News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Some €200 billion to be invested in homes for sale and rent in Ireland

Some €200 million it to be put into an Infrastructure Housing Activation Fund in Ireland aimed at opening up large sites in areas where people need homes.

This is to relieve critical infrastructural blockages to allow for the delivery of homes on key sites and to improve the economic viability and purchaser affordability of new housing projects and deliver 20,000 new homes by 2020.

The Irish Government has also announced under its Housing Action Plan that €5.35 billion will be allocated to the development of social housing with the aim of building 47,000 more social housing units by 2021.

There will also be changes to planning to allow large scale residential development planning applications to be fast tracked. The Government said it will legislate to allow for larger housing development applications of 100 plus units to be made directly to An Bord Pleanala, the country’s independent planning body.

An Bord Pleanala is also set to prioritise the determination of all planning appeals for large scale developments. This is to be done within an 18 to 20 week period and the roll-out of e-planning is also being looked at.

The action plan also includes increasing the supply of home to rent and support for a stable rental sector. A national policy for appropriate on and off-campus accommodation for students will also be developed.

The Housing Agency will be allocated €70 million to acquire suitable portfolios of vacant properties to be let under a national vacant housing reuse strategy. A register of vacant properties across the country will be drawn up and the planning rules for change of use of vacant commercial units to a residential units will be reviewed.

However, according to the Society of Chartered Surveyors Ireland (SCSI) critical skills shortages across all sectors of the housing market in Ireland will urgently need to be addressed to deliver the scale of housing delivery needed.

Claire Solon, SCSI president, said that a National body with real authority and mandate is needed not just for housing, but also for national infrastructural planning. ‘It’s clear from the Action Plan that in several areas, it’s the need for projects like road completions, or water and drainage schemes that are actually preventing the delivery of housing,’ she pointed out.

‘The industry has shown itself be to resourceful following many difficult years, but there needs to be significant investment now to address the skills shortage in all sectors, professional, technical and trades,’ she explained.

‘We will be asking the Minister of Finance to specifically resource our sector in the upcoming Budget for training of apprentices, graduates and to help encourage workers from other sectors to transfer to construction and property roles. The industry plays a vital role in our economy and after many years of underinvestment, negative reporting and poor output, it needs radical intervention to upscale and deliver what could be one of the most important development stages in the history of our country,’ she added.

The SCSI also believes that the rental sector needs radical legislative overhaul to develop a more mature, stable relationship between landlords and tenants, with security of tenure and responsibilities clearly defined.

‘Renting was previously a stepping stone between living with your parents and home-ownership, but for some, renting is a strategic choice; giving them flexibility and the freedom to move. Our members are embedded in the rental and property management services sector and will contribute their expertise to develop new policy which better captures the wants and needs of all parties,’

Meanwhile: –

Cash only house sales in Ireland reach 60% of total transactions for 2013-14

Central Bank report shows that sales to cash buyers now at levels last seen in the early 2000’s

   

Nearly 60% of house sales were by cash buyers in 2013 and 2014 according to a report by the Residential Property Sector in Ireland Quarterly.

Almost 60% of house purchases were by cash buyers in 2013 and 2014, according to a research paper by the Central Bank.

It said that the number of cash transactions in the market had now returned to levels seen in the early 2000’s.

The report said the increase in the share of cash buyers over the past couple of years reflected a number of factors, including the fall in the number of mortgages drawn down and low levels of residential construction.

The authors estimated that the current volumes of cash-only sales were “not entirely out of step with equivalent volumes in the early 2000s, albeit that cash buyers in prior years were operating in a more competitive, vibrant market”. They found that 23,000 properties were bought for cash in 2013 and 29,000 in 2014.

While cash buyers had increased as a proportion of total transactions, the report said this also reflected the reduction in the volume of mortgage-based transactions.

In total, the authors – Dermot Coates and Joe McNeill of the Central Bank and Brendan Williams of UCD – estimated that there were over 150,000 transactions at the peak of the market in 2006, falling to 25,000 in 2010. The total rose to around 50,000 in 2014. This still represented only around 2 per cent of the total housing stock – around half the turnover of 4 per cent in a normally functioning market.

Lump sums

The report’s authors noted the composition of the cash-buyer cohort had changed.

The term cash buyer can potentially include older households opting to downsize, private investors using property as an alternative to low-yield deposits and those in receipt of pension lump sums.

“Whilst it is true that cash sales have been a feature of this market for many years, in more recent times we have seen a greater role being played by institutional and international investors including acquisitions by speculative international asset management groups,” said the report.

“This change will also have implications for cross-border funding flows into Ireland.”

Online Irish passport renewals set to start early in 2017 says Passport Office

Passport Office says all Irish citizens will be able to renew from anywhere in the world

    

Currently no passport applications can be processed online with the majority being made by post.

Irish citizens will soon be able to renew their passports online from anywhere in the world under a new service to be introduced shortly.

The Department of Foreign Affairs has confirmed plans for an online applications service, which forms part of a major €18.6 million reform programme announced for the passport service late last year.

It is envisaged that a service allowing for passport renewals could be in operation as early as the first quarter of 2017 with the roll-out of a full service available for all applicant types by early 2019.

The department recently issued two request-for-tender notices for technology solutions to facilitate the new online application process.

The move comes as the Passport Office was recently forced to take on hundreds of additional temporary staff to deal with a sharp rise in applications in the wake of Britain’s vote to leave the European Union.

Increase in applications?

The Passport Office saw a 10% increase in applications for the period January to June with numbers spiking recently as British citizens eligible for an Irish passport rushed to apply for them following the Brexit vote.

While Brexit led to a rush of applications, demand had been climbing in the years before the vote. The number of passports issued jumped from 388,000 in 2000 to 670,000 last year. More than half of all applications received annually are from citizens wishing to renew their passports.

Currently, no passport applications can be processed online with the majority being made by post.

Some €4 million was secured in Budget 2016 to help the Department of Foreign Affairs achieve its aim of reshaping how Irish passports are delivered and ensuring better security.

A new credit-card style passport card was introduced that is valid for travelling to 30 European countries. The card, which can be processed online, is open to citizens with a valid passport book at a cost of €35.

The department recently warned of the need for urgent changes to the passport application system as concern about fraud has increased. Briefing notes produced for Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan and seen byThe Irish Times last month urged investment in the latest anti-fraud technology and techniques to protect the “integrity and international standing of the Irish passport”.

The department said in the note that the Irish passport had become a “preferred device for money-laundering and other criminal activities”.

In case you’ve forgotten, the world is scheduled to end this Friday??????

      

With a global earthquake softening us all up before a really angry Jesus comes back to wipe out his creation.

Well, unless you’re a devout Christian who watches a lot of YouTube videos – in which case you’ll be off to play harp on a cloud with your grandpa!

So, in other words, the end of the world IS coming and just not on Friday?

But questions have now been raised about a video predicting the end of the world this Friday (which has been watched four million times) – with apocalypse believers claiming that their video has been ripped off and re-uploaded.

John Preacher of Armageddon news said, ‘Someone is re-uping our videos and saying that the end of the world is July 29th. Nothing is going to happen on July 29th. We have never claimed such a thing, this date is just another false date being promoted online.

‘We in no way promote that anything will happen on July 29th. There are a number of prophecies which must be fulfilled first, including the conquest of Jerusalem by the surrounding Arab nations, which lasts for 42 months (Rev 11:2), before the Second Coming and global earthquake/reeling occurs.

This prediction, by End Time Prophecies, is just one of several doomsday prophecies for this year – including that an asteroid would hit us on May 6 (it didn’t), and a prediction that Barack Obama would reveal he is the Antichrist in June (he didn’t).

This one is studded with Bible verses, and a lot of very dubious science – as well as some truly awesome CGI graphics.

End Times Prophecies says – in that computer voice favoured by all good YouTube nutters, ‘This is Armageddon News. In this broadcast we’ll discuss the second coming of Jesus Christ, which occurs at the same time as a magnetic polar flip and catastrophic global earthquake.

‘On the day which Jesus returns, there will be a polar reversal.

There was a violent earthquake, and the Sun became black like coarse black cloth, and the moon turned completely

‘The stars fell down to the Earth, like ripe figs falling from the tree when a strong wind shakes it. Every mountain and island is moved from its place.

The polar flip will make the stars race across the sky, and the vacuum createrd by the reeling of the Earth will pull the atmosphere along the ground, trying to catch up.

‘The global earthquake will be so bad that every hill and mountain will crumble

Revelations 6:15 says, ‘The kings of the Earth, the Princes, the commanding officers, the rich, the strong and every slave and free person hid themselves… from the face of him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb.’

Scientists in race to test CRISPR gene-editing technique on cancer

First human trials are pending

      

The computer graphic above depicts three T cells (white) attached to a cancer cell.

Kelly Crowe is a medical sciences correspondent for CBC News, specialising in health and biomedical research. She joined CBC in 1991, and has spent 25 years reporting on a wide range of national news and current affairs, with a particular interest in science and medicine.

A novel gene-editing technique with potential to revolutionise cancer treatment has scientists in a race to test it on humans.

As the scientific journal Nature announced last week: “Chinese scientists to pioneer first human CRISPR trial.”

But wait. On the same page, there’s a link to another story from a month ago: “First CRISPR clinical trial gets green light from U.S. panel.”

So who will be first in the race to use CRISPR in humans — the U.S. or China? And what are they using CRISPR to do?

If you haven’t heard about CRISPR yet then all of this might seem  underwhelming. But for scientists like Jason Moffat, at the University of Toronto, it’s amazing news.

“That’s fast,” he said. “They’re pushing the technology really hard.”

“That’s fast. They’re pushing the technology really hard.” – Jason Moffat, University of Toronto

CRISPR is a revolutionary genetic editing technique that has been rocking the world of biology ever since researchers first realized they could use it to edit the genome of any species with ease and precision never possible before.

CRISPR gene-editing tool has scientists thrilled — but nervous

At U of T, Moffat is using CRISPR to identify the set of genes that are essential for cell survival.

“It gives you the tools to ask questions about what things are doing that we could never do before,” he said. “It’s really exciting.”

Scientists are now using CRISPR in a range of wild experiments. They’ve already designed a mechanism that could wipe out mosquitoes. And they’re also toying with using it to bring the woolly mammoth back to life.

It’s a tool so powerful, it could be used to permanently alter the human genome in a way that could be passed on to future generations.

Earlier this year, scientists from around the world gathered for an unprecedented summit in Washington, D.C., and agreed to avoid using CRISPR for human genetic engineering

CRISPR against cancer

But what can CRISPR do in research on cancer? That’s the question that will be asked in these human trials.

CRISPR is not a therapy on its own. It’s a tool.

But because of its precision, researchers are hoping it will be able to make genetic edits that are more effective than the traditional gene-editing techniques, to trigger a patient’s immune system to kill cancer cells.

‘These first tests, if done properly, are going to pave the way for how to use CRISPR to treat disease,’ says University of Toronto cancer researcher Jason Moffat. (CBC)

Both the U.S. and the Chinese teams intend to use CRISPR in similar ways, but on different cancers. The Chinese will target non-small-cell lung cancer; the U.S. team will work on melanoma, sarcoma and myeloid cancers.

They will harvest a type of immune cell, known as T cells, from a patient’s blood and then use CRISPR to tinker with a particular gene in a way that will activate the T cells to attack cancer cells. And then they will put the CRISPR-ed cells back into the patient’s body to destroy tumours.

“These first tests, if done properly, are going to pave the way for how to use CRISPR to treat disease,” said Moffat.

What risks getting lost in the excitement over these first CRISPR trials is the sobering fact that it might not work. There is the ever-present risk of unintended consequences, including CRISPR’s tendency to make unpredictable genetic edits in unwanted places.

And experiments to genetically alter cells and reprogram the immune system are inherently risky. There’s a danger of triggering a catastrophic immune response known as a cytokine storm that can fatally overwhelm the body. And by unleashing T cells against cancer, it’s also possible they’ll start attacking normal tissue, too.

Gene therapy tragedy in 1999.

In this illustration of CRISPR-CAS9, the Cas9 nuclease protein (white) uses a guide RNA (pink) sequence to cut DNA (green).

For years, the entire field of gene therapy was haunted by an experiment that went tragically wrong in 1999. That’s when an Arizona teenager died suddenly, after volunteering to be part of a gene therapy trial to correct a genetic defect that, in his case, was not life-threatening. Many believe the death set back gene therapy research for years.

And last month, a clinical trial testing the same T cell approach, but without using CRISPR, was shut down by the FDA after several patients died. The trial has since been allowed to resume.

The Chinese scientists have secured all the necessary approvals and are scheduled to begin their trial using CRISPR-edited cells in 10 lung cancer patients next month. The U.S. team still needs FDA approval, and they expect to start their trial on 18 patients later this year.

Another caveat: These are Phase 1 trials only. That means the scientists are studying toxicity and side-effects and basic biological responses. Even if all goes well, the trials to see if the approach actually works against cancer are still many years away.

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