News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Thursday 19th January 2017

Figures within weeks to allow rent cap in new areas, says Simon Coveney

Minister insists housing policy needs to include a balance towards landlords

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Simon Coveney says: “If areas qualify under the criteria with which everyone is familiar, they will be designated as rent-pressure zones and the rules will apply’’

Figures will be available in the next few weeks to allow for the introduction of a rent cap in 15 new areas, Minister for Housing Simon Coveney has said.

“We will get assessments of those areas done quickly so that we can create new designations for rent-pressure zones as quickly as possible.’’

Mr Coveney said the areas focused on were cities like Waterford, Limerick and Galway, as well as areas adjacent to Dublin and Cork city. This included counties like Wicklow, Kildare, Meath and places in the outskirts of Cork city like Carrigaline and Ballincollig.

“If areas qualify under the criteria with which everyone is familiar, they will be designated as rent-pressure zones and the rules will apply,’’ said Mr Coveney. “We will limit rent inflation in those areas to 4 per cent annually.’’

AAA-PBP TD Ruth Coppinger said the National Competitiveness Council had reported people were spending 41 per cent of their income on rent.

“That is not sustainable, particularly for families. Obviously, for those in receipt of rent allowance, the amount they must personally pay has increased dramatically.’’

Mr Coveney said some people in the House only wanted to make the case for one side of the rental debate.

“Of course we need to introduce changes to protect tenants from spiralling rents and to address the matter of security of tenure to ensure that landlords are not abusing tenants, but we also need to have a policy that is balanced towards the landlords. Otherwise we will not have any landlords.’’

He said his job was to introduce a balance to allow the rental sector to function. He must ensure an increased amount of social housing while retaining a private rental market which was functioning properly.

Ross says fixing Bus Éireann is a must for the unions and Bus Eireann

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Bus Éireann unions to meet next week to consider joint strategy and have warned of potential industrial action

Shane Ross told the Dáil that Bus Éireann was losing €6m a year, mainly due to losses being run up by its commercial Expressway arm

Finding a resolution to the problem of unsustainable losses at Bus Éireann is a matter for management and trade unions, Minister for Transport Shane Ross has indicated.

He told the Dáil that Bus Éireann was losing some €6 million a year, and this was not as a result of the State’s subvention to the company but rather due to losses being run up by its commercial Expressway arm, which faces intense competition from private operators.

Mr Ross did not say whether he supported controversial proposals put forward by management on Wednesday to restructure the company which includes redundancies and cuts to premium payments, allowances and overtime rates.

Bus Éireann has argued that its financial position is unsustainable, and without action to tackle its cost base and inefficiencies it will go out of business within two years.

Unions have promised to resist the company’s plan, which they argue could see a 25-30 per cent reduction to their members’ earnings.

The union groups at Bus Éireann will meet next week to consider a joint strategy, and have warned of potential industrial action over the proposed cuts.

They indicated this could ultimately spread to CIÉ sister companies Irish Rail and Dublin Bus.

Pensions

Union sources have suggested that a potential trigger for any broader row could be a dispute over pensions for staff in the three companies.

A spokesman for the CIÉ group said it would be resuming talks with unions at the beginning of February on the future funding of pension schemes in the group with a view to developing joint proposals.

Meanwhile, Bus Éireann appears to not have ruled out introducing compulsory redundancies as part of its restructuring plans. Sources said it would prefer any severance arrangements for staff to be on a voluntary basis.

Mr Ross told the Dáil that rural communities would not be abandoned as a result of any decisions by Bus Éireann to discontinue operating any existing routes. He said the National Transport Authority had clarified that it could and would “step into any area, assess the transport needs and ensure continued public transport connectivity”.

In part of a speech circulated by the Department of Transport but not delivered in Dáil, Mr Ross said the difficult position being experienced by Bus Éireann should not be underestimated.

However he did not, either in his comments in the Dáil or in the prepared speech, indicate whether he endorsed the controversial proposals set out by Bus Éireann management in its new survival plan.

Emergency aid fund for tillage farmers gets a step closer

After Government loses vote?

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Fianna Fail has had a private members motion passed in the Dail in favour of the creation of a support fund for up to 300 tillage farmers hit with significant crop losses last year.

Fianna Fail spokesperson on agriculture Charlie McConalogue said the motion was passed with “strong support” and the onus is now on the Minister for Agriculture to call an urgent meeting of the Tillage Forum and discuss what such a scheme could look like.

“Now it is the wish of the Dail that these farmers are supported.”

He said that it is imperative a scheme and fund is agreed within the next few weeks, which would provide aid to 250-300 tillage farmers who lost over 25pc of their crops last year.

“These farmers are mainly located along the western seaboard and some inland counties and a fund in the region of €4.5-5m is needed.

“The Minister for Agriculture does have access to such funds, due to the large carryover of funds in his department from 2016.”

IFA President Joe Healy said he welcomed the support in the Dail for IFA’s campaign for emergency aid for grain growers seriously affected by weather losses in the 2016 harvest.

“Following our protest outside the Dail yesterday, there is a groundswell of support for those tillage farmers who incurred significant weather losses during last year’s harvest.”

Healy too called on the Minister for Agriculture Michael Creed to reconvene the National Tillage Forum as a matter of urgency to deal in the first place with the emergency aid issue.

We have to tell pregnant Irish women not to drink alcohol

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Although it’s accepted that binge-drinking poses significant risks to a foetus, health professionals and the public are divided on the effects of an occasional drink after 12 weeks. 

A recent study suggests that over 60% of Irish mothers drink alcohol during pregnancy. The research looked at more than 3,500 Irish maternal records from 1990 to 2011 and examined the rate of foetal alcohol syndrome, where the baby in the womb was affected.

The official advice from the Department of Health is that women should not drink any alcohol during pregnancy. However there is no strong evidence that low levels of drinking is harmful. We asked two commentators to tell us their views.

YES. Being American and growing up surrounded by health education and open diagnoses regarding substance abuse, I, of course, think everyone is an alcoholic and should go to AA.

I admit, I love to diagnose (with no qualification) psychiatric and substance abuse issues, and that I have been influenced by what is an overzealous health care system (with severe issues of its own) and media culture in the United States.

Before I was pregnant, I had plenty of interesting conversations about healers and home remedies with Irish colleagues and friends. I also had a few friendly debates about the merits of booze to cure my upset stomach, my flu, and of course my headache from drinking too much booze the night before.

The same people that refused to take medication preferred to drink their remedies, and believed this was a healthier and more natural option than popping pills like Americans. Maybe it is healthier but what it definitely is to me, is the confirmation that popular beliefs about alcohol play a stronger role in many Irish people’s decisions than medical evidence or health education.

In Ireland I felt a bit silly and paranoid for maintaining that doctors don’t know exactly what level of alcohol affects the foetus so it was safest to not drink. I had an odd drink or sip and didn’t feel particularly guilty because I knew I would never drink more than that but I was also aware of the public image a pregnant woman drinking alcohol presents and I wasn’t comfortable normalising that image.

Since it is unknown what level of alcohol consumption causes Foetal Alcohol Syndrome and alcohol consumption is notoriously open to subjective and cultural interpretation, why believe that the average woman understands what a few drinks means? How much is “a few” drinks while pregnant?

I heard a woman say that drinking a six-pack was fine once it was only West Coast Coolers. I also heard women and men agree that it’s safe to drink in the last trimester because the baby is already developed when in fact the liver is not developed. Most husbands and wives can’t agree on the definition of “having one” so why did the Irish government think the public could?

I hope that the clear recommendation to avoid drink will make pregnancy easier for women in Ireland by presenting a consistent public health message and associated education that should result in a shift in culture around drink (without thinking everyone needs Alcoholics Anonymous).

Colleen Hennessy is a writer and mother to two Kerry-born munchkins. She can be reached at colleenhennessy.com or @colleenhennessy4 on Twitter.

  1. This kind of thinking opens the door to monitoring women’s behaviour in pregnancy. What about the binge eating mom who risks passing on diabetes? Or the cyclist who might fall off and injure herself? Or the vegetarian lacking iron?

We all know that excessive drinking in pregnancy is very stupid and irresponsible. We know that drinking a lot of alcohol – six or more units a day – can cause foetal alcohol syndrome, which stunts the mental and physical development of a child, and can even trigger a miscarriage. We know that a baby’s organs can’t deal with alcohol in the way that ours can.

However, there is no confusion about how much is safe. And – of course – many women who are not alcoholics drink too much before even realising that they are pregnant. But for the vast majority of women, discovering they’re having a baby switches on the overwhelming instinct to protect and nurture.

We women are lectured to enough when it comes to our bodies. It’s time for us to take back control. Yes, we will listen politely to the advice. But then, as with all advice, we will make our own decisions as to whether to adhere to it or not.

World’s primates facing ‘an extinction crisis’

Victoria Gill explains the threat to primates, with the help of some lemurs

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The world’s primates face an “extinction crisis” with 60% of species now threatened with extinction, according to research.

A global study, involving more than 30 scientists, assessed the conservation status of more than 500 individual species.

This also revealed that 75% of species have populations that are declining.

The findings are published in the journal Science Advances.

Professor Jo Setchell from Durham University, a member of the team, explained that the main threats were “massive habitat loss” and illegal hunting.

“Forests are destroyed when primate habitat is converted to industrial agriculture, leaving primates with nowhere to live,” she told BBC News.

“And primates are hunted for meat and trade, either as pets or as body parts.”

Other threats – all driven by human behaviour – are forest clearance for livestock and cattle ranching; oil and gas drilling and mining.

“The short answer is that we must reduce human domination of the planet, and learn to share space with other species,” Prof Setchell commented.

No alternative

Deforestation has driven the Sumatran orangutan to the brink of extinction

The study also cited poverty and civil unrest as a driving force for hunting – in the poorest parts of the world many people are being driven to hunting primates in order to feed themselves.

“We need to focus on the development of these parts of the world and make sure people have an alternative source of protein,” said Prof Serge Wich from Liverpool John Moores University.

He pointed out that the loss of primate species represented the loss of forests that are essential for the future of our own species.

“These forests provide essential services for people,” he told BBC News.

“They help in being carbon stocks to mitigate climate change; they help in providing clean water and providing pollination services for people, so they can grow their crops.”

The researchers also pointed to some personal choices that people could make as consumers, particularly in the west, to avoid contributing to tropical deforestation.

“Simple examples are don’t buy tropical timber, don’t eat palm oil,” said Prof Setchell.

But more broadly, “we need to raise local, regional and global public awareness of the plight of the world’s primates and what this means for ecosystem health, human culture, and ultimately human survival.

“In industrialised nations, we must decrease our demand for resources that we don’t need, and stop confusing wants with needs.”

Dr Christoph Schwitzer, from the International Union for the Conservation of Nature is also director of conservation at Bristol Zoological Society. He told the BBC that it was his “strong belief” that “with a concerted effort by the world’s governments and conservationists, primate declines can be halted and populations stabilised”.

He added that changes in consumer behaviour could help, for example “choosing FSC-certified wood and paper products, and making sure palm oil comes from sustainable sources”.

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