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Sunday 25th September 2016

Irish Central Bank signals resistance to changing mortgage lending rules

‘Stable rules are valuable in eliminating avoidable uncertainty’, says deputy governor

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The Irish Central Bank deputy governor Sharon Donnery said the short- and medium-term impact of Brexit was likely to be negative.

The Central Bank has given its clearest indication yet of a reluctance to change its strict rules on mortgage lending and warned that adopting a “fine tuning” approach could lead to financial instability.

Speaking at the annual economic policy conference of the Dublin Economic Workshop, the deputy governor of the Central Bank of Ireland, Sharon Donnery, said the benefit of adjusting the rules would have to be significant as a “stable regulatory regime was key to eliminating uncertainty”.

She also warned that uncertainty would remain a central feature of the economic backdrop against which policymakers would have to make decisions in the years ahead.

Under the Central Bank rules as they stand, first-time buyers need a 10 per cent deposit for the first €220,000 of a house price and 20 per cent for the balance while all other buyers must have a 20 per cent deposit in place. In addition, the Central Bank requires that lending limits of 3.5 times income are applied by the banks before approving mortgages.

A recent consultation process, which will inform the bank’s review, yielded 50 submissions, several of which called for the threshold below which first-time buyers have to pay only a 10 per cent deposit to be raised from the current level of €220,000.

Ms Donnery said “the evidence threshold to justify a material loosening or tightening of the rules is significant for two reasons. First, stable rules are valuable for both households and mortgage lenders in eliminating avoidable uncertainty about the regulatory regime. Second, the noisy and volatile nature of macro-financial data means that it would be unwise to seek to adjust the rules in response to minor and temporary fluctuations in the state of the financial cycle: such a fine-tuning approach could actually aggravate financial instability if revisions proved to be unwarranted or badly timed.”

She said that while the costs of the measures could be “immediately felt and is quantifiable to the banks or borrowers to which they apply, the benefits are often unobservable”.

Precise impact uncertain?

Addressing Brexit, Ms Donnery said the precise impact on the Irish economy was uncertain but warned that the “short- and medium-term impact is likely to be negative”.

She said the Republic was the most exposed European economy to the potential effects of Brexit because the UK accounts for a large percentage of Irish imports and exports and because labour flows and cross-Border investment linkages are considerable.

“There is considerable uncertainty regarding the specific political and institutional construct which may emerge once the UK decides to trigger article 50 of the treaty. This makes it challenging to estimate the impact on the Irish economy.”

Taoiseach Kenny urges the US to allow low-cost flights from Cork to Boston?

Enda Kenny says he has raised the matter twice with President Barack Obama

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President Barack Obama: “You can’t get any higher than the American president,” says Enda Kenny.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny has renewed his appeal to United States authorities to approve a licence for Norwegian Air International’s plan for low-cost transatlantic flights from Cork to Boston.

Mr Kenny said he was doing all he could to lobby for approval for the new service which is being opposed by aviation unions in the US and Ireland.

Some observers believe it will not be adjudicated on by the US department of transportation until after the US presidential election.

“What I have done is that I have raised this with the president of the United States on two occasions. We have had discussions at a European level and at an American level. You can’t get any higher than the American president,” said Mr Kenny on a visit to Cork.

“The issues raised by the American airlines have been referred to and dealt with comprehensively but it is a matter for common sense to prevail here for a situation that is in compliance with the Open Skies agreement.

Capacity is there.

“The opportunity for Norwegian Air International (NAI) to fly from Ireland to the States will have the capacity to do for long haul what Ryanair did for short haul with enormous opportunities for both sides.

“It’s not politics that’s holding this back. This is not a political obstruction, and obviously now there is a claim for this to go to arbitration. If the matter becomes approved in the meantime, there will be no need for arbitration.”

Mr Kenny made his comments as European commissioner for transportVioleta Bulc prepares to meet US secretary of transportation Anthony Foxx at the International Civil Aviation Organization assembly in Montreal on Tuesday.

Mr Kenny said the matter was going to be raised in a European context and he stressed that the NAI proposal to fly from Cork to Boston was in compliance and met all the requirements of the Open Skies deal between the US andEurope.

Last April, the US department of transportation indicated issued what is known as “a show cause order” concerning NAI, the Irish-flag subsidiary of Norwegian Air Shuttle and following detailed examinations on submissions of NAI’s application for a permit.

Labour-related concerns.

In the show cause order, the department acknowledged that the labour-related concerns raised by the NAI’s opponents warranted proceeding with caution and it consulted with its own legal advisor, the department’s office of the general counsel.

The department also took the unprecedented step of formally consulting two agencies with special expertise on international law, the department of justice’s office of legal counsel (OLC) and the department of state (DOS), to solicit their views.

According to the department of transportation, it found that “the provision in the US-EU agreement that addresses labour does not afford a basis for rejecting an applicant that is otherwise qualified to receive a permit”.

“In this regard, the order states that Norwegian Air International appears to meet DOT’s normal standards for award of a permit and that there appears to be no legal basis to deny Norwegian Air International’s application,” it stated.

US and Irish trade unions have objected to the new proposed service, claiming that the NAI would employ crew on “Asian contracts” that were not governed by the labour laws of either the US or the EU but this has been strongly denied by the company.

Seanad leader Fine Gael Senator Jerry Buttimer, from Cork, said he plans to raise the issue with Minister for Transport Shane Ross and Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan this week to ensure diplomatic pressure is maintained to secure the permit.

Blind entrepreneur man wins national award for successful health food business

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When an unemployed Donegal man sought a quick recovery from knee surgery, he found a solution that’s now earning him a living as well as accolades and awards.

Derek Walker (28) from Letterkenny was advised to take wheat-grass as part of his recovery because the natural food product is rich in protein, vitamins and minerals and helps with healing. Wheat-grass is even said to help cure cancer.

However, it isn’t the easiest item to digest, so Derek began growing and producing convenient 30ml shots of fast-frozen wheatgrass juice for his own consumption and for sale.

He felt he had to try to make a living somehow. Derek is registered blind and had been unable to find normal paid work, partly he believes because of discrimination.

With support from Donegal Local Development Company’s (DLDC) self-employment support unit, he was able to move production from a spare room in his house to custom-designed facilities. Today, his wheatgrass juice shots are sold in dozens of Tesco, Supervalu and other stores.

When he discovered that Letterkenny had no market for local food, craft and art producers, he and his fiancé Anna McQuade simply set one up. Letterkenny Artisan Market at Carrygally Business Park now caters for 40 exhibitors.

For his entrepreneurship, Derek won a regional award during the summer and last week was chosen as national winner of the inaugural Irish Local Development Network award for unemployed people who set up their own businesses.

Derek’s disability is not obvious at first, but his sight has been diminishing since he was 12 years old due to a rare condition.

He applied for many jobs but could not get past the interview stage. He recalled dropping his magnifier and it rolling across the floor during one job interview: “That was me done for,” he said.

“I’m glad it happened now,” he said of the discrimination, as it prompted him to go it alone.

On scooping the national award, Derek said, “I feel nothing but gratitude. With losing my eyesight, this is very special to me. I made the job myself and I want a future to work towards, where as at one point I felt I was going to have nothing.”

He praised the staff in DLDC and the Back to Work Enterprise Allowance (BTWEA) scheme.

“They restored some inner belief in me that others had taken away from me. I learned that I am a person of value. Don’t set limits. Just because you can’t do one or two things, with help you can do as many things as you want to.”

“And the BTWEA was a big help because it enabled me to create a network of contacts. I was on a blind pension – a disability allowance – and the scheme gave me two years to try out my idea.”

The scheme allows participants to retain their social welfare payment, plus secondary benefits, on a reducing basis over a two-year period.

Derek’s success and the achievements of 17 other finalists were hailed as an example to 11,500 people currently availing of the BTWEA scheme.

“It shows what you can do with the right ideas, support and determination,” said Kathleen Stack, Assistant Secretary General at the Department of Social Protection, speaking at the awards event, in Dublin, on September 15th.

Meanwhile, Derek had advice for people who can’t find work because of lack of jobs, because of the recession, or because of discrimination over disabilities:

“You can do it for yourselves, with support. I wouldn’t have had the courage on my own to do it. The scheme gave me security and now the world is my oyster.”

He intends to invest his €2,000 prize money into the business and to begin employing people shortly. Busy times beckon as Derek and Anna also became parents recently.

Organ donors can give the gift of life after death

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(Above centre pic) Members of the Heart and Lung Transplant Association during a visit to the Circle of Life Garden in Salthill on Saturday. Sean O’Gorman from Tipperary, a heart recipient of nine years; Rosaleen Clasby from East Galway who received a double lung transplant earlier this year; Sally Whelan from Co Laois, a double-lung transplant of three and half years, and David Crosby from Cavan who also received a double lung transplant earlier this year.

The garden commemorates the donor community and their families in Ireland and across the globe.

When it comes to donating organs, Ireland has a pretty good track record. We’re ranked ahead of countries such as Germany and France, but there’s always room for improvement, as places such as Spain and Croatia show.

In Ireland, the number of organ donors per million people is 18. In Spain, it’s 36, making it a leader in the EU.

Specialists from Spanish hospitals were among a group of European visitors to Ireland last week, sharing their knowledge and expertise with some 40 colleagues involved in organ donation here.

The group visited UHG and Salthill’s Circle of Life Commemorative garden before returning to Dublin for a two-day conference.

It’s part of a campaign to increase the number of organ donors in Ireland to 25 per million people

That’s on foot of a 2010 EU directive which was introduced mainly because of Europe’s ageing population, explains Emer Curran, a Consultant in Anaesthesia and Intensive Care Medicine who has been appointed as Clinical Lead in Organ Donation for the Galway University Hospital Saolta Group,

Emer is one of two new appointments made locally by the HSE to educate staff and the public about the importance of organ donation and to liaise with staff at Organ Donation and Transplant Ireland (ODTI).

That’s the body that co-ordinates organ transplantation in Ireland. Based in Dublin, it’s the first contact point between Intensive Care Units countrywide and transplant surgeons in Ireland’s three transplant hospitals. Kidney transplants are carried out in Beaumont, hearts and lungs at the Mater and liver and pancreas transplants are done in St Vincent’s.

The other appointee in the Saolta region is Pauline May who took up the role of Organ Donor Nurse Manager last year, bringing extensive experience as an Intensive Care Nurse and Clinical Nurse Manager.

Donor Nurses have been in place across the HSE since 2015. This year, in addition to Emer’s appointment in the West, three Lead Clinicians were appointed in Dublin, and one in the Mid-West area – there will be an appointment in Cork next year.

It’s part of a campaign to create a version of the Spanish model although we can’t replicate everything they do as we don’t have the resources, Emer explains.

She and Pauline cover an area from Galway to Donegal, so the remit is large, especially since Emer’s role is part-time, but you have to work with the resources that are available to you, she says. There are seven hospitals in the area, five with ICU departments, which is where most donors come from.

“We’re not doing too badly, but we want to do better,” she says about organ donation in Ireland.

That’s where she and Pauline come in?

“It’s about educating everybody to make sure we are on the same page,” she says of people on the frontline of patient care.

Organ Donation and Transplant Ireland was established in 2014 by the HSE, and given responsibility for organ procurement.

The aim of the body, headed up by Galway man and NUIG graduate, Professor Jim Egan, a consultant in Respiratory Medicine at the Mater, is to increase the number of organ donors while ensuring care of patients, recipients and organs.

There are many reasons why it’s important to increase the number of organ donors, Emer says. Ireland has the highest rate of Cystic Fibrosis in the world and diabetes – a leading cause of kidney disease – is becoming more common. Ageing is a big factor. Also, our population has increased and that means increased need for organs.

How to talk to a horse the Norwegian way

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Norwegian horses have been taught to communicate in a “horse code,” allowing them to talk with human caretakers.

Researchers have devised a way that could allow you to talk to horses.

A horse is a horse of course of course, and no one can talk to a horse of course.

Or can they?

It’s not quite the equivalent of Mister Ed, but it’s the next best thing. Researchers have taught a group of Norwegian horses to use a series of symbols to talk to their human caretakers, and the equines used their newfound verbosity to communicate their blanket preferences.

Horses were trained to use their noses to select one of three boards with different symbols on them. The board with a horizontal line means “put my blanket on,” while the board with a vertical line means “take it off.” A third board, blank, allows the horses to indicate that they are perfectly happy as is. It took less than two weeks to train all 23 horses in the study to properly use the symbols. The research was detailed in the journal Applied Animal Behaviour Science.

The training process involved placing the horses in either a very warm environment with a blanket on or a very cold environment without a blanket. The animals were cued about the meaning of the symbols by being fed carrots whenever they made the appropriate choice. When wrong choices were made, the horses were given nothing. It took just 10-15 minutes of training a day for the horses to figure out the symbol system.

Once everything clicked for the horses, they became increasingly eager to communicate with humans, even going out of their way to get the attention of their caretakers so that they could discuss their preferences. They seemed enthusiastic at the opportunity to take more control over their own temperature regulation, to convey whether they were hot or cold. In fact, once the horses grasped the symbol system they no longer required carrots as reward, which indicated to researchers that they truly understood what the boards meant.

Researchers also confirmed that the animals were either sweating or shivering when they would indicate their blanket preferences. By the end of the study, the horses were using the symbols with 100 percent accuracy. Over the following months, they would continue to use the communication system to indicate their changing preferences as weather conditions changed.

It’s a remarkable result, one which could revolutionize how horses are kept and cared for. The next step will be to see what other concepts the horses might be able to communicate, and to test just how big their vocabulary can become.

Stephen Hawking is still wary of making contact with aliens

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Especially if some of our own Earth films are anything to go by.

It’s no secret that we as a society have developed a fascination with contact from alien civilizations over the years. The concept of meeting intelligent life from somewhere else, either from our galaxy or another, has been the basis of much of our recent research–including the work of the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) Institute, which we’ve been avidly following.

It’s also been the inspiration for some of the most popular science-fiction franchises out there, from Star Trek to Close Encounters of the Third Kind to the Independence Day films. In much of our fiction, however, meeting alien life for the first time can either go well… or not so well.

With that in mind, it’s no wonder that renowned astrophysicist Stephen Hawking is personally pretty nervous when it comes to the concept of first contact with an alien civilization. Back in 2010, Hawking posited the theory that if intelligent life exists outside our universe, they may not be as friendly as we would like to believe.

Six years later, he still holds that same belief–and he’s discussing it in a documentary called Stephen Hawking’s Favorite Places, which is available on CuriosityStream:

One day, we might receive a signal from a planet like [Gliese 832c]. But we should be wary of answering back. Meeting an advanced civilization could be like Native Americans encountering Columbus. That didn’t turn out so well.

It’s easy to understand Hawking’s hesitancy–even though other scientists aren’t so sure we need to be erring on the side of caution when it comes to welcoming first contact. Their argument stands behind the fact that any aliens who reach out to us would have likely already learned a lot about us due to the fact that our planet has been sending out satellite signals for hundreds of years already. So maybe it wouldn’t necessarily turn out likeIndependence Day. Maybe it would actually be closer to this scene in Final Contact that gives me emotions every single time. We could definitely introduce our equivalent of Vulcans to some rocking’ tunes:

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