News Ireland daily news BLOG by Donie

Tuesday 30th June 2015

Ireland’s existing health system demands an extra €1bn to run it?

Says Leo Varadkar


The Minister for Health Leo Varadker says serious questions about health funding must be answered.

The Minister for Health Leo Varadkar, says serious questions about the level of funding for current healthcare must be answered if the country aspires to an adequate health system.

The health service needs as much as another €1 billion of investment to simply meet existing demands, and even more is required to cope with a growing and ageing population, Minister for Health Leo Varadkar has said.

Mr Varadkar, writing in Wednesday’s Irish Times, also says serious questions about the level of funding for healthcare must be answered if the country aspires to an adequate health system.

“Questions remain, such as whether we are willing as a society to pay for it, and whether we are willing to embrace the major organisational changes required,” he says. “This will require courage and trust, but I am confident that with the right vision we can succeed.

“No form of universal healthcare is possible unless we are willing to find the resources needed to make it work.”

Underfunded service

He says an underfunded service will be a poor service, even if it is well organised.

“With the current staffing of specialist doctors, midwives and nurses, critical care beds and other capacity, no system of universal healthcare will be able to deal with unmet demand.

“What really matters is having adequate well-trained staff, sufficient capacity and infrastructure, good organisation, management and financial control, clinical governance, quality and safety systems.”

Meeting existing, unmet needs “would cost between €700 million and €1 billion, on top of the natural increase needed every year to cope with a rising and ageing population”, an amount he says seems like a lot but would only restore health budgets to where they were eight years ago.

Mr Varadkar also outlines how he believes primary care can be achieved over five years, effectively the duration of a second term in office.

Whether the funding for future health needs comes from the exchequer or an insurance-based system like Universal Health Insurance is secondary to whether enough money is made available, and whether it is correctly spent, he says.

The Irish Times reported earlier this week that the annual cost of UHI, championed by Mr Varadkar’s predecessor Dr James Reilly, could be between €2,000 and €3,000 to cover a standard package of benefits for one adult.

External consultants also told the Government in a confidential report the estimated cost of a more comprehensive series of benefits could be between €3,000 and €4,000 per year, far higher than previously estimated

About 70% of Irish households register with Irish Water on time for grant

But we still do not know exactly how many people have paid their first bills to the semi-state body.

Richard Boyd Barrett TD and Ruth Coppinger TD, with activist Michella Russell (left), at a press conference announcing details of an anti-water charges protest outside the Dáil on Wednesday, July 1st, at 6pm

An estimated 70% of householders had registered with Irish Water by Tuesday’s deadline date to allow them claim a €100 water conservation grant from the Government.

It is still not known exactly how many people have paid their first bills to the new semi-state company.

The first quarterly billing cycle for Irish Water was for January, February and March, with the first bills landing in April. The second round of bills will be sent out from July onwards.

It is understood the board of Ervia, Irish Water’s parent company, has been informed of the level of payments but is not yet known when the figures will be released.

A Government spokesman said on Tuesday the figures will be published “in due course” and added the Coalition would have “no issue” with publication of the figures once they have been finalised by Irish Water.

Under severe pressure

The Government has come under severe pressure from the Opposition to publish the figures, and another anti-water charges protest is planned for outside the Dáil tonight.

An Irish Water spokeswoman said over 1.32 million people, or 70 per cent of those who can register with the semi-state, had done so as of earlier this week.

Registering with the company does not mean a householder has to pay their water charges, and they are entitled to claim the €100 grant even if they do not pay.

The grant will be administered and paid by the Department of Social Protection, and a separate application process for the payment of the €100 will open later this year.

Of the 1.32 million who have registered, about 80 per cent are customers who will be billed for their water, while the remaining 20 per cent have their own water services, such as group water schemes.

An estimated 1.5 million households are either connected to mains water or waste water services, which means they will be billed by Irish Water. Some 1.05 million of those – 70 per cent – have registered.

The spokeswoman said while Irish Water experienced a lot of activity on Tuesday, it was not enough to hugely change those figures.

Meanwhile, the lifting of boil water notices for thousands of people “would simply not be possible” without Irish Water, Minister for the Environment Alan Kelly has said.

He was speaking after the company confirmed the HSE had lifted boil water notices for 11,300 customers in the Killeglan and Castlerea areas of Co Roscommon.

This came after Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) inspections of related water treatment plants earlier this week.

A boil water notice for 6,000 customers in Boyle was lifted on May 1st.

“This now means that over 17,000 people can drink their water in Roscommon this year that couldn’t last year,” said Mr Kelly.

“This would simply not be possible without the creation of Irish Water. Irish Water was able to target and prioritise these vulnerable areas and bring to a close the sorry saga of boil water notices in quick fashion.

“I have no doubt that similar successes will be replicated throughout the country.”

John Tierney, Irish Water’s managing director, said dealing with the boil water notices had been a “top priority” since the utility came into existence.

“Irish Water as a national water utility has been able to fast-track and co-ordinate the completion of this and other projects in Co Roscommon so that boil water notices will be lifted for 22,700 customers in Roscommon by the end of this year,” he said.

“We acknowledge the work of the contractors and Roscommon County Council in helping us to achieve this.”

Ireland’s national house prices are up 1.7% in second quarter



The average asking price nationwide for a house is €202,000

House price growth continued in April, May and June with the national asking price rising by 1.7% in the three month period, while prices were up 6.1% on the year.

According to the latest house price survey from, the rate of increase was higher in Dublin with prices up 2.3% over the three months, and 10.4% on the year.

The average asking price nationwide is €202,000, while in Dublin it is €282,000, according to today’s figures. also noted that cash buyers still account for over 50% of transactions in the housing market.

The author of today’s report, Conall MacCoille, chief economist at Davy, said the data pointed to a modest increase in house prices for the rest of the year.

The economist said that while the outlook remains uncertain, he believes house prices look set to rise by close to 10% for the calendar year.

“However as the figures for new instructions indicate, annual price inflation is likely to slow towards 5% by the end of the year. This is not a negative given that wages have not kept pace with house prices, stretching affordability,” he added.

Today’s report also found some evidence that the supply situation for housing was beginning to improve.

Angela Keegan, Managing Director of, said the total number of homes listed on the site rose by 9.4% between the first quarter and the second quarter.

“The upward trend has been most marked in Dublin where we now have 5,550 properties listed, up 18.6% from March,” she added.

Ms Keegan also said that transaction levels remained strong early in 2015, but as with supply, they are coming off a low base.

In the first four months of the year for which the data is close to complete, transaction values are up 59% and by 48% in volume terms on the same time last year.

“While it is encouraging to see the market moving in the right direction the bigger picture continues to show that the Irish housing market remains illiquid. It’s clear we still have some way to go before we can say we have a properly functioning market,” Ms Keegan stated.

With a general election looming, Davy economist Conall MacCoille urged the Government to avoid introducing any measures aimed at relaxing credit constraints and inappropriately stimulating demand even further.

“The key to restoring a healthy Irish housing market is to implement sorely needed measures to alleviate planning and other bottlenecks that are holding back housing supply,” the economist stated.

BBC Three to be axed despite an outcry


The BBC’s director-general Tony Hall last week said the BBC needed to make some more cuts.

BBC3 has been the launchpad for hits such as Gavin and Stacey

BBC Three is to be axed from television despite evidence that moving the youth-oriented channel online will offer poor value for money.

The BBC Trust has given provisional approval to the plans, which, by its own analysis, are likely to limit the channel’s reach among young audiences and alienate viewers in ethnic-minority, lower-income and rural households.

The recommendations will disappoint actors such as Aidan Turner, Olivia Colman and Daniel Radcliffe, who joined the campaign to save the 12-year-old channel, praised as a seedbed of talent that has given many household names their first break.

The trust said the decision had

Children in Ireland who have been diagnosed with cancer

Will be issued with medical cards for five years


The change will apply automatically from tomorrow,

Children under 18 who have been diagnosed with cancer will be issued with a medical cards for five years.

The change will apply automatically from tomorrow, July 1st, according to Fine Gael Senator Colm Burke and TD Mary Mitchell O’Connor.

On a support page for Lucy O’Connor – a nine-year-old girl who was diagnosed with a rare type of cancer in September 2014, and was refused a medical card until February this year – her family writes “one of the positives of going public, with Lucy’s story, is that from July 1st 2015, all children under 18, diagnosed with cancer in Ireland, will receive a medical card for 5 years.”

“Delighted that no other family will have to go public with their story. In saying that, the support from you all has been amazing, so thank you,” the post adds.

Minister for Primary Care, Kathleen Lynch, says it is a key recommendation of the Clinical Advisory Group which was set up to look at medical card eligibility.

Deputy Lynch said, “this decision is welcome. It is in line with the more compassionate approach that we have adopted towards awarding discretionary medical cards.

“I support it and look forward to the HSE implementing it in an efficient and sensitive manner,” she adds.

The free GP care for children under six scheme is also set to commence tomorrow.

Northern Ireland firm 3fivetwo buys Sligo hospital 


A Northern Ireland’s large private healthcare firm is expanding into the Republic as part of its “multi-million pound” investment after buying a private hospital in Sligo.

3fivetwo is finalising a deal to acquire the 19-bed St Joseph’s Hospital, which is set to be rebranded as Kingsbridge Private Hospital Sligo, in a nod to the firm’s private business in Belfast.

The deal secures all 60 jobs at the hospital, and 3fivetwo has said it’s aiming to create new roles on the back of the deal.

The value has not been disclosed, but it is understood much of the “multi-million pound” figure will go towards the “expansion and development of services in the years ahead”.

And the final sale is expected to be agreed in the new few weeks.

Headquartered on the Lisburn Road in south Belfast, the group – which boasted increased turnover of more than £40m in its last set of published accounts – employs 240 staff. That’s alongside the services of a further of 400 consultants and 300 nursing staff.

St Joseph’s Hospital was founded in the 1950s and until early last year was part of the Mount Carmel Medical Group.

Mark Regan, 3fivetwo group development director, told the Belfast Telegraph: “It’s a multi-million pound investment, not in the purchase alone but in the expansion and development of services in the years ahead. You can’t put a price on the provision of healthcare to a local community.

“In addition to obvious benefits for patients, the securing of hundreds of jobs at KPH Sligo and peripheral suppliers is priceless.”

And earlier this month the firm revealed it was adding another 20 jobs as part of a £3m investment.

The company said plans for growth were in response to increasing demand for private health due to budget cuts, soaring waiting lists and pressure on public services.

It now has three facilities in south Belfast, including cosmetic surgery, dental and fertility businesses.

It also operates the Chelsea Private Clinic on King’s Road, London.

And Kingsbridge Private Hospital on Belfast’s Lisburn Road is now being extended in a £2.5m project.

Signs of human-esque communication discovered in babbler birds

A key element of the human language has been discovered in the Australian babbler bird.


A key element of human language has been discovered in the babbler bird.

Stringing together meaningless sounds to create meaningful signals was previously thought to be the preserve of humans alone, but the new study has revealed that babbler birds are also able to communicate in this way.

Researchers at the Universities of Exeter and Zurich discovered that the chestnut-crowned babbler, a highly social bird found in the Australian Outback, has the ability to convey new meaning by rearranging the meaningless sounds in its calls.

This babbler bird communication is reminiscent of the way humans form meaningful words. The research findings, which are reveal a potential early step in the emergence of the elaborate language systems we use today.

Lead author Sabrina Engesser from the University of Zurich said that although previous studies indicate that animals, particularly birds, are capable of stringing different sounds together as part of a complex song, these songs generally lack a specific meaning and changing the arrangement of sounds within a song does not seem to alter its overall message.

In contrast to most songbirds, chestnut-crowned babblers do not sing. Instead its extensive vocal repertoire is characterised by discrete calls made up of smaller acoustically distinct individual sounds, she added.

Researcher think that babbler birds may choose to rearrange sounds to code new meaning because doing so through combining two existing sounds is quicker than evolving a new sound altogether, said co-author Andy Russell.

The researchers noticed that chestnut-crowned babblers reused two sounds “A” and “B” in different arrangements when performing specific behaviours. When flying, the birds produced a flight call “AB”, but when feeding chicks in the nest they emitted “BAB” prompt calls.

The authors report that in the chestnut-crowned babbler, the first sound element “B” is what seems to differentiate the meaning between flight and prompt vocalisations, akin to cat and at in English, where the c represents the meaning differentiating element, or phoneme.


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