News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Wednesday 14th January 2015

102 Coalition TDs have just one year to save their jobs


The Tanaiste and Labour party leader Joan Burton

Labour could come back with just five ‘guaranteed’ safe seats, the Tánaiste Joan Burton and three of her fellow senior Labour ministers look set to lose their seats at the next election, as the party is guaranteed to win just five seats.

A detailed analysis of newly redrawn Dáil constituencies based on Labour’s current poll rating of just 6pc, shows that just five TDs appear safe to return in the next Dáil. In 2011 the party won 37 seats and now holds 34.

Worse still for the party, just one Cabinet minister – Brendan Howlin – looks set to return to the next Dáil. Both Ms Burton and her deputy leader, Alan Kelly, are vulnerable to losing their seats.

The other TDs who appear safe are Brendan Ryan (Dublin North); Emmet Stagg (Kildare North); Willie Penrose (Longford Westmeath) and party chairman Jack Wall or his son Mark, who could run in his place in Kildare South.

Mr Howlin has successfully been returned to the Dáil in Wexford in every election since 1987. Despite his tough role as Public Expenditure Minister, he looks assured of keeping his seat.

Senior Labour Party figures have conceded that with the party’s slump in support, combined with a reduction in Dáil seats from 166 to 158, a large number of their TDs stand “little or no chance” of retaining their seats.

“If an election was called tomorrow, the five named are the only ones who look safe to return, and largely that is because all of them have strong personal votes in their areas. When the tide is out it is out,” said one senior figure.

In Ms Burton’s case, she shares the highly-competitive Dublin West constituency with Health Minister Leo Varadkar, which means that the two political heavyweights are locked in a “do-or-die” battle for the last seat.

“Joan is likely to be very squeezed, given the rise of the left across Dublin since 2011. But it is definitely a race between herself and Leo for the last seat,” said one party figure.

Ms Burton topped the poll in Dublin West at the last election, being the first person elected to the Dáil nationally. However, she previously lost her seat in 1997.

Mr Kelly, while coming from a Labour stronghold in Portroe in the constituency of Tipperary North, is now also vulnerable. It is not certain he will retain his seat.

Education Minister Jan O’Sullivan is seen as having very little chance of keeping her seat, despite her promotion to the senior Cabinet last summer. Communications Minister Alex White could also lose out as the Dublin South constituency has been reduced from a five-seater to a three-seater. There has been some speculation that he might move to the new five-seat Dublin South-West constituency, as it is expected that Pat Rabbitte will not run again.

The party looks set to be all but wiped out in Munster, which would see several junior ministers and other leading party figures lose out.

Junior ministers including Kathleen Lynch (Cork North Central), Seán Sherlock (Cork East), as well as Banking Inquiry chairman Ciarán Lynch look set to miss out, as do Clare TD Michael McNamara and Cork South-West TD Michael McCarthy.

Other junior ministers Ann Phelan (Carlow Kilkenny), Ged Nash (Louth), Kevin Humphreys (Dublin Bay South) and Aodhán Ó Ríordáin (Dublin Bay North) appear unlikely to retain their seats at the party’s current poll ratings.

Former party leader and Tánaiste Éamon Gilmore is also looking doubtful to return in the Dún Laoghaire constituency.

Mr Gilmore will be hoping that Ceann Comhairle Seán Barrett does not decide to stand again, as his automatic election to the Dáil would turn an already tough four-seater into a near impossible three-seat race.

Mr Gilmore has maintained a deliberate silence since stepping down as leader last May, but is said to be “fully concentrating” on his constituency and ensuring he at least has a chance of holding his seat.

Irish Government brings employment target forward to 2018


Government reduces timeline for restoring jobs lost during the recession by two years

Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Tánaiste Joan Burton at a press conference after Cabinet meeting on jobs.

The Government’s target for achieving full employment has been brought forward by two years from 2020 to 2018, Taoiseach Enda Kenny confirmed after today’s Cabinet meeting.

Having 2.1 million people at work was an “ambitious and realistic goal”, Mr Kenny said.

“Our goal is that all of the 250,000 jobs that were lost during the recession will be able to be restored and that’s why, at the suggestion of both myself and the Tánaiste, Cabinet agreed to bring forward plans from 2020 to be implemented by 2018 to achieve full employment.”

Mr Kenny said unemployment was still too high and was the main reason for unfairness and inequality in society.

The Taoiseach noted that the unemployment rate had dropped from 15 per cent to 10.6 per cent last December. He said that although that was a “substantial movement”, the unemployment rate was still too high and the Government wants to reduce the rate to below 10 per cent.

Mr Kenny confirmed the Low Pay Commission, under Minister of State for Business and Employment Ged Nash, would meet in the next few weeks.

Mr Kenny also said an “overall economic roadmap” would be published and debated as part of a forthcoming economic statement.

‘A year of opportunity’

Tánaiste Joan Burton said 2015 was a year of opportunity in terms of getting people back to work.

Ms Burton said that at the peak of the boom employment stood at 2.1 million but that figure fell at the height of the economic crisis to 1.8 million people.

“There is no sector of the Irish economy and there is no part of Ireland that should be left out of the move to get people back to work.”

Ms Burton said apprenticeships and traineeships for young people would be prioritised, saying they had been successful in countries like Germany and Austria.

Under the Back to Work Family Dividend, people could retain social welfare benefits of up to €30 per child a week.

Ms Burton said there would be increased funding for Jobs Plus, the scheme under which employers are paid by the Government to take on people who have been long-term unemployed. The scheme would also be extended to include young people.

Ms Burton also said many construction workers had been “sidelined” in the employment market but would be helped to upskill by the Government.

I want something ‘completely and utterly new’ for Irish politics says Sane Ross


Shane Ross has said that there is still a future for his alliance of independent TDs, despite Stephen Donnelly’s decision not to take part.

The Wicklow-based TD today said he would not be joining the alliance – but could yet join another group, if one emerges.

Deputy Ross has set up the group alongside fellow independent Michael Fitzmaurice.

He says he is disappointed that Stephen Donnelly will not be joining – but that he is happy with how big the alliance has become.

“I believe that the radical idea which we have is catching on, which is basically to have an alliance of TDs without taking a party whip,” he said.

“That’s something, I think, he doesn’t like, and he’s perfectly entitled to it.

“But I want to see something completely and utterly new, and a change in Irish politics.” He says but alas Stephen Donnelly has ruled himself out of the alliance of independent deputies being put together by Ross and Roscommon/South Leitrim’s Michael Fitzmaurice.

Mr Donnelly, a TD for Wicklow, had been linked with the grouping in the last week, after Ross and Fitzmaurice recently confirmed that they were teaming up.

“Recently, I have had conversations with TDs involved in the Independent Alliance to explore the possibilities for such a political movement,” Donnelly said in a statement.

“At this stage, I have concluded that it is not something I will be joining. I believe all challenge to the stale cartel that is Irish politics is welcome, and I wish those involved luck in their endeavours,” he added.

The development follows increasing speculation over who will and who won’t be joining the grouping.

Other Independent TDs, Michael Healy Rae, Maureen O’Sullivan and Catherine Murphy have poured cold water on the prospects of them joining the Ross Aliiance.

Tipperary North TD and former Fine Gael Minister Michael Lowry has ruled himself out of the group saying he has no plans to join.

Donegal TD Thomas Pringle said he expects to have conversations with Mr Ross and Mr Fitzmaurice this week now the Dail is back.

Previously, former Labour Minister Roisin Shortall had expressed an interest in joining an alliance but is known to be cool on the idea of linking up with members of the Reform Aliiance.

Most cancer deaths for all under 80’s could be ‘eliminated by 2050


Chemotherapy is administered to a cancer patient via intravenous drip at Duke Cancer Center in Durham, N.C., in September 2013.

“It is reasonable to expect that by 2050 nearly all cancer related deaths in children and adults aged up to (say) 80 years will have become preventable through life style changes and because of the availability of protective technologies and better pharmaceutical and other therapies.”

Scientists Dr. Jennifer Gill, Prof. Richard Sullivan and Prof. David Taylor released their report on Wednesday. Their work was funded by pharmacy chain Boots UK.

Age-standardized cancer deaths rates in Britain have fallen by more than 20 per cent since 1990, the researchers note. However, there are still 325,000 new cases diagnosed in the U.K. each year, and 150,000 deaths.

Just over half of deaths from cancer in Britain today are among people aged 75 and older, they say.

The researchers credit the decline in deaths to a number of factors, ranging from smoking cessation campaigns that have led to a drop in tobacco use and related cancers, effective early diagnostic strategies and more advanced surgical techniques and treatments.

They offer numerous recommendations for ensuring the downward trend continues, including:

  • continuing with widespread public health campaigns aimed at smoking cessation and weight loss.
  • enhancing access to screening and diagnostic services.
  • boosting vaccination rates for viruses linked to cancer, including HPV and hepatitis B.
  • increasing screening rates for early cancer indicators, such as bowel polyps.
  • improving awareness among patients with genetic risks for cancer and testing for the BRCA gene mutations that are linked to breast and ovarian cancers.

“In future decades combinations of innovative medicines coupled with enhanced radiological and surgical interventions will, provided research investment levels are maintained, mean that many more individuals with advanced cancers will be cured, or enabled to live with them in a fulfilling manner,” the researchers write.

The disease does pose numerous challenges, they warn. Cancers involve a wide variety of cell types and impact so many different organs in the body, and can be impacted by our genes in myriad ways.

“Such realities mean that there cannot ever be a single, low cost, ‘magic bullet’ technical solution to overcoming all the challenges that cancer presents,” they write.

Indeed, there remain some 14 million new cancer cases diagnosed around the world every year, and 8 million deaths. Some estimates suggest those figures could rise to 26 million new cases and 17 million deaths by 2030, the researchers write.

“Overcoming cancer in the 21st century will require a holistic and empathetic approach to understanding and meeting both individual and community needs,” they say.

Irish food and drink exports up 4% to €10.5 billion for 2014


Strongest performing sectors were dairy product and ingredients which topped €3bn

Irish food and drink exports rose by 4% to €10.5 billion last year – equating to a record €200 million per week.

Irish food and drink exports have grown by 45% or €3.2 billion since 2009, out-performing all other sectors of the economy.

To put this in context, Irish merchandise exports as a whole grew by just 5% during the period.

The strong performance, detailed in Bord Bia’s latest Export Performance and Prospects report, is all the more remarkable given it took place against a backdrop of global recession and several industry-wide food scandals, most notably the horse meat debacle of 2013.

The report, however, warned that 2015 will be a challenging year for the sector with the ending of milk quotas set to boost supply to a market already beset by falling prices and under pressure from weaker-than-expected global demand .

Bord Bia also noted that while a tightening of supply would stabilise beef prices, which fell sharply last year, consumer demand in the State’s main export markets remained weak.

However, it said the opening up of the US market to Irish beef imports, where prices are at an all-time high, provided an opportunity for Irish producers.

According to its report, food and drink exports rose by 4% to €10.5 billion last year, equating to a record €200 million per week.

The strongest performing division was dairy product and ingredients which rose 3% to exceed the €3 billion mark for the first time.

Prepared food exports increased by 8% to €1.8 billion and seafood exports also rose 8% to €540 million, despite the Russian ban on imports which displaced a significant portion of Irish exports.

Drinks exports also put in a positive performance, climbing 1% to €1.2 billion, driven in the main by strong whiskey sales which offset a fall-off in beer and cider sales.

Irish whiskey is now the fastest-growing spirit in the world with seven million nine-litre cases exported last year; this is projected to grow to 25 million by 2030.

Significantly, most of the growth in Irish food and drink exports occurred outside of Europe, including an almost 40 per cent increase in food exports to China which reached €520 million last year.

Bord Bia chief executive Aidan Cotter said there had been a “significant shift” in the destinations for Irish exports in 2014 with international markets showing renewed growth, reflected in a 15 per cent increase in international or non-EU trade, which stood at €3 billion last year, accounting for 29% of total food and drink exports.

Overall, the value of exports to Asia jumped 45 per cent to reach €850 million. There were also increases in exports to North America (€740 million, +18%), the Middle East (€330 million, +1%) and Africa (€610 million, +9%).

While it remains Ireland’s most significant export market, the share of exports destined for the UK eased slightly though the value showed little change at €4.2 billion, representing 40% of total food and drink exports.

Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Simon Coveney said over the past five years agri-food exports grew at a rate ten times that of normal merchandise exports, making it “the most important part of our economy.”

“Every parish in this country has a stake or a dividend in this growth,” he added.

The rise in sea levels is ‘faster than we had thought’


Melting ice is contributing to the rise in sea levels. 

Sea levels have been rising at almost double the estimate for the last two decades, scientists find

Sea levels have risen significantly faster in the last two decades than has been thought, according to new research.

Previous estimates had indicated that sea levels rose between 1.5 and 1.8 millimetres per year throughout the 20th century.

However, since 1990 sea levels had risen by about three millimetres annually.

US researcher Eric Morrow, from the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences (EPS) at Harvard University, said: ”What this paper shows is that sea-level acceleration over the past century has been greater than had been estimated by others.

”It’s a larger problem than we initially thought.”

Co-author Dr Carling Hay, also from Harvard University, said: ”Scientists now believe that most of the world’s ice sheets and mountain glaciers are melting in response to rising temperatures. Melting ice sheets cause global mean sea level to rise. Understanding this contribution is critical in a warming world.”

Scientists conceded that the increase in global sea level from 1900 to 1990 had been over-estimated by as much as 30%.

The new study, published in the journal Nature, suggests that from 1901 until 1990 the figure was closer to 1.2 millimetres per year.

But they confirmed that current estimates of sea levels were accurate, suggesting a rapid increase in the speed at which levels are rising.

To obtain their improved estimate of 20th century sea levels, the researchers looked at the task in a new way.

Typically estimates of sea level rise are produced by dividing the world’s oceans into sub-regions and gathering records from tide gauges – yard sticks used to measure ocean tides.

Rates of sea level for each region are then averaged together to create a global estimate.

The new technique involved taking account of sea level ”fingerprints” – patterns of change produced by on-going effects such as ice age signals, the melting of land ice, ocean circulation changes, and the heating and expansion of the oceans due to global warming.

Dr Hay said: ”We are looking at all the available sea-level records and trying to say that Greenland has been melting at this rate, the Arctic at this rate, the Antarctic at this rate, etc.

”We then sum these contributions and add in the rate that the oceans are changing due to thermal expansion to estimate a rate of global mean sea-level change.”

To the scientists’ surprise, it quickly became clear that previous estimates of sea-level rise over most of the 20th century were too high.

”We expected that we would estimate the individual contributions, and that their sum would get us back to the 1.5 to 1.8 millimetres per year that other people had predicted,” said Dr Hay.

”But the math doesn’t work out that way. Unfortunately, our new lower rate of sea-level rise prior to 1990 means that the sea-level acceleration that resulted in higher rates over the last 20 years is really much larger than anyone thought.”


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