Tuesday 19th May 2015
Mortgage lending soars as Ireland’s recovery goes from strength to strength
Recovery could hit a speed bump as figures don’t yet reflect Central Bank lending rules
First-time buyers continue to dominate the property market although latest figures show a slow return of property investors
Mortgage lending rose by 73% in the first quarter of 2015 to € 983m, as first-time buyers continued to dominate the market.
However, both the value and volume of mortgage lending was down on the last quarter of 2014, and the impact of tighter lending requirements from the Central Bank, which came into force on February 11th, has yet to be fully observed.
According to data published on Tuesday by the Banking and Payments Federation Ireland, some 5,618 new mortgages worth €983m were drawn-down in the first quarter, up by 64% on the same period in 2014, but down by 26% on Q4 2014, traditionally the strongest period for mortgage lending. This compares with Q1 2007 when 7,919 loans worth some €7.8bn were drawn-down.
First time buyers accounted for more than half (53.6%) of these loans, followed by those trading up (31.9%). Just 320 buy-to-let mortgages were drawn down during the period, accounting for 5.7% of the total. While down on Q4 (395), the figure is up 74% on Q1 2014, suggesting that investors are looking to take advantage of strong rental growth.
The average loan size rose to € 175,016 in Q1 2015, up 5.5% on Q1 2014.
Central Bank rules
Davy economist Conall MacCoille expects total new mortgage lending to reach €4.5bn in 2015, up from €3.7bn in 2014 and €2.4bn in 2013. However, growth rates have slowed, and Mr MacCoille said that the new lending rules from the Central Bank “will constrain credit availability as the year progresses”.
As of yet, the figures reveal little about the impact the new rules might have.
Juliet Tennent, economist with Goodbody Stockbrokers, says that while it is difficult to quantify the incidence of those who received mortgage approval under the “old” regime accelerating home purchase in the aforementioned figures, the Q1 numbers are encouraging as is the strong approvals figure for March, noting that the recovery has some “momentum”.
Ireland will struggle to meet its EU GHG emission reduction target
Figures released by the EPA on Monday show that significant effort will be needed for Ireland to meet its EU greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets
Figures released by the EPA on Monday show that significant effort will be needed for Ireland to meet its EU greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets.
The EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) has predicted that Ireland will struggle to meet its EU greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) reduction targets, which demand a 20% reduction by 2020 on 2005 levels.
The latest figures show that annual emissions from Ireland’s non-Emissions Trading Scheme sector, in which agriculture and transport dominate, are projected to be 9% to 14% below 2005 levels by 2020, which compares unfavourably to the 2020 target.
The EPA does add, however, that overachievement of annual limits in the period 2013-2017 under the best case scenario will allow Ireland to cumulatively meet its compliance obligations over the period 2013-2020.
This best case scenario assumes that ambitious policies and measures out to 2020 will be implemented in full, including reducing energy consumption in our homes and businesses and increasing renewable fuels in transport and heating.
Commenting on the latest figures, Laura Burke, EPA Director General said, “Our economy is now beginning to grow again and we must balance our focus on growth with a focus on becoming more sustainable and reducing emissions. Considerable effort will be needed between now and 2020 to implement key policies and measures in order to deliver projected emissions reductions. These include improvements in energy efficiency across the industry, commercial and residential sectors and reducing emissions from transport.”
Agriculture and transport dominate the non-Emissions Trading Scheme sector. Together they account for approximately 75% of Ireland’s non-Emissions Trading Scheme sector emissions in 2020, with agriculture at 46% and transport at 29%. For the period 2013-2020, agriculture emissions are projected to increase by 2%.
The EPA added that even if Ireland complies with its 2013-2020 obligations there will be as yet undefined new obligations for the years 2021-2030.
A starting point for post-2020 obligations in excess of the range of expected outcomes for 2020 (i.e., 9 – 14% below 2005 levels) will inevitably lead to severe compliance challenges early in the following decade and beyond.
Eircom needs more fibre to keep pace with new competition
What do Eircom’s results really tell us about its prospects in the near future? Has it turned itself around?
By the standards of recent years, the results are good.
Quarterly revenue growth, even taking into account seasonal factors, is a decent achievement.
If such growth continues, as executives are guiding, confidence will increase.
The company is a lot leaner than it was two or three years ago, too, and appears to have successfully changed its focus to high-speed broadband, an area it largely ignored until it almost collapsed two years ago.
But it still has some big decisions ahead. The biggest one is whether, and to what extent, it is prepared to walk the walk in terms of rolling out fibre broadband.
Directly piped to houses broadband?
That means proper fibre broadband that is piped directly into homes and businesses, not the type that only connects to old-fashioned copper phone lines from half a mile away. (Such ‘eFibre’ lines may be perfectly adequate for most of today’s uses, but are not long-term solutions.)
Eircom would undoubtedly prefer to ‘sweat’ its existing infrastructure – its copper landlines – for as long as it possibly can before having to invest several hundred millions more. That would mean relying on ‘eFibre’ DSL copper-hybrid infrastructure.
But rival entities such as the new ESB-Vodafone fibre broadband firm Siro are set to plough ahead with a €450m investment to connect 500,000 premises to direct fibre by 2018. And UPC, whose broadband speeds are over twice what Eircom can achieve with its current technology, has hoovered up a huge percentage of broadband subscriptions in urban areas. So if Eircom is to keep pace, it needs to invest hundreds of millions in new fibre infrastructure, even if it forestalls a return on investment for shareholders.
Is it prepared to do this? So far, it has indicated that it will match fibre roll-out plans in 50 towns by the ESB-Vodafone’s Siro company. And it could get a big boost if it wins the Government’s upcoming National Broadband Plan tender, which is likely to prioritise fibre to 700,000 rural premises. But it needs to keep investing to keep its momentum going.
New study on brain exercises for healthy ageing in people with Down syndrome
Researchers specialising in ageing in persons with an intellectual disability at Trinity College Dublin have just begun a new study to examine if cognitive training for adults with Down syndrome can have a protective effect for healthy ageing. The study is being conducted in the context of a growing concern by the researchers involved regarding levels of dementia in an ageing Down syndrome population in Ireland and varying standards of care, support and diagnostic pathways around the country.
The BEADS study (Brain Exercises for Adults with Down syndrome) will investigate the feasibility of using existing brain training games with a cohort of older adults with Down syndrome without dementia, and measure the effectiveness of the training in positively influencing levels of executive functioning such as planning, attention and memory.
Dementia is a critical issue for adults with Down syndrome, both in terms of rates of occurrence and the early age of onset in this particular group pf people. In a recent report by IDS-TILDA, the Intellectual Disability Supplement to The Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing, the researchers found that in the three year period since the first wave of data collection was conducted in 2010, the prevalence of dementia among people with Down syndrome had almost doubled from 15.8% to 29.9%. These are much higher levels than the 1.5% seen in the general population. Other Trinity studies have found that the average age of onset of dementia for people with Down syndrome was 55 years of age with some cases presenting in their early 40’s. By comparison, onset for the majority of people with dementia in the general population was at over 65 years of age.
In the general population there has been a lot of research conducted on the protective value of cognitive stimulation, or brain training, and its importance in healthy ageing. This is even more vital in a population of adults with Down syndrome as typically fewer opportunities for cognitive training and development were presented throughout their lives. As of yet, there has been little work in Ireland or indeed internationally on cognitive training and its influence on executive functioning for older adults with intellectual disabilities.
Speaking about the importance of conducting new research which will address the challenges with increasing levels of dementia in people with Down syndrome in Ireland, Dean of the Faculty of Health Sciences in Trinity and Principal Investigator of IDS-TILDA, Professor Mary McCarron said: “Dementia has become such a significant challenge to the successful ageing of people with Down syndrome and we must do more than simply provide care. Other successes in the lives of people with Down syndrome occurred because we found new ways to increase opportunities; we can do no less as we confront the challenge of dementia.”
“In tandem with new studies such as BEADS which hope to help with improved levels of healthy ageing for people with Down syndrome, the Irish healthcare system must also urgently address the specific diagnostic and care needs of this group of people in a comprehensive, systematic and consistent way,” Professor McCarron concluded.
Sea lions get their teeth brushed at Scottish safari park
Part of an oral national health campaign
Poppy the sea lion gets a kiss from head sea lion keeper Frances Reid at Blair Drummond Safari Park near Stirling.
It is National Smile Month, so some of the sea lions at Blair Drummond have been having their pearly whites brushed. They’ve been trained to have it done from an early age.
Poppy the sea lion has her teeth cleaned by head sea lion keeper Frances Reid at Blair Drummond Safari Park near Stirling.
A group of sea lions at Blair Drummond Safari Park have been getting their teeth cleaned to help mark the start of a national oral health campaign.
The animals lined up to get their gnashers polished at the park near Stirling as National Smile Month got under way around the UK.
Poppy the sea lion has her teeth cleaned by head sea lion keeper Frances Reid at Blair Drummond Safari Park near Stirling.
The campaign aims to raise awareness of health issues and improve the oral health of millions of people throughout the country.
And while brushing a sea lion’s teeth might seem an odd thing to do, park bosses insist it is vital to their welfare.
Head keeper Frances Reid said: “Sea lions will live a lot longer in captivity then their wild counterparts, so their teeth need to last a lot longer.
“Just like our own teeth, we need to control the amount of plaque building up on them and reduce the amount of decay.
“Also if our sea lions get something stuck in their teeth, we can remove it easily without the need to put them under general anaesthetic and call the vet in.”
One of the sea lions, 10-year-old Poppy, was trained at an early age to get her teeth cleaned.
Trainer Sam Clark said: “We achieved it through positive reinforcement, so lots of encouragement and food rewards until she had complete trust in us and was confident to have her teeth brushed.
“A sea lion has 18 teeth on the bottom jaw and 18 on the top, and they only have one set of teeth in their lifetime, so we need to be able to inspect them daily.”
Planet Earth now has a flag for interplanetary relations
Let’s imagine for a moment that we’re on the cusp of the next great space race.
With private space enterprise a reality, the possibilities of incredible new spacedrive technologies, and a plan to colonise Mars in the next decade, it’s a wonderful time to be a space nerd.
But when humankind reaches Mars, what flag will we plant proudly in the surface?
There is actually an Outer Space Treaty (part of Space Law, which is also a thing) that bans countries from claiming celestial bodies as territory.
And so, a Swedish designer has taken it upon himself to create the International Flag of Planet Earth.
Designed by Oskar Pernefeldt as a graduation project at the Beckmans College of Design, it’s not yet an “official” flag for Earth – however that would be decided – but NASA is thanked on the contributors page for the project.
It’s not known how they were involved, though.
“Current expeditions in outer space use different national flags depending on which country is funding the voyage,” Pernefeldt wrote about the project.
“The space travelers, however, are more than just representatives of their own countries. They are representatives of planet Earth.”
As a design student, he set out to design something that not only reflect humanity’s existing flags – rectangular, wider than it is tall – but also has some meaning in the symbol.
Our little pale blue dot is unique in our survey of the known universe so far for its large quantities of liquid surface water – and so Pernefeldt chose a deep, rich blue as his primary colour – to offset a pure white flower.