News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Wednesday 13th April 2016

Martin urges the Independents to show their hand and declare one way or the other?

Move comes after scheduled talks between FG and FF are cancelled.

   

Fianna Fáil leader Micheal Martin contacted Independent TDs and urged them to vote for either a Fine Gael or a Fianna Fáil-led Government.

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin has told Independent TDs the time has come for them to declare their support for either him or Enda Kenny as Taoiseach.

Mr Martin contacted all 15 Independents in talks with both parties Wednesday evening and urged them to vote for either a Fine Gael or a Fianna Fáil-led Government.

His move came after a scheduled discussion on policy between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil was cancelled.

It is understood, however, both parties are still open to further negotiations.

No further meetings have been planned but it is anticipated contact will be made between the two parties on Thursday.

Mr Martin has told Independents that, in the absence of a commitment from Fine Gael that it will support a Fianna Fáil-led minority government, he is not willing to continue in discussions with non-party deputies.

A Fianna Fáil source said Mr Martin will give up on pursuing a Fianna Fáil minority government if he does not secure an additional seven or eight TDs in the vote on Thursday.

Similarily, a significant shift to Mr Kenny would allow Fianna Fáil to acknowledge Fine Gael can form a minority government which Mr Martin will facilitate from the opposition.

Sources in both parties said the process of forming a government had dragged on for too long and needed to come to a swift conclusion.

The possibility of a second election in the absence of enough Independent TDs declaring for Mr Martin or Mr Kenny was being speculated upon in Leinster House.

A Fianna Fáil source said: “It would require a significant number of Independents to vote for Micheal Martin as taoiseach. One or two will not be enough.

“If they want to support a fine Gael minority government that is their choice but we need to know. We are on a roundabout with no exits so the time has come. This is their final opportunity.”

A Fine Gael source said the talks with Fianna Fáil would resume after the vote for Taoiseach on Thursday.

“Fianna Fáil want to allow any Independnets who want to jump in their favour one last chance to do so,” the source said.

The Independent Alliance will meet on Thursday at 11.30 am to decide whether to vote for Mr Kenny or Mr Martin.

However, members of the group said they saw no reason to declare for either party and are likely to abstain in the vote.

Waterford TD John Halligan has opted out of the discussions with both parties.

The five rural TDs of Denis Naughten, Mattie McGrath, Michael Harty, Michael Collins and Noel Grealish will also meet on Thursday to discuss what they should do.

It is expected they will vote against both candidates as will Independent TD Danny Healy-Rae.

Mr Kenny had been hopeful the vote on Taoiseach could be deferred but he needed the support of Fianna Fáil and said this was not forthcoming.

The two parties only met for an hour on Wednesday to discuss the mechanics of a minority government with a meeting scheduled for 8pm to exchange policy papers.

However, it was cancelled at short notice by Fianna Fáil in a move described as frustrating and disappointing by Fine Gael.

The Fine Gael parliamentary party had earlier passed a motion urging the leadership not to compromise on Irish Water in discussions with Fianna Fáil.

It is understood legislation prepared by Fianna Fáil to abolish Irish Water has been agreed by the party and is expected to be handed to Fine Gael within days.

The proposed legislation will suspend the charges for five years and abolish the utility in favour of a slimmed down firm.

Meanwhile, Mr Kenny and Minister for Finance Michael Noonan met with senior figures in the Labour party on Tuesday to secure their support for a Fine Gael minority Government.

The meeting, which was attended by Tánaiste Joan Burton, Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Brendan Howlin and Minister for the Environment Alan Kelly, took place in Government Buildings.

It is understood Mr Kenny and Mr Noonan encouraged Labour to re-enter Government but the Labour figures rejected the proposal.

Fine Gael also requested the party support them from the opposition benches.

The three Labour Ministers insisted they could make no decision until the outcome of discussions between Fine Gael and Fianna Fail were known.

International Tax officials plan to take action following the Panama Papers?

International representatives meet at OECD to discuss response to controversy

      

An activist clutching a suitcase stuffed with fake money demands greater transparency in new legislation following the Panama Papers in Berlin, Germany.

Senior international tax officials met at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) on Wednesday to discuss responses to the Panama Papers.

Tax authorities are notoriously reluctant to share information, but the sheer scale of the Panama Papers – 11.5 million documents covering 210,000 companies in 21 offshore jurisdictions – has forced them to co-operate.

Nearly everything about the meeting was secret. The OECD would not reveal the number of participants, though press reports estimated that there were 28 officials in attendance.

The Irish Revenue Commissioners sent one or more representatives, but would not divulge numbers or identities.

“Some of the countries coming here do not even want their presence known,” said an informed source.

“If you’re doing an investigation, maybe there’s a big fish in a given country who feels personally threatened or at risk.

“You wouldn’t want to say, ‘Hey, we’re at the OECD getting the Panama Papers information.’”

The meeting was organised by the Joint International Tax Shelter Information and Collaboration (Jitsic) network.

The 46 countries who belong to the OECD’s Forum on Tax Administration are potential members of any Jitsic “project”.

They include the 34 members of the OECD, plus members of the G20 who are not in the club for the world’s most developed countries.

The number of participants in a given Jitsic “project” can range from two to 46.

“We are only aware of what has been reported in the press,” the OECD said, denying it had access to the Panama Papers.

Revenue authorities from at least 10 countries, including the State, have reportedly approached members of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists in relation to the papers but were told: “The ICIJ is not an arm of law enforcement and is not an agent of the government.”

However, a source at the OECD insisted data-sharing had motivated the meeting.

“Somebody has the data. That’s the whole reason they had the meeting,” the source said.

The OECD’s one-page, post-meeting statement said it discussed “opportunites for obtaining data, co-operation and information-sharing.”

An G20 mandate?

The G20 gave the OECD a mandate to fight tax evasion in 2009.

It was subsequently invested with another mission, to thwart corporations shifting profits to avoid tax.

But the OECD is not privy to taxpayer specific information.

“If one of the Jitsic countries says, ‘Let me show you what we’ve got so far,’ that’s when OECD officials leave the room,” an OECD source explained.

Jitsic is headed by Chris Jordan, commissioner for the Australian tax office.

He says Jitsic members share “a global mindset for tackling tax evasion and aggressive tax avoidance”.

Mark Konza, head of international tax in Australia, chaired Wednesday’s meeting.

Mr Jordan told the Australian Financial Review that the objective of the meeting was “to get the bigger picture . . . A number of countries have got slices or pieces of the data and that’s been very useful, but really, the start of the conversation is to work out who’s got what, how we can pool that information and start to work together”.

The OECD said follow-up action will be ensured by national tax administrations.

“It will be devolved to more operational people in the Jitsic network,” Mr Jordan said. “It’s data analytics people we need.”

Meanwhile, the French finance minister Michel Sapin told a press conference the Panama Papers have prompted “a burst of generosity” amongst tax evaders, who are coming forward to the STDR, the service set up nearly three years ago by the French to encourage those with offshore accounts to confess and negotiate settlements.

A spokesperson at the Revenue Commissioners said it was not yet clear whether the Panama Papers will have a similar effect in the State.

“Our message is: ‘Come to us before we come to you, because we will,’” she said.

Acting Tánaiste Joan Burton wants to stay on as Labour Party leader

Acting Tánaiste may face party’s deputy leader Alan Kelly in a leadership contest

     

The demise of Joan as depicted above?

The Tánaiste Joan Burton has told senior Labour Party figures she wants to stay on as party leader and has discussed a campaign to retain the leadership, even though many in the party believed she would step down.

Labour’s rules require a leadership election after an unsuccessful election and Ms Burton – who remains acting Tánaiste – said she would announce her intention after a government is formed.

The Irish Times has been told by usually reliable sources that they believe that Ms Burton and deputy leader Alan Kelly would both seek the post.

Extraordinarily, it is also suggested that Ms Burton and Mr Kelly may second each other’s nomination for the leadership, as neither is certain of attracting a seconder from the parliamentary party, as party rules require.

Several high-ranking party sources confirmed the prospect had been raised internally in recent days, though some played down the likelihood of an exchange of nomination papers. All expressed unhappiness at the idea.

Mr Kelly, Minister for the Environment, is thought certain to stand.

But if Ms Burton stood for the leadership it would take the party by surprise.

One nominee

Some senior Labour figures, including some members of the parliamentary party, favoured an agreement to have just one nominee with acting Minister for Public Expenditure Brendan Howlin going for the leadership, avoiding a protracted and potentially divisive election.

Ms Burton and Mr Kelly are thought to be vehemently opposed to a coronation for Mr Howlin.

A spokesman for Ms Burton said she had “consistently made clear that government formation remains the most important issue” and that all other issues “can be addressed once a new government is in place”.

New UK scanning project could lead to breakthroughs in spotting risk factors for most diseases

    

An “exciting” new UK study could unlock information on risk factors for diseases, detect the earliest signs of illnesses, and help develop new kinds of treatments, experts have said.

Scientists in Britain are hoping to create the world’s biggest collection of scans of internal organs.

Experts said the project will see 100,000 people scanned by MRI machines and other state-of-the-art imaging methods. And it could lead to “new breakthroughs faster”.

100,000 people will be scanned in machines like this MRI one (Bruce Adams/Daily Mail/PA)It’s hoped the research study could lead to findings on a par with the study that first linked smoking to lung cancer.

Studies using scans have in the past only used hundreds of participants. Having a new large database will expand the “scope and quality” of research, the chairman of the UK Biobank Imaging Expert Working Group said.

Professor Paul Matthews also said the “exciting” project will help scientists “view health holistically”.

Discovering a link between smoking and lung cancer was a huge breakthrough (Gareth Fuller/PA)He added: “This imaging is going to help us understand risk factors that could help prevent future diseases, just as the discovery between smoking and the link to lung cancers helped to change the entire prevalence of that disease in this country.

“We may also find out the earliest changes in diseases, discovering for example, markers for diseases like Alzheimer’s years before they ever happen to allow doctors in the future to think about treating people before the disease really starts to express itself.

“And maybe this kind of imaging could help us find new kinds of treatments.”

A radiographer views images on a computer from a new MRI scanner (Anna Gowthorpe/PA)Officials said the UK Biobank project – funded by the Medical Research Council, Wellcome Trust, and the British Heart Foundation – could transform the way scientists study a wide range of diseases. These include dementia, arthritis, cancer, heart attacks and strokes.

Experts will image the brain, heart, bones, carotid arteries and abdominal fat of 100,000 people who are current participants of UK Biobank – a research resource tracking half a million people across the UK.

The participants already provide detailed information on themselves, including their lifestyle, weight, height, diet, physical activity and cognitive function.

Inky the Octopus slips out of aquarium tank, crawls across floor and escapes down a pipe to his home in the Pacific ocean

     

Inky the octopus, the escapee from New Zealand’s National Aquarium. Inky the octopus didn’t even try to cover his tracks.

By the time the staff at New Zealand’s National Aquarium noticed that he was missing, tell tale suction cup prints were the main clue to an easily solved mystery.

Inky had said see ya to his tank-mate, slipped through a gap left by maintenance workers at the top of his enclosure and, as evidenced by the tracks, made his way across the floor to a six-inch-wide drain. He squeezed his football-sized body in — octopuses are very malleable, aquarium manager Rob Yarrall told the New Zealand website Stuff — and made a break for the Pacific.

“He managed to make his way to one of the drain holes that go back to the ocean. And off he went,” Yarrall told Radio New Zealand. “And he didn’t even leave us a message.”

The cephalopod version of “Shawshank Redemption” took place three months ago, but it only became public Tuesday. Inky, who already had some local renown in the coastal city of Napier, quickly became a global celebrity cheered on by strangers.

Inky had resided at the aquarium since 2014, when he was taken in after being caught in a crayfish pot, his body scarred and his arms injured. The octopus’s name was chosen from nominations submitted to a contest run by the Napier City Council.

Kerry Hewitt, the aquarium’s curator of exhibits, said at the time that Inky was “getting used to being at the aquarium” but added that staff would “have to keep Inky amused or he will get bored.”

Guess that happened.

This isn’t the first time a captive octopus decided to take matters into its own hands — er, tentacles. In 2009, after a two-spotted octopus at the Santa Monica Pier Aquarium in California took apart a water recycling valve, directed a tube to shoot water out of the tank for 10 hours and caused a massive flood, Scientific American asked octopus expert Jennifer Mather about the animals’ intelligence and previous such hijinks at aquariums.

“They are very strong, and it is practically impossible to keep an octopus in a tank unless you are very lucky. … Octopuses simply take things apart,” Mather said. “I recall reading about someone who had built a robot submarine to putter around in a large aquarium tank. The octopus got a hold of it and took it apart piece by piece. There’s a famous story from the Brighton Aquarium in England 100 years ago that an octopus there got out of its tank at night when no one was watching, went to the tank next door and ate one of the lumpfish and went back to his own tank and was sitting there the next morning.”

Yarrall said the aquarium has no plans to replace Inky, but it does intend to better secure the tank where now just one octopus remains.

“They are always exploring and they are great escape artists,” Yarrall said, according to Hawke’s Bay Today. “We’ll be watching the other one.”

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