News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Tuesday 3rd. May 2016

Trinity Treaty blueprint dictates the limits of a minority ruled Government by Fine Gael

    

The so-called ‘Trinity Treaty’ and its eight pages, which will be the glue that keeps this minority Fine Gael government from falling apart at the seams, was debated at party meetings last night.

This is essentially a blueprint for the next few years and the ‘rules of play’, as agreed between Fine Gael, who will run the country, and Fianna Fáil, who will watch owl-eyed from the opposition benches.

Any dereliction from this deal between the rival parties would likely collapse a government and cause fresh elections. So, here’s a quick digest of the rules of engagement between Enda Kenny’s team and Micheál Martin’s for the next three years, plus an idea about what is planned for water charges. Expect the rules to be referred to religiously by both leaders during the lifetime of this Dáil.

The eight-page, 2,000 word, document includes a three-part deal between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil. The first focuses on the mechanics of the minority government deal between the two rival parties.

It includes a commitment by Fianna Fáil to abstain in the election of Taoiseach, nomination of ministers and any reshuffles.

Fianna Fáil will also facilitate budgets in line with the policies it wants. It has also committed to voting against or abstaining on any motions of no confidence in the government, ministers or money bills. Crucially, the deal allows for both leaders to personally resolve differences arising between both parties if an event arises that could “undermine” the deal.

The document also shows that Fine Gael will publish all agreements with Independent TDs or other parties “in full”. This compares to secrete sweetheart deals made by previous Fianna Fáil governments with Independents over the years which were never published. The deal also allows Fine Gael to seek separate policy commitments from other parties for a programme for government. The later could prove useful for Fine Gael if its support fell mid-way through the minority government, and it was forced to turn to others, such as Labour or the Greens, to be propped up.

Another section outlines the changes agreed to water charges. Charges will now be suspended within six weeks of a government being formed, which means bills may be halted from mid-June.

The incoming Fine Gael Government, though, have committed to possibly “abolishing” water charges if the Oireachtas recommends so after the whole system is reviewed by a special commission. This is the first written commitment of this option.

Changes under the deal will also see the €100 water conservation grant scrapped and more funds instead injected into group water schemes and the refurbishment of wells.

The document says that the Oireachtas will — six weeks after the government is formed — introduce legislation to suspend charges for a period of nine months.

The suspension period can be extended, the document adds, by the incoming government.

The expert commission will be set up within eight weeks of the new government and report within five months.

Crucially, the document states commission recommendations will go to a committee and then be voted upon by the Oireachtas.

It adds: “The Government will facilitate the passage of legislation (whether it be a money bill or otherwise) the implementation of the recommendations in relation to domestic water charges supported by the Oireachtas including abolition, a reformed charging regime or other options.”

  The Independent Alliance

However, on the contentious issue of the near million customers who are thought to have paid their water bills so far and whether any refunds will be made, the deal between the two is vague.

It says: “We affirm that those who have paid their water bills to date will be treated no less favourably than those who have not.”

This seems to suggest that those who paid will be no less-off than those who have not, but the agreement does not suggest that non-payers will be pursued or refunds provided.

Fine Gael sources last night said this left the option open for the party to continue to insist that non-payers will still be pursued, but that refunds could be granted down the line, if charges are abolished.

The next move will be for Independent TDs to agree to the ‘Trinity Treaty’ document, especially the points on policy. If not, the decision of a new government will be postponed again.

While TDs own concerns were listened to by Fine Gael during 70 hours of talks, it is likely Independents will want their moment, and are sure to stall an end to the talks until their own demands are well voiced.

Prediction for Ireland to be EU’s fastest-growing economy for 2016

The European Commission revises its growth forecast for Ireland upwards to 4.9%

     

Ireland is predicted to be the fastest-growing economy in Europe this year according to new figures from the European Commission, with the EU’s executive arm expecting the economy to grow by 4.9% this year.

The predicted GDP growth rate is higher than the figure of 4.5% for 2016 estimated three months ago. The Commission also revised upwards its estimates for 2017 to 3.7%, up slightly from the growth rate of 3.5% predicted in February.

The 4.9% GDP growth rate contrasts with the euro zone average of 1.6% growth expected this year, down slightly from the 1.7% growth forecast in February. Germany, Europe’s largest economy, is expected to grow by 1.6% in 2016 with a 1.3% growth rate expected for France. Among the other countries expected to above-average levels of growth are  Romania and Malta, which are expected to grow by 4.2% and 4.1% respectively.

In its analysis of the Irish economy, the Commission states while Ireland appears resilient to the recent deceleration in world output, “the uncertainty surrounding external economic and policy developments invite some caution.” While it does not cite specific external threats to the economy, it states that Ireland is particularly exposed to external factors such as a deceleration in demand from trading partners due to its status as an open economy.

Regarding the housing market, the Commission expects that house price increases in Ireland will moderate as government measures to boost supply kick-in.

It also sounds a cautious note on employment trends. Noting that employment growth decelerated in the final quarter of last year, it says that unemployment is expected to decrease at a slower pace in Ireland than in earlier phases of the recovery.

The reduction in the deficit is welcomed by the Commission, which notes that the government’s deficit fell sharply to 2.3% of GDP in 2015, compared to 3.8% in 2014. It notes that the deficit would have fallen further to 1.3%, but for the accounting treatment of the conversion of some of the state’s preference shares in Allied Irish Banks to ordinary stock in preparation for the bank’s sale.

But it notes that the strong deficit figures reflect the fact that tax revenues increased by 9.3% last year, fuelled by an “unprecedented surge in corporate tax receipts,” which were 50% higher than the previous year.

Overall, the European Commission is cautious about the economic performance of the bloc, revising downwards its economic growth estimates for the year to 1.6% compared to the figure of 1.7% forecast just three months ago. Similarly it expects the euro zone economy to grow by 1.7% in 2017, compared to the figure of 1.9% expected in February.

“Economic growth in Europe is expected to remain modest as key trading partners’ performance has slowed and some of the so far supportive factors start to wane,” the Commission states in its Spring Economic Forecast.

It warns that the expected rebound in oil prices and the single currency’s recent appreciation could affect the economic picture

European Commission vice president Valdis Dombrovskis said that, while the economic recovery in Europe is continuing, the global context is less conducive than it was. “Future growth will increasingly depend on the opportunities we create for ourselves. That means stepping up our structural reform efforts to address long-standing problems in many countries – high levels of public and private debt, vulnerabilities in the financial sector or declining competitiveness.”

HSE unable to pay the €10m emergency nurses pay deal?

Cost of deal set to be added to executive’s financial overrun which may hit €300m

     

Under the deal nurses in emergency departments are to receive an extra two days’ leave this year and in 2017 in lieu of missed meal breaks.

The HSE has told the Government it does not have the money to pay for a €10 million deal agreed with nurses to avoid strikes in hospital emergency departments before the general election.

However, Minister for Health Leo Varadkar has told the HSE that agreements made by public sector employers and unions at the Workplace Relations Commission were “binding and must be honoured”.

The cost of the deal with the nurses and it has already led to knock-on claims from other healthcare staff and is now expected to be added to the HSE’s already growing financial overrun for 2016. This could reach €300 million by the end of the year.

Under the deal nurses in emergency departments are to receive an extra two days’ leave this year and in 2017 in lieu of missed meal breaks.

In addition, a €1,500 educational bursary is to be put in place for personnel who stay in their post for one year.

Additional promotional positions for nurses in emergency departments are also to be established.

Additional costs

HSE director general Tony O’Brien told the Department of Health in March the deal involved additional costs which were over and above those covered by the State’s allocation to the HSE.

Mr Varadkar took responsibility for the deal in a replying letter to Mr O’Brien on March 16th. “I appreciate that provision was not made for this when the national service plan 2016 (the HSE’s agreement with the Government on how its budget will be spent) was approved. The Workplace Relations Commission agreement was made subsequently with my full knowledge and support.

“For this reason I am asking that you proceed to implement it in full as soon as practicable and to inform the Workplace Relations Commission of the same.”

“I understand that implementation will cost up to €10 million in 2016,” the Minster said.

Meanwhile, it has also emerged the HSE earlier this year proposed financial incentives to encourage 8,000 nurses currently working on flexible arrangements to work additional hours.

Pay policy: However, this was rejected by the Department of Health, which feared the impact of such a development on broader public service pay policy.

The HSE told the department in late January that there was evidence that the existing terms and conditions were not sufficiently attractive to encourage nurses on flexible arrangements to work additional hours.

It said nurses who did not work full hours could not be paid overtime under existing terms and conditions.

“While it is not within the capacity of the HSE to change the terms and conditions of public sector staff, this initiative could be assisted by the provision of incentivised terms,” the HSE said.

Overtime arrangements?

Within days the Department of Health replied, stating: “There can be no question of overtime arrangements or other financial incentives applying to staff members who work less than full-time hours or any departure from existing overtime arrangements.”

Details of the HSE proposals have emerged as nurses are expected to demand improvements in their terms and conditions at the annual conference of theIrish Nurses and Midwives Organisation which gets under way in Co Kerry today.

SuperValu group set for global expansion as Musgrave eyes export markets

      

Musgrave chief executive (left) Chris Martin

The SuperValu brand could start making an appearance on shop shelves around the world, as Cork-based retail group Musgrave plots a targeted internationalisation of its products.

Musgrave chief executive Chris Martin said that while its plans are at a very early stage, the group is looking at how it might emulate retailers such as UK-based Waitrose, which sells its products to other retailers around the globe.

“We believe there is a real opportunity, particularly with our own-brand, that we can create export opportunities,” said Mr Martin. “It’s early days. We’re investigating it.”

He cited Waitrose as an example of a retailer that exports branded goods around the world.

Dunnes Stores, for example, has stocked Waitrose products in the past. Waitrose sells its products in about 60 countries.

“The appetite for the sorts of product that we’re developing and working with our suppliers on, is unique,” said Mr Martin, pointing to hundreds of products that have been launched under its own-brand ‘Signature Tastes’ label.

He said SuperValu’s Food Academy initiative – a programme developed in conjunction with Bord Bia and local enterprises offices – has been successful in helping to drive sales at the retailer’s stores.

The programme supports hundreds of small businesses in developing their products and getting them on shelves.

“The opportunity we’re looking at is working with distributors and talking directly with retailers about how we can sell our product in (to their networks),” said Mr Martin. “It plays partly to the Irish diaspora, but more importantly, it places the quality that we are developing (in focus),” he added. He said healthy products developed for SuperValu could present a good opportunity for the retailer.

He added that Musgrave now has an executive examining the potential for exports, but that they have only taken on the task within the past few weeks.

“We’ll wait and see, but it’s about looking at different ways in which we can extend our offer,” the chief executive said.

He said it’s not clear yet though whether the SuperValu name would be used for any exports.

“It’s too early to say. The reality is that you’ve got to make your product work in the local market. But the fact is, you can go into markets. It’s about looking at the catalogue of products, seeing who’s interested, seeing what retailers want, and the products absolutely reinforce the sorts of quality that some of the markets are looking for.”

SuperValu is the country’s biggest grocery retailer, with most of the stores operated by franchisees.

Family-owned Musgrave also owns the Centra and Daybreak brands here.

Musgrave generated revenue of €3.7bn and a pre-tax profit of €52.8m from continuing operations last year.

New planets found boost search for life beyond our Earth

    

The discovery of three planets that circle a small, dim star could bolster the chances of finding life beyond Earth, astronomers now say.

The Earth-sized planets are orbiting their parent star, located in the constellation Aquarius relatively close to Earth at 40 light years away, at a distance that provides the right amount of heat for there to be liquid water on their surface, a condition scientists believe may be critical for fostering life.

The discovery marked the first time that planets were found orbiting a common type of star known as an ultra-cool dwarf, the scientists said.

“If we want to find life elsewhere in the universe, this is where we should start to look,” Michael Gillon, lead author of the research published in the journal Nature, said.

The discovery was made using Europe’s Transiting Planets and Planetesimals Small Telescope, or TRAPPIST, located in Chile.

Though the planets are about the size of Earth, their host star is just 8% of the size of the sun and less than a half a percent as bright.

So far, astronomers have found more than 2,000 planets beyond the solar system and are developing techniques to scan planets’ atmospheres for gases related to biological activities.

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