News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Saturday 10th October 2015

Could cigarettes price rise to €10.50 a packet?

Tax on cigarettes to help fund 2% cut in USC


A hike in the price of cigarettes will be used to help pay for a dramatic reduction of 2% in the Universal Social Charge (USC)

A hike in the price of cigarettes will be used to help pay for a dramatic reduction of 2% in the Universal Social Charge (USC).

The cut in the controversial USC is set to form the centrepiece of the Budget. Reducing the tax is part of a plan to cut the marginal rate to below 50%, it has been learned.

This country now has one of the highest marginal rates of income tax in Europe.

It is also understood that the entry point at which people begin paying will be raised in order to bring to more than 500,000 people out of the USC net, along with cutting the main 7% rate.

Have Your Say: Do you think smokers should be taxed extra to slash the USC?

The aim is to remove a further 90,000 from the USC by increasing the threshold in Budget 2016.

But big gains will be in store for middle-income earners from cutting the main 7% USC rate.

Around 1.28 million taxpayers will gain from a reduction in the USC’s main rate.

People earning up to €70,044 pay the main 7% rate. Dropping the main rate to 5% would see all these people make big gains.

A single earner on €36,000 would gain around €374 a year if the main rate comes down by two percentage points, according to calculations by the Irish Tax Institute.

Someone earning €75,000 a year would gain €1,049 a year.

This would meet Finance Minister Michael Noonan’s criteria to ensure that income tax changes only benefit what he considers to be middle earners – those earning less than €75,000.

In recent days, Children’s Minister Dr James Reilly has been pushing for an increase of at least 50c in the price of a pack of 20 cigarettes, coalition sources revealed. This would bring in an additional €63m in revenue.

It is expected that the extra revenue will used to part-fund the reduction in the USC rate, which is expected to cost around €150m.

“The revenue from more tax on cigarettes will help fund a cut in the USC of 2%, rather than the original plan for a 1.5% reduction,” a source familiar with the situation said.

Cutting the USC rate by two percentage points would bring the marginal tax rate to 50% from the 52% for PAYE (pay as you earn) workers now.


The marginal rate is the amount of tax that people pay on what is regarded as higher rates of pay. However, in this country, it kicks in at €32,800 for single earners.

The Government is also seeking to increase the €12,012 USC entry point by €1,000, a move that would mean thousands of workers would no longer have to pay it.

Some 300 new teaching posts will be created in September as the Government moves to reduce the pupil-teacher ratio.

Senior government sources have indicated that the ratio, currently set at 28 pupils per every teacher, will be cut by one after next Tuesday’s Budget.

The cut, which has been secured by Education Minister Jan O’Sullivan, is due to come into effect from September of next year as around 300 new teaching posts are created.

Class sizes were increased during the crash but senior Government sources have confirmed that Ms O’Sullivan is set to deliver the good news of reduced class sizes.

Ms O’Sullivan has repeatedly said that reducing class sizes was a “major priority” for her and she has strong support from her Fine Gael colleagues to fund the additional posts.

Further details of Tánaiste Joan Burton’s welfare package for the elderly have also emerged.

It has been confirmed that there will be an increase in the Christmas bonus to €115 per pensioner and €220 per couple.

Fine Gael has lost the battle on getting a €5 increase to the old age pension. There was strong support for an increase, but Ms Burton and her officials have refused to accede to their demands, instead focusing on other measures for elderly people.

It is understood that the Tánaiste is prioritising the restoration of the Christmas bonus, which she sees as a major boost to pensioners.

She is also likely to increase the Living Alone allowance, but late last night it emerged that Ms Burton is seeking to increase the €1,375 respite care grant.

Nama highfliers to exit agency with Voluntary reduncies payoffs of €42k each


Thirty-six highfliers at Nama earning over €100,000 are to exit the agency door at the end of the year with an average payoff of €42,000 each.

According to Finance Minister Michael Noonan, 50 Nama employees have opted for the agency’s voluntary redundancy programme as the agency winds down its operations.

In a written Dáil reply to Fianna Fail’s Michael McGrath, Mr Noonan confirmed that 36 of the 50 to opt for voluntary redundancy earn €100,000 to €200,000, with the remaining 14 workers earning less than €100,000. Mr Noonan confirmed no employee earning over €200,000 at Nama has opted for the voluntary redundancy scheme.

According to Mr Noonan, the departure of the 50 employees will save the agency €5.3m annually.

“These costs include base salary, employer PRSI costs and employer pension costs,” said Mr Noonan.

He said the cost of the voluntary redundancy scheme for the 50 staff will be about €2.1m, which works out at an average redundancy payment of €42,000 each.

Yesterday was the deadline for acceptance forms to be lodged with Nama’s redundancy scheme and Mr Noonan said the figures were “indicative until agreements have been signed and returned”.

In response to the agency advertising the terms of voluntary redundancy programme to its workforce, almost a quarter of the workforce expressed an interest.

However, bosses at Nama put a halt to a third of those seeking to leave the agency by the end of this year.

Figures provided by Mr Noonan show the agency received 80 applications from staff seeking to avail of the scheme’s generous terms announced earlier this year.

The agency is seeking to reduce its workforce by 51 from 342 to 291 by the end of the year. In response to the scheme being over-subscribed, Nama rejected 26 of the applications to leave, with three staff changing their mind and opting to stay and one employee who had opted for the voluntary redundancy scheme deciding to leave now.

Nama is seeking to further reduce its workforce to 125 by the end of next year as it winds down its operations.

Based on the payments in the current redundancy plan, the agency will pay €6.97m for a further 166 employees to take the redundancy package in 2016 but save the Agency €17.5m in annualised savings.

The terms of the Nama redundancy scheme are in line with established public sector norms and grant two weeks’ statutory pay per year of service, capped at €600 per week, plus three additional weeks of base salary per year of service with an overall cap of two years base salary.

Average pay, including pension contributions, at Nama in 2014 was just over €110,000 a year or €2,115 a week. Mr Noonan has previously confirmed the overall cost of Nama’s redundancy scheme and appropriate staff retention measures agreed with Nama will not exceed €20m.

Nama was set up in 2009 to run for a fixed 10-year period. Staff working at the agency are employed by the National Treasury Management Agency on fixed-term contracts and seconded to Nama.

The decision to slash staff numbers relatively early in the proposed 10-year life of Nama follows last year’s decision to speed the selloff of Nama assets in order to repay 80% of its original €32bn of senior debt by the end of 2016.

“There is now a considerable degree of uncertainty about the future of Nama, with the minister for finance seemingly back-tracking on his plans for an early wind up in favour of it turning it in to a property development agency,” said Mr McGrath.

Plans for a public holiday to mark 1916 Rising are rejected


The Government has rejected Sinn Féin plans for an annual public holiday starting next year to mark the 1916 Rising, despite opposition claims coalition advisers backed the move two years ago.

Equality Minister Aodhán Ó Ríordáin turned down the proposed Lá na Poblachta — a national independence day — after it was raised by Sinn Féin’s Aengus Ó Snodaigh, and backed by Fianna Fáil.

Speaking during a Dáil debate on the issue yesterday, Mr Ó Snodaigh said the proposed legislative change would see April 24 become an annual national holiday.

Mr Ó Snodaigh also said the issue would address the gap between Ireland’s nine public holidays and the EU average of 11, and that when he raised it “in February 2013 at the all-party commemorations committee I received the backing of the Government’s advisers, albeit for a single year’s holiday next year”.

However, Mr Ó Ríordáin said the Coalition will not back the plan as “there was no demand” during previous 1916 Rising commemoration research, that it would “seriously dilute” existing Easter-based Rising celebrations, and that the plan has not been properly costed.

He said the Rising events next year must be a “time for reflection, celebration, and commemoration” and should not be based on a “singular narrative” from one group. The opposition plan is expected to be voted down by the Government on Tuesday.

Rural Crime is a problem? A series of break-ins In Co Sligo leaves residents terrified


A rural community is reeling following a spate of break-ins and acts of vandalism.

The Tubbercurry area in south Sligo was targeted by at least one gang last weekend and a number of homes, shops, private cars and the local national school were all damaged.

  Tubbercurry is the largest town in Co Sligo and its proximity to major routes makes it easy for travelling gangs to escape, according to local Councillor Jerry Lundy.

The spate of attacks over last weekend have yet again underlined the need for a full time garda presence in Tubbercurry, Cllr Lundy insisted..

The garda station in Tubbercurry is open only from 9.30am to 1pm Monday to Thursday and local public representatives have been repeatedly tried to have the opening hours extended.

“It’s the call of the community here in Tubbercurry and in south Sligo to have a full time garda station open 24 hours here in Tubbercurry. There has been a spate of break-ins, robberies and vandalism over the weekend.

“While Gardaí in Tubbercurry are doing their very best, they need more resources, better transport and the station in Tubbercurry needs to be open on a full-time basis”, Cllr Lundy said.

The blight of rural burglaries and break-ins has spread terror through many parts of the farming community across Ireland.

Speaking at a specially convened public meeting in Thurles on Thursday, Mary Morris from Knockmore, Tipperary, explained the personal toll the rising crime wave has had on her life.

Morris said she now keeps a licensed gun in her house for her protection. “Nearly four years ago we were visited by thieves,” she said.

“What they took were only material things, worth a couple of thousand euro. But for me they had great sentimental value; they belonged to my late husband.

Alarm bells.

“I live on my own now. I have an alarm in my house, and I have two dogs. But it’s not nice living on your own in rural Ireland any more,” she continued.

“I stay up at night time – I might go to bed around four o’clock.” She accused Taoiseach Enda Kenny of “failing to take action” to adequately tackle rural crime.

“I never thought I’d be going to bed at night with a gun in one corner and spare cartridges in the room next door,” she said.

“But I have a gun and I have a license.”

TCD and UCD in vanguard of ancient Africa migration study

Irish scientists take lead in DNA testing from man buried 4,500 years ago in Ethopian cave.


Mota Cave in the Ethiopian highlands (left) where the ancient skeleton was buried

Irish scientists were deeply involved in a study that has revealed surprising new findings about the migration of ancient farmersback into Africa.

The study was based on the analysis of ancient DNA recovered from the skull of a man buried 4,500 years ago in a cave in Ethiopia.

The study was led by the University of Cambridge but the DNA recovery and sequencing involved researchers based at Trinity College Dublin and University College Dublin.

Most people are familiar with the idea that there was a migration of early humans who moved out of Africa to colonise Europe and Asia between 60,000 and 125,000 years ago.

What is less well known is the fact that a substantial number of these migrants returned to Africa much more recently between 3,000 and 3,500 years ago.

This migration and its timing has now been confirmed after the successful copying of a full genome from the skeleton in the Mota Cave in the Ethiopian highlands.

This is the first ancient DNA from Africa to be sequenced, said Ron Pinhasi, associate professor in UCD’s school of archeology and theEarth Institute. He was co-senior author of the study published on Thursday in the journalScience.

He developed the technique of extracting ancient DNA from the thick “petrous” bone located at the base of the skull behind the ear.

“This migration is new, it has been suggested but nobody before us actually had the capacity to get this DNA for analysis,” he said.

Why these migrants travelled back into Africa is a mystery but archaeological evidence links them to new crops developed in the Levant and brought to east Africa including wheat and barley.

African return.

The DNA confirms the migrants were from what is now the Middle East and were direct descendants of the Neolithic farmers who brought agriculture into Europe 7,000 years ago but then returned to Africa 4,000 years later.

“It’s quite remarkable that genetically speaking this is the same population that left the near east several millennia previously,” said PhD researcher in genetics at Trinity College Dublin Eppie Jones, who led the laboratory work to sequence the genome.

These western Eurasians mainly settled in the Horn of Africa but didn’t stay put, said Prof Marcos Gallego Llorente from Cambridge and first author.

These migrants “seeped right across the continent, way beyond east Africa”, from the west coast and south to the heart of the Congo, he said. People from these areas show this in their DNA with up to seven per cent of their genomes derived from the Levant migrants.

The genetic impact of the migrants was much greater in east Africa, where the DNA of today’s populations are up to 25 per cent derived from the migrants.

“What was surprising was the migrant DNA was distributed all over Africa and all modern Africans have this mixture,” said Prof Pinhasi.


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