News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Monday 28th December 2015

Fianna Fail to create new State-owned bank if elected

Party’s manifesto will commit to proposals aimed at filling gaps in the banking sector

    

Fianna Fail inance spokesman Michael McGrath said a full State Enterprise Bank would be created and retained regardless of what stake the State retained in other banks.

Fianna Fail would create a new State-owned bank to lend to every company regardless of their size if elected to Government.

The party’s manifesto will commit to a number of proposals aimed at filling what it says are gaps in the banking sector.

Its finance spokesman Michael McGrath said a full State Enterprise Bankwould be created and retained regardless of what stake the State retained in other banks.

Mr McGrath said it has the potential to be a permanent solution to the difficulties businesses have in accessing credit.

He added: “ It would lend to any company, regardless of sector or size, provided it can demonstrate its creditworthiness.

“It would remain in State ownership even if the State disposes of its stakes inBank of Ireland and AIB.

“This was promised by the current government but only partially delivered in the form of the Strategic Banking Corporation of Ireland which has had very limited impact to date.”

Mr McGrath said the dominance of the two pillar banks, Bank of Ireland and Allied Irish Bank, is creating a lack of competition, higher costs for customers and blocking product innovation.

Fianna Fail will commit to examining the sale of EBS as a separate mortgage bank. It is currently merged with AIB.

Mr McGrath said this would “acknowledge the fact that the loss of the building societies has had a long term negative impact on the mortgage market”.

The party would also require the Central Bank to publish targets for dealing with the debt of small and medium enterprises.

It will also call for a code of conduct to be put in place for people seeking to switch their mortgages.

Mr McGrath said: “A strong code would provide certainty to mortgage holders about the process involved and ensure the mortgage holder’s rights are protected.”

The party’s manifesto would also confirm the party’s proposals to introduce legislation to influence the mortgage interest rates charged to customers.

The plans were released as Minister for Finance Michael Noonan criticised the Fianna Fail’s tax proposals.

Mr Noonan said Fianna Fail is opposed to the reduction of income tax and the Universal Social Charge.

He said the party is wedded to “the same high tax, high spend approach by which they ruined our economy last time they were in government”.

The Minister said: “We cannot go back to the same old Fianna Fail who wrecked the economy, have learned nothing from the past and are still the high tax, high spend party.”

In response Mr McGrath said Mr Noonan’s comments were inaccurate, misleading and a desperate attempt to shift focus.

He said Fianna Fail’s budget proposals for 2016 included reductions in the income tax burden for all workers.

Mr McGrath said: “In case Minister Noonan is under any illusions, Fianna Fáil will be proposing a series of reductions in the Universal Social Charge for workers in our election manifesto.

“However, we will do so in a responsible way which also takes account of the need to invest in vital areas of public services so badly neglected by this government such as education, health, housing and justice.”

Five Irish county councils are in serious financial difficulty, 

Donegal, Mayo, Sligo, Waterford and Wexford face deteriorating revenue balances

   

Dublin City Council’s surplus increased by 71% from 2013 to 2014, leaving the council with €28.35 million in the bank

Five local authorities – Donegal, Mayo, Sligo, Waterford and Wexford – were grappling with a “significant deterioration” in their finances at the end of last year, according to a report from an independent local government watchdog.

The National Oversight and Audit Commission report into local authority performance found Sligo County Council’s revenue deficit more than doubled from €11.4 million in 2010 to almost €27 million in 2014.

The auditors said the Sligo local authority was the most “adversely affected” in deficit terms over the last five years.

Donegal County Council saw its annual revenue deficit rise from €11.6 to €14.9 million in the period; Mayo’s annual deficit rose from €1.9 million to €5.05 million; and Waterford city and county’s deficit went from €7.57 million to €8.56 million.

In all, 17 of the State’s 31 local authorities were in the red at the end of 2014.

‘Cause of concern’

In a commentary on the figures, the audit commission said “while some of these [17]authorities have made progress on arresting the worsening situation, a small number continue to be a cause of concern”.

In contrast to the financial problems of some, the auditors note Dublin City Council’s surplus increased by 71 per cent from 2013 to 2014, leaving the council with €28.35 million in the bank.

Fingal, South Dublin and Cork County also showed a surplus of more than €10 million at the end of 2014.

Westmeath moved from a deficit of about €1 million per year to a small surplus in 2014 and Clare, Kilkenny and Longford all significantly reduced their deficits in 2014.

According to the audit commission’s report, collection of rates, rents and annuities – although an important element in the financing of local government – were mixed over the period.

Collection levels for rates in 2014 varied from a high of 92 per cent in Fingal to lows of 56 per cent in Donegal and Louth.

The commission said it is carrying out a review of rate collection performance to better understand the contributory factors.

Collection rate.

Sligo moved from collecting 79% of commercial rates in 2010 to 67% in 2014.

Similarly Mayo’s collection rate fell from 83% to 75%; Donegal went from 61 per cent to 56 per cent; Waterford City and County went from 78% to 72% and Wexford dropped from 72% to 71%.

In terms of rent and annuities, the highest collections were in Laois and Monaghan at 95%, and the lowest in South Dublin at 73%.

Overall, housing loan repayment collection levels show a deterioration from 80% in 2010 to 65& in 2014.

The highest was Fingal at 98% and the lowest were Kildare and Sligo at 42% and 46% respectively.

The audit commission said it is undertaking a more in-depth analysis of the underlying issues associated with revenue account deficits.

The National Oversight and Audit Commission was established in 2014 to provide independent scrutiny of local government performance.

Its mission is to oversee the local government sector by reviewing the financial and operational performance of bodies

One quarter of Ireland’s regional roads have defects

Report from the National Oversight and Audit Commission shows differences

    

Kildare had the highest level of structural defects on regional roads, Mayo had the highest levels on local primary roads.

Almost a quarter of the Republics regional roads have serious structural or surface defects, while many local roads are in even worse condition, according to a report from the National Oversight and Audit Commission.

The auditors’ report, which assessed non-national roads using data supplied by local authorities themselves, looked at regional roads which carry high volumes of traffic, as well as local roads divided into primary, secondary and tertiary.

In league tables drawn up by the auditors damage to local and regional roads is classed in order of severity as as “structural distress”, “pavement defects” or “surface defects”. Kildare had the highest level of structural defects on regional roads, Mayo had the highest levels of structural defects in local primary roads, and Sligo and Westmeath tied for the highest level of structural defects on local secondary roads . The county with the highest percentage of structurally deficient tertiary roads was Co Clare.

In a commentary the auditors said “some key messages emerge”. They found that, overall, 19 per cent of regional roads have moderate to significant pavement defects while a further five per cent of such roads “display structural distress”.

Structural distress

Local primary roads were marginally worse with 27 per cent having pavement defects and 8% displaying structural distress. More than one third of local secondary roads showed moderate to significant pavement defects, while 15% displayed structural distress. Local tertiary roads – commonly known as “boreens” – were in the worst condition with 28% displaying structural distress, while 27% displayed pavement defects.

However the auditors noted the absence of data from a small number of local authorities, including Dún Laoghaire Rathdown, Fingal, South Dublin, Cork City and Meath.

In what could be seen as a warning to these authorities the auditors said the data would in future be used for “the targeting of resources to areas most in need”. If that is the case, authorities which do not supply data on the condition of their roads may lose out on exchequer funding.

Damaged roads

The National Oversight and Audit commission also ranked the damaged roads as a pecentage of the amount of roads by county. Thus, it showed 2.26 per cent of roads in Co Kildare showed “severe structural distress” with extensive loss of pavement surface. A further 5.26 per cent of regional roads in Kildare showed there was “structural distress present”. This was followed by Donegal where 1.77% of regional roads were classed as suffering “severe structural distress” and a further 8.48% of the county’s roads were classed as having “structural distress present”.

In Mayo 2.6% of the roads have defects classed as “severe”. A further 20.83% of the local primary roads in Mayo were classed as having “significant” structural distress.

One per cent of primary roads in both Westmeath and Sligo were found to have severe structural defects, while 15% of Sligo’s secondary local roads were classed as having structural distress present.

In Co Clare 22% of its tertiary roads were classed as having “severe” structural defects and 15 per cent were regarded as having “structural defects present”.

In Mayo 16.3% of tertiary roads were classed as severe, and 8.5% had structural defects.

New rules for farm vehicles on roads begin in January

   

Revised standards for the use of agricultural vehicles on public roads take effect from New Year’s Day.

It follows a review by the Road Safety Authority and the introduction of legislation by Transport Minister Paschal Donohue.

The current regulations are over 50 years in place and deemed to be out of date due to bigger, faster, and more powerful agricultural vehicles being used.

These are generally constructed to highest standards and are capable of carrying out tasks outside the scope of the present regulations.

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The RSA says it is important the regulatory regime reflects the developments in technology and requires the vehicles to comply with recognised standards.

These relate to key safety areas, like braking, suspension systems, tyres and lighting, as well as the weights for which they are designed.

The RSA says vehicles which do not comply with the new regulations are likely to need only minor remedial works.

Examples are fitment of a flashing amber beacon and/or replacement of the manufacturer’s plate indicating the design axle weights and maximum permitted towable masses.

“Trailers already in service will also be able to continue in use, but, due to varying construction standards, some will need remedial work.

Tractors and trailers operating at higher speeds and weights must also be appropriately plated and speed rated,” it said.

A regulation’s breach may result in a court summons, and a fine of up to €2,500, a prison sentence or both on the person who commits the offence and on the vehicle’s owner.

It is expected most agricultural tractors will comply with the requirements with minimal spend.

However, the ICMSA farm and rural affairs committee chairman, Patrick Rohan, says it has some concerns regarding the practicality of implementing some of the measures.

The ICMSA was acutely aware of the need for farm vehicles and equipment to be properly maintained and ‘fit for purpose’.

However, writing in the association’s newsletter, he said it was determined to ensure any changes do not result in unnecessary costs and restrictions being loaded onto farmers.

Ancient Irish had Middle Eastern ancestry, study reveals

Genetic researchers find evidence of mass migration to Ireland thousands of years ago

   

Reconstruction of an early woman farmer by Elizabeth Black.

Evidence of massive migration to Ireland thousands of years ago has emerged from the sequencing of the first genomes from ancient Irish humans, carried out by geneticists from Trinity College Dublin and archaeologists from Queen’s University Belfast.

Sequencing the genome of an early woman farmer, who lived near Belfast 5,200 years ago, showed her majority ancestry originated in the Middle East, where agriculture was invented.

Sequencing the genomes of three men whose bodies dated from the Bronze Age about 4,000 years ago showed one-third of their ancestry came from the Pontic steppe on the shores of the Black Sea.

The woman farmer had black hair, brown eyes and resembled southern Europeans, according to the researchers.

In contrast, the three men, who were from Rathlin Island, had the most common Irish Y chromosome type, blue eyes alleles and the most important variant for the genetic disease haemochromatosis, or excessive iron retention.

The latter mutation is so frequent in people of Irish descent that it is sometimes referred to as a Celtic disease.

This discovery therefore marks the first identification of an important disease variant in prehistory, according to the researchers.

A genome is an organism’s complete set of DNA, including all of its genes.

Each genome contains all of the information needed to build and maintain that organism.

Discovering the sequence of the human genome provides a first step in understanding how the instructions coded in DNA lead to a functioning human being.

The information buried in the genes of ancient bodies is already answering pivotal questions about the origins of Ireland’s people and contemporary cultures, according to the study, published in the international journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA.

“There was a great wave of genome change that swept into Europe, from above the Black Sea into Bronze Age Europe, and we now know it washed all the way to the shores of its most westerly island,” said professor of population genetics in Trinity College Dublin, Dan Bradley, who led the study.

“And this degree of genetic change invites the possibility of other associated changes, perhaps even the introduction of language ancestral to western Celtic tongues.”

Time travel

Ireland is considered to have intriguing genetics. It has the highest rates of variants that code for lactose intolerance, the western European Y chromosome and several important genetic diseases.

However, the origins of this genetic heritage are unknown.

The only way to discover our genetic past is to sequence genomes directly from ancient people, by embarking on a type of genetic time travel, said Prof Bradley.

In archaeology, opinion has been divided on whether the great transitions in the British Isles from a hunter-gatherer lifestyle to one based on agriculture, and the switch from the use of stone to metal, were due to the adoption of new ways by locals or the influences of new people.

Dr Eileen Murphy, a lecturer in osteoarchaeology at Queen’s University, said the project has demonstrated how ancient DNA analysis can provide the tools to answer such questions.

The ancient Irish genomes sequenced for this study show “unequivocal” evidence for massive migration to Ireland, she said.

“Genetic affinity is strongest between the Bronze Age genomes and modern Irish, Scottish and Welsh, suggesting establishment of central attributes of the insular Celtic genome 4,000 years ago,” said Lara Cassidy, a genetics researcher at Trinity.

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