News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Monday 17th October 2016

Donegal based Garda whistle blower claims he was followed to GSOC meeting

A DONEGAL-BASED GARDA SAID HE RECOGNISED UNMARKED GARDA CAR

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The Garda Ombudsman is investigating a Donegal based Garda whistle blower’s claim that an unmarked Garda car followed him to a meeting with GSOC.

Garda Keith Harrison told the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission (GSOC) that he was followed from Donegal to Galway last March when he was on his way a confidential meeting with them, RTÉ’s This Week programme reported yesterday.

The meeting was to discuss GSOC’s investigation into his allegations that he has been harassed and subject to unwarranted disciplinary inquries since 2009, when he arrested a colleague for suspected drink driving.

Gda Harrison told GSOC that he recognised the unmarked garda car, as it was one of many which he claims regularly drove past his home in Donegal as part of the alleged harassment.

According to RTÉ, “It is understood that a senior inspector at GSOC informed Garda Harrison’s lawyers in March that they were examining the allegation” that he was followed to the meeting.

The GSOC is understood to be “taking the allegation seriously”.

A GSOC spokesperson said the office, “cannot, for confidentiality reasons, discuss the detail of an investigation that may be under way as a result of a disclosure made to GSOC under the Protected Disclosures Act”.

The garda press office told DD/DPP that it was “precluded from commenting on protected disclosures”.

The garda spokesperson added, “Without discussing any individual, An Garda Síochána seeks to ensure any employee of An Garda Síochána who raises issues will be fully supported.

In this regard, Protected Disclosure Managers have been recently appointed to liaise directly with employees making protected disclosures, and we are working with external experts in this area to help ensure that anyone speaking up is supported and protected in An Garda Síochána.”

A lot of Irish people applying for insolvency deals, but not many arrangements are put in place

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Many of the people being approved for a home loan are competing hard with each other for the few houses that are available.

The number of financially-stretched people applying for a State-sanctioned debt deals has doubled. But the actual number of deals put in place is down.

New figures from the Insolvency Service of Ireland show that almost 900 people applied to put a formal arrangement in place with their lenders.

The figures were for the three months to the end of September. This was up 102% on the same three months last year. But the number of heavily-indebted people who secured a formal deal from their banks and other lenders fell in the three months to September, when compared with the same quarter last year.

Just 180 people had a deal known personal insolvency arrangement (PIA) approved in the July to September period. This was down by five PIAs in the same quarter last year.

A PIA allows a person to reduce what they are paying, and return to solvency while staying in their home. There was also a fall in the number of bankruptcies of 26pc to just 61 the third quarter.

In the year so far, a total to 345 people were declared bankrupt, compared with 479 for full-year 2015. This is despite the term for bankruptcy being reduced recently to one year.

Insolvency Service director Lorcan O’Connor blamed the summer recess in the bankruptcy courts for the fall.

Large numbers of people are still struggling to pay their mortgages. The number of people two years or more in arrears on their mortgages was close to 35,000 in June, down slightly from the previous quarter, separate Central Bank figures show Those in arrears for more than two years risk losing their homes.

Mr O’Connor said: “This quarter saw continued growth in new applications with protective certificates and approved arrangements at similar levels to last quarter.

“When compared to the same period last year, there is significant growth in all categories.”

So far, some 4,000 people have gone through different processes overseen by the Insolvency Service to return to solvency.

Earlier this month the Government launched its ‘Abhaile’ plan to tackle the problem of mortgage arrears. This service will provide free, independent expert advice and support on financial and legal issues through the Money Advice and Budgeting Service (MABS), working with the Insolvency Service of Ireland, the Legal Aid Board and the professional accountancy bodies. Mr O’Connor said this new initiative is “expected to drive further growth in the coming months”.

Minister for Health Simon Harris says Politicians setting their own pay is a bad idea

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He has no intention of accepting a €4,000 pay-rise.

Simon Harris, the Minister for Health, says he has no intention of accepting the pay-rise set out in the recent budget.

Ministers are expected to vote on Tuesday to reject the pay increase at a cabinet meeting, this after TD Finian McGrath told a media source “They (TDs) are probably going to go bananas but as far as I’m concerned, you take the hit.

“We have just come out of a major eight years of austerity and an economic crash and I think these are exceptional times and I think TDs and ministers should take their hit and stop whingeing.”

Harris agrees?

“TDs being linked to civil service pay – going down when they go down and going up when they go up – largely serves the country well,” said the 30-year-old health minister.

“Politicians setting their own pay – I don’t think that’s a good policy and “I certainly have no intention of taking the increase.”

ESB to introduce new peak-time bill rate to encourage greener behaviour

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Electricity charges will soon depend on what time of the day you use power, the ESB has said.

Under a new ‘time of use’ tariff scheme, householders will be encouraged to use power at non-peak times to ease pressure on the national electricity grid.

The new system is expected to be introduced within the next two years.

“There will be time-of-use tariffs in the future,” said Paul Mulvaney, the ESB’s director of innovation. “It might be based on green energy periods.

“It will be part of a smart metering programme and residential customers can expect to see it in 2018 or 2019.”

Mr Mulvaney did not say whether this meant tariffs would become more expensive during peak daytime hours or simply cheaper at night.

“The idea is that you encourage people to use less energy and greener energy and flex demand so as to be easiest on the system,” he said.

“If you can get people to shift their load to night time, it’s easier on the grid. We carried out trials and found that when people knew there were cheaper tariff periods, they saved 4pc to 5pc on their bills.”

Mr Mulvaney was speaking as the ESB prepares to host a ‘hackathon’ in Dublin this weekend.

The event, to be held in CHQ’s Dogpatch Labs from Friday to Sunday, will seek to reward the best new ideas on improving energy efficiency, electricity reliability and ecar management. Winners of the competition will win cash prizes of €5,000, €3,000 and €2,000 respectively.

The ESB will be providing anonymised data sets for each of the challenges to help people understand usage, customer profiles and trends in advance of the hackathon.

Mr Mulvaney said that the event was on course to attract more than 100 coders, entrepreneurs and start-up personnel to the event.

Applicants can enter on the website bigenergyhack.ie.

He also said the ESB would finally begin requiring payment for eCar charging points around the country.

Earlier this year, the utility postponed seeking €17 per month for usage of the almost 1,000 charging points nationwide.

However, Mr Mulvaney says the ESB is now communicating with eCar customers about the imminent introduction of charges. “We’re currently looking at the appropriate tariffs,” he said. “Ultimately, everything has to be paid for. We need to reinvest and keep the system up to date. We will have to charge.”

New cancer institute to set gold standard for Ireland

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Trinity College and St James’s Hospital have joined forces to develop a new cancer institute, with plans to create a “new standard for cancer care” across the country.

To be located on the campus at St James’s Hospital, the new Trinity College collaboration was announced today to replicate similar projects around the world.

With incidents of cancer estimated to double by 2040 in Ireland, the cancer institute is hoped to build better tools to treat people in years to come.

The first of its kind in Ireland, both stakeholders claim the new cancer institute “will set a new standard for cancer care nationally, integrating medicine and science in cancer prevention, treatment and survivorship”.

Trinity and St James’s Hospital have been scaling up for the new cancer institute with the recruitment of key new clinical academic and research appointments in oncology.

The plan is to get recognised by the Organisation of European Cancer Institutes, the body that sets the gold standard for leading cancer institutes in Europe. It will benchmark performance against international standards and direct the cancer services and research to the next level.

Dr Patrick Prendergast, provost of Trinity, said the new institute should consolidate the strengths of both parties, with clinical and scientific research subsequently benefiting all.

“It will deliver substantially improved outcomes for cancer patients by providing research-led diagnosis and treatment, and promoting a better understanding of cancer through interdisciplinary research,” he said.

This all comes as cancer week kicks into gear, with Trinity hosting a conference on the subject as part of an initiative now into its third year.

“This cancer centre will place research, education and treatment side-by-side,” said St James’s Hospital CEO, Lorcan Birthistle, “which is in line with the model for the very best cancer centres internationally.

“The best outcomes for patients are achieved in centres that combine high volume and highly specialised evidence based cancer care with scientific and technological advances. This exciting joint development between Trinity College and St James’s will achieve this goal.”

The Great Barrier Reef is not actually dead

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Composed of more than 3,000 individual reefs interspersed with more than 600 topical islands, the world’s most extensive coral reef system is so large it can be identified from space. While the region has been protected since 1981, a 2012 study found that the delicate ecosystem has lost more than half of its coral since 1985 due to a combination of factors including coral bleaching caused by climate change.

There is a big difference between dead and dying?

Outside Magazine published a somewhat tongue-in-cheek obituary for the Great Barrier Reef earlier this week, citing its lifespan from 25 million BC-2016. The article detailed the life of the reef, its active membership in the ecological community, its worldwide fame and the coral bleaching that has led to its deteriorating health. “The Great Barrier Reef of Australia passed away in 2016 after a long illness. It was 25 million years old,” read the article.

Immediate response on social media

The obituary was met with horror and disbelief, both by scientists and social media users alike. Russell Brainard, chief of the Coral Reef Ecosystem Program at NOAA’s Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center, told HuffPost that he believes the article was highlighting the urgency of the situation, but that those who don’t have any context “are going to take it at face value that the Great Barrier Reef is dead.”

Many people on social media are indeed taking it at face value. Twitter users have been grieving the loss of the reef and urging followers to pay serious attention to the consequences. Many are spreading false information entirely. Rowan Jacobsen, the writer of the obituary, is a food and environmental writer, not a scientist. But the article has led some outlets to claim that scientists have declared the reef officially dead, further spreading the exaggeration.

People have also taken to Twitter to try to get the truth out. Environmental reporter Tony Davis tweeted, “Reports of the Great Barrier Reef’s death are greatly exaggerated, say scientists, booing Outside Magazine” and the Cornell Cooperative Extension at Rockland County, which cites ecological sustainability as one of its missions, tweeted “Great Barrier Reef is Dying NOT Dead! ‘The message should be that it isn’t too late… not we should all give up.’”

The Great Barrier Reef is the world’s largest coral reef ecosystem and a UNESCO World Heritage site. It covers more than 300,000 square kilometers and consists of more than 3,000 reefs, 600 islands, and 300 coral cays.

Recovery efforts

There’s no denying that the Great Barrier Reef is in serious trouble. According to a report by the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, 93% of the reef is affected by bleaching, putting the reef in danger of extinction. Bleaching occurs when coral are put under extreme stress by changes in conditions like temperature, light, or nutrients. In these conditions, they expel symbiotic algae from their tissues, causing them to turn white.

Scientists are increasingly worried that over-exaggerating the state of the reef will promote the idea that it is past the point of recovery. Professor John Pandolfi from the ARC Centre at the University of Queensland has expressed hope. “It is critically important now to bolster the resilience of the reef, and to maximize its natural capacity to recover.” But the effects are serious and possibly permanent. “The reef is no longer as resilient as it once was, and it’s struggling to cope with three bleaching events in just 18 years,” he said.

The obituary lays blame on the Australian government, noting that the government pressured the United Nations to remove the reef from a climate change report because it was concerned about its impact on tourism. But on September 28, the Australian and Queensland governments released the first Reef 2050 Plan annual report, showing the $2 billion investment toward improving the reef’s health for future generations is paying off. The plan has accomplished 29 of its 151 intended actions, though it notes that the recovery process needs to be accelerated if they want to continue to be successful.

Coral bleaching, fishing, mining, and burning fossil fuels have all contributed to the destruction of the reef over several decades. More than 2 million people visit it each year, and governments, scientists, and charities are working so future generations can continue to appreciate its beauty.

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