Daily Archives: May 10, 2015

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Sunday 10th May 2015

Ex-FF TD and sons among 126 repossession cases in Limerick

PTSB pursuing Noel O’Flynn and two sons in connection with Limerick buy-to-let property

  

Former Fianna Fáil TD Noel O’Flynn and his sons Gary and Kenneth O’Flynn have a mortgage debt of almost €117,000 on a buy-to- let property in Limerick, the court heard

Members of a well-known Cork political family were among the 126 repossession cases heard before the Limerick County Registrar’s Court yesterday.

Former Fianna Fáil TD Noel O’Flynn and his sons Gary and Kenneth O’Flynn have a total mortgage debt of almost €117,000 on a buy-to- let property in Limerick, the court heard.

Mr O’Flynn was a TD for the Cork North Central constituency from 1997 until 2011. Gary O’Flynn, a former Cork city councillor, was jailed last month for three years for soliciting someone to kill a garda, a Revenue official and an accountant. Kenneth O’Flynn was co-opted on toCork City Council in December 2008, and is the current deputy Lord Mayor of Cork.

A solicitor representing Permanent TSB told Limerick County Registrar’s Court the initiation of proceedings had been halted because the bank had difficulty serving notice on the parties.

She also claimed that “various games were being played” by the borrowers.

Solicitor Conn Barry told the court the defendants were from a “well-known family in Cork”.

Mr Barry, who was acting as agent for a Cork solicitors’ firm, said it was the first time the case had come before the court.

County registrar Pat Wallace was told the last repayment on the buy-to-let property was in July 2013. No member of the O’Flynn family was present in court and the case was adjourned by consent until July 3rd.

Eleven homes were repossessed at the sitting of the court, many of them primary residences.

Among the orders granted by the registrar included a mother who told the court she could not meet the full amount of her monthly payments after separating from her husband.

Single mother

She said she was able to afford only half the mortgage and she had just returned to health from a three-month illness.

The Lithuanian mother of one said she could not claim from her home insurance to repair dampness and mould that was causing her sickness because the insurance company required her ex-husband’s signature on documents.

In excess of €191,000 was owing on the mortgage, with more than €60,000 in payments in arrears.

Mr Wallace granted the repossession order but put a stay on the bank executing it for 12 months.

“No one will throw you out in the street yet,” he told the woman. “Given your predicament, this might not be a bad outcome.”

In two cases, orders for repossession were granted to Ulster Bank and Permanent TSB after the borrowers had failed to turn up for any court hearing or engage with their lenders.

In one case, the borrower owed more than €301,000 and had not made a payment in 51 months.

Thousands take part in Darkness into Light walks in Ireland & worldwide

 

12,000 people turned up at 4.15am in Phoenix Park to walk 5km for suicide prevention

The 5km Darkness into Light walk/run, which kicked off at 4.15am on Saturday, was held at 80 locations in Ireland and around the world, and is believed to have attracted an estimated 100,000 participants.

More than 12,000 early risers descended on Phoenix Park this morning to take part in the annual Pieta House Darkness into Light mental health awareness event.

The 5km walk/run, which kicked off at 4.15am on Saturday, was held at 80 locations in Ireland and around the world, and is believed to have attracted an estimated 100,000 participants.

The first Darkness into Light walk was held in 2009 with just 400 participants.

“Pieta House’s intention has always been to save lives and to change the social fabric and the conversation around suicide and self-harm,” said Joan Freeman, founder of Pieta House, this morning in Phoenix Park. “It’s been nine years and we’ve come a long way towards reaching that goal. However, people are still afraid to face the reality that they may know someone who’s at risk of suicide or self-harm.

“You, the people, are the most important component of all in the fight against suicide.”

From Wicklow to Washington, Chicago to Perth, friends, families, children and pets turned out to walk together for suicide prevention. An estimated 4,000 people walked in Melbourne and Perth, which were among the first cities to kick the morning off, followed by almost 1,500 people walking in London, Manchester and Glasgow. The final walks of the day will take place in New York, Toronto and Chicago where 1,700 people are expected to turn up in support of Pieta House.

In celebration of the theme ‘connecting’ for this year’s Darkness into Light walk, Dublin Bus provided a free shuttle service connecting Heuston Station to the flagship walk in Phoenix Park in the early hours of Saturday morning. Elsewhere around Ireland, local businesses showed their support by opening early and providing weary walkers with complimentary teas, coffees and refreshments.

Jim Dollard, executive director of Electric Ireland which supported this year’s walks, congratulated all participants around the globe, thanking them for their support.

“This year has been the biggest year yet and there’s no doubt that it has captured the imagination of Irish people at home and abroad, including in Electric Ireland, where a large number of our staff walked with thousands of other people in venues across the country this morning.”

Pieta House is a suicide and self-harm crisis organisation and works with ten centres across the State. Pieta House is set to open its first overseas centre in Queens, New York this summer as it begins to reach out to members of the Irish diaspora who may be in need of support.

Europe’s Digital Single Market needs to foster tech startups and a global view

   

Europe has launched its strategy for a Digital Single Market throughout its member countries. The success of this strategy relies on the ability of European lawmakers and politicians removing barriers to digital trade and creating an environment to foster the growth in digital platforms and skills necessary to support a fast growing digital economy.

It is easy for others, especially the US, to see the Digital Single Market strategy as a pretext to regulate and restrict the popularity and pervasiveness of foreign companies like Google, Amazon, Facebook and Netflix. Certainly, the European Commission will need to demonstrate that its focus is more on enabling rather than simply protecting a future industry.

However, one of the central “pillars” of the strategy is to remove barriers to international online trade. This means removing the practice of “geo-blocking” which restricts content to certain countries, or places extra costs on those accessing these services from outside those boundaries. Achieving this will require a levelling between countries of their different regimes of value added tax, laws for consumer protection and copyright, and a host of other legislative and commercial idiosyncrasies.

Setting aside the hurdles of the Digital Single Market outlined in the agenda document, the largest real challenge is in the fact that 54% of e-commerce traffic in Europe is with services based in the US whereas only 4% of traffic in one European country is for a service in another European country. Creating a Digital Single Market is all well and good but if it mainly benefits US companies it is going to be far less strategic for Europe.

In the light of the dominance of US services in Europe, the fear held by the US that Europe’s Digital Single Market will essentially try and restrict this dominance are possibly not unfounded. The simple fact is that those firms succeed because that is what European consumers want. Making it simpler for those services to operate in Europe still has advantages to the EU because it enables firms like Amazon and Apple to operate more seamlessly across all of Europe, helping to keep costs down.

To truly benefit from the efficiencies of opening up the digital markets in Europe, what actually needs to happen is to apply this strategy globally. All of the points made within the Digital Single Market strategy are valid steps to removing barriers to online trade. The limitation of the strategy is that it stops at Europe’s borders, when the Internet that underpins the online world recognises no such boundary.

For a global Digital Single Market to be successful, in addition to the goals outlined in Europe’s strategy, there would need to be agreement on tax avoidance schemes that US companies in particular are carrying out when doing business globally. Ironically, these practices operate in Europe by leveraging different transfer pricing schemes between parts of their company set up in different countries. Allowing foreign multi-nationals to dominate in a local market is one thing but it adds insult to injury that tax revenue from business carried out in one particular country could be lost to another, or not collected at all.

Of course, the main aim of the European Commission in proposing the Digital Single Market agenda is to provide a platform that is conducive to surfacing digital entrepreneurs and growing new companies based in Europe. The entire world outside of Silicon Valley wants to emulate the success of that area by creating innovation centers that foster startups and the next Google or Uber. The trouble is that despite cities around the world trying to do this, they have so-far largely failed to bring together the ingredients that exist in California. At the heart of this though, it may simply be a case of not enough money being invested in seeding startups. Startups in London, which is considered the most successful of European startup locations, still only attract 6% of the funding amounts that startups in Silicon Valley do.

In the normal tech company life-cycle, successful companies produce a large number of wealthy individuals who not only have a specific set of skills in creating tech startups but have the money to invest either in their own projects or others. The conditions for this were driven by the opportunities created by stock markets and the insatiable appetite for tech stocks. Reproducing this elsewhere, is going to take time, money, an appetite for risk and the acceptance of failure. Unfortunately, none of that is part of the European Digital Single Market strategy. Whilst the aims of their agenda may be a good start, even if successful, it is still a long way from actually seeing any benefits result from it.

Craft Butchers of Ireland ambassador to make world’s largest gluten free pancake

   

Chef Adrian Martin is pictured on the left with Ethne Reynolds, Stephen Schmidt and championships organiser Brid Torrades at the World Irish Stew Championship, St Angela’s College, Co Sligo.

Adrian Martin, Associated Craft Butchers of Ireland ambassador, plans to break a world-record in association with the Irish Coeliac Society by making the world’s largest gluten free potato pancake.

The ambassador of the Associated Craft Butchers of Ireland, chef Adrian Martin, who has trained and worked under chef Neven Maguire for six years, is planning to make the world’s largest gluten-free potato pancake at an event held in Smithfield in Dublin on Monday, 11 May.

The event is being held to mark the beginning of Coeliac Awareness Week, organised by the Coeliac Society of Ireland.

Chef Adrian is planning to break a world record at the event at Smithfield, which is open to the public from 10.30 am on Monday morning.

Sonya Shiels from the Coeliac Society of Ireland said the pancake, if it is to break the world-record, will measure a metre and a half and will help raise the profile of the rest of the week’s events.

These events include a series of cookery demonstrations held in certified craft butchers in Dublin, Kilkenny, Cork, Limerick and Galway where chef Adrian will cook gluten free recipes involving meat.

Adrian, 23, has been the Craft Butchers of Ireland ambassador for the past two years and said he is “hopeful” about breaking the world record on Monday.

“I’ve never baked one of that size before obviously, so I’m going to have a practice run on the Sunday in my own kitchen to see how it goes,” he said.

If the pancake is made to the specified world-record breaking requirements of five feet, Adrian says it will be able to feed between 150 and 200 mouths.

“So if you know anyone who wants to try a gluten-free potato pancake, send them down here on Monday,” he said.

Coeliac Awareness Week

Coeliac Awareness Week is being promoted by the Coeliac Society of Ireland nationwide from 11 to 17 May. In particular the society wishes to encourage anyone who thinks they may be affected by coeliac disease to contact their GP.

Commenting in advance of Coeliac Awareness Week, Gráinne Denning, CEO of the Coeliac Society of Ireland, said, “When people are diagnosed with coeliac disease, they may feel overwhelmed. We’re encouraging people with coeliac disease to come along to the events we have organised during Awareness Week to meet the wider gluten-free community, learn some new recipes, and enjoy healthy walks and delicious food.

“For anyone with coeliac disease, or with a family member or friend affected by the disease, we hope Awareness Week events will help them embrace and live their gluten-free life to the full.”

The auto-immune disease is estimated to affect 46,000 people in Ireland and it can manifest itself at any stage in a person’s lifetime. The only treatment for the disease is a gluten-free diet.

Spectacular Martian sunset in a blue-tinged sky recorded by Curiosity’s Mast Camera

  Watch The Sun Go Down On Mars

NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover used its Mascam (Mast Camera) to record the sun dipping to the horizon in a blue-tinged sky. The spectacular images, that were captured on 15 April, 2015, were sent home to Earth this week.

The photographs were taken between dust storms, but some dust was still floating high in the red planet’s atmosphere.

Scientists say the sunset observations help them assess the vertical distribution of dust in the atmosphere.

Mastcam sees colors very similarly to what our eyes do, although it is actually slightly less sensitive to blue than humans are.

Curiosity science team member, Mark Lemmon, of Texas A&M University, College Station, who planned the observations, said:

“The colors come from the fact that the very fine dust is the right size so that blue light penetrates the atmosphere slightly more efficiently.”

“When the blue light scatters off the dust, it stays closer to the direction of the sun than light of other colors does. The rest of the sky is yellow to orange, as yellow and red light scatter all over the sky instead of being absorbed or staying close to the sun.”

Martian sunset blue, daytime rusty

Just as with sunsets on Earth, when reddish colours are made more dramatic, on the red planet sunsets make the blue near the Sun’s part of the sky stand out much more, while normal daylight makes the dust’s rusty colour more prominent.

The Mars Curiosity Rover has been studying the planet’s ancient and modern environments since it landed inside the Gale Crater in August 2012.

Curiosity’s Mastcam was built and is operated by Malin Space Science Systems, San Diego, California. NASA”s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of Caltech (California Institute of Technology) in Pasadena, built the rover and manages the project for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington.

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News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Saturday 9th May 20915

The UK Conservative Party’s victory & what it means for Ireland next year?

 

‘The lesson for Enda Kenny and Joan Burton is that poor poll results may mean nothing when people are faced with choosing a government’

‘Fine Gael will aspire to a similar share of the national vote as the Conservatives but will get nothing like the seat bonus provided by the straight vote system.’ Above, people in London take copies of a free newspaper showing the Conservative Party’s election victory.

David Cameron’s stunning election victory has a number of implications for Ireland and one of them is that the Coalition has every chance winning a second term if the two parties in power hold their nerve and fight a coherent campaign.

Fine Gael TDs in particular were buoyed up by the result in the UK on the basis that it showed that voters are prepared to reward a party in power that has taken some very unpopular decisions in the national interest.

The reaction of Labour TDs in Leinster House was more nuanced. They were all naturally disappointed at the dismal failure of their sister party across the water to do better, but some were also quietly heartened by the lesson that governments can retain power in a time of “austerity”.

The twin planks of the Conservative victory were the promise of stability based on the party’s record in government and the attack on the Scottish nationalists as an insidious force who wanted to hold the rest of the UK to ransom.

“There is an obvious parallel here,” said one excited Fine Gael TD. “We are the only party that can offer the voters stability and Sinn Féin represents the same kind of bogeyman for middle Ireland as the Scots nats do for middle England.”

Of course there are some very important differences between Ireland and the UK and there are no guarantees that the electorate here will view the world in the same terms as British voters.

The difference in the electoral systems is also very important. Fine Gael will aspire to a similar share of the national vote as the Conservatives but will get nothing like the seat bonus provided by the straight vote system.

The converse, though, is that while the Labour Party here is in a position very akin to the Liberal Democrats, proportional representation should ensure that the loss of seats will be on nothing like the same scale.

Another feature of the British outcome that has given both Coalition parties here a shot in the arm is that nobody saw it coming. The polls, the pundits and the politicians all forecast a hung parliament but in the event it was nothing like that.

The lesson for Enda Kenny and Joan Burton is that poor poll results over the past two years may mean nothing when people are faced with the responsibility of choosing a government.

The Conservatives won because the British electorate did not see a viable alternative government on offer. The Irish electorate will be confronted with the same dilemma and if Fine Gael and Labour play their cards right they could win the extra votes needed to get them over the line.

There are no obvious UK parallels with the position Fianna Fáil finds itself in. Making itself relevant to the formation of government is the big challenge facing the main Opposition party given that it has ruled out coalition with either Fine Gael or Sinn Féin.

As for Sinn Féin, the party’s prospects lie somewhere between those of the SNP and UKIP, both of which place nationalism at the heart of their appeal. The straight vote system means that the SNP got far more seats than its vote warranted while UKIP got far fewer. Sinn Féin will certainly improve its position here – the only question is by how much.

The setback for Sinn Féin in Fermanagh South Tyrone and the slight drop in its support on other constituencies was welcome news for the Government parties in Dublin and for Fianna Fáil.

It demonstrated that the rise of Sinn Féin is not as inexorable as is so widely assumed while the performance of the SDLP and the Ulster Unionists showed there is still room for moderate parties on both the nationalist and unionist sides of the sectarian debate.

In terms of its most immediate direct impact on this country, Cameron’s victory means that a referendum on the UK’s membership of the European Union is now certain to happen in the next couple of years.

The potential damage that a UK exit would have on Ireland has caused considerable unease in this country across the political spectrum as well as among business and trade union leaders.

However, the scale of Mr Cameron’s victory is something of a silver lining from an Irish point of view as it puts him in a strong position to lead the EU referendum debate and fight the campaign on ground of his choosing.

If it had been a hung parliament, as almost all of the polls and pundits were suggesting, Cameron might have retained power but would have been dependent on his own anti-EU right wing or even UKIP.

That would have made it very difficult for him to get an EU reform package strong enough to placate the variety of anti-European forces in the UK and the referendum campaign could have turned into an unwinnable proposition.

“David Cameron wants the UK to remain in the EU. This election victory puts him in a strong position to get a good deal from his EU partners and to convince the British public to stay, so it’s not a bad result at all,” said one senior Government politician.

The Brussels think-tank Open Europe came up with a similar analysis in advance of the British election. In a detailed report last week it argued that in the long term a Labour victory would have made a British exit from the EU more rather than less likely.

That said, real concerns remain in Ireland about the outcome the referendum on EU membership. The Government here will have to do everything in its power to ensure that the British get the kind of deal that will enable Cameron to sell it to the British public.

Taoiseach Kenny heckled by anti-water charge protesters in Sligo

     

About 100 people turn backs on Enda Kenny and US ambassador at Civil War event

Taoiseach Enda Kenny was heckled by anti-water charges protesters in Sligo on Saturday.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny and US ambassador Kevin O’Malley were heckled and jeered by protesters at a ceremony in Co Sligo on Saturday to honour the Irish who fought in the American Civil War.

About 100 anti-water charges and anti-war protesters turned their backs on speakers including Mr Kenny and the ambassador as a monument was unveiled in Ballymote marking the 150th anniversary of the end of the Civil War.

Throughout the ceremony the protesters practically drowned out the speakers – who also included local Fine Gael TD John Perry – calling them “traitors”.

They repeatedly shouted “war mongers” and “American troops out of Shannon” throughout the Ambassador’s speech.

Before the ceremony began, those taking part in the rally were urged to turn their backs in silence by one participant who said that otherwise they would be demonised by the media.

Afterwards Mr Kenny said he was well used to peaceful protests which were part of our democracy but “but you would expect in a place like this that respect would be shown for the national anthems and for visitors from the US especially for the ambassador, himself the son of Irish emigrants”. He noted that the protesters did “respectfully” observe a minute’s silence for those who died in the war.

The Taoiseach was in Ballymote for the unveiling of a monument , a sculpture in bronze, of a solider on horseback, dedicated to the memory of the Irish who served and died during the American Civil War.

The ceremony was attended by a few hundred people including locals who shook hands with Mr Kenny on his arrival, and some of whom expressed disapproval at the nature of the noisy protest.

There were angry scenes when the ceremony ended as gardaí erected a barrier and refused to allow some of those who had been involved in the demonstration to exit the area until the Taoiseach’s entourage left. Some of the protesters sat on the road in protest as Sligo county councillor Seamus O’Boyle (People Before Profit) pleaded with gardaí to let them through.

On arrival Mr Kenny was greeted with placards saying ‘No attachment orders for the bankers’ , ‘US war machine out of Shannon’ and ‘Where’s the monument for one million dead Iraqis’.

Throughout the speeches about a dozen uniformed gardaí and members of the Garda public order unit separated the demonstrators from the podium where singer Eunjoo Goh performed both the Irish and US national anthems.

Members of the Irish UN Veterans association also attended including 72-year-old James Taheny from Riverston Co Sligo who fought at the siege of Jadotville in The Congo in 1961. “Today is very important to me”, he said.

Irish Life’s profits rise 54% to €57m in quarter

  

Profits at Irish Life shot up 54% in the first three months of the year to €57m.

The insurer was sold by the State to Canada’s Great-West Lifeco for €1.3bn in 2013.

Irish Life contributing profits of €57m (CAD$80m) to the CAD$700m of net earnings at Great West Lifeco in the first three months of the year, the company said.

Irish profits in the quarter were up from €34m in the same quarter in 2014, the company said. “Assets under management at ILIM exceeded €50bn for the first time at the end of Q1 2015 as markets continued to rise,” according to Bill Kyle, chief executive officer, Irish Life Group.

“In addition we achieved strong sales of our Multi-Asset Portfolio Strategies (MAPS) to the institutional and retail markets.” Irish Life MAPS investment funds doubled in size over the last six months, he said.

Dairy consumption increases well in the US 

  1. Consumption of dairy products increased strongly in the united states during March according to statistics from the US Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service and Foreign Agricultural Service.

Cheese consumption was reported at 1 billion lbs (454,545 tonnes), up 3.8% on March 2014. Despite a decline of 5.1% in total cheese exports to 75.6 million lbs (34,363 tonnes), domestic consumption grew by 4.6% to 938.4 million lbs (426,545 tonnes), which supported the overall increase.

Butter consumption increased by 8.5% on March last year. Weaknesses in exports were offset by a 28% jump in US domestic consumption.

Non-fat dry milk consumption was reported at 205.8 million lbs (94,772 tonnes) up 20.2% on March 2014. The overall increase was supported by a 6.6% increase in exports and a 47.1% increase in domestic consumption.

The improvement in the US economy, which has led to more consumers eating out, is the main reason for increased cheese and butter consumption.

If this increase continues, it will have the effect of reducing quantities of dairy produce on the world export market for the remainder of this year. The US exported 16% of their total dairy production in 2014. This amounted to the equivalent of 15 million tonnes of milk production.

The strong US dollar is leaving US dairy exports much less competitive but the increase in home consumption should prevent any collapse in prices.

Can a computer beat one of the world’s best poker players?

 

Strategy games such as chess have long been considered important ways to measure artificial intelligence. But A.I. researchers at Carnegie Mellon University chose a different method of research, and in some ways, a more challenging game: poker.

Doug Polk, 26, is considered the best heads up, or one on one, no limit Texas hold ’em player in the world. He’s defeated countless opponents and won millions of dollars.

Polk bet his reputation that he could beat Claudico, Carnegie Mellon’s artificial intelligence super computer.

“You’re playing a cold-blooded killer because when he goes all in and you snap him off and win his stack, he’s not scared now, he’s just computing, right?” Polk said.

For the past two weeks, Polk and three other professional poker players each played 20,000 hands against Claudico at Rivers Casino in Pittsburgh.

Viewers from more than 100 countries watched online, but nobody paid closer attention than the man responsible for Claudico, professor Tuomas Sandholm.

“The computer definitely bluffs and does all sorts of other tricks that human poker players know, but the key is that we don’t program in the bluffing,” Sandholm said. “So the algorithms themselves figure out the strategy, how to bluff, when to bluff, in what situations and so forth.*

In 1997, the world watched in wonder when IBM’s Deep Blue, whose research originated at Carnegie Mellon, defeated the world’s best chess player, Garry Kasparov. And again in 2011 when Watson bested “Jeopardy” champion Ken Jennings.

So why is poker a better gauge of A.I. than playing “Jeopardy” or chess?

“In chess it’s a game of complete information, so when it’s your turn to move you know exactly what the state of the world is, what the state of the game is,” Sandholm said. “In poker, you don’t.

“This is really to be able to assist humans and companies in interacting, let’s say in negotiation,” Sandholm said. “Wouldn’t it be nice if you had an agent that helped you strategize in the world when you’re buying a car or buying insurance?”

Jason Les studied computer science in college before becoming an online poker pro. It turns out his education wasn’t much of a help. But he was still happy he signed up to play a computer.

“I thought this was a historic event and a big landmark in poker and artificial intelligence,” he said. “And I’m happy that I came up here and I was able to be a part of the winning team.”

Well, not exactly. According to Carnegie Mellon, the pros’ combined $732,000 lead in fake money makes it a statistical tie. The university plans to rewrite Claudico’s algorithms.