News Ireland daily BLOB by Donie

Wednesday 18th May 2016

HSE threatens to cut the price of drugs if a new deal is not reached


The Cabinet gave the go-ahead to the HSE to begin a process which could see it use its powers for the first time to enforce a cut in the price of some drugs in around three months

Drug companies are continuing to hike up the cost of several medicines in Ireland despite industry claims that prices are now at a European average.

It comes as the Cabinet yesterday gave the go-ahead to the HSE to begin a process which could see it use its powers for the first time to enforce a cut in the price of some drugs in around three months.

It follows the failure of the HSE and the Department of Health to reach agreement earlier this month on a drugs prices deal to slow the rate of increase in the cost of medicines between now and 2019.

The current drugs bill is around €1.7bn, but that threatens to spiral by nearly 10pc a year unless some rein on costs is agreed.

Talks on the deal, which began in March, ended in a stalemate earlier this month after health officials insisted the prices being set by the drugs companies could not be sustained.

Under 2013 legislation, the HSE can impose drugs cuts but the process could take around three months because it must allow the manufacturers time to respond.

The threat of unilateral cuts is expected to force the Irish Pharmaceutical Healthcare Association (IPHA) back to the negotiating table.

The HSE must make €110m in drugs savings this year through price reductions and other measures such as more use of generic medicines.

That target is now unlikely to be met and the HSE may have to look at other services to make the savings.

Reacting to the threat, the IPHA said it had engaged in good faith negotiations since the end of March with officials on behalf of Government.

A spokesman said: “We have not ended these negotiations. We are surprised by correspondence and Government briefings today.

“We have now asked for meetings with ministers, in the Departments of Health and Public Expenditure and Reform, to discuss the realistic proposals.”

Michael Fitzmaurice is leaving Independent Alliance group?

TD indicates intention to join technical group in bid to have adequate speaking time in Dáil


Michael Fitzmaurice: “I intend to support the Government on votes which I feel will benefit society at large.”

Independent TD for Galway Roscommon Michael Fitzmaurice TD has announced that he is leaving the Independent Alliance.

Mr Fitzmaurice was the only member of the grouping not to support Enda Kenny’s nomination for Taoiseach.

“I have given my future as a member of the Independent Alliance serious consideration over the last number of weeks and have had no choice but to leave the grouping. As a member of the grouping, being the only member in Opposition, I would not be allowed to have leaders’ questions or priority questions and access to speaking time would be very limited,” he said.

Mr Fitzmaurice said he would not be able to represent his constituents in Dáil Éireann under the restrictions.

“Having worked to help formulate the programme for government I intend to support the Government on votes which I feel will benefit society at large and oppose them on votes which I feel are not in the interests of the people,” he said.

The Technical group

Mr Fitzmaurice said new rules on how the Dáil will operate will be published on Thursday and will detail how speaking time will be allocated.

He said he will join a technical group in the coming days in order to get adequate speaking time in the Dáil.

“I hope that by working with people inside and outside of government I can continue to make a constructive contribution to Dáil business and deliver for my region.”

“It has become very clear to me in recent days, considering the criticism directed at some government TD’s for expressing their opinions, that until the issues surrounding turf cutting are resolved and ordinary people are no longer criminalised for exercising their rights, that I could not be member of any government,” he said.

The Independent Alliance was formed last March by independent politicians Shane Ross and Michael Fitzmaurice and Mr Ross was recently appointed Minister for Transport.

Surveyors break down the cost of building a three bed semi detached home in Dublin


Construction costs make up less than half the total of building a new home in the capital, a new report has found.

According to the report by the Society of Chartered Surveyors Ireland (SCSI), the average cost of building a three bedroom, semi-detached house in the greater Dublin area is €330,000.

The construction costs – or “hard costs” – came to €150,000, amounting to less than half (45pc) of the total cost of building the house.

The remaining €180,000 consists mainly of “soft costs” such as the land and acquisition costs of €57,000 (17% of total), VAT of €39,000 (12%) and a margin of €38,000 (11%).

Michael Mahon of the SCSI described the fact that the soft costs dominate the total cost as an issue the government urgently needs to address.

“The country is experiencing a chronic housing shortage which is contributing significantly to the current homelessness crisis,” he said.

“The findings of this report highlight a number of pressing issues, particularly on the soft cost side.

“We need to kick-start housing supply as soon as possible and to accelerate from the current output of 12,000 units per annum to the 25,000 units which is required.”

The report, entitled ‘The Real Cost of New House Delivery’, is based on a study of eight house-building projects in the greater Dublin area, each containing a minimum of 30 units.

It found that the cost of building a new house in the capital is a staggering €45,000 more than the median asking price of a three bedroom semi-detached house in Dublin, according to a property report from

SCSI also surveyed a couple, both of whom earn the average industrial wage of €37,000, and found they would be unable to afford the cost of a new house, even after drawing a maximum loan amount.

If they were to buy a three bedroom semi, priced at €285,000, they would require a deposit of €35,000.

With a combined income of €74,000, they could draw a maximum loan of €259,000, which would allow them to purchase a property up to €294,000 – leaving them €36,493 short of the current total required to provide a new house.

“It is clear there is a serious financial viability issue and it is difficult to see how developers can commence building in this market with particular emphasis in urban areas where the demand is highest but where land prices are also at their highest,” said Mr Mahon.

Lotus-Works to create 100 new jobs in Sligo

Move will boost employment at technical firm to almost 600 by 2017


Julie Sinnamon, the CEO of Enterprise Ireland. The agency has organised trade missions for SMEs in the midlands and west and southwest.

Technical and engineering firm LotusWorks is set to create 100 new jobs at its Sligo headquarters over the coming year.

The company, which already employs 470 people, will create 50 new jobs over the next six months – with another 50 to come on stream by the end of 2017.

Founded in 1989 as Lotus Automation IRL LTD, LotusWorks provides specialist engineers and technicians to customers in the life sciences, data centres and hi-tech clients sectors , and it has rapidly expanded into North America, Europe and most recently Singapore.

The announcement was made during a Trade and Investment Mission event in Sligo on Wednesday, which was organised by Enterprise Ireland and IDA Ireland and led by Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Mary Mitchell O’Connor TD. The objective of the trade mission to Athlone, Sligo and Limerick is to maximise sales opportunities for Irish SMEs with multinational companies (MNCs) based in Ireland.

Tom Cafferkey, COO, LotusWorks said: “Datacentres, bio-pharmaceutical and advanced technology sectors are poised for substantial growth in coming years and the talent LotusWorks has is perfectly suited to supporting these sectors”.

Mushrooms can work magic on hard-to-treat depression,

A study finds


Your hippie friends might have been right after all. A new study published in Lancelot Psychology Journal has found promising evidence that suggests magic mushrooms can relieve depression in patients who have not otherwise responded to conventional treatments.

Scientists at Imperial College London administered high doses of psilocybin, the main compound in magic mushrooms, to 12 volunteers with treatment-resistant depression. After one week, a whopping 100% of the participants were free of depression and five individuals remained symptom-free after three months. The researchers have called the results “promising, but not completely compelling,” due to the inherent limitations of the study. For the study to be considered truly rigorous, the researchers would have needed to use a placebo group to rule out other factors possibly contributing to the results. Yet, the use of a placebo group was not a possibility due to the fact that it would have been rather obvious as to which group ingested the hallucinogenic substance.

While more research is needed, the scientists believe that psilocybin targets receptors in the brain that disrupt the Default Mode Network, an area that is responsible for sense of self and is overactive in depressed people. However, scientists are unable to rule out other possible theories, including the possibility that the hallucinogenic drug induced some sort of awakening or spiritual experience in the participants. According to the National Institute of Health, depression is one of the most common mental disorders and is the leading cause of disability worldwide. An estimated 6.7% of all adults in the United States had one major depressive episode in the past year and approximately 121 million people worldwide experience depression. Of these people, around 10-30% either do not respond to current treatments or show a minimal response in symptom reduction but still continue to experience major functional impairments.

While the results of this new study are definitely promising, the researchers caution against people trying this unconventional treatment at home. “Psychedelic drugs have potent psychological effects and are only given in our research when appropriate safeguards are in place, such as careful screening and professional therapeutic support,” lead author Dr. Robin Carhart-Harris said. “I wouldn’t want members of the public thinking they can treat their own depressions by picking their own magic mushrooms. That kind of approach could be risky.”

We need a Paris climate type of talks to fix the global food system


The Paris climate agreement began its long road to implementation with a formal signing ceremony in New York in April, attended by representatives of some 170 countries. The deal, negotiated last December, has been hailed not only as a breakthrough for climate change but also as a model for how the world can tackle some of its toughest challenges well beyond climate.

Here’s a prime candidate for the Paris treatment: feeding the world in a way that doesn’t cause chaos.

International trade in food has grown markedly in recent decades. Some 20% of food now crosses an international border. That means there’s a good chance that your morning coffee, pre-gym banana, and after-work wine came from somewhere other than the country where you live. But global commodity markets, while delivering broad benefits, are fickle: opaque, distorted by subsidies, and increasingly prone to price spikes and crashes. Farmers struggle to figure out what to plant, when to plant it, and how much to charge for their wares, and when prices crash, they can be left destitute. Poor consumers face the opposite problem: price spikes can mean the difference between going to bed hungry or not. Both sides of the volatility beast can trigger riots or worse. Yet governments, despite repeated attempts, have struggled to cooperate in order to bring more stability to this sensitive space.

Most of their efforts have focused on the World Trade Organization. The WTO is the international organization charged with setting the rules governing international trade. Its members (virtually all the countries in the world) have spent the last twenty years working to reduce logistical and financial barriers to trade. They have succeeded in many ways: international trade has exploded while consumer prices for everything from cars to clothes have declined.

Agriculture was largely left out of the negotiations, however, until the latest round of talks began in 2001. But diplomats found it too difficult to broker a balance that everyone could accept. It’s tough enough to build agreement around manufacturing, as the current presidential campaign attests. But changing the rules of the game for an industry that employs a majority of people in most countries and feeds everyone else is an order of magnitude more difficult. The challenge has multiplied as developing countries such as China, India, and Brazil–which are big enough that trade negotiations can’t ignore them but are still home to hundreds of millions of poor people–joined the negotiating table. It didn’t help that agricultural negotiations are at once highly technical and deeply sensitive politically.

This sort of story sounds awfully familiar to people immersed in the world of climate change. Indeed this precise dynamic dominated climate negotiations until the breakthrough in Paris last year. Climate change talks have struggled since the 1994 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change to integrate rapidly developing, highly polluting countries, most notably China and India, into accords to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The 1997 Kyoto Protocol to that agreement mostly tried to ignore that struggle. It required developed countries to make specific, mandatory cuts to overall emissions by an agreed date. Developing countries were left off the hook, with predictable consequences for the deal’s effectiveness and long-term political credibility.

To reach agreement in Paris, leaders turned the climate problem inside out. In the years following Kyoto, despite their dramatic economic growth, those countries refused to agree to mandatory emissions cuts. Governments feared making hard commitments to slash emissions without knowing exactly how those would play out at home. Diplomats at climate negotiations, without the power to change their countries’ energy systems, reflected and amplified that risk aversion. This largely deadlocked negotiations through the 2009 Copenhagen climate summit. Beginning then, leaders began to slowly chip away at old system. That culminated in the Paris breakthrough.

To reach agreement in Paris, leaders turned the climate problem inside out. Negotiators accepted that international negotiators’ ability to effectively change domestic energy policies was severely limited. They thus dispensed with the goal of mandatory national emissions reductions. Instead they agreed to a global aspiration of slashing emissions and invited countries to offer their own contributions toward achieving that goal. That triggered domestic efforts within each country to develop emissions-cutting plans (some better than others) that they thought they could make work politically at home. The leaders also agreed to a global system that would monitor each country’s progress, subject it to regular international scrutiny, and require new and stronger efforts every five years. The result? For the first time, China, India, Brazil, the United States, and other major emitters signed up to the same climate agreement.

This bottom up model of reaching agreement has its limits. Countries might not deliver on their plans. And, even if they do, that might not add up to the global goals that leaders have set. But the old way of doing business certainly wasn’t doing better–and the new approach has the potential to yield more.

Indeed the same model could be even better for tackling the world’s food challenges. Take subsidies to farmers. They aim to ensure that farmers receive a decent income even when the weather or commodity prices are bad. And, by encouraging farmers to boost production, they can keep prices low for consumers. Economists broadly conclude that subsidies aren’t the best ways to help farmers or consumers–and they can cost taxpayers massive sums. Voters typically only see their direct benefits, which can make subsidies incredibly difficult to remove–a fact that trade negotiators and proponents of open markets have long rued. A Paris-style agreement on agricultural trade, however, could unlock new flexibility. Governments could, for example, agree on a target date for the removal of subsidies but allow governments the freedom to decide how and how quickly that target is reached. Or, they could commit to increasingly ambitious subsidy reductions over time, and to a set of monitoring rules to increase the odds that they remained on target.

The Paris model could also help prepare trade institutions to handle food price spikes. When prices jump, governments come under enormous public pressure to keep food affordable. Often this pressure leads to major market interventions, up to and including total bans on the export of important foods by big suppliers. Such bans can alleviate domestic price spikes but they can actually make problems worse elsewhere in the world by limiting supply. Trade negotiators have been unable to reach agreement on rules prohibiting export bans and similar policies.

Under a Paris approach, however, governments might not need to agree to a uniform policy. They could commit to being transparent about their intention to intervene in the market, for example, giving other countries time to prepare. Countries could also offer national pledges to limit bans in scope or duration, to minimize any market interruption. In each case, governments would retain the flexibility to protect their people in a crisis while at the same time reducing the chances that international markets would overreact.

In these and other areas, a Paris-style deal on agricultural trade could allow governments to work toward freer markets while keeping farmers and consumers happy. As with the Paris agreement, progress toward national commitments would need to be rigorously monitored in order for everyone to feel confident that pledges were being kept. And countries would need to meet regularly to review and strengthen pledges, to keep the momentum going.

The Paris agreement did not happen overnight. The process began in Copenhagen in 2009, and its success is still not guaranteed. But it was born out of a simple realization: if a perfect agreement, with tough targets and binding enforcement, is not possible, an imperfect but still ambitious agreement might be the best way ahead. Agricultural trade negotiators, frustrated after more than a decade of stalemate, may well find that they agree.


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