News Ireland daily BLOG by donie

Tuesday 19th July 2016

Irish Government launches new Housing Action Plan

    

The Irish Government is today launching its new 84-point action plan to deal with the housing crisis.

The Rebuilding Ireland project encompasses five pillars – to address homelessness; accelerate social housing; build more homes; improve the rental sector and utilise existing housing.

The €5.35bn plan has pledged to deliver 47,000 social houses in six years. The plan also says 25,000 homes a year will be built here by 2020.

  • Pillar 1 – Address Homelessness

Provide early solutions to address the unacceptable level of families in emergency accommodation; deliver inter-agency supports for people who are currently homeless, with a particular emphasis on minimising the incidence of rough sleeping, and enhance State supports to keep people in their own homes.

  • Pillar 2 – Accelerate Social Housing

Increase the level and speed of delivery of social housing and other State-supported housing.

  • Pillar 3 – Build More Homes

Increase the output of private housing to meet demand at affordable prices.

  • Pillar 4 – Improve the Rental Sector

Address the obstacles to greater private rented sector delivery, to improve the supply of units at affordable rents.

  • Pillar 5 – Utilise Existing Housing

Ensure that existing housing stock is used to the maximum degree possible – focusing on measures to use vacant stock to renew urban and rural areas

Housing Minister Simon Coveney has said that the use of hotels and B&Bs as emergency accommodation will be brought to an end by next year.

“We know that putting families in hotels doesn’t work,” he said. “So we’re going to change that.

“And we’re setting a pretty bold ambition for this time next year to have no reliance on hotel accommodation and B&Bs accommodation for emergency accommodation for families.

“And that will be challenging and we will set targets along the way to make sure we deliver on that.”

Taoiseach Enda Kenny said that the Government is committed to dealing with the housing crisis.

“This plan, believe me, is ambitious in its vision and in its scale of investment,” he said.

“It will take engagement across Government, the involvement of Local Government, thereal involvement of Local Government, and the commitment of the entire sector to deliver on it.

“But it is well founded, and the Minister for Housing and his team have researched and consulted very widely in drawing it up, and it is realistic, addressing the housing challenge fully and finally, as a key objective of the Government.”

Meanwhile: –

Construction industry wants to be rid of Ireland’s ‘cowboy builders’

   

The Irish construction industry has called for a statutory register to get rid of “cowboy builders”,

Tom Parlon, director general at Construction Industry Federation (CIF) has also claimed that builders and developers have been “excluded” from the Government’s planning on housing.

It comes as the Government launched its new housing strategy which aims to deal with homelessness, social housing and the rental crisis.

Speaking at the MacGill Summer School Mr Parlon said the Government has been “inclined to exclude the construction industry because of the blame that they chose to give the industry”.

But he said that the CIF has been working with the Department of Environment to root out builders who do not meet the proper standards.

“There were ills within the industry in the past. There was some poor, shoddy work carried out,” he said.

“We have proposed together with the Department of the Environment a construction industry register of Ireland – a standards body, which means in the future anybody involved in construction should be competent and should have experience and the skills that they have their insurance that they have health and safety and basically that they are professional builders.

“It’s a way of getting the cowboys out of the industry.”

He said it has already been set up as a voluntary system with 850 signed up to date but the CIF is now waiting on the government to make it a statutory body.

Reacting the Government’s new “Rebuilding Ireland” housing plan announced by Simon Coveney he said numerous strategies have been published over the years which are now “on a number of shelves around the place”.

“All of these strategies are certainly big on targets but they certainly lack the focus on the capacity of the industry to deliver.

“The best time to build forestry is 20 years ago and the second best time is yesterday,” he said adding that housing is similar to planting forests.

While he said the ambitiousness of the report is “very good” he added that “we are at least five years too late with this strategy”.

Mr Parlon pointed out that last year we began building around 8,000 houses and it appears that there will less started this year.

“So when you hear the targets that are out there you begin to wonder. The industry now is going to have to reach a massive level of output, and have four times the amount of commencements in four years’ time than we are doing now, so that’s a massive ramp-up.

Child homelessness has increased by 37% in six months

  

There has been a 37% increase in the number of homeless children over the last six months.

New figures from the Department of the Environment has provided a snapshot of the homeless situation in Ireland month. The stats show that there were 2,206 children living in emergency accommodation during the course of a week in June 2016.

That’s up from 1,616 children who were living in a similar situation in a week in December.

The count was taken during the week of 20-26 June and show that 1,078 families were living in emergency accommodation. Six months previously that figure was 775.

The figure for adults in emergency accommodation was 3,625 in December. This has now risen to 4,152, a 14.5% increase over six months.

The figures also demonstrate the extent of the homeless problem is Dublin, an area which accounts for more than two-thirds of the national figure.

The figures come as the government today announced a planned €5 billion spend on social housing over the next five years along with other measures to fight homelessness.

These include the phasing out of hotels for emergency accommodation and increased rental supplements.

Richard Bruton wants lessons in coding for Ireland’s primary school pupils

Minister wants primary curriculum to include coding as it teaches creative problem-solving

      

Richard Bruton, Minister for Education and Skills, who believes an early start in coding will help children fulfil their potential.

Primary school children could learn computer coding under proposals drawn up by Minister for Education Richard Bruton. He has asked the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment to consider approaches to introducing the teaching of coding in primary schools.

“For the generation of children recently born and starting to enter primary school, creative thinking and problem-solving skills will be absolutely key to how they develop . . . and achieve their potential,” Mr Bruton said.

“In particular, their ability to think critically and develop solutions in the digital world will be vital for their prospects in life. I am determined that we should continually improve the education system in this area.”

The council will be consulting on a new framework for the primary curriculum this year and is developing a new primary mathematics curriculum. It aims to have a draft new curriculum for mathematics for junior infants to second class next spring.

CoderDojo success

Mr Bruton has written to the council in recent days to request it to consider coding as part of the review. “The success of the CoderDojo project is a fantastic example of the benefits of teaching coding to young children. Hugely popular with children, it teaches creative problem-solving skills in a manner that engages and excites them,” he said.

“I believe that we must learn from successful programmes like this to improve the experience and outcomes of the education system for our children.”

Policy makers and the technology sector say there is an acute shortage of skilled graduates to fill gaps in the tech sector. A series of measures, such as bonus points for maths in the Leaving Cert and reforms to the senior cycle curriculum, are aimed at increasing the numbers going on to study science, technology, maths and engineering.

The introduction of coding classes is likely to be controversial, however, among some educationalists who argue that narrow skills should be taught much later in the school system.

Mr Bruton said these skills could improve outcomes for children. “At the heart of everything we are trying to do as a Government is to use our economic success to create a fair and compassionate society – and ultimately to make life a little bit easier for people.

Fluctuating cholesterol linked to lower mental ability scores “A study finds”

   Greater fluctuations in low-density lipoprotein (LDL), which is linked to heart disease, have been associated with lower scores in mental ability tests (file photo)

Roller-coaster levels of “bad” cholesterol may lead to poorer mental performance in older adults, a study has found.

Greater fluctuations in low-density lipoprotein (LDL), which is linked to heart disease, were associated with lower scores in mental ability tests.

Participants with the highest LDL variability took 2.7 seconds longer on average than those with the lowest to finish one test that deliberately confused words and colours.

The test involved naming the ink colours of words describing a different colour – for instance, the word blue written in red.

Lead researcher Dr Roelof Smit, from Leiden University Medical Centre in the Netherlands, said: “While this might seem like a small effect, it is significant at a population level.”

“Our findings suggest for the first time that it’s not just the average level of your LDL-cholesterol that is related to brain health, but also how much your levels vary from one measurement to another.”

A total of 4,428 people aged 70 to 82 from Scotland, Ireland and the Netherlands took part in the Prosper study. All either had pre-existing artery disease or were at high risk of developing the condition.

More LDL variability was also associated with lower brain blood flow and bright areas showing up on brain scans which have been linked to blood vessel dysfunction. The findings are reported in the American Heart Association journal Circulation.

Scientific breakthrough after South African boy finds turtle fossil

   

A fossil discovery by an 8-year-old South African boy has helped scientists redefine why turtles have shells.

While it has generally been accepted that the modern turtle shell is largely used for protection, a new study by an international group of scientists, including those from the Evolutionary Science Institute at Wits University, suggests the broad ribbed proto shell was initially an adaptation, not for protection, but rather for burrowing underground.

The big breakthrough came with the discovery of several specimens, the oldest of which was a 260 million year old partially shelled proto turtle, Eunotosaurus africanus, from the Karoo Basin of South Africa.

Several of these specimens were discovered by two of the studies’ co-authors, Dr Roger Smith and Dr Bruce Rubidge from the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg but the most important specimen was found by 8-year-old Kobus Snyman on his father’s farm in the Western Cape.

This specimen, which is about 15cm long, comprises a well preserved skeleton together with the fully articulated hands and feet.

Rubidge thanked Snyman saying he would “shake his hand” because without the finding the study would not have been possible.

An artistic rendering shows an early proto turtle Eunotosaurus (foreground) burrowing into the banks of a dried-up pond to escape the harsh arid environment present 260 million years ago in South Africa. (Supplied, Andrey Atuchin)

Puzzled scientists

Lead author for the study, Dr Tyler Lyson of the Denver Museum of Nature and Science said that a shell for protection initially seemed like an obvious answer.

“…the earliest beginnings of the turtle shell was not for protection but rather for digging underground to escape the harsh South African environment where these early proto turtles lived”.

The early evolution of the turtle shell had long puzzled scientists.

“We knew from both the fossil record and observing how the turtle shell develops in modern turtles that one of the first major changes towards a shell was the broadening of the ribs,” said Lyson.

While distinctly broadened ribs may not seem like a significant change, scientists say it has a serious impact on both breathing and speed in four-legged animals.

Ribs are used to support the body during locomotion and play a crucial role in ventilating your lungs. Distinctly broadened ribs stiffen the torso, which shortens an animal’s stride length and slows it down and interferes with breathing.

‘Boring bones’

“The integral role of ribs in both locomotion and breathing is likely why we don’t see much variation in the shape of ribs,” said Lyson.

Lyson added: “Ribs are generally pretty boring bones. The ribs of whales, snakes, dinosaurs, humans, and pretty much all other animals look the same. Turtles are the one exception, where they are highly modified to form the majority of the shell.”

The study included authors from the United States, South Africa and Switzerland.

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