Daily Archives: May 4, 2015

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Monday 4th May 2015

Irish State accused of covering up the cost of nursing home care


Nursing Homes Ireland (NHI) has accused the State of covering up the cost of public nursing home care.

Latest figures show the average costs for a resident in a HSE nursing home are 40% above that applied for private and voluntary counterparts.

The organisation, which represents nursing homes across the country, say that data on fees paid to HSE nursing homes have not been released since 2011.

CEO of NHI, Tadhg Daly, said the most recent figures published in March 2011 showed the average costs for a resident in a HSE nursing home was €1,245 per week.

He added that this cost was 40% above that applied for private and voluntary counterparts.

“Previous Minister for Health James Reilly publicly questioned why a 50% cost differential existed between the sectors. The reality is public nursing home costs are far beyond the average presented four years ago.

“A HSE Midlands Information Document published May 2012 provided an insight into the reality of public nursing home costs. It cited average costs per bed well beyond €1,245 and up to €2,500.

“Publication of the true cost of public nursing home care is imperative to provide a more realistic picture as to what the cost of long-term residential care entails,” said Mr Daly.

In response, the HSE said the costs of public home care are a matter of public record.

“Public nursing home costs are acknowledged to be higher, and there are good reasons for this. Public facilities have to provide care for higher numbers of complex dependency cases which require higher levels of staffing, particularly nursing staff.

“The HSE is actively working to reduce the costs of public nursing home facilities to the maximum extent possible,” they said.

New house building regulation rule to save Irish homeowners thousands


Housing extensions and one-off homes will be exempt from tough new building regulations aimed at preventing shoddy work, under proposals being considered by the Government

Housing extensions and one-off homes will be exempt from tough new building regulations aimed at preventing shoddy work, under proposals being considered by the Government.

Environment Minister Alan Kelly has ordered a review of regulations introduced a year ago, amid concerns that householders are paying up to €16,000 to have their homes inspected, which is adding to construction costs.

The move, if it goes ahead, would result in almost half of all homes built in a given year being exempt from the rules.

However, if the changes are made, it will also result in buyers of these homes being given no protection whatsoever.

Construction work has begun on 1,000 one-off homes since new regulations were introduced on March 1 last year.

These oblige an “assigned certifier” – an architect, engineer or building surveyor – to certify that building regulations have been complied with at key stages of construction.

In the event of a problem, the certifier is held legally responsible.

Making the regulations “advisory”, rather than “mandatory”, is one of the changes proposed by the Government.

This ‘opt out’ clause would give owners a choice and would mean “they need not be held to ransom by unaffordable quotes for professional services”, the documents state.

But industry sources cautioned against removing the requirement, as most one-off homes eventually come back on to the market.

One expert told the Irish Independent that without certification, buyers of those properties would not be protected.

A minimum wage rise would hit small businesses in Ireland hard


One of the leading mouthpieces for the small business community has called for a three-year minimum wage freeze to allow SMEs more time to continue their recovery and gain further certainty on labour costs.

While it has welcomed the establishment of the Low Pay Commission the Ibec-affiliated Small Firms Association (SFA) has said an increase is not needed at this point. The commission is due to deliver its recommendations on the national minimum wage to the Government during the summer.

Speaking at the weekend, SFA chairman AJ Noonan said: “The National Minimum Wage Act 2000 clearly sets out the factors which should be assessed as part of any review; namely inflation, movement in the earnings of employees, level of unemployment and employment; national competitiveness; and relevant exchange rate movements. On the basis of an assessment of these indicators, there is no rationale for increasing the national minimum wage at present.

“Looking at the profitability of small businesses, it is clear that they will have grave difficulty absorbing labour cost increases without productivity gain. From an examination of the 2012 average gross profits in small businesses, in the sectors with the majority of national minimum wage workers, it is clear that they would not be able to offset national minimum wage increases against profits.”

Mr. Noonan claimed that a higher minimum wage would have a “disproportionate” impact on small businesses outside Dublin, where the national minimum wage represents a higher proportion of the average wage.

“Given the urban/rural imbalance already being experienced in the recovery, this is of particular importance,” he said.

“Small businesses truly are the engines of our economic recovery. We have a vital role to play, in terms of employment generation, especially in regional towns and villages and rural Ireland.

“Artificially increasing labour costs will not only dampen this recovery, but will ultimately lead to both the prevention of job growth and to job losses.

“It is the SFA’s firm conviction that it is imperative for the competitive position of Ireland that wage levels are decided in a competitive labour market and are not constrained by an artificial legal instrument such as the minimum wage.

“Small businesses are taking tentative steps to recovery and, in many cases, growth. The job of government is to make sure these steps can be taken with confidence and with the necessary supports in place.”

The SFA said that it has made its case for a three-year waiting period for any alteration to the minimum wage “in order to give small businesses, which are just starting on the recovery path, certainty over their labour costs”.

“This would also ensure that job creation efforts are realisable for the low-skilled workers and young people still on the live register, who need an entry point into work and upskilling from where they can develop their skills and increase their wages relatve to their productivity levels,” Mr Noonan said.

The association said that most small businesses would have no choice but to off-set minimum wage increases against reductions in hours or jobs, job growth or capital or skills investment.

Ireland’s motorists pay €75 on premiums due to rise in fraud cases


Insurance claims from staged road ‘accidents’ are costing Ireland’s law-abiding motorists up to €75 extra on their premiums a year, according to a leading insurance company.

Insurers Aviva said it is a “growing problem” and it is concerned at “organised rings” that were planning crashes and “selling seats” in the vehicles to other people as part of the fraud.

Aviva fraud manager Robert Smyth, a retired senior detective, told the Irish Examiner that criminals were selling seats for €150 to €200 to people, who could make around €5,000 in a compensation claim.

The insurance industry has previously said fraud was costing companies an estimated €200m annually, which “ends up being paid by honest policyholders”.

Mr Smyth said the industry estimated that claims from staged accidents were resulting in between €50 and €75 extra being added to the premiums of all motorists.

He said Aviva was taking the issue very seriously and has engaged in operations with gardaí to target gangs involved in the racket.

“Staged accidents are a growing problem and is becoming a real cause of concern for Aviva and several other insurance companies,” said Mr Smyth.

“It’s the organised part of it we are concerned about. These are organised rings. They arrange the cars and the location and the drivers. They then sell seats. People can spend €150 or €200 for a seat.”

He said these individuals — there can be up to eight people, if two cars are involved — claim compensation off the driver, who is also claiming from the insurance company. He said an individual could receive €5,000 in compensation.

Mr Smyth said there was a wider issue of the time and resources of gardaí, ambulances, and emergency departments used to deal with these cases.

He said gardaí were giving “fantastic assistance” and that several investigations were ongoing.

A compensation case was recently thrown out of Cork Circuit Court, where a driver and four passengers lodged claims, after the judge said he did not believe the plaintiffs.

Last month, Patrick and Eileen Browne of Ballybeg West, Buttevant, Co Cork, were convicted in relation to a fraudulent compensation claim of more than €22,500.

World’s chocolate supply under threat from drought in Ghana and nasty fungus


The country has been hit with dry winds and a fungus that kills the delicate cocoa pods meaning the world’s chocolate supply could reduce

West Africa produces 70% of the world’s cocoa supply

Chocolate lovers everywhere, beware: the price of chocolate may rise as Ghana grapples with drought and a nasty fungus that could reduce the world’s cocoa supply.

West Africa, which produces 70% of global supply, has seen little rain this year. Ghana, the world’s second biggest cocoa exporter, has been especially hard hit, struggling with exceptionally dry seasonal winds and battling a fungus that kills the delicate cocoa pods.

“Ghana’s cocoa production is set to fall significantly in the 2014/15 season, which could drive the world market into deficit after several years of surpluses,” said Ecobank in a note last month.

“Ghana is at least 20% behind last season, and the key appears to be the lack of pesticides and fertilisers,” said Edward George, Ecobank soft commodities analyst. “That appears to be the double-whammy that they suffered.”

But Mr. George said the “huge” reduction is a bit of a puzzle, with no one giving a definitive reason as to why there is such a significant drop. “The more people you talk to, the more theories you get,” he said, “it really is a mystery; no one has a clear explanation.”

Ultimately, the lower output from Ghana could result in a rally in cocoa prices come the end of cocoa season in September. “Stocks may start to fall, traders might get nervous, and prices may go up,” said George.

In general the demand is outpacing supply for cocoa as farmers around the world fight drought and fungal diseases such as “Frosty Pod” and “Witches’ Broom,” or they abandon the finicky plant entirely for more lucrative crops.

As a result, prices are rising: over the past decade, the cost per ton of cocoa has risen from around £1,000 to £1,900, according to Nasdaq.

Over the long term, chocolate fans should expect the price of cocoa to keep going up. For West African countries, cocoa damaging droughts are expected to continue well into the future, believed to be a result of climate change.

“The yearly and monthly minimum and maximum temperatures will increase by 2030 and will continue to increase progressively by 2050 (up to 2.0C – 35.6F),” said a 2011 report on cocoa growing operations in the Ivory Coast and Ghana done by the International Centre for Tropical Agriculture.

“Suitability within the current cocoa-growing areas will decrease seriously by 2050.”

The supply issues could be further compounded by increased demand from China and India, along with consumers’ growing preference for dark chocolate, which requires more cocoa.

Secret of gaping whale mouths is revealed


When the fin whale gets ready to eat, Earth’s second-largest animal opens its mouth so wide that it can gulp an amount of water larger than the volume of its own body as it filters out meals of tiny fish and shrimp-like krill.

When their feeding this whale measuring up to about 26.8m long and 70 tons increases its swimming speed, opens its mouth and lunges in the ocean.

The force of water rushing into the mouth during “lunge feeding” turns the tongue upside down and expands the bottom of the oral cavity into a huge pouch between the body wall and the overlying skin and blubber. As it closes its mouth, the whale filters out seawater through plates in the mouth while eating huge quantities of small prey.

In other animals and humans, this would cause significant damage to the nerves in the mouth and tongue, which have a fixed length.

But scientists revealed on Monday how the fin whale and its closest cousins, including the even-bigger blue whale, do this without shredding their nerves. These nerves, they said, can stretch to double their usual length and recoil like a bungee cord without harming the nerve fibres.

“Yes, this is way cool,” said anatomist Wayne Vogl of the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. “Not only do tissues in the floor of the mouth have to adjust to dramatic expansion and recoil, but all the ‘plumbing and wiring’ to the structures have to adjust as well, hence the stretchy nerves.”

The researchers said this unusual nerve structure is present in rorqual whales, a group of filter-feeding baleen whales including the blue whale, fin whale, humpback whale, sei whale, Omura’s whale, Bryde’s whale, Eden’s whale, common minke whale and Antarctic minke whale.

They discovered this feature while examining the carcass of a fin whale, an endangered species found in all the world’s oceans. Only the blue whale, up to about 30.5m long and 150 tons, is larger.

Vogl said the nerves that supply the expandable tissues in the floor of the mouth can stretch to accommodate dramatic changes in oral cavity dimensions during “lunge feeding.”

Rorqual whales possess grooved or pleated skin on the underside of their bodies, from the chin almost to the belly button, that balloons out as their mouths fill during lunge-feeding.