News Ireland as told by DONIE

Ireland Monday 27th February 2017

A child became homeless in Ireland every five hours in January, Dáil is told

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‘Shameful’ statistic shows Government policy not working, says FF TD Barry Cowen. 

Fianna Fáil TD Barry Cowen accused the Government of attempting to bamboozle people with details.

Focus Ireland said a child became homeless every five hours in January, a statistic called “shameful” by Fianna Fáil housing spokesman Barry Cowen.
“We are obliged in this House to seek to remove whatever obstacles that are preventing the implementation of any plans,” Mr Cowen told the Dáil on Thursday.
He said only 1,829 housing units were under construction as part of the Government’s plans. “The rest are going through various stages and the majority of them were approved over two years ago,” he said.
Mr Cowen accused the Government of being obsessed about announcements in the hope that people would be bamboozled by detail.
Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald, who took Opposition Leaders’ Questions, said the country was in a extraordinarily difficult economic situation just a few years ago. On Wednesday, she told the Dáil that unemployment figures were revealed to be down 6.8 per cent, a figure Fianna Fáil said would never be reached, she added.
The Government was providing more money and more detailed work with local authorities to deal with the housing situation, Ms Fitzgerald said.
Repair and leasing
The Tánaiste later said the allocation of €32 million to deal with repair and leasing of housing would be announced and local authorities would work to ensure that more properties were available for people seeking housing.
She said the four Dublin local authorities had confirmed the target would be met to ensure children and families would not be using hotels in the city.
There was a targeted social plan, but it would take some time, Ms Fitzgerald added.
Later, Minister for Housing Simon Coveney said last year 2,700 “housing solutions” were put in place for homeless individuals and families.
In the past number of months, he said, the Government had managed to stop the significant increase by taking a lot of people out of homelessness as quickly as possible.
“We need to ensure that we slow down the numbers becoming homelessness and continue to increase the pace in which we can facilitate the transition out of emergency accommodation,” Mr Coveney added.
“I am still confident we can do that by July 1st.”
Mr Coveney said it was a big job to get between 700 and 800 families out of hotel accommodation and into appropriate accommodation in that period, but the Government was determined to do it.

RSA Ireland losses widen on setting aside £50m for prior-year accidents

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Insurer targets return to Irish operating profitability this year after £42 million losses.

RSA Insurance Ireland’s operating loss widened by 62% last year after the country’s once-largest provider of motor and property coverage was forced to set aside £50 million (€59.1 million) of reserves to cover the costs of accidents in 2014 and 2015.
The local subsidiary of London-listed RSA Group posted a £42 million full-year loss compared with a £26 million loss for 2015. The performance was described by the parent as “disappointing”, especially as it had returned last year to writing new business on a profitable basis, as it and the wider industry hiked rates.
Insurers in the Republic have increased motor rates by almost 60 per cent over the past three years, according to Central Statistics Office data, in an effort to return to profitability as they struggle with rising claims, attributed to more cars on our roads in a recovering economy and spiralling court awards.
RSA Insurance Ireland has suffered more than most, as it was embroiled in an accounting scandal in 2013, when it emerged the company had not been setting aside enough reserves to cover large claims.
RSA said it is targeting a return to operating profitability for the Irish unit this year “through continued underwriting improvement, portfolio remediation and cost reduction”. However, it warned that the unit may face “additional reserve volatility” this year as a result of claims inflation on the back of the Personal Injuries Assessment board recently updating its so-called “book of quantum” – the guidelines for injury awards and judicial reviews.
As a result of the additional amount of money RSA Insurance Ireland had to set aside to cover higher expected costs from accidents in 2014 and 2015, its combined ratio – a keenly followed figure that measures insurance losses and expenses against premiums earned – rose to 116.2% from 113.4% year-on-year. A combined ratio off less than 100% indicates an insurer is writing insurance on a profitable basis.
“The prior year loss is predominantly in the Republic of Ireland commercial and motor portfolios, where a combination of higher-than-expected claims and the distortion of our reserving patterns following the events of 2013 have resulted in further strengthening of reserves during 2016,” the company said.
“The issues have been amplified by a challenging Irish market, characterised by aggressive claims inflation and increasing litigation mitigated by a very hard rating environment.”
The bulk of the additional provisioning appeared to be in RSA’s commercial insurance business rather than its personal line, comparing the full-year results with its interim figures that were published in August.
RSA said premiums in Ireland were up 6% last year to £306 million from a year earlier. This was largely driven by continued rating actions. Net written personal premiums rose 2% to £185 million with commercial premiums increasing 12% to £121 million.
Insurers have been less able to rely in recent years on investment income to cushion the blow from underwriting losses, as they grapple with low global bond yields. RSA Insurance Ireland’s investment profit fell to £7 million last year from £9 million in 2015.
The latest results come a day after three former RSA Insurance Ireland staff Rory O’Connor, Martin Ryan and Gerard Bradley were fined a combined £182,000 (€206,090) under sanctions tied to an investigation by a UK accounting watchdog into financial irregularities at the firm in 2012.
The Dublin-based insurer’s London-listed parent RSA Insurance Group injected €423 million of cash between 2013 and 2015 after the country’s once-largest insurer was thrown into crisis when it emerged it had a large hole in its balance sheet. This was mainly the result of the business having been found at the time to have set aside too little money in reserve to cover large claims.
RSA Group made a further €90 million available to the Irish division, if needed, last March to bolster its balance sheet under new insurance capital rules, known as Solvency II.
The continuing woes of the Irish business contrast with a 25% surge in operating profits delivered by the broader RSA Group last year, to £655 million. The group, which has been undergoing a restructuring programme under ex-RBS boss Stephen Hester, raised its target for return on tangible equity to 13-17% from a previous range of 12-15% on Thursday, and said it hoped to “perform in the upper part of this range”.
RSA said its cost-reduction programme was ahead of original targets and it was upgrading that target for a third time to more than £400 million sterling of gross annualised savings by 2018, from a previous target of more than £350 million.
The insurer said it would pay a final dividend of 11 pence per share and total dividend of 16 pence, up 52% from a year earlier and above a forecast 15.1 pence.

Tesco calls on union to reconsider strikes after five more stores vote no

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Six ballots held on Wednesday night with all but one store voting against strike action

Tesco has called on Mandate to re-visit its strike strategy after five more stores voted against joining the picket.
There were six “supportive ballots” held on Wednesday night with all but one store voting against strike action. There are currently pickets on 16 stores, with six more set to go on strike from next Monday.
The strike centres around what the Mandate union says is an attempt by Tesco management to enforce contract changes which will see the wages of staff recruited before 1996 fall by more than 15%.
Tesco has repeatedly denied this and says it needs to make changes to contracts to reflect an altered retail environment which now includes late-night and online shopping, as well as Sunday openings.
It says only a very small number of staff will see contract changes and promised that they will not lose out financially.
In a statement, Tesco said that 23 stores, or more than of half the shops balloted, had “overwhelmingly refused to co-operate with the union’s strike”.
The company said there was “an onus now on Mandate to face up to the emphatic decisions by the majority of colleagues. It is incumbent on Mandate after tonight’s strike rejections to re-visit its strike plans.”
The spokeswoman said it was “incontrovertible that Mandate’s strike plan is not being endorsed, as is shown not just by the union’s overwhelming losses in ballots, but also by the increasing number of colleagues crossing picket lines to return to work, with a further increase today.”
The company said the union would have to “urgently reconsider its refusal to accept the Labour Court Recommendation and its undermining of the industrial relations processes at the company and of the State, including its use of a Labour Court intervention to try to strengthen its hand in ballots.”
However, Mandate has said supportive ballots in other stores will continue next week and has said intense pressure by management on staff in voting stores was having an impact on outcome of the ballots.

Eat more fruit and veg for a longer life & eat 10 portions a day

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Eating loads of fruit and vegetables – 10 portions a day – may give us longer lives, say researchers.

The study, by Imperial College London, calculated such eating habits could prevent 7.8 million premature deaths each year.

The team also identified specific fruit and veg that reduced the risk of cancer and heart disease.
The analysis showed even small amounts had a health boon, but more is even better.
A portion counts as 80g (3oz) of fruit or veg – the equivalent of a small banana, a pear or three heaped tablespoons of spinach or peas.
What counts as five-a-day?
The conclusions were made by pooling data on 95 separate studies, involving two million people’s eating habits.

Lower risks of cancer were linked to eating:
1. green veg (eg spinach)
2. yellow veg (eg peppers)
3. cruciferous vegetables (eg cauliflower).

Lower risks of heart disease and strokes were linked to eating:
1. apples
2. pears
3. citrus fruits
4. salads
5. green leafy vegetables (eg lettuce)
6. cruciferous veg.et is a big fan of spinach.

Harriet Micallef, from Chippenham, says she often manages eight to 10 portions a day and has multiple portions of spinach every day.
She told the BBC: “I have a lot, I don’t ever have a meal without veg or salad so eight to 10 portions is a regular thing.”
She starts her day with a veg-packed omelette containing spinach and sometimes avocado or tomatoes.
Harriet’s salad-based lunch is also packed with a mix of veg and her evening meals tend to be stir fries or stews.
Snacks during the day include blended fruit smoothies or peppers dipped in hummus.
She added: “It’s definitely healthy, if you’ve got loads of colours on your plate then you’re pretty much okay.”
The results, published in the International Journal of Epidemiology, also assessed the risk of dying before your time.
Compared with eating no fruit or veg a day, it showed:
• 200g cut the risk of cardiovascular disease by 13% while 800g cut the risk by 28%
• 200g cut the risk of cancer by 4%, while 800g cut the risk by 13%
• 200g cut the risk of a premature death by 15%, while 800g cut the risk by 31%
The researchers do not know if eating even more fruit and veg would have even greater health benefits as there is little evidence out there to review.
Dr Dagfinn Aune, one of the researchers, said: “Fruit and vegetables have been shown to reduce cholesterol levels, blood pressure, and to boost the health of our blood vessels and immune system.
“This may be due to the complex network of nutrients they hold.
“For instance, they contain many antioxidants, which may reduce DNA damage and lead to a reduction in cancer risk.”
However, many people struggle to even eat the five a day (400g) recommended by the World Health Organization.
In the UK, only about one in three people eats enough.
Heather Saunders, 24 and from Oxford, routinely manages nine or 10 portions a day since becoming vegan.
She has two pieces of fruit with breakfast, a “massive pot” of roasted vegetables at lunch and then at least four vegetables in curries or chillies in the evening.
She told the BBC: “It is about making a conscious decision, I feel fuelling myself with plant-based foods is a more healthy way to sustain myself.”
Her tips for anyone trying to eat more is to do it gently: “Maybe decide to have one or two meat-free days a week and phase more veg in, I quite like a sweet potato curry with spinach and chickpeas.”
Dr Aune said the findings did not mean the five-a-day message needed to change.
He told the BBC: “There are many different considerations if changing policy, it’s not just the health effects – is it feasible?
“But our findings are quite clear in that they do support five a day, but there are even some further benefits for higher intakes.”
• Five-a-day advice ‘unrealistic’ says new GPs’ head
• Take the test: are you getting five-a-day?
Dr Alison Tedstone, chief nutritionist at Public Health England, said: “The five-a-day target is the foundation of a healthy balanced diet and is an achievable way to help prevent a number of diseases.
“Whilst consuming more than five portions of fruit and vegetables a day may be desirable… adding pressure to consume more fruit and vegetables creates an unrealistic expectation.”

Bumble bees found to have ‘impressive’ brain power as they are trained to score ‘goals’

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Bumblebees can teach each other how to score “goals” with a tiny ball, a new study finds

Bumblebees can teach each other how to score “goals” with a tiny ball, displaying a learning ability never before seen in insects, a study has shown.
The bees surprised scientists by working out how to use a novel tool to obtain a food reward simply by watching their neighbours.
In the experiment, the bees were placed on a platform and had to roll a yellow ball to a specific location – or “goal” – in order to obtain a sugar solution.
They were given two types of training, either watching a previously trained bee “score”, or being shown the ball that appeared to move on its own with help of an unseen magnet.
Insects that observed the success of other bees were better at learning the task than those given the “ghost” demonstration.
Project leader Professor Lars Chittka, from Queen Mary, University of London’s School of Biological and Chemical Sciences, said: “Our study puts the final nail in the coffin of the idea that small brains constrain insects to have limited behavioural flexibility and only simple learning abilities.”
The bees did not simply copy exactly what they saw, but figured out their own way to get the ball to the right destination.
“This shows an impressive amount of cognitive flexibility, especially for an insect,” said Dr Olli Loukola, another member of the Queen Mary team.
During the tests, the bees had to roll a ball from the edge of the platform to the centre.
Initially, “demonstrator” bees were trained by watching a plastic bee pushing the ball to the goal.
They then moved the ball in front of other bees undergoing training, who quickly learned the same trick.
But in later trials “observer” bees faced with a choice of three balls made a beeline for the one closest to the goal, rather than the one at the platform edge.
In yet another test they had to move a differently coloured ball to earn the reward.
Dr Loukola said: “It may be that bumblebees, along with many other animals, have the cognitive capabilities to solve such complex tasks, but will only do so if environmental pressures are applied to necessitate such behaviours.”

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