News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Saturday 18th April 2015

Irish Courts to get power to overrule banks under new Coalition arrears plan

  

  • Government planning further measures to tackle worrying mortgage arrears crisis

The Government is expected to announce its final mortgage arrears package at the end of the month, following the spring economic statement

The Government has received tacit backing from the EU Commission for an easing of tight fiscal curbs ahead of its spring economic statement later this month.

The development comes as the Coalition takes further steps to tackle the mortgage arrears crisis.

The Government is finalising plans which would see courts given power to overrule banks when they reject proposals from borrowers with arrears.

Ministers are considering proposals to allow the Circuit Court to impose alternative arrangements to those suggested by banks or other lenders.

Currently, banks can veto deals arranged by advisers to struggling borrowers.

The Government is expected to announce its final mortgage arrears package at the end of the month, following the spring economic statement.

In what would amount to a significant weakening of the banks’ veto, the Circuit Court could decide proposals put forward by advisers to people in mortgage distress offered a viable route to “return to solvency”, according to sources.

Main priority

Coalition figures say the main priority is to keep families in their homes and the aim of the new measures is to encourage people “willing to work their way through their difficulties” to engage in the personal insolvency system.

Should the court decide a bank had unreasonably rejected a proposed settlement put forward by insolvency advisers, it could assess the proposal and impose an arrangement if it felt it was both workable and in the public interest, the sources said.

The new initiative is described as “examinership for homeowners”, taking its lead from the process under which struggling businesses operate as a going concern with the approval of the courts.

One source suggested it would provide “another weapon to borrowers” to encourage them to engage with their lenders.

Bankruptcy term

While the reduction of the bankruptcy term from three years to one is still being considered, it is understood the new court review system is seen as a more effective way of allowing people to stay in their homes.

Well-placed sources said while bankruptcy for businesses could provide a clean break, figures from the Insolvency Service of Ireland showed 70 per cent of homeowners who opted for bankruptcy ended up losing their homes

Separately, Coalition figures expect banks to act on the issue of standard variable rate mortgages in the coming months.

Earlier this week, Taoiseach Enda Kenny told the Dáil the banks had a moral duty to pass on lower European Central Bank interest rates from which they benefited.

Minister for Finance Michael Noonan and Minister for Public Expenditure Brendan Howlin this week received a 20-page draft of the spring economic statement in which they will outline a joint fiscal plan for 2016 and the years beyond it.

At issue now is how they refine the document before publication on April 28th.

Following positive signals from Brussels, the Coalition will be in a position to signal greater scope to raise expenditure and cut tax next year without running the risk of an objection from the commission.

New move presents Irish Government with increased room for economic manoeuvre in the run-up to the general election.

      

  • Chopra says ECB’s threats to Ireland were ‘outrageous’

The European Central Bank acted in an “outrageous” manner and went beyond its remit when it pressured Ireland to commit to years of austerity, according to Ajai Chopra.

The International Monetary Fund’s former Ireland mission chief made the damning assessment during an address at Oxford University.

A recording of his speech uncovered by the Irish Independent reveals Mr Chopra telling an audience that the so-called ‘Trichet letters’ were an “outrageous overreach” of the ECB’s mandate.

In a stinging criticism of the bank, Mr Chopra says he isn’t surprised people in Ireland were upset about the letters between the former ECB President Jean-Claude Trichet and the late Brian Lenihan in 2010 in which Mr Trichet threatened to cut off funds for the Irish banks if the Government did not apply for a bailout.

“The letters actually pressed Ireland to do fiscal consolidation, it pressed them to undertake vague structural reforms without specifying what these were, and that, in my view, is an outrageous overreach by a central bank,” Mr Chopra said.

And he also claimed that the possible effects of burning the bondholders that were put forward by Europe were “exaggerated.”

He told the Irish Independent last night that he had nothing further to add beyond the comments in his address.

The blunt intervention by the man considered the public face of the Irish bailout will cause ructions in the ECB and will pile pressure on the Banking Inquiry here to get answers from the Frankfurt body on its controversial role in the bailout.

The ECB eventually released the letters last November, giving a fresh insight into the build-up to Ireland’s entry into the IMF/EU programme in late 2010.

The letters urged the then-government to commit to structural reforms and restructuring of the financial sector.

“That is not their job,” Mr Chopra said. “Their mandate is to meet inflation. And if you lecture the ECB as to how they might go about that, they talk about their independence.

“But when it comes to lecturing others about fiscal policy or structural policy, they’re not at all hesitant. I’m not surprised that the people in Ireland were very upset about these letters from [Jean-Claude] Trichet.”

Mr Trichet has refused to appear before the Banking Inquiry but he has said he is prepared to speak to Irish politicians at an event in Dublin at the end of the month.

There had been a long dispute between the Inquiry and the ECB over the attendance of Mr Trichet before the committee, which aims to establish the events leading up to the bailout.

Mr Chopra accepted that if you are the lender of last resort, such as the ECB was, it was reasonable for it to ask Ireland about the condition of its banks, and to say that if it isn’t possible to have them recapitalised via the markets, an international rescue package should be sought.

“My reading of the letters is that, if you’re the lender of last resort and you see this [a spike] happening with your liquidity support, I think it’s perfectly reasonable for you to ask the borrower, ‘what is the condition of your banks, are they solvent and do you have a plan to make these banks viable?’

“Every lender of last resort has to be asking these questions and also be saying, ‘look if you can’t recapitalise these banks by borrowing on the market, you’d better get an international rescue loan to recapitalise your banks’.”

During Mr Chopra’s address at the Political Economy of Financial Markets event at Oxford, the former IMF senior official, who is now a visiting fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington DC, also alluded to a number of disagreements between the IMF and Europe concerning Ireland. He said the two sides had “fairly good working relations” but that “it took a lot of effort”.

“A lot of things had to be first negotiated with the Europeans before we could negotiate them with the Irish.

“And that took time. And also, to be honest, they didn’t have the experience or the technology at the beginning of this process,” he said.

Mr Chopra recalled being at a meeting with an Irish official during which one of the European negotiators said something that was “very stupid”.

“At that time, the Irish went out and hired foreigners, including Brits, to help them with what they were doing. And this person just shot them down,” Mr Chopra recalled.

“The person who made the stupid comment made the comment and ended it by saying, ‘I’m not a bank supervisor or bank restructuring expert’. And the person from the Irish side, who happened to be British, said, ‘It shows’.”

Mr Chopra reiterated that it was unfair for Irish taxpayers to suffer the cost of bailing out the banks when senior bondholders got their money back.

“The IMF staff right from the beginning was very much in favour of imposing losses on senior bondholders. The EU partners were dead against it, especially the ECB,” he said.

“The reason given by the Europeans was exaggerated. Yes, there would have been spill-overs. It would not have been so much of a disaster, but the Europeans were just terrified about the implications for bank funding markets.”

Mr Chopra also accused the ECB of being “gung-ho” in terms of imposing lots of austerity early, and he said the Irish Government was also “quite aggressive” on the fiscal front.

He gained celebrity status among a downbeat populous who were attracted to his charisma but concerned at the policies he advocated.

Ajai Chopra was the public face of the austerity programme in Ireland, which was perceived as being imposed by unsympathetic foreigners more concerned with economic theory than the people whose lives were being ravaged by the recession.

The iconic photograph at the outset of the bailout negotiations captured a sharp-suited Chopra walking past the Shelbourne Hotel with his entourage, as a homeless man with a cup begged for change.

That image travelled around the world and became synonymous with the plight of this country during that fateful period.

Fast-forward three years and Chopra was portrayed in a very different image as he donned a vintage costume during a visit to Bunratty Castle, Co Clare.

It was that of a 19th century banker, and by all accounts, he graciously agreed to the request from the photographer to wear it, and could see the humour.

Chopra became a household name for that very reason. He didn’t shy away from publicity – unlike other technocrats.

   Jean-Claude Trichet

Jean-Claude Trichet’s involvement with Ireland has long been controversial, for his alleged role in bumping the country into a bailout.

The Frenchman has held firm to his claim that Ireland’s decision to ask for international funding was one solely taken by the Government, and he never accepted that pressure may have been brought to bear.

But it’s not just in Ireland that he’s stoked controversy.

The former European Central Bank chief headed up the Frankfurt-based body during the early years of the global financial meltdown and his management of that crisis has swung between praise and deep criticism.

He has been quick to point out that he saw the crisis coming before it struck, but claimed his warnings fell on deaf ears.

As far back as 2005, the Frenchman was warning of a looming financial disaster triggered by credit deals that few people understood.

And when the crisis did break out, he won praise for managing to avert a greater meltdown by issuing emergency loans to banks.

But that praise turned to impatience and head-scratching after he refused to follow the lead of other central bankers and cut interest rates.

That has been viewed as one of his biggest mistakes.

Discovered new turbo-charged protein that can fight any cancer or virus’

   

A protein which ‘turbo-charges’ the immune system so that it can fight off any cancer or virus has been discovered by scientists.

In a breakthrough described as a ‘game-changer’ for cancer treatment, researchers at Imperial College London found a previously unknown molecule which boosts the body’s ability to fight off chronic illnesses.

Scientists at the college who led the study are now developing a gene therapy based on the protein and hope to begin human trials in three years.

“This is exciting because we have found a completely different way to use the immune system to fight cancer,” said Professor Philip Ashton-Rickardt, from the Section of Immunobiology in the Department of Medicine at Imperial, who led the study.

“It could be a game-changer for treating a number of different cancers and viruses.

“This is a completely unknown protein. Nobody had ever seen it before or was even aware that it existed. It looks and acts like no other protein.”

The protein – named lymphocyte expansion molecule, or LEM, promotes the spread of cancer-killing ‘T cells’ by generating large amounts of energy.

Normally when the immune system detects cancer, it goes into overdrive trying to fight the disease, flooding the body with T cells. But it quickly runs out of steam.

The new protein causes an energy boost that makes T cells in such great numbers the cancer cannot fight them off.

It also causes a boost of immune memory cells which are able to recognise tumours and viruses they have encountered previously so there is less chance that they will return.

The team made the discovery while screening mice with genetic mutations. Researchers are hoping to produce a gene therapy whereby T cells of cancer patients could be enhanced with the protein and then injected back into the body.

Maple leaves syrup may answer drug-resistant bacteria

Canada Researchers say

  

Canada’s masthead maple tree leave has something more to offer to fight infections acting as an accelerator to antibiotics, especially in dealing with drug-resistant variety, said a new Canadian study.

A concentrated extract of maple syrup combined with common antibiotics can increase the microbes’ susceptibility and help answer the growing concern about the overuse of antibiotics across the world, say researchers from the McGill University in Canada.

Led by Nathalie Tufenkji, the team of researchers from the Department of Chemical Engineering extracted maple syrup consisting of phenolic compounds, which is abundantly available from the maples trees grown in northern Americas.

In their lab tests, the researchers found the extract on its own has little effect in fighting bacteria but combined with other antibiotics can deter infections of certain type of bacteria, including the common E. Coli and urniary tract infection from Proteus mirabilits.

The combination antibiotics and maple tree syrup was able to act on drug-resistant bacteria called biofilms, which are a major concern now. It was able to treat the catheter-related urinary tract infections, in particular, said researchers.

The Sugar maple is generally tapped for sap, which is then boiled to make maple syrup or to produce maple sugar or maple taffy. It takes about 40 litres of sugar maple sap to make 1 litre of syrup but only Acerspecies may be tapped for syrup.

However, researchers have a long way to go before finally concluding on its veracity. “We would have to do in vivo tests, and eventually clinical trials, before we can say what the effect would be in humans,” Tufenkji said.

If proved, the findings may have the potential simple approach to reduce antibiotics overuse or tackle the drug-resistent bacteria. “I could see maple syrup extract being incorporated eventually, for example, into the capsules of antibiotics,” said Tugenkji.

To get the phenolic-rich extract from the maple leaves, they had frozen them before using in the study. The extract has also proved effective in changing the gene expression of the bacteria, repressing their gene number.

A bizarre moment hundreds of leaping carp ‘attack’ university rowing team as they train on a lake

 

The students were practicing their strokes when the fish began propelling themselves out of river into the air – with some even leaping clean over the boat.

This bizarre footage shows the moment a shoal of carp began leaping out of the water – appearing to attack a passing university rowing team.

The students were practicing their strokes when the fish began propelling themselves out of river into the air.

The Giant Asian carp leap so high in their air some appear to jump clean over the rowing boat as it passes.

A few of the carp even land in a smaller boat as it passes through the stretch of water.

The Giant Asian carp shot into the air as the rowers and their boat passed by

The first year students at Washington University were training on the Creve Coeur Lake in Missouri when the strange incident took place.

Filmmaker Benjamin Rosenbaum, filmed the rowers as the passed under a bridge towards the end of their session.

Gentle rippling in the water suddenly get larger until the fish begin flinging themselves into the air, the Express reports.

The rowers can be seen shielding themselves as the fish jump and splash around them.

Splash: Some of the fish even managed to jump clean over the boat

Asian Carps – which can grow to up to 100lbs in weight – are reported to leap from water when frightened.

The video ends with a close up of some of the bemused rowing crew.

Asian carp are known for getting easily frightened by boats and can leap up to 10ft from the water.

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