Tag Archives: Interest rates

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Tuesday 20th December 2016

Former Apollo House owner supports aims of occupation by Home Sweet Home

Liam Ó Maonlaí, Glen Hansard, Hozier and Christy Dignam perform at support gig

Image result for Former Apollo House owner supports aims of occupation by Home Sweet Home   Image result for Former Apollo House owner supports aims of occupation by Home Sweet Home  Image result for Former Apollo House owner supports aims of occupation by Home Sweet Home

Glen Hansard and Christy Dignam played in support of Apollo House that is being occupied by housing activists and homeless people.

The former owner of Apollo House says he supports the aims of Home Sweet Home, a group of housing activist who have occupied the vacant office building since Thursday, to accommodate rough sleepers. Property developer Garrett Kelleher controlled Shelbourne Developments which included the building in its portfolio of loans until 2014.

He said “nobody” should be homeless this Christmas and it was “heartwarming that so many people really care” about the homelessness crisis. “People have been squatting in vacant property for generations,” he said. “The receivers for Apollo and Nama should seek to immediately do what they can to help, not allow this to become a political football but actually help, have their lawyers down tools and do the right thing.”

Mr Kelleher, who is based in Chicago, said he became aware of the occupation through the media. He said he had not been in the building for three years.

Thirty-five people slept in the building on Monday night, according to Home Sweet Home spokeswoman Rosi Leonard. She rejected suggestions that the group had refused to meet receivers Mazars, saying they wanted to co-operate. Another spokesman said “solicitors” were in communication and a meeting was expected later this week.

There were now two fully-fitted kitchens and showers had been installed in the building, where they planned to be over Christmas, Ms Leonard said.

Up to 1,000 people gathered for a free gig in support of Home Sweet Home at Apollo House on Tuesday. Gardaí closed off the small street shortly before 1pm as singers Glen Hansard, Hozier, Liam Ó Maonlaí, Christy Dignam and the band Kodaline arrived at the building.

Hansard sang first from a small raised platform on the street, in front of the side gate into Apollo House, performing Woody Guthrie’s This Land Is your Land before being joined by Christy Dignam who delivered a performance of his band Aslan’s Crazy World. A number of former rough sleepers, who spent Monday night in Apollo House, watched from a roof above the ground floor over the car park.

Director Jim Sheridan joined in a performance of The Auld Triangle, followed by Kodaline singing Bob Dylan’s The Times They are a-Changing and their own tracks, High Hopes and All I Want. Hozier performed his hit Take Me To Church.

Volunteers passed through the crowd with buckets seeking donations towards the running costs of the project.

During the gig, Dean Scurry of the Home Sweet Home project, spoke of the need to end poverty and homelessness, with “people plus love”. He said Home Sweet Home and Apollo House were symbols of “freedom, hope, love, nourishment and respect”.

Among those present for the impromptu concert was Martina Balfe, who works in the GPO. She said she had come to “show support to the homeless”, adding “it’s a duty of everyone to be concerned about this”.

Julia Woods, Steve Woods and Shirley Kenny travelled from Athlone. “It’s a great cause and it’s really important to show solidarity and support,” said Mr Woods. Éanna Gordon, a student, said he was pleased to see the “movement” was “popular and growing”. “This has two purposes – a practical one to give shelter to homeless people and as well to draw attention to the issue. That’s a good thing,” he said.

Incentives to Bank staff  to increase lending undermined the quality of the product?

Central Bank says it acted to stop use of league tables to achieve new financial targets

Image result for Incentives to Irish Bank staff  to increase lending undermined the quality of the product?  Image result for The Central Bank told the Oireachtas finance committee that more oversight of retail banks by boards of directors and by shareholders was needed   Image result for The Central Bank told the Oireachtas finance committee that more oversight of retail banks by boards of directors and by shareholders was needed

The Central Bank told the Oireachtas finance committee that more oversight of retail banks by boards of directors and by shareholders was needed?

Irish retail banks have been using league tables to incentivise staff in driving new lending without giving proper consideration to quality, the Governor of the Central Bank Philip Lane told the Oireachtas finance committee on Tuesday.

Image result for The Central Bank told the Oireachtas finance committee that more oversight of retail banks by boards of directors and by shareholders was needed Mr Lane said this emerged in recent inspections by the regulator of the Irish retail banks.

Other weaknesses identified included a need for “better oversight and challenge” from boards in relation to the risk appetites of banks, which are used to govern and quantify lending decisions across sectors and borrower types.

It also included strategies focused on driving increased volumes without sufficient consideration of the risks associated with long-term lending, and the use of the league tables to incentivise staff to push lending volumes without due consideration to quality.

It is not clear which banks were using the league tables but it is understood that the they were operated informally and their use has stopped after interventions from the Central Bank.

Mr Lane said the culture within Irish banks also needs to change so that they “truly put the customer first”. He called for more oversight by boards of directors and by shareholders.

Separately, Mr Lane said “significant risks” remain on the horizon for the domestic Irish banks, in spite of the measures that have taken place to repair their businesses. “All have relatively concentrated business models, focused primarily on Ireland and to some extent the UK,” he said. “This makes them especially vulnerable to any shocks affecting the Irish economy.”

Mr Lane said that while Irish banks continue to work out their non-performing loans (NPLs), they still “remain high” both in absolute and relative terms. In absolute terms, NPLs have declined by just more than €48.5 billion or 57 percent since their peak in 2013, and now represent 17.3 per cent of all loans.

On the Central Bank’s view of it being given powers to regulate standard variable interest rates, Mr Lane said there were “many downsides” to this but it was ultimately a matter for the Oireachtas to decide.

In the absence of new lenders to the Irish market, Mr Lane encouraged mortgage customers to consider switching their home loan to another lender or transferring to a lower-cost product with their existing bank.

“More can be done to encourage switching,” he said, adding that the incidence of switching here was currently “too low”.

Mr Lane said Brexit presented a “significant challenge” for the domestic banking sector. “Depending on the outcome [of negotiations], the UK’s exit from the EU could have long-term structural consequences for those Irish banks with a significant presence there. This will become clearer during the next two years, as the elements of the EU-UK relationship take shape.”

He said Dublin was “in the mix” with other EU cities in terms of where London-based financial institutions might relocate their activities, adding that the Central Bank had a “neutral” view on this matter and would consider any applications by firms on their merits.

Christmas showdown as SuperValu and Dunnes go to battle for Irish consumers

Image result for Christmas showdown as SuperValu and Dunnes go to battle for Irish consumers  Image result for Christmas showdown as SuperValu and Dunnes go to battle for Irish consumers  Related image

Dunnes Stores snatched the title of the country’s largest grocery retailer last month from SuperValu.

Dunnes Stores and SuperValu now hold an equal share of Ireland’s multi-billion euro grocery market, as the pair battle it out for supremacy among consumers over Christmas.

New figures from research group Kantar Worldpanel show the retailers each have a 22.5% share of the market.

Dunnes Stores, headed by Margaret Heffernan and Frank Dunne, snatched the title of the country’s largest grocery retailer last month from SuperValu. It was the first time in over a decade that Dunnes had secured the top spot.

But SuperValu, under managing director Martin Kelleher, which is controlled by the Cork-based Musgrave group, will be vying to reclaim the title.

And with shoppers now in the final week before Christmas, there are intense efforts by all the chains to lure customers who are splashing out for the festive season.

Previous figures from Kantar Worldpanel showed that Dunnes Stores had a 22.6% share of the grocery market during the 12 weeks to the end of November 6. SuperValu had 22.4%.

The latest figures, for the 12 weeks ended December 4, show that the two retailers now share the number one position, while Tesco has a 21.8% share.

Dunnes’ share, in value terms, rose by 4.8%, while SuperValu’s was 1% higher. Grocery inflation in the period stood at 0.6%.

Tesco has been focusing on cutting prices to attract more customers. That hits the value of its sales – the figure that Kantar Worldpanel reports on. But the value of its sales was still 1% higher in the latest period.

David Berry, director at Kantar Worldpanel, said the latest figures are a “real testament” to how competitive the grocery market is.

“Just 0.7 percentage points now separate the three largest retailers as we enter the all-important festive period,” he said.

He added that evidence of Tesco’s turnaround has been seen in the last quarter. Mr Berry said that the chain’s sales have shown positive growth for the first time since March.

“An additional 10,000 households have chosen to shop with Tesco in 2016 and are returning to the retailer more frequently – a clear positive sign for the grocer,” he said.

Dunnes Stores has built its loyalty through its ‘Shop and Save’ campaign, a discounting ploy that has cost it tens of millions of euro.

But it has been also developing its product lines and acquiring businesses, moves designed to help it improve its overall offer to consumers.

Almost 64pc of households visited Dunnes Stores in the latest reported period, spending an average of €39.50 a visit. That’s a €3 increase per trip compared to the corresponding period last year.

Mr Berry said that Dunnes Stores has also seen more shoppers opt to buy branded goods – the only retailer to experience that in the latest period. Branded sales at the chain rose 5.7%, while own-label goods sales were up 3.3%.

Lidl increased its share of the market by 4.3% to 11.1%. Aldi’s rose by 6.1%, also to 11.1%.

Grocery chains are facing increased pressure this Christmas following the decline in Sterling after the UK’s June Brexit vote.

A report yesterday from credit risk analyst firm Vision-net.ie showed that 24% of Irish shoppers intend to travel across the border to avail of weaker Sterling. “Irish consumers are cognisant of the impact of Brexit and a weakened Sterling, and plan to avail of the knock-on benefits this Christmas,” said Christine Cullen, managing director of Vision-net.ie.

Smartphones could soon come with software signal blocker for driving?

Image result for Smartphones could soon come with software signal blocker for driving?   Image result for Smartphones could soon come with software signal blocker for driving?

The mobile phone industry is under pressure to introduce software on phones to prevent drivers being distracted by notifications.

According to The Guardian, an informal government meeting is due to take place early next year at which ministers will tell phone manufacturers and network providers that software similar to airplane mode should be built into phones to block the data signal while the owner is driving.

The report said that ministers want a basic software to become standard, with suggestions it could be triggered using GPS technology to detect when certain speeds are reached.

The software would also differ from airplane mode in that it would still allow emergency calls or to accept calls from designated contacts.

From next spring the fixed penalty charge for using a mobile phone that isn’t hands-free while driving will double to £200, with the fixed penalty notice also set to double from three points to six.

It is hoped the new software could add further discouragement to drivers who still use a phone while at the wheel.

According to the RAC annual motoring report, which was published in September, the number of drivers who admitted using a phone in their hands while driving has risen from 8% in 2014 to 31% this year.

Eating leafy greens is good for your brain says researchers?

Image result for Eating leafy greens is good for your brain says researchers?   Related image   Image result for Eating leafy greens is good for your brain says researchers?

Researchers have identified an important link between the consumption of lutein-rich foods and brain health in older adults.

While most kids are told to eat their spinach and broccoli so they grow up strong, a new study published in the journal Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience suggests that these greens can significantly affect basic brain functions and intelligence later on.

Researchers at the University of Illinois have identified an important link between the consumption of lutein-rich foods and brain health in older adults. Lutein, a plant pigment prevalent in leafy green vegetables, cruciferous vegetables, accumulates in the brain over time, embedding in cell membranes and influencing certain neurological functions.

According to Marta Zamroziewicz, a University of Illinois graduate student who led the study, lutein plays “a neuroprotective role,” and can be “linked to cognitive performance across the lifespan.” While previous research has shown that lutein gathers in the gray matter of the brain “known to underlie the preservation of cognitive function in healthy brain aging,” Zamroziewicz set out to determine the specific cognitive elements most affected by the plant pigment.

A test group of 122 healthy adults aged 65-75 were asked to solve problems and answer questions that reflected “crystallized intelligence,” or the ability to effectively use the knowledge and skills acquired over a lifetime. Researchers also collected blood from each participant to test for blood serum levels of lutein, and performed MRI imagery on each of the test subjects’ brains to measure for the volumes of various structures.

After evaluating each participant’s brain make-up and test results, the researchers determined that adults with higher blood serum levels of lutein performed better on the crystallized intelligence tests. Zamroziewicz noted that while serum levels primarily reflect recent dietary intake, they have also been associated with long-term dietary intake in older adults.

Those with higher lutein levels in their blood also tended to have a greater volume of gray matter in their parahippocampal cortex, a focal region imperative for healthy aging. According to Aron Barbey, Illinois psychology professor and co-lead of the study, the “gray-matter volume of the parahippocampal cortex on the right side of the brain accounts for the relationship between lutein and crystallized intelligence.” This new-found data offers “the first clue as to which brain regions specifically play a role in the preservation of crystallized intelligence, and how factors such as diet may contribute to that relationship.”

Though Zamroziewicz notes that further testing will be needed to further determine how lutein in the diet specifically affects long-term brain structure, it’s clear that an extra helping of kale salad at dinner could pay off big time down the line.

Pregnancy may spur changes in a Woman’s brain?

Imaging shows adaptations in gray matter, but no sign that memory is affected.

Image result for Pregnancy may spur changes in a Woman's brain?   Surface-based measures.

New mothers often remark that they’ve got “baby brain,” a new way of thinking that seems to accompany pregnancy and childbirth.

New research suggests they’re right.

Pregnancy causes long-term changes in a woman’s brain that probably evolved to improve her ability to protect and nurture her child, Spanish researchers report.

The investigators used MRI scans to compare the brain structures of 25 women before and after their first pregnancies.

After giving birth, the women had significant reductions of gray matter in areas of the brain associated with social interactions, the findings showed. Those brain regions overlapped with ones that activated when mothers watched images of their own babies.

The “changes concern brain areas associated with functions necessary to manage the challenges of motherhood,” study co-lead author Erika Barba said in a news release from the Autonomous University of Barcelona.

Though some expectant moms complain of fuzzy thinking — the downside of “baby brain” — researchers reported the women had no changes in memory or other thinking functions during pregnancy. That means the loss of gray matter does not lead to problems in those areas.

The brain changes, which lasted for at least two years after the women gave birth, probably help them adapt to motherhood, the study authors suggested.

According to study co-director Oscar Vilarroya: “The findings point to an adaptive process related to the benefits of better detecting the needs of the child, such as identifying the newborn’s emotional state. Moreover, they provide primary clues regarding the neural basis of motherhood, perinatal mental health and brain plasticity in general.”

Study co-lead author Elseline Hoekzema said in the news release that the changes “may reflect, at least in part, a mechanism of synaptic pruning … where weak synapses are eliminated giving way to more efficient and specialized neural networks.”

The researchers also found that they were able to use these brain changes to predict a mother’s attachment to her baby, according to the study published Dec. 19 in the journal Nature Neuroscience.

The changes were similar whether women got pregnant naturally or through fertility treatments.


News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Thursday 2nd June 2016

New Minister Harris proposes EU bulk buying of drugs to lower Ireland’s costs

Health authorities were criticised for refusing to fund a ‘game-changing’ cystic fibrosis drug


Professor Michael Barry, head of the National Centre for Pharmaeconomics, said the NCPE has a good track record in negotiations with drugs companies.

Minister for Health Simon Harris says he intends to discuss with his European colleagues in the coming weeks the potential to jointly purchase new drugs in order to reduce costs.

He was reacting to controversy over news that the Cystic Fibrosis drug Orkambi had been judged uneconomic by the National Centre for Pharmaeconomics (NCPE), the Government body which evauluates the medical and economic case for new drugs.

The cost of Orkambi is an estimated €158,000 a year per patient.

Mr Harris said that contrary to reports, the drug had not been rejected by the HSE. “The factual position is that the National Centre for Pharmacoeconomics is not in a position to recommend at the current price.”

However, Mr Harris said, “The drug manufacturer has indicated a willingness to negotiate so the process is not over. It will continue as a priority.”

Professor Michael Barry, head of the NCPE said he was hopeful there would be a successful outcome from negotiations with drug manufacturers Vertex.

Speaking on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland he said the NCPE had a good track record in negotiations with drugs companies.

  “We don’t put a price on life, but we believe the manufacturers got the price wrong here. The price is too high, we need a five fold reduction,” he said.

Earlier, the chief executive of Cystic Fibrosis Ireland Philip Watt said he was very disappointed the “game-changing” drug had been rejected by the NCPE.

  • Cost of high-tech drugs is a bitter pill to swallow
  • Cystic fibrosis patients dismayed as Orkambi rejected
  • Cystic Fibrosis drug Orkambi rejected as not cost effective

The centre had advised that the HSE should not cover the drug under State schemes and that the price would have be lower than € 30,000 a year, per patient, to be cost-effective.

Mr Watt said Orkambi had proven to be an innovative and very effective drug and was more important in Ireland than anywhere because more than 50% of the cystic fibrosis population of 500 here would benefit from it.

He said that he did believe the drug company could significantly drop its price and he acknowledged that the drug does cost a lot but it he pointed out that it meant fewer hospital stays for cystic fibrosis patients.

The issue was raised on Thursday in the Dáil where Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald has said the Government wished to ensure people had the medical drugs they needed.

She was replying to Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin who said the programme for government included the commitment of an independent patient advocacy service.

There was also a commitment to providing “appropriate patient care pathways,’’ he added.

Earlier, he said, Jillian McNulty, who has cystic fibrosis, had outlined on RTÉ Radio, in an articulate way, the impact the drug had on her life. She had five weeks’ supply left, he added.

It seemed to him, he said, patient advocacy was not on the high end of the agenda.

Speaking on Morning Ireland, Ms McNulty said “Orkambi means people with cystic fibrosis using it can live a normal life, or as near a normal life, as possible”.

She said the drug, which she had been taking for three years, was “without doubt” a life-saving medication and without it she may not be here.

Mr Harris said Vertex had said it would continue to make the drug available to people in Ireland who are on trials, some of whom are reaching the end of the trial period in the coming weeks.

This, he said, would allow the HSE and the drug manufacturer “space to negotiate”.

He further acknowledged that with a new generation of cancer drugs shortly to become available – many of which will be vastly expensive – the problem presented by Orkambi was likely to reoccur.

“We’re going to have to look at a new policy framework,” he said. He wanted the “voice of clinician at forefront” of decisions about drugs, saying he intended to bring proposals to government shortly

Fianna Fail’s Darragh O’Brien said he was, “bitterly disappointed” to learn the drug had been rejected.

“This drug was approved by the EU Medicines Agency some time ago and has proven to be of major benefit for cystic fibrosis suffererse,” he said.

Sinn Féin Spokesperson on Health Louise O’Reilly TD said that “deciding that a drug is too expensive to be funded, without addressing how costs can be reduced through negotiations with relevant companies and sectors is not a tough policy choice, it is a cop out”.

Mr Harris’s Fine Gael colleague Tony McLoughlin also expressed disappointment at the decision, saying price negotiations with the manufacturer “ must begin immediately”.

OECD tells Government to do more for Irish SMEs


OECD the international think tank has said the Government they should do more for Irish indigenous SMEs as it highlighted small firms here pay among the highest borrowing costs in the Eurozone.

Small firms’ industry groups long argued foreign-owned multi- nationals are showered with tax incentives, while Irish-owned small and medium companies are relatively less well supported despite employing hundreds of thousands.

That stance it unexpectedly appears to have won the backing of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, which in its economic update published yesterday, said the Government would be best advised to re-direct its business incentives to local firms.

Government business policies “should aim to make growth sustainable and inclusive”, said the influential think tank.

“Public support to business research and development, which is skewed towards R&D tax credits, should be rebalanced towards more direct support for domestic SMEs,” it said.

The OECD will also please small firms here as it highlights the high costs of their business loans, which it puts down to the still-high levels of bad loans on the balance sheets of the Irish banks.

“Financial conditions have improved on the back of monetary easing by the ECB,” said the think tank.

“The full return to normal credit supply is, however, hindered by the persistence of non-performing bank loans.

“The lending interest rates for SMEs remain among the highest in the euro area. New lending, although accelerating, is still outpaced by debt repayment in both the non-financial corporate and household sectors,” it said.

After the economy surged by 7.8% last year, the OECD projects GDP will grow 5% this year and by 3.4% in 2017.

Those forecasts compare with the Government’s own projections for growth rates of 4.9% and 3.9% in 2016 and 2017.

The OECD warns, however, that if the UK were to vote later this month to exit the EU that in time the Irish economy would be “significantly” hit, if trade barriers were raised across the Irish Sea and sterling were to slump against the euro.

It points out that British markets account for a fifth of all Ireland’s exports of goods and services.

On the theme of spreading the fruits of the economic recovery, the OECD said the Government should “prioritise” reducing unemployment through so-called activation schemes “which would spread the benefits of increased prosperity widely across society”.

It forecasts an average jobless rate here next year of 7.6% — high compared with the rest of the eurozone.

It also gives a nod to the Central Bank’s controls over mortgage lending for having “tempered” property price increases even as “very low interest rates and housing supply shortages risk boosting prices again”.

Global financial panic influenced Anglo Irish Bank conspiracy

McAteer and Bowe’s actions aimed to boost bank’s balance sheet


Anglo Irish Bank’s former HQ on St Stephen’s Green in Dublin.

The criminal conspiracy of which former Anglo Irish Bank figures Willie McAteer and John Bowe have been found guilty took place in late September 2008 against a backdrop of international panic in the financial services sector.

The bank was preparing its accounts for the year to the end of September, and felt it had to boost its deposits, which were becoming seriously depleted.

The court heard in detail during the trial about the problems in the international banking system and how this meant depositors were looking for safe harbours.

Anglo Irish Bank was facing difficulties: its share price had fallen sharply and the trial focused on a transaction designed to improve its year-end account for 2008, which the prosecution held amounted to a conspiracy.

Meanwhile, detailed evidence was also given that Irish bankers were getting a clear message from the financial regulator and the Central Bank that they should “put on the green jersey” and help each other get through the storm.

McAteer was at the time Anglo’s director of finance and Bowe was its head of capital markets.

Both men have now been found guilty of being party to a criminal conspiracy for their role in circular transactions whereby Anglo lent a total of €7.2 billion to Irish Life and Permanent, which in turn, via Irish Life Assurance, lent the money back to Anglo.

The net result was to boost Anglo’s balance sheet, making it look more attractive to investors.

Intention to mislead?

The State argued that this was a conspiracy intended to mislead the market and investors.

Lawyers for the Anglo accused argued that their clients believed that the deposits were real deposits and were accounted for correctly on Anglo’s balance sheet and so no fraud was carried out.

The bulk of the money flowed in transactions that took place on September 29th and September 30th, 2008, with the latter being the date on which the Irish government announced its guarantee for the deposits of six Irish banks, including Anglo.

Ironically, the announcement of the guarantee instantly made the Irish banks attractive to depositors.

Also on that day, the Central Bank supplied Anglo with €1 billion in emergency funding after the bank said it might not otherwise be able to meet its obligations.

Neither McAteer nor Bowe gave evidence during their trial. However, Bowe’s work with Anglo meant that all his telephone conversations were recorded and snatches of conversations relevant to the charges were disclosed at the trial.

Discussion of transaction?

In one conversation, on September 29th, 2008, Bowe discussed the largest of the transactions with McAteer and the bank’s then chief executive, David Drumm.

The trial also heard of voluntary statements the accused had given the Garda.Matt Cullen, senior manager at Anglo’s treasury department, gave evidence of discussing the then proposed transactions with both Drumm and McAteer, and their giving their approval.

When an official in Anglo, Tony O’Hanlon, refused to sign off on the transactions,because of their size, McAteer, the trial heard, did so in his capacity as chief risk officer.

The details of an Anglo audit committee meeting on November 18th, 2008,when the transaction was discussed, also featured in the trial.

The two men were charged in 2013 after the Garda Bureau of Fraud Investigation initiated inquiries into the transactions in March 2009.

The trial, before Judge Martin Nolan, began in January of this year and is the longest running trial in the history of the State.

Half of elderly in care in Ireland could stay at home (if the services were available)


Policy officer with Age Action, Dr Marita O’Brien middle picture above>

As much as 50% of older people living in Irish nursing homes could live at home, if the appropriate services were available?

A report published today found that community supports are disorganised, fragmented and underfunded.

Social workers estimate that half of the older people they work with in long-term residential care could live at home.

The report was launched jointly by the Irish Association of Social Workers, Age Action, the Alzheimer Society of Ireland and the School of Social Policy, Social Work and Social Justice in University College Dublin.

It includes a national survey of social workers working with older people, including people living with dementia. There are also in-depth interviews with social workers, employed in a variety of settings across the country.

One of the report’s authors, Dr Sarah Donnelly from the School of Social Policy in UCD, said home care in Ireland was in crisis.

“Acute hospitals and nursing homes are being prioritised over the kinds of community services that enable older people to stay home,” said Dr Donnelly.

Policy officer with Age Action, Dr Marita O’Brien, said: “It has been government policy since the 1960s to support older people to stay at home as long as possible, but this simply is not happening.”

Dr O’Brien said people had a right to a nursing home bed, and it was time they had a right to stay at home.

Advocacy officer with the Alzheimer Society of Ireland, Dr Emer Begley, said geography, not need was deciding who got home help.

Community care services should be reformed and resourced, the report urges.

It also calls on the Government to establish a fair and equitable system of allocating care and support services that is underpinned by legislation.

New evidence sheds more light on the origins of man’s best friend


Two separate populations of wolves thousands of miles apart may have befriended humans and given rise to the domestic dog.

New evidence suggests that the first domestic dogs appeared on opposite sides of the Eurasian continent more than 12,000 years ago.

Later, the eastern dogs dispersed with migrating humans and bred with those from the west. Today, most dogs are a mixture of these ancient and once separate descendants of wolves, scientists believe.

The origins of man’s best friend is a hotly debated topic, with experts disagreeing about where and when wolves were first domesticated.

Some have pointed to Europe and others to central Asia or China, but up until now it was thought the transformation of wolves into domestic dogs only happened once.

For the new study, a team led by scientists from Oxford University analysed DNA from 59 ancient dogs that lived between 3,000 and 14,000 years ago.

Researchers also sequenced the full genome, or genetic code, of a 4,800-old-dog from Newgrange, Ireland, using one of the animal’s bones.

Comparing the data with DNA signatures from more than 2,500 previously studied modern dogs, as well as archaeological evidence, revealed a genetic split between modern dog populations from eastern Asia and Europe.

The findings are reported in the current issue of the journal Science.

Professor Greger Larson, from Oxford University, said: “Animal domestication is a rare thing and a lot of evidence is required to overturn the assumption that it happened just once in any species.

“Our ancient DNA evidence, combined with the archaeological record of early dogs, suggests that we need to reconsider the number of times dogs were domesticated independently. Maybe the reason there hasn’t yet been a consensus about where dogs were domesticated is because everyone has been a little bit right.”

Colleague Professor Dan Bradley, from Trinity College Dublin, who led analysis of the Newgrange bone, said: “The Newgrange dog bone had the best preserved ancient DNA we have ever encountered, giving us prehistoric genome of rare high quality.

“It is not just a postcard from the past, rather a full package special delivery.”

Co-author Professor Keith Dobney, who co-directs the dog domestication project at the University of Liverpool, said a “new coherent story” of the origins of the domestic dog was now beginning to emerge.

He added: “With so much new and exciting data to come, we will finally be able to uncover the true history of man’s best friend.”

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Friday 7th August 2015

AIB to cut variable mortgage rates by 0.25% for all customers

Bank reports H1 profits of €1.2bn on back of significant writebacks


AIB said on Friday that it will cut its variable mortgage interest rate for both new and existing customers by 0.25 %, as it announced first half pre-tax profits of some €1.2bn, up by 50% on the same period in 2014.

AIB said on Friday that it will cut its variable mortgage interest rate for both new and existing customers by 0.25 per cent, as it announced first half pre-tax profits of some €1.2bn, up by 50 per cent on the same period in 2014. It is the third rate reduction from the bank in recent months and follows pressure from Government and public interest groups alike to bring variable rates in line with Euro zone norms.

Customers on a € 200,000 mortgage should save €27 a month or € 325 a year from the latest cut AIB said, which will bring the bank’s standard variable rate down to 3.65%; the rate at Haven will fall to 3.72%; and at EBS to 3.7%. Some 156,000 customers across AIB, EBS and Haven are expected to benefit from the reduction which will come into effect on October 1st. AIB’s chief executive, Bernard Byrne, said, “We committed to keep mortgage rates under constant review and to reduce these rates for both new and existing customers if and when AIB’s funding conditions allowed. Fortunately, we are again in a position to do so today.’’

The bank also announced its H1 results for the six months to June 20th 2015, revealing pre-tax profits rose by €0.8 bn to €1.2bn, on the back of signifcant writebacks of some €540m. AIB said the writebacks reflected “progress in case by case restructuring of impaired loans and the improved economic environment”.

The bank’s net interest margin, excluding the eligible liabilities guarantee (ELG), rose to 1.92 per cent, up from 1.60 per cent in the same period in 2014. Fees and commissions rose by 6 per cent due to increased levels of customer activity. Lending rose by 21 per cent to €6.9bn, while impaired loans fell to € 18bn, down € 4.2bn since December 2014 and by € 11bn since December 2013.

AIB chairman Richard Pym said: “The financial outcome for the half-year is significantly ahead of the expectations we had at the beginning of the year and reinforces our endeavours to see all of the €20.8 billion invested in AIB by Irish taxpayers repaid. Whilst any decision on a future sale of AIB is entirely one for the Irish Government, the results so far this year significantly improve the prospects for a successful transaction whenever it happens.”

The bank said its loan to deposit ratio of 99 per cent was broadly unchanged since December 2014, and net loans were also broadly in line with December 2014 at €64bn.

Minister for Finance Michael Noonan welcomed the results, noting the performance puts the taxpayer in a “strong position” to recoup its € 20.8bn investment.

“I welcome the strong set of results announced by AIB today and their confirmation that they are well positioned to start returning material amounts of capital to the Irish State. This morning’s comment from the bank’s CEO that subject to regulatory approval, the bank is strong enough to do this now, means that the State’s finances should receive a significant benefit in the coming year independent of any decision to sell some of our shares in the bank.”

Inspection of children’s homes is criticised by Ombudsman

Monitoring appears to be ‘discretionary’


The way in which children’s residential homes are inspected and monitored has been severely criticised by the Ombudsman for Children.

There are currently around 100 private and voluntary children’s residential centres in Ireland, which cater for some 340 children. They are monitored by Tusla – the Child and Family Agency – and formerly the HSE.

However, an investigation by the Ombudsman found major gaps in how these centres are registered, monitored and inspected. These gaps included:
-Delays in inspections due to a shortage of inspectors
-Little evidence of unannounced visits
-No evidence of visits at night or weekends
-No national protocol on how often monitoring visits should take place
-No agreed policy on access to inspection reports, which are not published in any format.

In fact, the Ombudsman, Dr Niall Muldoon, said that the monitoring of these centres appeared to be viewed as a ‘discretionary activity’. He has recommended that inspections should be transferred to the Health Information and Quality Authority (HIQA) ‘without delay’.

HIQA is already responsible for the inspection and monitoring of State-run children’s residential centres, with Tusla providing the same service within non-statutory children’s centres.

“The process of inspecting, registering and monitoring these residential centres is an important safeguard for children who are living there. Failure to carry out these functions effectively can potentially have an adverse effect on those children. By seeking to have HIQA take over this process I am looking to create confidence in the independence and consistency of the process for overseeing the homes of some of our most vulnerable children,” Dr Muldoon commented.

As part of the investigation, the Ombudsman assessed inspection reports from 49 centres and monitoring reports from 60 centres. These all related to the period between January 1, 2012 and August 31, 2013.

“It is hoped that this investigation will positively influence the ongoing reforms of Ireland’s child and family support services. Given the importance of independent inspection and of ensuring that all children in the care of the State receive the same standard of care, it is important that the transfer of these functions to HIQA is progressed without delay,” Dr Muldoon added.

Meanwhile back in Co Mayo:

Aras Attracta unit given 28 days to avoid closure

Hiqa issues closure notice for five bungalows at Co Mayo facility


Part of the controversial Áras Attracta home for people with learning disabilities has been given 28 days in which to make improvements by the State’s health watchdog or else face closure.

The Health Information and Quality Authority (Hiqa) has issued the facility with a notice of a proposal to cancel the registration of one of the centres on the campus.

The notice was issued last Tuesday following a two-day unannounced inspection by Hiqa staff of the facility in Swinford, Co Mayo, on July 12th and 13th. This followed previous critical reports on the facility published by Hiqa over the last two years.

The closure notice affects one of the three centres at Áras Attracta, comprising five bungalows. Bungalow 3, which featured in an undercover television documentary last year showing residents being abused, is one of the units affected.

The issues raised in relation to the centre largely relate to governance shortcomings and poor management, it is understood.

The HSE, which operates the facility, has 28 days in which to show it is remedying the fault identified in order to avoid closure.

Staff were expected to be briefed on Thursday on developments.

Six people are facing charges of assaulting residents as a result of a garda investigation begun after last year’s documentary, which showed residents being force-fed, slapped, kicked, physically restrained and shouted at.

Homeless families kicked out of temporary accommodation as council credit card is maxed out


The homeless crisis in Dublin

It has emerged that a number of homeless people were kicked out of temporary accommodation in Dublin this week after the credit card used by the local authorities to secure temporary accommodation was maxed out.

The incident highlights how vulnerable many people have become in the homeless crisis gripping Dublin.

Cllr Jack Chambers (FF) was contacted by one woman who was forced to sleep in an industrial estate with her three children last night as a result.

The Homeless Executive, which processes all homeless accommodation requests on behalf of the four local authorities in Dublin, have confirmed that their credit card was maxed out for two days.

Cllr Chambers called it an extremely disturbing development.

“Homeless families were literally turfed out onto the streets this week because the funds were not there to provide temporary accommodation.

“This is a damning indictment of the Government’s attitude to the homelessness crisis,” he said.

Cllr. Chambers said that Dublin is facing a shortfall of €18.5 million in funding from the Department of the Environment for homeless services this year.

“This will have a ripple effect right across the Capital.  Unless it is addressed, more and more families will be forced to sleep rough,” he said

The family of man who died on daughter’s wedding day express thanks

‘To all who helped on tragic occasion’


Kilronan Castle.

The family of a man who collapsed and died on his daughter’s wedding day have expressed their thanks to everybody who helped on the tragic occasion.

Sean McCauley (70) walked his daughter Anne up the aisle, just hours before he collapsed and tragically passed away.

The tragedy struck the McCauley family of Co Donegal on their big day at Kilronan Castle in Ballyfarnon, Co Roscommon.

Mr McCauley’s brother-in-law Liam McGowan expressed thanks on behalf of the family to all who helped on the tragic occasion and noted in particular the attendance of three members of the staff of Kilronan Castle Hotel at Sean McCauley’s funeral.

“Given time, I’m sure the family will get over their great loss”, he told the inquest.

The band had finished up playing at the wedding reception and the disco had started after midnight on May 17 last.

“We were having a great day and about 1.20am the disco had started and we went to say goodbye to Sean and the family. Sean was on the dance floor with his wife and as I turned away a man behind me went to shake Sean’s hand”, Mr McGowan said.

At that moment Sean collapsed and emergency medical help was summoned.

Dr David Swan, who was a wedding guest, attended him as well as two paramedics who arrived following an emergency call for an ambulance.

The medics worked on Sean for 30 minutes, but he was unresponsive and he was pronounced dead shortly afterwards.

Consultant pathologist, Dr Caroline Brodie carried out a subsequent autopsy and told the inquest that Sean had a previous history of cardiac problems. He had suffered a heart attack.

He had a complete blockage of the right coronary artery and Dr Brodie determined the cause of death to be cardiac failure.

The inquest jury returned a verdict in accordance with the medical evidence and Roscommon Coroner, Desmond O’Connor expressed his sincere sympathy to the McCauley family.

Mr O’Connor described it as “an unfortunate and very sad start to married life” for Mr McCauley’s daughter and he hoped that the family could put it behind them in time and look forward to better days.

Mr McGowan said the family wanted to express their thanks to all who had helped on the tragic occasion.

New shrimp-like species found off southwest coast of Ireland

Deep-sea crustaceans have ability to strip a pig carcass of meat in a matter of days


The paracallisoma alberti species of amphipod.

Two new species of shrimp-like crustaceans have been discovered off the south-west coast of Ireland by British researchers.

The two species are amphipods, small scavenging crustaceans around 3mm in length. Their discovery was reported in the scientific journal Zootaxa, in a paper by researchers Dr Tammy Horton and Dr Michael Thurston of the National Oceanography Centre in Southhampton.

What the researchers say is most notable about the newly identifed species, given the names Paracallisoma idioxenos and Haptocallisoma lemarete, is their scavenging patterns.

Amphipods generally move in swarms to strip the carcasses of marine animals including whales and fish, and these new species have the ability to strip a pig carcass in a matter of days.

Dr Horton named the species in honour of the late taxonomist Roger Bamber, who died in February of this year.

“I gave the species name ‘lemarete’ to one of the amphipods because it translates from Greek to ‘Bold and Excellent’, which is the motto on Roger Bamber’s coat of arms.”

Dr Horton described amphipods as “incredibly diverse and adaptable”, with over 10,000 known species.

Professor Andrew Gooday at the National Oceanography Centre said that amphipods like those discovered are highly common and found in large numbers. “They occur from shallow waters to the deepest part of the ocean.”

These newly discovered species are only found in deep waters, over 2.5 km below sea level.

“There’s no danger of paddling in the sea and encountering flesh-eating crustaceans,” Prof Gooday added.

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Thursday 30th October 2014

Ireland’s mortgage holders get a good break with rate reductions


AIB, EBS and Haven are to reduce fixed and variable mortgage interest rates for new and existing customers.

This marks the first time that mortgage lenders have reduced variable rates in a number of years. The move will benefit at least 146,000 existing mortgage account holders in Ireland.

AIB Group said customers with a €200,000 mortgage will save up to €334 per annum, based on a 25 year term, under the revised rates.

The reductions include a 0.25% decline in the standard variable rate for customers and the introduction of new lower Loan to Value (LTV) and fixed rates across AIB, EBS and Haven.

AIB Group is also introducing new fixed mortgage rates across all three brands. These include 3.80% in respect of its three-year fixed rate and 3.90 per cent for its five year fixed-rate mortgages.

AIB and Haven are cutting all LTV mortgage rates by 0.24 per cent, while EBS is reducing all its LTV rates by 0.25%. AIB and Haven customers with an LTV of 50% or less will see their interest rate drop to 3.85%, while EBS customers will see it fall to 3.80%.

“AIB is now in a position to reduce variable mortgage interest rates due to the bank’s underlying positive performance and funding cost reductions. The introduction of the bank’s new fixed rate pricing will provide better value and certainty for customers,” said Bernard Byrne, director of personal, business and corporate banking, AIB Group.

Revised variable rates come in to effect from December 1st with fixed rates to come into effect from 4 November, the group said.

AIB said existing fixed-rate customers will not be impacted until their current fixed-rate term expires. However, they will then have the option to fix again at the new rates once their current term expires.

Ireland signs up to the new global tax agreement


Ireland has now signed up to a global tax agreement with dozens of other countries to put an end to banking secrecy and tackle international tax evasion.

The finance ministers of about 50 countries gathered in Berlin yesterday with over 30 of them, including Michael Noonan, signing a pact allowing for the automatic exchange of tax information.

Under the agreement, banks with foreign customers will have to forward details to tax authorities, which in turn will pass the information on to the various national authorities in the countries where the customers are based.

Obsolete format.

“Banking secrecy, in its old form, is obsolete,” German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said.

Mr Schaeuble, who hosted the Global Forum on Transparency and Exchange of Information for Tax Purposes meeting, said banking secrecy was no longer appropriate when people can “transfer their money all over the world at the press of a button via the internet”.

Ministers from Germany, France, the UK, Italy and Spain presented the agreement yesterday afternoon.

More than 40 countries have agreed to adopt the standard starting in 2017, while others including Switzerland and China have committed to start in 2018.

The Revenue Commissioners said yesterday that banks here will have to prepare due diligence by the start of 2016 with the first exchanges of information starting in January 2017.

Under the agreement, information on foreign customers exchanged between a bank and tax authorities will include details of any interest or dividends earned, as well as account balances and the sales proceeds from any financial assets.

Business sentiment in Ireland at the highest level since 2006


60% of Irish firms reporting an increase in business activity over the summer months

Irish business sentiment has reached its highest level in eight years, with almost 60% of firms reporting an increase in business activity over the summer months.

Irish business sentiment has reached its highest level in eight years, with almost 60% of firms reporting an increase in business activity over the summer months, according to the latest the KBC Bank Ireland/Chartered Accountants Ireland business sentiment index.

The improvement was broadly based, with all sectors reporting an improvement in business conditions and all the components of the index stronger than in the second quarter.

Some 29% of firms cited the health of exports markets as the key factor in improved sentiment, with cost trends signaled by 18% of those surveyed and access to credit by 15%.

Just 9% of firms reported weaker conditions over the last three months.

KBC Bank Ireland chief economist Austin Hughes said the strongest element in the autumn survey was companies’ assessment of their own business volumes in the past three months.

“The recovery seems to be broadening across sectors and firms and a further improvement is expected in the final three months of the year,” he added.

Chartered Accountants Ireland chief executive Pat Costello said the survey results were “very encouraging” in that they show a broadly based pick-up in activity as well as greater business confidence in relation to the outlook for the broader Irish economy.

“Companies’ assessment of Budget 2015 was broadly favourable, with 13% of firms intending to increase their hiring next year as a result”.

INTERNET can make some people very stupid

SAYS JOHN LYDON former sex pistols front man


John Lydon thinks the internet is to blame for making a lot of young people “incredibly stupid”.

The former Sex Pistols front man has hit out at the worldwide web for being a hub of “mindless gossip and nonsense” and thinks it is problematic for youngsters nowadays because they spend all their time surfing the internet rather than engaging in physical conversations.

He said: “I think the internet is the road to idiocy and has made a lot of young people incredibly stupid and more involved with mindless gossip and nonsense.

“It’s spineless, faceless, there’s no face-to-face confrontation.

“You’ve lost the power of emotion and dialogue; it’s just flimsy catchphrases. It’s complacency.

“Facebook and Twitter are my arch enemies.”

Despite disliking the internet, the 58-year-old singer is a big fan of TV advertising, particularly the 2008 Country Life butter advert he starred in and he insists fans of his group Public Image Ltd (PiL) should be too because the band would never have reformed without the sandwich spread.

He added to Shortlist magazine: “I couldn’t give a tuppence f**k what a*******s have to say.

“I needed to raise some money to get Public Image back together and, having the good sensibility to have eaten a lot of butter in my life, I thought it was appropriate.

“Every penny I earned from that went into reforming Public Image.

“Music lovers should rejoice at that and have some buttered toast on me says John Ludon.”

‘Buggy balls & crisps’ to hit supermarket shelves soon


The traditional shopping list of bread, milk, eggs and cheese is set to change in the Netherlands with a major supermarket chain unveiling its first-ever range of insect-based products this week.

From Friday, customers at Jumbo stores in two northern Dutch cities will be able to add “buggy balls”, “buggy burgers” and “buggy crisps” to their shopping carts in a roll-out plan to put edible insect products on shelves in 400 stores across the country by early next year.

“Edible insects are not only healthy, but sustainable and give the opportunity to do something about replenishing ailing food resources,” Jumbo spokeswoman Laura Valks told AFP.

Although some insect-based foods are already commercially available at Dutch wholesalers, Jumbo is the first national supermarket chain to stock shelves with products made from meal-worms, buffalo worms and moth larvae, Valks said.

Shoppers are to fork out between 5.95 euros ($7.49) and 6.79 euros per portion, she added.

The products come in different flavours. For instance “buggy crisps” made from crispy fried moth larvae will be available flavoured with plain salt or paprika.

Last year the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation said insects could supplement diets around the world as an environmentally-friendly food source, as it urged Western consumers to get over their “disgust” of eating creepy-crawlies.

An estimated two billion people — a third of the world’s population — are already eating insects because they “are delicious and nutritious”, the FAO said.

Insects most commonly consumed by humans are beetles (31%), caterpillars (18%) and bees, wasps and ants (14%), followed by grasshoppers, locusts and crickets (13%), an FAO report said.

World’s top stem cell science experts to gather in NUI Galway


World-leading experts from the field of stem cell science have convened at NUI Galway last night and again todayfor the Galway International Stem Cell Conference which will focus on the latest developments in basic science and translational aspects of Mesenchymal Stem Cell (MSC ) research in Ireland, the UK and worldwide.

A type of adult stem cell, Mesenchymal Stem Cells or MSCs, have shown huge potential for use in many medical therapies.In addition to plenary talks from internationally renowned speakers, the programme is structured to include oral paper presentations selected from submitted abstracts. With Ireland hosting the event this year, there will be a particular focus on some of the ground breaking research taking place here.

The latest plans from researchers at NUI Galway for stem cell trials in Galway, focusing on arterial disease in the lower leg and osteoarthritis in the knee will be discussed.

According to Professor Frank Barry, Scientific Director of REMEDI at NUI Galway: “The impact of this conference will be high because it focuses on those aspects of basic science and clinical evaluation which represent obstacles to translation.

New biological insights have emerged recently about stem cells and their clinical potential has been demonstrated. However, there are still substantial gaps in knowledge in the field, such as how we can standardise the mass production of stem cells in facilities around the world.”

As of 2014, Ireland now boasts its own specialist facility which can ‘grow’ stems cells for use in such clinical trials in humans. Located at NUI Galway, the Centre for Cell Manufacturing Ireland (CCMI ) is a custom-built facility certified to the highest EU manufacturing standards and criteria.

The CCMI at NUI Galway is the first ever facility on the island of Ireland to receive a licence from the Irish Medicines Board, and firmly positions the country as a global player in the regenerative medicine field.

Donie’s news Ireland daily BLOG

Saturday 13th July 2013

Ireland’s borrowing costs drop as ratings agency S & P raises our outlook


Ireland’s borrowing costs fell sharply after a leading global ratings agency lifted its outlook for the country.

The ratings change is a major boost for the Government’s plans to exit the bailout at the end of this year.

The vote of confidence in Ireland was in sharp contrast to Standard & Poor’s downgrade of Italian government debt earlier in the week.

The rating agency said there was now a one-in-three chance that it could raise Ireland’s main credit rating over the next two years.

After years of ratings downgrades, it would be the first upgrade for Ireland since 2001. A better rating is crucial for borrowing cheaply on the international markets.

Standard & Poor’s (S&P) said it had raised its outlook for the country from stable to positive and heaped praise on Ireland, saying it had not deviated from its budgetary targets since the bailout in 2010.

“Ireland’s economic recovery is under way,” the agency said.

“Given still weak external demand and Ireland’s exports exceeding 100pc of GDP, we expect growth to remain slow in 2013 and 2014.

“Nevertheless, Ireland’s domestic economy is showing signs of stabilising. Unemployment has started to decline while private sector employment numbers are improving.”

The Department of Finance and the National Treasury Management Agency (NTMA) hailed the move as reinforcing the positive reputation Ireland has earned with the markets.

“It is encouraging that Standard & Poor’s acknowledges the continued progress Ireland is making on the fiscal side and the improved access to capital markets,” an NTMA spokesman said.

The move contrasts with Moody’s ratings agency, which dashed Ireland’s hopes of an upgrade earlier this year when it reaffirmed its negative outlook.

S&P, which upgraded its outlook for Ireland in February also, said it expected our debt level to peak at 122pc of the value of the economy this year, before falling to 112pc by 2016.

It said it believed there was potential for Ireland to recover more rapidly if the eurozone economy picked up. And it also upgraded its outlook for the National Asset Management Agency (NAMA) from negative to positive.

But the agency also warned that risks remained, including the rising level of bad loans in the banks, particularly mortgage arrears.

Standard & Poor’s predicted the banks would not return to profitability this year, and in some cases probably not until 2015.


It said that if the economy remained sluggish and banks were unable to deal with distressed loans, Ireland would not be upgraded.

The announcement follows criticism of the ratings agency yesterday from Italian Economy Minister Fabrizio Saccomanni for downgrading Italy’s credit rating, saying it failed to take account of recent government measures to boost growth.

The Mediterranean country’s rating was reduced from BBB+ to BBB due to weakening economic prospects and the country’s impaired financial system, according to S&P.

Greece is also struggling to recover from the economic backlash as its public sector took to the streets in protest this week against further austerity measures that were put in place.

Bankers tell Shane Filan to sing his way out of €23m debt


Former Westlife star Shane Filan has revealed how bankers told him how he would have to “sing” to pay back his massive debts.

Faced with a bill of €23m over a series of property investments gone wrong, the 33-year-old described how he met with bank officials to try and find a solution.

“I’m sitting there, looking at this person, going ‘So where does that leave me?’

“‘Well you can sing, can’t you?’ That’s what I was told by one of them, ‘you can pay it back that way’.

“I was like, ‘I might be in Westlife, I am not in U2, it’s a lot of money to try and get back’. It wasn’t fair, but then life is not fair,” said Shane Filan.

Speaking for the first time about going bust, the Sligo man revealed how he had found himself next to broke in London last year just days after Westlife played two sell-out concerts in Croke Park.

“It was one of the scariest days I ever had. I walked out of a shop to get some money and there was only £470 in my account. My son asked if I could buy a Spiderman toy, and instead I said I promised I would get it for his birthday.

“I was crying my eyes out inside because, I couldn’t tell anybody how bad my money situation was. I had no money, no record deal and my band was over,” he recounted.

Launching his debut single Everything To Me on Ryan Tubridy’s 2fm show yesterday, the chart-topping singer revealed how he done everything he could to avoid bankruptcy, struggling to pay €30k to €40k each month in interest on loans run up by the property company he operated with his brother Finbarr.

“I sat down and had lots of meetings with the banks. I put it to them: a really good deal that they could have looked at, where I could have worked with them over number of years, and given them back as much as I could.

“It could been all of it, it could been some of it. It was an open book, and they said, ‘No, not suitable to us.’ It got to the stage where no matter what I offered it wasn’t going to happen, I don’t know if that was a public thing I don’t know. I will never know,” he said.

Forced to declare himself bankrupt in the UK in June 2012, he denied the move to Britain was a “bankruptcy thing” and said he had owned “a nice house, not a mansion” in Surrey for seven years.

ENCRUSTED:  Going bust had led to him having to buy back his own diamond-encrusted wedding ring. “The trustees took out a value on it and I had to buy it back.

” You don’t expect to buy your wedding ring twice, it’s not nice,” he said declining to put a price on what the ring had cost to buy back.

However, the father-of-three credited wife Gillian with getting him through the dark days, and said she was the inspiration for most of the new songs on his new album.

“Gillian was incredible at keeping me focused. She kept telling me how everyone who had invested in the property business in Ireland had lost. She gave me 100pc support,” he said.

Ireland’s first Real Estate Investment Trust raises €310m


Ireland’s first Real Estate Investment Trust (REIT) has raised €310m after strong international interest in the property investment vehicle led to it being significantly over-subscribed.

The REIT backed by executives at Green Property received a major endorsement from US-headquartered global investment group Pimco, which, through a vehicle it controls in Luxembourg, has taken a 10pc stake in the REIT. Pimco has over $2 trillion (€1.5trn) of assets under management.

The Green REIT – due to float on theIrish Stock Exchange next Wednesday – will primarily target investment property in south Dublin.

Green Property executives backing the REIT – including the firm’s chairman Stephen Vernon and chief executive Pat Gunne – had hoped to raise €200m for the investment vehicle. They and other Green Property top brass are stuffing a total of €10m of their own money into the REIT.

Green Property owns the Blanchardstown Shopping Centre in Dublin and has been a canny player in the property market, offloading some valuable assets before the market imploded.

The REIT is the first to be launched in Ireland and comes on the heels of changes made this year to legislation in the Finance Act. It’s also the first such vehicle to be listed on the stock exchange.

Gary Kennedy, the chairman of the REIT, said the fundraising was a “strong endorsement” of investors’ confidence in the Green Property management team and their track record.

“It also highlights the opportunity evident in the sectors of the Irishcommercial property market that Green REIT is targeting,” he said.

After the lock up in the Asylum


People with mental-health problems were once locked away in asylums. Now most live in the community, like Mags Kelly, whose story is told here. But they can easily fall through the cracks of an underfunded service.

Mags wakes up and waits for her heart to slow down. She feels like a woman pulled from a burning building: still not quite able to believe she’s safe.

At 6.30am she slides out of bed, sits at her dressing table and rolls a cigarette. Today, like lots of days, her anxiety is sky-high. In a few minutes she’ll take her anti-depressants and mood stabilisers. They numb the distress and ease the panic – but they don’t take away the pain.

Shards of memories tumble around her head. They are of rough-and-tumble years spent living on the streets: unprovoked assaults, bloodied noses, crack-houses and pimping. It all seems part of one chaotic mess.

Then the faces of her children. The girls she never knew, taken into care because she couldn’t cope.

And the fear that courses through her. What if the psychiatrist she saw thinks she can’t cope living in the community? Maybe she’ll get sectioned again and end up in a locked ward? Or maybe she’ll slip through the cracks of the system and end up back on the street?

“Fear is an awful thing,” Mags says. “If you have a lot of fear in your body, it just doesn’t go away . . . I can put on a false front. Put on a bit of make-up and act like I’m well. People say, ‘She’s better,’ but I can’t seem to relax or anything.

There are days when it feels like she’s making progress. Like the other week, when she discovered a bunch of newborn ducklings in a corner of the garden, all open beaks and yellow and black fur. She was the first to find them. It made her feel elated for days afterwards.

Or recently, when she got a letter to say one of her daughters in foster care wanted to make contact with her. She’ll dress up nicely and send on some photos of herself. Maybe one day they’ll be able to strike up a relationship.

But the bad days still come. And when they do, it can be overwhelming. “Depression is terrible. It’s rotten. Look what it’s done to me,” she says, baring her arms. “I’m destroyed. I’ve used myself like a human ashtray, stubbing cigarettes into myself.

“There are sometimes all these thoughts of self-harm in my head . . . I talk to someone, and I feel okay. Then, an hour later, it’s back. It’s like I’m slipping back into the past, and I can’t see a road ahead.”
Until recently, Ireland’s mental health system dealt with people such as Mags through institutionalisation and drug treatment. It was a model with a long history. For hundreds of years, people with psychiatric health problems were locked away in asylums, behind high walls. We led the world locking people up in institutions, with inpatient admission rates that were multiples of other countries.

Today, most of these institutions have closed or ceased admissions. Only 300 patients remain, down from 25,000 about 20 years ago. The last remaining asylum is due to close within the next 12 months or so. The State’s policy now is to provide care in the community. To do this, it is funding the development of teams of professionals – psychiatrists, therapists, nurses and social workers – who support those with mental-health difficulties in a home environment.

Everyone agrees A Vision for Change, the policy launched in 2006, is a more enlightened and progressive approach. Research shows that a wider range of support is much more effective at helping patients recover than the narrower “medical model” associated with institutional care.

But our community mental-health services are under real strain. Dr Patrick Devitt, the Inspector for Mental Health Services, found the system of support was “stagnant and perhaps slipped backwards” last year as a result of dwindling staff numbers and poor governance.

The concerns were echoed by John Saunders, chair of theMental Health Commission, the State’s watchdog for psychiatric services. “We have incomplete mental-health teams trying to provide multidisciplinary care,” says Saunders.

Last year, millions of euro ring-fenced by the Government to hire more than 400 staff to modernise mental-health services disappeared. It ended up being used to tackle cost overruns in other parts of the health services.

The Health Service Executive says all these posts are being filled this year. But staff have been retiring in even greater numbers, so the extra recruitment is like pouring water into a fast-leaking bucket.

New figures show more than 1,000 fewer full-time posts exist in mental-health services today than in 2009. Staffing levels in some sectors are now at about 50 per cent of those recommended in the Vision for Change policy as being needed to run an effective service.

Records obtained by The Irish Times show unfilled posts are resulting in professionals being pulled out of community services to plug gaps in inpatient care, a move that flies in the face of Government policy. “With the huge exodus of nurses who are retiring, coupled with the recruitment embargo, the community services of which we are so proud are being decimated,” reads an internal email from the clinical director of one HSE service.

DCU Student aims to be the first Irishman to go into space

DCU student, Seán Corcoran will compete this weekend in the Lynx Apollo Space Academy National Challengein London in a bid to win a coveted place on board a space flight next year. 

The Lynx Apollo Space Academy is the deodorant brand’s global campaign to launch one lucky person into space and has attracted 87 000 entries in Britain and Ireland alone.   Seán, a second year Software Engineering student from Finglas will battle it out against 200 other potential astronauts from across Britain and Ireland in a series of gruelling NASA-style physical and mental challenges.

The four strongest candidates from the National Challenge in London will progress to the Global Space Camp in Orlando, Florida to join with finalists from 22 countries across the world.  Following intense preparation for the rigours of space travel and a final set of challenges, one lucky winner will be selected to fly 103km into space in 2014 with space tourism company Spacexc.

The Lynx Apollo Space Academy National Challenge London will take place in front of a live audience at Westfield London on Saturday 13th and Sunday 14th July.