News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Friday 9th October 2015

Irish Government said to drop the threat of a Bank Levy increase

   

AIB pays the biggest portion of levy, at 60 million euros. The Government may signal extension of banks current levy.g levy.

Ireland’s government is poised to drop a threat to increase a 150 million-euro ($170 million) annual levy on the nation’s banks, according to a person with knowledge of the matter.

In delivering the budget on Tuesday in Dublin, Finance MinisterMichael Noonan is set to signal the charge will remain in force after 2016, extending its original three-year lifespan, should the ruling coalition win re-election, said the person, who asked not to be named as the final decision hasn’t been made.

National elections are due by early April. Government officials were weighing doubling the levy to fund tax cuts, the Sunday Business Post reported last month, citing unnamed people familiar with the matter. While Noonan warned in May he would introduce a “penal” charge if banks didn’t cut home-loan rates, he said last month that most lenders had done so.

Holding off raising the levy, which is based on Irish deposits, may make it easier to sell the government’s remaining stakes in the country’s banks. Allied Irish Banks Plc, which is 99.8% government owned and pays a 60 million euros a year levy, would be most hurt by an increase, said Diarmaid Sheridan, an analyst with Dublin-based securities firm Davy.

“A significant increase in the bank levy would negatively impact bank profitability and valuations and would come at a time when banks are still state owned,” said Sheridan.

Irish finance ministry officials declined to comment.

Age Action survey highlights problems in Galway hospitals

   

Older people in Galway have criticised lengthy waiting times and high parking costs in a survey of their experience in local hospitals

Older people in Galway have criticised lengthy waiting times and high parking costs in a survey of their experience in local hospitals published by Age Action, who called on hospitals to end the block-booking of appointments.

The online and face-to-face survey of 385 older people attending hospital out-patient appointments was carried out by local Age Action members.

The length of time waiting to be seen by the doctor was identified as the most stressful part of the day with 122 of those questioned highlighting it as their chief concern.

More than two-thirds, 68 per cent, of those who drove to their appointment found the cost of parking to be “excessive”.

Justin Moran, Head of Advocacy and Communications in Age Action, said: “The survey was carried out by local Age Action members who have frequently raised concerns regarding the experience of older people accessing outpatient services.

“A lot of the feedback was positive, with older people generally satisfied with how their appointment was arranged and found they were dealt with sensitively by hospital staff.

Block-booking

“However, they also pointed to areas where hospitals in Galway could certainly improve. The continuing practice of hospitals block-booking appointments means that patients can be left waiting for hours.

“This approach has been frequently criticised, most recently by Minister for Health Leo Varadkar TD who urged hospital managers to bring the system to an end.

“As well as forcing patients to wait longer, block booking can be expensive. Many older people depend on the State Pension of €230 a week, even less for those not entitled to a full pension.

“Excessive parking costs hit their wallets and add to the stress of what can already be a difficult day.”

Driven by members

Mr Moran also pointed out that the research was substantially strengthened by being carried out by local Age Action members.

He continued: “This work was driven by our members. They highlighted the issue in the first place as one of concern and then drove the project.

“By using their own networks of contacts they made the research a lot stronger and ensured we have a deeper understanding of the challenges facing older people when using hospitals in Galway.

“As we mark the end of Positive Ageing Week 2015, the work undertaken by our members in shows that older people are actively engaged citizens who will ensure their voices are heard in the forthcoming election.”

Organic farmers body calls for new reduced inspection certification rates

     

The call for reduced inspection and certification rates is part of the plan to make it easier for organic farmers to stay in the sector and for farmers to enter the sector.

An organisation representing organic farmers has called for reduced certification rates and a reduction in the number of organic certification bodies in Ireland. 

Airing their grievances at a meeting with the Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine yesterday (Thursday), members of the Organic Farmers Representative Body called for reduced certification rates charged by organic certification bodies. It also welcomed a suggestion that the number of organic certification bodies in Ireland be reduced.

Steered by chair Padraic Finnegan, the voluntary body, set up in 2010 to lobby on behalf of farmers in the sector, listed the average certification rates for organic farmers based on the prices charged by the two largest organic certification bodies in the country, the Irish Organic Farmers and Growers Association (IOFGA) and the Organic Trust (OT).

Finnegan expressed dissatisfaction with the high rates and asked why the Department of Agriculture could not do this work itself in order to lessen the cost burden on organic farmers. The rates given for certification were as follows:

  1. A farmer with 12ha pays €2,200 to the bodies over the five-year certification lifetime.
  2. A farmer with 30ha pays €3,000 to the bodies over the five-year certification lifetime.
  3. A farmer with 50ha pays €3,100 to the bodies over the five-year certification lifetime.

Finnegan said the rates are “absolutely scandalous” and that the Department needs to more clearly outline the role of the certification bodies, whom, he said, also collect certification fees from marts, co-ops and factories.

He said anything between 9% and 25% of the Organic Farming Scheme payment has to be paid back to those bodies each year for certification purposes.

Certification and inspections

Under current EU regulations, organic producers have to host an annual inspection on their farm in order to have their organic certification renewed. As these inspections are currently carried out by private certification bodies, farmers pay for the inspections on an annual basis. However, in June this year most Member States voted in favour of a compromise that would allow inspections to be targeted over two years for compliant or low-risk organic producers, thereby lessening the costs to farmers. The vote paved the way for a possible deal by the year’s end.

Before the vote Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney labelled some of the proposals in the reform package as “too ambitious”.

Cost of certification “exceptionally high”

Finnegan’s comments were received with surprise by the Oireachtas Committee members, who observed that the cost of certification seems “exceptionally high”.

Independent Senator Mary Ann O’Brien suggested that the five private organic certification bodies in Ireland be streamlined into one public body, a suggestion welcomed by the lobbying group. She also suggested that Bord Bia take on the role of inspecting and certifying organic farms as part of its free Quality Assurance Scheme inspection which takes place every 18 months.

Re-convening

Based on what it heard at the meeting, which included the difficulties faced by smaller hectare organic farmers due to the introduction of double funding across both GLAS and the Organic Farming Scheme, the Oireachtas Commitee proposed to re-convene with the organic farmers body at a later date. It said that representatives from the Department of Agriculture, Bord Bia and the organic certification bodies should also be present.

IOFGA refused to comment on these issues when contacted by the Irish Farmers Journal. Helen Scully of the Organic Trust says she is awaiting a transcript of this meeting and, therefore, is not in a position to respond at this time.

Organic farming in Ireland

Currently, 2% of land in Ireland is farmed organically, a figure well below the European average of 6%. In the Government’s Food Harvest 2020 strategy, announced in 2010, a target was set of increasing the percentage of land under organic use to 5% from its then level of 1.1%.

The Government admitted that the target was ‘‘ambitious’’, which the Organic Farmers Representative Body says is a “considerable understatement in light of the fact that the target requires an increase in organic land use to over three times its present level in a relatively short period.”

Will our smartphones ever get usage warning labels?

    

I’m a non-smoking libertarian.

That is, I prize autonomy and freedom of choice, but I also know I never would have kicked the habit without pressure from then-New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and my future wife. Together, their anti-smoking policies set me straight, and saved me from a world of hurt.  

Like a lot of people, therefore, I’m conflicted about mounting pressure to regulate mobile use.

Take a group of psychologists and computer scientists in the UK who are now calling for phone makers to attach warning labels to devices.

These scientists argue that mobile gadgets are turning people into digital addicts. “Excessive and obsessive usage and preoccupation about technology are associated with undesirable behaviors such as reduced creativity, depression and disconnection from reality,” Dr. Raian Ali, a professor of computing at the University of Bournemouth, said in a statement.

In the category of undesirable behavior, we should also add thescourge of distracted driving, which is costing thousands of lives a year in the U.S. alone.

The numbers are definitely scary. According to the second annual report on Consumer Mobility from the Bank of America and Flurry Analytics, U.S. consumers are perpetually plugged-in. Indeed, 71% of those surveyed actually sleep with their smartphones.

Mobile Addicts, consumers who launch applications 60 times or more per day, are growing at the fastest rate, from 176 million in the second quarter of 2014 to a whopping 280 million in the second quarter of 2015 — a 59% increase.

Of course, the industry isn’t helping. On the contrary, top platforms, publishers, and marketers are investing billions of dollars to increase usage numbers and “engagement” rates. At least in the short term, it would be in their collective best interest to glue a virtual reality headset to every consumer’s head, and, in true “Clockwork Orange” fashion, pump them full of content 24 hours a day.

Mark Zuckerberg probably wouldn’t paint that exact picture, but (following the release of Facebook’s Oculus Rift VR headset, early next year) such a scenario would do wonders for the company’s stock price.

So we know the industry isn’t going to regulate itself, and — given my personal experience — I don’t have much faith in the powers of self regulation.

Betraying my libertarian leanings, therefore, I think it may require an independent regulatory body to save us from our mobile-obsessed selves.

Geophysical survey carried out at site of buried Tuam babies

     

A geophysical survey has been carried out on the site of a former mother and baby home in County Galway.

It is believed nearly 800 children are buried in the grounds of what was once a mother and baby home run by nuns in Tuam.

A child died nearly every two weeks between the mid-1920s and 1960s.

The Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes confirmed the survey was taking place.

It was being conducted over the surface of the ground and will be done with the consent of Galway County Council, who are the owners of the Dublin Road housing estate site.

The survey was being carried out to detect any possible sub-surface anomalies.

The Tuam home was one of 10 institutions in which about 35,000 unmarried pregnant women – so-called fallen women – are thought to have been sent.

The children of these women were denied baptism and segregated from others at school. If they died at such facilities, they were also denied a Christian burial.

County Galway death records showed that most of the children buried in the unmarked grave had died of sickness or malnutrition.

Ecotourism may be putting wildlife at risk

      

Ecotourists may be putting wildlife at risk by changing the behaviour of the creatures they flock to see, researchers have warned.

Animals that become accustomed to large numbers of visitors are likely to lose some of their instinct for self preservation, experts have warned.

The “taming” effect is said to run the risk of leaving them more at the mercy of predators.

Lead researcher Dr Daniel Blumstein, from the University of California at Los Angeles, said: “When animals interact in ‘benign’ ways with humans, they may let down their guard.

“As animals get used to feeling comfortable with humans nearby, they may become bolder in other situations.

“If this boldness transfers to real predators, then they will suffer higher mortality when they encounter real predators.”

Ecotourism is booming, with protected areas around the world receiving eight billion visitors a year, the team pointed out.

“This massive amount of nature-based ecotourism can be added to the long list of drivers of human-induced rapid environmental change,” Dr Blumstein said.

Writing in the journal Trends in Ecology & Evolution, the researchers compare the effects of ecotourism with that of animal domestication and urbanisation.

In each case, interactions between people and animals could lead to habituation – described as “a kind of taming”.

Evidence from domesticated silver foxes to goldfish had shown that animals living in close proximity to humans become less wary of predators.

Foxes, squirrels and birds living in urban areas were also bolder and less likely to flee from danger.

In some cases, the presence of humans could discourage predators and create safe havens, the researchers added – like vervet monkeys, who were less bothered by leopards with humans around.

But the scientists questioned what might happen to these animals when the visitors leave.

They wrote: “We know that humans are able to drive rapid … change in other species.

“If individuals selectively habituate to humans – particularly tourists – and if invasive tourism practices enhance this habituation, we might be selecting for or creating traits or syndromes that have unintended consequences, such as increased predation risk.

“Even a small human-induced perturbation could affect the behaviour or population biology of a species and influence the species’ function in its community.”

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