News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Wednesday 3rd June 2015

Complacency, arrogance and back-slapping on recovery ignores the reality for Ireland


As the ingredients of an economic recovery continue to take hold in Ireland, the risk of complacency and arrogance looms large.

These attributes plagued Ireland as the Celtic Tiger roamed the land.

Ensuring such attitudes do not resurface is almost as important as managing the recovery itself.

It is odd to be writing about ways of maintaining some balance while economic momentum builds.

It is a short six years since all of us were in the depths of depression as waves of awful economic data crashed over us.

Aside from an imploding banking system, we had to contend with a collapsed and frozen property market.

Weak global economics compounded our problems given a dependence on international trade in goods and services. On top of that, emigration was in full swing, whipping out of our society young, educated citizens.

These conditions seem almost like a bad but distant dream in the middle of 2015. Exuberance abounds all round. Aside from headline economic data showing expansion, there is evidence of jobs growth, a recovery of residential and commercial property prices, and rising employment.

Public pay cuts have bottomed out and increases, particularly for lower- income workers, are likely as an election year looms. Moreover, confidence surveys point to increased levels of investment which, in turn, should sustain the development of the economy in a positive direction.

Against this backdrop, it would be easy to conclude we are a nation of geniuses at tackling economic crises. While major sacrifices were undoubtedly made in the domestic arena, it would be remiss to ignore the assistance provided by a number of sources.

The ECB, for example, through its quantitative easing programme, is showering monetary stimulus on Ireland through liquidity and ultra-low interest rates. This is like a river of money running through every crevice of the economy.

Companies are getting lower interest rates, the State is borrowing at record low interest rates and personal borrowers are experiencing a lower cost of money too.

A secondary effect of the ECB action is to depress the euro, a currency move that has uniquely helpful outcomes for Ireland. Against sterling and the dollar, in particular, the low euro is making Ireland more competitive at a time when imported inflation is subdued.

Another helpful hand to the economy is the ongoing growth in the UK and US. These are powerhouses for Ireland, given their deep trade connections, so positive economic momentum in these huge economies helps stimulate imports from Ireland and investment.

The latter point is especially pronounced among US multinational companies that appear to be making daily job announcements in this country.

None of these external stimulants should be taken for granted. All of them will ebb and flow over coming years. Central banks, on both sides of the Atlantic, will eventually curb quantitative easing and lift interest rates.

Economic growth in the UK and US will inevitably slow down. Exchange rates are structurally volatile and will swing around to levels unhelpful to Irish commerce.

Thinking through those future scenarios is an essential factor when policymakers and politicians plot the next moves in the Irish economy.

Staying competitive with labour and operating costs, driving the national debt to sustainable levels and keeping in check our enthusiasm about the nascent recovery are essential if a repeat of past excesses is to be avoided.

Getting such a thought process into the political system is extremely difficult in a parliamentary system anchored around proportional representation.

The temptation in government to accelerate decisions that support short-term popularity is large while opposition parties will inevitably promise actions that tap the momentum in Exchequer finances. It will be another test of our democracy and political leadership over the next year.

Tax revenue comes in €734m ahead of target


Exchequer returns €1.69bn better that same period in 2014

New exchequer figures released on Wednesday by the Department of Finance show increased revenues from each of the major tax heads, although excise and stamp duty returns last month came in below target.

Tax revenue in the first five months of the year came in €734 million ahead of target as the Government saw returns to the end of May rise to €17.29 billion, €1.69 billion better than in the same period in 2014.

Exchequer figures released on Wednesday by the Department of Finance show increased revenues from each of the major tax heads, although excise and stamp duty returns last month came in below target.

The figures show that the Government’s voted expenditure reached €17.03 billion in the period, €306 million less than forecast on budget day and €165 million less than in 2014.

Joan our Tánaiste wants people to tweet positive ideas to her?


The Tánaiste Joan Burton has launched a new online campaign to hear what voters want from the Government.

Ms Burton wants people to tweet using the hashtag #TalkToJoan.

She says she wants suggestions on where the Government should go from here, with unemployment now below 10%.

However, she says she is prepared for criticism, and she will only pay heed to constructive comments.

She said: “Well, we have, and I think most parties in Ireland experience the so-called keyboard warriors, and I think we are all used to reading an amount of that comment.

“I am really concentrating on people who have positive ideas.”

How to prevent mental health problems?


Begin at the beginning with infants and toddlers

A new report recently published in the New England Journal of Medicine shows a downward trajectory in severe mental health issues for children between the ages of 6 and 17. On the surface, this is good news. Yet on the flip side, the study also reveals a troubling pattern of young people without access to mental health treatments from which they can truly benefit.

Lost in the narrative completely are the youngest set of children specifically infants and toddlers. With preschool expulsion rates at more than three times the expulsion rate of students in kindergarten through 12th grade, it’s clear that the mental health needs of infants and toddlers can no longer be overlooked. It’s time we took a serious look at infant and early childhood mental health and strategies to prevent mental health problems before they start.

Consider the experience of one mum and her child care provider:

Christine arrived at her sons’ child care center feeling anxious. The child care director had asked Christine to meet with the center’s “social-emotional” consultant. The consultant, Mr. Lee, shared that her boys’ teacher wanted to build a good relationship with the boys and needed some help understanding how to do it. The teacher wanted them to be safe and happy and felt her efforts were just not working.

Mr. Lee explained that his job was to support everyone working together to figure out what the boys were trying say through their behavior. Mr. Lee asked Christine some difficult yet thoughtful questions about what her boys were going through and why they might be acting out. Christine was able to reflect on the fighting had they had recently seen and heard between herself and their dad. Christine, Mr. Lee and the boys’ teacher met every week to share thoughts and ideas for the boys. The teacher was able to spend some more one-on-one time with the boys, and Christine was able to talk with her sons about what they were seeing and hearing at home. Christine felt not only a sense of safety with this team who supported her and her children, but also hope – something that had not been there in a long time.

Christine’s sons might have been just another statistic in the preschool expulsion scenario. But thanks to targeted and proven models designed to address underlying issues that drive certain behaviors, she and her sons benefited from services and techniques designed specifically to meet their particular needs.

It is estimated that between 9.5 percent and 14.2 percent of children age birth to 5 experience an emotional or behavioral disturbance. This means that the many people who interact with young children on a daily basis play an important role to play in helping children feel safe, secure, and cared for. Most importantly, when children are struggling with social-emotional challenges, they can ensure that these issues are identified as early as possible – ideally within the first three years of life. Research demonstrates that early prevention and treatment of mental health disorders is much more beneficial and cost-effective early in life, rather than attempting to mitigate their effects on health and learning later in life.

So how do we bolster positive mental health in young children and ensure that challenges are detected early? The key is to integrate mental health prevention services into the settings where children spend their time — at home, child care or the doctor’s office. Here is how we can ensure this happens:

  • Educate parents and caregivers about social and emotional development. Parents and caregivers know their own child best. They are often the first to notice if their young child’s behaviors, moods, or intensity are different than usual.
  • When mental health concerns exist for young children, link parents to early intervention programs in the community that are adequately prepared to screen for and treat social-emotional difficulties in a two-generation, dyadic fashion. Engage parents as partners in the intervention effort since therapists may spend an hour with the child each week, but parents are there day-in and day-out.
  • Screen parents for depression. Parents who are experiencing depression may be unable to provide their children with the responsive care they need to feel safe, secure, and loved. Supporting parents’ mental health is another way of supporting young children’s mental health.
  • Help pediatricians support infant and early childhood mental health. A child’s pediatrician is often the first person a parent turns to when their child is physically sick and he or she should also be a key resource when a parent is worried about their young child’s mental health. Programs such as Healthy Steps help pediatricians be that resource.
  • Ensure that child care providers are prepared to promote and support healthy social and emotional development. Second only to immediate family, child care is the setting in which early childhood development unfolds. It is critical that child care providers are knowledgeable regarding early childhood mental health so that they are able to support young children’s social and emotional development and address challenging behavior in a positive manner.
  • Integrate mental health prevention strategies into other programs that serve young children and their families. Home visiting programs match at-risk parents and their children with trained providers such as nurses, social workers or paraprofessionals who met regularly with the families through home visits to provide support and education. Home visiting programs across the country are integrating mental health prevention strategies into their programs and linking children and families with needed services.
  • Implement early child care mental health consultation and other promotion/prevention models. Project LAUNCH, a federal program that aims to promote the wellness of young children birth to 8 by addressing the physical, social, emotional, cognitive and behavioral aspects of their development, has sites throughout the country which demonstrate a variety of effective early child care mental health consultation and other promotion/prevention models.

Preventing mental health problems means starting in the earliest years of life to promote healthy social and emotional development. Children begin to learn important life skills in infancy, skills like communicating their needs, expressing and not being overwhelmed by their emotions, building self-confidence, making friends and getting along with others. The key to preventing mental health problems is to identify and address concerns as soon as possible, and to support those who surround young children.

There are ways to identify mental health problems in young children, and to effectively treat them. Parents, pediatricians, home visitors and child care providers can be the “first responders” to mental health concerns. Catching problems early, and intervening before they become more serious, will provide the best chance of helping all young children succeed and lead healthy, happy lives.

Scientists inch closer to precisely weighing Milky Way


Researchers in the US have determined the mass of the Milky Way to be 210 billion times the mass of the Sun with an uncertainty of only 20%.

The study used streams produced by certain stars and statistical tools applied by internet search engines to rank websites to measure the weigh our galaxy. The researchers at Columbia University decided to give the Milky Way a more precise physical checkup as our home galaxy’s precise weight is still unknown.

“Such measurements have been tried before with different streams, but the results were always quite ambiguous,” said study co-author professor Kathryn Johnston.

“Our new measurement breaks these ambiguities,” Johnston said.

The Milky Way consists of roughly 100 billion stars that form a huge stellar disk with a diameter of 100-200 thousand light years. The Sun is part of this structure, hence, when we look into the sky, we look right into a gigantic disk of stars.

The vast number of stars and the huge extent on the sky make it hard to measure fundamental quantities for the Milky Way, such as its weight. In this study, the researchers used stars outside this disk, which orbit around the Milky Way in a stream-like structure, to weigh the Milky Way to high precision.

The team demonstrates that such streams, produced by dissolving globular clusters, can be used to measure not only the weight of our Galaxy, but can also be exploited as yardsticks to determine the location of the Sun within the Milky Way.

“Globular clusters are compact groups of thousands to several millions of stars that were born together when the universe was still very young,” said lead researcher Andreas Kupper.

The researchers used data from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, which scanned the sky of the Northern Hemisphere for about 10 years to create a comprehensive catalog of stars in the sky.

From the improved precision of Milky Way weight, the scientists hope to learn about the formation and composition of our home galaxy, and to understand how the Milky Way compares with other galaxies in the Universe.


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