News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Sunday 21st December 2014

Bord Gáis questioned the need to proceed with Irish Water’s €540m metering programme


Bord Gáis questioned the need to proceed with Irish Water’s €540m metering programme as a means of billing customers for water use

Senior officials at the semi-state company, which was given the task of setting up Irish Water, told the Department of the Environment they did not see the need to have more than 1,000,000 meters installed across the country as a pre-requisite to charging users for water.

Alan Kelly defended the use of water meters, saying they will be used as part of the charging system.

According to Irish Water, data based on meters already installed indicates up to 35% of households can beat the caps, i.e. if the bill based on consumption is less than the cap, that is what they will pay.

Irish Water claims if 10-15% of households conserve water, up to 50% can beat the cap.

A spokesperson for Alan Kelly also said the metering programme will be used to identify leaks in the system, adding that a number of substantial leaks have already been identified through this process.

The spokesperson also said that metering is essential for water conservation.

The revelation that Bord Gáis questioned the merits of the timeline for the metering programme is contained in a memo, which was recorded at a high-level meeting between officials at Bord Gáis and the Department of the Environment.

The meeting took place on 11 May 2012, just weeks after Bord Gáis had been appointed by the Government to set up Irish Water, and at the start of a critical phase in the establishment of the controversial new utility.

However, despite Bord Gáis’ doubts about the need to have water metering in place before billing, the memo shows that officials in then Environment Minister Phil Hogan’s department told Bord Gáis that it was the “Government’s wishes” that metering had to be in place before billing began.

The memo of the meeting was recorded by a senior official at the Department of the Environment.

Bord Gáis told the department it “didn’t necessarily see the link between metering and charging initially” for domestic water use.

The company, which is now called Ervia, expressed the view instead that “revenue and billing generation could potentially be seen as a priority before metering is delivered”.

The alternative to charging customers based on metered use from the start would have been to apply a flat or assessed charge per household.

However, the record shows that department officials told Bord Gáis at the meeting this was not in line with the approach that Government wanted to take.

The note goes on to say that Bord Gáis wanted to “further consider the metering programme and come to a view on it themselves”.

The spokesman for the Department of the Environment told RTÉ’s This Week the memo from the meeting on 11 May 2012 “reflects the fact that following the appointment of Bord Gáis, departmental officials were bringing Bord Gáis up to speed on the work which had been progressed to date and decisions of Government. It is reasonable that Bord Gáis in this early stage would interrogate all aspects of the reform programme to come to a full understanding” of the overall implementation plan for Irish Water.

The statement added: “While it is a technical point that charging was not dependent on metering – as other forms of charges could be looked at – the department was simply pointing out agreed Government policy was that metering was to be introduced”.

The memo of the meeting was obtained by RTÉ’s This Week programme under a Freedom of Information request.

Information gaps for meetings between Bord Gáis and department

However, there are significant information gaps in terms of what was discussed at meetings between the Department of the Environment and Bord Gáis in the first six months of the roll-out of Irish Water.

According to a list of meetings obtained by RTÉ, there are no notes or minutes available for more than half of the 23 meetings which took place between Bord Gáis and the department during the first six months of Irish Water’s critical set-up phase, in the period from April to September 2012.

The records show that the Department of the Environment did not record any notes or minutes for 13 of those 23 meetings.

The meetings for which there are no available records include two meetings held between Bord Gáis and the then-minister Phil Hogan.

There were no official notes or minutes recorded in relation to any of the four meetings held between the department and Bord Gáis over the two weeks prior to that meeting on 11 May 2012, when Bord Gáis questioned the need to roll-out the metering programme before billing.

There were also no notes or minutes recorded at the meeting which took place immediately after that 11 May discussion, less than one week later.

Most of the meetings for which there are no notes or minutes available were described as ‘checkpoint meetings’ between Bord Gáis and the department.

However, two meetings took place that also involved minister Phil Hogan, on 28 June 2012 and again the following month, on 12 July, from which no notes or minutes of discussions were generated.

The department also failed to produce any notes or minutes relating to a meeting in June of 2012 with the water regulator CER, Bord Gáis and New Era, with whom the department was engaged in discussions at the time about the likely cost of metering, which would have to be paid via customer utility bills.

Of the 10 meetings in which there are notes or minutes available, half of these have just one page of typed text.

Asked whether the absence or brevity of records raised questions over the Department of the Environment’s governance and accountability in relation to discussions with Bord Gáis, a spokesman for the Department said that there are “strong governance and oversight arrangements in place, which cannot be fully judged from the perspective of single issue meetings”.

The spokesman said the development of the Irish Water implementation plan “required the involvement of all key stakeholders, for example workshops with local authority and CER input, and assistance from PWC in defining appropriate programme management structures and governance.

“As part of this process there was a series of meetings with BGE – these ‘checkpoint meetings’ were exchanges of information and noting of progress – leading to the department’s Irish Water implementation plan and the detailed Bord Gáis Project initiation document (PID).

“Implementation plans were supported by a memorandum of understanding, with key stakeholders reflecting their roles and responsibilities, deliverables and interactions with the department”.

The spokesman added there was a hierarchy of meetings between different stakeholders, of which the so-called ‘checkpoint meetings’ were generally reflected in updates of programme monitoring records.

“If a meeting was simply a briefing on issues, there would simply be a record of it having taken place and may be follow-up emails on exchange of documents”.

However, the statement did not address the absence of minutes or notes relating to meetings between the minister and Bord Gáis, or with New Era and CER.

Burton says the idea of bonuses for Nama developer’s ‘is an appalling’ idea


Bad bank says ‘possible incentivisation arrangements’ are being considered

Tánaiste Joan Burton has sharply criticised suggestions that the National Asset Management Agency (Nama) might pay bonuses to developers.

She said the only bonus she wanted to see paid was the partial restoration of the Christmas bonus to pensioners and long-term social welfare claimants.

“The suggestion that we would put developers in the queue before our pensioners for bonus payments, I mean, I think it is an appalling idea,’’ Ms Burton added.

Speaking during a Christmas interview with journalists, the Tánaiste said she would be “astonished’’ if it was suggested payments to developers were a priority.

The cost of salaries for 122 developers working for Nama currently comes to €10 million annually. Three individuals draw salaries of €200,000, while a further 13 are paid between €150,000 and €199,000.

At a meeting of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) last week, Nama chief executive Brendan McDonagh said while no developers currently received performance related bonuses, it was something that was under consideration.

In a statement, Nama said there was “no question of paying bonuses to debtors’’, but added “possible incentivisation arrangements’’ would be triggered if “very ambitious or stretch financial targets’’ were met.

“If, in the future, debtors achieve these stretch targets, in certain cases, they will retain a small proportion of any excess achieved above target levels,’’ it added.

“The vast share of any excess will go to Nama and ultimately to taxpayers if the stretch financial targets are achieved.’’

The statement said the objective was to ensure that debtors were motivated to extract maximum value from the workout and realisation of their assets. Very few debtors were likely to achieve the stretch financial targets set for them, it added.

“The incentivisation of debtors is particularly relevant given the shortage of residential supply in Dublin and other urban areas,’’ said the statement.

‘Christmas is a season of peace’ President Michael D Higgins delivers his Christmas message


President of Ireland – Christmas and New Year Message 2014

President Higgins has done it again – delivering a Christmas message to the Irish people at home and abroad without mentioning Christ.

He does however elliptically reference the Christmas story and its value in reminding us of the power of hospitality.

“The story of Bethlehem, of the homeless Joseph and Mary anticipating the birth of their child, is at the heart of this holiday and it invites us to reflect on how we relate to the stranger, the vulnerable in our midst,” he writes.

“At Christmas we are reminded, not only of how a man and a woman had to leave their familiar surroundings and have their child in a strange place, of how they were joined by unknown shepherds and visitors from faraway lands, but most importantly, of the empowering ethic of hospitality,” the President adds.

Last year President Higgins also failed to mention God, Christ or Christianity in his Christmas message. It dismayed Christians of all denominations.

Msgr. Eoin Thynne, Head Chaplain of the Defence Forces, of which President Higgins is Supreme Commander, used his Christmas Eve homily at Windy Arbour Church, to comment on the absence of any reference to the Christian faith by the President.

Read President Higgins’ message in full here: In full: President Michael D Higgins’ Christmas message to Ireland

In this year’s message, President Higgins writes: “Christmas is a season of peace, a time to recall all that can be achieved through reflection, forgiveness and reconciliation.”

“I had the great honour of being Ireland’s first Head of State to pay a State Visit to our nearest neighbour in every sense, the United Kingdom. It was an immense privilege and pleasure to be thus able to manifest the friendship between our two peoples, who no longer “look at each other with doubtful eyes”, but, rather, with the trustful eyes of mutual respect and shared commitments. 59

Early diabetes diagnosis on the rise


Developing diabetes at a very young age could expose a child to severe consequences later in life. Dr. Neslihan Gungor discusses the categorical differences between Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes, mostly discussing that adolescent diagnosis of diabetes is becoming more and more common.

“The typical scenario is it is diagnosed in the 40s and 50s,” describes Gungor. “Those individuals will have some complications, even after diagnosis. But now we are diagnosing this in teens, so we may be faced with kidney complications, eye complications very early on in life. It’s very, very said, so that’s why I believe in prevention and I want to do more work on that.”

What they talk about here is genetic, but not every risk factor associated with diabetes is possible to track with genes.

“When I say healthy lifestyle, I’m not referring to organic food or expensive food,” says Gungor. “Maybe try to prepare most of the food at home with just regular ingredients instead of getting ready-made food all the time. Eating more fruits and vegetables, cooking from scratch as much as possible. I know lifestyles are very busy, but still there are things you can do. We don’t have to be gourmet cooks to do that, just basic ingredients and basic recipes can be very fulfilling.”

But that is just the beginning; obviously, there are many bigger problems at stake. American Diabetes Association executive direct of the Louisiana, John Guzzardo, “A big issue for children facing Type 2 diabetes is compliance, especially when the entire family is not committed to making lifestyle changes. Preventing, or at least delaying Type 2, would call for families to become more active and be more conscious of their food intake.”

NASA plans a space trip to Venus planet


NASA plans a manned mission to Venus to see if the atmosphere could be habitable for humans.

NASA has plans to send men to the atmosphere above Venus to determine if a permanent human colony could survive in a floating city.

NASA’s High Altitude Venus Operational Concept (HAVOC) mission will probe the atmosphere of Venus prior to sending a manned craft, according to IBN Live.

Researchers from the Space Mission Analysis Branch of NASA’s Systems Analysis and Concepts Directorate at Langley Research Center in Virginia believe a mission to Venus makes more sense than one to Mars.

They believe that Venus’ atmosphere offers similar qualities to those of Earth. For example, 50 kilometers above Venus, the gravitational pull is slightly lower than Earth and there is only one atmosphere of pressure.

Astronauts would not approach the surface of Venus because of the amount of pressure and surface temperatures. Venus can reach 863 degrees Fahrenheit, a temperature hot enough to melt lead, The Daily Mail reported.

The HAVOC mission would begin with an unmanned airship to Venus, which would probe the atmosphere and collect measurements of temperature among other things.

If NASA receives an approval, they will then launch a manned mission with two astronauts to Venus, where they will live in Venus’ atmosphere for 30 days.

Then NASA would send astronauts on a year-long mission in the atmosphere followed by the establishment of a permanent colony for human habitation.


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