News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Monday 04th July 2016

Happy days as Ireland’s Tax receipts for this year to end June are €742m ahead of target

Exchequer data show public finances continuing to benefit from surge in corporation tax

   

Happy reading for the Minister for Finance Michael Noonan.

The latest returns resulted in an exchequer deficit for the period of €1.14 billion compared to a deficit of €292 million for the same period last year, albeit last year’s figures were flattered by a €2.1 billion payment generated from the sale of Permanent TSB shares, and a transfer from the national pension reserve fund.

Tax receipts for the year are now €742 million ahead of target, according to the latest exchequer returns.

The figures show the public finances are continuing to benefit from a surge in corporation tax, which came in at €2.67 billion for the six-month period to the end of June, some €505 million or 19 per cent above profile.

Overall, the Government collected €22.5 billion in tax revenue, which was €1.9 billion up on the corresponding period last year.

The other strong-performing tax head was excise duty, which amounted to €2.76 billion for the period, some €401 million or 14.5% ahead of projections.

This was linked to increased imports of cigarettes ahead of the introduction of plain packaging, which is expected to unwind later in the year.

Income tax, the largest of the Government’s four main tax heads, came in at €8.77 billion, in line with department projections.

This represented a year-on-year increase of €462 million or 5.6% and reflects ongoing recovery in the labour market.

VAT, a key indicator of health in the retail economy, generated €6.2 billion, which was €230 million below profile.

On the monthly basis, VAT receipts were also €110 million or 36% behind expectations.

Repayments

A department spokesman said the VAT figures reflected a large level of repayments going out in a non-VAT month.

He also said the underlying trend was consistent with the latest retail sales figures from the Central Statistics Office (CSO).

Total net voted spending came in at €20.8 billion, which was marginally below projections.

The department said spending in 12 of the 16 government departments was below targets set at the start of the year.

Of the four exceptions, the largest overspend was in health, which was 2.1 per cent or €137 million above target.

With new EU rules restricting the use of supplementary budgets, the Government will not be in a position to roll this over into the following year as it did last October.

The latest returns resulted in an exchequer deficit for the period of €1.14 billion compared to a deficit of €292 million for the same period last year, albeit last year’s figures were flattered by a €2.1 billion payment generated from the sale of Permanent TSB shares, and a transfer from the national pension reserve fund.

Appeal to HSE to ensure Console services are secured in wake of controversy

The Health Minister has described an audit into the charity as a “harrowing” read.

      

Above (middle picture) Paul Kelly rogue director of the charity CONSOLE.

The Health Minister SIMON HARRIS has confirmed that he is meeting with the HSE tomorrow to discuss its internal audit of the charity Console.

Harris said that he had read the report of the audit and that he had found it “disgusting and disturbing”.

Meanwhile, interim chief executive of the charity David Hall has told TheJournal.ie that he will be writing to Harris tonight to secure funds so that Console’s services for people affected by suicide can continue.

“I am engaged with the HSE and will be writing to Minister Harris seeking the HSE’s support for the existing services,” he said this evening. “We need to secure services and the services cannot continue in absence of support from the HSE.”

He said that a decision on this needed to be made before the case appears before the High Court on Tuesday.

Hall took possession of some of the charity’s assets, including two cars, yesterday.

He said that he took a forensic security firm with him which took possession of the files on computers which were handed over to him. The cars were taken to an auction house to be valued. A report on the assets is expected to be given to Hall in court.

Harris told RTÉ’s The Week in Politics this afternoon that the HSE Console audit is ”a harrowing read”.

He said he was “not satisfied” with how HSE funding of the charity was being managed.

“I’m very concerned about this and I’m not satisfied in relation to it,” said Harris.

He said that he had read a report of the internal audit of Console and that it was “a harrowing read”.

“There are elements there that are quite frankly disgusting and disturbing,” he said.

I’m really not pleased and it needs to be published as quickly as possible.

However, Harris said that in terms of the HSE’s relationship with Console he was satisfied that it had received the service that it had paid for.

“The HSE procures a service from Console,” he said.

“It grant-aids Console to provide bereavement counselling and the operation of a helpline.

“And the one thing I can say… we are satisfied that the service we paid for we did receive.”

Harris said that he will be meeting with the HSE tomorrow to discuss the report.

The HSE is to appear before the Public Accounts Committee in relation to its funding to Console and other charities, its chairman Séán Fleming told the Marian Finucane Show today.

Saint John of God report?

Meanwhile, the Daily Mail has published an investigation today into top-up payments made to more than a dozen senior managers at taxpayer-funded charity Saint John of God.

In a statement, Saint John of God Hospitalier Order said:

We are of the view that the once off payments made to senior managers in 2013, which were based on professional advice, was the correct thing to do. The payments  were made by the Order to discharge contractual obligations with managers. The payments did not impact in any manner or at any time, on the provision of services and supports.

While The Order believes it is in compliance with public pay policy, it welcomes any review by the HSE into this matter. The Order is keen to fully co-operate with such a process, as soon as it is initiated. It has already shared with the HSE, the independent professional advice it received in 2013.

Finian McGrath, Minister of State for Disabilities, told RTÉ Radio One’s This Week that the HSE is investigating the report.

With regard to the regulation of charities, he said ”we have to up our game”. McGrath said that the HSE is in talks with the order on this particular issue and they will be reviewing and responding to the issues that were raised.

He said that part of his objective as a minister of state is to “clean up that whole sector and ensure all children and adults with disabilities get the taxpayers’ money into their frontline services”.

McGrath said allegations made in the Daily Mail report regarding top-ups and Saint John of God are ”not acceptable“.

   “I will be demanding action,” said Finian McGrath.

Sinn Féin deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald said that with regard to this story, “we will want to know exactly what happened”.

Speaking to This Week, McDonald said that there was “fairly intensive correspondence between the HSE and indeed the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform requiring these organisations including Saint John of God to compel with public pay policy”.

She said that she would like to see the trail of correspondence between the State and Saint John of God.

“I would like to know what measures [there were] to ensure compliance,” she said, adding that the situation”raises every question that we have raised before around how active, how vigilant, how attentive is the HSE in terms of the very substantial funding that goes to these organisations”.

McDonald said she also thinks it raises a question for government.

She said that successive ministers for health have been aware that there were problems in the charitable sector around complying with public pay policy, and “we find ourselves now many years on back at square one”.

She said that poor governance and poor practice is “very annoying and very disappointing for the public”.

Fianna Fáil TD Marc Mac Sharry has called on the HSE to publish audits which it carried out on 27 charities “to ensure greater transparency within the sector”.

He commented: “There are hundreds of charities across this country which provide excellent services to vulnerable people and we must ensure that these organisations are protected.  The scandal at console risks damaging their reputations, as well as that of the charity sector as a whole.

Meanwhile:-

Irish charities are responsible for vetting directors and staff? says the HSE

   

Social Democrats TD Catherine Murphy (above picture) has criticised the HSE for its handling of the saga and said more could have been done to protect the integrity of the charity sector.

Carrying out background checks and Garda vetting was solely the responsibility of staff and directors at Console, it has emerged.

The HSE said organisations such as the suicide-bereavement charity are responsible for reassuring it that staff had the necessary Garda clearance before they received State funding.

This is despite director Paul Kelly being served with the Probation Act for impersonating a doctor for three weeks in 1983.

Social Democrats TD Catherine Murphy criticised the HSE for its handling of the saga and said more could have been done to protect the integrity of the charity sector.

“I don’t understand how the HSE didn’t do a greater piece of due diligence . . . The charity regulator needs to be given more power,” Ms Murphy said.

Have recent revelations put you off donating to charities?

She said the HSE needed to be more responsible when allocating funding to charities.

“They should have looked at the health of the board, who was on it and who the directors were. There is a bigger piece of work the HSE must do if they are going to be funders.”

The HSE has defended the security structures it has in place to monitor charities such as Console.

It said it was led to believe Console was financially compliant and that all of its staff, including Mr Kelly, had the appropriate Garda clearance to carry out a public service.

However, the HSE has failed to confirm whether Paul Kelly’s history, which includes impersonating a doctor and a priest, was ever taken into consideration when Console was being allocated State funding.

The HSE completed an internal audit of the charity last year and is considering Console’s response to the findings and recommendations before making a decision on any future arrangements.

Breathing seaweed fumes is good for your health, research now shows

Two-decade study finds iodine deficiency much lower in seaweed-rich coastal areas

  

Johnny Cloherty harvesting seaweed near Carna in Co Galway.

Taking a coastal stroll makes one feel better, but it’s not just the fresh air that lifts the spirits. Newly-published research has found breathing iodine emitted by seaweed has physiological benefits.

The research published in the Irish Medical Journal says iodine intake, which is essential to brain development in children, is improved by continued exposure to a seaweed-rich environment.

The two-decade study, led by Prof Peter Smyth of both University CollegeDublin (UCD) and NUI Galway, was sparked by his interest during his time in UCD medical school in iodine deficiency and its effect on the thyroid gland.

Research in the 1940s in south Tipperary had linked large goitres and associated learning difficulties in children with iodine deficiency.

Ireland and Britain lack the salt iodisation programmes introduced in other developed countries to ensure diets of expectant mothers are not iodine-deficient. “Seaweed shares properties with the human thyroid, in that both concentrate iodine; the thyroid from the diet, seaweed from seawater,” Prof Smyth says.

His study over 20 years compared urine samples taken from schoolchildren and women in three separate environments: the seaweed-rich coastal area of Carna, Co Galway; the coastal cities of Dublin, Galway and Belfast; and the inland areas of Dungannon, Co Tyrone, and Mullingar, Co Westmeath.

The seaweed “hotspot” of Carna scored highest of all, with 45.6 per cent of schoolchildren and 43 per cent of adults having iodine intake above the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommendation. Between 2.3 per cent and 16 per cent of those tested in inland and low seaweed-abundant coastal areas met the WHO standard.

“The benefits are associated with not just being near the sea, but being able to take a good lungful of air near a seaweed-rich beach,” Prof Smyth says.

The findings may prompt local authorities to think twice about regularly clearing city beaches of seaweed.

In Galway, an estimated 60,000 people visited the third national SeaFest over the weekend.

China completes the world’s largest radio telescope to find aliens from outer space?

   

Work has finished on the world’s largest radio telescope, which will hunt for extraterrestrial life and explore space.

China fitted the final of 4,450 panels into the centre of the 500m-wide Aperture Spherical Telescope, or FAST, over the weekend.

The telescope, which cost $180 million (£135 million) and took five years to build, will be switched on from September this year.

“The project has the potential to search for more strange objects to better understand the origin of the universe and boost the global hunt for extraterrestrial life,” Zheng Xiaonian, deputy head of the National Astonomical Observation under the Chinese Academy Sciences, which built the telescope, told Xhinua news agency.

Around the size of 30 football pitches, the 500m-wide radio telescope is significantly larger than the current record holder, Puerto Rico’s 300m-wide Arecibo Observatory. And it is 10 times more sensitive than Germany’s 100-metre-wide steerable telescope, according to Xinhua.

From September, the telescope will be open for two or three years of early-stage research while it also undergoes trials and adjustments.

Before then 9,000 people that live within a 5 km radius of the centre will be relocated to ensure radio silence in the area.

After September, the telescope will be made available to researchers across the world, and will help detecting pulsars and gravitational waves. FAST is expected to eventually be able to detect amino acids, the building blocks of proteins, which would signal life on other planets.

Researchers as far as 2,000 km away from the site in Pintang County, Guizhou, can use the telescope for remote observation and control.

President Xi Jingping is determined to establish China as a space power. Its ambitions include putting a man on the moon by 2036 and building a space station, the first module of which will be launched in 2018.

The country recently unveiled the world’s most powerful supercomputer that is almost three times as powerful as its nearest competitor.

China’s rival to space exploration, Nasa, will this week reach Jupiter with its Juno spacecraft. If the mission is successful it could solve the mystery of the swirling storm clouds and whether the planet was the first in the solar system.

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