News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Wednesday 16th November 2016

Martin McGuinness says he was ‘in the dark’ over Project Eagle

Sinn Féin Minister to tell PAC that the Nama sale raises ‘serious’ questions

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Northern Ireland’s Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness.

Northern Ireland’s Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness will tell the Dáil’s inquiry into Nama on Wednesday that he was effectively kept in the dark about the sale of the Project Eagle properties and that there are “very serious” questions about the sale which need to be answered.

Mr McGuinness, who is also Sinn Féin’s leader at Stormont, has said he had no knowledge of, and did not approve, contacts between the Stormont administration, Nama and US company, Cerberus – the purchasers of Nama’s Northern loans, known as Project Eagle.

Nama sold the loans to Cerberus in April 2014 for €1.6 billion.

Claims that Belfast business and political figures were to benefit from the deal have led to investigations by the Dáil’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC) and the UK’s National Crime Agency.

A statement?

According to a statement that Mr McGuinness will make to the PAC on Wednesday, he was concerned when he learned of the extent of the contacts between potential purchasers of the portfolio and the office of the First Minister, then occupied by Peter Robinson.

Mr McGuinness will say that a meeting between Mr Robinson and the Minister for Finance Michael Noonan, in September 2013, took place without his knowledge.

Nama had decided that month to sell the loans through an open auction, following an approach from another US company, Pimco.

Similarly, Mr McGuinness will say that a meeting involving Pimco, Mr Robinson and then Northern finance minister Sammy Wilson, earlier in 2013, “happened without my knowledge or approval”.

Former Nama advisor Frank Cushnahan and Belfast solicitor Ian Coulter also attended that meeting.

Pimco chief legal officer Tom Rice wrote to the PAC last week confirming that the company left the Project Eagle auction in March 2014, after US lawyers, Brown Rudnick, sought a £15 million fee.

That money was to be split equally with Mr Cushnahan and Mr Coulter, it was claimed.

Personal guarantees

Mr McGuinness will also tell the inquiry that a memorandum of understanding which was sent to Nama by Mr Robinson’s office, in January 2014, “did not have my consent or approval”.

The memo included a commitment by Pimco to cancel personal guarantees given by property developers in the North that they would repay the loans and write-off some debts – in return for the borrowers’ co-operation.

It did not represent the Northern Ireland Executive’s position, Mr McGuinness will say.

“It has no status and is, frankly, not worth the paper it was written on. It is my view that all of these contacts certainly raise legitimate questions about how Michael Noonan, Nama and others were handling the situation,” Mr McGuinness will tell TDs.

Mr McGuinness was present at a phone call between Mr Robinson and Mr Noonan in January 2014, during which Pimco’s commitments were discussed.

The then first minister stressed at the time that he was not aligned to any buyer of Nama’s Northern Ireland loans.

Cerberus made similar commitments in a letter written to Mr Robinson on March 24th, shortly before its bid for Project Eagle succeeded.

Not enough being spent’ on State’s €30bn motorway network

Transport Infrastructure Ireland: Planned Cork-Limerick road at least 10 years away

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The State’s motorways are not receiving enough investment to maintain them, according to the TII.

The State’s new motorway network, worth an estimated €30 billion, is on a deteriorating spiral with not enough money being spent to keep it on “steady state” maintenance, according to Transport Infrastructure Ireland (TII).

In addition, the authority said the proposed M20 Cork to Limerick motorway – which has been identified as crucial to achieving a government target of 300,000 jobs for the southern region, is at least 10 years away – and that is if money is allocated under the Governments mid-term review of capital spending.

In Northern Ireland, where the State is committed to spending on cross-border routes, neither TII nor Monaghan County Council is actively engaged with Transport Northern Ireland on the A5 /N3 link up.

The gloomy outlook for the State’s roads was delivered by TII chief executive Michael Nolan and Department of Transport assistant secretary general Ray O’Leary on Wednesday.

Mr Nolan was the second chief executive of a major State transport operator this week to tell the Government it had insufficient money to fulfil its objectives.

He followed David Franks of Iarnród Éireann who said some railway routes may have to close unless there is major investment.

Mr Nolan and Mr O’Leary told the Oireachtas Committee on Transport future costs for bringing the road network back up to standard could be well in excess of the cost of maintenance.

Mr Nolan told the committee the damage being done to the roads by lack of adequate spending in the longer term would see the costs remediation being “double” the cost of maintenance.

He said current levels of investment in “pavement” renewals was less than a third of that required.

‘Shovel ready’

In relation to minor works on national roads, Mr Nolan said “the current construction programme of realignments will end shortly. While there are some 50 other such schemes at various stages of planning, none of these schemes can proceed to construction in the short term”, as they are not “shovel ready”.

The Government’s current capital investment plan provides for the construction of eight major national road projects.

The plan identifies five other projects to be progressed to construction, subject to planning. The total investment is €730m with 90 per cent of this spread over the last three years of a seven-year plan.

Most are due start construction after 2019, with the exception of the widening of the M7 at Naas, which is expected to be sooner.

Under the State’s public private partnership programme, three new roads are being delivered. These are the M17/18 Gort to Tuam motorway, the N25 New Ross bypass and the M11 Gorey to Enniscorthy motorway.

Mr Nolan said should additional funding be allocated following the mid-term review of the capital expenditure plan, TII would look at the potential to accelerate some projects, the construction of additional projects and the planning of others, including the upgrade of a strategic M20 connection between Cork and Limerick.

However he said it could take up to 10 years for the M20 to be realised, divided between design, planning and construction, and that was not counting the possibility of a court challenge.

But he said failure to respond to future needs would lead to increased congestion, longer and less reliable journey times, less safe roads, higher costs and suppressed economic activity.

In relation to the Government’s commitments to contributing to cross-Border road schemes, Mr Nolan said the only cross-Border national route planned at the moment is the link crossing the River Foyle between Lifford and Strabane. The construction of this link is conditional on the construction of the A5.

At the southern end of the A5, he said there would be a need to agree details where the new A5 meets the N2.

“As that section of the A5 will not be built for some years, neither Monaghan County Council nor TII are actively engaged with Transport NI on the crossing” he said.

Mr O’Leary told the committee the Department of Transport had made a submission to Government for additional funding in the mid-term review of capital expenditure.

33% of Garda cars now have a licence plate recognition facility

Tommy Broughan highlights rise in road deaths, decline in Garda traffic personnel

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One third of Garda cars are fitted with automatic number plate recognition technology.

Just under one third of Garda traffic corps vehicles are fitted with automatic licence plate recognition technology, it has emerged.

There are 289 vehicles “assigned for use” by the traffic corps, according to Tánaiste and Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald. There are 103 official Garda vehicles fitted with the technology of which 91 are in the Traffic Corps.

The technology can automatically identify vehicle owners from their licence plates and allows gardaí to do this directly.

Ms Fitzgerald told Independent TD Tommy Broughan in a written reply to a parliamentary question that she had been informed that the technology “is in use in all Garda divisions and districts nationwide and that the use of this technology is kept under constant review by Garda management”.

Mr Broughan said that in comparison with the North, the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) “seems to have that technology available across the service for a long time and we don’t seem to have the same invigilation”.

The Dublin Bay North TD said the Traffic Corps was now down to under 700 gardaí and figures for those killed in road collisions was already higher than last year.

A total of 162 people died on Irish roads last year and this year there have already been 163 fatalities, Mr Broughan said, 33 more than at the same time last year.

The Tánaiste stressed that decisions on the provision and allocation of resources was a matter for the Garda Commission and she had no direct role in the matter.

But she pointed to the five-year Garda strategy that runs until 2021 – the Garda Síochána Modernisation and Renewal Programme – which aims to make greater use of licence plate recognition technology.

Ms Fitzgerald said the programme aimed to expand the number of units with the technology and “all units being 3G-enabled to give gardaí real-time information on suspect vehicles”.

The strategy also “envisages that An Garda Síochána will examine the introduction of fixed ANPR (Automatic Name Plate Recognition) sites at strategic locations across the road network” as well as the patrolling units.

The HSE has been offered an additional 1,000 beds this winter by (NHI)

The offer has been made by Nursing Homes Ireland (NHI).

Image result for chief executive of Nursing Homes Ireland Tadhg Daly.   Image result for The HSE offered an additional 1,000 beds this winter   Image result for The HSE offered an additional 1,000 beds this winter

The HSE has been offered an additional 1,000 beds in Irish nursing homes this winter to alleviate overcrowding in state hospitals. The suggestion has been put forward by chief executive of Nursing Homes Ireland Tadhg Daly (above left).

In a statement the organisation said it has today “offered partnership to the Department of Health, HSE and Emergency Department Taskforce in planning for the winter pressures… in acute hospitals”.

It’s understood that the NHI beds have not been included in the HSE’s planning for the winter months to come.

The NHI is today holding its annual conference at the City-west Hotel in west Dublin.

Kelly this morning expressed his “disappointment” that Minister for Health Simon Harris will not be appearing at that conference having cited “government business”.

“Back in July, the Department of Health and Minister Harris’s office committed to engage with the NHI ‘in a timely manner’ as part of its winter planning process. We are now in November, winter is upon us and there is no sign of the engagement committed to,” Daly said.

A survey we undertook at the start of the month has informed nursing homes have capacity this winter of up to 1,000 vacant beds. This is the equivalent of creating capacity of four good-sized hospitals and could play a lead role in facilitating Government’s stated objective of providing care in the community.

Nursing homes have the capacity and expertise to provide convalescent, rehabilitative and respite care removed from hospitals and in our communities. Yet here we are approaching into the winter period of high numbers of persons lying on trolleys within our hospital corridors and wards and engagement with the majority providers of long-term nursing care is absent.

Daly added that he finds it “disappointing” that a “parochial attitude” has been taken by stakeholders with regard to the issue.

Health survey depicts Ireland as a nation of overweight drinkers

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The Irish Health Survey looked at the state of the nation’s wellbeing

Ireland is a nation of overweight drinkers with back problems, high blood pressure and allergies, suggests the first survey of its kind.

Almost a 10th of the population is depressed while one in 10 youngsters has seen a psychiatrist, psychologist or psychotherapist over the past year.

The stark findings are revealed in the Irish Health Survey, a state-of-the-nation study under a wider European project which polled more than 10,000 households across the country.

It found more than half (53%) of Irish people are overweight or obese.

More than a fifth (22%) smoke, with people living in poorer areas more likely to have a tobacco habit.

Eight in 10 (81%) people regularly drink alcohol – with a sixth (16%) of the population saying they “binge drink” more than once a week.

The survey found:

:: Almost a 10th (8%) of the population said they are at least moderately depressed.

:: One in 10 of those aged 15 to 24 said they have visited a psychiatrist, psychologist or psychotherapist over the past year.

:: Chronic back pain is the most common condition, affecting almost a fifth (19%) of the population; followed by high blood pressure (16%); and allergies such as rhinitis, eye inflammation, dermatitis and food allergies (14%).

Despite this, the vast majority of people questioned (83%) said they believe their health to be good or very good.

But almost a third (32%) said they have a long standing illness or health condition.

Damien Lenihan, of the Central Statistics Office which released the report, said the findings give a good overview of the state of the nation’s health.

“This first release of the Irish Health Survey provides a comprehensive picture of self-reported health in Ireland,” he said.

“This is due to the breadth of the survey, examining aspects of health such as health status, health care usage, and health determinants.”

The average Irish person visits the GP six times a year, the poll found.

A quarter of the population reported taking at least one day off work over the past year because of a health-related problem.

The survey also revealed one in 10 looks after someone with a chronic health condition or infirmity due to old age.

In most cases the person being cared for is a family member.

The average number of hours spent providing care is almost 45 hours every week.

Rachel Clark, health promotion manager at the World Cancer Research Fund, said the report is incredibly worrying as being overweight or obese and drinking too much alcohol significantly increases the risk of many common cancers.

“After not smoking, being a healthy weight and avoiding alcohol are the most important things you can do to reduce your cancer risk,” she said.

“We urgently need to increase awareness across Ireland of the dangers of drinking alcohol and being overweight.”

Cockatoo filmed making tools from twigs, wood and cardboard to reach a nut

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The cockatoo perforated the cardboard with bites then tore off the strip to be used as a tool to knock the nut off the perch. A nut was placed out of reach and the birds had to solve the problem of how to reach it (as above pictures show)

Cockatoos clearly have a design in mind when they begin fashioning tools?

Cockatoos have been filmed making the same tool from three different kinds of material, proving for the first time that they have a design in mind and are anticipating how it can be used.

Tool manufacture was once thought to be unique to humans, but in recent years many animals such as chimps, crows, finches and vultures have been seen to make their own tools.

The Goffin’s cockatoo, which his native to Indonesia, is not known to use tools in the wild, but have learned in captivity.

One bird, called Figaro, who lives at the Messerli Research Institute at the University of Veterinary Medicine, Vienna, previously displayed the ability to spontaneously make tools by biting long splinters out of the wooden beams of its cage, which he then used to rake pieces of food that were otherwise out of reach.

Three others have since followed, showing that making such tools is within the capacity of the species.

However scientists could not tell if the birds intended to make the shape, because the wood would naturally splinter into a long shape anyway.

To test if the birds were aiming to make elongated tools that could bridge a particular distance, the researchers in Vienna and Oxford University gave them the problem of reaching a piece of food placed a few centimetres beyond a circular hole in the transparent wall of a box.

They were given four different materials that required different manipulations to produce suitable tools: larch wood, leafy beech twigs , cardboard and beeswax.

“While none of the birds succeeded in making tools out of beeswax, we found that at least some of them could make suitable tools from the three remaining materials,” said Dr Alice Auersperg, who heads the Goffin Laboratory at the University of Veterinary Medicine.

The successful parrots made well-shaped tools, even though each material required different manipulation techniques.

To make tools out of larch wood, they bit the material once or twice and tore off the resulting splinter. To use the leafy twigs, they snapped off redundant leaves and side branches until what was left was usable. Finally, to make cardboard tools, they simply cut what was necessary from the edge of the sheet provided.

‘To us, the tools made from cardboard were the most interesting ones, as this material was not pre-structured and required the birds to shape their tools more actively,” added Dr Auersperg.

” They succeeded by placing a large number of parallel bite marks along the edge of the material like a hole punch, using their curved upper beak to cut the elongated piece out of the cardboard block after reaching a certain length.

“Interestingly, this length was usually just above or very close to the minimum length required to reach the food reward placed behind the barrier.”

Co-author Professor Alex Kacelnik, from the University of Oxford’s Department of Zoology, said: ‘Ultimately, we want to understand how animals think – namely, to produce the equivalent of explicit computer programs capable of doing what the birds do.

“We really don’t know if the birds can picture in their minds an object that doesn’t yet exist and follow this image as a template to build something new, or how their brains elicit the appropriate set of movements to organise their response to novel problems, but this is what we are trying to find out.”

The research was published in the journal Biology Letters.



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