News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Sunday 12th July 2015

Merkel & Co turns the screw on Greece

Intense pressure put on Alexis Tsipras to accept tough reforms and austerity measures

  

Tonight’s talks have been described as a “mental waterboarding” of the Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras.

GREECE has now been presented with the Eurozone’s demands for a new bailout programme, and the proposals on the table would see the Greeks forced to vote through sweeping changes by Wednesday night.

The proposals would see Greece streamlining its VAT procedures, broadening its tax base, and implementing a raft of spending cuts among other demands.

Premier Alexis Tsipras was tonight put through the wringer in a meeting with Donald Tusk, Angela Merkel and Francois Hollande, where he was left under no illusions that the swift reforms are expected to be implemented this week.

Greek officials are believed to be ‘humiliated’ by today’s events, and highly critical of the hardline stance being taken by German Chancellor Merkel.

Fianna Fáil in panic as Bertie Ahern will defends the Irish boom

Ireland better off even after bust, ex-Taoiseach to claim

    

The former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern will this week defiantly claim the Irish people are better off because of his Celtic Tiger policies, even after the worst economic crash in the country’s history

Former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern will this week defiantly claim the Irish people are better off because of his Celtic Tiger policies, even after the worst economic crash in the country’s history.

Mr Ahern is expected to make the controversial claim in evidence when he appears before the Oireachtas Banking Inquiry next Thursday, the Sunday Independent understands.

Senior Fianna Fail sources have said the party is gripped with “alarm” and “deep nervousness” over Mr Ahern’s testimony to the inquiry, fearing it could precipitate a backlash in the opinion polls.

“God knows what he will say, there is certainly a fear he could wipe three or four points off our poll rating if it goes badly,” one senior Fianna Fail party figure said.

Speaking to the Sunday Independent, former minister and aunt of the late Brian Lenihan, Mary O’Rourke, said she is “alarmed” at the potential fallout of Mr Ahern’s sworn evidence at the inquiry.

She said: “If he could replicate Brian Cowen, he’d do well. I am a bit afraid of what Bertie Ahern might say.”

His appearance comes as the Sunday Independent has learned that economist and Central Bank director Alan Gray, who was contacted by Mr Cowen on the night of the bank guarantee, is to be called to give evidence, given his central role in events.

Inquiry members have conceded that they had not realised the significance of Mr Gray’s involvement but now consider him to be a key witness.

Following the evidence of his successor Brian Cowen to the inquiry, it is expected that Mr Ahern will tell members that the crash saddened him and that he regrets what happened.

It is expected he will say the crash left him devastated, but it is understood that Mr Ahern will strongly argue that even with the crash, the policies he and his governments pursued have left Ireland a better country and its people better off.

He is likely to state that it would be wrong to say that all of the Celtic Tiger gains were eviscerated by the crash.

Mr Ahern is expected to say that while he did not get everything right during his time in office, he feels he sincerely tried his best to do the right thing by the Irish people.

While Mr Ahern – who was forced to resign from Fianna Fail in 2012 in the wake of the publication of the Mahon Tribunal report – is also expected to express some regret for the crash, he is expected to express his happiness at getting a lot of things right during his tenure.

Mr Ahern is expected to claim in his evidence that his policies and those of his government during the Celtic Tiger years changed the lives of hundreds of thousands of people across the country.

The Sunday Independent understands that Mr Ahern will also attempt to spread the blame for the crash onto State and international agencies for failing to diagnose the crash.

He is expected to specifically criticise the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) and the IMF, it is believed. In spreading the blame, Mr Ahern is expected to point to the economic analysis of a host of international economic agencies, including the IMF, EC and the OECD, as setting the stage for the country’s economic outlook.

It is not the first time Mr Ahern has sought to spread the blame for not spotting the crisis in the Irish banks.

On the day he left the Dail for the last time, Mr Ahern said: “If I have any regrets, it is that I would have loved if somebody somewhere would have told me what was going on in the banks in this country, but no one ever did, we get wise after the event.”

Mr Ahern is also expected to staunchly defend the role and influence of social partnership, saying it helped to broaden the influence beyond the reach of a small group of elites.

He is expected to argue that it is important that access to government is granted to a broad group – rather than a small elite, and that is what social partnership allowed.

But, Mr Ahern’s appearance has raised fears within FF as to the impact of what he might say on the party so close to the general election.

People have pointed to recent utterances where he was critical of former colleagues and fear he could use the inquiry to put pressure on party leader Micheal Martin, whom he has been publicly critical of.

His pointed criticism of the late Brian Lenihan in a TV programme on his legacy raised eyebrows.

“He was unnecessarily sharp, but I would think that. Another part of me would think that is just Bertie,” Ms O’Rourke said yesterday.

Mr Ahern also recently made a point at a recent O’Donovan Rossa commemoration at Glasnvein, that he was “no longer a member of Fianna Fail”.

Leading members of Fianna Fail have expressed their happiness at how well the Brian Cowen hearings went and said that government attempts to use the inquiry to damage Fianna Fail have backfired.

Fianna Fail TD and Public Accounts Committee chairman John McGuinness said: “If it was meant to be a stitch up of Fianna Fail it hasn’t worked.

“It has failed to materialise to the extent the government parties had hoped it would.”

Health crisis mud beginning to stick to Leo Varadkar

One year in charge and it’s going wrong for health Minister Varadkar.

    

It was great for a while, wasn’t it? The more Leo Varadkar says he would do nothing about the health system, the more people thought he was deadly.

For months after becoming health minister, Varadkar won plaudit after plaudit for lowering expectations for what he would do before the general election.

But, a year into his reign, King Leo’s crown is beginning to slip, as the murky reality of the worst department of government begins to get the better of him.

It is now a measure of how his first year has gone, one suspects that Taoiseach Enda Kenny would be more than happy to reappoint Leo Varadkar to the quagmire of the Department of Health after the next election.

Varadkar’s move to Hawkins House one year ago was significant on two fronts.

From the Government’s perspective, it put an end to the shambolic era of Dr James Reilly, who, through his Universal Health Insurance plan, placed the financial viability of the State at risk, according to money minister Brendan Howlin.

Three years of over-promising and under-delivering had risked sinking the Coalition on more than one occasion.

Ruairi Quinn, when education minister, famously told his party colleagues at a private meeting that concerns of backbenchers about Dr Reilly were “shared by their Cabinet colleagues”.

But for Varadkar, the move into health would be the greatest test of his political and intellectual skill set, given the myriad of daily crises faced. If Varadkar managed to get to the next election unscathed, then his leadership ambitions or at least his promotion ambitions will not have been dented.

So, on taking office, Varadkar immediately, and very deliberately, set about doing everything differently from Reilly.

From his first press conference on the plinth in Leinster House on the day the reshuffle happened, Varadkar lowered everyone’s expectations as to what he would do.

He had only 18 months, couldn’t fix a health system in that time, he said. Rather he would tinker with a few bits and bobs, put some manners on the budget and hopefully hand the grenade over to someone else.

By immediately saying he wasn’t going to bother to try and transform the system, people couldn’t ask him why he wasn’t transforming the health system.

A short time later, he dumped Reilly’s beloved child of UHI from a height, saying the timescale put forward by his bumbling predecessor was too ambitious. In political speak, this meant it was all but dead.

Being “slapped down” by Kenny at the start of September over UHI appeared to only increase the lusty anticipation of what life under Leo would be like within Fine Gael.

Varadkar also began talking of the need for a “realistic budget” in Health for 2015 in the run-up to the October Budget day, and for the first time since taking office in 2011, Howlin had the capacity to accede to that request. And unlike Reilly, who lost out time and time again, the new minister got the extra funds.

His personal approval rating soared after he became the first openly gay minister to reveal his sexuality earlier this year.

But the last six months have seen a barrage of negative news stories which are beginning to take the gloss off Varadkar’s halo.

We have had the disturbing Prime Time expose into disability care added to a series of negative inspection reports into disability services, deeply alarming stories about the standard of care at the country’s maternity hospitals, record-high numbers of patients waiting on trolleys as well as ever-lengthening waiting times for treatments.

Latest figures show that the number of people waiting more than a year for an outpatient appointment rose to 61,400 at the end of December, with 385,781 in total waiting to be seen.

He was caught on the hop when, in January, he was on his holidays in Miami when the number of patients on trolleys topped 600.

In April, Varadkar got an additional €70m to address hospital overcrowding and to cut waiting times for patients.

Most of the money went on the nursing home support scheme in a bid to remove so-called “bed blockers” out of the system, but critics have branded this as a sticking-plaster solution.

Clinicians have argued that since the 1980s, almost 2,500 acute hospital beds have been removed from the system, and with an ageing population, the shortfall has resulted in the emergency department log jams. They argue the way to resolve the issue is to open more beds.

Varadkar has also come in for criticism from his own friend and former colleague, Lucinda Creighton, after he appeared to suggest UHI was still alive. Creighton has expressed astonishment at the revelation that just five members of staff within the Department of Health are working on the government’s highly touted Universal Health Insurance policy.

Commenting on the skeleton nature of the staff, Ms Creighton said: “The revelation that just five staff are now assigned to the Universal Health Insurance unit within the Department of Health in 2015 is indicative of how far the issue has slipped down the Coalition political priority list.”

But even this week, Varadkar has drawn the ire of Howlin after he suggested he would need another €1bn to safely deliver healthcare.

Howlin, on Wednesday, said: “A billion seems to be the annual figure that ministers for health demand, it’s a nice round figure, and for the four years I’ve been here, it’s the sum looked for.”

Varadkar is clearly a capable politician and a man of real intellect, but the stark realities appear to be getting the better of him.

Water protesters ‘trap a Labour Senator in his car’

    

A Labour senator Denis Landy has revealed how he was trapped inside his car, while bottles and stones were thrown at it, during a water charge protest in Dublin last week.

Senator Denis Landy, aged 53, said that he and a member of his staff were trapped in the car for about 20 minutes by protesters while he tried to get to Leinster House.

The Carrick-on-Suir native said: ”It was extremely unpleasant to be surrounded by people firing implements at your car.

“This is our national parliament and we should be allowed to come and go in a democracy without being subject to that type of abuse.”

He said that the protest delayed him by more than three hours.

He added: “I originally wanted to leave at 6pm for a meeting, but eventually left at 7.30pm and again my car was surrounded on Kildare Street so I had no option but to abandon it and leave.”

Higher education could increase your life expectancy

 

Education is pretty important. A new study reveals how less-educated counterparts were more likely to deal with certain health risks.

New findings published in the journal PLOS ONE suggest that getting a college degree could actually reduce the risk of early mortality.

Researchers at the University of Colorado, New York University and the University of North Carolina discovered that going back to high school to finish degrees helped avert as many deaths as smokers who chucked the habit.

The study noted how those who attain higher education–namely a high school diploma or college degree–have a much lower mortality rate due to associated factors such as healthier behavior, enhanced cognitive performance, higher income and overall psychological well being.

During the study, researchers examined the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)’s National Health Interview Survey and other information, looking at data from 1 million people between the ages of 1986 and 2006. Focusing on those born in 1925, 1935 and 1945, findings revealed that over 145,000 deaths could have potentially been postponed if many of the participants had just received their high school diploma or GED.

Furthermore, the study results showed that close to 110,000 deaths may have been avoided if adults with some college had gone on to attain their bachelor’s degree.

“Broadly, life expectancy is increasing, but those with more education are reaping most of the benefits,” said researchers Virginia Chang, associate professor of public health at NYU’s Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development and College of Global Public Health. “In addition to education policy’s obvious relevance for improving learning and economic opportunities, its benefits to health should also be thought of as a key rationale. The bottom line is paying attention to education has the potential to substantively reduce mortality.”

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