News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Friday 30th January 2014

Ministers insist Aer Lingus sale depends on connectivity and jobs


Alex White says concerns are understandable but Aer Lingus needs investment.

Minister for Finance Michael Noonan has insisted that any Government decision in relation to the sale of Aer Lingus to IAG will be in the “national interest”..

Minister for Finance Michael Noonan has insisted that any Government decision in relation to the sale of Aer Lingus to IAG will be in the “national interest”.

Speaking in Limerick on Friday he reiterated the Taoiseach’s stance that connectivity and jobs will be the two key considerations on the matter.

“Minister Paschal Donohoe will set out the policy and advice the Government. I am actually the shareholder. I hold the shares on behalf of the Irish state and I have been legally advised it would be inappropriate for me to comment in anyway as we are in what they call an offer period this morning.

“But I think things are changing and I check Bloomberg every morning and this morning one of the Gulf carriers has offered to buy almost 10 per cent of AIG and it looks as if that’s an acceptable bid so there’s a change imminent as well in the parent group that are bidding for Aer Lingus.

“There’s only two ways of getting on and off of this island, whether by boat or by plane so we want to make sure everything works out very satisfactorily,” he said.

Speaking in Cork the Minister for Communications Alex White said he will also wait for the Minister for Transport, Paschal Donohue for a detailed briefing on the proposal and expected any deal would have to include certain guarantees on connectivity and jobs.

Mr White said that he was aware of the concerns of many backbench Labour TDs that potential buyer, IAG would give guarantees on both the retention of Aer Lingus slots at Heathrow and connectivity as well as employment levels within the company.

“I don’t know what specifically IAG are saying about those matters but I would expect that they will address them … I am sure those issues will be addressed. Quite manifestly, they would be required to be addressed and they would be part of the consideration the Government will give to this.”

Mr White said that he had not reached a definitive position on the proposed sale but there were a number of factors that he would take cognisance of in forming his view.

“The concerns that people would have in Dublin, in Cork and in Shannon are understandable concerns but the aviation world has changed and it’s changed in recent years and we are no longer in a position where it is typical to have national carriers owned by governments

“The last Government disposed of a 75% share in Aer Lingus. Increasingly, connectivity between countries is really guaranteed or secured by the profitability of routes and in the case of Aer Lingus, as with every other airline, access to investment is absolutely essential for survival.”

There is growing pressure within the Government ranks over the implications for the economy of Ireland if the sale of the former national carrier proceeds.

IAG values the company at around €1.4 billion, which would net the government in the region of €345 million.

Regional business groups are also sounding the alarms bells about what impact any sale will have in areas such as Limerick and Cork, who rely on direct connectivity with London Heathrow as a unique selling point in attracting foreign direct investment into their regions.

Irish mortgage debt ratio highest in euro area, says CSO


CSO study provides key snapshot on financial status of Irish households.

A CSO survey has revealed that the burden of debt carried by Irish mortgage holders relative to the value of their homes is the highest in the euro area.

The burden of debt carried by Irish mortgage holders relative to the value of their homes is the highest in the euro area. Dublin also has the lowest rate of home ownership in the State but the second-highest number of households carrying debt.

These are just some of the findings contained in the first Household Finance and Consumption Survey compiled by the Central Statistics Office (CSO). The report, which is based on data collected at the end of 2013, provides a snapshot of the financial wellbeing of Irish households after the economic crash.

It found the median or middle loan-to-value (LTV) ratio for owner-occupier mortgage holders here was 72.9%, nearly twice the euro zone average of 37% and more than 20 percentage points ahead of the next-highest country The Netherlands with 52.5%.

Dublin commuter belt

In the mideast region, which takes in the Dublin commuter belt counties of Kildare, Meath, Westmeath and Wicklow, the figure rose to 90.7%, the highest in regional terms. For households comprising one adult and children, the median LTV was 102.5%, meaning well over 50% of these households remain in negative equity.

For people under 35 the figure was even more stark at 116.8%, compared with an LTV of just 16% for over-65s.

The report found just over 70% of Irish households owned their own main residence, while 10.8% own land and 13.8% own other property.

Though the rates of home ownership here are high, they are roughly in line with other EU states.

Home-ownership rates were the lowest in Dublin at 59.4% and the highest in the Border region at 82.3%.

The survey found 56.8% of all households had some form of debt, with 33.9% of all households having a mortgage on their main residence. The median debt of the mortgage

debt is €129,000 and it is €1,000 for overdrafts and €1,400 for credit cards.

Only 3.6% of all households headed by a person aged 65 or older had a mortgage on the main residence, compared with just over 57 per cent of households headed by a person aged between 35 and 44.

Could teens think themselves obese?


Young adults could be at risk of literally thinking themselves fat.

Self-fulfilling prophecies have long been discussed in the realm of social psychology; could you make yourself do or become something just by thinking it? Well, new research claims teenagers who mistakenly believe they are overweight are really more at risk of developing obesity later in life.

Young adults who worry they are fat are more at risk of trying unhealthy ways to lose weight when they are older; among them things like bingeing and vomiting and diet pills, which can lead to long-term weight gain.

What might come as a surprise to some people: researchers say boys were at more risk than girls. In fact, young males who believed they were fat had an 89 per cent increased chance of being obese later in life than those who viewed their weight accurately.

“Our research shows that psychological factors are important in the development of obesity,” study author Angelina Sutin, a psychological scientist at Florida State University, explained.

“Misperception is typically taken as a sign of an eating disorder, such as anorexia or bulimia, but our research shows that it may also signal a long-term risk of obesity.”

The study relied on data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, which allowed researchers to look at height, weight and body image of over 6,500 young people at the ages of 16 and 28.

Participants were asked, at the age of 16, to rate how they perceived their weight. The scale started at a rating of one for very underweight and went up to five, very overweight. Of most interest were those who classed themselves as overweight but were actually medically a healthy size.

Those who classed themselves much bigger than they actually were proved a 40 per cent higher risk of becoming obese as an adult, with obesity classified as a BMI of 30 or more.

Researchers believe this could be because these youngsters go on to practise unhealthy dieting methods, as well as having lower self-control and being unable to take steps to maintain a healthy weight. All in all, it would become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

“Adolescents who misperceive themselves as being overweight may not take the steps necessary to maintain a healthy weight,” the researchers added.

“…[as] they gain weight, they physically become what they have long perceived themselves to be.”

As for why boys seemed more at risk, Dr Sutin believes it could be because girls may pay more attention and intervene before they put on weight or that healthcare professionals are more likely to address weight gain in girls. However, she adds it’s not clear right now.

Two-thirds of students in Ireland report hazardous drinking


Consumption pattern among women now similar to that in men, UCC study indicates

The study revealed hazardous alcohol consumption, with 65.2% of men and 67.3% of women saying they engaged in unsafe drinking.

Two-thirds of students are drinking hazardous amounts of alcohol every week, according to a university study.

The study carried out by researchers at University College Cork found that about 66% of students responding to a questionnaire reported hazardous alcohol consumption, with 65.2% of men and 67.3% of women saying they engaged in unsafe drinking.

At the higher end of the scale, the study, which involved 2,275 undergraduates at UCC, found approximately 17% of men and 5% of women were consuming more than six units of alcohol at least four times a week and, in some cases, on a daily basis.

The study found “hazardous alcohol consumption drastically increased the possibility of adverse consequence, including missing days from university and so affecting their academic performance”.

“The pattern and frequency of adverse consequences of alcohol consumption was broadly similar in men and women, though men were more likely to report getting into a fight or to have a ‘one-night stand’.”

The gender gap

The research, published in the BMJ Open medical journal, had an overall response rate of 51 per cent and an in-class response rate of 84%. These are comparable figures with other major international studies on student alcohol consumption.

The research was led by UCC researcher and PhD candidate Martin Davoren with support from UCC colleagues Dr Frances Shiely and Prof Ivan Perry, and from Dr Michael Byrne of UCC’s student health department.

Mr Davoren said the motivation for the study came from the need for reliable data on patterns of alcohol consumption in the student population, given that recent national and international research indicated a narrowing gender gap in this population.

“A decade ago the college lifestyle and attitudinal national survey noted males were drinking more than their female counterparts. We are now seeing women drinking as much as men,” he said.

“This finding is yet another signpost that our relationship with alcohol as a nation is unwholesome and detrimental to health. It impacts on us all and these findings should not be seen as merely a young person, student or UCC issue.

“Currently the State is at a decision point with regard to policies on the promotion of sports sponsorship and this study highlights the need for effective public-policy measures such as a minimum unit price for alcohol and a full ban on sports sponsorship,” he said.

New-born chicks count in the same way as humans


When humans count we tend to think of lower or smaller numbers on the left and bigger numbers on the right.

Now it seems new born chicks show a similar trait to place numbers in ascending order from left to right.

In a series of (very cute) experiments, researchers showed how three-day-old chicks associated low numerical values with space to their left and higher values with space to their right.

The results suggested that the habit of visualising a line – a “mental number line” (MNL) – along which small values are located on the left and high values on the right, evolved millions of years ago before the ancestors of humans split from birds.

To test the chicks’ number-placing skills, the birds were familiarised with a particular number of small squares on a panel, behind which they could find a food reward.

They were then presented with two panels, both displaying an identical number of squares that was either smaller or larger than the original, and spaced apart.

If the new number was smaller, they tended to investigate the panel on their left as they searched for food.

If it was higher, they were drawn to the one on their right.

All that counting and no fingers

The association remained when the relative values of the original “target” number and the numbers on the two panels the chicks had to choose from were altered.

If the target number was five, and the number displayed on the two panels was two, the chicks gravitated to the panel on their left.

But if the target number remained five and eight squares were displayed on the “choice” panels, they instinctively preferred to investigate the right hand panel.

The researchers, led by Dr Rosa Rugani, from the University of Padova in Italy, reported their findings in the journal Science.

They wrote: “Our results indicate that a disposition to map numerical magnitudes onto a left-to-right oriented MNL exists independently of cultural factors and can be observed in animals with very little non-symbolic numerical experience.

“Spatial mapping of numbers from left to right may be a universal cognitive strategy available soon after birth.”


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