Daily Archives: August 7, 2015

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Friday 7th August 2015

AIB to cut variable mortgage rates by 0.25% for all customers

Bank reports H1 profits of €1.2bn on back of significant writebacks


AIB said on Friday that it will cut its variable mortgage interest rate for both new and existing customers by 0.25 %, as it announced first half pre-tax profits of some €1.2bn, up by 50% on the same period in 2014.

AIB said on Friday that it will cut its variable mortgage interest rate for both new and existing customers by 0.25 per cent, as it announced first half pre-tax profits of some €1.2bn, up by 50 per cent on the same period in 2014. It is the third rate reduction from the bank in recent months and follows pressure from Government and public interest groups alike to bring variable rates in line with Euro zone norms.

Customers on a € 200,000 mortgage should save €27 a month or € 325 a year from the latest cut AIB said, which will bring the bank’s standard variable rate down to 3.65%; the rate at Haven will fall to 3.72%; and at EBS to 3.7%. Some 156,000 customers across AIB, EBS and Haven are expected to benefit from the reduction which will come into effect on October 1st. AIB’s chief executive, Bernard Byrne, said, “We committed to keep mortgage rates under constant review and to reduce these rates for both new and existing customers if and when AIB’s funding conditions allowed. Fortunately, we are again in a position to do so today.’’

The bank also announced its H1 results for the six months to June 20th 2015, revealing pre-tax profits rose by €0.8 bn to €1.2bn, on the back of signifcant writebacks of some €540m. AIB said the writebacks reflected “progress in case by case restructuring of impaired loans and the improved economic environment”.

The bank’s net interest margin, excluding the eligible liabilities guarantee (ELG), rose to 1.92 per cent, up from 1.60 per cent in the same period in 2014. Fees and commissions rose by 6 per cent due to increased levels of customer activity. Lending rose by 21 per cent to €6.9bn, while impaired loans fell to € 18bn, down € 4.2bn since December 2014 and by € 11bn since December 2013.

AIB chairman Richard Pym said: “The financial outcome for the half-year is significantly ahead of the expectations we had at the beginning of the year and reinforces our endeavours to see all of the €20.8 billion invested in AIB by Irish taxpayers repaid. Whilst any decision on a future sale of AIB is entirely one for the Irish Government, the results so far this year significantly improve the prospects for a successful transaction whenever it happens.”

The bank said its loan to deposit ratio of 99 per cent was broadly unchanged since December 2014, and net loans were also broadly in line with December 2014 at €64bn.

Minister for Finance Michael Noonan welcomed the results, noting the performance puts the taxpayer in a “strong position” to recoup its € 20.8bn investment.

“I welcome the strong set of results announced by AIB today and their confirmation that they are well positioned to start returning material amounts of capital to the Irish State. This morning’s comment from the bank’s CEO that subject to regulatory approval, the bank is strong enough to do this now, means that the State’s finances should receive a significant benefit in the coming year independent of any decision to sell some of our shares in the bank.”

Inspection of children’s homes is criticised by Ombudsman

Monitoring appears to be ‘discretionary’


The way in which children’s residential homes are inspected and monitored has been severely criticised by the Ombudsman for Children.

There are currently around 100 private and voluntary children’s residential centres in Ireland, which cater for some 340 children. They are monitored by Tusla – the Child and Family Agency – and formerly the HSE.

However, an investigation by the Ombudsman found major gaps in how these centres are registered, monitored and inspected. These gaps included:
-Delays in inspections due to a shortage of inspectors
-Little evidence of unannounced visits
-No evidence of visits at night or weekends
-No national protocol on how often monitoring visits should take place
-No agreed policy on access to inspection reports, which are not published in any format.

In fact, the Ombudsman, Dr Niall Muldoon, said that the monitoring of these centres appeared to be viewed as a ‘discretionary activity’. He has recommended that inspections should be transferred to the Health Information and Quality Authority (HIQA) ‘without delay’.

HIQA is already responsible for the inspection and monitoring of State-run children’s residential centres, with Tusla providing the same service within non-statutory children’s centres.

“The process of inspecting, registering and monitoring these residential centres is an important safeguard for children who are living there. Failure to carry out these functions effectively can potentially have an adverse effect on those children. By seeking to have HIQA take over this process I am looking to create confidence in the independence and consistency of the process for overseeing the homes of some of our most vulnerable children,” Dr Muldoon commented.

As part of the investigation, the Ombudsman assessed inspection reports from 49 centres and monitoring reports from 60 centres. These all related to the period between January 1, 2012 and August 31, 2013.

“It is hoped that this investigation will positively influence the ongoing reforms of Ireland’s child and family support services. Given the importance of independent inspection and of ensuring that all children in the care of the State receive the same standard of care, it is important that the transfer of these functions to HIQA is progressed without delay,” Dr Muldoon added.

Meanwhile back in Co Mayo:

Aras Attracta unit given 28 days to avoid closure

Hiqa issues closure notice for five bungalows at Co Mayo facility


Part of the controversial Áras Attracta home for people with learning disabilities has been given 28 days in which to make improvements by the State’s health watchdog or else face closure.

The Health Information and Quality Authority (Hiqa) has issued the facility with a notice of a proposal to cancel the registration of one of the centres on the campus.

The notice was issued last Tuesday following a two-day unannounced inspection by Hiqa staff of the facility in Swinford, Co Mayo, on July 12th and 13th. This followed previous critical reports on the facility published by Hiqa over the last two years.

The closure notice affects one of the three centres at Áras Attracta, comprising five bungalows. Bungalow 3, which featured in an undercover television documentary last year showing residents being abused, is one of the units affected.

The issues raised in relation to the centre largely relate to governance shortcomings and poor management, it is understood.

The HSE, which operates the facility, has 28 days in which to show it is remedying the fault identified in order to avoid closure.

Staff were expected to be briefed on Thursday on developments.

Six people are facing charges of assaulting residents as a result of a garda investigation begun after last year’s documentary, which showed residents being force-fed, slapped, kicked, physically restrained and shouted at.

Homeless families kicked out of temporary accommodation as council credit card is maxed out


The homeless crisis in Dublin

It has emerged that a number of homeless people were kicked out of temporary accommodation in Dublin this week after the credit card used by the local authorities to secure temporary accommodation was maxed out.

The incident highlights how vulnerable many people have become in the homeless crisis gripping Dublin.

Cllr Jack Chambers (FF) was contacted by one woman who was forced to sleep in an industrial estate with her three children last night as a result.

The Homeless Executive, which processes all homeless accommodation requests on behalf of the four local authorities in Dublin, have confirmed that their credit card was maxed out for two days.

Cllr Chambers called it an extremely disturbing development.

“Homeless families were literally turfed out onto the streets this week because the funds were not there to provide temporary accommodation.

“This is a damning indictment of the Government’s attitude to the homelessness crisis,” he said.

Cllr. Chambers said that Dublin is facing a shortfall of €18.5 million in funding from the Department of the Environment for homeless services this year.

“This will have a ripple effect right across the Capital.  Unless it is addressed, more and more families will be forced to sleep rough,” he said

The family of man who died on daughter’s wedding day express thanks

‘To all who helped on tragic occasion’


Kilronan Castle.

The family of a man who collapsed and died on his daughter’s wedding day have expressed their thanks to everybody who helped on the tragic occasion.

Sean McCauley (70) walked his daughter Anne up the aisle, just hours before he collapsed and tragically passed away.

The tragedy struck the McCauley family of Co Donegal on their big day at Kilronan Castle in Ballyfarnon, Co Roscommon.

Mr McCauley’s brother-in-law Liam McGowan expressed thanks on behalf of the family to all who helped on the tragic occasion and noted in particular the attendance of three members of the staff of Kilronan Castle Hotel at Sean McCauley’s funeral.

“Given time, I’m sure the family will get over their great loss”, he told the inquest.

The band had finished up playing at the wedding reception and the disco had started after midnight on May 17 last.

“We were having a great day and about 1.20am the disco had started and we went to say goodbye to Sean and the family. Sean was on the dance floor with his wife and as I turned away a man behind me went to shake Sean’s hand”, Mr McGowan said.

At that moment Sean collapsed and emergency medical help was summoned.

Dr David Swan, who was a wedding guest, attended him as well as two paramedics who arrived following an emergency call for an ambulance.

The medics worked on Sean for 30 minutes, but he was unresponsive and he was pronounced dead shortly afterwards.

Consultant pathologist, Dr Caroline Brodie carried out a subsequent autopsy and told the inquest that Sean had a previous history of cardiac problems. He had suffered a heart attack.

He had a complete blockage of the right coronary artery and Dr Brodie determined the cause of death to be cardiac failure.

The inquest jury returned a verdict in accordance with the medical evidence and Roscommon Coroner, Desmond O’Connor expressed his sincere sympathy to the McCauley family.

Mr O’Connor described it as “an unfortunate and very sad start to married life” for Mr McCauley’s daughter and he hoped that the family could put it behind them in time and look forward to better days.

Mr McGowan said the family wanted to express their thanks to all who had helped on the tragic occasion.

New shrimp-like species found off southwest coast of Ireland

Deep-sea crustaceans have ability to strip a pig carcass of meat in a matter of days


The paracallisoma alberti species of amphipod.

Two new species of shrimp-like crustaceans have been discovered off the south-west coast of Ireland by British researchers.

The two species are amphipods, small scavenging crustaceans around 3mm in length. Their discovery was reported in the scientific journal Zootaxa, in a paper by researchers Dr Tammy Horton and Dr Michael Thurston of the National Oceanography Centre in Southhampton.

What the researchers say is most notable about the newly identifed species, given the names Paracallisoma idioxenos and Haptocallisoma lemarete, is their scavenging patterns.

Amphipods generally move in swarms to strip the carcasses of marine animals including whales and fish, and these new species have the ability to strip a pig carcass in a matter of days.

Dr Horton named the species in honour of the late taxonomist Roger Bamber, who died in February of this year.

“I gave the species name ‘lemarete’ to one of the amphipods because it translates from Greek to ‘Bold and Excellent’, which is the motto on Roger Bamber’s coat of arms.”

Dr Horton described amphipods as “incredibly diverse and adaptable”, with over 10,000 known species.

Professor Andrew Gooday at the National Oceanography Centre said that amphipods like those discovered are highly common and found in large numbers. “They occur from shallow waters to the deepest part of the ocean.”

These newly discovered species are only found in deep waters, over 2.5 km below sea level.

“There’s no danger of paddling in the sea and encountering flesh-eating crustaceans,” Prof Gooday added.


News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Thursday 6th August 2015

Hundreds of survivors from capsized fishing boat taken by Irish navy vessel LÉ Naimh to Italy

  Surviving migrants are brought aboard Irish and Italian Navy life-boats in the area where their wooden vessel capsized and sank off the coast of Libya on Wednesday. Photograph: Reuters

Hundreds of people who survived the capsizing of a smugglers’ fishing boat have been brought to Italy.

Among those rescued was a Palestinian man who saved his wife by giving her his life jacket, then diving below the surface to grab their toddler daughter as she disappeared.

Military vessels and aircraft from a multi-nation operation were searching waters off Libya, a day after the 20-metre (66-foot) boat overturned as rescuers were approaching.

With seas warm and calm, rescuers expressed hopes others might be alive.

In the first hours after the accident on Wednesday, 367 survivors were rescued and 25 bodies recovered.

Military officials from the Republic of Ireland, whose navy vessel the LÉ Niamh was among those at the scene, said they were given an initial estimate of 600 migrants aboard the smugglers’ boat.

If that estimate holds, as many as 200 migrants might have drowned.

At least 367 survivors were taken aboard the LÉ Naimh, which was approaching the dock at Palermo, Sicily, by late afternoon.

The Italian Navy, which had two ships in the rescue operation, said three survivors were flown by helicopter for medical treatment aboard the Doctors Without Borders ship Dignity1.

One was a man with a fractured leg. The other was a mother, with one-year-old son, who needed dialysis.

Three other injured survivors were flown out by another navy helicopter to a hospital on the tiny Italian island, Lampedusa, south of Sicily.

When the Dignity1 arrived at the capsizing site, it was hard to tell how many were in the water, Juan Matias Gil, a Doctors Without Borders search and rescue operations field co-ordinator, said.

“All in all, there were no more than 50 people” in the water, Mr Gil said.

“There were some bodies floating, so it was quite a shocking scene.”

During the rescue, crew of Dignity1 tossed life vests and life preservers as survivors swam frantically to boats.

Video made aboard Dignity1 and released by Doctors Without Borders showed the Palestinian family.

The mother caressed the hand of her daughter Azeel, a little more than one year old, as the father, Mohammed, sat next to them.

“They all went into the water, with only one life jacket,” Mr Gil said.

“So this life jacket was with the father, who gave the life jacket to his wife, because she didn’t know how to swim. “After that he saw that the baby was getting deep in the water” and in danger of drowning.

“After he came out with the baby, they were seen, they were rescued and they were brought aboard” Dignity1, Mr Gil said.

Several Syrians were among those rescued, including a pregnant woman who at first appeared in danger of miscarriage.

Ireland set to record a good year in tourism this year


But industry warned not to blow boom by overcharging holidaymakers like in the past

Ireland is on target for a record year in terms of tourist numbers, according to latest figures

Ireland is on target for a record year in terms of tourist numbers but the industry has been warned by Government not to “make the mistakes of the past” by overcharging.

CSO figures for the first half of 2015 show almost 12% growth in overseas visitors North and South – an additional 407,100 when compared with January to June 2014.

Minister for Tourism Paschal Donohoe said the figures showed Ireland was on track for earnings of €5 billion per year in 10 years’ time.

But in a strongly worded message to the industry he said the special nine per cent rate of Vat was dependent on the industry offering value for money. He warned the Government would keep this in mind, when deciding whether to renew the special rate.

“We must be mindful of the mistakes that were made in the past and ensure they are not repeated. Our value for money rating has improved dramatically in recent years” he said, noting that the latest figures represented “out best half year performance ever”.

According to tourism Ireland, growth this year has come from all key markets especially Britain, North America and Mainland Europe. Key factors that aided the boom were value for money – especially for sterling and dollar holidaymakers – the attraction of the Wild Atlantic Way, air access and the abolition of travel tax in the South.

Mr Donohoe said he would like to see another US city added to the list of destinations flying to Ireland, but he did not specify which one.

Niall Gibbons CEO of Tourism Ireland, which is a North/South body set up to promote the whole island, said the nine% vat rate and zero rated air travel tax were not available in Northern Ireland. This was because taxes in the North were a function of the Westminster Parliament, but he said there was considerable enthusiasm for the adoption of such measures within the legislative assembly in Northern Ireland.

Mr Gibbons said Tourism Ireland was determined to maximise the number of new year-round and winter air routes into Ireland which included new CityJet flights from London to Cork and Aer Lingus from Dusseldorf to Cork.

Additional capacity is to be installed this winter on Aer Lingus routes from Paris, Amsterdam, Brussels, Zurich and Geneva . Lufthansa is increasing capacity on its Munich–Dublin route; Ryanair on its routes from Copenhagen and Venice, Barcelona, Berlin and Madrid. In addition Aer Lingus will increase capacity on transatlantic routes while Delta is increasing capacity from JFK New York to Dublin.

Mr Donohoe said the tourism sector was on track to meet Government targets for 2025 which included €5 billion in overseas tourism revenue, an extra 50,000 jobs in the sector and 10 million overseas visits to Ireland, compared to 7.6 million in 2014.

The increased traffic into Ireland in the first six months of 2015 came from Germany (+12%); France (+13%; Spain (+15%); Italy (+32%); Benelux (+11%) and the Nordic region (+ 5%).

The increase from Britain was 9.4%, while from North America it was 15%.

Seán FitzPatrick’s vain attempt to adjourn his trial is denied

Former Anglo chairman had sought the adjournment due to recent publicity


An application to adjourn the trial of former Anglo Irish Bank chairman Seán FitzPatrick has been denied.

The trial of former Anglo Irish Bank chairman Seán FitzPatrick is to proceed in October after an application for adjournment by his defence was denied.

Lawyers for Mr FitzPatrick (66) – who has pleaded not guilty to 27 charges under the 1990 Companies Act – made the application due to concerns over the publicity surrounding a recent, separate trial of three Anglo officials.

Bernard Condon SC, defending, had told the Dublin CircuitCriminal Court “a cascade of sludge” was visited on the head of his client during those proceedings.

However, in his ruling on Thursday, Judge Martin Nolan declined the application pointing out that the defendant had been the subject of attention for years.

“Anybody living in this country has to be aware of the huge amount of adverse publicity that has been directed toward Sean FitzPatrick since 2008,” he said.

He believes a jury can deal with the case impartially, he said, and that Mr Fitzpatrick’s acquittal at a separate recent criminal trial underscored his confidence in this regard, in that the jury arrived at a verdict based on the facts of the case.

“Mr Fitzpatrick’s reputation is negative at this stage,” he said. “It seems to me the trial should go on.”

In a brief outline of his decision, Judge Nolan said it was his job to ensure the defendant had a fair trial and an impartial jury.

He said his decision must also take into account whether an adjournment would allow the “odium and ridicule” heaped upon Mr Fitzpatrick to fade over a period of time from the public memory.

Prosecuting counsel Paul O’Higgins, he said, had previously argued that two months would suffice in this regard.

In the meantime, “villains and heroes” will be produced in the media alongside other distractions like the forthcomingRugby World Cup, All-Irelands and the pending general election.

The recently-concluded case regarding former Anglo officials, which formed the basis of the defence’s application, had taken its own course and heard comments from counsel, witnesses and the judge.

“I have no doubt these comments were proper,” in relation to the case being tried, Judge Nolan said.

Mr FitzPatrick’s charges include 21 of making a misleading, false or deceptive statement to auditors and six of furnishing false information from 2002 to 2007. The trial will begin on October 5th.

The use of Irish language in Northern Ireland differs from the Republic


Linda Irvine, wife of former PUP leader Brian Ervine, pictured in east Belfast as she helps bring the Irish Language to the community

People in the Republic learn Irish “to pass exams” but in Northern Ireland they are motivated by the love of it, an official study has found.

The Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) said the stark cross border differences also showed that people who are passionate about their native tongue for reasons of identity are more likely to use it.

The state think-tank warned Irish will not flourish unless ways are found to encourage people to learn it and use it in everyday life.

Using data from a number of studies the ESRI reported that in the Republic 30% of people who learned the language for “its own sake” used it every week, compared to 19% who learned it for another reason.

ESRI author Dr Merike Darmody said research suggested that activists need to be encouraged in order to bring Irish into everyday mainstream use.

“People in the Republic seem to have a much more pragmatic attitude. They say we need it to pass exams,” she said.

“Many people who are positive about the language don’t actively speak it – that’s similar to the experience seen in Wales.

“Particularly in Northern Ireland, considering that it was much more prevalent – you learn the language for it’s own sake so it shows that issues around identity and national identity are more prevalent.”

The ESRI said about half of those who learned Irish in school in the Republic did so to pass exams while almost nine out of 10 people surveyed in Northern Ireland said they wanted to know and have Irish and were drawn to it for reasons of identity.

It said that while school children in the Republic often have a bad attitude towards the language their parents feel more positive about it but it does not translate into significant use.

Vodafone ordered to tell Irish customers how to cancel their contracts


Mobile giant Vodafone has been ordered to tell Irish customers how they can cancel their contracts.

A state watchdog said the telecoms company was not complying with consumer protection legislation.

In an enforcement order, Vodafone was told to change its website to make sure customers are fully advised on their legal rights to drop their subscription before they make a purchase.

The Competition and Consumer Protection Commission said Vodafone “was not complying with consumer law” over the information that should be provided to customers.

Anyone who bought goods or services from the company online over the last year can get details on how to cancel.

Isolde Goggin, chairwoman of the commission, said: “Customers of Vodafone will in the future be given the correct information as required by law.

“In addition, customers who bought goods or services online from Vodafone in the past 12 months and who now wish to cancel their contract can find details of how to do so in the customer notices section of the Vodafone website.”

Earlier this year, compliance notices were issued to eircom, eMobile, Meteor, Three and UPC over consumer protection laws.

UPDATE 3.55pm: Vodafone Ireland have released the following statement on the matter:

Vodafone acknowledges the findings of the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (CCPC) in relation to customers purchasing products and services through its online sales channel.

The CCPC asked Vodafone to clarify a customer’s rights to cancel a contract pursuant to the European Union (Consumer Information, Cancellation and Other Rights) Regulations 2013 (the ‘Consumer Information Regulations’) and specifically to clarify their rights to a fourteen day “cooling off period” and the cancellation procedure to be used in doing so.

Vodafone has now clarified this information on its website for customers who have purchased a product/service online through their e-shop, to ensure that the customer’s cancellation rights are clearly outlined and easy to understand.

Vodafone apologises to its online customers in relation to this matter. It has worked with the CCPC in relation to this issue and is confident that these matters have been fully dealt with and that the company’s e-shop is now compliant with these requirements set out by the CCPC.

Flesh-eating ‘piranhas’ found in south west coast of Irish waters


Piranha have been discovered prowling off the south-west coast

The tiny sea crustaceans – which are the same size as just three grains of salt – have been discovered prowling off the south-west coast

The world’s smallest flesh-eating piranha-like creature is lurking in the sea off the Irish coast.

And don’t be fooled by its tiny 3mm length – the deep-sea creature can take on whales and Great White sharks and strip the flesh from dead pigs and other livestock within hours.

The tiny sea crustaceans – which are the same size as just three grains of salt – have been discovered prowling off the south-west coast.

Called amphipods and incredibly tiny, they are like mini-piranha because they have teeth sharp enough to tear through the carcasses of dead whales and sharks which sink to the ocean bed.

A team of scientists from Southampton’s National Oceanography Centre also revealed the miniature sea beasties have been known to devour pig corpses within a few hours.

Billions of the terrifying crustaceans live in depths of down to 4,500m in the North Atlantic and hunt in huge shoals to eat the remains of dead marine animals, from whales to seabirds.

NOC scientists set out to catch them using a trap filled with mackerel bait, and were shocked to discover they snared 40,000 of the creatures, which have since been named after late biologist Roger Bamber.

Lead author Dr Tammy Horton revealed: “Amphipods are incredibly diverse and adaptable – there are currently around 10,000 known species.

“They live in all marine environments, from shallow waters to the oceans deepest trenches, on land and in fresh water.

“I gave the species name ‘lemarete’ to one of the amphipods because it translates from Greek to ‘bold and excellent’, which is the motto on Roger Bamber’s coat of arms.

“Roger always put a lot of thought into the names he gave species, such as the tanaid species he named after a creature in Terry Pratchett’s Discworld.”

The research forms part of the NOCs ongoing deep-sea study, linking with the oil and gas industry on how their work affects the environment.