Tag Archives: Panama Papers

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Monday 9th May 2016

Irish households continue to cut its debt by repaying loans

Latest figures from Central Bank show households still third most indebted in the EU

    

Household debt has declined continuously for the last 29 quarters and has fallen by 26.6% since its peak. 

Irish household debt fell by 1.1% in the fourth quarter of last year as borrowers focused on repaying loans.

The latest figures from the Central Bank show household debt continued to decrease, falling by €1.6bn, or 1.1%, to €149.6bn.

This represented a household debt per capita of €32,269. Household debt is now at its lowest level since the first quarter of 2006.

The Central Bank said the decline over the quarter reflected net debt repayments (-€1.1bn) and debt write-downs (-€0.6bn), which were slightly offset by positive reclassifications (€0.1bn).

Household net worth increased by 1.4% to €626.1bn, or €135,078 per capita, during the same period. This increase was largely driven by a rise in housing asset values (€6.3bn), as well as a further decline in household liabilities (€1.6bn).

Compared to a post-crisis low of €444.0bn in the second quarter of 2012, household net worth has risen by 41%. However, it is still 12.8% lower than its pre-crisis peak of €718bn in the second quarter of 2007.

Household debt has declined continuously for the last 29 quarters and has fallen by 26.6% since its peak of €203.7bn in the third quarter of 2008.

Indicators of household debt sustainability continued to improve during the same period. Debt as a proportion of disposable income fell from 159.8% to 155.1%, reflecting both the decline in household debt, as well as strong growth in annualised disposable income.

Overall, the ratio of household debt to disposable income has fallen by 60.2% since its peak of 215.3% in the second quarter of 2011.

Debt as a proportion of total assets also decreased, falling to from 19.5% to 19.1% over the quarter.

Despite a “significant decline” in debt as a proportion of disposable income over the year to Q4, Irish households continued to be the third most indebted in the European Union. Irish household debt fell by 25.1 per points over the year.

The Central Bank noted this was “significantly more” than any other country examined.

Spanish and Portuguese household debt also fell considerably over the year declining by 6.1%% and 4.6% respectively.

Household investment in financial assets rose to €1.9bn. This represented the highest level of investment in financial assets by households since the third quarter of 2009.

The increase in financial assets over the quarter largely reflected transactions into deposits.

Investigation launched after death of a man in his (70s) in Garda custody

GSOC confirm Gardaí administered CPR after man ‘became unwell with breathing difficulties’ in a Garda cell.

   

The Garda Ombudsman has confirmed that they are investigating the death of a man in custody.

The man, who was in his 70s, was discovered dead in a cell at Westport Garda station in Co Mayo at 11am.

The man was detained earlier today and sources have indicated he may have suffered a heart attack.

A spokeswoman for the Garda Siochana Ombudsman Commission (GSOC) has confirmed that a team is on their way to the scene where an investigation will be carried out.

A referral was made to the body under section 102 of the Garda Síochána Act 2005.

This evening GSOC released a statement about the incident.

A statement?

A spokeswoman confirmed: “The Garda Ombudsman is examining the circumstances surrounding the death of a man in his 70s while in custody at Westport Garda Station, Co. Mayo.

“The incident was referred to GSOC by the Garda Síochána under section 102 of the Garda Síochána Act at about 12.30pm this afternoon.

“The man who was under arrest became unwell with breathing difficulties and CPR was administered by gardaí. A doctor and the emergency services were called and the man was pronounced dead at the scene.

“The State Pathologist has been informed and a post-mortem is scheduled to take place in Castlebar in the coming days.

“GSOC Investigators are at the scene and an independent examination is underway to establish the facts of the situation.”

The published Panama Papers reveals thousands of secret offshore companies

A searchable database displays more than 200,000 entities from the Panama Papers

     

The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) tonight publishes a searchable database (https://offshoreleaks.icij.org) that strips away the secrecy of nearly 214,000 offshore entities created in 21 jurisdictions, from Nevada to Hong Kong and the British Virgin Islands.

The data, part of the Panama Papers investigation, is the largest ever release of information about offshore companies and the people behind them. This includes, when available, the names of the real owners of those opaque structures.

The database also displays information about more than 100,000 additional offshore entities the ICIJ had already disclosed in its 2013 Offshore Leaks investigation.

The Panama Papers database.  

(https://offshoreleaks.icij.org)

The ICIJ is publishing the information in the interest of the public .

The data the ICIJ is now making public represents a fraction of the Panama Papers, a trove of more than 11.5 million leaked files from the Panama-based law firm Mossack Fonseca, one of the world’s top creators of hard-to-trace companies, trusts and foundations.

The consortium is not publishing the totality of the leak, and it is not disclosing raw documents or personal information en masse. The database contains a great deal of information about company owners, proxies and intermediaries in secrecy jurisdictions, but it does not disclose bank accounts, email exchanges and financial transactions contained in the documents.

In all, the database reveals more than 360,000 names of people and companies behind secret offshore structures. As the data are from leaked sources and not a standardised registry, there may be some duplication of names.

The data was originally obtained from an anonymous source by reporters at the German newspaper Süeddeustche Zeitung, who asked ICIJ to organise a global reporting collaboration to analyse the files.

More than 370 reporters (https://panamapapers.icij.org/about.html) in nearly 80 countries investigated the files for a year. Their investigations uncovered the secret offshore holdings of 12 world leaders, more than 128 other politicians and scores of fraudsters, drug traffickers and other criminals whose companies had been blacklisted in the US and elsewhere.

Their status as outlaws or public officials did not prevent them from obtaining shell companies in locales where secrecy laws often make it impossible for prosecutors and other investigators to trace their assets.

The files revealed, for example, that associates of Russian President Vladimir Putin secretly shuffled as much as $2 billion through banks and shadow companies.

The Global reaction? 

The reaction to the Panama Papers was immediate and viral.

Outraged citizens took to the streets in Reykjavik, Malta and London while the hashtag #panamapapers trended on Twitter for days after the story broke on April 3rd.

The prime minister of Iceland resigned over the British Virgin Islands company he co-owned with his wife, while other world leaders scrambled to explain their secret holdings.

It took UK’s prime minister David Cameron three days to publicly acknowledge he had profited from an investment fund, created by his father, that was incorporated in Panama and managed in the Bahamas.

In Spain a minister resigned after being caught in a series of lies about his connections to offshore, and in Uruguay police arrested five individuals suspected of laundering money for a powerful Mexican drug cartel.

The Panama Papers underscore the fundamental injustices and inequalities created by the offshore system, media commentators and political leaders say.

“When taxes are evaded, when state assets are taken and put into these havens, all of these things can have a tremendous negative effect on our mission to end poverty and boost prosperity,”

Jim Yong Kim, the president of the World Bank, said as he opened the spring meetings of the World Bank and IMF in Washington soon after ICIJ and more than 100 other news organisations, including The Irish Times, began revealing the results of the media collaboration’s investigation.

President Barack Obama, meanwhile, pointed out that the biggest problem was that many of the schemes revealed by the Panama Papers were legal. “It’s not that they’re breaking the laws, it’s that the laws are so poorly designed,” he said.

The revelations reignited the debate about the need for public registries in which information about who ultimately controls a company be accessible to all. The UK has made disclosure of beneficial owner data mandatory and public, but British Overseas Territories such the British Virgin Islands and the Cayman Islands, some the busiest offshore havens, have agreed to share that information by law enforcement.

Citing the Panama Papers, the US government also announced on Thursday that it has sent legislation to Congress to create a centralised federal registry of the actual owners of any newly created company.

The registry would help law enforcement authorities ferret out the real people behind anonymous companies used in money laundering and other wrongdoing.

The governments of Australia and Germany have said that they too intend to create public registries of company owners.

On Friday, the anonymous leaker of the Panama Papers, known only as “John Doe, ” spoke publicly for the first time in a written statement and called out for concrete steps to combat tax havens .

“In the European Union, every member state’s corporate register should be freely accessible, with detailed data plainly available on ultimate beneficial owners,” the source wrote. Doe added that the US “can clearly no longer trust its fifty states to make sound decisions about their own corporate data.”

Exploring the database? 

(https://offshoreleaks.icij.org)

The searchable database that ICIJ publishes today allows users to explore the networks of companies and people that used – and sometimes abused – the secrecy of offshore locales with the help of Mossack Fonseca and other intermediaries. The leaked data covers nearly 40 years, from 1977 through the end of 2015.

The data, which includes postal addresses, displays links to more than 200 countries and territories, from China to Chile.

Users can filter the information by country and by offshore jurisdiction. They can also explore the role of banks, law firms and other gatekeepers of the financial system in facilitating the creation of offshore companies for high net worth individuals.

For the first time, they can see details about shadowy Panamanian private foundations, including when available information about who controls them.

While the database opens up a world that has never been shown in this much detail, not every owner of a company that appears in the Panama Papers shows up in the public database.

This is because ownership information is often buried in emails, power-of-attorney letters and internal notes of Mossack Fonseca employees and cannot easily be extracted in a systematic manner.

In addition, Mossack Fonseca often failed to collect the necessary information about the ultimate owners of companies, relying instead on banks and other intermediaries to keep track of that essential data.

Still, it is expected that Panama Papers revelations will continue to surface as regulators and ordinary citizens from around the globe probe the newly available data and find new connections that may have escaped reporters. Concerned citizens are encouraged to share tips with ICIJ and the Panama Papers journalists who continue to investigate the documents. The full dataset is also available for download: https://offshoreleaks.icij.org/pages/database.

“Transparency is not going to move backward,” Kim said in his World Bank spring meetings remarks, warning that those trying to avoid taxes or steal money from public treasuries should be “very careful” because they will eventually be tracked down.

“The world is only going to become more and more transparent as we move forward.”

Aldi and Lidl prove incredibly astute at tapping into what Irish consumers want

Irish consumers moving to own-brand offerings is no surprise

    

Irish consumers are now discarding brand names more in favour of the own-brand offerings on the shelves of Aldi and Lidl in greater numbers than ever should come as no surprise.

The share of the Irish grocery market held by the German discounters Aldiand Lidl has just increased dramatically, with confirmation due on Monday that nearly one in four Irish consumers do their shopping in either one of the two stores.

Last month, figures from industry analysts Kantar Worldpanel painted a very different picture.

Those figures put Supervalu on 24.9% of the Irish market, while Tesco had 23.9% -just 0.4% ahead of Dunnes Stores.

Lidl and Aldi had 8.5% and 8.4% market share respectively – good certainly, but nowhere as near as good as the new figures suggest.

The change is due to a recalibration from Kantar rather than any shift in spending.

There is no change in the running order, with Supervalu still in the number one position and Aldi still in fifth – but the combined market share of Aldi and Lidl is 22.1%. Lidl now has 11.5% of the Irish market, while Aldi is just behind it on 11.2%.

Aldi is arguably the better performing of the pair, because it has an almost identical market share with significantly fewer stores.

Brand names:  That Irish consumers are eschewing brand names in favour of the own-brand offerings on the shelves of Aldi and Lidl in greater numbers than ever should come as no surprise.

In the mid-1990s, Lidl and Aldi were unfamiliar to most Irish shoppers. Then, in 1998, Lidl arrived and was joined the following year by Aldi.

In the early days growth was slow, with Irish people reluctant to swap branded products for unfamiliar labels, while Irish suppliers and producers were reluctant to do business with untested chains who were not highly regarded among shoppers.

People were amused by the pair’s eclectic weekly special offer – but the allure of delights such as jackhammers jostling for position with canoes, luridly coloured onesies and flat-pack gazebos was not enough to bring people through their doors in significant numbers.

Their Spartan shelves did Lidl and Aldi no favours either. A big Tesco outlet might have more than 20,000 different items on their shelves, while the discounters contented themselves with around 1,000.

Then the bubble burst – and everything changed. The growth of both retailers has been relentless ever since but it would be wrong to suggest that growth has been simply down to cash strapped times. Far from it.

Both Aldi and Lidl have proved themselves to be incredibly astute at tapping into what Irish consumers want. They tweaked their product lines to offer more Irish produce, their ranges improved dramatically and they established very good relationships with Irish suppliers.

Crucially, both Aldi and Lidl were also able to prove that people who did their shopping in their stores saved money, a lot of money.

Canny shoppers realised they could easily knock over a third off their annual grocery spend by shopping with the Germans, without sacrificing anything significant in terms of quality.

The perception of both companies is also very good. Both featured in the top 10 most respected companies in the Republic in a survey published last month by the Reputations Agency, while a separate survey from Amárach on consumers’ attitudes published late last year rated Aldi fourth most highly rated company in Ireland in a poll of more than 2,700 people.

“That really surprised me,” said Gerard O’Neill of Amárach when the survey was published.

“We lived through the recession and watched as the discounters changed the retail rules and relentlessly pushed down prices, but now they are changing the rules again. They are aiming for better prices, better experiences, and better service.”

Speaking yesterday, O’Neill elaborated. “The recession gave them [discounters] a foothold – but there is more to it than that. They have completely changed the conversation about value and made people realise it is not all about price.

“It is about affordability, but also about the sense of how a person feels shopping. Aldi and Lidl have made people who shop in their stores feel prudent, discerning, more astute – almost German.”

O’Neill said the two had been “very clever in how they have dealt with their competition. It has been like a bait and switch. They made the conversation about price and then switched it to Irishness and community.

“If a Martian was to arrive in Ireland they would be sure that both Aldi and Lidl were indigenous companies, so embedded in the local communities do they appear,” he suggested.

Customer experience

He pointed out that customer experience “is driven not by value for money – because we rationalise that after the fact – but by something more emotional. We like to come away from the shopping experience feeling smug – in the nice sense of the word – and safe in the knowledge that we have got a bargain. Aldi and Lidl understand that.”

It is not just by offering good value and toying with our emotions that Aldi and Lidl have grown so strongly. Both have opened stores at a phenomenal rate.

Last Thursday, the former opened its 124th – and largest – store in Sallynogginin Co Dublin, while Lidl has 147 stores.

Both have plans for more openings in the months ahead.

Damian O’Reilly, who lectures in retail management in the Dublin Institute of Management, described how effectively the discounters have been playing the retail game in recent years, capitalising on changing economic conditions, improving consumer knowledge and very effective store design and stock maintenance.

He pointed out that their modular units were very cheap to put up – a store can be opened for about €3 million – and their compact size means they can be squeezed into small spaces in rural towns which has allowed them to take on Supervalu in areas where that retailer used to be traditionally untouchable.

And, he said, Aldi and Lidl have been outspending their rivals on television and newspaper ads over the last two years, working relentlessly to promote their Irishness.

They also have some canny tricks they play. “They have longer conveyor belts leading to the cash registers, so shoppers think they are nearly there when they start putting their shopping out – even though there might still be three people ahead of them. The staff have to scan 30 items a minute – so the check-out process moves very quickly.”

But where to next? “In terms of market share I think they are nearly there,” O’Reilly says. “They might be able to grow another couple of per cent but the rate at which they are opening stores is slowing and that will put a limit on how much they will grow.”

O’Neill agreed, although he suggested the Germans could get to 30% of the market. “They will be constrained by the amount of real estate they can buy and the competition is not just going to sit there and watch as they grow bigger.”

Full moons influence less sleep in children

    

The full moon can somehow influence children’s behaviour and even affect their sleep? although it is not enough to strengthen ancient belief on the lunar phases’ effects on human biology.

A recent study published in the journal Frontiers in Pediatrics showed that children are no more active during full moon than in any other phase of the moon. The full moon, on the other hand, may interfere with their sleeping time, potentially owing to its brightness particularly “if the window curtain is not sufficiently opaque.”

“[S]leep duration was 1 percent shorter at full moon compared to new moon, while activity behaviours were not significantly associated with the lunar cycle in this global sample of children,” wrote the researchers, with this specific finding translating to around five minutes less sleep.

According to researchers from the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario Research Institute in Canada, the study offers “solid evidence” that the links between moon phases and children’s sleep duration and activity behaviors do not come across as meaningful from a public health perspective.

The team analyzed data from over 5,800 children, who were ages 9 to 11 and came from 12 countries. Unlike previous research relying on human judgment, subjects wore accelerometers, which are akin to fitness trackers recording body movements or monitoring sleep for 24 hours a day for at least seven days.

The kids got five minutes shorter sleep on nights with a full moon, deemed an effect “unlikely to be important.” And it remains unclear why children had less shuteye on full-moon nights.

 It could be that the full moon’s brightness was interfering with sleep, although the researchers considered this implausible given the abundance of artificial light – such as from smartphones and mobile devices – in modern societies.

The team urged future studies to see if the human body is somehow synchronized with the moon’s cycles, or if the full moon has a more pronounced effect on certain groups of people.

The belief that the moon affects people’s behavior dates back ancient times, although studies have seen little evidence to back up this idea. The moon mystery, suffice it to say, has fascinated many civilizations and generations.

For instance, no peer-reviewed study yet has seen any notable association between the full moon and epileptic seizures, psychiatric ward visits, or emergency room cases. Even when it comes to menstrual cycles, there is no research so far that makes a significant correlation between lunar phases and the condition across a huge swath of participants.

In addition, the effects of the moon on the ocean are notable not only during the full moon – the tides, too, are highest during the new moon.

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News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Wednesday 13th April 2016

Martin urges the Independents to show their hand and declare one way or the other?

Move comes after scheduled talks between FG and FF are cancelled.

   

Fianna Fáil leader Micheal Martin contacted Independent TDs and urged them to vote for either a Fine Gael or a Fianna Fáil-led Government.

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin has told Independent TDs the time has come for them to declare their support for either him or Enda Kenny as Taoiseach.

Mr Martin contacted all 15 Independents in talks with both parties Wednesday evening and urged them to vote for either a Fine Gael or a Fianna Fáil-led Government.

His move came after a scheduled discussion on policy between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil was cancelled.

It is understood, however, both parties are still open to further negotiations.

No further meetings have been planned but it is anticipated contact will be made between the two parties on Thursday.

Mr Martin has told Independents that, in the absence of a commitment from Fine Gael that it will support a Fianna Fáil-led minority government, he is not willing to continue in discussions with non-party deputies.

A Fianna Fáil source said Mr Martin will give up on pursuing a Fianna Fáil minority government if he does not secure an additional seven or eight TDs in the vote on Thursday.

Similarily, a significant shift to Mr Kenny would allow Fianna Fáil to acknowledge Fine Gael can form a minority government which Mr Martin will facilitate from the opposition.

Sources in both parties said the process of forming a government had dragged on for too long and needed to come to a swift conclusion.

The possibility of a second election in the absence of enough Independent TDs declaring for Mr Martin or Mr Kenny was being speculated upon in Leinster House.

A Fianna Fáil source said: “It would require a significant number of Independents to vote for Micheal Martin as taoiseach. One or two will not be enough.

“If they want to support a fine Gael minority government that is their choice but we need to know. We are on a roundabout with no exits so the time has come. This is their final opportunity.”

A Fine Gael source said the talks with Fianna Fáil would resume after the vote for Taoiseach on Thursday.

“Fianna Fáil want to allow any Independnets who want to jump in their favour one last chance to do so,” the source said.

The Independent Alliance will meet on Thursday at 11.30 am to decide whether to vote for Mr Kenny or Mr Martin.

However, members of the group said they saw no reason to declare for either party and are likely to abstain in the vote.

Waterford TD John Halligan has opted out of the discussions with both parties.

The five rural TDs of Denis Naughten, Mattie McGrath, Michael Harty, Michael Collins and Noel Grealish will also meet on Thursday to discuss what they should do.

It is expected they will vote against both candidates as will Independent TD Danny Healy-Rae.

Mr Kenny had been hopeful the vote on Taoiseach could be deferred but he needed the support of Fianna Fáil and said this was not forthcoming.

The two parties only met for an hour on Wednesday to discuss the mechanics of a minority government with a meeting scheduled for 8pm to exchange policy papers.

However, it was cancelled at short notice by Fianna Fáil in a move described as frustrating and disappointing by Fine Gael.

The Fine Gael parliamentary party had earlier passed a motion urging the leadership not to compromise on Irish Water in discussions with Fianna Fáil.

It is understood legislation prepared by Fianna Fáil to abolish Irish Water has been agreed by the party and is expected to be handed to Fine Gael within days.

The proposed legislation will suspend the charges for five years and abolish the utility in favour of a slimmed down firm.

Meanwhile, Mr Kenny and Minister for Finance Michael Noonan met with senior figures in the Labour party on Tuesday to secure their support for a Fine Gael minority Government.

The meeting, which was attended by Tánaiste Joan Burton, Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Brendan Howlin and Minister for the Environment Alan Kelly, took place in Government Buildings.

It is understood Mr Kenny and Mr Noonan encouraged Labour to re-enter Government but the Labour figures rejected the proposal.

Fine Gael also requested the party support them from the opposition benches.

The three Labour Ministers insisted they could make no decision until the outcome of discussions between Fine Gael and Fianna Fail were known.

International Tax officials plan to take action following the Panama Papers?

International representatives meet at OECD to discuss response to controversy

      

An activist clutching a suitcase stuffed with fake money demands greater transparency in new legislation following the Panama Papers in Berlin, Germany.

Senior international tax officials met at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) on Wednesday to discuss responses to the Panama Papers.

Tax authorities are notoriously reluctant to share information, but the sheer scale of the Panama Papers – 11.5 million documents covering 210,000 companies in 21 offshore jurisdictions – has forced them to co-operate.

Nearly everything about the meeting was secret. The OECD would not reveal the number of participants, though press reports estimated that there were 28 officials in attendance.

The Irish Revenue Commissioners sent one or more representatives, but would not divulge numbers or identities.

“Some of the countries coming here do not even want their presence known,” said an informed source.

“If you’re doing an investigation, maybe there’s a big fish in a given country who feels personally threatened or at risk.

“You wouldn’t want to say, ‘Hey, we’re at the OECD getting the Panama Papers information.’”

The meeting was organised by the Joint International Tax Shelter Information and Collaboration (Jitsic) network.

The 46 countries who belong to the OECD’s Forum on Tax Administration are potential members of any Jitsic “project”.

They include the 34 members of the OECD, plus members of the G20 who are not in the club for the world’s most developed countries.

The number of participants in a given Jitsic “project” can range from two to 46.

“We are only aware of what has been reported in the press,” the OECD said, denying it had access to the Panama Papers.

Revenue authorities from at least 10 countries, including the State, have reportedly approached members of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists in relation to the papers but were told: “The ICIJ is not an arm of law enforcement and is not an agent of the government.”

However, a source at the OECD insisted data-sharing had motivated the meeting.

“Somebody has the data. That’s the whole reason they had the meeting,” the source said.

The OECD’s one-page, post-meeting statement said it discussed “opportunites for obtaining data, co-operation and information-sharing.”

An G20 mandate?

The G20 gave the OECD a mandate to fight tax evasion in 2009.

It was subsequently invested with another mission, to thwart corporations shifting profits to avoid tax.

But the OECD is not privy to taxpayer specific information.

“If one of the Jitsic countries says, ‘Let me show you what we’ve got so far,’ that’s when OECD officials leave the room,” an OECD source explained.

Jitsic is headed by Chris Jordan, commissioner for the Australian tax office.

He says Jitsic members share “a global mindset for tackling tax evasion and aggressive tax avoidance”.

Mark Konza, head of international tax in Australia, chaired Wednesday’s meeting.

Mr Jordan told the Australian Financial Review that the objective of the meeting was “to get the bigger picture . . . A number of countries have got slices or pieces of the data and that’s been very useful, but really, the start of the conversation is to work out who’s got what, how we can pool that information and start to work together”.

The OECD said follow-up action will be ensured by national tax administrations.

“It will be devolved to more operational people in the Jitsic network,” Mr Jordan said. “It’s data analytics people we need.”

Meanwhile, the French finance minister Michel Sapin told a press conference the Panama Papers have prompted “a burst of generosity” amongst tax evaders, who are coming forward to the STDR, the service set up nearly three years ago by the French to encourage those with offshore accounts to confess and negotiate settlements.

A spokesperson at the Revenue Commissioners said it was not yet clear whether the Panama Papers will have a similar effect in the State.

“Our message is: ‘Come to us before we come to you, because we will,’” she said.

Acting Tánaiste Joan Burton wants to stay on as Labour Party leader

Acting Tánaiste may face party’s deputy leader Alan Kelly in a leadership contest

     

The demise of Joan as depicted above?

The Tánaiste Joan Burton has told senior Labour Party figures she wants to stay on as party leader and has discussed a campaign to retain the leadership, even though many in the party believed she would step down.

Labour’s rules require a leadership election after an unsuccessful election and Ms Burton – who remains acting Tánaiste – said she would announce her intention after a government is formed.

The Irish Times has been told by usually reliable sources that they believe that Ms Burton and deputy leader Alan Kelly would both seek the post.

Extraordinarily, it is also suggested that Ms Burton and Mr Kelly may second each other’s nomination for the leadership, as neither is certain of attracting a seconder from the parliamentary party, as party rules require.

Several high-ranking party sources confirmed the prospect had been raised internally in recent days, though some played down the likelihood of an exchange of nomination papers. All expressed unhappiness at the idea.

Mr Kelly, Minister for the Environment, is thought certain to stand.

But if Ms Burton stood for the leadership it would take the party by surprise.

One nominee

Some senior Labour figures, including some members of the parliamentary party, favoured an agreement to have just one nominee with acting Minister for Public Expenditure Brendan Howlin going for the leadership, avoiding a protracted and potentially divisive election.

Ms Burton and Mr Kelly are thought to be vehemently opposed to a coronation for Mr Howlin.

A spokesman for Ms Burton said she had “consistently made clear that government formation remains the most important issue” and that all other issues “can be addressed once a new government is in place”.

New UK scanning project could lead to breakthroughs in spotting risk factors for most diseases

    

An “exciting” new UK study could unlock information on risk factors for diseases, detect the earliest signs of illnesses, and help develop new kinds of treatments, experts have said.

Scientists in Britain are hoping to create the world’s biggest collection of scans of internal organs.

Experts said the project will see 100,000 people scanned by MRI machines and other state-of-the-art imaging methods. And it could lead to “new breakthroughs faster”.

100,000 people will be scanned in machines like this MRI one (Bruce Adams/Daily Mail/PA)It’s hoped the research study could lead to findings on a par with the study that first linked smoking to lung cancer.

Studies using scans have in the past only used hundreds of participants. Having a new large database will expand the “scope and quality” of research, the chairman of the UK Biobank Imaging Expert Working Group said.

Professor Paul Matthews also said the “exciting” project will help scientists “view health holistically”.

Discovering a link between smoking and lung cancer was a huge breakthrough (Gareth Fuller/PA)He added: “This imaging is going to help us understand risk factors that could help prevent future diseases, just as the discovery between smoking and the link to lung cancers helped to change the entire prevalence of that disease in this country.

“We may also find out the earliest changes in diseases, discovering for example, markers for diseases like Alzheimer’s years before they ever happen to allow doctors in the future to think about treating people before the disease really starts to express itself.

“And maybe this kind of imaging could help us find new kinds of treatments.”

A radiographer views images on a computer from a new MRI scanner (Anna Gowthorpe/PA)Officials said the UK Biobank project – funded by the Medical Research Council, Wellcome Trust, and the British Heart Foundation – could transform the way scientists study a wide range of diseases. These include dementia, arthritis, cancer, heart attacks and strokes.

Experts will image the brain, heart, bones, carotid arteries and abdominal fat of 100,000 people who are current participants of UK Biobank – a research resource tracking half a million people across the UK.

The participants already provide detailed information on themselves, including their lifestyle, weight, height, diet, physical activity and cognitive function.

Inky the Octopus slips out of aquarium tank, crawls across floor and escapes down a pipe to his home in the Pacific ocean

     

Inky the octopus, the escapee from New Zealand’s National Aquarium. Inky the octopus didn’t even try to cover his tracks.

By the time the staff at New Zealand’s National Aquarium noticed that he was missing, tell tale suction cup prints were the main clue to an easily solved mystery.

Inky had said see ya to his tank-mate, slipped through a gap left by maintenance workers at the top of his enclosure and, as evidenced by the tracks, made his way across the floor to a six-inch-wide drain. He squeezed his football-sized body in — octopuses are very malleable, aquarium manager Rob Yarrall told the New Zealand website Stuff — and made a break for the Pacific.

“He managed to make his way to one of the drain holes that go back to the ocean. And off he went,” Yarrall told Radio New Zealand. “And he didn’t even leave us a message.”

The cephalopod version of “Shawshank Redemption” took place three months ago, but it only became public Tuesday. Inky, who already had some local renown in the coastal city of Napier, quickly became a global celebrity cheered on by strangers.

Inky had resided at the aquarium since 2014, when he was taken in after being caught in a crayfish pot, his body scarred and his arms injured. The octopus’s name was chosen from nominations submitted to a contest run by the Napier City Council.

Kerry Hewitt, the aquarium’s curator of exhibits, said at the time that Inky was “getting used to being at the aquarium” but added that staff would “have to keep Inky amused or he will get bored.”

Guess that happened.

This isn’t the first time a captive octopus decided to take matters into its own hands — er, tentacles. In 2009, after a two-spotted octopus at the Santa Monica Pier Aquarium in California took apart a water recycling valve, directed a tube to shoot water out of the tank for 10 hours and caused a massive flood, Scientific American asked octopus expert Jennifer Mather about the animals’ intelligence and previous such hijinks at aquariums.

“They are very strong, and it is practically impossible to keep an octopus in a tank unless you are very lucky. … Octopuses simply take things apart,” Mather said. “I recall reading about someone who had built a robot submarine to putter around in a large aquarium tank. The octopus got a hold of it and took it apart piece by piece. There’s a famous story from the Brighton Aquarium in England 100 years ago that an octopus there got out of its tank at night when no one was watching, went to the tank next door and ate one of the lumpfish and went back to his own tank and was sitting there the next morning.”

Yarrall said the aquarium has no plans to replace Inky, but it does intend to better secure the tank where now just one octopus remains.

“They are always exploring and they are great escape artists,” Yarrall said, according to Hawke’s Bay Today. “We’ll be watching the other one.”

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Tuesday 5th April 2016

Irish Water the elephant in the room of government talks

Healy-Rae says public has waited for 40 days for a government and was getting frustrated

     

Michael Healy Rae (left) and his brother Danny. Michael Healy Rae has said that Irish Water is the ‘elephant in the room’ during the government formation talks.

An Independent TD has said the issue of Irish Water is the “elephant in the room” in all the negotiations with Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil.

Independent TD for Kerry Michael Healy-Rae said “our Lord spent 40 days in the desert” and said the Irish public had waited for a similar period for a government and that patience was now wearing thin.

Mr Healy-Rae said it was unhelpful that Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny and Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin have still not spoken to each other, he told Newstalk Breakfast.

On the same programme, Independent Alliance TD for Galway East Sean Canney, also called on the two largest parties to talk directly.

He said it would be wrong to spend another €40 million on a second election and said this money could be spent on tackling homelessness or employing more hospital consultants

Mr Canney said a lot of newly elected TDs, including those in Sinn Fein, had not engaged in the process of government formation and said there should be more focus on them. “What were they elected to do?”

Another Independent Alliance TD, Kevin ‘Boxer’ Moran says his group would make a collective decision on Wednesday on who they will back during a second vote in Dail on the election of a new Taoiseach.

The Longford Westmeath TD’s comments follow the suggestion that a number of non-party deputies may abstain from Wednesday’s vote.

A number of Independent TDs yesterday expressed anger about a tweet posted by Minister for Health Leo Varadkar on Sunday, in which he said his posters were ready for a second election if necessary.

The Panama Papers simply explained even a 5-year old can understand

    

The Panama Papers leak has pretty much been big news around the world. The scandal however has not been the easiest to understand for many people. A Reddit user here tries to ‘Explain it in simple terms Like I’m 5’ (ELI5) type of post that has since gone viral.

ELI5 is exactly what it sounds like – how you would explain a certain thing to a five-year-old. So how do you explain secret banking, offshore accounts and tax evasion to a five-year-old?

Here’s how Dan Gliesack explained the Panama Papers leak to five-year-olds:
When you get a quarter you put it in the piggy bank. The piggy bank is on a shelf in your closet. Your mom knows this and she checks on it every once in a while, so she knows when you put more money in or spend it.

Now one day, you might decide “I don’t want mom to look at my money.” So you go over to Johnny’s house with an extra piggy bank that you’re going to keep in his room. You write your name on it and put it in his closet. Johnny’s mom is always very busy, so she never has time to check on his piggy bank. So you can keep yours there and it will stay a secret.

Now all the kids in the neighbourhood think this is a good idea, and everyone goes to Johnny’s house with extra piggy banks. Now Johnny’s closet is full of piggy banks from everyone in the neighbourhood.
One day, Johnny’s mom comes home and sees all the piggy banks. She gets very mad and calls everyone’s parents to let them know.

Now not everyone did this for a bad reason. Eric’s older brother always steals from his piggy bank, so he just wanted a better hiding spot. Timmy wanted to save up to buy his mom a birthday present without her knowing. Sammy just did it because he thought it was fun. But many kids did do it for a bad reason. Jacob was stealing people’s lunch money and didn’t want his parents to figure it out. Michael was stealing money from his mom’s purse. Fat Bobby’s parents put him on a diet, and didn’t want them to figure out when he was buying candy.
Now in real life, many very important people were just caught hiding their piggy banks at Johnny’s house in Panama. Today their moms all found out. Pretty soon, we’ll know more about which of these important people were doing it for bad reasons and which were doing it for good reasons. But almost everyone is in trouble regardless, because it’s against the rules to keep secrets no matter what.

Irish Central Bank handed out severance payment of €32k to a person who did not work for it?

Another two exit packages worth €61k each were made to staff who had worked at the bank for less than two years

  

The Central Bank in Dublin (above left)

The state spending watchdog has criticised the Central Bank for handing out a severance payment worth €32,000 to an individual who had not even begun to work for it.

The bank suffered costs of €73,000 as a result of the case as it had to cover its own and the recruit’s legal fees.

Another two exit packages worth €61,000 each were made to staff who had worked at the bank for less than two years.

The Comptroller and Auditor General said the three payments “suggest that the Central Bank needs to review its procedures for managing recruitment and probation”.

It also noted that a long-term contractor who had never been an employee of the bank was awarded €60,000.

The report identified 14 expensive discretionary severance payments, amounting to nearly €1.5m, that were made by public sector bodies between 2011 and 2013.

The Central Bank made six of these payments, which amounted to over €540,000 including legal costs.

Between 2011 and 2013, the report said the bank had “more recourse” to termination agreements and severance payments than the other public sector bodies it examined.

“The frequency of payments could imply weaknesses in the Central Bank’s procedures for managing performance or addressing other human resource issues,” it said.

The bank clocked up its own legal costs and the costs of the employee in all but one case, but details of the legal advice it received were not documented in some cases.

The report noted that such severance payments are often made when the employment relationship breaks down “irreconcilably”.

It also says severance payments may be made to attract desirable candidates to short-term jobs.

An examination of formal severance payments awarded between 2011 and 2013 under six public sector schemes, found they had a value of €17.9m. It said nearly €11m of this was related to pension enhancements. like added years.

It found broad compliance with scheme rules in most cases, except for a scheme for chief executives of state bodies.

The report found two state bodies, who are not named, made severance payments in the form of pension enhancements worth over €1m without the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform’s prior approval.

According to the report, the governor of the Central Bank said the cases it was taken to task over arose in a period of unprecedented renewal and growth at the bank, as staff numbers grew by one third between 2009 and 2013.

A spokesman for the Comptroller and Auditor General said the Central Bank was the only public body named in the report, aside from the departments responsible for signing off on severance payments, because of the high number of discretionary payments it made.

Most Irish beaches meet water standards but six fail to make the cut

  

Bathers will have to think twice before taking the plunge at six of the country’s beaches after they failed basic water quality tests.

Among the six is Youghal in Co Cork, which continued its poor performance for a second year.

Untreated sewage in the water was the main culprit for the failures, with e. coli and other bacteria, making swimming and other water sports inadvisable and, in some cases, prohibited.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Irish Water are working to see what can be done to ensure that the beaches are given a clean bill of health before the summer season, but there are concerns they could remain no-go areas this year.

Matt Crowe, director of the EPA’s Office of Evidence and Assessment, said: “The relevant local authorities, in conjunction with Irish Water, have management plans in place to tackle the main pollution risks at these beaches and these plans are designed to return these beaches to at least ‘sufficient’ quality in the next year or two.”

The EPA also warned, however, that in some cases significant investment in infrastructure will be needed to get standards up to acceptable levels.

Some of the beaches are repeat offenders — Youghal, Co Cork; Duncannon, Co Wexford; and Ballyloughane, Galway City, failed for the second year in a row, while Rush, Co Dublin, failed for the third time in the last four years.

Newcomers to the bathing blacklist are Merrion Strand in Dublin Ccity and Loughshinny, which is close to Rush in north Co Dublin.

EPA inspectors who carry out the quality survey annually stressed the vast majority of the country’s most popular beaches and lakes were clean and clear of harmful pollutants.

Of the 137 inspected, 101 were rated as ‘excellent’ quality, as measured by EU standards, while a further 13 were classed as ‘good’ and 14 were ‘sufficient’.

Two that failed the previous year, Clifden, Co Galway, and Lilliput, Lough Ennell, Co Westmeath, improved enough to escape the blacklist this year, but further tests are awaited before they get a final rating.

The rest are rated as ‘poor’, which under EU regulations means they haven’t met the minimum standards required to give a green light for bathing and recreation.

Trá Inis Oirr in the Aran Islands was inspected for the first time last year and has not been tested enough to be ranked, but the EPA said sampling so far showed excellent results.

Failing the inspections does not automatically mean the beaches are off limits. Peter Webster, EPA senior scientist, said it meant there was “a risk of periodic microbiological pollution”.

“Local authorities are required to put in place notifications for the entire bathing season advising the public against bathing, which could include a bathing prohibition if a serious pollution incident occurs,” said Mr Webster.

During the bathing season, June 1 to September 15, current water quality information and details of any restrictions on bathing are displayed on the national bathing water website, splash.epa.ie, as well as on local beach notice boards.

Bathing restrictions applied on 131 out of 14,659 ‘beach days’ last year, but most suspected pollution incidents resulted in precautionary, short-term restrictions and no evidence of pollution was subsequently discovered.

Bereaved people at greater risk of developing irregular heartbeat,

Growing body of research suggests stressful life events boost risk of heart attack or a stroke.

    

People who suffer the death of a partner have a heightened risk of developing an irregular heartbeat for up to a year after the event, according to new research.

People who suffer the death of a partner have a heightened risk of developing an irregular heartbeat for up to a year after the event, according to new research.

The risk of an irregular heartbeat, also known as atrial fibrillation, is greatest among the under-60s and when the loss of the partner was least expected, the findings indicate. Atrial fibrillation is a risk factor for stroke and heart failure.

A growing body of evidence suggests that highly stressful life events boost the risk of a heart attack or stroke, but up to now it has not been clear whether this might also be true of atrial fibrillation.

The study, published in the online journal Open Heart, collected data on 88,612 people newly diagnosed with atrial fibrillation and 886,120 healthy people between 1995 and 2014.

The factors?

Danish researchers looked at factors that might influence atrial fibrillation risk. These included time since the bereavement; age and sex; underlying conditions, such as heart disease and diabetes; the health of the partner a month before death; and whether they were single.

Some 17,478 of those diagnosed with atrial fibrillation had lost their partner as had 168,940 of the comparison group.

Underlying illnesses, such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes, and associated treatment for these conditions, were more common among those who had been diagnosed with atrial fibrillation.

But the risk of developing an irregular heartbeat for the first time was 41 per cent higher among those who had been bereaved than it was among those who had not experienced such a loss, the findings indicated.

This heightened risk was apparent, irrespective of gender and other underlying conditions.

The risk seemed to be greatest eight to 14 days following a death, after which it gradually subsided until after a year the risk was similar to that of someone who had not been bereaved.

People under the age of 60 were more than twice as likely to develop atrial fibrillation if they had been bereaved.

Those whose partners were relatively healthy in the month before death were 57 per cent more likely to develop atrial fibrillation. No such increased risk was seen among those whose partners were not healthy and who were expected to die soon.

As an observational study, the research does not permit firm conclusions to be drawn about cause and effect.

Researchers suggest acute stress may directly disrupt normal heart rhythms and prompt the production of chemicals involved in inflammation.

Further research looking at whether the association found applies to more common, but less severe life stressors, is warranted, they say.

Seagulls are 10 times more polluting to beaches than people?

Merrion Strand (below left) in Dublin is polluted with human sewage and bird droppings, An EPA report finds.

   BEACHES_0016_LKM.jpg Rose Feerick and David Strohm pass through hundreds of seagulls as they walk along Venice Beach in Half Moon Bay. The beach has some of the most polluted water in the state, which could partially be caused by large number of seagulls that gather there. (Laura Morton/Special to the Chronicle) *** Rose Feerick
 *** David Strohm Photo: Laura Morton   

“The droppings of a seagull in a single day carried about ten times more concentrated bacteria than the waste from a human in a single day,” said EPA senior scientific officer, Peter Webster.

Seagulls are 10 times more polluting to the country’s beaches than people, according to the latest water quality report from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

The birds have been blamed as one of the reasons for the EPA’s decision to brand water quality at Merrion Strand in Dublin as poor, since they have taken to resting in large number on a sandbar.

“The droppings of a seagull in a single day carried about 10 times more concentrated bacteria than the waste from a human in a single day,” said EPA senior scientific officer, Peter Webster.

Six beaches, including Merrion, have been given “poor” grades, which means that local authorities will put up warnings to swimmers, but will not ban them from swimming there.

However, the EPA report found three-quarters of sites it inspected were “excellent” and 93.4 per cent met minimum EU standards – roughly in line with last year’s numbers.

Those classed as “poor” were Youghal, Co Cork; Duncannon Co Waterford; Rush south beach. Co Dublin and Ballyloughane, Co Galway all of which were first classed as “poor” in 2014, as well as Merrion Strand and Loughshinny in Dublin which were classified as poor for the first time in 2015.

No inland bathing areas were classified as having poor water quality.

EPA senior scientific officer Peter Webster said problems at Merrion Strand in south Dublin were “complex, on-going and difficult to resolve”.

Two factors had been identified. First was the presence the Trimleston and Elm Park streams which were found to be polluted with sewage. Mr Webster said this could be a result of “poor housing connections” from anywhere as far as the M50.

The second issue was an offshore sandbar which had become home to populations of seagulls and wading birds. The droppings of a seagull in a single day carried about ten times more concentrated bacteria than the waste from a human in a single day, he said.

The EPA said where bathing waters were classified as poor, the advice was not to bathe. Where such a classification was made, local authorities must publicise the advice, or in more extreme cases close the beach.

In a statement on Monday evening Fingal County Council said it had agreed a management plan for Loughshinny Beach bathing water with the EPA, “who are satisfied that the measures set out in the plan will achieve an improvement in water quality”.

In relation to the other coastal areas, remediation measures are being put in place by agreement between the local authorities and the EPA.

Mr Webster said a complicating factor in the report was that data was compiled over a four year period, so the data applying to 2015 was collected between 2012 and 2015.

In the case of Loughsinny a once-off event in 2014 had caused a major pollution leak, but previous years had pulled the overall result up. Since 2015 was marginally worse than 2011, “the data tipped” into the poor classification this year, he said.