News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Tuesday 15th September 2015

EU ministers fail to agree relocation scheme for growing numbers of refugees

Germany shifts stance as officials try to cope with large numbers crossing borders


French interior minister Bernard Cazeneuve (left) and German interior minister Thomas de Maziere leave after an European Union interior and justice ministers emergency meeting on the migrants situation in Brussels.

EU immigration policy was in disarray on Monday night after ministers failed to reach agreement on a relocation scheme for refugees and countries began to introduce border checks within the union’s free travel area.

Following a prolonged meeting of justice minister in Brussels, member states failed to back a refugee relocation plan proposed by the European Commission last week. There was significant opposition from a number of central and east European countries to the idea of mandatory quotas.

Ministers will revisit the issue on October 8th but the development is a blow to European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker’s proposal to introduce the quotas, a move expected to set an important precedent for EU asylum policy.

Speaking in Brussels on Monday night after the meeting, Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald said she was “disappointed” at the failure to reach agreement but she stressed a majority of ministers did back the plan.

“There is a large majority in favour of the figure of 120,000, and the legal instrument was agreed today for the 40,000 [relocation plan], but there are some member states that are not in a position to commit to that figure today,” she said.

‘Urgent and dramatic’

Luxembourg’s minister for foreign affairs Jean Asselborn, who chaired the meeting, said the situation facing Europe was “urgent and dramatic” but it was”too early” for a decision to be taken as “procedures have to be respected”.

The ministers also considered new proposals to tighten the EU’s external borders, including a plan to detain and potentially tag illegal immigrants in centres in an effort to shore up support from countries opposing relocation measures.

While the justice ministers grappled with the migration crisis in Brussels, the Schengen free-travel zone appeared to be unravelling.

Germany’s decision on Sunday to introduce border checks on its borders with Austria has triggered a wave of similar moves by other EU countries – Austria, Slovakia and the Netherlands have all followed suit.

The European Commission denied that the Schengen convention- the free-movement zone that has been a cornerstone of EU policy for two decades – was under threat, pointing out that existing legislation permits countries to introduce temporary border controls in emergency situations.

Germany saidon Monday it now expects to receive 1 million refugees this year, up from a figure of 800,000 cited last week. Berlin has shifted its stance in recent days as its authorities struggle to cope with the numbers crossing its borders.

While German chancellor Angela Merkel took a lead role in welcoming refugees to the European Union by promising refuge to hundreds of thousands of asylum seekers from Syria, vice-chancellor Sigmar Gabriel has said Germany is “reaching its limits” when it comes to migrants. There have been previous instances of countries introducing border checks within the common travel area, but Germany’s unexpected move is by far the biggest breach of EU free movement rules in its history.

Speaking from Jordan on Monday, British prime minister David Cameron defended his country’s response to the Syrian refugee crisis, as he called on EU member states to increase aid to Syria. “Without British aid, hundreds of thousands more could be risking their lives seeking to get to Europe,” he said.

Meanwhile in Hungary, workers erected the final sections of a 4-metre-high steel fence topped with razor wire on the country’s frontier with Serbia, a centre-piece of prime minister Viktor Orban’s response to the migration crisis.

Police, backed by troops, stopped migrants walking into Hungary along a railway line from Serbia on Monday afternoon as the fence was completed.

From midnight to 4pm on Monday, 7,437 migrants entered Hungary from Serbia – beating a single-day record set on Sunday – and most were quickly put on trains and buses to the border with Austria, where they now face security checks.

A spokesman for the UN refugee agency said each country had the right to protect its borders but warned that it was “very important” that people fleeing war and persecution could find protection; most migrants now arriving in Europe are from conflict zones like Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq.

More than half of Irish homes pay water bills after the second cycle

Compliance with water charges now stands at 51%.


The number of homes paying their water charges has passed the 50 per cent mark, as Irish Water nears the end of its second billing cycle.

Initial results released earlier this summer for the first bills sent by the company showed that 43 per cent of homes had paid their water charges.

The figures were seized on by anti-water charges protesters, while Eurostat also cited poor compliance rates as a reason to classify Irish Water on the Government balance sheet earlier this year.

The first billing cycle covered usage for January, February and March and 675,000 households, out of a total of 1.52 million, paid. The second billing cycle applied for usage over April, May and June, with these bills sent from July.

Irish Water has yet to send out all bills for this period.

In a statement to The Irish Times, Irish Water said 100,000 more homes had so far paid their water bills than had initially done for the first three months of billing.

The company said the number of homes now paying bills is “at least” 775,000, which gives a compliance rate of 51 per cent. The company also said some people were paying their first bill at the same time as their second.

Government sources have expressed hope the compliance rate will rise to 60 per cent by the time of the general election.

During the second billing cycle, Irish Water issued reminders for the first time to homes which had not paid their bills. The reminders included letters, text messages and telephone calls.

Minister of State at the Department of the Environment Paudie Coffey said the “momentum is building” on compliance. “We won’t have the full cycle until the end of October but the indications are good and as time will pass compliance will grow,” he said. “Obviously nobody likes new charges but there are no alternatives.”

Irish hospitals facing heavy penalty fines for failing to cut waiting lists

Penalties for non-performing hospitals expected to run into millions of euro


Heavy fines are to be imposed from this month on low-performing hospitals that fail to meet Minister for Health Leo Varadkar’s targets for cutting waiting lists.

The fines are being levied in respect of almost 8,000 patients who were on waiting lists for over 18 months in August.

Mr Varadkar had previously promised there would be such no long-term waiters from the middle of this year.

As part of a carrot-and-stick approach, the Minister is also releasing €25 million to the HSE so that hospitals can meet his second target of nobody waiting for more than 15 months for appointments or treatment by the end of the year. This is in addition to the €26 million already provided this year to fund the 18-month target.

The level of fines to be imposed is currently being calculated based on the cost of the procedures and appointments involved, but are expected to run into millions of euro.

The money involved will be diverted from non-performing hospitals to other hospitals or clinics where the work can be performed.


Exceptions will be made for a small number of specialities where the targets could not be met because of a shortage of specialist staff or pre- and post-surgical supports.

Alternatives such as outsourcing to the private sector will be used in these cases.

Among the hospitals likely to be fined are Galway University Hospital, where 2,320 patients are waiting over 18 months, and Tallaght and Cork University hospitals, with 1,000 long-term waiters each. The mechanism for sanctioning hospitals that fail to meet targets was devised during discussions between the HSE and theDepartment of Health over the summer.

It is intended the fines will continue to be levied on a monthly basis until hospitals reach the targets set by the Minister.

Started to rise

The number of long waiters has started to rise again since the Minister’s target date of last June. Figures published by The Irish Times last weekend showed the number of patients waiting over 18 months for an outpatient appointment was up 465 per cent, while the number waiting for inpatient procedures soared by 7,100 per cent.

The fines are being put in place to stop the figures from slipping back.

In September, fines will be imposed in respect of 6,800 outpatients and 1,000 inpatients still on the list after 18 months. Fines are not being imposed where appointments have been made.

Specific action plans are being put in place for some procedures, such as removal of wisdom teeth, varicose veins, urology and some spinal surgeries. Eleven additional scoliosis patients will have been treated by the end of this month in the Blackrock Clinic and another 56 will be treated in Dublin or London by the end of the year.

Hospitals have been told to carry out urgent colonoscopies within the target time of four weeks, with a zero tolerance policy applying to breaches.

Separately, Mr Varadkar will today attend a meeting of the emergency department taskforce dealing with the trolley crisis.

Despite the provision of extra funding, trolley numbers were up 40 per cent last month compared to the previous August.

Archaeologists find bones of man killed about 1,000 years ago

Skeleton of teenager who suffered violent death discovered in tree roots in Co Sligo


The man’s lower leg bones in his grave left pic & right the fallen beech tree.

Archaeologists have discovered the remains of a young man who suffered a violent death almost a millennium ago at Collooney, Co Sligo.

The teenager had two stab wounds to the chest and one to his left hand, presumably from trying to ward off his attacker.

The skeletal remains were found among the roots of a massive beech tree which toppled over after more than 200 years.

The National Monuments Service commissioned a rescue excavation to recover the remains before further damage was caused.

“As excavations go, this was certainly an unusual situation,” said Dr Marion Dowd of Sligo-Leitrim Archaeological Services.

“The upper part of the skeleton was raised into the air trapped within the root system. The lower leg bones, however, remained intact in the ground. Effectively as the tree collapsed, it snapped the skeleton in two.”

Analysis of the bones by osteoarchaeologist Dr Linda Lynch revealed the remains were those of a 17-20 year old man. He was over 5ft 10in in height making him taller than the average medieval person. Mild spinal joint disease suggests he was involved in physical labour from a young age.

Radiocarbon dates indicate the young man died in the 11th or 12th century, between 1030 and 1200 AD.

He was given a Christian burial. While historical records state the presence of a church and graveyard in the area, no above-ground trace survives and no other skeletons were encountered during the excavations.

“This burial gives us an insight into the life and tragic death of a young man in medieval Sligo,” Dr Dowd said.

Emaciated polar bear pictures raise global warming concerns


Photographs of underweight polar bears have gone viral on social media and raised concerns about the effects of climate change

Photographs of emaciated polar bears have gone viral on social media, and raised concerns over the effects of global warming.

One, taken by National Geographic photographer Paul Nicklen, shows a dead polar bear lying on a pile of rocks in the Arctic archipelago of Svalbard.

Last summer I traveled with a group of friends to Svalbard, Norway in search of polar bears. We went to my favorite spot where I have always been able to find bears roaming around on sea ice throughout the summer. On this occasion, however, we didn’t find any sea ice and we never found any bears alive. We did find two dead bears in this location and other groups found more dead bears.

These bears were so skinny, they appeared to have died of starvation, as in the absence of sea ice, they were not able to hunt seals. In all of my years of growing up in the Arctic and later, working as a biologist, I had never found a dead polar bear. It is now becoming much more common. Through @sea_legacy and @natgeo we will continue to shine a light on our changing planet to convince the unconvinced. Please follow me on @paulnicklen to learn more about the effects of climate change. #polarbear #nature #wildlife #arctic #seaice @thephotosociety

A photo posted by Paul Nicklen (@paulnicklen) on Sep 6, 2015 at 12:35pm PDT

Mr Nicklen is trained as a biologist and has worked in the Arctic for decades. He says that on a trip to Svalbard last summer he was unable to locate any live bears, but did find two that appeared to have starved to death.

“These bears were so skinny, they appeared to have died of starvation, as in the absence of sea ice, they were not able to hunt seals,” he wrote in an Instagram post accompanying the photograph.

Paul Nicklen, a scientist at the University of Alberta who studies polar bears, agreed with the assessment that the bear had starved to death.

“You can’t say 100 per cent that it starved to death, but that’s probably what happened,” he told Mashable. “It certainly looks to me like it has starved to death.”

Another photograph taken on Svalbard, a Norwegian territory, has raised similar concerns.

It was taken by photographer Kersten Langengerger and shows an unusually thin polar bear floating on ice.

Ms Langenberger said it was just one of several underweight female bears she had spotted on Svalbard.

An estimated 3,000 polar bears live in the Barents Sea, of which many reside on Svalbard and are a primary source of tourism. A British student from Eton College was killed by a polar bear in 2011 in Svalbard.

Polar bear populations are believed to have declined in recent decades due in large part to global warming, though populations are difficult to track due to the bears’ remote habitats.

An assesment from the Norwegian government said that the loss of sea ice was of “great concern” for polar bears in the Berents Sea.


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