News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Friday 28th August 2015

Suspicious package sent to Alan Kelly’s office declared a hoax

 

The package was sent to Alan Kelly’s constituency office in Nenagh, Co Tipperary

A package containing white powder which was sent to Environment Minister Alan Kelly’s constituency office has been declared a hoax.

The alarm was raised after a letter sent to the building on Summerhill in Nenagh, Co Tipperary, was opened by a member of staff.

The Defence Forces’ bomb squad was called in by gardai and declared the scene safe within an hour of arriving.

“The Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) Team was called to deal with what is described as a letter containing suspicious material. The EOD team arrived on scene at 12.40 pm and following an examination declared the letter and material a hoax,” they said.

Mr Kelly was not in the office at the time and it was closed during the scare.

He has spoken openly about threats made against him personally since he took over the environment portfolio and pressed ahead with the roll-out of controversial water charges.

A bomb scare threat was phoned in to his constituency office last year and a death threat was also made against him, while the minister has said other threats have been made against his wife, family and staff.

Mr Kelly said sending the white powder was a deplorable act.

“It is not something any office of any occupation should have to deal with at any time,” he said.

“I will not be making any further comment other than to acknowledge the hard work and dedication of the constituency office staff who regrettably have to encounter such instances. My primary concern is for their health and safety.”

The alarm was raised at 9.05am and the bomb squad declared it safe at 1.30pm after spending under an hour at the office.

Cars, bars and home decor drive Irish economy recovery in retail

Retail sales jump by a record 11.6% in July

    

Retail sales jumped 11.6% in July, the largest monthly rise in 10 years, as new car sales benefitted from the introduction of 152 number plates and consumers spent more in bars and on home decor.

The latest figures from the Central Statistics Office (CSO) indicate retail sales have risen by 9.9% year-on-year.

When motor trades are excluded, the monthly rise was 0.6% and 6.6% on an annual basis.

The sector with the largest monthly increases was motor trades, which saw sales rise 22.9%. New car sales peak due to the dual registration system, which saw the 152 number plates from July 1st.

However, there were also increases in sales of furniture and lighting (+6.7%) and bars (+4.4%).

The sectors with the largest monthly decreases were hardware, paints and glass (-3.5 per cent), books, newspapers and stationery (-2.4%) and food, beverages and tobacco (-1.4%).

On an annual basis, sale in most of the 13 business sectors covered by the survey grew, with car sales (+18.9%), furniture and lighting (+13.8%), and electrical goods (+14.4%) leading the charge.

Only food and beverages recorded a year-on-year decline, falling by 2%.

“Following on from the positive employment and earnings trends, it is little surprise the Irish consumer spending recovery is continuing,” Goodbody economist Dermot O’Leary said.

Noting the jump in car sales, he said the growth in big ticket items was a confirmation of the improvement in consumer confidence and belief about the sustainability of the recovery in the labour market.

He also said the renewed buoyancy in bar sales was “a sign that discretionary spending is also on the up”.

Isme, the Irish Small and Medium Enterprises Association, acknowledged the figures reflected a broad-based recovery.

However, chief executive Mark Fielding said the continuing pressure on margins and the increase in business costs were crippling the sector.

“Irish consumers are holding back a certain amount of spend. However, they are willing to buy when they can see value. Unfortunately for our retailers, that means more sales at higher costs leading to lower profit margins”.

“The Budget could rectify this through a reduction in the tax burden for consumers and a reinstatement of the 4.25% employer’s PRSI”.

HSE investigates Lloyds pharmacy prescription payments

Lloyds denies fraud over boosting income by claiming multiple medical card prescription fees

  

Lawyers for Lloyds Pharmacy criticised the HSE for alleging fraud and breach of contract in a letter sent to managing director Goretti Brady (pictured) earlier this month.

The HSE is investigating the way Lloyds, the largest pharmacy chain in Ireland, has significantly boosted its dispensing fee income by claiming multiple payments from the State for single prescriptions presented by medical card holders.

Individual pharmacies in the LloydsPharmacyIreland chain could boost their fee income by 66 per cent by using a system developed within the company, branch managers were advised in an internal memo.

Lloyds has denied there was any fraud in its practice of claiming up to four fees in a month in respect of a single prescription dispensed in one visit and said its approach was no different to any other pharmacy.

Lawyers for the company criticised the HSE for alleging fraud and breach of contract in a letter sent to Lloyds managing director Goretti Brady earlier this month.

In its replying letter, Lloyds’ lawyers called on the HSE to withdraw the “entirely unfounded” allegation for which no substantiation had been offered.

LloydsPharmacyIreland operates a system known as MyMed, which, in the case of a four-week drug supply, involves putting a patient’s medication into four separate compartmentalised trays, one for each seven-day period. The drugs are all supplied to a patient in a single visit to the pharmacy.

Lloyds claims it is entitled in such a case to both the first dispensation fee of €5 and three additional phased dispensing fees of €3.27 each.

The HSE, however, contends that when all medication is dispensed to a patient on the same date, Lloyds is entitled only to the €5 dispensing fee per prescription item.

Concerns within the HSE were raised when it became aware of a notice from Lloyds head office to its pharmacies, entitled “MyMed Profitability”. The notice said: “Wondering why we’re obsessed with MyMedding?!” and included a graphic which it said “should show you why it’s so important to hit your target. And why it’s even better to hit your target early so you can make a real dent on your overall profitability for the year.”

The notice said the graphic illustrated “the difference in fees between a MyMed and normal dispensing”.

The graphic showed that for five items dispensed for the “regular fee” of €5 each, the total fees would be €25. On another line, the graphic showed that the regular fee of €5 for five items, plus 15 phased fees of €3.27, would result in total fees of €74.05. This would result in an additional €588.60 in dispensing fees for such a MyMed patient in a year, it stated.

Elsewhere, under the graphic, the notice stated: “MyMed increases our dispensing fees by 66%!”

When the HSE wrote to Lloyds about the issue, the pharmacist’s solicitors said they were instructed the MyMed system involved considerable resources and “dramatically increases the time it takes to prepare the prescribed medication for dispensing to patients”. They said Lloyds took the view the process “clearly involves the assembly of four separate weeks’ supply of medication, each of which require to be checked individually and amounts to the dispensing of medication on a phased basis, notwithstanding that all four trays may be supplied to the patient at the one time”.

They added: “It is on this basis that our client claims the additional phased dispensing fees.”

The HSE wrote to Lloyds earlier this month after receiving allegations from a whistleblower and after an inspection last July of certain pharmacies.

The HSE declined to comment on the matter as there was an investigation underway.

A spokeswoman said pharmacists were entitle to claim a fee for each tranche of medicines dispensed. They could claim an additional fee for phased dispensing “in certain narrow circumstances” relating to patient safety or the shelf-life of medicines.

25% of parents leave children alone in the car despite huge risk research reveals

   

Kids not able to share mp3 player

A shocking new study has revealed that a quarter of parents regularly leave their children in the car alone, sometimes for up to a half an hour.

More than 25% of parents admitted leaving children as young as four unattended in a parked vehicle for an average of 22 minutes despite the serious risks involved.

Younger couples were found to take this risk more than older parents as 42pc of parents between the age of 18 and 34 confessed to doing this at least once.

Choosing to leave children in a parked vehicle without supervision poses huge risk of endangerment particularly if they should they release the handbrake.

Mothers were found to be more conscious of the risks involved than dads, leaving children in the car for an average of 17 minutes compared to a dad’s 27 minute average.

The research, carried out by UK company Kwik Fit Insurance, found that parents often return to the car to find the interior has been damaged and alarms have been set off. Children are also found to be bickering upon their parents return.

Parenting expert Richard Curtis revealed that the study’s findings are hugely concerning.

“There are a number of hazards that could pose a risk to children left in an unattended car.

The World Is ‘Locked Into At Least 3 Feet of Sea Level Rise, And Probably More’

   

The world has seen three inches of sea level rise since the early 1990s and we should expect “at least three feet” more by roughly the end of the century, NASA scientists said in a press briefing Wednesday, as global warming accelerates the melting of the planet’s ice sheets and the slow but steady expansion of the oceans.

“Given what we know now about how the ocean expands as it warms and how ice sheets and glaciers are adding water to the seas, it’s pretty certain we are locked into at least three feet of sea level rise, and probably more,” said Dr. Steve Nerem, a professor at the University of Colorado-Boulder and the head of NASA’s Sea Level Change Team. “But we don’t know whether it will happen within a century or somewhat longer.”

NASA released a series of visualizations at Wednesday’s briefing that show just how much sea level rise has varied around the world over the past 23 years, based on satellite data.

While some parts of the world have actually seen sea levels drop thanks to long-term processes like the retreat of ancient glaciers, others (like some Southeast Asian nations) have seen sea levels rise by as much as 9 inches, thanks to periodic ocean cycles like the Pacific Decadal Oscillation.

“Sea level along the west coast of the United States has actually fallen over the past 20 years because long-term natural cycles there are hiding the impact of global warming,” Josh Willis, an oceanographer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) said in a press release.

“However, there are signs this pattern is changing,” he added. “We can expect accelerated rates of sea level rise along this coast over the next decade as the region recovers from its temporary sea level ‘deficit.'”

Global sea level has been measured accurately and continuously by satellites since 1993. (NASA/Steve Nerem, University of Colorado)

Scientists say the sea level rise we’re experiencing today is due to three culprits:

  • The expansion of the oceans as their water warms up. “We know this from basic physics,” NASA points out in this explainer. “When water heats up, it expands. So when the ocean warms, sea level rises.”
  • The loss of ice from the massive Greenland and Antarctica ice sheets
  • The melting of mountain glaciers around the world, such as in Central Asia

The melting of the Greenland ice sheet offers up one of the starkest scenarios of how far sea levels might rise in the future. Spanning some 660,000 square miles – nearly the size of Alaska – and with ice nearly two miles deep at its thickest point, the island’s ice holds the potential to raise global sea levels by about 20 feet.

Though it would take centuries for Greenland’s ice to melt away completely, its melting is accelerating thanks to its location in the Arctic, which is warming up at roughly twice the rate of the rest of the planet. The island’s pattern of losing ice in summer and gaining it back in winter “fell out of balance in the 1990s, and is now shedding more and more ice in the summer than it gains back in the winter,” NASA says.

What’s more, the rest of the world’s glaciers are melting faster than ever today too. Meanwhile, big changes are occurring also at the southern end of the world, where Antarctica’s two major regions have begun to experience big changes over the past decade.

The 2002 breakup of the Larsen B ice shelf on the Antarctic Peninsula served as an omnious sign of things to come. Made up of some 1,250 square miles of floating ice just off the peninsula and stable for more than 10,000 years, the ice shelf broke up that year thanks to warming air and ocean temperatures, and is now gone forever.

That loss has been followed by the breakup of additional ice on the peninsula, which has in turn sped up the flow of glaciers into the ocean. And while the complete melting away of all of Antarctica’s ice would take thousands of years, the continent contains enough ice to raise the world’s oceans by 190 feet.

It’s enough to prompt scientists to ask what could happen in the meantime – especially for the world’s coastal cities –  in the meantime. “We’ve seen from the paleoclimate record that sea level rise of as much as 10 feet in a century or two is possible, if the ice sheets fall apart rapidly,” Tom Wagner, the cryosphere program scientist at NASA Headquarters in Washington, said in a press release.

“We’re seeing evidence that the ice sheets are waking up, but we need to understand them better before we can say we’re in a new era of rapid ice loss.”

While the prevailing view among scientists who specialize in this area has been that much of Antarctica remains stable, “we don’t really know,” said Eric Rignot, a glaciologist at University of California-Irvine.

“Some of the signs we see in the satellite data right now are red flags that these glaciers might not be as stable as we once thought,” Rignot added. “There’s always a lot of attention on the changes we see now, but as scientists our priority needs to be on what the changes could be tomorrow.”

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