Tag Archives: construction jobs

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Monday 14th November 2016

Construction activity in Irish Republic rose again in October

Building, orders and employment all rose rapidly last month,

Image result for Construction activity in Irish Republic rose again in October  Image result for Construction activity in Irish Republic rose again in October

Total construction activity in the Republic increased for the second successive month in October.

The construction sector in the Republic recorded a strong start to the final quarter of the year, with activity, new orders and employment all increasing at faster rates in October, according to the latest Ulster Bank Construction Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI).

Meanwhile, a similar survey by Ulster Bank in Northern Ireland showed that firms enjoyed a surge in export orders last month on the back of sterling’s continued weakness but their good fortune was mirrored by growing problems for local importers as costs continue to spiral.

In the Republic, the seasonally adjusted index, designed to track changes in total construction activity, increased for the second successive month in October to 62.3, up from 58.7 in September.

This represented a sharp monthly rise in total construction activity, and the fastest in seven months. Construction output has increased continuously since September 2013.

Commenting on the survey results, Simon Barry, chief economist for the Republic of Ireland at Ulster Bank, said: “Importantly, construction firms are continuing to benefit from robust increases in new business levels, with the new orders index rising to its highest level since February following a fifth consecutive monthly acceleration in October.

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“Firms continue to report a strengthening in client demand amid a general improvement in economic conditions as an important contributor to the ongoing uplift in new business volumes. In turn, the healthy expansion of new orders continues to underpin increased demand for construction workers. The employment index rose sharply last month, with the pace of hiring accelerating to its fastest in eight months as almost one-third of firms noted a rise in employment.”

Mr Barry said the mainly domestic-facing construction sector was less directly exposed to adverse Brexit impacts than more heavily trade-dependent areas of the economy.

Northern Ireland figures

In Northern Ireland, Ulster Bank’s PMI survey showed that although businesses are enjoying an export boost following the Brexit vote, the total number of new orders recorded by local firms remained largely unchanged during October.

The PMI survey also highlighted that while business activity demonstrated growth last month in the local economy, the pace of growth was sluggish and weaker compared to nearly every other UK region.

Richard Ramsey, Ulster Bank’s chief economist in Northern Ireland, said the survey reveals the stark differences between domestic and export markets.

“Overall, incoming orders stagnated in October and have failed to grow since June. However, export orders expanded at their second-highest rate since the survey began. This implies that domestic orders have been contracting at a significant rate.

“The converse seems to be the case within the construction sector. Given Belfast’s crane-cluttered skyline, it would appear that business conditions within the local construction market are relatively buoyant.

“However, despite this, and perhaps surprisingly, the PMI points to rapid rates of contraction in construction output orders and employment. This is largely due to subdued demand within a major external market, ie GB.”

Mr Ramsey said sterling’s current weakness was a “mixed blessing” for the North as the manufacturing and retail sectors are forced to bear the brunt of the input-cost inflation.

Donald Trump’s temperament will not serve him well as the next president of USA,

Image result for Donald Trump's temperament will not serve him well as the next president of USA,  Image result for Donald Trump's temperament will not serve him well as the next president of USA, Image result for Donald Trump's temperament will not serve him well as the next president of USA,

Donald Trump is known for his blunt speaking

President Barack Obama has warned there are “certain elements” of Donald Trump’s temperament that will not serve him well “unless he recognises them and corrects them”.

With just weeks left in office, Mr Obama said the president-elect understands that a candidate being reckless with his words can be less consequential than a president saying the same thing.

Mr Obama noted that markets move and foreign governments take note of a president’s rhetoric and stressed that national security “requires a level of precision” so that deadly mistakes are not made.

He said blunt-spoken Mr Trump “recognises that this is different – and so do the American people”.

In a White House news conference ahead of his final overseas trip as president, Mr Obama made the argument that immigration is good for the American economy.

He acknowledged that many Americans have grown sceptical about the “complex argument” in support of immigration, when they see factories closing at home and jobs going offshore. But he said “immigration is good for our economy” if it is “orderly and lawful”.

Mr Trump campaigned on a promise to limit immigration into the US and bring offshore jobs back home.

But Mr Obama maintained that it is still his “strong belief” that achieving a strong global economy does not mean “shutting people out”.

And he believes Mr Trump will seek to “send some signals of unity” to people alienated by his ferocious campaign.

He said he advised the president-elect “to reach out to minority groups or women or others that were concerned about the tenor of the campaign” and “that’s something that he will want to do”.

But he added that Mr Trump is trying to balance commitments he made to “supporters that helped to get him here”.

On the campaign trail, Mr Trump described Mexicans as rapists and criminals. He vowed to build a wall along the US’s southern border and make Mexico pay for it.

He appeared to mock a reporter with a physical disability and threatened to sue several women who accused him of assaulting them. Mr Trump also disparaged the Muslim American parents of an Army captain killed in Iraq, and battled a former Miss America who is Latino about having gained weight.

Mr Obama stressed the need to give Mr Trump the “rope and space” for a “reset” once he takes over the reins of power.

Earlier it emerged that Mr Trump was considering a woman and an openly gay man to fill major positions in his new leadership team.

It would be seen as history-making moves that would inject diversity into a Trump administration already facing questions about its ties to white nationalists.

The incoming president is considering Richard Grenell as United States ambassador to the United Nations.

If picked and ultimately confirmed by the Senate, he would be the first openly gay person to fill a Cabinet-level foreign policy post.

Mr Grenell previously served as US spokesman at the UN under former President George W Bush’s administration.

At the same time, Mr Trump is weighing up whether to select the first woman to serve as chairman of the Republican National Committee.

On his short list of prospective chairs: Michigan GOP chairwoman Ronna Romney McDaniel, the former sister-in-law of Trump rival and 2012 presidential nominee Mitt Romney.

“I’ll be interested in whatever Mr Trump wants,” Ms McDaniel said, adding that she was planning to seek the Michigan GOP chairmanship again

Internal deliberations about staffing come a day after Mr Trump made overtures to warring Republican circles by appointing RNC Chairman Reince Priebus as his White House chief of staff and Breitbart News executive Stephen Bannon as chief strategist and senior counsellor.


Will Mike Pence the US vice-president elect visit Ireland

Image result for Will Mike Pence the US vice-president elect visit Ireland  Image result for Mike Pence grandparent from Doocastle outside Tubbercurry co Sligo  Image result for Tubbercurry town co Sligo

The vice-President elect of the USA Mike Pence will be officially invited to the Co Sligo town of Tubbercurry where his grandfather hails from.

And the Chamber of Commerce in Tubbercurry believes Donald Trump’s running mate could himself end up in the top job in as little as four years’ time.

“Local people are delighted,” said chamber spokesman Roger McCarrick.

“We will be writing to him officially to invite him to the home of his ancestors. Regardless of policies he is still an ex-Tubbercurry man as far as we are concerned.

“There has been a sense of pride that a descendant of here could aspire to such high office. He has been Governor of Indiana since 2013 and it’s possible he could run for President in four or eight years’ time and he could be on the biggest political stage of all for the next 16 years.”

Governor Pence’s grandfather was Richard Michael Cawley, who emigrated in 1923 to Chicago where he became a bus driver.

He is said to have hailed from the Doocastle area outside Tubbercurry.

Pence has spoken in the past on how his views on immigration were shaped by his grandfather’s entry from Ireland through Ellis Island in 1923.

Now, further details of Mr Cawley’s Sligo roots have emerged thanks to research carried out by New York native, Robert Theiss from Arlington, Virginia, a postgraduate in history who has a strong interest in genealogy.

Theiss said: “Passenger arrival records show Richard Cawley, aged 20, a miner, arriving in New York on April 11, 1923, on a ship called the Andania, which had set sail from Liverpool.

“The passenger arrival record shows Richard Cawley’s place of birth as Doocastle. The passenger arrival record shows his last place of residence as having been Ashton-in-Makerfield, Lancs., England.”

Pence’s Irish granddad died on Christmas Eve 1980. He was 77. Pence was 21 at the time.

Richard Cawley’s wife, was Mary Elizabeth Maloney. She was born on March 22, 1907, in Chicago, Illinois. She died in Chicago on November 1, 1980, aged 73, just weeks before her husband Richard died.

She was the daughter of Irish immigrants. Her father, James Michael Maloney, was born on February 1, 1872, in Killaloe, Co. Clare, and her mother, Mary Anne Downes, was born on July 16, 1880, in Doonbeg, Co. Clare. James died in Chicago on October 10, 1916, aged 44. Mary Anne died in Chicago on December 23, 1955, aged 75.

Mike Pence and his family visited Ireland three years ago going to Co. Clare and Co. Sligo. Mike Pence met Moloney and Downes distant cousins, in Co. Clare.

Ireland’s Garda reserve membership has fallen 13% from June-Sept this year

Image result for Ireland's Garda reserve membership has fallen 13% from June-Sept this year  Image result for Ireland's Garda reserve membership down

Fianna Fáil has called on the Justice Minister to start recruiting more members onto the reserve force.

The number of Garda reserves across the country has fallen to under 800 in the past four months.

New figures released to Fianna Fáil’s Jim O’Callaghan showed how there were 1,179 reservists at the beginning of 2014. This number has now fallen a further 13% in the four-month period between June and September to 756.

Depleted reserves?

The biggest drop was in the Dublin South Central district where the number fell by a further 12% since May of this year.

O’Callaghan said: “Concerns have been expressed for some time on not utilising the significant potential of the garda reserve. This poses a much bigger challenge if the numbers continue to fall.

“The Garda Inspectorate report, published last December, indicated that despite receiving considerable training, reserves are not consistently or strategically maximised for operational purposes.

Just last month it was stated that there are plans afoot to more than double the number of Garda reserves nationally. This would bring the strength of the force up to 2,000. I am calling on the minister to kick start this process without delay.

NUIG refutes claims of continued gender discrimination at University

Image result for NUIG refutes claims of continued gender discrimination at University   Image result for NUIG refutes claims of continued gender discrimination at University

The five female lecturers (right) who claimed NUIG overlooked them for promotion.

NUI Galway has refuted claims that it’s ‘punishing’ women who highlighted issues surrounding gender discrimination at the university.

In a statement, college authorities said accusations made by the Irish Federation of University Teachers are ‘ill-informed’ and ‘untrue’.

The Irish Federation of University Teachers claims NUI Galway has failed to address outstanding legal cases relating to gender discrimination.

It argues that the university is stalling and prolonging actions taken by four female staff members, which are currently before the Circuit and High Court.

It says the situation amounts to the ‘punishment’ of whistleblowers who have highlighted vital issues on the national stage.

It comes more than two years since the Equality Tribunal ruled against NUI Galway in a case involving Dr. Micheline Sheehy-Skeffington.

NUI Galway says the cases are subject to the remit and rules of the courts and it is actively seeking their progression.

It adds that the contention by the IFUT that the university is delaying or prolonging court cases is ill-informed and simply untrue.

A new search in depression area for life on Mars now being looked at

Image result for A depression area on Mars now being looked for new life  Image result for A depression area on Mars now being looked for new life  Image result for A depression area on Mars now being looked for new life

Scientists at the University of Texas have zeroed in on a depression that could possibly support life on Mars.

A newly discovered depression may breathe new life into the pursuit to find life on Mars.

A strangely shaped depression—likely formed by a volcano beneath a glacier—could be a warm, chemical-rich environment suited for microbial life, according to a study from the University of Texas at Austin.

“We were drawn to this site because it looked like it could host some of the key ingredients for habitability — water, heat and nutrients,” lead author Joseph Levy, a research associate at the University of Texas Institute for Geophysics, a research unit of the Jackson School of Geosciences, said in a statement.

The depression is located inside a crater perched on the rim of the Hellas basin and is surrounded by ancient glacial deposits.

The depression first came to light in 2009 when Levy noticed crack-like features on pictures of depressions taken by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter looked similar to ice cauldrons formations found in Iceland and Greenland, which were made by volcanos erupting under an ice sheet. Levy and others also discovered another depression in the Galaxias Fossae region of Mars that had a similar appearance.

“These landforms caught our eye because they’re weird looking,” Levy said. “They’re concentrically fractured so they look like a bulls-eye. That can be a very diagnostic pattern you see in Earth materials.”

Earlier this year, Levy and his research team were able to more thoroughly analyze the depressions using stereoscopic images to investigate whether the depressions were made by underground volcanic activity that melted away surface ice or by an impact from an asteroid.

Timothy Goudge, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Texas- Austin, used pairs of high-resolution images to create digital elevation models of the depressions that enabled in-depth analysis of their shape and structure in 3D.

“The big contribution of the study was that we were able to measure not just their shape and appearance, but also how much material was lost to form the depressions,” Levy added. “That 3D view lets us test this idea of volcanic or impact.”

A closer analysis showed that both depressions shared an unusual funnel shape with a broad perimeter that gradually narrowed with depth.

“That surprised us and led to a lot of thinking about whether it meant there was melting concentrated in the center that removed ice and allowed stuff to pour in from the sides,” Levy said. “Or if you had an impact crater, did you start with a much smaller crater in the past and by sublimating away ice, you’ve expanded the apparent size of the crater.”

After running formation scenarios for the two depressions, researchers concluded that the debris spread around the Galaxias Fossae depression suggests that it was the result of an impact with the possibility it could be formed by a volcano due to the volcanic history of the area. However, the Hellas depression has many signs of volcanic origins, lacks the surrounding debris of an impact and has a fracture pattern associated with concentrated removal of ice by melting or sublimation.

According to Levy, the interaction of lava and ice to form a depression would show that it could create an environment with liquid water and chemical nutrients.

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Tuesday 28th April 2015

A spring statement showing five ways it will affect your pocket

  • After Irish Water debacle Government is planning absolutely no nasty surprises.


Minister for Finance Michael Noonan speaks delivered the Government’s spring economic statement. He predicts tax reductions and extra Government spending in the Budget.

The spring statement set the goalpost for the budget, but did not give us the detail. We don’t have the budgetary tables of who wins and who loses and by how much and the typical budget day examples such as “Mary”, the single public servant earning €40,000, or “Michael and Siobhán”, the couple earning €85,000. But clear hints have been dropped by Minister for Finance Michael Noonan and Minister for Public Expenditure Brendan Howlin about how the spoils of economic growth will be divided.

Some €1 billion was distributed in tax cuts and spending hikes in the 2015 package presented last October. For next October the indications are that there will be at least €1.5 billion to spare.

Here are five things that this all means for your pocket:

1 Lower tax and charges on pay packets: The Government cut the USC and income tax modestly in the last budget, with tweaks made to claw back some of the gains from those earning more than €70,000 a year. We can expect more of the same in the next budget, as Noonan confirmed when he launched a strong defence of the Government’s tax strategy. Tax cuts of over €600 million are expected next October, compared to €400 million last October.

If the Government is re-elected, Noonan made clear that we can expect more of the same in the years ahead.

Next October we can expect a further increase in the standard rate tax band – single earners now enter the higher 40% income tax rate at €33,800 and this income limit will likely rise, benefiting anyone earning over that level. As happened last year, USC changes are likely to benefit lower and middle income earners in particular.

Last year’s budget boosted after-tax income by 1 -1.5% for most earners with the biggest gains going to a group of lowest earners excluded from USC and to those on incomes of €35,000 to €75,000 for a single earner.

So if, as expected, the Government goes for a “same but a bit more” approach next October, the gains for many will be about 1.5 – 2.5% in terms of a boost to take home pay.

Tax cuts will benefit people’s pockets, but the return of cash is gradual. Tax hikes during the crisis totaled about €10 billion. There were tax cuts of about €400 million last October and a further €2 billion might be affordable over the next three years. So in rough terms taxpayers might get a quarter of the emergency hikes back by 2018.

2 Rising public sector pay: There is no doubt that rising public sector pay in some form is now on the agenda, with Howlin getting Cabinet clearance to commence talks with the unions. How much this will take of the €600 million – €750 million available for day-to-day spending increases next year is not clear. The public pay bill is about €14 billion so the gross cost of each 1% rise is €140 million, though the net cost is lower as the exchequer gets about 30% of any rise back in higher income tax. Howlin was cautious, but he did say in relation to public pay that “the unwinding of the measures will take time”.

The Government will consider increases – the issue is how quickly and on what basis. One option would be to focus initially on the pension levy, which was introduced in 2009 and takes about 7.5% from an average public sector salary. Overall, however, like tax cuts, it is a long way back after pay cuts of 14-15% for most public servants.

3 Increases in Government payments and subsidies: Howlin mentioned the social protection budget as one area set to get more cash. This means more in payments in some areas. In the last budget, the monthly child benefit payment was increased by €5 and another rise can be expected in October. Last year the living-alone allowance paid to 180,000 older people was also increased and more of this kind of targeted payment rises can be anticipated too.

Howlin also referenced a special group examining childcare issues and more help for younger families looks likely. This could involve either subsidies for childcare costs or some kind of tax relief. A second free preschool year is also being examined, as is subsidised after-school activities.

4 No nasty surprises on the way: After the water charges row, the Government is going to do absolutely nothing to raise any additional taxes or charges, no matter how small. There was nothing in the statement that might cause even a hint of controversy. Noonan did say, however, that the property tax and water charges must remain in place.

5 Banking bonus: It is clear that the main banks are gearing up to cut their standard variable mortgage rates and that the Government will take whatever credit it can. Noonan said he will call in the main lenders and would not be likely to do so unless he felt that reductions were imminent.

Those in mortgage arrears are also promised more options in a new package to be unveiled over the next few weeks.

Men in construction sectors ‘account for half of male suicides’

  • Report for CIF and Pieta House suggests a high number of deaths among those in production-type jobs


Mind our Workers: a new campaign by the Construction Industry Federation and Pieta House aims to raise awareness of suicide and mental health issues in the sector.

Men working in construction and production jobs accounted for nearly half of all male deaths by suicide in the period 2008 to 2012, a new report suggests.

An estimated 1,039 men from a construction or production background died by suicide during that period out of a total of 2,137 male suicides, according to figures published by the Construction Industry Federation (CIF).

Mind our Workers, a campaign to raise awareness of suicide and mental health in the sector, was launched on Tuesday by the CIF and suicide prevention charity Pieta House.

A report commissioned by the organisations notes there has generally been little data available on the professional background of people who have died by suicide in Ireland.

But in recent years, the National Office for Suicide Prevention commissioned the National Suicide Research Foundation to undertake a study and to establish a suicide support and information system (SSIS).

In the second phase of that study, some 307 cases of suicide in Cork between September 2008 and June 2012 were examined (275 suicides and 32 open verdicts at inquest).

Of the 307 deaths, 246 (80%) were males. Some 120 of those had been working in the construction/production sector, a total of 49%.

This was more than triple the number of deaths accounted for by next highest sector, which was agriculture.

By extrapolating from the trends identified in the research and applying them to the national data, the researchers said “it could be soundly estimated” that at least 1,000 suicides came from a construction/production professional background between 2008 and 2012.” This rose to 1,039 when directly extrapolated from the second phase of the study.

Men account for 108,300 or 93% of the total 116,700 working in the construction sector, the Mind Our Workers report notes.

Ten people a week in Ireland die by suicide and eight of those are men.

Some 6,520 suicides took place between 2000 and 2012 – 81% or 5,263 were male.

Between 2008 and 2012, there were 2,137 male suicides.

Pieta House chief executive Brian Higgins said the organisation was delighted to initiate the campaign in partnership with the CIF.

“It is extremely encouraging that a national body as influential as the CIF sees the impact of suicide on the construction industry and its employees and is partnering with an organisation such as ourselves to help tackle the issue. Partnerships such as this are a way of building resilience within our society.”

CIF director general Tom Parlon said the suicide figures for the sector were “shocking”.

“The industry can’t ignore this problem – there is a necessity to take steps to try to help those in need. Given the amount of time people spend in the workplace, that is where the Mind Our Workers campaign will focus. By promoting a more open approach amongst construction workers and their colleagues we hope it might reduce the number of people who feel they have no way out.”

CIF president Michael Stone said the organisation wanted to see a working environment where it was acceptable for men to ask their friends and colleagues, “Are you ok?”

The ‘Mind Our Workers’ campaign will run throughout the year. Campaign leaflets will be distributed throughout the industry and briefings and workshops will also be organised for CIF members.

Pieta House representatives will also attend regional branch meetings to discuss suicide and mental health.

A series of ‘toolbox talks’ about mental health and suicide will also be organised at workplaces and construction sites.

Separately, more than 100,000 people are expected to participate in the seventh annual Darkness into Light event for Pieta House in the early hours of Saturday May 9th.

No extension to insurance loading date from Leo Varadkar

  • Lifetime Community Rating will begin on May 1


The Minister for Health, Leo Varadkar, has confirmed that there will be no extension to the starting date of Lifetime Community Rating, which is due to come into effect at the end of this week.

From May 1, members of the public aged 35 and older who do not have private health insurance, but then choose to take it out, will be charged extra.

Known as Lifetime Community Rating, these consumers will see their premiums permanently loaded by 2% per year from the age of 35. For example, if a 54-year-old decides to take out private health insurance for the first time after April 30, they will have a loading of 40% added to their premium every single year that they remain insured.

The maximum loading is 70% and this will apply to people aged 69 and older who take out insurance for the first time after April 30.

According to Minister Varadkar, this system ‘will help to ensure that older and sicker citizens can still afford health insurance because the healthy and young who do not make as many claims still pay into the system’.

“It will also help to stabilise the market by encouraging people to retain health insurance once they have it. This is an essential measure to protect our system of community rating whereby everyone pays the same premium for the same policy regardless of their age or their health status,” he said.

He added that private health insurers are recording a higher volume of calls and internet enquiries this week and phone lines are remaining open late each night to deal with this.

Women who breastfeed ‘can lower the risk of dying from breast cancer’


Women breastfeed their children during a pro-breastfeeding protest in central London in December

Breastfeeding significantly reduces the risk of being killed by breast cancer, a new study has suggested.

Women with the disease who breastfed their babies have a significantly lower risk of the cancer killing them or recurring, according to the paper.

Scientists found a history of breastfeeding lowered the risk of dying by 28 per cent and reduced the chance of the cancer coming back by 30 per cent.

The study, by US health care provider Kaiser Permanente, used data from 1,636 women with breast cancer who completed a questionnaire about breastfeeding.

Breastfeeding had a clear protective effect, especially in relation to particular types of tumour including the most common hormone-sensitive strain.

The protection was strongest for women who had a history of breastfeeding for six months or longer.

Lead researcher Dr Marilyn Kwan said: “This is the first study we’re aware of that examined the role of breastfeeding history in cancer recurrence, and by tumour subtype.

“Women who breastfeed are more likely to get the luminal A subtype of breast cancer, which is less aggressive, and breastfeeding may set up a molecular environment that makes the tumour more responsive to anti-oestrogen therapy.”

Luminal A breast cancer includes oestrogen-positive tumours which are driven by the female hormone and are the most commonly diagnosed form of the disease.

These tumours are less likely to spread to other parts of the body than other types and are treatable with hormonal drugs such as tamoxifen and aromatase inhibitors.

Why women who breastfeed their babies develop less aggressive tumours is not entirely clear.

Co-author Dr Bette Caan, also from Kaiser Permanente, said: “Breastfeeding may increase the maturation of ductal cells in the breast, making them less susceptible to carcinogens or facilitate the excretion of carcinogens, and lead to slower growing tumours.”

The research appears in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

Irish meteor hunters pay attention,

  • Here are 5 steps to finding a recent meteorite


Irish meteor hunters pay attention, here are 5 steps to finding the recent meteorite

Those on the island of Ireland who may have spotted a giant flare-like streak in the sky were intrigued to discover that it was in fact a rare meteorite, pieces of which could be worth thousands of euro to its finders.

Perhaps even more eyebrow-raising for meteorite hunters is that the very rare event – approximately twice a year – is so unusual that each piece of the meteorite could be worth 10 times the price of gold at its current rate, which could put it as high as €10,000 per piece.

According to David Moore of Astronomy Ireland, the best guessas to where it landed is most likely in the north of the island and he is now calling on every camera that may have recorded the incident sometime around 10.10pm on Sunday, 26 April to bring forth their footage to better locate the smoking piece of space debris.

Despite Ireland’s small size compared with the rest of the planet, it’s understandably difficult to find a small piece of rock, with the last recorded finding not even occurring this millennium, having been discovered in Leighlinbridge, Co Carlow back in 1999.

Given its rarity, it might be a little daunting to meteorite hunters as to how to actually find the smoking gun/rock, which is why, in their infinite space wisdom, Space.com has previously detailed the essential five steps to making a big find.

  1. Finding a potential spot

Meteor hunting isn’t just a treasure hunt, but a scientific expedition that needs exact detail in order to find where the meteorite may have landed.

While we know that it landed somewhere in the north of the island, with the help of trajectory calculations, the prospector needs to identify the meteorite’s ‘dark flight’, which is the part of its fall when it slows to a speed of between 3-4km per second when its bright tail vanishes from sight.

If this can be located, it can narrow down the potential landing site significantly given that it would likely fall soon after its dark flight.

  1. Make sure you have permission before jumping in a field

Given that there’s a lot of farmland across this island, most patches of grass in the countryside are likely to belong to a farmer or group of farmers.

The one thing to be certain of is that if a meteorite falls onto the grounds of someone’s estate, they don’t have the legal right to ownership of a large chunk of space debris, so once permission is sought, legal possession falls to the finder.

It’s probably best not to make them aware of its potential value, however…

  3  Get a good metal detector … and know how to use it

It might seem obvious to run to the nearest store that might sell metal detectors and pick one up to begin a hunt, but it’s much more complicated than that.

Given the complexity of minerals that make up meteorites, it’s simply not possible to just move a metal detector around a field, as would be seen in movies, as a specific type of metal detector is needed to find one.

According to metal detector enthusiasts, it is vital that, when searching for meteorites, the detector’s iron discriminator is switched off to better locate iron-laden meteorites, while gold-prospecting metal detectors are also good at locating the space debris.

  1. Get your rock verified by a mineralogist

Given that it’s likely that many people in Ireland are not experts in minerals, it’s probably safe to say that should someone discover what they believe to be a piece of the recent meteorite crash, it’s best to take it to someone who could actually determine whether it is from terra firma or outer space.

For preliminary tests, however, it might be a good idea to bring a magnet to see whether the rock is magnetic given that the typical meteorite contains between 10-30pc iron.

However, magnetism does not mean it’s a meteorite, rather that it’s increased the likelihood of it being from space.

Likewise, if the sample is ground slightly, does it reveal a metallic silver substance inside? This is one of the tell-tale signs as to whether a rock is just a rock, or an ancient meteorite.

  5  Science over personal gain?

So you’ve discovered a meteorite, congratulations! But while your thoughts might be on where you’re going to install your new swimming pool, make sure to alert organisations, such as Astronomy Ireland, of your find so as they can analyse the sample with the hope of maybe finding something that could prove beneficial to our understanding of the wider universe.

Astronomy Ireland is currently looking for as many reports as possible from eyewitnesses and potential discoverers of the meteorite fragments so take this into account if you are lucky enough to stumble across them.

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Wednesday 26th February 2014

Construction sector is set to grow in Ireland by 30% for next 4 years 


It is hoped that a boost in the construction industry will begin to attract emigrants home to Ireland.

A new report by the Society of Chartered Surveyors of Ireland has forecast growth of 30% within the sector over the next four years, with the creation of almost 30,000 jobs.

It is predicted that the upward trend in activity will be driven by the private commercial and residential sectors.

President of the SCSI, Micheál O’Connor, says Dublin is the main driving force behind the positive outlook.

Mr O’Connor also said they have concerns about being able to fill the jobs in the growing sector.

“A lot of construction workers have emigrated and also there’s a lack of school leavers embarking on a career in construction or property,” Mr O’Connor said.

“So that’s going to be a real concern, and it will see a need for potentially emigrants to return home and re-engage in the construction and property sector.”

Irish Government defeated in a Seanad vote on upwards-only rent reviews


Independent Senator Fergal Quinn Bill passes narrowly

The Government has been defeated in the Seanad in a vote on a Private Member’s Bill ending upward only rent reviews.The Bill, moved by Independent Senator Feargal Quinn, was carried by 23 votes to 22, in a division where Senators walked through the Ta and Nil lobbies, having received the backing of fellow Independents.

Earlier, there had been a tie in an electronic vote and the Bill was defeated on the casting vote of Fine GaelCathaoirleach Paddy Burke. When Mr Quinn’s supporters called for a “walk through’’ vote, Independent Senator Paul Bradford had arrived in the chamber and supported the Bill.

The Bill now goes to the Dáil for consideration.

Mr Quinn said his Bill, the Upward Only (Clauses and Reviews) Bill 2013, was anything but arbitrary or discriminatory.

“The reason this Bill targets upward only clauses in the commercial sector is because of the damage which has been done to that sector by the existence of such clauses,’’ he added.

Mr Quinn said the legislation did not seek to impose any burden on landlords as a class, and it merely sought to allow market rents to prevail.

Sligo capital of the North-West out to resurrect its fortunes


Like so many other places in State ‘The capital of northwest Sligo’ lost the run of itself during the boom

Sligo rightly sees itself as the “capital of the northwest”, easily outpacing Enniskillen. With a royal charter granted in 1613, it defines itself as a “city” even though the population within the perfect circle that marks the urban boundary is fewer than 20,000 – a far cry from the European threshold of 100,000 for city status.

Designated as a development “gateway” under the 2002 National Spatial Strategy (NSS), Sligo has significant strengths – not least its unrivalled topographical setting, with Ben Bulben on one side and Knocknarea on the other, and the fast-flowing Garavogue river sweeping right through the town centre.

Borough architect Seán Martin notes that Sligo experienced a “dramatic period of change in the 19th century when our port, which could then be considered the equivalent of an international airport, was bringing trade, farming materials, plant, stock, coal and timber to and from Sligo”, generating local prosperity.

Much of this wealth was invested in fine buildings such as Sligo courthouse, the Town Hall, bank branches such as the superb Victorian Italianate Ulster Bank at Hyde Bridge, the Model School that lives on as the Niland Gallery and the former St Columba’s mental asylum, which is now an unusual Clarion Hotel.

Like so many other places in Ireland, though, Sligo lost the run of itself during the boom years. Hugely optimistic population projections were made and large tracts of land on the outskirts were rezoned for residential development.

Crazy prices were paid, even by the local authority, for land in areas such as Bellinode.

In town, river walks were laid out along both sides of the Garavogue, lined by new apartment buildings and old warehouses with cafes and shops at quay level. The old Silver Swan Hotel, at Hyde Bridge, was replaced by an angular glazed prow-like structure, The Glasshouse, Hotel, with a vacant eight-storey apartment block alongside it.

The N4 dual-carriageway was driven through the town centre, isolating Sligo’s cathedral from the railway station, and the envisaged “streetscape” along its length – intended to present a new face of Sligo – never materialised. Neither did the Treasury Holdings plan for a major shopping centre on the Wine Street car park.

The twice-daily scheduled Aer Arann air service to and from Dublin ceased operating three years ago after its PSO (public service obligation) subsidy was withdrawn. Passenger numbers had plummeted to 26,000 a year – and it turned out that the subsidy was costing taxpayers €95 for each passenger.

 On the plus side, Strandhill Airport – owned 50% by the Sligo County Council – is still the base for an Irish Coast Guard Search and Rescue helicopter and it is used regularly to fly out fresh shellfish to France.

The Dublin-Sligo rail service has also been improved, with trains now running frequently, and more is promised.

Unlike Limerick, there is no specific new vision or strategy for Sligo once its county and borough councils merge, other than the current Sligo County Development Plan (2011-2017) and the borough’s Sligo and Environs development plan (2010-2016). These will no doubt be reconciled after the councils become a single authority.

Even though the borough did not have an independent corporation, Seán Martin believes that it will “not be so challenging to make transition” because there is not another big urban centre in the county;  The new municipality of North Sligo would largely consist of the urban area and satellites from Ballysadare to Rosses Point.

Irish Nurses workload too much? education is linked to the patients survival rate

Prof Anne Scott (above picture right), of the School of Nursing in Dublin City University, who led the Irish arm of the study, said there was a significant variation in nurse staff ratios between hospitals and even wards here.

Between administering medications (as above) and coordinating care, nurses are some of the busiest health care professionals, often placed as the first point of contact for patients. Perhaps it comes as no surprise, then, that a recent study suggests patients are more likely to die after common surgeries when the nurses who care for them have heavier workloads.

Results of the study are published in The Lancet, where researchers from nine European countries report on data derived from over 420,000 patients in 300 hospitals.

They say that for every extra patient added to a nurse’s average workload, the chance of surgical patients dying within 30 days of admission increases by 7%.

However, they also found that a 10% increase in the ratio of nurses who hold a bachelor degree is linked to a 7% decrease in the risk of death.

To conduct their study, the team evaluated responses from more than 26,500 nurses and reviewed medical records for the hundreds of thousands of patients aged 50 years or older who were discharged after common surgeries, such as hip/knee replacements, appendectomy, gall bladder surgery and vascular procedures.

Their investigation took into account each patient’s risk of death and included age, sex, type of surgery, type of admission and the presence of certain chronic conditions. In addition, the team considered hospital characteristics, such as bed size, teaching status and technology.

Lead researcher Prof. Linda Aiken, from the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing in the US, says:

“Our findings emphasize the risk to patients that could emerge in response to nurse staffing cuts under recent austerity measures, and suggest that an increased emphasis on bachelor’s education for nurses could reduce hospital deaths.”

‘Evidence may be deemed too expensive to act upon’

In detail, the report shows that the overall percentage of patients who died in the hospital within 30 days of admission was low, between an average of 1.0-1.5%.

But this percentage varied from hospital to hospital and ranged from less than 1% to more than 7%, the researchers say.

Additionally, nurse workload and education levels differ among countries. For example, the average patient-to-nurse ratio in Spain was 12:7, whereas in Norway this was 5:2.

In terms of education, all nurses in Spain and Norway had a bachelor’s degree, compared with an average of only 10% in Switzerland. In England, 28% of nurses had bachelor’s degrees.

The authors write about their findings in detail:

“These associations imply that patients in hospitals in which 60% of nurses had bachelor’s degrees and nurses cared for an average of six patients would have almost 30% lower mortality than patients in hospitals in which only 30% of nurses had bachelor’s degrees and nurses cared for an average of eight patients.”

Prof. Aiken says the European findings mirror data from the US suggesting “that a safe level of hospital nursing staff might help to reduce surgical mortality, and challenge the widely held view that nurses’ experience is more important than their education.”

The team says their findings back a European Union (EU) decision last year to approve education for nurses within higher education institutions starting after 12 years of general education.

In a linked comment to the study, Alvisa Palese, from the University of Udine in Italy, and Roger Watson, from the University of Hull in the UK, write that this latest research provides support for appropriate patient-to-nurse ratios.

“Whether these findings are used to inform health care policy or how they are implemented in practice will be interesting to see,” they say.

Kepler telescope bags huge haul of planets


The science team sifting data from the US space agency’s (Nasa) Kepler telescope says it has identified 715 new planets beyond our Solar System.

In the nearly two decades since the first so-called exoplanet was discovered, researchers had claimed the detection of just over 1,000 new worlds.

Kepler’s latest bounty orbit only 305 stars, meaning they are all in multi-planet systems.

The vast majority, 95%, are smaller than our Neptune, which is four times the radius of the Earth.

Four of the new planets are less than 2.5 times the radius of Earth, and they orbit their host suns in the “habitable zone” – the region around a star where water can keep a liquid state.

Whether that is the case on these planets cannot be known for sure – Kepler’s targets are hundreds of light-years in the distance, and this is too far away for very detailed investigation.

The Kepler space telescope was launched in 2009 on a $600m (£360m) mission to assess the likely population of Earth-sized planets in our Milky Way Galaxy.

Faulty pointing mechanisms eventually blunted its abilities last year, but not before it had identified thousands of possible, or “candidate”, worlds in a small patch of sky in the Constellation Lyra.

It did this by looking for transits – the periodic dips in light that occur when planets move across the faces of stars.

Of something like 3,600 candidates recorded, just over 20% have now been moved up to the status of confirmed detections by the Kepler team.

“This is the largest windfall of planets that’s ever been announced at one time,” said Douglas Hudgins from Nasa’s astrophysics division.

“Second, these results establish that planetary systems with multiple planets around one star, like our own Solar System, are in fact common.

“Third, we know that small planets – planets ranging from the size of Neptune down to the size of the Earth – make up the majority of planets in our galaxy.”

When Kepler first started its work, the number of confirmed planets came at a trickle.

Scientists had to be sure that the variations in brightness being observed were indeed caused by transiting planets and not by a couple of stars orbiting and eclipsing each other.

The follow-up work required to make this distinction – between candidate and confirmation – was laborious.

But the sudden dump of new planets announced on Wednesday has exploited a new statistical approach referred to as “verification by multiplicity”.

This rests on the recognition that if a star displays multiple dips in light, it must be planets that are responsible because it is very difficult for several stars to orbit each other in a similar way and maintain a stable configuration.

“This technique that we’ve introduced for wholesale planet validation will be productive in the future. These results are based on the first two years of Kepler observations and with each additional year, we’ll be able to bring in a few hundred more planets,” explained Jack Lissauer, a planetary scientist at Nasa’s Ames Research Center.

Sara Seager is a professor of planetary science and physics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, but is not involved in the Kepler mission.

She commented: “With hundreds of new validated planets, Kepler reinforces its major finding that small planets are extremely common in our galaxy. And I’m super-excited about this, being one of the people working on the next generation of space telescopes – we hope to put up direct imaging missions, and we need to be reassured that small planets are common.”

News Ireland daily BLOG Tuesday

Tuesday 15th October 2013

The winners and losers of the Irish Budget 2014


Who benefitted most from the Budget and who lost out?

A shopper watching the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Brendan Howlin addressing the Dáil, in a Dublin city shop this afternoon.

Not only did the tourism industry get to keep its 9 per cent VAT rate as it had lobbied hard for in recent weeks, but it also got an added boost when the Government said it would abolish the travel tax. The move has been welcomed by everyone from airlines to

Budding entrepreneurs

Incentives to start your own business featured strongly in the budget, with a two-year exemption from income tax for new businesses started by the long-term unemployed, tax relief for entrepreneurs investing proceeds from one business venture in another new startup and

Families with young children:

If you have children aged five and younger, they will be entitled to free GP care under new budget plans from January.

Pregnant women who previously would have fallen into the lower category for maternity benefit will now get extra money from January as the rates of maternity benefit are standardised at €230 per week.

Construction industry:

Although it may not quite have been the package the construction sector had hoped for, the home renovation tax incentive scheme should give a lift to builders – as long as they are tax compliant The scheme, which applies to extensions and renovations to the home, window-fitting, plumbing, tiling and plastering, will provide an income tax credit to homeowners calculated at a rate of 13.5 per cent on all qualifying expenditure over €5,000 up to a maximum of €30,000. The Living City Initiative will also encourage the regeneration of areas in Dublin, Kilkenny, Galway and Cork. There’s also the Government’s €30 million plan for the State’s house building programme, which will deliver 500 houses, including new builds and the upgrade of previously uninhabitable units, adn the €10 million to be allocated for unfinished estates.


Mr Noonan promised 25 pro-business and pro-jobs measure in the budget. From the previously mentioned investment incentives to measures like the increase in cash receipts threshold for VAT, the budget is widely considered to have been beneficial to business. The decision not to touch the corporation tax was no surprise, but it may have eased a few concerns that the Government would be forced to raise it, even a few percentage points.



Losing their telephone allowance is one thing – that’s €9.50 per month – but pensioners appear to be being hit from all sides. Those with an income over €500 per week (€900 for a couple) face losing their medical card in favour of a GP only card, which may be a tough measure to swallow.

Pension funds:

The 0.6 per cent levy on pension funds may be due to come to an end by December 2014, but in the meantime, Michael Noonan has decided to replace the charge with a 0.15 per cent levy on funds held in 2014 and 2015. Hat is currently being taken to mean that the levy on pension funds in 2014 will actually be 0.75 per cent.

Drinkers and smokers:

The old reliables were hit once more in the budget, with 10 cent added to measures of beer and spirits, and 10 cent to a packet of 20 cigarettes. Wine drinkers are being hit by 50 cent for the average bottle. Coming so soon after last year’s excise duty hike, it’s made the odd bottle of wine more of a luxury for many.

Young unemployed:

Up until Budget 2014, if you were under 22 and a new entrant to the jobseekers scheme, you could only claim the reduced rate of €100. That has now been extended to those under 25, and claimants won’t reach the full payout until 26 years of age. The Government was quick to point out that no such restrictions apply to the return to education scheme,


A levy that raises €150 million may swell the Government’s coffers, but it’s likely to hit the banks where it hurts – and could end up ultimately being passed on to hard pressed consumers in the form of higher mortgage interest rates and lower returns on their savings. And while they’re at it, the Government’s decision to increase DIRT to 41 per cent will have an adverse affect on savers too, and discourage them from putting their money away.

Summary details:-

Minister brendan Howlin’s bite?

Standardising the rate of maternity benefit at €230 per week for new claimants from January 2014. This will save €30m in 2014.

  • The number of waiting days for entitlement to Illness Benefit is being increased from three days to six days. This will save €22m.
  • The annual payment to RTÉ for the free TV licence is to be reduced by €5m from €59.17 to €54.17m
  • Other health measures include: €25m from a lowering of the income thresholds for the Over 70s Medical Cards to €900 per week for a couple and €500 for a single person
  • €30m for private bed charges in public hospitals.
  • Health savings measures include €50m on drugs from generic substitution and reference pricing and €113m from a review of all medical cards to remove ineligible and redundant cards.
  • Howlin: “In line with the Programme for Government, I am allocating €37m to fund the roll out of Free GP Care for children aged 5 and under as a first step in our programme to provide Free GP Care for all.”
  • Extension of the €100 reduced rate of Jobseeker’s Allowance and Supplementary Welfare Allowance to existing recipients who reach 22, and for new entrants aged up to 24 on or after 1 January 2014.
  • The reduced rate of €144 will apply to those reaching 25 from January 2014.
  • The total 2014 allocation for activation places in education and training and work experience is €1.6bn.
  • This will provide nearly 300,000 places in work, education and training programmes across the Departments of Social Protection and Education and Skills, an increase of 18,000 or 7% since 2012.
  • 94,000 will be reserved for the long-term unemployed, an increase of 78% on the 2012 provision.
  • “€10m will be provided for an unfinished housing estate resolution initiative.
  • “I will also be allocating €30m of the lottery licence proceeds to recommence the State’s house building programme.
  • “This will facilitate up to 500 additional housing units between a small number of new builds and the return of previously uninhabitable units to the housing stock.”
  • €10m has been allocated to resolve the problems at Priory Hall.
  • Howlin said: “I am pleased to be able to announce that a further €200m in capital spending arising from the balance of lottery licence proceeds will be used to support local economic activity and job creation. These projects will, of course, be subject to the Public Spending Code.”
  • On the National Lottery sale, Howlin said that €200m of this dividend is ring-fenced to ensure the construction of the National Children’s Hospital.
  • The minister said 13,000 direct and many more indirect jobs are expected to be created by this programme.
  • Five of the nine PPP (public-private) projects have already issued to market and the flagship Grangegorman DIT project – valued at over €200m – is due to issue by the end of this month.
  • Howlin said that in July of last year, he announced a €2.25bn infrastructure stimulus package. These projects are progressing as planned.
  • A pilot phase for a new model of financing social interventions in Ireland called Social Impact Investment will be launched. This uses private capital to provide better outcomes for citizens. The pilot phase is seeking private sector investment partners to provide long-term stable homes for homeless families in the Dublin region.
  • The cost of the pay bill has fallen by some 17%, and the Haddington Road Agreement with Public Service unions earlier this year will permit that cost to fall further again.
  • The Public Service has reduced in size by almost 10%.
  • Medical Card holders have risen by 540,000 or over 40% between 2008 and 2012, from 1.35m to 1.89m.
  • The number of people of pensionable age has increased by 65,500 or 13.5% since 2008.
  • Numbers in Education have risen by 78,000 or 8%, from 961,000 in 2008 to 1,039,000 last year.
  • Numbers in receipt of Jobseeker’s payments have risen by almost 200,000 or 130% between 2008 and 2012.
  • Ireland has a growing population, which increased by almost 350,000 between 2006 and the last census in 2011.
  • Howlin announces that he expenditure measures he is announcing for 2014 amount to €1.6bn out of an overall consolidation of some €2.5bn.

Minister michael Noonan’s bite?

  • No increases in excise duty on petrol, diesel or on home heating oil and gas; no increases in the 9%, 13.5% or 23% VAT rates; no increases in the 9%, 13.5% or 23% VAT rates.
  • No increases in income tax or the Universal Social Charge in 2014.
  • DIRT rises to 41% for top rate taxpayers.
  • Noonan said the 0.6% Pension Levy introduced to fund the Jobs Initiative in 2011 will be abolished from the 31st of December 2014.”I will however, introduce an additional levy on pension funds at 0.15%.”
  • Excise duty on a pint of beer or cider, and a standard measure of spirits, is being increased by 10 cent, the duty on a 75cl bottle of wine is being increased by 50 cent.
  • “With effect from midnight tonight, excise duty on a packet of 20 cigarettes is being increased by 10 cent with a pro-rata increase on the other tobacco products.”
  • Contributions to pension schemes will continue to attract income tax relief at the marginal rate of tax.
  • Banks are to make an annual contribution of €150m to the Exchequer for the period from 2014 to 2016. Noonan said: “We will introduce the levy on the same basis as the one that yielded over €100m each year from 2003 to 2005.”
  • On medical insurance relief, Noonan said he would cap the amount of premium on which tax relief will be available to €1,000 per adult and €500 per child.
  • “With effect from midnight tonight, excise duty on a packet of 20 cigarettes is being increased by 10 cent with a pro-rata increase on the other tobacco products.”
  • The Dept of Finance is forecasting GDP growth of 0.2% this year, strengthening to 2% next year. Noonan said: is forecasting GDP growth of 0.2% this year, strengthening to 2% next year.
  • All Magdalene Laundry lump sum payments to claimants will be tax exempt.
  • Subsidised financial training programme for small businesses.
  • A new Start Your Own Business scheme to assist individuals who have been unemployed for at least 15 months start their own unincorporated businesses by giving them a two-year exemption from income tax. 
  • CGT entrepreneurial relief: A new CGT incentive is being introduced to encourage entrepreneurs (in particular “serial” entrepreneurs) to invest and re-invest in assets used in new productive trading activities. The measure will apply where an individual , who has paid capital gains tax on the disposal of assets, makes investments in a new business in the period 1 January 2014 to 31 December 2018 and subsequently disposes of this investment no earlier than three years after the date of investment. The CGT payable on the disposal of this new investment will be reduced by the lower of (i) the CGT paid by the individual on a previous disposal of assets in the period from 1 January 2010 and (ii) 50% of the CGT due on the disposal of the new investment. Commencement of this measure is subject to receipt of EU State Aid approval.
  • Property purchase incentive: The inventive relief from CGT (in respect of the first 7 years of ownership) for properties purchased between 7 December 2011 and 31 December 2013 introduced in Budget and Finance Act 2012 is being extended by one year to include properties bought to the end of 2014. Where property purchased in this period is held for seven years the gains accrued in that period will not attract CGT.
  • The start date of the new Film Relief scheme will be moved to 2015 from 2016. It will be extended to include non-EU talent in order to help attract additional major film productions to these shores. It will be extended to include non-EU talent in order to help attract additional major film productions to these shores.
  • The minister said: “Ireland’s corporate tax strategy has three key elements: rate, reputation and regime. The tax rate is settled policy. We are 100% committed to the 12.5% corporation tax rate. This will not change.” The tax rate is settled policy. We are 100% committed to the 12.5% corporation tax rate. This will not change. However, cooperation with global efforts on curbing tax avoidance is important and a document is being published on the Irish position. Legislation will be introduced to end so-called ‘stateless’ companies.
  • The investment will include the construction of 4,500 new houses and apartments in Dublin, in addition to much-needed office accommodation in the city centre and investment in commercially viable retail projects.
  • NAMA expects to have approved €2bn in funding for Irish projects between 2011 and 2015.
  • The incentive is payable over the two years following the year in which the work is carried out. The credit will be calculated at a rate of 13.5% on all qualifying expenditure over €5,000 up to a maximum of €30,000.
  • A new Home Renovation Incentive will provide an income tax credit to homeowners who carry out renovation and improvement works on their principal private residences in 2014 and 2015.
  • The farmers’ flat rate addition is being increased to 5% from 4.8% with effect from the 1st of January 2014.
  • The air travel tax will be cut to zero with effect from the 1st of April 2014.
  • Noonan says 9% VAT rate for tourism and hospitality sector will be retained.
  • The rate of VAT for the tourism and hospitality sector and the other sectors to which it applies had been due to revert to 13.5% at the end of this year.
  • Michael Noonan, finance minister says: “We will bring in a deficit of 4.8% in 2014, we will bring in a small primary surplus, demonstrating that our national debt, which has been rising for so many years, is under control.”

Reilly unable to give details on who will lose their medical cards


The health James Reilly minister has said he is unable to give specific details and is in the dark on numbers of how many will lose their medical cards after review, this will save €113m.

But Dr Reilly added the medical card issue will be subject of a “cross Cabinet review” that will also involve the Department of an Taoiseach.

The measure will involve increasing the scrutiny and probity of medical cards

Up to 35,000 people over the age of 70 are set to lose their full medical cards as a result.

Instead, these people will revert back to a free GP card in a move that will save the Exchequer €25 million.

Speaking at his post Cabinet briefing at Government Buildings, Dr Reilly also defended the move to grant free GP care to under 5s, dismissing suggestions that it was driven by political rather than healthcare motives.

It has emerged that it is likely to take several months before the legislation necessary to give effect to the measure will even come before Cabinet.

Defending the move, Dr Reilly said: “Parents find fees for GPs quite the barrier and children become quite unwell as a result and end up in hospital.

“It is a step toward getting rid of the two tier health system,” he added.

“This is going to be the most challenging year the Health service has yet faced,” the minister added.

Health Service Executive (HSE) Chief Executive Tony O’Brien said that “unavoidable pressures critical service priorities and programme for Government commitment will make this a very challenging period.

“We are entering the most challenging period in the health service plan delivery,” he said.

Dr Reilly came under sustained questioning throughout the briefing about the proposed saving of €113 million as a result of the medical card cull.

The minister said this would be achieved by increased “scrutiny” of card holders and “probity”.

Dr Reilly admitted it was a “challenging figure”, but could not indicate how many medical cards are likely to be affected.

“It is difficult to give an estimate of how many cards are involved,” he told reporters.

He described it as the “toughest Budget” this Government has had to make, but claimed it would be the “last of the really tough Budgets”.

Dr Reilly also said legislation to abolish the HSE will come in next year.

At the same press conference, HSE chief Tony O’Brien said only €110 million out of €150 million of Haddington Road savings will be achieved this year, leaving a shortfall of €40 million.

In a further indication of the hostile relationship between the HSE and Brendan Howlin’s Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, Mr O’Brien said the numbers working in the health service will not be in line with DPER.

Home renovation tax break to boost Ireland’s construction jobs industry


Home Renovation Initiative will incentivise domestic renovations and increase demand for small construction jobs

A ‘Start Your Own Business Scheme’ for people who have been unemployed for 15 months or more and a tax break for home renovations are included in a range of Budget measures announced today.

A two-year tax break for unemployed people who start their own business has been welcomed as the boost that might reignite the almost stagnant construction industry.

The ‘Start Your Own Business Scheme’ announced in today’s Budget will provide a two-year exemption on income tax for people who have been unemployed for 15 months or more and start-up a new unincorporated business.

The scheme is expected to be fuelled by a Home Renovation Initiative (HRI) also announced today, which will incentivise domestic renovations and increase demand for small construction jobs. HRI will provide an income tax credit of 13.5 per cent for homeowners on home improvement expenditure of between €5,000 and €35,000.

The scheme will only apply to registered builders with a tax clearance certificates, in a move to address ongoing Government concerns about black economy operators.

Welcoming the measures, Construction Industry Federation director general Tom Parlon said: “The foundations for the recovery of our industry has been set in this Budget and this will help bring extra confidence, extra activity and most importantly, more construction jobs to our sector.”

Despite a strong lobbying campaign for the introduction of a special VAT rate for new housing, it didn’t happen, losing out instead to the hospitality sector which held on to its 9 per cent VAT rate introduced last year. Marian Finnegan, chief economist at Sherry FitzGerald Group said the decision not to reduce VAT on the purchase of new homes was a missed opportunity. “Such an initiative would have been beneficial in a market suffering a dearth of supply and rising house prices.”

Minister for Public Expenditure Brendan Howlinannounced a public sector stimulus of €10 million in funding for unfinished housing estates, and €30 million for the State’s house-building programme.

Micheál O’Connor, president of the Society of Chartered Surveyors Ireland said: “It’s not a huge investment, though it’s to be welcomed. The public capital spending programme would be more of a concern, the Minister mentioned it’s on track, but we’d like the Government to ensure it hits its spending targets as this hasn’t been achieved in recent years.”

Half of the proceeds from the sale of the State lotterylicense have been earmarked for capital spending projects. The construction sector at local level will directly benefit from a €200 million allocationthat includes funding for road maintenance and repair works, a new national indoor training arena, a better energy programme and housing adaptation grants.

The extension of the seven year Capital Gains Tax waiver for buyers of investment properties to the end of 2014 was greeted with widespread relief. Last year’s announcement boosted investor confidence and was directly linked to increased property sales. The move may also tackle spiralling residential rental inflation – currently a serious problem in the capital. John McCartney, head of research at Savills, anticipates that the CGT extension coupled with the increased Dirt tax rate announced elsewhere will drive cash-rich investors back into the property market.

The decision to extend the Living Cities scheme to Cork, Dublin, Galway and Kilkenny – pending EU approval – will provide incentives for the purchase and renovation of inner city buildings constructed pre-1915 in an effort to regenerate urban areas. Under the plan, home buyers and commercial property owners can apply for tax relief on the refurbishment of historic buildings.

Foreign inward investment in property was incentivised through the addition of Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs) to the range of qualifying investment options under the Immigrant Investor Programme. The programme is designed to attract and encourage successful business people and entrepreneurs to invest in and ultimately relocate to these shores. The retention of the 12.5 per cent corporate tax rate and the R&D tax credit increase to 15 per cent bolster Ireland’s relative attractiveness for foreign direct investment.

The announcement of Nama’s approval of €2 billion worth of investment in the Republic between 2011 and 2015 to include the building of 4,500 new houses and apartments in Dublin, though a welcome initiative, had been announced prior to the Budget.

Cancer costing European Union countries ‘billions’ a year


Cancer costs countries in the European Union 126bn euro (£107bn) a year, according to the first EU-wide analysis of the economic impact of the disease.

The charity Cancer Research UK said it was a “huge burden”.

The figures, published in the Lancet Oncology, included the cost of drugs and health care as well as earnings lost through sickness or families providing care.

Lung cancer was the most costly form of the disease.

The team from the University of Oxford and King’s College London analysed data from each of the 27 nations in the EU in 2009.

The showed the total cost was 126bn euro and of that 51bn (£43bn) euro was down to healthcare costs including doctors’ time and drug costs.

Lost productivity, because of work missed through sickness or dying young, cost 52bn (£44bn) euro while the cost to families of providing care was put at 23bn (£19.5bn) euro.

Overall, richer countries, such as Germany and Luxembourg, spent more on cancer treatment per person than eastern European countries such as Bulgaria and Lithuania.

Lung cancer accounted for more than a tenth of all cancer costs in Europe. The deadly cancer tends to affect people at an earlier age than other cancers so the lost productivity through early deaths is a major factor.

Other issues

However, the overall economic burden is behind the costs of dementia and cardiovascular disease.

An EU-wide study, by the same research group, showed cardiovascular diseases, including high blood pressure and stroke, cost 169bn euro (£144bn) a year while dementia cost 189bn euro (£169bn) in just 15 countries in Western Europe.

Dementia has very high costs associated with long-term care while cardiovascular diseases include such a wide range of conditions it affects many more people than cancer.

One of the researchers, Dr Ramon Luengo-Fernandez, from the Health Economics Research Centre at the University of Oxford, said: “By estimating the economic burden of several diseases it will be possible to help allocate public research funding towards the diseases with the highest burden and highest expected returns for that investment.”

Prof Richard Sullivan, from King’s College London, said: “It is vital that decision-makers across Europe use this information to identify and prioritise key areas.

“More effective targeting of investment may prevent health care systems from reaching breaking point – a real danger given the increasing burden of cancer – and in some countries better allocation of funding could even improve survival rates.”

Sara Osborne, head of policy at Cancer Research UK, said: “The financial impact that cancer has on the economy across Europe due to people dying prematurely from the disease and time off work remains a huge burden.

“This study reinforces why research is vital to improve our understanding of the causes of cancer – so that we lessen the impact of the disease and develop better ways to prevent and treat the illness.

“We also need to understand why the UK’s cancer mortality rates remain higher than many EU countries despite a similar spend on cancer care.”

Wiltshire dig reveals frogs’ legs eaten by British 8,000 years before French

Blick Mead, near Stonehenge, where a charred toad's leg was found.   

Blick Mead, near Stonehenge, where a charred toad’s leg was found.

Dig at Blick Mead, a mile from Stonehenge, turns up bones of toad’s leg dating to between 7596BC and 6250BC

If you’re French, asseyez-vous, s’il vous plait. Archaeologists digging about a mile away from Stonehenge have made a discovery that appears to overturn centuries of received wisdom: frogs’ legs were an English delicacy around eight millennia before becoming a French one.

The shock revelation was made public on Tuesday by a team which has been digging at a site known as Blick Mead, near Amesbury in Wiltshire. Team leader David Jacques said: “We were completely taken aback.”

In April they discovered charred bones of a small animal, and, following assessment by the Natural History Museum, it has been confirmed that there is evidence the toad bones were cooked and eaten. “They would have definitely eaten the leg because it would have been quite big and juicy,” said Jacques.

The bones, from a Mesolithic site that Jacques is confident will prove to be the oldest continuous settlement in the UK, have been dated to between 7596BC and 6250BC.

And it’s not just toads’ legs. Mesolithic Wiltshire man and woman were enjoying an attractive diet. “There’s basically a Heston Blumenthal menu coming out of the site,” said Jacques. “We can see people eating huge pieces of aurochs, cows which are three times the size of a normal cow, and we’ve got wild boar, red deer and hazelnuts.

“There were really rich food resources for people and they were eatingeverything that moved but we weren’t expecting frogs’ legs as a starter.”

The discovery is entertaining, but has a wider importance, said Jacques, as it adds to evidence that there was a near-3,000-year use of the site. “People are utilising all these resources to keep going and it is clearly a special place for the amount of different types of food resources to keep them going all year round. Frogs’ legs are full of protein and very quick to cook: the Mesolithic equivalent of fast food.”

Jacques is senior research fellow in archaeology at the University of Buckingham which is funding a new dig on the site. He said it was looking increasingly likely that the site was the “cradle to Stonehenge” which was built around 5,000 years later.

Andy Rhind-Tutt, chairman of Amesbury museum and heritage trust, said: “No one would have built Stonehenge without there being something unique and really special about the area. There must have been something significant here beforehand, and Blick Mead, with its constant temperature spring sitting alongside the River Avon, may well be it.

“I believe that as we uncover more about the site over the coming days and weeks we will discover it to be the greatest, oldest and most significant Mesolithic home base ever found in Britain.”