Tag Archives: Greek crisis

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Sunday 12th July 2015

Merkel & Co turns the screw on Greece

Intense pressure put on Alexis Tsipras to accept tough reforms and austerity measures


Tonight’s talks have been described as a “mental waterboarding” of the Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras.

GREECE has now been presented with the Eurozone’s demands for a new bailout programme, and the proposals on the table would see the Greeks forced to vote through sweeping changes by Wednesday night.

The proposals would see Greece streamlining its VAT procedures, broadening its tax base, and implementing a raft of spending cuts among other demands.

Premier Alexis Tsipras was tonight put through the wringer in a meeting with Donald Tusk, Angela Merkel and Francois Hollande, where he was left under no illusions that the swift reforms are expected to be implemented this week.

Greek officials are believed to be ‘humiliated’ by today’s events, and highly critical of the hardline stance being taken by German Chancellor Merkel.

Fianna Fáil in panic as Bertie Ahern will defends the Irish boom

Ireland better off even after bust, ex-Taoiseach to claim


The former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern will this week defiantly claim the Irish people are better off because of his Celtic Tiger policies, even after the worst economic crash in the country’s history

Former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern will this week defiantly claim the Irish people are better off because of his Celtic Tiger policies, even after the worst economic crash in the country’s history.

Mr Ahern is expected to make the controversial claim in evidence when he appears before the Oireachtas Banking Inquiry next Thursday, the Sunday Independent understands.

Senior Fianna Fail sources have said the party is gripped with “alarm” and “deep nervousness” over Mr Ahern’s testimony to the inquiry, fearing it could precipitate a backlash in the opinion polls.

“God knows what he will say, there is certainly a fear he could wipe three or four points off our poll rating if it goes badly,” one senior Fianna Fail party figure said.

Speaking to the Sunday Independent, former minister and aunt of the late Brian Lenihan, Mary O’Rourke, said she is “alarmed” at the potential fallout of Mr Ahern’s sworn evidence at the inquiry.

She said: “If he could replicate Brian Cowen, he’d do well. I am a bit afraid of what Bertie Ahern might say.”

His appearance comes as the Sunday Independent has learned that economist and Central Bank director Alan Gray, who was contacted by Mr Cowen on the night of the bank guarantee, is to be called to give evidence, given his central role in events.

Inquiry members have conceded that they had not realised the significance of Mr Gray’s involvement but now consider him to be a key witness.

Following the evidence of his successor Brian Cowen to the inquiry, it is expected that Mr Ahern will tell members that the crash saddened him and that he regrets what happened.

It is expected he will say the crash left him devastated, but it is understood that Mr Ahern will strongly argue that even with the crash, the policies he and his governments pursued have left Ireland a better country and its people better off.

He is likely to state that it would be wrong to say that all of the Celtic Tiger gains were eviscerated by the crash.

Mr Ahern is expected to say that while he did not get everything right during his time in office, he feels he sincerely tried his best to do the right thing by the Irish people.

While Mr Ahern – who was forced to resign from Fianna Fail in 2012 in the wake of the publication of the Mahon Tribunal report – is also expected to express some regret for the crash, he is expected to express his happiness at getting a lot of things right during his tenure.

Mr Ahern is expected to claim in his evidence that his policies and those of his government during the Celtic Tiger years changed the lives of hundreds of thousands of people across the country.

The Sunday Independent understands that Mr Ahern will also attempt to spread the blame for the crash onto State and international agencies for failing to diagnose the crash.

He is expected to specifically criticise the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) and the IMF, it is believed. In spreading the blame, Mr Ahern is expected to point to the economic analysis of a host of international economic agencies, including the IMF, EC and the OECD, as setting the stage for the country’s economic outlook.

It is not the first time Mr Ahern has sought to spread the blame for not spotting the crisis in the Irish banks.

On the day he left the Dail for the last time, Mr Ahern said: “If I have any regrets, it is that I would have loved if somebody somewhere would have told me what was going on in the banks in this country, but no one ever did, we get wise after the event.”

Mr Ahern is also expected to staunchly defend the role and influence of social partnership, saying it helped to broaden the influence beyond the reach of a small group of elites.

He is expected to argue that it is important that access to government is granted to a broad group – rather than a small elite, and that is what social partnership allowed.

But, Mr Ahern’s appearance has raised fears within FF as to the impact of what he might say on the party so close to the general election.

People have pointed to recent utterances where he was critical of former colleagues and fear he could use the inquiry to put pressure on party leader Micheal Martin, whom he has been publicly critical of.

His pointed criticism of the late Brian Lenihan in a TV programme on his legacy raised eyebrows.

“He was unnecessarily sharp, but I would think that. Another part of me would think that is just Bertie,” Ms O’Rourke said yesterday.

Mr Ahern also recently made a point at a recent O’Donovan Rossa commemoration at Glasnvein, that he was “no longer a member of Fianna Fail”.

Leading members of Fianna Fail have expressed their happiness at how well the Brian Cowen hearings went and said that government attempts to use the inquiry to damage Fianna Fail have backfired.

Fianna Fail TD and Public Accounts Committee chairman John McGuinness said: “If it was meant to be a stitch up of Fianna Fail it hasn’t worked.

“It has failed to materialise to the extent the government parties had hoped it would.”

Health crisis mud beginning to stick to Leo Varadkar

One year in charge and it’s going wrong for health Minister Varadkar.


It was great for a while, wasn’t it? The more Leo Varadkar says he would do nothing about the health system, the more people thought he was deadly.

For months after becoming health minister, Varadkar won plaudit after plaudit for lowering expectations for what he would do before the general election.

But, a year into his reign, King Leo’s crown is beginning to slip, as the murky reality of the worst department of government begins to get the better of him.

It is now a measure of how his first year has gone, one suspects that Taoiseach Enda Kenny would be more than happy to reappoint Leo Varadkar to the quagmire of the Department of Health after the next election.

Varadkar’s move to Hawkins House one year ago was significant on two fronts.

From the Government’s perspective, it put an end to the shambolic era of Dr James Reilly, who, through his Universal Health Insurance plan, placed the financial viability of the State at risk, according to money minister Brendan Howlin.

Three years of over-promising and under-delivering had risked sinking the Coalition on more than one occasion.

Ruairi Quinn, when education minister, famously told his party colleagues at a private meeting that concerns of backbenchers about Dr Reilly were “shared by their Cabinet colleagues”.

But for Varadkar, the move into health would be the greatest test of his political and intellectual skill set, given the myriad of daily crises faced. If Varadkar managed to get to the next election unscathed, then his leadership ambitions or at least his promotion ambitions will not have been dented.

So, on taking office, Varadkar immediately, and very deliberately, set about doing everything differently from Reilly.

From his first press conference on the plinth in Leinster House on the day the reshuffle happened, Varadkar lowered everyone’s expectations as to what he would do.

He had only 18 months, couldn’t fix a health system in that time, he said. Rather he would tinker with a few bits and bobs, put some manners on the budget and hopefully hand the grenade over to someone else.

By immediately saying he wasn’t going to bother to try and transform the system, people couldn’t ask him why he wasn’t transforming the health system.

A short time later, he dumped Reilly’s beloved child of UHI from a height, saying the timescale put forward by his bumbling predecessor was too ambitious. In political speak, this meant it was all but dead.

Being “slapped down” by Kenny at the start of September over UHI appeared to only increase the lusty anticipation of what life under Leo would be like within Fine Gael.

Varadkar also began talking of the need for a “realistic budget” in Health for 2015 in the run-up to the October Budget day, and for the first time since taking office in 2011, Howlin had the capacity to accede to that request. And unlike Reilly, who lost out time and time again, the new minister got the extra funds.

His personal approval rating soared after he became the first openly gay minister to reveal his sexuality earlier this year.

But the last six months have seen a barrage of negative news stories which are beginning to take the gloss off Varadkar’s halo.

We have had the disturbing Prime Time expose into disability care added to a series of negative inspection reports into disability services, deeply alarming stories about the standard of care at the country’s maternity hospitals, record-high numbers of patients waiting on trolleys as well as ever-lengthening waiting times for treatments.

Latest figures show that the number of people waiting more than a year for an outpatient appointment rose to 61,400 at the end of December, with 385,781 in total waiting to be seen.

He was caught on the hop when, in January, he was on his holidays in Miami when the number of patients on trolleys topped 600.

In April, Varadkar got an additional €70m to address hospital overcrowding and to cut waiting times for patients.

Most of the money went on the nursing home support scheme in a bid to remove so-called “bed blockers” out of the system, but critics have branded this as a sticking-plaster solution.

Clinicians have argued that since the 1980s, almost 2,500 acute hospital beds have been removed from the system, and with an ageing population, the shortfall has resulted in the emergency department log jams. They argue the way to resolve the issue is to open more beds.

Varadkar has also come in for criticism from his own friend and former colleague, Lucinda Creighton, after he appeared to suggest UHI was still alive. Creighton has expressed astonishment at the revelation that just five members of staff within the Department of Health are working on the government’s highly touted Universal Health Insurance policy.

Commenting on the skeleton nature of the staff, Ms Creighton said: “The revelation that just five staff are now assigned to the Universal Health Insurance unit within the Department of Health in 2015 is indicative of how far the issue has slipped down the Coalition political priority list.”

But even this week, Varadkar has drawn the ire of Howlin after he suggested he would need another €1bn to safely deliver healthcare.

Howlin, on Wednesday, said: “A billion seems to be the annual figure that ministers for health demand, it’s a nice round figure, and for the four years I’ve been here, it’s the sum looked for.”

Varadkar is clearly a capable politician and a man of real intellect, but the stark realities appear to be getting the better of him.

Water protesters ‘trap a Labour Senator in his car’


A Labour senator Denis Landy has revealed how he was trapped inside his car, while bottles and stones were thrown at it, during a water charge protest in Dublin last week.

Senator Denis Landy, aged 53, said that he and a member of his staff were trapped in the car for about 20 minutes by protesters while he tried to get to Leinster House.

The Carrick-on-Suir native said: ”It was extremely unpleasant to be surrounded by people firing implements at your car.

“This is our national parliament and we should be allowed to come and go in a democracy without being subject to that type of abuse.”

He said that the protest delayed him by more than three hours.

He added: “I originally wanted to leave at 6pm for a meeting, but eventually left at 7.30pm and again my car was surrounded on Kildare Street so I had no option but to abandon it and leave.”

Higher education could increase your life expectancy


Education is pretty important. A new study reveals how less-educated counterparts were more likely to deal with certain health risks.

New findings published in the journal PLOS ONE suggest that getting a college degree could actually reduce the risk of early mortality.

Researchers at the University of Colorado, New York University and the University of North Carolina discovered that going back to high school to finish degrees helped avert as many deaths as smokers who chucked the habit.

The study noted how those who attain higher education–namely a high school diploma or college degree–have a much lower mortality rate due to associated factors such as healthier behavior, enhanced cognitive performance, higher income and overall psychological well being.

During the study, researchers examined the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)’s National Health Interview Survey and other information, looking at data from 1 million people between the ages of 1986 and 2006. Focusing on those born in 1925, 1935 and 1945, findings revealed that over 145,000 deaths could have potentially been postponed if many of the participants had just received their high school diploma or GED.

Furthermore, the study results showed that close to 110,000 deaths may have been avoided if adults with some college had gone on to attain their bachelor’s degree.

“Broadly, life expectancy is increasing, but those with more education are reaping most of the benefits,” said researchers Virginia Chang, associate professor of public health at NYU’s Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development and College of Global Public Health. “In addition to education policy’s obvious relevance for improving learning and economic opportunities, its benefits to health should also be thought of as a key rationale. The bottom line is paying attention to education has the potential to substantively reduce mortality.”


News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Friday 26th June 2015

Enda Kenny says a deal on Greece crisis still possible at weekend talks

If deal signed-off by finance ministers bailout could be extended, says Taoiseach


British prime minister David Cameron, speaks to Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Angela Merkel during a round table meeting at an EU summit in Brussels and right photo Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis.

Greece will get an extension of its current bailout for another six months if agreement can be reached with the euro zone finance ministers tomorrow, according to Taoiseach Enda Kenny.

Speaking to journalists at the end of the EU leaders’ summit in Brussels, he said time was running very short but a solution could still be found if there was proper engagement.

He said the EU Commission, the European Central Bankand the International Monetary Fund had undertaken to consider the latest set of proposals.

Mr Kenny said if there was agreement and it was signed off on by the euro zone finance ministers it meant there could be an extension of the current programme for six months.

“It shows the willingness of the institutions and everybody else to accommodate the proposals that have come in from Greece,” he said

Hr Kenny said at the meeting of EU leaders he had told them of the Irish experience and how “our focus was on ending instability and creating growth and providing opportunities for jobs” as a way out of the crisis.

“It was not a case of me telling him (Alexis Tsipras) what happened in our case and saying you have to do the same but saying what we did and how we were able to exit the bailout.”

The Taoiseach said he had pointed to the damage the current instability was causing and how that was impacting on the ordinary people of Greece.

“So I do hope that measures can emerge to deal with that and I spoke to the prime minister about that,” he added.

Mr Kenny also spoke about the briefing British prime minister David Cameron gave to the summit about his plans for an in/out referendum on EU membership.

“He gave a very brief outline of his proposals for reform before that referendum takes place. He did say that this was the start of a process and the ship was launched. He did talk to individual countries and individual governments and he hopes to have a more complete report by December. He recognises that agreement will take a great deal of work.”

The Taoiseach said Mr Cameron’s contribution had been short and to the point.

Mr Kenny said Ireland would have a problem around any proposals that involved changes in EU treaties.

“I think there would be serious difficulty about this for a number of other countries and not just Ireland.”

He added the solution might just well be what happened in the case of Ireland when it had problems with EU treaties. A legally binding attachment to the next treaty that might come along that might come along.

“He is very conscious of that himself,” said the Taoisaech.

He added that if the question was to open the treaties for further treaty change on an issue like this, there would be 95 per cent opposition.

Mr Kenny added, however, that aside from treaty changes Ireland would be constructive and supportive.

“We will obviously wait and see what comes of the technical work. We will have a better idea of what is involved when the issue comes on the council agenda for the December meeting,” said Mr Kenny.

On the issue of migration which was supposed to be the main focus of the summit Mr Kenny said the entire meeting had been impacted on by the Greek situation.

“So the discussion that took place on migration which might have been difficult in its own right.”

He added it had been agreed to rebalance the EU approach to migration and agreement between member states on a voluntary relocation plan.

It was agreed to help 60,000 people, 40,000 through relocation and 20,000 in resettlement.

Mr Kenny pointed out Ireland had an opt-out along with the UK and Denmark but would consider what we could do to help.

“At our meeting we also resolved to do more to address the factors that drive people to risk their lives to arrive inEurope. People are coming in from west Africa, from the horn of Africa and also through Libya, ” he said.

Mr Kenny also said he had expressed condolences and sympathies to president François Hollande and the French people about the appalling events that had taken place today.

Connemara Mining company identifies possible gold source in Co. Donegal


Irish exploration company Connemara Mining has identified a target area for more detailed investigations after finding material with gold values in Donegal.

In a statement published today the firm said that it has finished the first phase of prospecting on its newly acquired Inishowen block in Donegal.

The company said that quartz vein material with gold values in excess of 15 grams per tonne have been traced to a possible nearby source area.

Follow up work will now include a soil sampling programme to further refine the target and will be followed by an initial trenching programme and a later drilling programme, if justified.

Chairman John Teeling said: “This is an exciting time for Connemara, and Irish minerals exploration. The Ulster gold play was unlocked with previous discoveries in Tyrone and Monaghan.

“We believe that this geology extends from Donegal into central Scotland. It is early days but initial results seem to confirm our working model.”

Irish water bill amendments will bring some ‘clarity’, says Minister Coffey


The Minister of State at the Department of the Environment Paudie Coffey above left.

Paudie Coffey fails to confirm whether tenants face eviction if they do not pay water bill

Irish Water provisions, which ensure a house cannot be sold until charges are paid, have been introduced to bring “clarity and certainty for landlords and tenants”, according to a Minister of State Paudie Coffey.

The Minister of State at the Department of the Environment described claims that tenants who don’t pay their Irish Water bills could face eviction as “scaremongering” on the part of the opposition.

Speaking on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland, Mr Coffey said the amendments to the bill had been introduced to create a method of enforcement “to ensure that those who are not compliant and are refusing to pay, that they do pay”.

Minister for the Environment Alan Kelly has introduced 33 pages of amendments to the Environment Miscellaneous Provisions Bill.

It contains a number of changes, including the setting up of a database for the water conservation grant and provisions to ensure a house can’t be sold until the charges are paid. The Bill also obliges local authority tenants to pay their water charges.

Mr Coffey failed to confirm whether tenants would be evicted if they did not pay their bill, saying payment was “a matter for the landlord and tenant as is the case in any contract situation for tenancy”.

Asked if the landlord would have to pay if the tenant failed to do so, he said the owner of the property would be responsible for discharging any unpaid bills before selling the home.

“We want to see people compliant with the law and we don’t want to see people ending up in trouble and that’s why we’re making measures that we feel are fair and bring certainty to the whole area.”

Mr. Coffey said users who applied for the Water Conservation Grant worth €100 before June 30th could expect to receive the money “before the end of this year”.

He also said an independent test due to be carried out by Eurostat, the EU statistics agency, was imminent and would take place in the “next few weeks or possibly months at the latest”.

Mr Coffey said he was unaware of how many people had actually paid their water bill so far, adding that it was a matter for Irish Water to respond to.

“I understand there’s a board meeting due to happen next week… and I would encourage them to publish the payment figures then.

People before Profit TD Richard Boyd Barrett said earlier this week the amendments to the bill were “desperate, devious and discriminatory”and were aimed at undermining the national movement against water charges.

German Shepard dog given award for saving a diabetic owner’s life

Looby Loo came to the rescue!


They say dogs are man’s best friend and one devoted German Shepherd proved to be even more than that to her sick owner.

Rescue dog Looby Loo saved the life of Toby Snow when he fell desperately ill and is now being awarded a PDSA Commendation, which recognises outstanding acts of devotion by pets.

When the 57-year-old was slipping into a diabetic coma in his bedroom, Looby Loo barked and whined until she woke his partner, Mary Friend.

The dog’s persistence in waking Mary who went on to dial 999 at their home in Westham, near Eastbourne, East Sussex in England prevented Toby from facing further danger.

Without his nine-year-old pet’s help in raising the alarm, Toby said he dreaded to think what would have happened to him.

Mary, 55, said: “I knew straight away that Toby was slipping into a hypoglycaemic coma as he was barely conscious and unable to move.

“I tried to increase Toby’s sugar levels with fizzy drinks and glucose tablets but I knew that it was vital to call 999 for urgent assistance.”

Paramedics then arrived to put Toby on a glucose drip and waited for his sugar levels to rise. And as he came round he remembered Looby Loo licking him.

Toby said: “I will be forever grateful to our wonderful dog for what she did that night. She was a true friend and her actions definitely helped me out of a very sticky spot.”

Richard Hooker, director of veterinary services at the PDSA, said: “Looby Loo is a very special pet and her total devotion to Toby is plain to see.”

BlackBerry are planning to launch a bacteria-free smartphone


Canadian smartphone maker Blackberry announced a cut in the prices of its latest handsets for existing enterprise customers.

BlackBerry may design a bacteria-free smartphone as it bids to become the secure mobile choice for the health-care industry, CEO John Chen said.

“Health-care workers have to be worried about one less thing to wipe down” with a bacteria-free handset, Chen told reporters at a hospital north of Toronto where BlackBerry unveiled a clinical alerts pilot project. Chen said BlackBerry is not developing the clean phone yet.

The Canadian mobile manufacturer is partnering with Thought Wire and Cisco Systems Inc to provide nurses and doctors in a Mackenzie Richmond Hill Hospital unit with a portable messaging and alert system. BlackBerry will be providing the software and devices. It wouldn’t disclose how much it’s spending on the project.

Transfer of infections and bacteria between patients in hospitals is a “huge issue,” said Dr. Aviv Gladman, chief medical information officer at Mackenzie Health. Medical equipment in patient rooms, including mobile phones, can carry bacteria through the hospital, he said.

Gladman said medical professionals are supposed to wipe their phone with alcohol before entering and exiting a patient’s room. A study published in the Journal of Applied Microbiology found that about 20% to 30% of germs transfer between a phone and a fingertip.

Hospitals don’t know how effective alcohol wipes are at removing bacteria from phones and medical professionals don’t always wipe, he said. Gladman said hospital-acquired infections are one of the top reasons patients die in hospital.

BlackBerry, based in Waterloo, Ontario, has switched its focus to high-security software as it has struggled to compete with Apple Inc. and Samsung Electronics Co Ltd as a device manufacturer.

Here’s what rats can dream about?


We’ve probably all had dreams about food… and apparently rats do too.

Researchers from University College London (UCL) studied sleeping rats and found when they were shown food in an unreachable location they displayed activity in their nervous system that indicated they were fantasising about successful foraging missions.

The scientist cannot be 100% sure the rats were dreaming but the evidence points that way and if true, the discovery further narrows the gap between humans and other animals by showing that rodents possess an ability to imagine future events.

The findings also shed light on why people who have suffered damage to the hippocampus, the brain’s memory centre, find it hard to contemplate the future.

Lead scientist Dr Hugo Spiers said: “During exploration, mammals rapidly form a map of the environment in their hippocampus.

“During sleep or rest, the hippocampus replays journeys through this map which may help strengthen the memory.

“It has been speculated that such replay might form the content of dreams.

“Whether or not rats experience this brain activity as dreams is still unclear, as we would need to ask them to be sure.

“Our new results show that during rest, the hippocampus also constructs fragments of a future yet to happen.

“Because the rat and human hippocampus are similar, this may explain why patients with damage to their hippocampus struggle to imagine future events.”

In the experiment, four rats were allowed to run along a T-junction track and see food being placed in an inaccessible arm.

Another arm of the track contained no food.

The animals were then placed in a sleep chamber for an hour.

Electrode implants in the rats’ brains showed that as they slept, mapping nerve cells representing the route to the food were active.