Tag Archives: Tax breaks

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Saturday 28th November 2015

Fine Gael’s new vote gain plan to lure 70,000 emigrants back with proposals to include tax breaks


Some of the proposals being put forward by Fine Gael to attract more than 70,000 emigrants home by 2020 include tax breaks; plans to help parents register children in schools from abroad; and recognising time abroad as time served in public service jobs.

However, doubts have been cast over the ability of the party to deliver the plan given the chronic shortage of suitable housing.

Details of the proposals, obtained by the Irish Examiner, are being drafted by Finance Minister Michael Noonan along with Minister for Jobs, Enterprise, and Innovation Richard Bruton and junior minister Simon Harris. The trio has been asked by Taoiseach Enda Kenny to form the party’s economic team ahead of the election.

Mr Noonan and many within Fine Gael had hoped to announce a wide-ranging package of measures for emigrants to return home in last month’s budget, but they hit a snag and were omitted. Despite the setback, the party remains deeply committed to bringing forward a package of measures to help the move home become much easier.

The party is still examining a range of “practical logistical measures” which could ease the transition home, especially for young families. It is understood the party is seeking to deliver a plan that would enable parents register their children in schools here before they move home, which they cannot do at present.

Another proposal being developed is to allow public servants factor in time served abroad as part of their service should they move back home to work for the State. This would have significant ramifications for public pay and pensions policy, but party sources have said such a move could help fill gaping holes in the skill set.

“Helping bring emigrants home is a big thing for us in Fine Gael and we are examining ways to help the move home, particularly with many practical logistical issues,” said one minister.

“But we all have family members abroad, be they sons, daughters, brothers whatever who we want to see come home,” the minister added.

Mr Kenny said that next year, for the first time since the economic crisis began, Ireland could expect to welcome home more people than will leave.

Earlier this year, the HSE began a campaign aimed at encouraging Irish nurses and midwives to return home. They hope to recruit 500 workers by offering a relocation package of up to €1,500, paying first-time nursing registration fees and funding postgraduate education.

Fintan McNamara of the Residential Landlords Association said there is already a chronic shortage of homes in the rental sector with many landlords leaving the industry. “People returning home will find it difficult [and] they may have to move home for a while. There is just not enough supply there,” he said.

Meanwhile: –

Staff-starved Central Bank allowing it’s best staff to transfer to the ECB in Europe?


Left the Central Bank headquarters in Dublin and right the ECB in Germany.

The Central Bank is allowing staff to transfer to the European Central Bank, despite claiming it has too few employees in Dublin to supervise the banks, the Irish Independent has learned.

Financial Regulator Cyril Roux said the Bank will lose more of its supervisory staff to the ECB next year, placing further stresses on the strength of banking supervision in Ireland.

Mr Roux said staff are attracted by the move to the new pan-European supervisory unit in Frankfurt in part because of the “much better” terms and conditions.

Add public sector pay restrictions in Ireland into the mix and the challenge of replacing those who have left, and it leaves the Central Bank under pressure, Mr Roux said.

The claims come amid controversy over retention schemes at the Central Bank put in place to ensure key staff do not leave.

“They [staff moving to Frankfurt] have been attracted by the exciting challenge of working abroad, in helping establish the SSM (Single Supervisory Mechanism), and the much better financial terms and employment conditions offered to them,” Mr Roux told the Banking and Payments Federation Ireland Banking Union conference.

“A second wave of supervisors is expected to leave the Central Bank and other national competent authorities next year, as the ECB will be increasing its SSM headcount by 25pc,” he said.

“Combined with the familiar constraint of FEMPI (Financial Emergency Measures in the Public Interest), this will bring further stresses to the bench strength of banking supervision in the Central Bank, and to the challenge of replenishing once more our ranks.”

However, a spokeswoman for the Central Bank confirmed that those who have gone to the SSM are essentially on secondment as they will be able to return to the Central Bank. She said 20 staff overall have left.

“Their positions here are filled on a specified-purpose basis until they return from SSM – none have permanently left as such,” the spokeswoman added.

She confirmed that Dame Street is not obliged to agree to these secondments, but suggested it will not block them, despite the alleged staffing pressures.

“While we’re not obliged to let staff take secondments, the Central Bank values secondment opportunities for staff and views them as an enabler to gaining valuable experience and enhanced skills,” she said.

The claims come as staff at the Central Bank are to vote on a motion of no confidence in the management of the organisation amid the controversy over retention payments for certain staff. The Central Bank has denied it is paying bonuses in breach of Government policy, insisting there are two retention payment schemes.

75% of Ireland’s GPs suffer from high stress,

A new survey reveals

New review shows high level of demoralisation and risk of burnout among doctors


Three out of four Irish family doctors suffer from high stress, according to a new survey. 

Stressed, depressed and often unable to take a break, even for a short period – a new survey reveals the extent of disillusionment and demoralisation among Irish GPs

Three out of four family doctors said they suffered from high stress and almost half reported poor or very poor morale, according to the survey by the Irish College of General Practitioners (ICGP).

Three-quarters of those responding said morale had worsened over the past five years.

The impact of manpower shortages on general practice is evident in a finding that more than half of GPs who tried to recruit a sessional doctor or assistant in the past year were unable to do so.

Locum recruitment

Only 44 per cent of GPs seeking to recruit a locum were able to do so on more than half the occasions they tried.

Rural GPs were least successful at recruiting cover, the survey found.

The ICGP, which holds its winter meeting in Athlone today, said it had been warning of manpower shortages and risks to the viability of the profession for years as large numbers of trainees and graduates are attracted to better conditions abroad.

After a year of often bruising interactions between the Government and the profession, the survey finds 90 per cent of doctors feel communication between the Government and GPs has failed both doctors and patients.

ICGP medical director Dr Margaret O’Riordan said the survey showed for the first time the extent of falling morale among members caused by worsening underinvestment in general practice.

Professional burnout

“Research shows that factors such as work overload, lack of control over work demands and insufficient reward for work volume and complexity are risks for professional burnout.

“The high prevalence of these risk factors among Irish GPs would suggest that this is a high probability for many,” she said.

Promoting job satisfaction and morale, in addition to addressing issues such as administrative demands, would help to retain the current workforce, she said.

Most of the 815 GPs who responded to the survey felt free GP care to under-sixes and over-70s would impact on waiting times for patients, though one-third said free care for over-70s would result in improved monitoring of patients’ health needs.

Although the Government has placed great emphasis on the development of primary care, only 13 per cent of GPs felt they were working in a well- functioning primary care team, and less than a quarter indicated a preference for co-locating with a primary care team.



A follow up study to assess the effects of personally tailored diabetes care in general practice has revealed that such care reduces mortality in women, but not men, according to a report published on The Lancet.

After six years of tailored treatment, no effect was seen on mortality and other anticipated non-fatal effects. However, the observed effect of structured personal care on reducing glycated haemoglobin (HbA1c – a standard method for measuring blood glucose control) measured 6 years after diagnosis was present only in women.

For the latest study, the authors followed the same participants until 2008. Of these, 478 were women and 492 were men. Women given specific recommendations about diet and exercise were 30 per cent less likely to die from diabetes-related causes than those given routine care, Danish scientists found.

The results showed women given personal care plans were 26 per cent less likely to die of any cause and 30 per cent less likely to die of a diabetes-related cause than women given routine care. Women given the personal care intervention were also 41% less likely to suffer a stroke, and 35% less likely to experience any diabetes-related endpoint. According to Dr Marlene Krag from the University of Copenahgen, the structured form of care provides women with much needed attention and support, which helps them adhere to treatment plans. She said:

‘Women accept disease and implement disease management more easily, which might affect long-term outcomes’. But when it comes to men, the daily consideration and lifestyle changes that diabetes demands can challenge masculinity. Essentially, the structured approach of such diabetes care goes against “men’s tendency to trust self-directed learning instead of self-management”.

“We propose that the improved outcomes in woman may be explained by complex social and cultural issues of gender”. And added we need to re-think how care is provided to men and women ‘so that both sexes benefit from intensified treatment efforts’.

Snakes lost their limbs when they started living in Burrows!


An ancient skull (Right Pic.) shows the secret as to why snakes lost their legs.

A new study carried out by researchers from the American Museum of Natural History and the University of Edinburgh claims to have solved a long-term puzzle related to evolution of snakes.

Scientists usually have different opinions about why and how snakes went from walking to slithering. Many scientists believe snakes lost their legs after they started living in the sea or water. However, the latest study reveals that the limbs of snakes became redundant when they started living and hunting in burrows.

In this study, researchers analyzed CT scans of a 90-million-years old fossil of Dinilysia Patagonica snake and compared them with scans of modern reptiles. Dinilysia Patagonica was a 2-metre long stem snake closely related to modern snakes. Researchers analyzed scans of the bony inner ear of this snake and found that bony canals and cavities of this snake controlled its balance and hearing. Three-dimensional virtual models were created to compare the inner ears of Dinilysia Patagonica with those of modern snakes and lizards.

A distinctive structure was found within the inner ears of reptiles/animals that live in burrow, and according to scientists, this distinctive structure most likely helped animals in detecting prey and predators. This structure is however not found in modern snakes that live in sea or above ground.

“How snakes lost their legs has long been a mystery to scientists, but it seems that this happened when their ancestors became adept at burrowing.” said Dr Hongyu Yi, the lead author from Edinburgh’s School of GeoSciences.

“The inner ears of fossils can reveal a remarkable amount of information, and are very useful when the exterior of fossils are too damaged or fragile to examine.” he explained.

The findings also confirmed that Dinilysia patagonica is the largest burrowing snake ever known. The results also indicate about a hypothetical ancestral species (of all modern snakes) that was likely a burrower.

“This discovery would not have been possible a decade ago – CT scanning has revolutionised how we can study ancient animals.” said Mark Norell, of the American Museum of Natural History, who took part in this study.

“We hope similar studies can shed light on the evolution of more species, including lizards, crocodiles and turtles.”

The results of this study have been published in journal Science Advances.


News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Wednesday 26th August 2015

Irish Developers sent on golf and F1 trips by banks as perks


Two of the country’s leading property developers have revealed details of corporate hospitality lavished on them and their associates by banks during the boom.

AIB organised trips for senior management to the Monaco Formula One Grand Prix and to the Ryder Cup in the US.

Trips to the Ryder Cup in Kentucky and other major sporting events were among junkets detailed by developers Gerry Gannon and Peter Cosgrave in statements to the Oireachtas Banking Inquiry.

Former AIB group managing director Colm Doherty also told the inquiry that entertainment it provided to developers was “multi-faceted, occurring across a number of countries in which we operated”.

Impossible list of hospitality?

In a written submission to the inquiry, Mr Gannon detailed a trip to the Ryder Cup courtesy of AIB in 2008, a trip to Venice with Anglo Irish Bank and further corporate hospitality afforded to him by Anglo at a race meeting at the Curragh.

Another executive director of Gannon Homes, Aidan Kenny, went on a trip to Paris with Anglo, Mr Gannon told the inquiry.

Mr Cosgrave said it was impossible to provide the inquiry with an exhaustive list of hospitality arranged by the banks for senior executives in the Cosgrave Property Group.

However, in a written submission, he was able to outline trips to several of the world’s top sporting events, as well as golf days in the UK, France and the US, courtesy of Ulster Bank, AIB, EBS and Bank of Ireland.

Trips to the Irish and British Open golf tournaments were organised by Ulster Bank, while it and AIB took senior executives to the US Masters in Augusta, Georgia.

AIB organised trips for senior management to the Monaco Formula One Grand Prix and to the Ryder Cup in the US.

  1. Horse racing also featured on the list provided by Mr Cosgrave.
  2. Bank of Ireland took company executives to the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe.
  3. AIB and EBS hosted senior management at race meetings in Punchestown and Leopardstown.
  4. There was also a one-off ski trip and visits to the opera and theatre organised by Ulster Bank.

In a written submission, Mr Doherty told the inquiry that where corporate hospitality was valued in excess of €500, it had to be recorded in a business unit register within the bank.

He said he believed the corporate hospitality and entertainment spending by AIB on corporate clients was “generally appropriate” and “on par with common practice in the industry”.

He said he could not comment on the extent of entertainment provided by the bank to developers.

However, he said he was aware that AIB had taken “a large contingent of property clients” to the Ryder Cup in Kentucky.

These were also provided with the use of corporate boxes in Croke Park and tickets for rugby and soccer matches, concerts and the theatre.


Mr Doherty said AIB had developed a policy on the giving and receiving of gifts in 2003, setting out ethical standards for staff to abide by.

This permitted gifts, benefits or entertainment valued at up to €500. Any gifts valued between €500 and €1,000 had to be registered, he said.

Pre-approval was required for the acceptance of any gifts, benefits or entertainment valued in excess of €1,000.

Mr Doherty said he believed the limits set out in the policy were appropriate.

He said he was aware of only one instance where hospitality received by AIB staff members from a loan client was deemed inappropriate.

“This occurred in our UK business. In this case the executives involved were subject to disciplinary proceedings, resigned and left the bank,” he said.

Kathleen Lynch confident she will get extra funding for mental health


The Minister with responsibility for Mental Health said that she is confident that she can secure extra funding for services.

The group Mental Health Reform has launched its ‘Invest in my Mental Health’ campaign, setting out how an extra €35m is needed.

Minister Kathleen Lynch said that she will be fighting for the increased budget.

“It may come as a surprise now to Michael Noonan and Brendan Howlin, and I’m saying this publicly but that is the aim,” said Minister Lynch.

Minister Lynch admits there are still recruitment issues in the mental health services area.

But she says there’s been substantial progress on waiting lists for young people.

“There is one issue in terms of child and adolescent mental health services which I was hugely concerned about and so was mental health reform, and we have managed to make progress on that.

“We have the waiting lists reduced considerably, it’s reducing month-on-month, and if we go the way we’re going, those waiting lists will no longer be there at the end of this year. We will have no one waiting longer than 12 months.”

Irish surveyors rule out rent controls as ‘retrograde’


No rent controls, a reduction in Vat on new homes, tax breaks for landlords and an apprenticeship scheme for construction workers are among a list of demands for the Government unveiled by the Society of Chartered Surveyors Ireland yesterday.

In a pre-budget submission, the SCSI has called on the Government to support the delivery of more housing units, more commercial office space and to introduce an apprenticeship scheme to address the skills shortage and create more jobs.

The SCSI, which is the professional representative body for the property, land and construction sectors, said Budget 2016 was an opportune time to put in place key measures to create a more sustainable sector.

The SCSI’s recommendations for the housing sector include:

  • A temporary reduction in Vat on new homes from 13.5% to 9% for properties up to a value of €300,000.
  • A more favourable tax regime for professional providers of rental accommodation.
  • A reduction in development levies.
  • More commercially priced finance for developers.
  • The introduction of low- cost modular housing for people in need of emergency accommodation.

Andrew Nugent, president of the SCSI said: “We are calling for the introduction of a suite of measures that would kick-start building and increase supply.

“The Housing Agency has projected a need for 21,000 units annually and we are currently building less than half of that figure and we now need some short-term measures to stimulate house building activity,” he said.

Commenting on recent coverage on proposals to introduce rent controls, Mr Nugent described this as a retrograde step: “International evidence has shown that rent controls do not work in markets where there is an acute supply shortage.

“Building more units and supporting the financing of rental schemes will make rents more affordable, not artificial controls.”

In the commercial property market, the SCSI has called on Government to increase in available development finance at more attractive rates for viable developments.

It pointed to the recent announcement of a €500m joint venture between the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund and KKR Credit for house building and said that similar funds should be considered for commercial projects.

“One of the main sources of delay on commercial projects coming to the market is difficulties accessing finance. We need to see more finance at commercial rates being made available,” said Nugent.

To advance the construction of commercial buildings in strategic locations, the society is recommending that the IDA should underwrite the rent for office buildings in these areas.

“The IMF estimates suggest that as much as 27% of Ireland’s potential economic output was lost between 2008 and 2013 and the SCSI believes that investment in essential public infrastructure including transport, social housing and broadband provision must be prioritised in terms of public capital investment,” said Nugent.

The SCSI said the Home Renovation Incentive (HRI) scheme which has attracted nearly €300 million worth of construction work should be extended beyond 2015.

The proposals are outlined in the SCSI’s pre-budget submission 2016 document, Building for Growth.

Women urged to know their heart attack risks


Most Irish women have no idea what the biggest killer of females in this country is — wrongly presuming their number one threat is cancer.

A survey for the Irish Heart Foundation found only one in 10 women correctly identified cardiovascular disease — mainly heart attacks and strokes — as the single biggest killer of females here, responsible for about one in three deaths.

The majority believed cancer, in particular breast cancer, claimed most lives despite the fact that women are six times more likely to die from cardiovascular disease than breast cancer.

A campaign to make women more aware of the disease and how best to avoid it is being run by the Irish Heart Foundation.

The Red Alert campaign aims to dispel some of the myths and misinformation around cardiovascular disease, alert women to the risk factors, and help them make better lifestyle choices to minimise their chances of falling victim to it.

Dr Angie Brown, a consultant cardiologist and medical director of the Irish Heart Foundation, said women tend to view a heart attack as mainly a man’s problem, with 75% of women believing more men die from heart disease when in fact the death rate is equal.

“Most women are more concerned about breast cancer even though six times as many women die from heart disease and stroke in Ireland each year. Our goal is to alert women that especially after the menopause, they are at risk of heart attack and stroke, as much as any man.”

She said women’s hormones protect against heart disease but after the menopause, their risk caught up with that of a man.

Dr Brown also said women sometimes delayed getting to hospital after a heart attack because their symptoms could be less clear than those experienced by men. A woman may experience more vague symptoms such as nausea, tiredness, shortness of breath, rather than the more usual crushing pain in the chest. The good news is that 80% of cardiovascular disease is preventable and a positive lifestyle can alter risk factors for cardiovascular disease.

“This September’s Red Alert is a wake-up call to every woman in Ireland to take care of her heart health.

“Remember, it’s usually not the fancy stuff that makes you live longer, it’s about the basics: weight, cholesterol, blood pressure, being active, quitting smoking and knowing your family history,” she said.

Norah Casey, an ambassador for the campaign, lost her father to a heart attack and is conscious about heart health: “It was a devastating lesson to learn about the importance of heart health. Heart disease is one of the few largely preventable diseases and we hold the key to heart health in our hands — we just need to use it.”

Theft is more likely to involve an electronic device when you’re outside of London

 Smartphones and tablets are more likely to be taken during a theft in Leicestershire than in London, new research shows.

Data obtained by a series of Freedom of Information requests to England’s police forces by security and communications firm ViaSat found that while electronic device theft accounted for 27% of theft reports to City of London and the Metropolitan Police, the figure rose to 51% in Leicestershire.

This was much higher than the national average; which was 19% of all thefts being device-related. However, ViaSat reported a drop in total reported thefts compared to similar research carried out last year – with reports to the Metropolitan Police falling 37% alone, and on average 34% across the country.

ViaSat chief executive Chris McIntosh said that personal data on the devices was still a draw for criminals: “Whether a corporate smartphone, a personal tablet, or your bank manager’s laptop, there is a huge amount of information stored on electronic devices that can compromise our privacy.

“The simple fact is that, for many thieves, the most tempting target isn’t necessarily the device itself, but what it contains. From access to your bank records; to blackmail; to flat-out identity theft, a lost or stolen device can still damage its owner long after it’s stolen.

“As the largest city in the UK, with the most visitors, London will have a disproportionate number of thefts. But as we can see from these results, wherever you are in the UK you need to not only be wary of your own devices; but make sure that anyone who records and stores your sensitive data does so responsibly and securely.”

Between March 1 2014 and February 2015, there were 285,312 reports of theft to the City of London and Metropolitan Police, with 77,243 involving electronic equipment. In Leicestershire there were 8,661 reports of theft, with 4,451 involving electronics.

Scientists discover new reef that might be even bigger than the Great Barrier Reef


You know Great Barrier Reef off the eastern coast of Australia that you’ve seen in countless videos and pictures? Well, it turns out there’s yet another similarly impressive reef that’s located near the same country.

The Great Barrier Reef in Queensland is part of the UNESCO World Heritage, and Mashable reports that it might have an actual rival located in the south of Australia. Officials from Parks Victoria said that the newly exposed Wilsons Promontory Marine National Park reef near Melbourne can match the Great Barrier Reef in terms of the abundance of coral, sponge and fish.

The problem with the Victoria reef, however, is that it’s located deeper underwater than the Queensland reef, making it inaccessible to snorkelers.

Scientists from the parks service used an ROV (Remotely Operated Vehicle) to explore the region for the first time and revealed some interesting findings of the underwater area.

“The resulting footage shows that the deep reef habitats are teeming with life and are home to rich and abundant marine ecosystems that are comparable to Australia’s better-known tropical reef areas,” Parks Victoria Marine Science Manager Steffan Howe said. “The extent and abundance of spectacular sponge gardens and corals is a particularly exciting find.”

The scientists found coral fans and dunes that measured at around 30 meters high and 2 kilometers long that house rare fish such as the Australian barracuda and Longsnout Boarfish and also “large sea whips and colorful sponge gardens beyond scientists expectations.”

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Tuesday 13th January 2015

Ireland Economy recovery very ‘fragile and incomplete’

says Enda Kenny


Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade Charlie Flanagan, at the conference The Global Island: Ireland’s Foreign Policy for a Changing World at Dublin Castle.

The Taoiseach Enda Kenny says expectations from improving economy ‘difficult to handle’ in many cases.

Ireland’s economic recovery remains fragile and is in-complete, Taoiseach Enda Kenny has told a gathering of ambassadors in Dublin Castle.

Mr Kenny the Government wanted to help business create 40,000 new jobs in 2015.

“Our economic recovery remains fragile, it’s incomplete and while confidence is rising growth has not yet been felt by significant numbers of the Irish population. We are now dealing with the expectations of success from a rising economy and these are difficult to handle in many cases,” he said.

“That is why the number one goal for the priority of the Government for 2015 is to help businesses in this country to create 40,000 more new jobs this year.”

Mr Kenny told senior diplomats attending the Global Island conference that jobs rather than deficit ratios or bond yields where what mattered most to the Irish people.

Turning to European affairs, he said Ireland wanted the UK to remain in the European Union and it was clearly in the State’s national interest and the wider European interest that our nearest neighbour did not leave.

While Ireland was respectful of the ongoing democratic debate in Britain, “it is impossible for us to remain silent”, he added,

Ireland would give backing where possible for reasonable adjustments in the operation of the EU, “but friendship is predicated on openness and honesty” and Ireland would speak frankly if it felt requests being made were unreasonable.

Despondency and frustration among the peoples of Europewas at a very high level, Mr. Kenny said. “Holding the middle ground is becoming an increasing challenge as people move to the far right and the far left.”

Mr Kenny praised ambassadors and other senior diplomats for rising to the “single greatest foreign policy challenge that our state has ever faced”.

He said they had since 2011 helped restore Ireland’s “battered” reputation, “as the face of the Government overseas during a very difficult and traumatic period”.

He added: “I know that wasn’t easy. I know it often felt like swimming against a very strong tide.”

Mr Kenny said Government had taken a strategic decision to devote time and resources to build reputation internationally, particularly in Europe and the US. The path of constructive engagement had been chosen, rather than confrontational unilateralism.

It had been a formidable task. However, he believed that the strategy and the effort needed to implement it had been vindicated by events.

No effort had been spared by Ireland’s representatives abroad in highlighting this country’s stregnths and winning back confidence its ability to recover.

Mr Kenny said “all but the most committed begruders and eurosceptics” accepted the situation had improved.

He said realising Ireland’s full potential as a global island in the 21st century would not be possible without a dynamic foreign service. Intelligence from Ireland’s network of ambassadors abroad would always be valued in Dublin.

“Who are better at putting our shoulders to the wheel than the Irish?

“The world around us is changing rapidly…and our own country has undergone profound change, not least in the last decade.”

The traditional role of ambulance’s moving patients to hospital could see a change


A series of controversies have left te Ambulance service facing serious scrutiny.

Hiqa acknowledges the ageing of the ambulance fleet – one in five vehicles is over eight years old – and points to some examples of unsafe staffing levels, but it suggests major improvements could be made within existing resources – which is rejected by the trade union Siptu.

A number of high-profile controversies in recent times have put Ireland’s ambulance service under serious scrutiny.

They included the case of a woman (70) who was hit by a car in Co Donegal and who lay on a road for 50 minutes before an ambulance arrived. In another incident, a woman who choked on food in Kerry had to wait for half an hour after her husband called 999.

A further case involved a 30-year-old man who was left bleeding so long after being stabbed in Co Louth that a Garda car had to bring him to hospital.

A number of reports have been commissioned to look at the ambulance service. The conclusions in some cases appear to differ and in other cases would involve a major change to traditional views.

Last month, health watchdog Hiqa published a report which, while paying respect to recent improvements, also highlights a lack of co-ordination, poor performance and failure to meet targets.

Hiqa acknowledges the ageing of the ambulance fleet – one in five vehicles is over eight years old – and points to some examples of unsafe staffing levels, but it suggests major improvements could be made within existing resources – a finding rejected by the trade union Siptu.

The most alarming finding in the Hiqa report relates to a lack of co-ordination between the fire brigade, which covers Dublin city, and the National Ambulance Service which covers the rest of the country, including Co Dublin.

Meanwhile, a report from UK consultants into the national ambulance service, commissioned by the HSE, says improvements in response times would require significant investment.

This report by Lightfoot Solutions UK also argues that given the large rural catchment area that it serves, the Hiqa targets for responding to life-threatening and potentially life-threatening calls – known technically as echo and delta calls – could not be met even if the service was fully resourced and was operating to best international practices.

Lightfoot Solutions says it identified 100 locations around the State where there was one call a week. “It would not be sensible to deploy dedicated ambulance resources to these locations and alternative solutions are required.”

It says community first-responder schemes, under which members of local communities are trained in basic life support and the use of a defibrillator, are used in many countries and proved to be very effective in saving lives. However, it says these are not a replacement for the ambulance service.

It maintains that community first-responder schemes inIreland have grown from what was originally a network of cardiac responders. These were designed to deal with life-threatening calls only and this restriction has remained in place, the report says.

“In many other services, community first responders also respond to delta [potentially life-threatening] calls which provides improved patient experience and response times,” it says.

“In Ireland, this extension to respond to delta calls will require a major retraining programme and cultural change. This will clearly take come considerable time and financial investment to achieve.”

Hiqa says the current model, under which the ambulance service’s main role is to bring patients to a hospital, is not in keeping with international best practice “which, when it is safe to do so, now looks to treat patients with certain conditions via telephone consultation, treat patients at the scene and then discharge them or treat patients at the scene and then refer them to an alternate healthcare provider for follow up care”.

Lightfoot Solutions notes that in some countries, more than 40 per cent of patients are successfully treated by paramedics without the need to transport patients to hospital. “Transporting what is an annually increasing number of patients to the emergency department is not sustainable for the two ambulance services or acute hospitals.”

Childcare tax breaks on way for Ireland’s working parents


Crippling creche costs to be made more affordable

Working parents are in line for tax breaks and subsidies to support childcare costs under a new Government plan to ease the burden on hard-pressed families.

A major new “affordability of childcare” scheme is being brought to Cabinet tomorrow, amid growing concern about the barriers to mothers getting back to work.

Ireland is now the most expensive country in the world for childcare, along with the United States.

The Irish Independent last week revealed how parents are forced to earn up to €30,000 a year just to fund creche places for two children.

It costs up to €2,035 per month to keep a baby and toddler in childcare.

Senior Government sources are determined to tackle “affordability” issues with a number of measures aimed at working parents.

Tax reliefs and subsidies are on the table for discussion, in the plan to be rolled out over several Budgets.

The new plan also aims to deliver on the Government’s promise of a second free pre-school year, but according to sources, its purpose is “much wider than that”.

The Coalition is also keen to address the “latch-key” child phenomenon by rolling out a range of after school activities that will either be paid for directly by the State or heavily subsidised.

The Government is seeking to identify a range of measures to best utilise the €260m a year spend on childcare.

Included in this is the free pre-school year which benefits more than 100,000 children every year.

“We are spending a lot of money in this area, but what we want is to have a fully informed basis upon which to make policy decisions,” said one source.

It is understood that Children’s Minister Dr James Reilly will establish a seven-department committee which will report by the summer.

It is expected that a range of proposals could be included as early as the Budget this October. The new “high-level” group will be asked to identify four main olicy objectives, including:

*Supporting parents to care for their children

*Improving children’s outcomes

*Addressing issues of disadvantage and poverty

*Improving access to work for parents.

The group is tasked with identifying key ways of helping parents in terms of child support, looking at how best to target State spending.

The plan will “identify and assess options for investment” for pre-school and school age children and will “specify the costs and benefits of each option”.

But while much of the focus has to date been on pre-school children, this policy is also likely to see a radical expansion of initiatives like study clubs, after-school clubs and sports clubs.

A major study conducted by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) last year showed that a family in Ireland with two children spends 40pc of the average wage just to meet their childcare costs.

This compares with the OECD average of only 12pc and represents the highest cost of any of the OECD’s 34 members.

The Jobless:

It also said that there was little to be gained for a jobless couple if one went off the dole and got a job.

This was unlike the experience in other OECD countries, the report said.

Government sources last night insisted the new plan for families will begin this year, but it would ultimately need to be rolled out over several years and potentially spread over several Budgets.

The plan is a recognition that childcare costs in Ireland are now among the highest in Europe are are a major burden on struggling parents and families.

Less than a third of children under three are enrolled in childcare facilities in Ireland, compared with a figure of 40pc in the UK and 50pc in France.

But it is clear the Government is keen to address the concerns of young working families in some shape ahead of the next general election.

“This will not all happen in one go, but will form the basis of the strategy over several years,” said one senior source.

It will have involvement from the Department of Finance, Department of Public Expenditure, the Department of Education and the Department of the Taoiseach.

Ever wondered what the effects of that ‘stretch in the evenings’ are? 


We’ve reached that time of year again — people meet and say, often with a touch of anxiety, ‘I think there’s a bit of a stretch in the evenings’.

For people like us who live at high latitudes this has always been a subject of great importance. After all, our ancestors went about the monumental task of building Newgrange so that they could know that winter had reached its climax and from now on there would be a stretch in the evenings.

We are a bit under four weeks from the winter solstice, which occurred just before Christmas. According to data I got from the internet, sunrise today in Dublin was at 08.35 and sunset will be at 16.32, giving a day length of 7 hours and 57 minutes. This day next week sunrise will be at 08.28 and sunset at 16.43, giving a day length of 8 hours and 15 minutes. This is an increase of 18 minutes in one week — a considerable stretch in the evenings.

Unfortunately calculating day length is rather complicated because the increase is not uniform as spring progresses. Fortunately other people have made the astronomical calculations and done the maths.

The effect of increasing day length on plants and animals is also a rather complicated subject which biologists call photoperiodism. The first studies into plants naturally assumed that the factor controlling things like leaves breaking bud or flowers opening was the length of the day. It was subsequently discovered that it was the length of the night, not the day, that was crucial. But despite this plants are still classified as long-day plants and short-day plants.

The long-day plants are further divided into obligate photoperiodic plants, which absolutely require a long day (actually a short night) before they’ll flower and facultative photoperiodic plants which are more likely to flower under the appropriate light conditions but will eventually do so regardless of night length.

Examples of long-day obligate plants are carnations, henbane and oats. Examples of long-day facultative plants are peas, barley and lettuce. Short-day plants cannot flower after short nights or if a pulse of light is shone on them for several minutes during the course of the night. In Ireland most of these are autumn flowering plants. Some important commercial crops, such as rice, cotton and hemp, are short-day plants. Some plants are day-neutral and flowering is controlled by factors such as temperature or overall maturity. They include cucumbers, roses and tomatoes.

Birds and animals are also affected. It controls things like migration, mating and the growth of fur and feathers. The extent to which human beings are affected is the subject of argument among scientists but my suspicion is that it’s more important than most of them think.

FSAI advises consumers against drinking raw milk


Campaign for Raw Milk says matter should be down to individual choice

The Food Safety Authority of Ireland said studies show children are at risk when drinking raw milk.

A recommendation against drinking raw milk has been reiterated after a European food safety body published a paper highlighting the health risks involved.

In an expert opinion, the European Food Safety Authority said drinking raw milk can pose health risks to consumers and in some cases can result in serious illness.

The authority said raw milk can carry harmful bacteria and that implementing good hygiene practices at farm level is essential to reduce the risk of raw milk contamination.

The Food Safety Authority of Ireland said it has had a “long-standing recommendation” for consumers not to drink raw milk. “Pathogens such as E. coli O157,Salmonella, Campylobacter and Listeria can cause severe foodborne illnesses and can be found in raw milk,” the organisation said.

Its chief executive Alan Reilly said studies show children are at risk when drinking raw milk. “We are concerned about the food safety risks involved and particularly the health of infants, children, older adults, pregnant women and those with low immunity,” he said.

But the Campaign for Raw Milk, an organisation that includes a number of food producers, said consumers need to be free to make their own choices.

“People should be able to have a choice about the milk they drink,” said Elisabeth Ryan, a spokeswoman for the group. She said raw milk carries only a very low health risk and many consumers believe it tastes better .

Ms Ryan said some consumers choose raw milk because it doesn’t “undergo an extra stage of processing” through pasturising.

She added that the FSAI’s advice to consumers to boil raw milk “misses the point”. She said although pasturisation does kill harmful pathogens, it also kills beneficial bacteria.

She said the Campaign for Raw Milk was calling on the Government to introduce “a set of fair regulations” around production. These would include labelling stipulations which would advise vulnerable groups, such as young children and elderly people, against drinking raw milk.

Ancient tiny fish fossil sheds light on evolution of jawed vertebrates


The advent of the jaw among vertebrates was quite a moment — essential, really. The jaw, the hinge-operated vault of the mouth, opened up a wide world of possibilities for creatures looking to satisfy those ceaseless hunger pangs.

The jaw proved so popular among animals, it can be seen today throughout the Animal Kingdom, from tigers to crocodiles, from sharks to humans.

Now, researchers at Oxford University in England suggest a tiny, ancient fish fossil discovered in Siberia could explain the jaw’s evolutionary origin. The 415-million-year-old fish skull was unearthed in the 1970s, but researchers are only just now coming to realize its paleontological importance.

The fish (Janusiscus schultzei) is named for the Roman god Janus and for Hans-Peter Schultze, the University of Kansas researcher who first described the specimen in 1977. Schultze and his colleagues determined that the ancient skull belonged to a bony fish. In the beginning, fish were the first vertebrates to sport jaws, and there were two kinds, those with bones and those with cartilage.

But scientists have yet to ascertain exactly when and where to the two kinds diverged on the evolutionary timeline.

“There are over 60,000 species of living jawed vertebrates, and they encompass pretty much everything you can think of [with a backbone] that lives on land or in the sea,” lead researcher Sam Giles, a paleobiology doctoral candidate at Oxford, told Live Science. “But we don’t really know what they looked like when they split.”

Analysis by Giles and his colleagues, however, revealed that the ancient skull exhibits characteristics of both bony fish and those with cartilage — suggesting Janusiscus schultzei was one of the two groups’ shared ancestors.

“I think it is a highly significant discovery, as the origin and diversification of modern bony-jawed fishes is still shrouded in mystery,” said John Long, an paleontologist who wasnt’ involved in the study. “But Janiusiscus takes us a big step closer to really understanding this major evolutionary transition, from primitive jawed fishes to the beginning of the modern jawed fish fauna.”