News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Tuesday 24th November 2015

Ireland’s economic issues have brought a huge social cost says M.D. Higgins

President criticises “arrogant assumption” that growth can be perpetual and sustainable


President Michael D Higgins next to UN Conference on Trade and Development Secretary-General Mukhisa Kituyi in Geneva.

President Michael D Higgins has criticised the “arrogant assumption” that economic expansion can be perpetual and sustainable, and called instead for fresh thinking and new institutions that reflect the growing global challenges on climate and economics.

Mr Higgins told the 10th debt management meeting of the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) that Ireland’s recent experiences, while largely specific to our system, had come with a “huge social cost” and had triggered a “welcome debate” on such issues.

Drawing a line from Geneva to the climate talks in Paris and back to the recent New York agreement on sustainable development goals, Mr Higgins said our “vulnerable planet” was at a “crucial juncture” in 2015.

Tackling these disparate, yet interlinked challenges required addressing their common failing, he said: that the old model – of extracting and consuming resources, or prioritising debt repayments over basic social needs – posed a threat to the environment and social cohesion and was no longer fit for purpose.

“That such a version of our lives together could, or should, be made available across all spaces and cultures was an assumption that was in its origin, arrogant, and is today unsustainable,” he said in his keynote address to delegations from more than 80 countries, in Geneva to discuss debt management and sustainable development matters.

In a wide-ranging address, Mr Higgins said the single globalisation model, with its “uncontested assumptions” had encouraged a blindness that historians will later highlight as the foundation of failure.

Mr Higgins asked rhetorically whether globalisation had given due attention to moral and social issues or merely cleared the way for an “unregulated free march of an expanding and increasing speculative, and not necessarily productive, capital?”

Global problems required a different universal agreement based on solutions that were not weighted to favour “vulture funds over social impact arguments”. This was a debate to which Ireland was interested in contributing, following its recent crisis experiences.

Ireland had learned of the need for sustainable public finances and Mr Higgins expressed hope that, having addressed structural deficiencies in the Irish economy, Ireland would now “put in place a sustainable recovery and repair the damage to our public services and institutions”.

Fundamental questions

As Ireland and the EU emerged from crisis, however, they faced fundamental democratic questions over the competence of member states to control their own finances.

“What we can see across Europe is a fundamental questioning of what the role of the State now is in such circumstances,” he said, witnessed by the socialisation of debt and widening social inequality.

“What were the old characteristics of the south [developing world] are now visible as inequality and poverty in ‘the south within the north’,” he said, “and elite accumulation in the south might be called ‘the north within the south’”.

Growing public awareness that these issues are interlinked, he said, was driving debate over a “social floor”: a collection of non-negotiable core social goods including adequate levels of food, health education, participation.

Only after all of these had been provided for could the “debt discourse” be allowed to begin, he said, and the market allowed in.

The debate over global economic development – in particular global debt – is an issue that affects us all, Mr Higgins said, and thus must move beyond the corridors of the IMF and World Bank.

Dr Mukhisa Kituyi, secretary general of the UN conference, thanked Mr Higgins for his “intellectual leadership over many years” and his “consistency of thinking outside the box”.

Eight years since the global financial crisis, Mr Kituyi warned, global debt had continued to balloon and unsustainable debt had once again become a threat to development gains.

“Unsustainable private debt has a habit of ending up on public sector balance sheets, a link not limited to developing country alone, as the example of Ireland shows,” he said.

Mr Higgins reiterated Ireland’s commitment to helping developing countries restructure their debt. Despite Ireland’s difficult domestic economic circumstances it had worked to ensure additional funds from debt relief were used on programmes that benefit the poor.


Looking to France and Belgium, Mr Higgins urged for the careful use of words and images, a clear distinction between refugees fleeing terror and those causing the terror and a clear refusal to allow them to “dislodge” western achievements, such as universal human rights.

Mr Higgins warned against the long-term consequences of widespread intelligence collection and sharing, warning it risked “becoming something far more dangerous and destabilising” than intended at first.

“It is a time for care,” he said in Geneva. “We must co-operate with wisdom and we must be careful that the language we use gives us assurance rather than succour to those who want to engender destabilisation.”

Irish property tax to be frozen until 2019

The government hopes to pass new legislation by Christmas.


The rate of local property tax (LPT) being paid by Ireland’s home owners is to be frozen until 2019 under legislation the government hopes to pass by Christmas.

It means that people whose properties have increased in price or have been improved will still pay the same rate of tax that they have since the original LPT valuations in 2013.

The freeze on property tax, which was confirmed in last month’s Budget by Finance Minister Michael Noonan, follows the recommendations of a report by former civil servant Dr Don Thornhill.

It had originally been envisaged that the May 2013 valuation of properties would be valid until 31 October 2016 when another round of valuations would take place to account for property price increases and home improvements.

“The postponement means that home owners will not be faced with increases in their LPT in 2017 as a result of increased property values,” a government spokesperson said.

The new legislation will also give effect to two other recommendations in the Thornhill report, including exempting homes damaged by pyrite and offering LPT reliefs on properties occupied by persons with disabilities.

The government said the other recommendations of the Thornhill report would be considered by the next administration.

Irish D-Day hero in tribute to Paris victims as France awards him highest honour


War veteran Henry John Alfred Place is bestowed with France’s highest honour by the French Ambassador to Ireland Jean-Pierre Thebaul in Dublin.

An Irish D-Day hero has paid tribute to the Paris terror victims as he was awarded France’s highest honour for helping liberate the country during the Second World War.

Henry John Alfred Place, from Limerick, was seriously injured and had his leg amputated after coming under enemy fire at Caen on August 14, 1944.

His troop commander Lieutenant Edwin Crewe was killed in the attack.

Seventy years on, the 91-year-old veteran has been awarded the Legion d’Honneur – France’s top military medal – for his part in the action.

At a ceremony in the residence of the French Ambassador to Dublin Jean-Pierre Thebault, Mr Place used the occasion to pay an emotional homage to his former commander and the victims of the recent Paris atrocity.

“I want to acknowledge all the soldiers who fought for the freedom of France and Europe in World War II, in particular, my armoured car commander, Lieutenant Edwin Crewe, who unfortunately didn’t make it home,” he said.

“I offer my condolences to the people of France, especially those who lost relatives and friends, following the recent terror attacks in Paris.”

Mr Place was studying engineering at Trinity College Dublin when war broke out.

At the age of 18, in May 1942, he enlisted in the Royal Armoured Corps and was part of the landings in Normandy in July 1944 with the 53rd Reconnaissance Regiment.

On advance patrol in the south of Caen, one of Normandy’s largest cities and a key military target during the Allied advance, his armoured car was hit by German fire.

During the ensuing gunfight he was badly injured, leaving him in hospital for some time before being discharged from the army in December 1945.

After the war, Mr Place worked for a while in London before moving back to Limerick, where he worked in Cement Roadstone until his retirement in the early 80s.

He has travelled several times to Normandy to attend the commemoration ceremonies and pay tribute to his fallen comrades.

The French ambassador M Thebault said: “By decorating Henry Place, France wants to thank all the Irish who took part in the liberation of France in 1944.”

Christmas bonus due to be paid next week


The Christmas bonus, which was restored in October’s Budget, is due to be paid to 1.2m social welfare claimants and pensioners from next week.

The Tanaiste Joan Burton and Public Expenditure Minister Brendan Howlin today signed the regulations required for the payments to be made from the State coffers.

The decision to increase the Christmas bonus by 50pc in the budget will see a dole claimant receive €141 in the coming weeks, while a pensioner will receive a bonus of €173.

A long-term jobseeker with a dependent partner and two dependent children will receive a bonus of €279.30.

Speaking in Government Buildings today, Ms Burton said:

“As Tánaiste and Labour Party leader, my focus is on trying to ensure we can improve things for every person, not just a few – and the Bonus will play an important role in that.”

Scientists now know the reason why you feel so full (and tired) after a meal

Feeling tired after that lunch? Gut bacteria may have something to do with it, research suggests.


Scientists believe microbes in your gut may be taking over our appetites and dictating how much we eat. Their research suggests the bugs decide when they have had enough nutrients and send chemical signals to the brain that cause us to feel full.

The findings, from a study of rats and mice, highlight the close relationships animals – including humans – have with the microbes living in their digestive tracts.

Researchers say appetite-affecting gut bacteria may dictate how much we eat.

Lead researcher Dr Serguei Fetissov, from Rouen University in France, said: “We now think bacteria physiologically participate in appetite regulation immediately after nutrient provision by multiplying and stimulating the release of satiety hormones from the gut.

“In addition, we believe gut microbiota produce proteins that can be present in the blood longer term and modulate pathways in the brain.”

The study, published in the journal Cell Metabolism, focused on Escherichia coli (E.coli) which normally live harmlessly in the guts of mammals and birds.

Researchers found E.coli in the gut started producing different kinds of proteins after food consumption

Although some strains of E.coli can cause food poisoning, the bugs usually benefit their hosts by keeping out other kinds of harmful bacteria.

Dr Fetissov’s team found that 20 minutes after consuming nutrients and multiplying, E.coli in the gut start producing different kinds of proteins.

It takes about the same amount of time for a person to start feeling full or tired after a meal – and this is no coincidence, the researchers discovered.

Scientists studied microbes living in human and mammal guts.

Analysis of the “full” proteins released by the bacteria showed that they stimulated the release of the YY peptide, a hormone associated with satiety.

They also boosted the firing of neurons in the brain that reduced appetite. The “hungry” proteins produced by the bugs before a meal did not have this effect.

“Our study shows that bacterial proteins from E.coli can be involved in the same molecular pathways that are used by the body to signal satiety, and now we need to know how an altered gut microbiome can affect this physiology,” said Dr Fetissov.

Butterflies could also be affected by pesticide’s

Says a study


The controversial pesticide has also been blamed for declining bird and bee populations. 

Butterflies that were widespread across Britain had fallen by 58% in England in 10 years, according to the study.

Controversial nerve agent pesticides have frequently been blamed for declining bird and bee populations. Now butterflies can be added to the list of species thought to be getting poisoned by neonicotinoids.

A new study by Stirling and Sussex universities has found the first scientific evidence the pesticides could be harming butterflies. Neonicotinoids remain in the environment and can be absorbed by wildflowers growing at the edge of fields, which provide a source of nectar for butterflies and leaves for their caterpillars to eat.

Pesticide rules should be overhauled after damning study.

Fifteen of the 17 species, which lived on farmland observed by the researchers, showed declines associated with rising nerve-agent pesticide use. They included the small tortoiseshell, small skipper and wall butterfly, claims a paper in the PeerJ journal.

“Our study not only identifies a worrying link between the use of neonicotinoids and declines in butterflies but also suggests the strength of their impact on many species could be huge,” said Dr Andre Gilburn, an ecologist at Stirling University.

Dr Tom Brereton, head of monitoring at Butterfly Conservation, said: “We are extremely concerned with the findings of this study and are calling for urgent research to see whether the correlations we found are caused by neonicotinoid use or some other aspect of intensive farming.”

He added butterflies that were widespread across Britain had fallen by 58% in England in 10 years, despite conservation spending in Britain more than doubling over the same period. It raised huge concern about the general health of the countryside, he said. The small skipper fell by 62% between 2000 and 2009, while the small tortoiseshell declined by 64%.

Dave Goulson, professor of biology at Sussex University, said: “Many of us can remember a time when our meadows and hedgerows had far more butterflies, bees and other insects than today. This study adds to the growing mountain of evidence that neonicotinoids are one of the causes of these declines.”

Neonicotinoids are absorbed into every cell in a plant. They were banned for use on flowering crops by the EU for three years in 2013, although the UK government partially lifted the ban this year for use on oilseed rape in some regions.


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