Tuesday 23rd December 2014
Welfare recipients hit by extra local property tax deduction
About 26,000 people affected by processing error at Department of Social Protection
It is understood that the double deduction was linked to the department’s practice of making a double payment of welfare to recipients in the week beginning December 15th and no payment in the current week.
Thousands of welfare recipients have been left out of pocket over Christmas after they were overcharged on local property tax.
Around 26,000 people have chosen to pay the tax by having it deducted from their weekly welfare payments.
However, a mistake in the processing of payments at theDepartment of Social Protection means an extra week of the tax was deducted from payments made in advance of Christmas.
It is understood that the double deduction was linked to the department’s practice of making a double payment of welfare to recipients in the week beginning December 15th and no payment in the current week. Most welfare recipients also received a 25 per cent Christmas bonus.
Recipients would have been liable to make two weekly contributions towards their local property tax bill. In the event, a amount equal to three weekly payments was deducted.
A source close to the department said that the bulk of those affected were in receipt of the State pension.
A number of people contacted the department and the Revenue Commissioners when they noticed the disproportionately high property tax deduction.
It was unclear how much the overcharging amounted to, given the variable nature of local property tax bills.
A spokeswoman for the department said that, due to a “technical error”, the property tax for the first week of 2015 was taken earlier than intended “resulting in some customers having additional local property tax deductions”.
The department said customers affected by the overcharging would not have any money deducted from their first welfare payment of the new year. “The Department of Social Protection regrets the inconvenience caused,” the spokeswoman said.
Northern Ireland stalemate ends with a last-minute agreement
Party leaders say they have finally come to an agreement after frantic last-minute talks
David Cameron has hailed the “historic” Northern Ireland agreement and said its people now face a “brighter, more prosperous future” after an 11-week political deadlock was finally broken.
The Prime Minister said the deal had been “long in the making” but would finally allow the country to “deal with its past”.
His comments came after the country’s political parties finally came to a consensus with the UK and Irish Governments after a mammoth 30 hours of frantic negotiations with Christmas looming.
Northern Irish leaders heralded the agreement as a “monumental” step forward for the country but warned there were tough days ahead sorting outstanding legacy issues from the Troubles.
The last-minute deal comes amid warnings that the Northern Ireland executive could collapse if agreement was not found before Christmas.
It is understood the UK Government has now increased its offer of financial assistance to £2bn in a mixture of loans and cash – more generous than the package originally ffered by Mr Cameron when he personally attended talks earlier this month.
For months Stormont was gripped in political deadlock as parties failed to reach agreement on marches and flag-waving linked to the country’s past and wrangled over a financial package from Westminster to alleviate the impact of welfare cuts.
Irish Foreign Affairs Minister Charlie Flanagan said the deal “sets out a plan for financial and welfare reform” while others described the agreement as “wide-ranging” and “broad”, though outstanding legacy issues appear not to have been fully resolved.
The deal, which must now be formally endorsed by the political parties, will also pave the way for corporation tax powers to be devolved to the Executive in Belfast. In his Autumn Statement, Chancellor George Osborne said he would transfer the much-sought responsibility, but only if progress was made at the talks.
Mr Cameron said: “I am delighted that a workable agreement has been reached that can allow Northern Ireland to enjoy a brighter, more prosperous future, while at the same time finally being able to deal with its past.”
He added: “This historic agreement has been long in the making and I would also like to pay tribute to all those involved – the Northern Ireland parties, the UK and Irish governments and Senator Hart – for getting us to this position. We will now all work collaboratively to see this through. The people of Northern Ireland deserve nothing less.”
First Minister and DUP leader Peter Robinson said the deal was a “monumental” step forward for the country and pledged to recommend the document of agreement to his party executive.
“Of course every one of us would have liked to have had a more comprehensive and complete agreement but this is as much and more than we have ever been able to do on these issues in the past,” Mr Robinson said. “So it is a very significant agreement.”
Theresa Villiers, the Northern Ireland Secretary, said the deal marked a “good day” for the country and made in progress on “some of the critical issues in Northern Ireland”.
Leo Varadkar to convene emergency task-force on Hospital overcrowding issues
The Health Minister Leo Varadkar has said unless long term measures are in place to tackle overcrowding in emergency departments the numbers of patients on trolleys will soar in the New Year.
Leo Varadkar has convened a taskforce of doctors, HSE officials and hospital consultants to find solutions to the escalating problem.
The latest figures for patients waiting on trolleys – showed 174 people on Friday, but as many as 259 last Tuesday.
Speaking after attending the first meeting of the taskforce in Dr Steeven’s Hospital this afternoon, Minister Varadkar said: “There has been a significant increase in the number of patients on trolleys. As a result Emergency Department over-crowding in the latter part of this year has reversed much of the progress achieved since the change of Government.
“The implementation of the Delayed Discharge initiative is freeing up beds by providing more nursing home ‘Fair Deal’ placements, more step-down community beds and extra home care packages. This will all help, but short-term interventions only work for a while.
“We need a renewed and sustained focus on this problem. I will provide any political leadership I can, but I am going to need full engagement from management and the frontline to get things done. I think the ED Task Force can be a catalyst for that,” said Varadkar.
“The taskforce will meet on a monthly basis to debate and decide issues across the health system which impact on access to acute hospital services, with primary, acute, community and ambulance services working together to develop effective measures to address these.”
How to see Santa (aka the ISS) flying by on Christmas Eve
Festive flyover by the International Space Station could look a lot like Father Christmas and his sleigh, the Met Office suggests
Santa Claus delivering presents on Christmas Eve
It may be the perfect opportunity to show the little ones Santa on his way: a bright light zooming across the sky, just after nightfall on Christmas Eve.
Weather permitting, the spectacle should be visible from right across the UK on Wednesday evening thanks to a perfectly-timed festive flyover by the International Space Station (ISS).
From Stornaway in the Outer Hebrides right down to St Peter Port in Guernsey, the ISS should be visible for several minutes from 5.20pm or just after, according to NASA data.
Those in the South will have the best chance of seeing the space station, however, because it will appear far higher in the sky – and the skies are expected to be clearer.
For those in the London area, the bright light of the space station should appear in the sky at 5.22pm, at an elevation of 35 degrees above the west-south-western horizon. It will arc as high as 45 degrees before disappearing 10 degrees above the horizon to the south east.
A Met Office spokesman said: “The space station will be passing over and it might look like Santa’s sleigh.”
Those in the South may also be able to catch a fleeting second glimpse when it passes by again just before 7pm. This will be much harder to see, however, with the second flyover appearing far lower in the sky – just 11 degrees above the horizon from London, or about the height of a first on an outstretched arm.
For the Cardiff area, the ISS will first appear at a height of 32 degrees in the west, heading as high as 53 degrees above the horizon before disappearing in the south east.
The Met Office forecasts a cold and crisp Christmas Eve night, with clear skies and only the odd patch of cloud across most of England and Wales.
But in Scotland and northern England there will be more cloud and some showers, making spotting the ISS trickier. If skies do clear, it should be visible for three minutes from 5.22pm from the Edinburgh area, appearing above the horizon in the south eest and reaching a maximum elevation of just 24 degrees before passing out of sight to the south-south-east.
The space station can normally only be seen within a few hours wither side of sunrise or sunset, as the sun reflects off the space station, illuminating it against the darker sky.
The ISS travels at about 17,000 miles per hour, more than 200 miles above the Earth’s surface, and at times can be the second-brightest object in the night sky, after the Moon. Unlike aircraft, it has no flashing lights.
First launched in 1998, the space station is roughly the size of a football field. According to NASA, the structure in its current form now has more inhabitable room than a six-bedroom house. It has two bathrooms and a gym.
Its current crew comprises two American men, two men and one woman from Russia, and one Italian woman.
In a Christmas video message, released this week, the Americans Commander Barry Wilmore and Flight Engineer Terry Virts appeared floating alongside a Christmas tree, with festive stockings pinned up in the background.
Wilmore said: “We want to take the opportunity just briefly to wish you all a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. Christmas for us is a time of worship. It’s a time we think back to the birth of what we would consider our Lord.
“We do that at our homes and we plan to do the same thing up here and take just a little bit of time to reflect on those topics. And also just like the wise men gave gifts we have a couple of gifts, you’ll notice stockings behind us here. So we have a couple of gifts for each other and we will share in that as well.”
Virts added: “It’s such an honour and so much fun to celebrate Christmas up here, this is definitely going to be a Christmas that we’ll remember getting a chance to see the beautiful Earth.”
Birthdays, passwords, colleagues’ names. At some point everybody struggles to remember something important.
For Alzheimer’s sufferers the feeling is a relentless onslaught as cherished memories slip out of reach.
But cutting edge new research could mean mean new hope in the battle against memory loss in sufferers of early onset Alzheimer’s.
The revolutionary study by academics at the University of California has suggested for the first time that memories are not stored in synapses as previously thought. It is synapses, the connections between brain cells, that are destroyed by Alzheimer’s.
The breakthrough, reported in the highly regarded online journal eLife, could mean that it becomes possible to restore lost memories.
“Long-term memory is not stored at the synapse,” said David Glanzman, the study’s co-author and professor of integrative biology and physiology and of neurobiology at UCLA. “That’s a radical idea, but that’s where the evidence leads. The nervous system appears to be able to regenerate lost synaptic connections. If you can restore the synaptic connections, the memory will come back. It won’t be easy, but I believe it’s possible.”
Professor Glanzman’s team studied the marine snail Aplysia to understand the animal’s learning and memory functions. Glanzman was particularly interested in the Aplysia’s defensive reactions and the sensory and motor neurons responsible for its withdrawal response.
“If you train an animal on a task, inhibit its ability to produce proteins immediately after training, and then test it 24 hours later, the animal doesn’t remember the training,” said Prof. Glanzman. “However, if you train an animal, wait 24 hours, and then inject a protein synthesis inhibitor in its brain, the animal shows perfectly good memory 24 hours later. In other words, once memories are formed, if you temporarily disrupt protein synthesis, it doesn’t affect long-term memory. That’s true in the Aplysia and in human’s brains.”
As part of the test, the snails were given a number of electric shocks, which in themselves would not usually produce long-term memories. The team found that the memories they thought had been completely erased earlier in the experiment had returned, suggesting that synaptic connections that had previously been lost were apparently restored.
“That suggests that the memory is not in the synapses but somewhere else,” said Glanzman. “We think it’s in the nucleus of the neurons. We haven’t proved that, though.”
He added that the research could be a major breakthrough for Alzheimer’s sufferers as even though the disease destroys synapses in the brain, memories might not necessarily destroyed.
“As long as the neurons are still alive, the memory will still be there, which means you may be able to recover some of the lost memories in the early stages of Alzheimer’s,” said Prof Glanzman.