Monday 20th April 2015
Strong growth for Ireland sees national debt fall to 109% of GDP
The Managing director of the International Monetary Fund, Christine Lagarde, with Minister for Finance Michael Noonan at Government Buildings Dublin.
Figures show Government debt stood at €203 billion in 2014, down from €215 billion the previous year
Government debt as a percentage of gross domestic product (GDP) fell to 109% last year on the back of better-than-expected economic growth.
Figures from the Central Statistics Office (CSO) show Ireland’s national debt stood at €203 billion at the end of 2014, down from €215 billion or 123% of GDP the previous year.
The improvement was put down to a combination of increased GDP and the early repayment of a portion of IMF loans.
The Irish economy grew by 4.8% in 2014, outstripping even the most optimistic predictions. At the same time, the Government secured permission from its bailout lenders to pay off €18 billion of its €22.5 billion IMF debt early.
Minister for Finance Michael Noonan has stated he now expects the State’s debt to be fall below 100% of GDP by 2018, bringing Ireland close to the European average.
Under the terms of the EU’s fiscal compact treaty, Ireland is committed to eventually reducing its ratio of debt to GDP to 60% over the longer term.
The CSO figures show the general Government spending deficit was -€7.6 billion or -4.1 per cent of GDP in 2014, down from the -€10 billion (5.8% of GDP) recorded in 2013.
Government revenue increased by over 6% from €60.9 billion million in 2013 to €65 billion last year, while expenditure increased by 1.7% from €71 billion to €72.3 billion over the same period.
The changes in revenue and expenditure were driven by increased tax and social contribution revenues and increased capital expenditure, the CSO said.
Taxes and social contributions continue to form the largest component of revenue over the period, representing 88% of total government revenue in 2014, with social benefits, the biggest expenditure category, accounting for almost 39% of government spending in 2014.
Tánaiste Joan Burton favours role for local authorities as mortgage providers
- However, Joan Burton said there had been no discussion at Government level of €5,000 grants for first-time buyers
The Labour Party leader says that home ownership being available to young people is a “valuable” part of Irish society.
Tánaiste Joan Burton has said she might favour a return to a situation where county councils acted as low-cost mortgage providers for some households.
Ms Burton said yesterday that county councils in the past had offered different mortgage products to families who were not in a position to get full bank financing.
She said her own preference was that local authorities would explore the possibility of providing such products again.
She was responding to solutions put forward to overcome difficulties with mortgage distress cases, as well as reported difficulties of new home owners in meeting the more stringent deposit requirement of 20 per cent of value.
First-time buyers’ grant
Asked about a suggestion by her colleague Joe Costello that the first-time buyers’ grant be reintroduced, with a value of between €3,000 to €5,000, she said there had been no detailed discussion on the subject at Government level.
“There is agreement about the value to Irish society of home ownership being accessible to young people,” she said on the This Week programme on RTÉ Radio One.
She said the Government had to be prudent in how it approached this issue and that her own preference was for county councils to offer low-cost mortgage products for new home owners, as had been done in the past.
When it was pointed out that local authorities do not have the finances to do that at present, she responded that some of those solutions would become available as the economy continued to recover.
Local authority approval
Some local authorities have continued to approve mortgages during the recessions. Those who cannot obtain a loan from a bank or building society can apply for a mortgage from the local authority.
A total of 110 such approvals were made in 2012, with 174 in 2013.
The loans are available to a maximum value of €220,000. Under the rules, joint applicants must be earning €75,000 or less.
On demands for pay restoration in the public service, Ms Burton said those working in that sector had taken three reductions in pay and there was a case for this issue to be addressed as the economy came into recovery.
She said she did not want to preempt any discussions. On the question of pay increases being linked to productivity, she said more productivity made sense as it would lead to more efficiency and more money for services.
Most Irish SMEs can’t process online sales
More than 90% of SMEs cannot process online sales while six in every 10 cannot take orders online either.
The research carried out by Iedr — which manages Ireland’s .ie domain registry — found that the majority of businesses are not equipped to take and process consumer sales online.
Companies are putting themselves at a huge disadvantage in not tapping into the massive online marketplace, according to Iedr chief executive David Curtin.
“What stands out most is the mismatch between business owners’ acknowledgement of what’s important and their actions. Business owners know it’s important, but they haven’t yet acted to sell online, with 73% saying their website is “important/very important” as a driver of generating sales, yet 62% cannot take sales orders via that website,” Mr Curtin said.
“In an ever-more global economy, the absence of an online sales presence puts Irish businesses at a huge disadvantage to competitors. It acts as a major disincentive to attracting customers, for whom buying online is now the norm,” he said.
The report also finds that half of companies lack the capacity to interact directly with customers through social media or web chat; 54% don’t have responsive website designs for tablet or smartphone; and two-thirds don’t host any video content online.
Furthermore, just 4% of those surveyed have the capacity to run analytics on their website’s performance, meaning the vast majority are foregoing huge amounts of valuable information into the effectiveness of their online presence and behaviour of their customers.
501 Irish SMEs — across all domain names, not just those on the .ie registry — were surveyed to examine their online presence, including their e-commerce capabilities.
Mr Curtin was speaking as Iedr launched its €150,000 Optimise Fund 2015 aimed at supporting SMEs and micro-enterprises in enhancing their online presence.
The fund is designed to help drive businesses’ sales offering online. Since its inception in 2011, the optimise Fund has provided funding to 60 SMEs and micro enterprises to improve web and online sales capabilities.
Francis Brennan, owner of The Park Hotel, Kenmare and Ambassador for the Optimise Fund 2015, said “online sales are critical to our hotel business. They are now a significant and growing part of most successful Irish businesses’ sales strategy.
“While having a website is an important shop window for every business, it’s not enough if your customers can’t use it to buy your goods and services online.”
Galway Fine Gael TD slams Taoiseach over Hospice funding
Fine Gael TD Brian Walsh has slammed the Government for its continued failure to provide funding to Galway Hospice.
The Galway West Deputy said that provision of monies would also be the first step to addressing the ongoing issue of ‘bed blockers’ at University Hospital Galway.
He branded Taoiseach Enda Kenny’s failure to allocate funding to the Hospice as a “longstanding injustice”.
“There has been much talk in recent weeks about the provision of additional funding for measures to tackle delayed discharges from hospital, in order to free up acute beds and reduce waiting times for admission.
“There is a compelling argument for some of this funding to be used to expand and enhance the services provided by Galway Hospice in order to reduce occupancy of acute hospital beds by patients in the later stages of cancer.
“The acute hospital setting is entirely inappropriate in such cases, both from the perspective of the patient and the health service. Yet, at present, approximately 50% of all deaths that occur at University Hospital Galway (UHG) are cancer related.
“If even a portion of these patients were cared for by Galway Hospice as either inpatients or through the organisation’s home-care service, it would free up a large number of beds at UHG that could be used to increase surgical activity and slash waiting times.
“The cost of providing an acute hospital bed is around €1,000 per night. A care package could be provided at a fraction of this cost by the Hospice, which would allow the patient to be looked after in their own home.
“The recent allocation of delayed-discharge monies, therefore, represents opportunity to address the longstanding injustice in relation to the funding of Galway Hospice; which has constrained its capacity to provide its invaluable services.
“It is another opportunity for the Government to do the right thing, and – after four years of failure on this issue – its last.
“I have fought long and hard for the Hospice to win political support for its bid to secure fair funding for its service and financial aid for its expansion.
“We’ve had some success, but it’s time that the Government stopped dragging its feet and put its money where its mouth is.
“We’ve heard declarations of support from successive health ministers, but we have yet to see the action that’s required to put our hospice on a par with those in other counties.
“There is a common-sense solution to our hospital-overcrowding crisis right in front of us now in the form of Galway Hospice. If this Government fails to see this opportunity or fails to support it, then I think it would raise serious questions about this administration and its commitment to health-service reform in Galway.
“We have heard enough talk, we need to see action and tangible progress in relation to this issue right now,” Deputy Walsh said.
Colour helps our body clock adjust time
Ever wondered how animals know when to call it a day and return to their shelters? The colour of light has a major impact on how the brain clock measures the time of the day and on how our physiology and behaviour adjust accordingly.
“This is the first time that we have been able to test the theory that colour affects our body clock in any mammal,” said lead researcher Timothy Brown from the University of Manchester in Britain.
The research can be applied to humans too.
“So, in theory, colour could be used to manipulate our clock which could be useful for shift workers or travellers wanting to minimise jet lag,” Brown pointed out.
The researchers looked at the change in light around dawn and dusk to analyse whether colour could be used to determine the time of day.
Besides the well known changes in light intensity that occur as the sun rises and sets, the scientists found that during twilight, light is reliably bluer than during the day.
The researchers next recorded electrical activity from the brain clock while mice were shown different visual stimuli.
They found that many of the neurons were more sensitive to changes in colour between blue and yellow than to changes in brightness.
New species of frog’s organs are visible through its belly
A new species of frog discovered in Costa Rica has such translucent skin on its underside that it’s possible to see its internal organs.
The species, named Hyalinobatrachium dianae, is a type of glass frog, which are only found in regions of South and Central America. In this case, six specimens of the species have been found in the tropical wet forests of Costa Rica’s Caribbean foothills. The nocturnal creature is distinct from other species thanks to skin texture, colouring and the sound of its call.
The glass frog was discovered by zoologists working at the Costa Rican Amphibian Research Centre and has been detailed in a study published in the online journalZootaxa. While bright green on top, the delicate frog’s transparent underside allowed the researchers to study the arrangement of the frog’s internal organs in detail. “The bulbous liver and digestive organs are covered in white peritonea. The heart and ventral vein are blood red. Lungs transparent, but with a network of red blood vessels. The gallbladder is transparent Sulphur Yellow,” they write.
The frog has been named in honour of the senior author Brian Kubicki’s mother Janet Diane Kubicki, and also Diana the Roman goddess of the hunt, wild animals and woodland. “This being in relation to our own ‘hunt’ among Costa Rica’s mountainous forests to better understand the amphibians dwelling within,” the authors explain.
Glass Frogs can be difficult to observe as they tend to inhabit vegetation high above streams and at sites with tough-to-navigate topography. The last glass frog described from Costa Rica was in 1973. The researchers believe the creature faces very limited human threats in the foreseeable future thank to the fact that very few roads grant access to the area it inhabits.