News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Thursday 3rd April 2015

Dunne’s Store’s strike review committee to meet next week?


A meeting will be held next week to discuss further strike action following the strike by Mandate Union workers at Dunnes Stores on Thursday.

Dunnes Stores staff who are members of the union Mandate, carried out industrial strike action as planned on the 2nd April.

The trade union’s Dunnes Stores national disputes committee, which is comprised of 10 Dunnes Stores employees, planned a one-day strike with a review thereafter.

It will meet next week to decide on the possibility of another day of industrial action.

There was a ballot in the workers’ dispute with the company in early March over low-hour contracts, fair pay and job security.

Union leaders say Dunnes Stores has refused to engage with them over the issue. Dunnes Stores employs more than 10,000 people.

The Mandate trade union says three-quarters of Dunnes workers are on part-time, flexible contracts.  In the 12 weeks leading up to Christmas, Dunnes had 23.5% of the market share of supermarket shopping, second only to Tesco.

107 stores across the country were affected by the strike.

There was no comment from Dunnes Stores, but to coincide with the strike, the store offered a 20% discount off everything online on Thursday.

Bernie Wesley, a Dunnes Stores worker from Dundalk, said: “There is one group of people who can ensure this strike doesn’t go ahead and that’s Dunnes Stores. If Dunnes refuse to engage in meaningful negotiations, the strike will have to go ahead, and we’re urging all Dunnes Stores workers – including those not already in the union – to join and stand together because this is a dispute we can win and we will win.”

Gerry Light, Mandate Assistant General Secretary, said: “Our members in Dunnes are extremely disappointed with the behaviour of their company. Dunnes, like every employer in this state, has a moral responsibility to their own workers and they are failing them in this regard. Nobody wants this industrial action to go ahead but the ultimate responsibility lies with the company who can resolve this dispute with one simple phone call.”

Another Dunnes employee, Cathy McLoughlin, said: “None of us want to go on strike because we really can’t afford it, but what other option have we got? Our employer can stop the strike by simply agreeing to meet our union and we don’t feel that’s an unreasonable request.”

The Labour Court has previously advised Dunnes Stores to engage with unions but the company has so far refused.

Dunnes Stores workers will be back in stores on Friday 3 April.

Repossesions of Irish homes property may occur in 47% of proposed deals on arrears

New figures from Central Bank reveal scale of arrears problem that still exists


The rate of house repossession in Ireland is likely to ramp up significantly in the coming months with new figures showing nearly half of the “proposed solutions” for distressed borrowers may involve the loss of properties.

The latest figures from the Central Bank on how the State’s main banks are meeting targets for resolving mortgage arrears reveal the scale of the problem that still exists nearly eight years on from the property crash.

They show 47 per cent of the proposed solutions reported by banks for borrowers in arrears of at least 90 days, equating to 49,698 cases, involve the potential “loss of ownership” for the borrowers.

Significantly, the lion’s share of these cases (30,904) relate owner-occupier mortgages.

The figures for the final quarter of last year show the majority of proposed solutions reported for both owner-occupier and buy-to-let mortgage holders in arrears involved some form of loan restructuring arrangement, while a small number of cases were being resolved through the insolvency legislation.

The figures come as the Government looks at new measures to tackle the mortgage arrears crisis. The Government’s Economic Management Council is understood to have discussed the issue, specifically the high number of repossession cases headed for the courts, at its weekly meeting on Wednesday.

Sources suggest the Government is looking at possible changes to the personal insolvency rules, including some form of review process when banks block proposed insolvencies.

Measures to push the banks to be more active in offering solutions that do not involve repossessions are also being considered, perhaps involving more use of mortgage-to-rent schemes in more difficult cases, with the current rules deemed too restrictive.

However, there still remains the problem of what to do with those borrowers in long-term arrears, who are a long way off being able to pay even a restructured mortgage or who will not engage with the lender.

The Central Bank said the six banks covered by the targets – AIB, Bank of Ireland, Permanent TSB, Ulster Bank, ACC and KBC – had “concluded solutions” for 62 per cent of arrears cases of more than 90 days as of the final quarter of last year.This was comfortably ahead of the 45 per cent target, the Central Bank set for the lenders last year.

The figures also show banks had “proposed solutions” for 97 per cent of 104,938 borrowers on their books with arrears of at least 90 days, again meeting the Central Bank’s target of 85 per cent.

Proposed and concluded solutions increased by 4,625 and 7,194 respectively over the quarter with the majority of the change due to increases in the restructure category, which continued a trend from last year.

Of the reported concluded solutions, some 40,837 (60 per cent) involved repayment and restructure arrangements, including split mortgages, term extensions, arrears capitalisations and borrowers clearing their arrears.

According to information supplied to the Central Bank, 91 per cent of the concluded restructure and insolvency solutions are reported to be meeting the terms of the arrangements.

Where the lenders take legal action that may result in loss of ownership for a borrower, the Central Bank said, they are required to comply with the Central Bank’s Code of Conduct on Mortgage Arrears for owner-occupier mortgages, and must be prepared to re-engage with borrowers to explore alternative solutions.

“Therefore, even where repossession proceedings are in progress, in many cases lenders and borrowers may still agree an alternative solution through meaningful engagement by both parties and avoid repossession as an ultimate outcome,” it added.

The Government is expected to publish revised proposals to deal with the arrears issue before the end of this month.

Some Irish people embarrassed about bowel cancer


Around 2,400 men and women are newly diagnosed with bowel cancer every year in Ireland, yet many people still find the disease very embarrassing to talk about, the Irish Cancer Society (ICS) has said.

It has revealed that more people view the bowel cancer section on the ICS website than any other section. Last year alone, there were almost 80,000 visits to the bowel cancer information pages of the site.

“The total number of visitors to the signs and symptoms page for bowel cancer was over three times the number of visitors to the prostate cancer pages (25,000) and four times the number of visitors to the breast cancer pages (20,000) in the same time period,” the ICS noted.

The highest number of visitors were from the 25-34 age group (26%), followed by the 35-44 age group (25%). Almost three in four visitors were female and some of the top key words used to look up the page included bowel cancer symptoms, colon cancer symptoms and bleeding anus.

“Bowel cancer is a cancer that affects both men and women but there still remains a high embarrassment factor that people feel when discussing the signs and symptoms. The fact that it is the most visited section of our website bears this out. Some people feel awkward mentioning symptoms to family, friends and even their GP, so they look elsewhere for their information and support,” explained ICS nursing services manager, Joan Kelly.

She pointed out that if people are embarrassed or reluctant to seek help, this could lead to a delay in diagnosis.

“Bowel cancer is extremely treatable once it’s caught early, however we are still seeing almost 50% of bowel cancers diagnosed at stage three and four when more complex treatments are required. As a result, bowel cancer mortality rates remain steady since 2006 at 40%,” Ms Kelly commented.

Bowel cancer causes around 1,000 deaths in Ireland annually.

The symptoms of bowel cancer include:

  • Pain or discomfort in your abdomen or back passage.
  • A change in your normal bowel motion, such as constipation or diarrhoea
  • A feeling that you have not emptied your bowel fully after a motion
  • Weight loss
  • Rectal bleeding or blood in the stools

The ICS wants to make people aware that they can reduce their risk of bowel cancer by maintaining a healthy lifestyle. For example, adults who exercise more and consume a healthy diet can reduce their risk of the disease by up to 40%.

The ICS is also urging people to take part in the bowel cancer screening programme, BowelScreen, if invited. This is currently aimed at adults aged 60-69.

Finally, the ICS is appealing to people to be aware of the signs and symptoms of bowel cancer and to attend a doctor if they notice any of these.

“We are urging people to spot bowel cancer early and be aware of the early warning signs, and if they have any concerns, call 1800 200 700 to speak to a cancer nurse or speak to their GP,” Ms Kelly added.

Pain killer Paracetamol ‘does not help back pain or arthritis’

Over-the-counter painkiller may do more harm than good, researchers have warned


Paracetamol does not help back pain or arthritis and may cause dangerous side-effects if taken long term.

Paracetamol does not stop lower back pain or help the ache of arthritis and doctors should consider prescribing exercise instead, a major review has found.

The over-the-counter painkiller, which is taken by millions of people in Britain for back problems, was found to be no better than placebo.

Around 26 million people suffer from back pain in Britain while nearly nine million have sought medical help for osteoarthritis, the most common form of arthritis.

But although clinical guidelines recommend paracetamol as the first line drug treatment for both conditions it has little effect and could cause long term liver damage, the University of Sydney warned in the British Medical Journal.

Lead author Gustavo Machado said the new research showed that guidance must be changed.

“Paracetamol is the most widely used over-the counter medicine for musculoskeletal conditions so it is critical that we review treatment recommendations in light of this new evidence,” he said.

“In our research, paracetamol for low back pain and osteoarthritis was also shown to be associated with higher risk of liver toxicity in patients.

“Patients were nearly four times more likely to have abnormal results on liver function tests compared to those taking placebo pills.”

In 2013 the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice) warned that continued use of paracetamol could lead to heart, kidney and intestinal problems, and recommended GPs only prescribe the lowest effective dose for the shortest possible time.

However the drugs regulator was forced into a u-turn last year following criticism from the Royal College of GPs and arthritis charities who said it would have a drastic impact on GP pain management.

NHS spends £80 million a year on paracetamol prescriptions

Long-term use of paracetamol can lead to high blood pressure and stroke

Parents warned against giving paracetamol and ibuprofen for mild fever

The NHS spends around £80 million a year prescribing paracetamol yet other treatments such as spinal manipulation, exercise, acupuncture and psychological therapies are known to be effective.

Professor Christian Mallen, of the Arthritis Research UK Primary Care Centre, at Keele University, Staffordshire, said: “Non-pharmacological treatments work, are safe and have benefits that reach beyond the musculoskeletal system.”

“These findings encourage us to reassess the role of paracetamol as the key analgesic in management osteoarthritis and spinal pain.

“Changing behaviour of doctors and their patients is notoriously difficult but the findings emphasis that the time has come to shift our attention away from tablets as the default option for managing chronic musculoskeletal pain.

The new study included 13 randomised controlled studies that looked at the effects of paracetamol use compared with a placebo in around 40,000 patients.

The study showed that for lower back pain, paracetamol had no effect and did not reduce disability or improve quality of life compared with the use of a placebo. For osteoarthritis, they found small, but not clinically important benefits in the reduction of pain and disability.

Paracetamol use for osteoarthritis was also shown to increase the likelihood of having abnormal results on liver function tests by almost four times compared with a placebo.

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Senior author Associate Professor Manuela Ferreira of the George Institute for Global Health and the University of Sydney added: “This latest research, the most comprehensive systematic review of its kind, reaffirms this with an even larger, global patient base.

“We urgently need to take stock of the evidence for common musculoskeletal conditions, a largely under-recognised health priority, and make sure people are receiving appropriate care.”

The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency is currently carrying out a wide-ranging review into the dangers of paracetamol. Nice has said will continue to recommend the painkiller until that review is complete.

The drugs regulator said it could not comment on the new research because it was too close to the general election.

Endangered high brown butterfly species records a 10-year high


The warm start to 2014 boosted the number of some butterflies, including the critically endangered High Brown Fritillary, a survey has found.

More than half of 56 species studied saw their numbers rise compared with the previous year, according to the UK Butterfly Monitoring Scheme.

The High Brown Fritillary also benefited from schemes to restore habitat, said Butterfly Conservation.

But others – such as the cabbage white – struggled in high summer.

The High Brown Fritillary is one of only two butterflies classed as critically endangered in the UK so it is fantastic news that numbers are at their highest level for more than a decadeDr Tom Brereton, Butterfly Conservation

Cooler conditions later in the year meant the butterfly season peaked early, the study by Butterfly Conservation and the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology found.

Known for its black and orange wings and swift flight, the High Brown Fritillary was once widespread across England and Wales but numbers have declined massively since the 1970s.

It is now down to a single colony in Wales and only two remaining strongholds in England, around Morecambe Bay and on Dartmoor.

The survey found the butterfly recorded its best year for a decade.

This was due to both the warm, wet spring, which was good for emerging caterpillars, and wildlife-friendly farming schemes to restore the woodland and moorland slopes where it breeds, said Butterfly Conservation.

Its head of monitoring, Dr Tom Brereton, said the butterfly was on the road to recovery but there was still a long way to go.

“The High Brown Fritillary is one of only two butterflies classed as critically endangered in the UK so it is fantastic news that numbers are at their highest level for more than a decade,” he said.

“A huge amount of work coordinated by Butterfly Conservation has been put into conserving this butterfly in recent years, especially through wildlife-friendly farming schemes, so the results will come as a welcome boost to all involved.”

The warmer than average spring and early summer in 2014 also helped other species of butterfly which emerge early in the year, including the Marbled White, Ringlet and Brimstone, which all had their best year since the survey began in 1976.

The survey recorded a 26% increase in numbers compared to 2013 for the threatened Duke of Burgundy, while the rare Lulworth skipper also fared well.

But some butterflies that emerge in high summer struggled in the colder August weather, including the Chalk Hill Blue, Adonis Blue and the two “cabbage white” species.

Overall, 32 of the 56 species studied by the monitoring scheme saw their numbers rise compared to 2013, one showed no change, and 23 species saw numbers fall.

Around 100,000 more butterflies were counted across the UK in 2014 than in 2013.


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