News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Friday 19th June 2015

Irish regulations helping to reduce road death numbers,

Says Minister Donoghue

  

Paschal Donohoe announces new moves to arrest drivers who are banned by the courts.

Paschal Donohoe said 1,000 people a month were being disqualified from driving by the courts, yet about one in ten of these were subsequently detected by the Gardaí driving vehicles.

The number of people who have been killed on the State’s roads this year is 19 below the similar period last year – a statistic Minister for Transport Paschal Donohoe has ascribed to tighter rules of the road safety.

Announcing new measures which would allow gardaí to arrest those caught driving while disqualified, Mr Donohoe said certain types of behaviour were no longer acceptable.

Describing the new measure as “the next wave of efforts to make our roads safer”, Mr Donohoe said that from Monday, a person caught driving while disqualified may be brought immediately before the court if one is sitting, or may be detained until the next day’s court’s sittings.

Gardaí are currently obliged to issue a summons which can lead to difficulties with service of the summons through changes of address or the perpetrator leaving the country.

Mr Donohoe said 1,000 people a month were being disqualified from driving by the courts, yet about one in ten of these were subsequently detected by the gardaí driving vehicles which he described as “absolutely unacceptable”.

The penalty for driving while disqualified is a fine of up to €5,000 and and / or up to six months in prison.

“This year to date we have had about 590 prosecutions by the gardaí of people who were caught getting back into their car and driving the very roads they were banned from,” he said.

Mr Donohoe said he recognised the work of the gardaí in detecting and prosecuting those “who should not be on our roads”.

He said the move was one of a number of measures which had been put in place in recent months which he believed were making a difference to driver behaviour and a subsequent reduction in road deaths.

“We changed the number of penalty points that were applicable to certain kinds of offences and we have also had heightened road safety campaigns that have been run by the Road Safety Authority and other bodies in relation to the need to be safe on the roads.”

According to the Garda, 67 people were killed on the State’s roads up to 9am on Friday morning – some 19 less than the comparison figure for 2014.

However, Mr Donohoe said there were still difficulties with drivers speeding, using a mobile phone, drink-driving and not wearing a seat belt. He said there had been 3,000 arrests so far this year for suspected drink-driving.

Cost of bid to keep ill woman in UK would fund a unit in Ireland

Says a judge

 

Legal costs of HSE bid to keep a woman in a specialised unit estimated at well over €1m

When Mr Justice Seamus Noonan in the High Court observed the costs of the case of a woman with a severe personality disorder would fund a purpose-built unit in the Republic, Gerry Durcan SC, for the woman, said the legal costs of similar cases involving vulnerable young people over the last 20 years would pay for an entire “purpose-built system”.

A High Court judge has said the costs of legal proceedings by the HSE aimed at keeping an 18-year-old woman with a severe personality disorder in a specialised unit in Englandagainst her wishes would fund a “purpose-built” unit for her in Ireland.

The costs to date of various proceedings in Ireland and England concerning the woman are estimated to exceed well over €1 million.

It also costs £400,000 (€560,000) a year to keep her in St Andrew’s unit in Northampton, where other Irish children and adults are regularly detained .

The woman has been detained for 19 months in St Andrew’s. Before that, from age 14, she was treated in various units in Ireland for some two years.

When Mr Justice Seamus Noonan observed the costs of the case would fund a purpose-built unit for the woman here,Gerry Durcan SC, for the woman, said the legal costs of similar cases involving vulnerable young people over the last 20 years would pay for an entire “purpose-built system”.

Eleven barristers, including six senior and five junior counsel, and at least five solicitors are involved in the latest case, brought by the HSE, before Mr Justice Noonan.

It raises important issues, including whether the involuntary detention in St Andrew’s, when the Irish Mental Health Acts prohibit detention of adults with personality disorders, breaches the woman’s rights under the Constitution and European Convention on Human Rights.

Most of the doctors agree that, as of now, she has capacity to make decisions about her treatment.

The HSE wants the woman to stay in St Andrew’s and she wants to return to Ireland, as provided for by the High Court in an order last March.

Voluntarily co-operate

It directed a care plan and other arrangements be put in place in time for the woman to return earlier this month. She has told the judge via videolink from Northampton she will voluntarily co-operate with treatment here.

The HSE claims circumstances have changed since the March order and has appealed that order to the Court of Appeal.

Pending that appeal, it has asked Mr Justice Noonan to vary the March order to keep the woman in St Andrew’s in the hope she will co-operate with a form of therapy considered the “gold standard” for her condition.

Doctors involved with her treatment have said they consider her a high suicide risk.

Lawyers for the woman, her estranged parents and her court-appointed guardian, all of whom are separately represented, accept she is a suicide risk but disagree her circumstances have changed materially since last March.

It has also been argued the HSE took no effective steps to put measures in place allowing for her treatment here.

The HSE argues she cannot be effectively treated here and her condition is best managed in St Andrew’s.

In evidence to the court, a psychiatrist who dealt with the woman in Ireland said there is a tension between her liberty, her right to live in the land of her birth and her need for treatment.

He considered it was in her best interests to have her condition managed in St Andrew’s.

That facility was best placed to provide her with treatment and while she had declined it, it could be offered again.

If she continued to refuse it, she should, after a specific time, be permitted to return, he believed.

Kept alive

He agreed she had been detained in hospitals here and England effectively for the past four years, with little improvement in her condition. However, she has been kept alive, he said.

If permitted to return home, the woman should not be subject to imposition of in-patient admission, he said. Should she opt for treatment in Ireland, the services here would be offered to her, he said.

His concern is about staffing, he said. Ireland does not have the resources available to large countries, and does not have the most appropriate facility to treat people with this form of personality disorder.

When Mr Durcan said Ireland does not detain people with personality disorders, the doctor said other jurisdictions do.

The Irish psychiatric services can manage most people apart from a “tiny minority” being treated in England, he added.

Mr Durcan said a medical report of August 2014 set out a view on what was necessary to be put in place for when the woman turned 18 this year, but it seemed there was no contact between the Irish adult mental health services and St Andrew’s concerning the woman’s possible treatment in Ireland for some six months after that report was produced.

The psychiatrist said he disagreed the analytic therapy recommended in that report was appropriate for the woman.

The necessary specialist service is just not available here – he could not “conjure up” such a service and nor did he think such was a good idea.

In her evidence via videolink to the court last week, the woman said the “most important thing” for her was “to be returned back to my country”.

She said she would not take her own life and has many plans for the future.

The price of tobacco and alcohol in Ireland is ‘70% higher than the EU average

   

Alcohol and tobacco prices are higher here than anywhere else in the EU, official Eurostat figures have revealed.

The publication of the consumer price level report across the EUtoday showed that Ireland’s alcoholic beverages and tobacco prices (collectively) are 70% higher than the EU average.

The National Off-Licence Association has stated called on Government to reverse the budgetary hike on alcohol in Budget 2014.

Evelyn Jones, government affairs director of the National Off-Licence Association (NOffLA), stated: “Eurostat’s results highlight the disproportionate and unfair campaign the Irish Government alone is waging against the alcohol sector via excise duty, which places a severe drain on cash flow and jeopardises product quality.

“Eurostat correctly attributes the “large price variation” in price as “mainly due to differences in taxation”.

According to NOffLA, excise on wine is 624% higher than the EU average. Beer and spirits are 298% and 243% above average, respectively.

“Not only has this placed the 92,000 jobs associated with the sector to extreme peril, we can see from Ireland’s ranking in other categories that excise is inflating Ireland’s average prices to that of fifth [highest] in the EU,” she said.

Ireland ranks fifth highest in prices overall: we are fourth most expensive restaurants & hotels, fifth most expensive for personal transport equipment, sixth most expensive for food & non-alcoholic beverages, and tied-13th for most expensive consumer electronics.

“It is simply wrong to suggest high prices benefit anyone other than the Government,” said Ms Jones.

“Not only is it anti-consumer, the level of excise means there is very little left for the actual producer, let alone the wholesaler and retailer.

“65.2% of a bottle of spirits is tax, leaving 34.8% to pay the supplier, staff and overheads before any profit is seen.”

NOffLA released its pre-budget submission earlier this month calling on the Minister for Finance to reverse the 15% increase in excise duty imposed in Budget 2014, to restore parity to wine taxation in relation to domestic alcohol, to ban the below invoice cost selling of alcohol and regulate for out-of-state imports of alcohol to support the 1,850 independent off-licences and 5,800 jobs at serious risk of closure as a result of the past two excise duty increases on alcohol.

Irish state rules out fresh changes to oil firms exploration taxes

  

The Government has said there is no need to readdress last year’s altered fiscal terms for exploration firms active in Irish waters, despite this year’s dramatic drop in oil prices.

Following his address to delegates at Energy Ireland’s annual conference at Croke Park yesterday, Ciaran O’hObain, principal officer at the Department of Natural Resources’ Petroleum Affairs Division (PAD), was specifically asked whether energy consultants Wood Mackenzie, which advised the Government on last year’s tax changes, would advise differently if delivering its findings in the current oil price environment.

World oil prices have fallen from over $100 per barrel to $50-$60 in the last year and are not expected to rise past $70 per barrel in the long term.

Last year, the Government changed the tax framework for Irish offshore operators, with the top rate of tax on profits made from any future oil find in Irish waters increasing from 40% to 55% and a 5% royalty revenue also going to the State for each year of a producing field’s lifespan.

The new terms will only relate to new finds and will not be backdated to cover previous finds that have yet to be drilled.

Mr O’hObain said yesterday that there is no issue to address regarding the new fiscal terms. He said that Wood Mackenzie based its analysis on a $60+ oil price, not specifically on a $100 price tag.

He added that the analysis was based on “a longer term view” and on a number of issues, including competition, outside of the record high oil prices.

“It wasn’t based on a 2014 price footing, but a more longer-term view. There is no proposal to be revisited,” Mr O’hObain said.

The question was posed by Irish Offshore Operators’ Association (IOOA) chairman Pat Shannon.

Earlier this year, the IOOA suggested this year’s Finance Bill should include — as has been mooted by Government — incentives for marginal field operators, such as a lowering of the corporate tax rate (currently at 25% for explorers) and a removal of the 5% royalty fee for small and marginal field operators.

Mr O’hObain also suggested it is still too early to gauge how much interest is being shown in this year’s Atlantic Margin licensing round, which closes in September.

He said firms would be making “critical decisions”, regarding new investments this summer.

“Yes, there is interest. But we won’t know how this will translate into actual applications until September,” said Mr O’hObain.

He added that Ireland has many elements in place for a viable oil industry, including fiscal policy, industry engagement, joined-up thinking, and regulatory structure, but needed to see more drilling activity.

He said that Ireland remained under-explored, even though we are at a time of a record high number of licence and prospect authorisations.

Earlier this week, Deirdre Michie, the head of the UK’s oil sector representative, Oil & Gas UK, warned that the industry needed to get used to a future environment where long-term oil prices will hover around the $60 per barrel mark.

Britain’s once thriving North Sea-based exploration sector reached a 20-year low last year in terms of activity, with just 14 exploration wells drilled compared with 44 drilled in 2008.

Scientists discover that most kangaroos are ‘left-handed’

  

The study involved observing multiple species of marsupial in the wild for extended periods

Researchers have discovered that most kangaroos are left-handed, making them the only other species apart from humans to show a ‘handedness’ on a large scale.

The study, published in biology journal Current Biology, was conducted by a team of Russian scientists, who spent hours observing the behaviour of multiple species in the wild.

The scientists looked at the red kangaroo, red-necked wallaby, eastern grey kangaroo, and found that most animals of these species used their left forelimb far more often than their right.

The study says that two species of kangaroo and the wallaby displayed ‘population lateralisation’, meaning the animals showed a dominant use of one paw across a whole population.

The study also found that this left-handedness is consistent across different types of behaviour, for example when eating, grabbing things, and grooming.

The brush-tailed bettong, a tiny marsupial that resembles a squirrel, also showed a distinct left-handedness equal to that of the kangaroos.

Other marsupials observed in the study, such as Goodfellow’s tree kangaroo, the sugar glider, and the grey short-tailed opossum, did not show a similar level of laterality.

These three creatures, unlike the larger marsupials, move on four feet instead of two – the study says this suggests that these postural characteristics are instrumental in whether the animal shows lateralisation.

Animals individually can be observed to show a preference for one side over another, as can be seen when asking a dog for a paw. However, lateralisation has never been proven at a population level before in a species other than humans.

Despite the popular misconception that polar bears are left handed (using their right paw to cover their black nose before killing their prey with their left), these few marsupials are the only non-human animals that mostly use one hand over the other.

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