas streamer in orbit around Sgr A*.

Theorist Avi Loeb of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Massachusetts, is amused by the differing interpretations, because he published two theoretical papers providing possible explanations for the source of G2: one, that it surrounded a star that was shedding gas; and the other, that a giant star situated elsewhere shed its outer layer producing a stream of gas with clumps in it.

Both are plausible, he says, “but I don’t think we have enough data to decide.” He doesn’t think it will take long to settle it: If it’s the latter scenario then the giant star should be easy to find.

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