News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Friday 25th September 2015

Taoiseach’s office finds letter from under-bidder to NI portfolio

Email found after three days, but asks about bid, rather than complain about practices

     

The search was triggered by a report that the underbidder, New York-based Fortress Capital Formations, had written to the Taoiseach in February 2014 complaining about “business practices” during Project Eagle

Three days after it began an extensive search, Taoiseach Enda Kenny’s office has discovered an email sent to it by an unsuccessful bidder for a 800-property loan portfolio in Northern Ireland.

The search was triggered by a report that the underbidder, New York-based Fortress Capital Formations, had written to the Taoiseach in February 2014 complaining about “business practices” during Project Eagle. This was the process used by theNational Asset Management Agency to dispose of the €1.5 billion Northern Irish portfolio.

However, the email uncovered yesterday from February 13th, 2014 makes no complaint nor raised any concern.

Addressed to the Taoiseach’s special adviser Andrew McDowell it is an introductory email, expressing interest in putting a bid in for the portfolio.

Written by Michael George, its managing director, it referred to a €1.25 billion portfolio bought by the company in the Netherlands andGermany, as well as other pools of non-performing and sub-performing debt in Ireland.

Mr George, who is originally from the North of Ireland, said he had a “keen interest in this €4 billion portfolio and would like to throw our hat in the ring.”

He asked Mr McDowell did he have any insight as to how to get involved. Mr McDowell emailed an official in NAMA asking could Fortress be put in contact with those handling the sale on the behalf of the agency.

A spokeswoman said last night the Taoiseach’s office was not looking for any other letter or record, as it had conducted a thorough search of its correspondence files form the period, and uncovered nothing.

Nama has said it received no letter of complaint from Fortress about the process.

The issue was raised in the Dáil this week by Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin.

On Thursday Fianna Fáil was trying to ascertain if the email correspondence published by the Government on its website, merrionstreet.ie, was the only such exchange.

Its contents do not tally with the contents of the purported letter, as reported in The Irish News.

Speaking in New York following his address to the UN General Assembly, Taoiseach Enda Kenny said, as far as he is aware, the letter published on his website is the only one from the Fortress company.

Mr Kenny said that if any others came to light, he would publish them.

Fianna Fail leader Michéal Martin had said the Department of Taoiseach had been contacted with concerns over sale of NAMA’s Northern Irish loans. The letters published yesterday showed Fortress Capital contacted Mr Kenny’s advisors to express an interest in the loans.

Andrew McDowell, Mr Kenny’s economic advisor, referred the queries to NAMA and the Taoiseach said this is the only correspondence he is aware of.

“The email is up on the website for all to see,” Mr Kenny said. “As far as I can understand, that is the only correspondence and if there is any other I will publish that as well but I don’t have any reason to believe that there is and clearly that was passed on to NAMA for direct response to the company involved.

“I don’t have any reason to believe that there is any other correspondence. If there is and it comes to life, I’ll publish it.”

ESB profits, revenues and debts rise well in 2015

The company says wholesale electricity markets are ‘challenging’ due to low prices.

   

ESB said it made capital investment of €405 million over the six-month period, down by 10 per cent.

ESB grew its revenues and profits in the first six months of the year, although its progress was crimped by factors such as the weakening euro against sterling, according to interim financial statements released yesterday.

The group also confirmed it has fully paid off the €400 million special dividend agreed with the Government during the financial crisis to help plug the State’s parlous finances.

The dividend payout of €214 million in January completes the crisis-era agreement. ESB said it brings the total of its dividend payments to almost €1.5 billion over the last 10 years.

The accounts for the six months to the end of June show ESB’s revenues were marginally ahead by €62 million to €1.7 billion.

Operating profits were up €10 million to €337 million, while the group’s bottom line profitability after tax almost tripled to €201 million, mainly due to the non-recurrence of finance costs.

The relatively calmer weather during the period compared to last year contributed to a spike in profits at its network business, which absorbs the cost of line repairs and damage to its infrastructure.

The weak euro, however, hit its investment in Northern IrelandElectricity, contributing to a more than 50 per cent reduiction in profitabiliy to €13 million.

ESB said it made capital investment of €405 million over the six months, a reduction of 10 per cent that helped boost its profitability.

The company appeared to focus its investment in the island of Ireland, however, boosting such spending in its home markets by €100 million to €320 million.

It cut back on capital expenditure abroad, including at itsCarrington plant in the UK. This new £500 million gas-fired power station, located near Manchester, is due to come onstream next year.

Net debts at the State-owned power group has risen by €300 million since the end of December to €4.9 billion, partly due to the hefty dividend payments it is making to the State.

The figure is also €800 million ahead of the debt position at the end of 2013, as ESB takes advantage of the once-again benign borrowing environment for State-backed entities.

ESB’s total payroll bill was flat at €270 million. The group said it has about 7,200 employees, suggesting an average cost per staff member for the six months of €37,500.

Over a year, a the average ESB employee costs about €75,000 in salaries, overtime and pension costs.

The balance sheet also list various employee pension scheme liabilities totalling about €920 million, with €740 million attributable to employee sin the south and the rest relating to NIE.

The liability in the group pension scheme was the source of a bitter industrial dispute in 2013 that brought ESB to the bring of a Christmas-time strike.

Pat O’Doherty, the chief executive of the ESB, said it was a “solid performance” over the six months but added that wholesale electricity markets were “challenging” due to low prices.

Smartphone health apps may pose a privacy risk

  

Some clinically-accredited smartphone health apps may be sending unencrypted personal and health information, putting the privacy of users at risk, a new study has found.

Some clinically-accredited smartphone health apps may be sending unencrypted personal and health information, putting the privacy of users at risk, a new study has found.

It is currently estimated that one and a half billion smartphone users have a health app installed and this number is set to treble in the next three years.

One quarter of US adults have reported using one or more health apps and a third of physicians have recommended an app to a patient.

As a way of reassuring users about the quality and safety of health apps, several app accreditation programmes have been launched.

One such programme is the UK’s National Health System (NHS) Health Apps Library, which is a curated list of apps for patient and public use.

Registered apps undergo an appraisal process that examines clinical safety and compliance with data protection law.

The researchers from Imperial College London, UK, and Ecole Polytechnique CNRS, France, reviewed 79 apps that were listed on the UK NHS Health Apps Library in July 2013.

The apps covered health areas such as weight loss, alcohol harm reduction, smoking cessation and long-term condition self-care.

The apps were assessed over a six-month period by inputting simulated information, tracking the handling of this information, and looking at how this agreed with any associated privacy policies.

Of the apps reviewed, it was found that 70 of the apps transmitted information to online services and 23 of those sent identifying information over the internet without encryption.

Of the 38 apps that had a privacy policy and transmitted information, the privacy policy did not state what personal information would be included in the transmissions.

Four apps were found to be sending both identifying and health information without encryption.

“Our study suggests that the privacy of users of accredited apps may have been unnecessarily put at risk, and challenges claims of trustworthiness offered by the current national accreditation scheme being run through the NHS,” said lead researcher Kit Huckvale, from Imperial College London.

“The results of the study provide an opportunity for action to address these concerns, and minimise the risk of a future privacy breach,” said Huckvale.

Meanwhile a phone scam:

Garda warning people of Ireland as phone scam spreads

     

‘Vishing’ fraudster More than €240,000 has been defrauded from people in a phone scam spreading across the country.rs net €242k

In a renewed alert, gardaí said there had been a “significant increase” in reports of the scams since a first warning in early August.

Gardaí said 19 people had lost “substantial sums”. The worst of the frauds, involving €62,000, emerged just yesterday.

Under the so-called ‘vishing’ scam, fraudsters ring people on their landline and, by exploiting a hang-up feature on the phones, trick people into transferring funds out of their accounts to accounts abroad.

The criminals pretend to be from a financial institution, or a retail store or, in many cases, pose as a garda superintendent and elicit bank details and card numbers from people.

As reported in the Irish Examiner last month, when gardaí first issued a vishing alert, banking and payment institutions warned customers there was no redress for people who “voluntarily” transfer funds out of their accounts.

Detective Superintendent Gerard Walsh of the Garda Bureau of Fraud Investigation warned people to ignore anyone calling and looking for bank account details and urged people to spread the word to family, friends and neighbours.

“These criminals are targeting vulnerable, usually elderly, people, and I want to warn people to never give anyone details of their bank accounts or credit card numbers,” said Supt Walsh.

The GBFI is aware of 19 people who had lost “substantial sums of money”.

The total scammed is currently in excess of €242,000. The largest amount, which only emerged yesterday, was €62,000. Another lost €38,000 while a further individual had been defrauded to the tune of €24,500.

Typically, the criminals ring a potential victim and claim to be a security manager from a retail store. They ask the person to provide personal financial details, often under the pretence that someone is using their credit or debit card in the shop.

If the person declines, the ‘security manager’ advises them to ring their financial institution or the gardaí.

Supt Walsh said a “recent twist” has been the provision of a named superintendent to ring. The customer hangs up and assumes that when they dial a number they are being connected to the institution or the garda.

However, because the fraudster has not hung up, the call remains active and the customer is still speaking to the criminal or an accomplice.

This is due to a feature on landlines called “clear down time”, where the call stays active for 60 seconds to allow people hang up on one phone and pick up a phone in another part of the house.

Supt Walsh said gardaí were aware of a lot of people who had also been contacted by the scammers but who did not transfer money.

He said the investigation into who was behind it was “ongoing” and would “take time” to complete.

The first signs of Climate Change appeared in the 1940s,

A study suggests

     

A group of researchers published a new study on the journal Environmental Research Letters where insights on the effects of climate change were given, and found that clear signs of global warming first appeared much earlier than we thought.

After analyzing geo-atmospheric data for the last century, they found that signs of global warming were observed in the tropics in the 1960s, but Africa, Southeast Asia and Australia have been experiencing these signs as early as the 1940s.

The finding suggests that global warming appeared in the 1940s in some regions of Australia, Asia and Africa.

First, they say, average temperatures changed in the tropics. Always known as the most sensitive point to global warming, changes in climate temperature were recorded later in areas closer to the poles, but by 1980 to 2000, temperature records in most parts of the world were already showing the effects of global warming. This suggests that global warming appeared in the 1940s in some regions of Australia, Asia and Africa.

The results of the study correspond closely to data used by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in its most recent report where temperature increases are outlined as being caused by global warming.

“We examined average and extreme temperatures because they were always projected to be the measure that is most sensitive to global warming”, said lead author Andrew King from the Australian Research Council’s Centre of Excellence for Climate System Science to Dispatch Times.

What the Future Holds

Climate change effects have been felt for quite some time, but heavy distortions in rainfall events are yet to come according to Ed Hawkins, one of the study’s authors. Climate models have recorded a general increase in the amount of extreme rainfall around the world, but figures are not dramatically beyond expected variations so the increase in precipitation has not been tagged as a sign of global warming.

The first of the heavy rainfall events associated with global warming is expected to take place in northern Europe, Russia and Canada during winters over the next three decades, according to Hawkins.

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