News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Monday 22nd June 2015

Crisis cuts unfairly hurt marginalised Irish, says UN committee


Committee panel concerned at increase in numbers at-risk of or living in consistent poverty

Cuts imposed during the financial crisis disproportionately hurt the “disadvantaged and marginalised” and must be phased out, a United Nations committee has said.

Cuts imposed during the financial crisis disproportionately hurt the “disadvantaged and marginalised” and must be phased out, a United Nations committee has said.

The UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ESCR), which examined Ireland in Geneva earlier this month, published its concluding observations yesterday.

The Government was represented at the hearings in Geneva by a team of 21 senior civil servants led by Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs, Seán Sherlock. The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission led a group of 12 NGOs and members of civil society. It was the first time Ireland had appeared before the committee since 2002.

The committee said that notwithstanding the unprecedented economic crisis that faced Ireland, the response had been “disproportionately focused on instituting cuts to public expenditure in the areas of housing, social security, health care and education, without altering its tax regime”.

“The austerity measures, which continue to be applied, have had significant adverse impact on the entire population, particularly on disadvantaged and marginalised individuals and groups, in enjoying their economic, social and cultural rights.”


The committee said policies applied during the crisis “must be temporary, covering only the period of the crisis, and they must be necessary and proportionate. They must not result in discrimination and increased inequalities”.

It said austerity measures must be “gradually phased out”, while consideration should be given to reviewing the tax regime “with a view to increasing revenues to restore the pre-crisis levels of public services and social benefits”.

The committee said it was “concerned at the increase in the number of people living in consistent poverty or at-risk-of-poverty”, particularly children, single-parent families, older people, people with disabilities, Travellers and migrants.

It called on the State to integrate a human rights-based approach into all poverty reduction strategies.

Zero-hour contracts

It noted “disproportionately high rates of unemployment among Travellers, Roma, young people and persons with disabilities”, and called for legislation to strengthen collective bargaining and end low- and zero-hour contracts.

The committee made six recommendations on the housing crisis, including increasing rent supplement, strengthened rights for households in mortgage arrears and taking “all necessary measures to meet the critical needs” of the homeless.

On the situation of asylum seekers, the committee called for improved living conditions in direct provision centres “including through . . . making the private actors accountable for the actions and omissions and address the mental health issues of asylum seekers”.

It also called for an end to the right of schools to discriminate on the basis of religion in their admissions policies.

Irish nursing homes need better support to cope with growth in our ageing population


‘Serious issues surrounding the recruitment and retention of nurses are also threatening bed capacity in nursing homes’

‘The latest data shows a decrease in the number of nursing homes operating in Ireland, from 447 in 2010 to 437 in 2014. Despite this there has been a 9 per cent increase in private and voluntary nursing home bed numbers – 20,590 to 22,342.’

Today marks the beginning of Nursing Homes Week 2015, a campaign by Nursing Homes Ireland (NHI) featuring countrywide events and activities celebrating the positivity of nursing home care.

But the rate of increase in Ireland’s ageing population, similar to many countries worldwide, means that as a nation we need to develop a range of policies and services to address the challenges this presents.

An analysis of the demographics in Ireland confirms there is going to be increasing pressure in the area of residential care, but also on the wider health and social care system for older people.

The nursing home sector has a vital part to play. It employs approximately 25,000 people who contribute over €190 million annually to the Exchequer through taxation paid; and we forecast up to 10,000 jobs could be created over the next decade to support potential future growth and development.

However, the latest data shows a decrease in the number of nursing homes operating in Ireland, from 447 in 2010 to 437 in 2014. Despite this there has been a 9 per cent increase in private and voluntary nursing home bed numbers – 20,590 to 22,342.

The figures show that additional capacity is being added by existing providers. And approximately 42 per cent of private and voluntary nursing homes indicate that they are prepared to increase the number of beds in their facilities in the coming year.

However, the current arbitrary system for setting rates through the National Treatment Purchase Fund (NTPF) of “local market price” and “county averages” is illogical. If this policy continues, it may stymie current plans and the additional capacity required as well as further development in rural locations based on the current low level of NTPF fees.

The current and future arrangements for the funding and financing of nursing home care must take account of the more acute needs of our ageing population and the actual costs incurred by nursing homes in providing care to people. For example nursing homes that also care for dementia residents require a variable payment plan to match the needs of those residents, as recommended by the Oireachtas Health Committee (July 2014) and the Dementia Services Information and Design Centre (DSIDC – Jan 2015).

The provision of extra beds by existing providers challenges will significantly help future challenges to be met, as the existing operators have the necessary experience and a proven track record in what is a highly regulated market.

But the Department of Health and the Government must address the issue of a “fair price for care” if they wish the private and voluntary nursing home sector to provide those required additional bed numbers . The model of funding must provide a sustainable basis for the delivery of high quality nursing home care and also allow for on-going investment in service development.

Serious issues surrounding the recruitment and retention of nurses are also threatening bed capacity in nursing homes. The HSE Clinical Adaptation Programme must be extended beyond August 2015 to tackle the large number of nurses on the waiting list for placement. The Department of Health must also ensure adequate resourcing of the Nursing and Midwifery Board of Ireland to ensure the board can address the current delays in registration of nurses. In this respect there is an urgency for engagement with stakeholders to deliver a workforce plan for the entire health service (public, private and voluntary) that will place the increasing demand for gerontological nursing at its centre.

NHI reiterates its long-standing call for the Department of Health to take the lead in bringing stakeholders around the table through a forum that would advise Government on planning and policy to meet the growing demand for nursing home care.

Private and voluntary nursing homes are uniquely positioned to tackle the challenges, having the necessary experience, knowledge and proven track record.

Department of Health strategy must ensure that the increasing numbers of our population that require nursing home care are able to access the care they need in a timely and cost effective manner.

Nursing Homes Week 2015 marks a key moment for the increasing number of older people requiring long-term residential care in Ireland. It provides an opportunity for the Department of Health to address the challenges relating to policy and funding in respect of long-term care. But we need the State to plan with us for the decades ahead now, not when the crisis has deepened.

HIQA concerned for safety and quality of children’s services in Ireland


Health Information and Quality Authority (HIQA) has expressed concern about inconsistencies in the safety and quality of children’s services nationally.

The authority today published an overview of its regulatory activity for children’s services during 2014.

HIQA said national and local management systems may not be adequate in providing assurance on consistently safe, good quality services.

As a result, the authority will commence a national review of governance of the Child and Family Agency in 2015.

However, it also found that during 2014 there was some evidence of improving services and good practice in children’s social care.

Commenting on the report, Fred McBride, Tusla Chief Operations Officer said that when Tusla took responsibility for child protection services in January 2014, significant challenges were identified, particularly in relation to inconsistencies in service provision across the country.

“Tusla is committed to ensuring that all children receive the same high standard of service regardless of geography and to building on the many examples of good practice highlighted in HIQA’s Annual Report,” said Mr McBride.

“Tusla has already conducted a detailed review of its governance structures and has consulted staff and stakeholders in relation to this. The process has identified a number of quality issues which will be addressed in a revised Tusla governance structure which is currently being finalised,” he said.

“The Agency anticipates that this will lead to more robust governance and improve Tusla’s capacity to deliver high quality services. Tusla expects that any review conducted by HIQA would be cognisant of these developments.”

No grant for those homeowners who identify their own septic tank issue’s


Only if a septic tank fails an inspection are local authorities allowed to provide up to €4,000 in financial aid

Homeowners who identify major issues with their septic tanks are barred from availing of a grants scheme to fix the problem and protect water sources.

Only if the tank fails an inspection are local authorities allowed to provide up to €4,000 in financial aid, the Department of the Environment has confirmed.

This is despite some 500,000 septic tanks being dotted across the country, many of which are in high-risk areas and linked to pollution.

This is because they are not being emptied or properly maintained, but in many cases they also require replacement or structural repairs.

New figures show that just 65 grants have been paid in 2014 and 2015, totalling €206,000.

Most have been paid to homeowners in Meath, where 13 have been awarded; followed by seven each in Roscommon and Sligo and six each in Limerick and Clare.

Households with incomes of up to €50,000 can claim 80pc of the costs of carrying out works, to a maximum of €4,000.

For incomes between €50,001 and €75,000, 50% can be claimed up to €2,500.

However, there has been sharp criticism of excluding households which identify a problem on their own initiative.

Fianna Fáil environment spokesman Barry Cowen said if the Government was serious about protecting water sources, it would be extended to all households. “In Offaly, where our water sources are underground, a bad septic tank is a major contributor to pollution,” he said.

“The Environmental Protection Agency is expected to carry the can, one would assume, but they would not have the manpower or people on the ground to ensure standards are adhered to.”

Some 497,281 septic tanks and other on-site wastewater treatment systems are located across the country. To date, some 454,464 systems have been registered, a 91.3% compliance rate.

Households which failed to register their tanks by February 2013 are not eligible for the grant payment.

The Department of the Environment defended the decision to exclude registered, but not inspected, tanks.

It said the scheme was introduced to assist in repair costs for domestic wastewater treatment systems that were deemed, following inspection, as requiring repairs.

Two men try to surf on a whale shark,

Say anger conservationists


A video showing two men attempting to surf on the back of a rare whale shark has sparked the ire of conservationists who say the men should be prosecuted for their actions.

The video shows the men standing on the enormous shark while being towed by a speedboat, SkyNews reports. People on the boat can be heard laughing and egging them on.

Marine activists have called the men out for their “stupidity and arrogance.”

One wildlife group, Marine Connection, posted the clip in the hopes that the men can be identified and “brought to justice,” SkyNews reports.

Classified by the IUCN Red List as vulnerable, whale sharks (Rhyncodon typhus) can be easily stressed. Interaction with humans can affect their natural behavior, especially since they must move constantly in order to maintain their oxygen supply. They also must maintain a protective layer on their skin, so as IFLScience puts it, “standing on a whale shark is a pretty dumb move.”

Sadly, these magnificent and gentle sharks are harassed and hunted by humans even though their populations are in decline, the IUCN reports.

As part of a three-year investigation conducted by WildLifeRisk, a non-governmental organization, evidence showed that one factory in southeastern China is slaughtering about 600 of these 21-ton (19-tonne) fish each year, National Geographic reports.

It’s an illegal practice — whale sharks are protected under Chinese and international law, and for good reason. One single whale shark is worth about $30,000. The meat is sold for food, the fins are sold to restaurants to make shark fin soup, and the beautifully patterned skin is sold to manufacturers for bags. Oil from these sharks is sold to companies that produce fish oil supplements.

Sadly, this factory is also allegedly killing and processing other shark species that are protected under international law, including basking sharks and great whites.

“If they’re in fact processing 600 a year, that’s pretty horrifying,” says Robert Hueter, director of the Center for Shark Research at the Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota, Florida. National Geographic notes that the worldwide population of whale sharks is estimated to be in the thousands.

Hueter recounted another instance in which whale sharks were being killed. A legal fishery in Taiwan slaughtered approximately 800 whale sharks between 1995 and 2008. Fortunately that fishery closed due to international pressure six years ago.

Whale, basking, and great white sharks are protected under CITES Appendix II, which means they aren’t currently threatened with extinction, but “they may become so unless trade is closely controlled,” the CITES website reports, per National Geographic.

While countries that have signed the treaty, which includes China, have to show that the export of species listed in Appendix II is done sustainably and legally, it’s obvious that some individuals slip under the wire.

“What bothers me about this report is that this is an undercover operation going on in China,” Hueter says. “So if there’s one of these [factories], the chances that there’s more than one are pretty good, I’m guessing.”

Whale sharks are very widely distributed and occur in all tropical and warm temperate seas, with the Mediterranean being the only exception, the Florida Museum of Natural History reports. They are found throughout the Atlantic Ocean, ranging from New York through the Caribbean to Central Brazil and from Senegal to the Gulf of Guinea. They are also found in the Indian Ocean, ranging throughout most of the region, including the Red Sea and the Arabian Gulf. In the Pacific Ocean, whale sharks are found from Japan to Australia, off the coast of Hawaii, and from California to Chile.

Despite their size, whale sharks are peaceful, feeding mostly on microscopic plankton and nektonic (larger free-swimming) prey crustaceans, schooling fishes, and tuna and squid every now and then. They are also fond of phytoplankton (microscopic plants) and macroalgae (larger plants).

These impressive sharks are the largest fish living today, and it’s thought they can reach a maximum size of of 20 meters (65 feet). The smallest free-living juveniles are 55cm (21.7 inches) long. These fish may not attain sexual maturity until they are more than 9 meters long. And, while no one is completely certain, it’s thought that these fish may live as long as 60 years, the museum reports.

Scientists had long wondered whether whale sharks were oviparous (in which case the female shark would expel egg cases from her body that would hatch on the sea floor), or if they are ovoviviparous, with the egg cases hatching inside the mother’s uteri, meaning that she would give birth to live young. This question was finally answered in 1995, when an 11-meter female whale shark was harpooned off the eastern coast of Taiwan and 300 fetal sharks were taken from her two uteri. So, this means that whale sharks are live bearers.

Whale sharks are usually considered harmless to humans, but they have on occasion butted sportfishing boats, most likely because they were being harassed. They face risks of being struck accidentally by boats when basking or feeding on the surface, the museum reports.

It’s believed that the video showing the two men standing on the shark’s back was filmed in Venezuela, Marine Connection notes, largely because of the type of Spanish people on the boat are speaking, Sky News reports. Not only that, but the footage was posted on a Facebook account in Venezuela earlier this month, and was deleted later on.

“Wildlife harassment is never a laughing matter,” the group noted.

“What a sad reflection on their attitude to wildlife when, instead of considering themselves fortunate to see this majestic creature in the wild, they choose to participate in a stupid stunt like this.”

It is to be hoped that if enough people watch the video, the would-be shark surfers will be found.


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