News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Tuesday 28th April 2015

A spring statement showing five ways it will affect your pocket

  • After Irish Water debacle Government is planning absolutely no nasty surprises.


Minister for Finance Michael Noonan speaks delivered the Government’s spring economic statement. He predicts tax reductions and extra Government spending in the Budget.

The spring statement set the goalpost for the budget, but did not give us the detail. We don’t have the budgetary tables of who wins and who loses and by how much and the typical budget day examples such as “Mary”, the single public servant earning €40,000, or “Michael and Siobhán”, the couple earning €85,000. But clear hints have been dropped by Minister for Finance Michael Noonan and Minister for Public Expenditure Brendan Howlin about how the spoils of economic growth will be divided.

Some €1 billion was distributed in tax cuts and spending hikes in the 2015 package presented last October. For next October the indications are that there will be at least €1.5 billion to spare.

Here are five things that this all means for your pocket:

1 Lower tax and charges on pay packets: The Government cut the USC and income tax modestly in the last budget, with tweaks made to claw back some of the gains from those earning more than €70,000 a year. We can expect more of the same in the next budget, as Noonan confirmed when he launched a strong defence of the Government’s tax strategy. Tax cuts of over €600 million are expected next October, compared to €400 million last October.

If the Government is re-elected, Noonan made clear that we can expect more of the same in the years ahead.

Next October we can expect a further increase in the standard rate tax band – single earners now enter the higher 40% income tax rate at €33,800 and this income limit will likely rise, benefiting anyone earning over that level. As happened last year, USC changes are likely to benefit lower and middle income earners in particular.

Last year’s budget boosted after-tax income by 1 -1.5% for most earners with the biggest gains going to a group of lowest earners excluded from USC and to those on incomes of €35,000 to €75,000 for a single earner.

So if, as expected, the Government goes for a “same but a bit more” approach next October, the gains for many will be about 1.5 – 2.5% in terms of a boost to take home pay.

Tax cuts will benefit people’s pockets, but the return of cash is gradual. Tax hikes during the crisis totaled about €10 billion. There were tax cuts of about €400 million last October and a further €2 billion might be affordable over the next three years. So in rough terms taxpayers might get a quarter of the emergency hikes back by 2018.

2 Rising public sector pay: There is no doubt that rising public sector pay in some form is now on the agenda, with Howlin getting Cabinet clearance to commence talks with the unions. How much this will take of the €600 million – €750 million available for day-to-day spending increases next year is not clear. The public pay bill is about €14 billion so the gross cost of each 1% rise is €140 million, though the net cost is lower as the exchequer gets about 30% of any rise back in higher income tax. Howlin was cautious, but he did say in relation to public pay that “the unwinding of the measures will take time”.

The Government will consider increases – the issue is how quickly and on what basis. One option would be to focus initially on the pension levy, which was introduced in 2009 and takes about 7.5% from an average public sector salary. Overall, however, like tax cuts, it is a long way back after pay cuts of 14-15% for most public servants.

3 Increases in Government payments and subsidies: Howlin mentioned the social protection budget as one area set to get more cash. This means more in payments in some areas. In the last budget, the monthly child benefit payment was increased by €5 and another rise can be expected in October. Last year the living-alone allowance paid to 180,000 older people was also increased and more of this kind of targeted payment rises can be anticipated too.

Howlin also referenced a special group examining childcare issues and more help for younger families looks likely. This could involve either subsidies for childcare costs or some kind of tax relief. A second free preschool year is also being examined, as is subsidised after-school activities.

4 No nasty surprises on the way: After the water charges row, the Government is going to do absolutely nothing to raise any additional taxes or charges, no matter how small. There was nothing in the statement that might cause even a hint of controversy. Noonan did say, however, that the property tax and water charges must remain in place.

5 Banking bonus: It is clear that the main banks are gearing up to cut their standard variable mortgage rates and that the Government will take whatever credit it can. Noonan said he will call in the main lenders and would not be likely to do so unless he felt that reductions were imminent.

Those in mortgage arrears are also promised more options in a new package to be unveiled over the next few weeks.

Men in construction sectors ‘account for half of male suicides’

  • Report for CIF and Pieta House suggests a high number of deaths among those in production-type jobs


Mind our Workers: a new campaign by the Construction Industry Federation and Pieta House aims to raise awareness of suicide and mental health issues in the sector.

Men working in construction and production jobs accounted for nearly half of all male deaths by suicide in the period 2008 to 2012, a new report suggests.

An estimated 1,039 men from a construction or production background died by suicide during that period out of a total of 2,137 male suicides, according to figures published by the Construction Industry Federation (CIF).

Mind our Workers, a campaign to raise awareness of suicide and mental health in the sector, was launched on Tuesday by the CIF and suicide prevention charity Pieta House.

A report commissioned by the organisations notes there has generally been little data available on the professional background of people who have died by suicide in Ireland.

But in recent years, the National Office for Suicide Prevention commissioned the National Suicide Research Foundation to undertake a study and to establish a suicide support and information system (SSIS).

In the second phase of that study, some 307 cases of suicide in Cork between September 2008 and June 2012 were examined (275 suicides and 32 open verdicts at inquest).

Of the 307 deaths, 246 (80%) were males. Some 120 of those had been working in the construction/production sector, a total of 49%.

This was more than triple the number of deaths accounted for by next highest sector, which was agriculture.

By extrapolating from the trends identified in the research and applying them to the national data, the researchers said “it could be soundly estimated” that at least 1,000 suicides came from a construction/production professional background between 2008 and 2012.” This rose to 1,039 when directly extrapolated from the second phase of the study.

Men account for 108,300 or 93% of the total 116,700 working in the construction sector, the Mind Our Workers report notes.

Ten people a week in Ireland die by suicide and eight of those are men.

Some 6,520 suicides took place between 2000 and 2012 – 81% or 5,263 were male.

Between 2008 and 2012, there were 2,137 male suicides.

Pieta House chief executive Brian Higgins said the organisation was delighted to initiate the campaign in partnership with the CIF.

“It is extremely encouraging that a national body as influential as the CIF sees the impact of suicide on the construction industry and its employees and is partnering with an organisation such as ourselves to help tackle the issue. Partnerships such as this are a way of building resilience within our society.”

CIF director general Tom Parlon said the suicide figures for the sector were “shocking”.

“The industry can’t ignore this problem – there is a necessity to take steps to try to help those in need. Given the amount of time people spend in the workplace, that is where the Mind Our Workers campaign will focus. By promoting a more open approach amongst construction workers and their colleagues we hope it might reduce the number of people who feel they have no way out.”

CIF president Michael Stone said the organisation wanted to see a working environment where it was acceptable for men to ask their friends and colleagues, “Are you ok?”

The ‘Mind Our Workers’ campaign will run throughout the year. Campaign leaflets will be distributed throughout the industry and briefings and workshops will also be organised for CIF members.

Pieta House representatives will also attend regional branch meetings to discuss suicide and mental health.

A series of ‘toolbox talks’ about mental health and suicide will also be organised at workplaces and construction sites.

Separately, more than 100,000 people are expected to participate in the seventh annual Darkness into Light event for Pieta House in the early hours of Saturday May 9th.

No extension to insurance loading date from Leo Varadkar

  • Lifetime Community Rating will begin on May 1


The Minister for Health, Leo Varadkar, has confirmed that there will be no extension to the starting date of Lifetime Community Rating, which is due to come into effect at the end of this week.

From May 1, members of the public aged 35 and older who do not have private health insurance, but then choose to take it out, will be charged extra.

Known as Lifetime Community Rating, these consumers will see their premiums permanently loaded by 2% per year from the age of 35. For example, if a 54-year-old decides to take out private health insurance for the first time after April 30, they will have a loading of 40% added to their premium every single year that they remain insured.

The maximum loading is 70% and this will apply to people aged 69 and older who take out insurance for the first time after April 30.

According to Minister Varadkar, this system ‘will help to ensure that older and sicker citizens can still afford health insurance because the healthy and young who do not make as many claims still pay into the system’.

“It will also help to stabilise the market by encouraging people to retain health insurance once they have it. This is an essential measure to protect our system of community rating whereby everyone pays the same premium for the same policy regardless of their age or their health status,” he said.

He added that private health insurers are recording a higher volume of calls and internet enquiries this week and phone lines are remaining open late each night to deal with this.

Women who breastfeed ‘can lower the risk of dying from breast cancer’


Women breastfeed their children during a pro-breastfeeding protest in central London in December

Breastfeeding significantly reduces the risk of being killed by breast cancer, a new study has suggested.

Women with the disease who breastfed their babies have a significantly lower risk of the cancer killing them or recurring, according to the paper.

Scientists found a history of breastfeeding lowered the risk of dying by 28 per cent and reduced the chance of the cancer coming back by 30 per cent.

The study, by US health care provider Kaiser Permanente, used data from 1,636 women with breast cancer who completed a questionnaire about breastfeeding.

Breastfeeding had a clear protective effect, especially in relation to particular types of tumour including the most common hormone-sensitive strain.

The protection was strongest for women who had a history of breastfeeding for six months or longer.

Lead researcher Dr Marilyn Kwan said: “This is the first study we’re aware of that examined the role of breastfeeding history in cancer recurrence, and by tumour subtype.

“Women who breastfeed are more likely to get the luminal A subtype of breast cancer, which is less aggressive, and breastfeeding may set up a molecular environment that makes the tumour more responsive to anti-oestrogen therapy.”

Luminal A breast cancer includes oestrogen-positive tumours which are driven by the female hormone and are the most commonly diagnosed form of the disease.

These tumours are less likely to spread to other parts of the body than other types and are treatable with hormonal drugs such as tamoxifen and aromatase inhibitors.

Why women who breastfeed their babies develop less aggressive tumours is not entirely clear.

Co-author Dr Bette Caan, also from Kaiser Permanente, said: “Breastfeeding may increase the maturation of ductal cells in the breast, making them less susceptible to carcinogens or facilitate the excretion of carcinogens, and lead to slower growing tumours.”

The research appears in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

Irish meteor hunters pay attention,

  • Here are 5 steps to finding a recent meteorite


Irish meteor hunters pay attention, here are 5 steps to finding the recent meteorite

Those on the island of Ireland who may have spotted a giant flare-like streak in the sky were intrigued to discover that it was in fact a rare meteorite, pieces of which could be worth thousands of euro to its finders.

Perhaps even more eyebrow-raising for meteorite hunters is that the very rare event – approximately twice a year – is so unusual that each piece of the meteorite could be worth 10 times the price of gold at its current rate, which could put it as high as €10,000 per piece.

According to David Moore of Astronomy Ireland, the best guessas to where it landed is most likely in the north of the island and he is now calling on every camera that may have recorded the incident sometime around 10.10pm on Sunday, 26 April to bring forth their footage to better locate the smoking piece of space debris.

Despite Ireland’s small size compared with the rest of the planet, it’s understandably difficult to find a small piece of rock, with the last recorded finding not even occurring this millennium, having been discovered in Leighlinbridge, Co Carlow back in 1999.

Given its rarity, it might be a little daunting to meteorite hunters as to how to actually find the smoking gun/rock, which is why, in their infinite space wisdom, has previously detailed the essential five steps to making a big find.

  1. Finding a potential spot

Meteor hunting isn’t just a treasure hunt, but a scientific expedition that needs exact detail in order to find where the meteorite may have landed.

While we know that it landed somewhere in the north of the island, with the help of trajectory calculations, the prospector needs to identify the meteorite’s ‘dark flight’, which is the part of its fall when it slows to a speed of between 3-4km per second when its bright tail vanishes from sight.

If this can be located, it can narrow down the potential landing site significantly given that it would likely fall soon after its dark flight.

  1. Make sure you have permission before jumping in a field

Given that there’s a lot of farmland across this island, most patches of grass in the countryside are likely to belong to a farmer or group of farmers.

The one thing to be certain of is that if a meteorite falls onto the grounds of someone’s estate, they don’t have the legal right to ownership of a large chunk of space debris, so once permission is sought, legal possession falls to the finder.

It’s probably best not to make them aware of its potential value, however…

  3  Get a good metal detector … and know how to use it

It might seem obvious to run to the nearest store that might sell metal detectors and pick one up to begin a hunt, but it’s much more complicated than that.

Given the complexity of minerals that make up meteorites, it’s simply not possible to just move a metal detector around a field, as would be seen in movies, as a specific type of metal detector is needed to find one.

According to metal detector enthusiasts, it is vital that, when searching for meteorites, the detector’s iron discriminator is switched off to better locate iron-laden meteorites, while gold-prospecting metal detectors are also good at locating the space debris.

  1. Get your rock verified by a mineralogist

Given that it’s likely that many people in Ireland are not experts in minerals, it’s probably safe to say that should someone discover what they believe to be a piece of the recent meteorite crash, it’s best to take it to someone who could actually determine whether it is from terra firma or outer space.

For preliminary tests, however, it might be a good idea to bring a magnet to see whether the rock is magnetic given that the typical meteorite contains between 10-30pc iron.

However, magnetism does not mean it’s a meteorite, rather that it’s increased the likelihood of it being from space.

Likewise, if the sample is ground slightly, does it reveal a metallic silver substance inside? This is one of the tell-tale signs as to whether a rock is just a rock, or an ancient meteorite.

  5  Science over personal gain?

So you’ve discovered a meteorite, congratulations! But while your thoughts might be on where you’re going to install your new swimming pool, make sure to alert organisations, such as Astronomy Ireland, of your find so as they can analyse the sample with the hope of maybe finding something that could prove beneficial to our understanding of the wider universe.

Astronomy Ireland is currently looking for as many reports as possible from eyewitnesses and potential discoverers of the meteorite fragments so take this into account if you are lucky enough to stumble across them.


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