News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Sunday 20th December 2015

Ireland’s retail sales to rise by up to 5% this Christmas,

Panic Saturday’ is expected to be one of the busiest days in festive shopping calendar


There has been an “exponential increase” in on-line sales, according to Retail Excellence Ireland.

Retail trade is expected to be up by three to five% this Christmas, according to a new survey.

Retail Excellence Ireland, the group representing retailers, said the poor weather in recent weeks has “very negatively impacted” on-street retail across the State, but that shopping centre retail has been “less affected”.

It reported an increase in convenience grocery sales as consumers “shop local” rather that travelling longer distances to supermarkets.

The weather has also contributed to an “exponential increase” in online sales with many retail operators commenting that Christmas 2015 has marked “a milestone” in how Irish consumers shop.

The survey noted that despite the upturn in some regions, provincial Ireland is “lagging behind” with many operators observing “weak footfall and underwhelming consumer activity”.

It said the Dublin evening economy was “robust and trading exceptionally well”, while the Dublin day-time economy was “performing well”.

The survey also said the Black Friday weekend had been “very robust” for retailers, but that gains were offset by a “very sluggish” two-week period before and after the event. “Many are questioning its continued existence in the Irish retail landscape,” it added.

Panic Saturday

The last Saturdaybefore Christmas is one of the busiest festive shopping days. In the UK panic-buyers and bargain-hunters are expected to flood stores on the busiest day in the Christmas shopping calendar , as high street shops slash prices in an attempt to coax consumers down the aisles.

Retailers including River Island, H&M, Sports Direct, Argos and Sainsbury’s are already offering huge seasonal discounts, with many more sales due to kick off early instead of after Christmas. Discounts are expected to average 45% on what some see as the most stressful shopping day of the year, according to Deloitte.

Around 12.6 million Britons are expected to hit the sales in search of cut-price buys, according to the Centre for Retail Research. A mild autumn and unexpectedly low Black Friday sales have left businesses desperate to shift a build-up of stock, industry experts said.

And thanks to Christmas falling on a Friday this year, ‘Panic Saturday’ is expected to kick off a £6 billion (€8.2bn) six-day spending spree — 23% more than the same period last year when Christmas Day fell on the Thursday.

Recent data shows 55% of Irish people are financially illiterate

We are financially illiterate.Ten years on and we still don’t know what a tracker mortgage is, despite all the financial water under the bridge, and the collapse of the banking system.

We know this because of recent, unflattering financial data and rankings, which got almost no media coverage.

Rankings are funny. Some rankings get headline news.

Thus, the PISA rankings, which look at science and maths ability, are always good for a headline on how poorly our education system serves us.

With 15% of the 15-year-olds last examined being ‘illiterate’ in science and maths, there is a problem.

It’s not as big a problem as in the US, which scored a 25% share, but it’s still a problem.

Then, there are the university rankings, in which the failure of Irish universities to meet an arbitrarily selected and methodologically protean target is regularly decried.

Again, we are subjected to editorialising and sermonising on how our system fails us.

The questions on financial literacy hardly involve quantum mechanics.

Can the respondent calculate a percentage, differentiate between compound and simple interest, differentiate between spreading and concentrating risk in making decisions about savings, and understand inflation?

Getting three out of four answers correct makes the respondent financially literate.

The study was conducted, by the World Bank and Standard & Poor’s, on more than 150,000 people in 144 countries.

It is a global snapshot of financial literacy.

Globally, a third of the survey respondents were deemed financially literate; in Ireland, it was 55%. In other words, 1.6m adults in Ireland were deemed financially illiterate.

This is pretty serious stuff.

If half the adult population were literally illiterate, there would be a massive government and social outcry and a plan put in place to remedy it.

Little has been done to improve the situation.

Wealth and financial literacy, both on a national and on an individual basis, are fairly reasonably linked.

However, what is not at all clear is the cause of financial illiteracy.

Although older people have a lower actual literacy, they also display greater confidence in their knowledge, which perhaps suggests how easy it is for the elderly to fall prey to financial scams.

There is a gender issue, too, perhaps related, in that levels of financial literacy tend to be lower among women.

The 2012 PISA study included an examination of school students’ financial literacy and found that, at age 15, there was little gender difference.

Unfortunately, this module of the PISA study was not administered in Ireland, so, again, we find ourselves making policy without evidence.

In fact, earnings are obviously linked to literacy, with rural communities, lower education, and regional impoverishment all being associated with not just lower income outcomes, but also lower financial literacy.

So, does it matter? A lot of research suggests that lower financial literacy, not surprisingly, is associated with poorer financial decision-making in daily life.

In particular, lower financial literacy is associated with lower participation in financial products and with lower forward financial planning, particularly in pension provision or precautionary savings.

Those who are financially less literate tend to have costlier loans and to be more prone to finding themselves in financial difficulties.

They take out costlier loans from costlier borrowers and do not manage these as well as they might.

This happens, regardless of earnings or education or gender — it is the literacy aspect that seems to drive them.

Financial literacy programmes tend to be shoehorned into second-level schools, with little regard for the need to individualise and contextualise.

Those done by financial institutions and advisers, typically in workplaces, are bedevilled by perceptions of marketing.

One thing is clear — financial illiteracy is a problem and one that is being swept under the carpet.

‘We won’t let floods sink Christmas’ vow defiant locals in Carrick-on-Shannon


Carrick-on-Shannon’s residents take the high road in their on-going battle of the floods.

DSN Fitness Gym owner Siofra O’Connor stands outside her apartment in the Inver Geal apartment complex in Carrick On Shannon last Wednesday. Photo: Tony Gavin

They missed the premiere of the new Star Wars movie due to the three-feet-deep flood in front of the cinema, but the force remains strong with the people of Carrick-on-Shannon.

From assembling make-shift bridges over flooded carparks, organising shuttle bus services across both sides of the river, to sharing toilet facilities with neighbouring businesses and setting up social media groups, natives living along the weir of the marshy bridge say: “We are staying afloat”.

Standing in a newly formed lake outside her apartment block, located in the colourful Inver Geal complex on the Roscommon side of the Shannon, Siofra O’Connor said people are frustrated, but that “there is no point getting down or being depressed”.

“Yes, it’s a ridiculous situation, but we have to focus on solutions,” she said.

“It’s been like living on a movie set for the last two weeks, our apartment complex is surrounded by floods at the front and the Shannon at the back, but the water hasn’t come in, so we have to look at the bright side,” she said.

In 2009, Ms O’Connor, a fitness instructor who runs three businesses in town, was forced to evacuate her old apartment in the same complex – just four doors down.

“The water came up through the floorboards, we were flooded out of it and had to be moved,” said Ms O’Connor, pointing to a car submerged up to the steering wheel in front of her former residence.

“We’ve been lucky, it’s starting to recede. We can’t park outside but that’s minor compared to last time,” she said.

“The whole community is rowing in behind each other; we all understand, we know what people are going through so we’re coming up with new ideas to salvage Christmas and make the best of this situation,” she said.

Although the vast majority of businesses, on both sides of the Shannon, are trading and open for business, parking is a major problem for shoppers and staff.

Mary McEvoy, who works at Enhance Health and Beauty, says so far people are still making the trek for their Christmas beauty treatments, but “we’re not getting much passing trade”.

“There isn’t a lot of footfall and people think we’re closed because of the massive flood outside. It might affect us in voucher sales, but we won’t know that until the end of the month,” said Ms McEvoy, adding that the Roscommon side of the bridge, where Supervalu, Lidl and Mulvey’s Toymaster are based, is the worst hit area.

“The flood has stopped traffic going up the one-way street of the town, and that’s causing a huge bottle-neck at the bridge and preventing people from coming out this side,” she said.

“This place was a flood plain to begin with; businesses shouldn’t have to deal with this. We’re joined up with the Shannon right now, we’re part of the flow,” she said.

“Everybody has an opinion on the floods, but you need experts to look at this and to stop it from happening again. At the moment we have a lot of chiefs and not enough indians,” she said.

Standing behind a wall of sandbags, Rachel O’Malley, manager at Victoria Hall Restaurant, said that, although they’ve remained open, it’s been impossible to access deliveries.

“There has been a big visual impact on us, we’re surrounded by water so people think we’re closed. We’ve had Christmas party cancellations and it’s a tough to swallow. This is usually our busiest time of year,” she said.

Joe Dolan, owner of The Bush Hotel, said flooding on main roads into the town is their biggest problem.

“A lot of our revenue comes from the by-pass, so that’s certainly a blow. But we’re a resilient bunch and we’re remaining upbeat about Christmas week,” he said.

A survey by Retail Excellence Ireland revealed a sharp divide in Christmas shopping between Dublin and the rest of the country, with strong trade in the capital but weak business in provincial stores.

As water levels drop, Leitrim County Council said it will continue to operate a flood management process, but clean-up will not be considered until floods recede.

Flood defences are being maintained and diversions and road closures remain in place at the N4 – between the Townspark and Tesco Roundabout, Park Lane, Quay Street – and the main route from Carrick-on-Shannon to Manorhamilton is closed. Routes to and from Leitrim village are also closed.

Despite limited access to Carrick-on-Shannon, shoppers are being encouraged to buy local this Christmas instead of journeying to Dublin, Sligo and Galway.

However, the children of Carrick-on-Shannon can rest assured that Santa Claus will make it through the floods this Christmas Eve, as local girl, Heidi Caldbeck (11) has asked Saint Nicholas to intervene.

Unknown to her parents, Grainne and Derek, Heidi was fully aware of the anxiety over the Shannon floods while on a trip to the heart of the Arctic Circle in Lapland last week.

Heidi penned a special wish, ‘Make sure Carrick stops flooding’ and placed it in Santa’s ‘Drum of Dreams’.

Santa has told her that he will use “all his powers to help”.

Christmas can be a stressful time but here are five ways to mind your mental health

With so much going on, it’s no surprise so many people find the festive period so stressful.


With so much going on, and so many demands on your time and attention it’s no surprise so many people find the festive period so stressful.

To manage that stress, the people at St Patrick’s Mental Health Services have come up with some ways people can nurture their mental health.

As Clinical Nurse Manager Debbie Van Tonder notes:

“In the run up to Christmas, many people find themselves swept away and overwhelmed by the presents, the cooking, the wrapping, the decorating… But by attempting to take a more mindful approach to festivities, stress-levels can be hugely reduced.”

What is ‘mindfulness’ you ask?

Essentially, it’s derived from a belief of ‘living in the moment’. It’s the practice of purposefully paying attention moment by moment, in a non-judgmental way to the things you do: learning to make time for yourself, learning to slow down and nurture calmness and self-acceptance.

In other words – it’s the opposite of everything going on in this photo…

Here are five tips from St Patrick’s you might like to make note of, in the run-up to Christmas:

1. Make a mindful list

  • Instead of writing the usual ‘to do’ list that will inevitably include some needless activities, it may be a good idea to sit quietly and ask yourself what activities are going to benefit and nurture ourselves and others and what activities are more avoidable. Focus on what matters.

2. Mindful shopping

  • Mindfulness accepts that some experiences are unpleasant, including Christmas queues. See if you can become aware of your reactions when something holds up your progress.
  • Take a moment to ask yourself: What is going through my mind? What sensations are there in my body? What emotional reactions and impulses am I aware of?

3. Walk

  • Physical activity lifts your mood and can reduce stress. Go for a walk and pay attention to the sights, sounds and smells at this time of year. Walk with as much awareness as you can.

4. Breathe

  • When anxiety or stress gets on top of you, it can be difficult to remember why you should remain calm. By taking three minutes by yourself to meditate, stress-levels can be vastly reduced. Sit quietly and focus on your breathing, in and out.

5. Have compassion for yourself and others

  • Kindness can change an experience completely. The desire in all of us to alleviate suffering is part of what we celebrate at Christmas, the opportunity to share and give. With 1 in 4 people experiencing a mental illness at some point in their life, there is bound to be someone on your Christmas card list who is not feeling festive. Reach out to them. Be kind to yourself and others.

NASA astronauts to go for Monday spacewalk outside ISS


A pair of NASA astronauts on Monday morning plan to exit the International Space Station in an effort to secure a rail car that is stuck in the wrong place.

The Mobile Transporter, which is holding the station’s 58-foot robotic arm and other equipment, last week stopped rolling on rails just four inches from a work site near the center of the station orbiting 250 miles up.

NASA and its partners want the transporter locked down before the planned Wednesday morning arrival of a Russian Progress resupply ship, which will require the station to maneuver into position and then absorb the force of the docking Progress vehicle.

Scott Kelly, the Expedition 46 commander, and Tim Kopra, who just arrived at the station last week, are expected to begin a minimum three-hour spacewalk around 8:10 a.m.

Watch it live on NASA TV.

SpaceX rocket launch, landing postponed to Monday night.

Kelly will be the lead spacewalker and wear a suit with red stripes. Kopra will wear an all-white suit.

The spacewalk will be Kelly’s third since he began a yearlong mission in March, and the second of Kopra’s career. It will be the 191st supporting assembly and maintenance of the orbiting research laboratory.

The latching of the Mobile Transporter is not expected to present much difficulty. If it is done quickly, the two astronauts will tackle additional tasks.

Launch of the Progress cargo ship is scheduled for 3:44 a.m. EST on Monday from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, and also can be seen on NASA TV.



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