News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Tuesday 29th March 2016

Fianna Fáil move closer to Fine Gael  for talks on Irish Government

Green Party expected to drop out of talks on formation of next government

    

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin: due to meet the Green Party, Independent Alliance and a group of rural TDs.

Separate talks on government formation between Fine Gael and Fianna Fail and Independent TDs will continue on Wednesday amid signs of growing momentum towards contacts between the two big parties ahead of the Dáil’s resumption next week.

Acting Taoiseach Enda Kenny met with Independent TDs for over ten hours at Government Buildings on Tuesday , where both sides reported good progress was made towards a programme for government.

However, the Green Party leader Eamon Ryan is to seek the views of membership as to whether it should remain a part of talks on the formation of a government. The party looks set to drop out of any negotiations, which will be a blow to Fine Gael attempts to assemble support for Enda Kenny in the next vote for Taoiseach.

With the reality of Dáil arithmetic obvious to all participants, senior sources at Leinster House expect imminent contacts between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil.

Mr Kenny offered an array of commitments to rural Independent TDs on Tuesday with a package which proposed increased investment in broadband and on the rural transport network. Fine Gael also insisted it would not move to close any small schools, post offices or Garda stations if in government and would protect the credit union sector. The talks also dealt with housing and mental health.

In addition, Fine Gael presented the Independents with a paper on how a minority Government would work in practice. The paper, promising “a new form of government”, outlined how legislation would be passed with a minority government, allowing different levels of responsibility from ministers and backbenchers. Fine Gael promised ‘good faith and no surprises’, pledging to keep all deputies informed of government policy development and announcements of interest to them.

Fianna Fáil bent on scraping water charges despite treat of legal advice

Publication of Irish Water legal advice criticised by Sinn Féin.

  

Sinn Fein MEP Lynn Boylan said this legal opinion is leaked at a time when Fine Gael and Fianna Fail are being forced to speak to one another.

Fianna Fáil has insisted it will abolish water charges despite legal advice given to Irish Water warning there is no possibility under European law for the State to suspend or scrap the charges.

The party came under renewed pressure yesterday (Tues) to outline its position on the levies after details of the legal advice provided to Irish Water became public .

The party’s public expenditure spokesman Sean Fleming said Fianna Fail’s position had not changed.

He said: “We absolutely contest the legal advice being put forward by Irish Water.

“It is important to recognise that this legal advice was commissioned by Irish Water, and it should be examined with caution in light of this.

“It’s extraordinary to see Irish Water quoting EU rules as sacrosanct considering they failed to meet the key Eurostat market test last year.”

The legal advice commissioned by Ervia, the parent company of Irish Water, argues that there is no option under EU law to return to the practice of not charging for water. The advice was delivered after the recent general election.

It says the default position in the EU directive is that member states must recover the costs of water services. Water-pricing policies are intended to contribute to environmental objectives, it adds.

No reason for conclusion?

The position places a great deal of pressure on Fianna Fail, who has insisted it will abolish charges if in government. Mr Fleming said there is no reason to conclude this cannot be done by a future government.

He said: “In fact, we believe it is entirely possible for the next government to suspend water charges and invest in our water infrastructure.

“The Fianna Fáil position on water charges has not changed. We do not support the continued imposition of water charges on households.”

Sinn Féin MEP Lynn Boylan called on the company to publish the advice given to it by senior counsel Garrett Simons and Michael M Collins.

She insisted the advice did not tally with that of the European Commissionand claimed the information was being published to suit the political agenda of certain parties.

“It is very suspicious the timing of this leaked legal opinion because it falls nicely into the hands in terms of forming a government for Fianna Fail to get them off the hook and say ’it is nothing to do with us, it is the legal opinion’,” she said.

“I would be very suspicious of the timing of this leak. If Irish Water have nothing to hide then let us see the legal opinion.”

Ms Boylan claimed the legal opinion, details of which were published in yesterday’s Irish Times, was being leaked at a time when Fine Gael and Fianna Fail were being forced to speak to one another.

Anti-Austerity Alliance TD Paul Murphy said 70 per cent of the electorate had voted for parties in favour of abolishing water charges.

He said in response Irish Water had “engaged in a desperate rear-guard action to try to maintain itself”.

Mr Murphy said: “I don’t trust Fianna Fáil as far as I can thrown them. The only way to ensure abolition is to do two things. One is to step up the boycott and the second thing is we need a massive, united demonstration on the streets.”

Farmers carry crucifixes and makeshift coffin in protest outside Ulster Bank on farm & home eviction’s

     

Members of the public during a new Land League protest to highlight financial pressures on Irish people

Dozens of farmers and members of the New Land League carried crucifixes and a makeshift coffin as they demonstrated outside the offices of a major bank and sub-prime lender this afternoon.

Carrying placards shaped like a coffin and black and white photographs of Irish nationalist and Land League founder Charles Stewart Parnell, they held a peaceful demonstration outside the Dublin headquarters of the Ulster Bank and the office of Carlisle Mortgages on Parnell Square.

Members of the public during a new Land League protest to highlight financial pressures Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins

Protest organiser and New Land League spokesman Jerry Beades said the protests were staged to highlight the ongoing plight of thousands of ordinary homeowners and farmers who now face repossession of their homes, eviction from their property  and/or insurmountable debts due to crippling interest rates charged by unregulated money lenders and sub prime lenders.

The stress and anxiety over losing their homes or being mired in debt with no recourse has already lead some farmers and others to take their own lives, Mr Beades said.

“There’s a man whose family are here today who is facing jail in a couple of weeks. He was in jail last year over the same bank. This was subprime lending at its worst. It was a scam the way people were lent money,” he said.

“They were lent at low interest rates to get them out of a particular debt problem and then the interest rate doubled and trebled. They borrowed €300,000 or €400,000 and now they owe €1.5m,” he said.

He said many borrowers were denied loans by the banks and turned to subprime lenders out of desperation, not aware that the interest rates could change, in some cases as high as 26pc.

“They were told that (a company) would do everything to get their credit rating back and they would get them back (dealing) to a mainstream bank in 12 months. But once you got involved with them, none of mainstream banks would touch you and people were caught in. But nobody knew what they were getting into,” he told Independent.ie.

Mr Beades said Ulster Bank was targeted yesterday because  it is selling allegedly selling off outstanding agricultural and other debts to hedge or “vulture” funds whose strict terms for repayment often results in property owners losing their homes and farms.

A spokeswoman for Ulster Bank declined comment on the protest, which ended without incident an hour after gardai were called.

Officials from Carlisle could not be reached for comment.

Oil prices fall, as demand fails to keep up with swelling global supply

   

Oil prices fell about 3% on Tuesday, reflecting growing concern that a two-month rally was fading as demand fails to keep up with swelling global supply, including new output from Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.

Remarks by U.S. Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen, which were seen as generally dovish for the interest rate outlook, sparked a brief rebound before prices slumped again.

Brent futures settled down $1.13 at $39.14 (U.S.) a barrel while U.S. crude settled $1.11 lower at $38.28 per barrel.

The decision by Kuwait and Saudi Arabia to resume oil production at the jointly operated 300,000-barrel-per-day Khafji field, at a time when production is supposed to be frozen, triggered the heavy selloff in oil markets, traders said.

“The capacity of that field in the Neutral Zone is more than what Ecuador produces. If they do freeze, it will not be at the January levels but at a lot higher figure,” one trader said, referring to the Kuwait-Saudi border area where Khafji is located.

Earlier, Yellen told the Economic Club of New York that the Fed should proceed “cautiously” as it looks to raise rates again because inflation has not yet proven durable against the backdrop of looming global risks to the U.S economy.

Hawkish comments from several Fed officials last week put investors on guard for the likelihood of two rate hikes this year, triggering a widespread correction in commodities and bolstering the dollar.

“The comments today suggest that it (next rate hike) may be more delayed and the dollar getting whacked is providing support to oil, although oil is still trending to the downside in the short term,” Energy Management Institute analyst Dominick Chirichella said.

The dollar index slipped to an eight-day low following Yellen’s comments, making greenback-denominated commodities cheaper for holders of other currencies.

Oil prices have risen more than 30 per cent since mid-February, ahead of an April 17 meeting in Doha where the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and other major suppliers including Russia will discuss an output freeze aimed at bolstering prices.

But with global inventories swelling and signs some OPEC members are losing market share, the meeting is unlikely to do much to prop up prices, analysts and traders said. Rising gasoline demand in the United States is not seen keeping pace with the increased worldwide supplies.

Oil prices sank further after a source familiar with Iranian thinking said Tehran would attend the meeting in Doha, but not necessarily take part in negotiations over production freezes.

Market watchers now believe the rebound in U.S. crude prices from 12-year lows touched in February was more the consequence of a major short covering rally and less to do with improving fundamentals.

The oil market is also bracing for American Petroleum Institute inventory data due at 1630 EDT (2030 GMT), which is expected to show that U.S. commercial crude stock piles have reached record highs for a seventh straight week, while refined product inventories likely fell.

A gene linked to blood pressure ‘helps regulate salt consumption’

   

A gene linked to blood pressure helps to regulate the consumption of salt, research has shown.

Removing the gene from the brains of mice caused the animals to develop a strong appetite for salt. Offered the choice of water laced with salt, they drank three times more of it than unmodified mice.

Drinking salty water pushed up the blood pressure of mice missing the gene, scientists found. When the saltwater was removed, their blood pressure returned to normal.

Dr Matthew Bailey, from the University of Edinburgh, who led the research published in the journal Circulation, said: “In the UK we routinely eat much more salt than our bodies need. For most people this is bad for our heart, blood vessels and kidneys.

“Our study shows that we have a genetic drive to consume salty food. Understanding how this process works may help us reduce the amount of salt we eat and make it easier for people to follow low-salt diets.”

In humans, the salt-regulating gene is known to be linked to high blood pressure – but the way this mechanism is controlled is unclear.

The Edinburgh team now plans to investigate whether an affordable drug can help bring salt intake under control in heart failure patients.

Eating less salt is important for people with heart failure. The condition causes the body to hold on to extra salt and water, leading to fluid build-up in body tissues which imposes a greater load on the heart.

  • Rather than spreading jam, marmalade, syrup, treacle or honey on your toast, try a lower-fat spread, sliced banana or lower-fat cream cheese instead.
  • Check nutrition labels to help you pick the foods with less added sugar, or go for the lower-sugar version.
  • Try halving the sugar you use in your recipes – it works for most things except jam, meringues and ice cream.
  • Choose tins of fruit in juice rather than syrup.
  • Choose wholegrain breakfast cereals, but not those coated with sugar or honey.
  • Limit fruit juice to a small (150ml) glass a day from juice, smoothies or both. Remember to keep it to mealtimes, as it can cause tooth decay.

Mystery surrounds the whereabouts of Shakespeare’s “stolen” skull

Believed to have been stolen 200 years ago, radar has revealed an “an odd disturbance at the head end”

   

David Tennant plays the title role in Shakespeare’s ‘Hamlet’ in a 2009 production [Pixabay]

In what is being called “an odd disturbance at the head end,” it appears that the skull of William Shakespeare, arguably the most famous playwright in history, may well be missing from his place of rest – the strongest indication yet that someone might have made off with his head more than 200 years ago.

Rumours that the bard’s burial place was burglarised has long persisted, but the actual grave itself in the Holy Trinity Church in Stratford-upon-Avon, has never been opened for investigation – for two reasons: firstly, out of respect to England’s most well-known writer, and secondly, the grave is marked with a rhyming curse on his tombstone: “Good friend for Jesus sake forbeare, to dig the dust enclosed here. Blessed be the man that spares these stones, and cursed be he that moves my bones.”

The grave of William Shakespeare, along with the so-called curse, believed to have been penned by him, carved into the tombstone

Finally, in 2014, after centuries of speculation, a research team from Staffordshire University scanned Shakespeare’s grave using ground-penetrating radar, with the project leader Kevin Colls left scratching his head.

“We’re reasonably confident that there’s a good chance that William’s skull is no longer there,” Colls told the New York Times.

The only suspect in the case as it stands comes from a story written in 1879 called How Shakespeare’s skull was stolen, published in the pulp periodicalArgosy and pointing the finger at a certain “Warwickshire man” circa 1794.

The article alleges that Frank Chambers, a local doctor described as “a wild, rather dashing young fellow; not bad looking,” dug into Shakespeare’s grave, taking the skull from within. The Argosy piece implies Chambers never returned it, but offers very little on the mystery that now presents itself – if Shakespeare’s skull was indeed stolen, where is it now?

What has been confirmed is that a skull in a nearby village – long rumoured to be the bard’s – is most certainly not; research into its origins revealed that it belonged to a woman. But with the local Stratford church expressing no interest into exhuming Shakespeare’s remains, we may never know for sure the fate of his head.

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