Tag Archives: Child benefit Ireland

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Thursday 26th May 2016

Fianna Fáil must explain decision to side with the Government on Irish Water, says Sinn Fein


Sinn Féin TD Eoin O’Broin said Fianna Fáil has broken its promise to abolish Irish Water.

Sinn Fein has accused Fianna Fail of acting in coalition with Fine Gael by abstaining in a motion to scrap water charges.

This gave Fine Gael a comfortable winning margin to push through the deal reached with Fianna Fáil during negotiations to form a new minority government.

Under this deal – water charges will be suspend for the moment, to allow for the establishment of an independent commission.

“They’re supporting the Government and they’re supporting this Government’s policy, and they are supporting the continuation of Irish Water, despite clear election promises to the contrary,” he said.

“And they’re supporting a motion that leaves the door open to water charges in the future, so Fianna Fáil have to explain to their electorate why they promised to abolish Irish Water and water charges before the election and now are siding with the Government on these issues after the election.”

Fianna Fail TD Niall Collins defended the decision not to vote against the abolition of Irish Water., saying his party plans to support future legislation to abolish water charges.

“There will be, through legislation, a suspension of water charges and a commission to look into the whole issue of water in this country,” he said.

“So we’ve played a progressive part in this, unlike other political parties, and what we saw in the Dáil, spearheaded by Sinn Féin, the Anti-Austerity Alliance and indeed the People Before Profit was just simply petty politics.”

Leo Varadkar does a U-turn on child benefit


Social Protection Minister Leo Varadkar has ruled out any linking of the payment of child benefit to school attendance, despite a commitment in the programme for government to do so.

Speaking in the Dáil yesterday, Mr Varadkar said while there is a requirement to disclose attendance records for children over the age of 16, at present there is no such requirement for those younger than that under current legislation.

He said the monitoring of children is beyond his remit and is a matter for Tusla, the Child and Family Agency.

The programme for government states that monitoring of child benefit will be reformed by amalgamating two existing monitoring systems, to address poor attendance within some families.

This initiative has been spearheaded by Communications Minister Denis Naughten. However, Mr Varadkar yesterday ruled out any move to link the payment to attendance.

“Child benefit is a payment that is not means tested nor is it taxed and I have no intention of changing that. For those under 16 it is not linked to school attendance,” he said.

“I had some discussions with [Children’s Minister Katherine] Zappone and [Education Minister Richard] Bruton and our view is that those involved in monitoring truancy do not believe the further tool to enforce attendance would be useful. I see no reason in changing the law.”

Fianna Fáil social protection spokesman Willie O’Dea said concern had been raised following media reports about the inclusion of the measure in the programme for government, but that he welcomed Mr Varadkar’s ruling it out. “We are happy with that and I thank the minister,” he said.

Mr Varadkar was also pressed about the €2.5m cost to the taxpayer in meeting the statutory redundancies at Clerys in Dublin.

He said legal action could be instigated in order to reclaim the monies from the company, which was folded in controversial circumstances last year.

He said the redundancies were paid out of the Social Insurance Fund from PRSI contributions to 134 former employees at Clerys.

He said: “Arising from the Clerys liquidation, the Department of Jobs examined protection law for employees and unsecured creditors to see that limited liability or company restructuring is not used to avoid obligations to employees or creditors.

“It is my firm view that companies should stay true to the spirit and letter of company law. My department is now examining how the monies can be recouped.”

Mr Varadkar said legal action would have to take into account any burden of proof involved, the cost of taking such an action, and the level of assets in the company.

Labour TD Willie Penrose criticised the response, saying it reflects the conservative nature of bureaucracy. He called for Mr Varadkar to make the most of existing law to recoup monies for the taxpayer.

Mr Varadkar was also asked about his decision to scrap the Job-Bridge scheme. He told the Dáil he felt the scheme was now “out of date”.

Ten times more cyclists treated in Irish hospitals after crashes than official figures show


Today’s findings also showed far more people were hurt in road accidents

Ten times more cyclists are injured and treated in hospital than official figures show, it has been revealed.

Today’s findings also showed far more people were hurt in road accidents.

Researcher Brian Caulfield said: “New injury indicators are clearly needed since the existing data do not capture the gravity and extent of the problem.”

A team from Trinity College Dublin’s School of Engineering combined data from the Road Safety Authority, hospital records and the Irish Injuries Board.

The study into figures from 2005 to 2011 found there were 88,000 traffic injuries. Hospital figures reveal RSA data only includes around 30% of an overlap with patients admitted for road crashes.

The researchers said: “The evidence the numbers are far greater than the official data indicate implies that reducing injuries needs to play a more important role in road safety strategy.

“Policy measures under consideration to reduce fatalities could obviously also contribute to reducing injuries. Among these are helmets for cyclists, lower urban speed limits, stronger measures to protect pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists.”

A spokesman for the RSA said its figures relating to collisions and injuries come from gardai and not hospitals or the IIB.

The lack of one comprehensive dataset has previously made it difficult to assess the extent of the problems in Ireland.

But the Trinity researchers got around this problem by linking figures from three separate sources.

Dr Jack Short, ex-secretary general of the International Transport Forum at OECD, said: “The total social costs of road traffic injuries are greater than the cost of fatalities, so this subject merits increased policy attention and a higher priority in the Irish Road Safety Strategy.”

€500,000 fintech start-up fund announced by Enterprise Ireland

L-R: Geraldine Gibson, Managing Director, AQ Metrics; Mary Mitchell O’Connor TD, Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation; Leo McAdams, Divisional Manager ICT & International Services, Enterprise Ireland; Brett Meyers, CEO, Currency Fair  

Enterprise Ireland has created a new €500,000 fund for fintech start-ups, with ten spots to be filled as part of the IFS-2020 strategy.

Announcing a new start-up fund for fintech start-ups today, Minister for Jobs, Mary Mitchell O’Connor claimed the support was a “key part” of the current government’s push to help key sectors.

Providing €50,000 in equity to ten selected start-ups in the fintech area, applications open at the start of June, closing after just two weeks.

Open to early stage companies that can either be providing technology into the financial services industry, or consumer end-market solutions, blockchain, IoT, AI and ‘data intelligence’ are area encouraged.

Aside from the equity fund on offer, successful applicants will also receive membership to Dogpatch Labs, access to the Ulster Bank Innovation Solutions team, as well as talks from members of the FinTech and Payments Association of Ireland (FPAI).

“By introducing a specific start-up fund targeting the fintech sector,” said Enterprise Ireland’s Leo McAdams, “[we are] leveraging our strong international financial services reputation and our world-class start-up ecosystem to allow ambitious entrepreneurs to start, scale and succeed – providing valuable jobs here into the future”.

Enterprise Ireland has been fairly active of late, pouring €2.5m into ArcLabs at Waterford Institute of Technology in a move that will double the capacity of the incubation hub.

The expansion is hoped to help achieve the goal of a 30pc increase in the number of start-ups in the south-east.

Meanwhile last November a €500,000 specifically aimed at female-led start-ups was created.

Mars is emerging from an ice age that ended about 400,000 years ago

Climate change affects the Red Planet as well as us on earth?

the-red-planet  marsnasa.jpg  NASA-9.jpg

Mars is emerging from an ice age, according to a new study. Studying the Martian climate and how it changes over time can help scientists better plan future missions to Mars and even understand climate change here on Earth, the study authors goes on to say.

Models had already predicted that Mars underwent several rounds of ice ages in the past, but little physical measurements ever confirmed those predictions. Today’s study, published in the journal Science, is the first to map the ice deposits on the north and south pole and confirm that Mars is emerging from an ice age, in a retreat that began almost 400,000 years ago. The researchers also calculated just how much ice accumulated over the poles; the amount is so big that if it were spread throughout Mars, the entire planet would be covered by a 2-foot thick layer of ice.


Studying climate change on Mars is important for multiple reasons, says study co-author Isaac Smith, who studies sedimentary systems on Mars at Southwest Research Institute. By understanding ice ages, we can get a better understanding of how ice — and water — behaved through time on the Red Planet. It can help us figure out how Mars went from being a wet world to the barren, frigid land it is today. And it can tell us where ice deposits can be found. That’s key if we plan to send humans on Mars. “We want to know the history of water,” Smith says. “At some point, we’re going to have some people there and we’d like to know where the water is. So there’s a big search for that.”

The Martian climate can also inform scientists about climate change here on Earth, Smith says. Mars is the most similar planet to Earth in the Solar System and it provides a good testing ground for climate research, because there are no people burning fossil fuels and pumping global warming pollutants into the atmosphere. “Mars is a very good laboratory for what happens on Earth,” Smith says. “Climate science actually has a very simple but perfect laboratory in Mars, where we can learn about the physics of climate change and then apply what we learn to Earth.”

Ali Bramson, a planetary scientist and PhD candidate at the University of Arizona, who did not work on the study, agrees. “I think it’s a really great study and I think it’s very timely,” she says. “I was really excited to see it. … Climate change is obviously a very salient topic on Earth, but understanding the distribution of water-ice on Mars is also something that’s of great interest because there’s a lot of interest in sending humans one day to Mars. So if we know where there are reservoirs of water-ice, that could potentially be useful for future human exploration.”


Just like Earth, Mars undergoes cycles of climate change and ice ages. But unlike Earth, climate change on Mars is affected primarily by how “tilted” the planet is. Every planet has an axis around which the planet rotates. Earth’s axis is tilted 23.5 degrees and it’s pretty stable, varying only a couple of degrees over time. Mars’ axis is currently tilted 25 degrees, but it wobbles between from 10 to 40 degrees. That happens for two reasons: first, Mars doesn’t have a moon as big as ours to stabilize its orbit; second, it’s much closer to Jupiter, and Jupiter’s gravity affects Mars’ rotation. When the Red Planet’s axis is more tilted, the poles receive more sunlight and get warm — so the ice to redistributes to the mid-latitudes, just above the tropic. That’s when Mars undergoes an ice age. “The impact is pretty dramatic,” says Peter Read, a physics professor at the University of Oxford.

Today’s study was based on predictions that 400,000 years ago such a shift in the planet’s axis took place. The researchers used radar instruments onboard the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, a NASA spacecraft that’s orbiting Mars. They analyzed the radar images of the ice deposits within the planet’s polar ice caps, looking out for signs of erosion and other features, like so-called spiral troughs that are created by the wind. Tracing these features can reveal how ice accumulated and retreated through time. The researchers confirmed that around 400,000 years ago an ice age ended. Since the end of that ice age, about 87,000 cubic kilometers of ice accumulated at the poles, especially in the north pole. That’s exciting, because 400,000 years is pretty recent when talking about planets in the Solar System.

The study is “another bit of evidence that climate is still actively changing on Mars,” says Stephen Lewis, a senior lecturer at the Open University, who didn’t work on the study. Mars “is not a dead, static world. Things are going on and changing.”


News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Tuesday 4th November 2014

Ireland’s tax returns running an astonishing €1.1bn ahead of target


Exchequer figures show State collected €3.1bn in tax in October

The exchequer deficit at end October 2014 stood at €8.51 billion compared to €10.521 billion in 2013. The figure represents an €1.76 billion improvement on the official target, thanks to rising tax receipts, an increase in Central Bank surplus income and reduced interest expenditure.

Tax returns this year are running almost €1.1 billion ahead of target after a surge in revenues last month, new figures show.

Exchequer returns for October show the Government collected €3.1 billion in tax, €389 million or 14.3 per cent more than targeted at the outset of the year.

However, some €220 million reflected revenues delayed from the pension fund levy in September. Tax revenues for the month were up €169 million or 6.2 per cent, with VAT, corporation tax and excise duties each ahead of target

The figures, released this afternoon by the Department of Finance, show that the revenues since the start of the year now stand at €31.98 billion, €1.09 billion or 3.5 per cent ahead of profile.

The exchequer deficit at end October 2014 stood at €8.51 billion compared to €10.521 billion in 2013. The figure represents an €1.76 billion improvement on the official target, thanks to rising tax receipts, an increase in Central Bank surplus income and reduced interest expenditure

Rape victim Mairia CahillI says it feels like she is being publicly abused all over again by the IRA


RAPE victim Mairia Cahill has accused members of the republican movement of actively trying to undermine her attempts to highlight the issue of sex offenders being exiled from the North.

The Belfast woman was responding to the release of two letters by Breige Wright, who is one of four people said to have been involved in the kangaroo court.

The letters, released through Madden and Finucane solicitors, appear to show that Ms Wright supported Ms Cahill in dealing with her abuse ordeal.

In a statement accompanying the letters, Ms Wright claims that she was subject to a “media onslaught” since Mairia’s claims were aired on the BBC Spotlight programme last month.

“There has been a deluge of inaccurate, prejudiced and selective reporting of all aspects of this case.”

“Particularly, my relationship with Máiría Cahill and in terms of the support that I offered her,” the statement said.

“My intent was to try to help Máiría. I believe that these letters demonstrate that Máiría accepted and valued that support,” it added.

The letters were sent by Ms Cahill to Ms Wright in 2005 and 2008. Her raped is alleged to have taken place in 1998.

But in a statement to independent.ie, Ms Cahill today said the letters “corroborate” her account.

She added that they illustrate she was in “turmoil” following her ordeal and that Ms Wright was present during the interrogation. And Ms Cahill accused Ms Wright of “hiding” behind her solicitor and called on her to answer questions from the media.

Mairia cahill speaking to media following a meeting with Taoiseach Enda Kenny TD outside Government Buildings, Dublin.360p high

“This selective drip feeding of information without context is designed to frighten me to go away. It will not work. Although I feel like I am being abused all over again by the IRA in a very public manner,  it will not deter me from continuing to deal with the serious issue of Republican perpetrators of abuse being moved around this country and covered for by Sinn Fein,” Ms Cahill said.

While Ms Wright was one of four people alleged to have been involved in the interrogation, all charges against her and three other individuals were dropped in May.

Their solicitor, Peter Madden, complained that their acquittals have been “ignored or devalued” as they have been subjected to “trial by the media”.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny said last month that he would be happy to meet with the four individuals to discuss their alleged role in the Kangaroo court.

But Mr Madden told RTE that a meeting would undermine the review currently being carried out by the prosecution service in the North.

A Kremlin award for Irish charity worker Fiona Corcoran


Greater Chernobyl Cause was set up to help victims of 1986 nuclear incident but has since widened activities

Vladimir Putin has presented an award to Fiona Corcoran, the Irish charity worker, in acknowledgement of the work of her Greater Chernobyl Cause in Russia.

Vladimir Putin has presented an award to Irish charity worker Fiona Corcoran in acknowledgement of the work of her Greater Chernobyl Cause in Russia.

The Russian president handed M/s Corcoran the Order of Friendship medal at a ceremony in the Kremlin today to thank her for her “outstanding humanitarian work in Russia.”

The Greater Chernobyl Cause was originally founded to help victims of the 1986 incident at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Ukraine that was then part of the Soviet Union.

The Cork-based charity has since broadened its mission to work with children, the homeless and the elderly in Russia, Ukraine and Kazakhstan.

Mr Putin was accompanied by Patriarch Kirill, the Primate of the Russian Christian Orthodox Church at the award ceremony in the Kremlin’s gilded Saint George’s Hall.

In a speech of thanks, M/s Corcoran told the Russian president she was accepting the award “on behalf of the people of Ireland and other supporters who have helped us in our very long journey.”

Ireland, like the countries where the Greater Chernobyl Cause works, had endured terrible tragedies in the past. Historic memories of the Great Famine of 1845 have fostered a tradition of charitable giving in Ireland, she said.

“The award which you have bestowed on us today will bring our work forward for the very needy. As we say in Ireland ‘go raibh mine maith agat,” she said.

Supported by Oscar winning actor Jeremy Irons, among others, the Greater Chernobyl Cause works on projects such as rebuilding dilapidated orphanages and hospices, shipping humanitarian aid, organizing food programs and supplying medical equipment.

In Russia the charity runs a hospice in the remote village of Ivanskoye, 200 miles north east of Moscow and organizes a soup kitchen for the poor and homeless.

Charitable giving was frowned upon in Russia during the Soviet era when the communist authorities took responsibility for citizens’ needs. Many Russians have grown fabulously wealthy since the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991 and a culture of philanthropy is beginning to take hold.

M/s Corcoran becomes the first Irish citizen to be decorated with the Russian Order of Friendship which is bestowed on individuals for their “outstanding contributions to strengthening friendship and co-operation between nations.”

Irish homeowners get mortgage writedown’s in AIB scheme


More than 1,300 distressed mortgage-holders have secured debt writedowns with AIB thanks to a pilot scheme.

The scheme came about when the Irish Mortgage Holders Organisation (IMHO) entered into an arrangement to act as a third-party broker to advise distressed borrowers in their dealings with the AIB group.

The IMHO outlined figures today that show that in its first year it agreed 1,330 long-term resolutions for people in mortgage arrears.


It said between 75 and 100 of those deals involved debt write-down on family home mortgages of €1,000-€190,000, where the families were allowed to continue living in their homes.

A further 279 resolutions included debt write-down involving properties that were then voluntarily sold, with most of these in the buy-to-let sector.

The IMHO said that the initiative is available free of charge to all AIB Group customers – including EBS and Haven – experiencing residential mortgage difficulties.

In 30% of the cases they examined, customers who were facing repossession proceedings managed to achieve a long-term sustainable solution.

Some 43% of clients needed assistance completing the standard financial statement.

David Hall, CEO of the Irish Mortgage Holders Organisation, said: “The pilot with AIB has resulted in a very significant number of families and individual homeowners having their mortgage challenges resolved.

“Those involved often appeared to be trapped in intractable cases. The relief to clients has been invaluable, allowing them to move on with their lives, making affordable mortgage payments.

“We welcome the Oireachtas Finance Committee’s recommendation in their report on mortgage arrears in July, which recommended that this project be rolled out nationally involving all banks.”

AIB said the scheme, which is free, has delivered significantly for customers who might not otherwise have engaged with the bank.

It has now decided to extend the scheme for another 12 months. The IMHO team is now receiving over 125 calls per day.

The extension of the scheme means that, in many of these distressed-mortgage cases, a resolution can now be achieved within eight weeks.

Mothers who drink while pregnant could face legal proceedings following test case


A test case will decide whether a mother who drank during pregnancy should pay compensation to her disabled daughter

Mothers-to-be who harm their unborn child by drinking alcohol could be committing a criminal act.

Mothers who drink during pregnancy could face legal proceedings following a test case which will decide whether a child born with foetal alcohol syndrome can be awarded compensation.

On Wednesday a council in the North West of England will argue at London’s Court of Appeal that a child born with serious health defects as a result of her mother’s drinking habits should be considered a victim of crime.

If successful, it could pave the way for drinking during pregnancy becoming a criminal offense.

The child, who cannot be named, was diagnosed with foetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) at birth, a condition which can cause which facial deformities, problems with physical and emotional development, and poor memory or a short attention span.

She is now six years old and living with foster parents.

Her mother has never been convicted of any offence, but during an earlier tribunal hearing she was alleged to have “maliciously administered poison so as to endanger life or inflict grievous bodily harm” – a crime under section 23 of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861.

However the charities The British Pregnancy Advisory Service (bpas) and Birthrights say finding in favour of the council would seriously undermine women’s autonomy while pregnant and their freedom to make decisions for themselves.

“Viewing these cases as potential criminal offences will do nothing for the health of women and their babies,” said Ann Furedi, chief executive of bpas.

“There is a strong public interest in promoting the good health of pregnant women and babies, but, as long-standing government policy recognises, this interest is best served by treating addiction and substance abuse in pregnancy as a public health, not criminal, issue.

“Both the immediate and broader implications of this case are troubling. Making one particular form of behaviour during pregnancy into a criminal offence would lay the ground for criminalising a wide range of other behaviours because they may too pose a risk to the health of the baby.

“When we consider that the taking of necessary medication, such as treatment for epilepsy or depression, or the refusal of a caesarean section could be seen to fall into the category of maternal behaviours that may damage the foetus, the trajectory of such an approach is deeply worrying.”

The case has been going on for four years and it the council are successful it could set a precedent. The solicitor for the council are also representing 80 other children nationally who have suffered physical and mental damage because of their mother’s drinking.

In 2011, a hearing ruled that the mother’s drinking was “directly attributable to a crime of violence” and so the child was eligible for a payout.

However, this decision was overturned in December by the upper tribunal of the Administration Appeals Chamber, after the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority challenged the judgement. On Wednesday the council will appeal that decision.

Department of Health guidance says that “women who are pregnant or trying to conceive should avoid alcohol altogether”.

But then it goes on to say that “if they do choose to drink, to minimise the risk to the baby, we recommend they should not drink more than 1-2 units once or twice a week, and pregnant women should not get drunk”.

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence also concedes there is “uncertainty about how much alcohol is safe to drink in pregnancy”.

In the case of the six-year-old, the mother is said to have “consumed grossly excessive quantities of alcohol” and had been “using drugs”.

Alcohol is dangerous during pregnancy because levels of alcohol in the baby’s blood stream rise as high as the mother’s, yet its liver is not developed enough to break down the toxins.

Astronomers identify mysterious object at heart of Milky Way

 Schwarzschild black hole

A mysterious astronomical object known simply as G2 has intrigued and confounded researchers ever since it was found to be on a near-collision course with the supermassive black hole at the center of our galaxy.

When it failed to produce the predicted celestial fireworks over the past few months, astronomers were left scratching their heads. Now, one team thinks it has figured out why nothing happened: G2 is not a gas cloud but a strange, more stable object formed from a pair of recently merged stars.

Clouds of gas and dust near the center of our Milky Way galaxy make it extremely difficult to observe things there. When astronomers calculated G2’s trajectory in 2012, they thought it was a cloud of gas in an orbit that would take it very close to the Milky Way’s central black hole, known as Sagittarius A* (Sgr A*).

Researchers predicted that, as G2 neared the center, the black hole’s intense gravity would tear the object apart and drag it toward the hole’s surface, producing a shower of radiation that could reveal much about the environment close to Sgr A*. But as G2 passed by this summer, the galactic center was conspicuously quiet.

A team led by Andrea Ghez of the University of California, Los Angeles, used the twin 10-meter Keck telescopes in Hawaii to observe G2 between March and August—spanning its expected closest approach and the months that followed. Viewing at the infrared wavelength of 3 micrometers, which can penetrate the fog around Sgr A*, the team found that G2 “continues to survive in orbit—it has not changed,” Ghez says.

A gas cloud alone could not have survived a pass so close to the black hole, she says; she concludes that G2 must have a star at its heart, surrounded by a shell of dust. “It’s an unusual star, large, calculated from its brightness,” she says. The star is twice the mass of our sun but 100 times its size, the team reports this week inThe Astrophysical Journal Letters.

Ghez thinks her group has caught a pair of binary stars in the act of merging. Binary systems are common throughout the galaxy, she says; near the center, the black hole’s gravity encourages them to spiral together. The result is a new star so hot that it swells up like a freshly ignited young protostar. Studying how such objects form might help scientists solve mysteries surrounding Sgr A*’s close neighborhood, such as why it contains many more young-looking stars than expected but almost no older giant stars.

Not all researchers agree on the nature of G2. A team led by Stefan Gillessen of the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics in Garching, Germany, which originally identified G2’s trajectory in 2012, observed it in spring 2014 using the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope in Chile and published the results in July. They said their observations showed that G2 was behaving just as a cloud of gas should: stretching out before the close approach and pulling together again after it.

The lack of fireworks was no problem, they said, because any gas stripped off G2 during the flyby might take months or years to fall onto the surface. “So far there are no fireworks, but the gas is doing what was expected,” Gillessen told Science in August. “It’s fun to see how it is unfolding in front of our eyes.” His team noticed that another apparent gas cloud, dubbed G1, had followed a similar path 13 years ago and suggested that both clouds could be individual “knots” of denser material in a continuous gas streamer in orbit around Sgr A*.

Theorist Avi Loeb of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Massachusetts, is amused by the differing interpretations, because he published two theoretical papers providing possible explanations for the source of G2: one, that it surrounded a star that was shedding gas; and the other, that a giant star situated elsewhere shed its outer layer producing a stream of gas with clumps in it.

Both are plausible, he says, “but I don’t think we have enough data to decide.” He doesn’t think it will take long to settle it: If it’s the latter scenario then the giant star should be easy to find.

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Sunday 12th May 2013

Ireland need’s better mortgage solutions

One that favour’s it’s borrowers


It’s a few years late, but the Central Bank’s new plan to help homeowners is worth a try

The Central Bank has launched a pilot scheme to help homeowners. It is called the Framework for Multiple Distressed Debt.

It’s a pity we didn’t have it four years ago. The plan requires lenders to work together to achieve sustainable and fair outcomes for homeowners in financial difficulty.

I will set out what is involved and why we should give it a chance. It is not for impaired business loans and there is nothing for those in trouble with buy-to-let properties.

The banks still call the shots, but the framework encourages participating lenders to find sustainable solutions for keeping borrowers in their homes. This is to be achieved by what it calls a “Restructuring Waterfall”. If this pilot scheme works and produces workable criteria that borrowers can rely on, it could help those who are struggling to hold on, as well as those who are already in arrears.

It is worth looking at the background to what has happened before we look at the proposed framework.

In 2009 the Central Bank produced a Code of Conduct on Mortgage Arrears (CCMA) which sets out the Mortgage Arrears Resolution Process that imposes five steps on lenders. They must (1) communicate with the borrowers.; (2) use a standard financial statement to gather financial information; (3) assess the borrower’s case; (4) consider options that might resolve the problems; and (5) consider appeals.

You can’t fault the process, but it hasn’t produced the solutions.

At the end of 2012, there were 792,096 private mortgage accounts for principle dwellings in Ireland, and 143,851 were in arrears. Most were over 90 days and many for over two years.

CCMA has been in place for a number of years, but there were 106,000 cases that had not been restructured at the end of 2012.

Last year a panel of accountants was set up, to help borrowers understand options that the banks might offer. It would be a step in the right direction, but not a solution in itself. By the end of June 2013, borrowers can use the new personal insolvency legislation to claw their way back, if they are insolvent. This involves engaging with a Personal Insolvency Practitioner, or PIP, to broker a deal with the financial institutions. It divides those in trouble into three categories.

The first two deal with unsecured loan and demand credit (credit cards and overdrafts). The third includes secured debts such as mortgages. The plan requires the Personal Insolvency Practitioner to broker a deal between financial institutions and borrowers. Only co-operative borrowers who engage with their lenders to find solutions will be covered.

The process remains one-sided, in favour of the financial institutions. Not everyone is insolvent, but many need to restructure their finances to get back on track. The new framework could help everyone, as it points the way for lenders to proceed. The pilot scheme will be operated by a third-party service provider.

Hopefully it will not be like the Credit Review Office where ex-bankers review what bankers do. We need solutions that favour borrowers. Up to now they can ask for a solution, but they have no right to expect one, or what it might be. There was no blueprint to carve out a deal.

We know what is possible, such as longer payback terms, interest-only arrangements and more. But any deals that have been done took place behind closed doors and those involved were sworn to secrecy. All we know is that the borrower will be made suffer, if they are to get any deal.

Not much has changed.

The pilot scheme will last for three months from the time it begins. The plan is to get over the hurdles facing multiple financial institutions that are dealing with one borrower. Under the new personal insolvency arrangements, a deal requires the agreement of 65 per cent of the creditors. In most cases the lender providing the mortgage will be in control. Unsecured lenders could be left out in the cold.

The Central Bank’s proposals will get the financial institutions working together so that they can agree a framework that they can all live with. If they cannot work together the personal insolvency legislation is dead in the water. The Central Bank’s Restructuring Waterfall, if adopted by financial institutions, might help impaired borrowers take the first step on the road to recovery.

While there are nine outcomes under this framework, they can be broken down into three main scenarios.

Firstly, are the borrower’s debts affordable or not? Maybe the borrower just needs to tighten their belt and get on with it. Secondly, there are six proposals to deal with various levels of indebtedness. And thirdly, for those in crisis, the mortgage would require radical restructuring, possibly a write down.

Most of the solutions that the banks must consider work outside the personal insolvency process. Scenario 2, in particular, proposes such a framework. If the Restructuring Waterfall works, you could avoid life on the breadline.

There are six possibilities under Scenario 2. They all envisage debts, secured and unsecured, being repaid in full. If things can be sorted out in six months, a little flexibility is all that’s needed.

In the case of demand credit (credit cards and overdrafts), the borrower could be given five years to repay and interest of 9 per cent would be charged.

If a mortgage is not being serviced as required, the term can be increased by whatever it takes, subject to the borrower being no more than 65 at maturity. Any unsecured loans and demand credit would be dealt with as outlined above. If the financial problems are more acute, the interest rate applied to unsecured debts and demand credit could be cut to 4.5 per cent.

Finally, in addition to the above, the mortgage interest rate could be cut to no more than 4.5 per cent for a period of five years. If a tracker rate applied that would be preserved.

When the pilot scheme has run its course, we should have a better idea as to whether the banks will be reasonable. Don’t hold your breath.

James Fitzsimons is an independent financial adviser specialising in tax and financial planning

Eamon Gilmore rejects his Cabinet colleagues claim on cutting child benefit


Child benefit cut claim to pay for an extra free pre-school year is ruled out by the Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore who has firmly ruled out suggestions by Cabinet colleagues that some of the money currently spent on child benefit could be used to fund an extra free pre-school year.

Asked by journalists about the issue, Eamon Gilmore said the issue of cutting child benefit was never on the Government’s agenda.

He added that Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn had never said child benefit would be cut to pay for an extra free pre-school year.

“The proposal made by Ruairí Quinn was a proposal that we’d need to have a discussion about having a second year of free pre-school education. And I think it’s timely that we have that discussion,” said Mr. Gilmore.

Childcare costs 

“As we all know, the cost of childcare is very high for families and we also know that there are educational benefits to pre-school education and what Ruairí Quinn was talking about was having a discussion,” he said.

“The question of cutting child benefit was never on the agenda,” added Mr Gilmore.

Last week Mr Quinn was widely quoted as saying that he gave his “full support” to the idea of using part of the €2 billion child benefit budget to fund a second year of State-sponsored pre-school.

Education conference
Speaking at an Economic and Social Research Institute conference on education, Mr Quinn said Government colleagues Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton and Minister for Children Frances Fitzgerald had “rightly argued” in favour of the move to a “more effective” use of the child benefit budget.

“They have both together cogently argued that we need to explore expanding this provision to two years of free pre-school education for all our children,” he said.

Research revealed at the conference indicated that high quality pre-school education shows “lasting benefits” for better academic attainment and socio-behavioural outcomes.

The Government spent €175 million last year on the free pre-school programme, which is currently supporting in the region of 68,000 pupils.

Mr Quinn suggested the cost of doubling this provision would be in the region of €150-€175 million.

“I fully support seeking to do this within the lifetime of this Government,” he added.

“Child benefit is about what is the best benefit you can give a child. That – particularly in relation to a child coming from a disadvantaged background – means levelling the playing field in the world of education,” he said.

Second year
“If we could get two years as distinct from one it would really have the potential to transform the learning outcomes and the educational outcomes of a whole cohort of young people.”

In the meantime, he said, Ireland could move “with limited further funding and in a short time” to enhance an effective quality assurance and inspection system focusing on educational outcomes across the pre-school sector.

Minister for Children Frances Fitzgerald also appeared to back a move to divert some of the €2 billion child-benefit budget towards funding a second year of free pre-school.

However, internal Government estimates suggest the move would be expensive and would likely cost between €175 million and €200 million per year.

Plans to introduce a much more ambitious Scandinavian-style childcare service for under-12s would cost about €2 billion, according to estimates provided to the Government.

Proposals to either tax or means-test child benefit which have been mooted at regular intervals over the past two decades, would deliver enough money to pay for the move.

Lawyers for Savita Halappanavar husband to meet the head of HSE probe


Lawyers for Savita Halappanavar’s husband will meet the head of a health service investigation this week, paving the way for publication of a long-awaited internal report on her death.

Praveen Halappanavar had postponed the meeting with Professor Sabaratnam Arulkmaran until after the inquest into Savita’s death, which concluded last month that she died of medical misadventure.

His lawyer, Gerard O’Donnell and his friend, CVR Prasad, a hospital consultant, will meet Prof Arulkumaran in Galway city on Wednesday.

Mr Halappanavar decided not to attend the meeting himself.

They are expected to make detailed submissions, based on evidence that emerged over the course of the eight-day inquest in Galway last month.

After it concluded, Mr Halappanavar launched a passionate attack on her “horrendous, barbaric and inhuman” treatment at the hospital, claiming she was just left there to die.

Savita, 31, died at Galway University Hospital on October 28 last year after she miscarried her baby at 17 weeks. The inquest was told of a litany of systems failures and communications failures and how the medical team missed the early signs of blood poisoning that eventually killed her.

The inquest heard how her requests for a termination were refused because her life was not at risk.

Prof Arulkumaran, a London-based obstetrician, was commissioned by the HSE to chair a clinical review of Savita’s death.

Mr Halappanavar had initially refused to co-operate, instead calling for an independent public inquiry. He was further upset when a draft of Prof Arulkumaran’s findings was leaked to the media.

The draft report found there was an over-emphasis on the welfare of the foetus and an under-emphasis on Savita’s deteriorating health.

One of the issues at the meeting will focus on whether any issues have emerged between evidence given at the inquest into Savita’s death and the HSE investigation.

“One of the first things is whether the chairman has reviewed the transcripts of evidence from the inquest and whether the chairman has any amendments to draft as a result,” he said.

Mr O’Donnell will be accompanied to the meeting by Mr Prasad, an orthopaedic surgeon in Galway who testified at Savita’s inquest.

After the inquest, he said it was “mind-boggling to all of us how a person goes in to a hospital, walking, and comes out in a box for something that was an entirely preventable death”.

Health Minister Reilly say’s sorry to singing Nurse for saying ‘stick to the day job’


Minister announces creation of new post of chief nursing officer at Department of Health

An emotional nurse Bolatito Aderemi speaking to the media after her private meeting with Minister for Health James Reilly at the INMO conference in Letterkenny today.

Minster for Health James Reilly has apologised to a nurse over remarks he made to her as he was leaving the annual conference of theIrish Nurses and Midwives Organisation in Letterkenny.

As he left the conference hall following his address, some delegates chanted: “no more cuts.”

One delegate, Bolatito Aderemi from the Dublin South West branch, started to sing: “All we are saying is enough is enough.”

As he passed her Dr Reilly said she should “stick to her day job”.

A number of delegates objected to the Minister’s comments and said the union should seek an apology.

Dr Reilly later met with Ms Aderami privately and apologised.

He said he had made a quip as he left the hall. He said he had been informed that someone had taken offence. He said he had not intended to offend anyone.

Ms Aderemi, who is originally from Nigeria, said the Minister had shaken her hand, tried to give her a hug and said he was sorry and did not mean to embarrass her. She said she accepted his apology.

Dr Reilly had been greeted in silence as he arrived at the conference. However he received applause following an anouncement that nurses would hold senior leadership positions inthe proposed new hospital groups and in the Department of Health.

He said each of the proposed new hospital groups, to be announced formally next week, will have to have a director of nursing as a full executive on the management team.

“I will (also) establish a new chief nursing officer role within the Department of Health, that this role will be at assistant secretary level and a full member of the management advisory committee and will have executive authority to lead the nursing profession in Ireland and represent its perspective both to Government and internationally.”

Dr Reilly told delegates that pay savings of €150 million had to achieved in the HSE this yearin addition to the many reforms and efficiencies designed to improve servies and to live within its budget.

“Frankly, we are between a rock and a hard place.”

The Minister said that management and unions were meeting at the Labour Relations Comission to explore all the avenues open to try to reach a resolution to reducing the paybill.

“If we can find such anagreement it would be so much better than an imposed solution.

However he said the country was borrowing €1 billion per month and that this could not continue.

Gun fire shots fired through window of a Sligo Cranmore house


Left picture McDonnell Drive in Cranmore, Sligo City

The incident happened at around 4am this morning but neither the two adults nor the two children in the house at the time were injured.

A number of shots were fired through the window of a house in the Cranmore area of Sligo this morning.

The shots were fired through the window of the house on Joe McDonnell Drive, where two adults, a woman aged 27 and a man aged 31,  and two children were staying, at around 4am this morning.

No one was injured in the incident and the scene has been sealed pending a technical examination by Gardaí.

The matter is under investigation, a Garda spokesperson said.

Spaceman Chris Hadfield shares one last picture of Belfast before returning to earth

Photo by Chris Hadfield of Belfast  

He is due to fall back to Earth tomorrow – but spaceman Chris Hadfield has tweeted another picture of Belfast from space.

Commander Chris Hadfield is a Canadian astronaut and serial tweeter who has been snapping photos of Earth from the space station and sharing them online.

But as he entered his final 24 hours aboard ISS he tweeted a picture ofBelfast, quizzing followers: “Belfast, at the mouth of the River Lagan. Strangely, not the river the city was named after. Who can tell me why?”

Dozens responded on the social media site, debating the reasons why the city was named after the River Farset (Béal Feirste – the Mouth of the Farset) which is now contained within a tunnel under the High Street.

Hadfield, who has a daughter studying at Trinity College in the Republic, has previously shot and tweeted two photos of Dublin.

He also provided the first message tweeted from space in Irish — Tá Éire fíorálainn! (Ireland is exquisite). He added: “Land of green hills dark beer. With Dublin glowing in the Irish night.”

The astronaut has been aboard the space station since December carrying out scientific experiments.

The space station orbits earth every 92 minutes at 8km per second.

Today he said: “Almost time to leave Station. Hard to express all of my emotions, but mostly gratitude. I came here on behalf of so many