News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Wednesday 30th December 2015

Government ministers insist Enda Kenny has interest in flood hit areas

Enda Kenny not ‘doing the Bertie Ahern’ puddle photocall?

   

Two Government Ministers have defended Taoiseach Enda Kenny amid Opposition claims he has not taken enough interest in areas seriously affected by recent flooding.

Two Government Ministers have defended the Taoiseach Enda Kenny amid Opposition claims he has not shown enough interest in areas seriously affected by recent flooding.

Simon Harris, the Fine Gael Minister of State with responsibility for the Office of Public Works, said Mr Kenny had visited some affected areas and would visit more in the coming days.

He said Mr Kenny will not be “doing the Bertie Ahern, standing in a puddle of water saying: ‘Look at me taking action’” photocall.

“While understandably the media like to see politicians doing photocalls and getting out and about, the Taoiseach will visit areas – already has visited a number of areas in the west -and will visit a number of areas in the coming days,” Mr Harris said.

“I have been in daily contact with him. I will have visited four towns by the end of today. The Taoiseach isn’t just putting on the wellies and doing the Bertie Ahern, standing in a puddle of water saying ‘look at me taking action’. He is taking action.”

Capital investment.

Mr Harris pointed to the €430 million capital investment in flooding protection announced in recent weeks, as well other relief funds.

Minister for the Environment Alan Kelly said he had a long conference call with Mr Kenny on Wednesday morning and that other Government ministers would be visiting affected areas also.

“Obviously this is a top priority and it is being dealt with as the main issue the country is facing at the moment,” Mr Kelly said. “I am sure the Taoiseach has shown his face on the ground already. He has visited areas up around the west and I am sure he will be out and about.

“This is a whole of Government issue, it is a whole of country issue and there are a number of ministers out and about today and will be for the rest of the week.

“This isn’t an issue that is going to be closed off today or tomorrow. This is an issue that we are going to be dealing with as a Government for the next three or four weeks.”

Mr Kelly urged people to be safe on the roads, with driving conditions treacherous in places.

“We really do need people to take care and plan when they are driving,” Mr Kelly said. He also asked organisers of New Year’s events in the coming days to consider safety measures and if, in some cases the events should go ahead.

A Dáil recall?

Fianna Fáil TD Colm Keaveney has called for the Dáil to be recalled to discuss the flooding, but Mr Kelly rejected this. Barry Cowen, also a Fianna Fáil TD, called on the Taoiseach to hold an emergency Cabinet meeting but Mr Kelly said the Cabinet is meeting next week and the flooding will be top of the agenda.

Sinn Féin MEP Liadh Ní Riada said the Government had displayed “ineptitude in preparing flood defences” and that “ more hollow promises” from the Coalition were no substitute for action.

“The risk of flooding is increasing and will continue to increase. People across this island need to know that our political leaders have a plan to prevent this happening in the future,” she said.

Mr Harris said all agencies with some involvement with the river Shannon – such as the ESB, Bord na Móna, Waterways Ireland and local authorities – will meet next week in an attempt to come up with interim measures to prevent and alleviate flooding.

Out of a total of 300 areas in a national plan to tackle flooding, 66 are along the Shannon, Mr Harris said, adding that next week’s meeting will examine possible interim measures.

“People have been talking about solving problems with flooding on the Shannon since De Valera was in power,” he said. “We will have 66 plans for the Shannon by next summer. Our priority here is what we can do in the short term.”

More than a third of Irish motorists hit with insurance hike of up to 50%

    

Premiums are up by 35% since January 2014.

MORE than one third of motorists have seen the cost of their insurance rise by up to 50% this year.

This has prompted thousands of drivers to reduce their levels of insurance cover in an attempt to manage costs, says the AA.

A rise of this amount means that someone paying €500 last year is now being quoted €750.

And the motoring  body warned that premiums for the State’s two million drivers are set to continue to rise into next year unless major reforms are put in place by insurers and the Government.

An AA motor Insurance survey of over 5,000 motorists reveals that 34% have seen their insurance premiums rise by between 20% and 50% when compared with 2014.

Another third of motorists surveyed said they are forking out up to an extra 20% this year.

A quarter of policyholders saw no change in the cost of their premiums.

A tiny minority of just 5% of drivers witnessed a cost reduction.

Chief executive of AA Ireland Brendan Nevin said ordinary drivers were being asked to carry an unacceptable burden.

“After a long period of cost stability, average prices have risen by almost 40pc since January 2014,” he said.

“If the root causes we’ve identified are tackled head on, we can quickly create a stable and sustainable market for motor insurance. If they are not, then we will continue to suffer uncertainty, market failures and unacceptably high prices.”

Fraudulent activity, high legal and claims costs, poorly resourced regulation, low levels of enforcement as well as a lack of industry transparency have cost motorists dearly, according to the AA.

Irish drivers will collectively pay €300m in extra premium costs this year, the motoring body said.

The AA Motor Insurance survey indicates that the premium hike has motorists scrambling for ways to help drive down the cost of their policies.

Over one in four motorists say they were forced to purchase lesser cover and risk facing heavier financial consequences from a potential accident.

Almost 40 percent are adding a “responsible partner” to their policy in the hope of minimising costs.

Other attempts at cost-saving measures include increasing the insurance excess fee, improving vehicle security, driving less to reduce mileage, and using a garage to park a car.

Most motorists are having to spend time shopping around in an attempt to get the best price.

“The problem is that motor insurance is a legal obligation, which essentially leaves motorists with no choice but to stump up the costs,” added Mr Nevin.

The AA wants to see an independently chaired task force to tackle reforms, including representatives from the Insurance industry, the Departments of Justice, Transport, and Finance, An Garda Síochána, and legal industry.

First gas flows from Shell terminal in Mayo as protest group calls action ‘disgraceful’

Shell and the Irish Offshore Operators’ Association welcomed the news.

   

GAS HAS BEGUN to flow through the controversial Corrib gas line off the west coast, with protest groups calling the development “desperate and disgraceful”.

The Shell to Sea protest group, which has been strongly opposed to the development, said that Minister Alex White was wrong to give final permission yesterday for the pipeline to operate between the gas subsea facilities and the terminal at Bellanaboy, Co Mayo.

However, Shell, who built and operate the gas line, said that gas starting to flow from the pipeline was “an important milestone for the country and Shell’s upstream operations.”

Shell issued a statement detailing how the gas will flow from the Corrib gas field through a 20-inch pipeline to the terminal in Bellanaboy, where it will be processed before being transferred to the Gas Networks Ireland network.

Andy Brown, Shell’s upstream international director, said that today’s announcement was a “positive step for our gas portfolio”.

He also said that the development that delivering the gas from Corrib would “bring many long term benefits to the Irish economy and consumers.”

“Economic and infrastructural benefits”

Also supporting the pipeline was the the Irish Offshore Operators’ Association (IOOA), which today welcomed Shell’s announcement.

In a statement the organisation said that the development had already “brought significant economic and infrastructural benefits to the local community in Co. Mayo.”

“This is the first commercial gas field in the Atlantic Margin basins west of Ireland,” the organisation. “It is a milestone in Ireland’s energy security.”

Drones to help Irish Rail spot damage on tracks

   

Irish Rail is to use high-tech drones to map the railway network for damage and coordinate responses to major incidents including flooding.

Irish Rail is to use high-tech drones to map the railway network for damage and coordinate responses to major incidents including flooding.

The company will go to the market in the new year seeking a ‘unmanned aerial vehicle’ (UAV) which is capable of taking high-definition images and provide a live video feed to operators.

The move comes after the company contracted an outside company to provide drone photography to assess flood levels around sections of track near Carrick-on-Shannon, which were closed for 16 days following Storm Desmond, and which were inaccessible by road and rail.

The drones will be used to conduct boundary and topographic surveys, structural inspections and monitoring and vegetation surveys. It will also allow for incident response and to track risks to the network from climate change.

“Our main climate change challenges are coastal erosion on the Wexford line and flood events throughout the network and their increasing prevalence,” a spokesman said.

“We would have historically flown the Wexford line from time to time with aerial photography by helicopter, but drone technology is so much more affordable and useful.

I was afraid we would topple over Passenger’s fear as Irish Rail train tilts close to flood waters

“We envisage greater effectiveness and flexibility in monitoring our infrastructure, and a lot of potential savings with the use of this technology.”

The rail network includes 2,400km of track and a wide range of infrastructure including bridges, viaducts, cuttings and embankments and coastal defences.

The company will seek tenders in January to supply a multi-rotor unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) and training for up to 10 staff.

The drone must include a 30 mega-pixel camera capable of taking high-definition images and video.

Tim Peake will lead an out-of-this-world Hogmanay celebration

   

A message from space will welcome in the New Year for revellers at Edinburgh’s famous Hogmanay street party.

British astronaut Tim Peake will send the message from the International Space Station, beaming onto screens at the event just before midnight on Thursday.

Peter Irvine, director of Edinburgh’s Hogmanay, said: “This is a truly global event with revellers joining us from around the world. This year we’ve gone one better and will be visited from space.”

Edinburgh’s Hogmanay will be working with the Edinburgh International Science Festival, the UK Space Agency and the European Space Agency (ESA) to bring Major Peake’s message to the masses.

Dr Simon Gage, director of the Edinburgh International Science Festival, said: “In the few hours that revellers enjoy the Edinburgh’s Hogmanay street party, the International Space Station, travelling at five miles per second, will orbit the Earth three times.

“With UK astronaut Tim Peake aboard, 2016 will be a remarkable year for UK space science, with more for us all to follow and be inspired by.”

Edinburgh’s Hogmanay is produced by Unique Events on behalf of Edinburgh City Council and the events are estimated to bring the city of Edinburgh around £42 million.

Former Army Air Corps officer and helicopter test pilot Major Peake, 43, is the first Briton aboard the space station and the first fully British professional astronaut employed by a space agency.

The decision to send him into space came after the UK Government started to contribute funds to Esa’s ISS operations in 2012.

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