Saturday, March 7, 2015

Donie's Ireland daily news BLOG

Irish Government now willing to ‘tweak’ the insolvency legislation


Minister insisted Government was watching situation in the courts ‘very carefully’.

Minister for Finance Michael Noonan has said the Government is willing to “tweak” insolvency legislation.
Mr Noonan made his comments in Limerick where some 219 repossession cases were listed before the Circuit Court.
When asked if he could envisage a change in the insolvency legislation happening soon he replied: “We have been discussing it as late as this week. If we had to legislate to make change it would take some time, but there are things we can do through regulation which we think will improve the uptake.”
Mr Noonan said the Government was “very conscious of the issue and it’s the policy of the Government not to have homes repossessed”.
He added that a lot of actions taken by the banks involved “simply sending orders to people who haven’t replied to letters, but I would advise people to engage, once they engage arrangements can be made to come up with affordable solutions.”
“The issue around restructuring of mortgages has been going on for all the life of this Government and over 100,000 mortgages have been restructured now, 2,500 of them in the last month.
“As I understand it, the banks are getting people to engage with them so they can commence negotiations and restructuring rather than moving for repossession.
“But we are watching the situation in the courts very carefully and, we are also watching the way in the insolvency legislation is being applied and if it needs tweaking to improve the uptake we will tweak it.”
Among the cases dealt with by the county registrar Pat Wallace in Limerick was that of a mother of five who agreed to leave her family home after falling into arrears of more than €70,000 following the break-up of her marriage.
The case was adjourned until May 8th.
Fianna Fáil TDs Niall Collins and Willie O’Dea were in court to lend their support to their constituents.
Fine Gael and Labour TDs and Senators expressed concern at separate private party meetings on Wednesday about the effectiveness of existing measures to help those in difficulty with mortgage arrears.
The parliamentary Labour Party unanimously backed a Bill from Longford-Westmeath TD Willie Penrose calling for the period of bankruptcy to be reduced from three years to one.
At the Fine Gael parliamentary party meeting Mr Noonan said the Economic Management Council (EMC), which discussed the issue at its meeting on Wednesday, will examine further ways to assist people in mortgage difficulties.
The Insolvency Service of Ireland dealt with approximately 1,000 cases last year but the slow uptake by debtors has led to calls for reform.


Number of long-term mortgage accounts in arrears increases


Accounts in arrears for over 720 days up 0.8% in fourth quarter.

Some 114,674 residential mortgage accounts were classified as restructured at the end of 2014
The number of residential mortgage accounts in arrears continued to drop in the final three months of last year, the sixth successive quarterly decline, according to new figures from the Central Bank.
The data shows however that mortgage accounts in arrears for two years or more are still rising.
Some 110,366 residential mortgage accounts – equivalent to 14.5% of all residential mortgages – were in arrears at the end of 2014. This marks a 6.4% decline compared to the third quarter.
The figures show that accounts in early arrears declined significantly during the fourth quarter, falling 3.8% to 31,667 at the end of December, or 4.2% of the total stock.
Accounts in arrears over 90 days – equivalent to 10.4% of all residential mortgage accounts – fell by 7.4% from October to December to 78,699. However, accounts in arrears for over 720 days continued to rise during the fourth quarter, albeit at the slowest rate to date.
According to the latest figures, the number of accounts in arrears for more than 720 days increased by 294 or 0.8% in the final quarter of 2014. Such accounts now represent close to half of of the 78,699 customers in distress for more than 90 days.
The outstanding balance on mortgage accounts in arrears for 720 days or more was €8.2 billion, the figures show.
Fianna Fáil finance spokesperson Michael McGrath described the increase in the number of accounts in long-term arrears as a “damning indictment of the Government’s strategy in relation to distressed mortgages. “
“The falls in early stage arrears should not be considered as cause for self-congratulation as these are typically the easiest cases to deal with. The reality is that there are still a huge number of arrears cases to be dealt with. In fact of the total stock of 78,699 residential accounts that were in arrears of more than 90 days, just 28.1% were classified as restructured at the end of December, compared to 29.3% at the end of September,” he said.
Philip O’Sullivan, an economist with Investec said the decline in the number of accounts in arrears was a welcome trend and one that reflected the improving economic backdrop and more effective engagement by both lenders and borrowers. He said however that the rise in long-term arreas was a serious problem that required ongoing attention from banks.
Some 114,674 residential mortgage accounts were classified as restructured at the end of 2014, reflecting a quarter-on-quarter increase of 4.3%. Of these accounts, 84.9% were deemed to be meeting the terms of their current restructure arrangement. The largest increases in restructures were again recorded in the categories of split mortgages and arrears capitalisations, the Central Bank said.
Buy-to-let mortgage accounts in arrears over 90 days decreased by 7.6% during the fourth quarter; the largest decrease recorded in this category to date. At the end of December, there were 15,386 Buy-to-let accounts in arrears over 720 days, with an outstanding balance of €4.8 billion.
Goodbody economist Dermot O’Leary said while the latest statistics show progress on reducing arrears, doubts remain about the suitability of some of the options employed in restructuring accounts.
He noted the high rate of re-default by owner occupiers and investors on accounts that have undergone arrears capitalisation restructuring, which represent 35% of the total restructures undertaken.
Mr O’Leary also questioned whether the 33% rise in mortgage restructures in the past year represented permanent solutions.

€100 charge to inspect water meter for faults


The Commission for Energy Regulation (CER) has said members of the public could face a €100 service charge if they tell Irish Water there is a problem with their water meter.

The CER yesterday issued the Water Charges Plan 2015, which takes into account the revised water charges announced by the Government last November.
The plan also approves a €100 charge that will be applied to some Irish Water customers who report concerns about their meter readings.
The levy will only be applied if the meter is tested and found to be “accurate to within tolerances”. If it is found that the meter is inaccurate, the fee will not be applied.
Irish Water told the CER it does not know how much a meter testing call-out will cost the company.
“Irish Water have yet to carry out meter-testing in response to a customer request and therefore we do not currently have a robust estimate of the costs involved,” the utility said in its submission. “We expect to collect accurate cost date over the coming months. In the interim, while Irish Water gathers this data a standardised customer charge of €100 is proposed.”
Irish Water said the charge was reasonable based on a review of charges from other utilities.
The only other additional services charge that Irish Water can apply is a €17 fee for a special domestic meter read.
This will apply when a domestic customer requests that a meter read be undertaken outside of the normal meter reading schedule.
The plan approves a charge of €3.70 per 1,000 litres for customers who receive both water and wastewater services from Irish Water, though this will be capped at a maximum charge of €160 per annum for households with one adult or €260 per annum for two or more adults.
Meanwhile, Fianna Fáil senator Averil Power has said the Government has failed to roll out a ‘free first fix’ scheme announced 10 months ago. The scheme will see Irish Water fix faults at no cost to the customer.
Ms Power contacted Dublin City Council and Irish Water on behalf of Dublin householders who were instructed to repair a water leak on their property.
“I was surprised to hear that water staff had dug up the path, spotted the leak, and left it unfixed,” she said. “Once they identified that the problem was within the property boundary, they walked away and told the homeowners they would have to call a private plumber themselves and get it repaired.
“The Minister for Environment must immediately address this issue so more homeowners are not hit with hefty bills for repairing links that the Government said would be the responsibility of Irish Water.”

5 Restaurants receive closure orders in Cork, Roscommon and Dublin 


Two restaurants in Mitchelstown, Co Cork issued with food closure orders

Five closure orders were issued by environmental health officers in the HSE in Dublin, Co Cork and Co Roscommon during the month of February.
Five food businesses, including two restaurants in Mitchelstown, Co Cork, a Chinese restaurant in Carrigaline, Co Cork and a Chinese restaurant in Co Roscommon, received closure orders last month.
The five closure orders were issued by environmental health officers with the HSE in Dublin, Co Cork and Co Roscommon during the month of February.
Four closure orders were issued under the European Communities (Official Control of Foodstuffs) regulations against Shanghai House restaurant, 13 Upper Cork Street, Mitchelstown, Co Cork; Yu Garden Chinese restaurant, Bridge Street, Strokestown, Co Roscommon; Huahong restaurant, Carrig House, Old Waterpark, Carrigaline, Co Cork, and VF Foods (cold store), Room 1 of the building, Jamestown Business Park, Jamestown Road, Finglas, Dublin 11.
One closure order was issued under the Food Safety Authority of Ireland Act (FSAI) of 1998 against Curry Hut & Indian Kebab House restaurant, 6 Lower Cork Street, Mitchelstown, Co Cork.
Closure orders are issued to businesses where there is likely to be a grave and immediate danger to public health at or in the premises. The food safety issue or issues must be remedied before the business can open.
One Prohibition Order was also issued by local authority veterinary inspectors in Louth County Council against the Arcross Foods pork processing plant in Blackrock, Co Louth.
Dr Bernard Hegarty, Director of Service Contracts FSAI, said there was no excuse for food businesses putting customers’ health at risk through a company’s negligent practices.
“The legal onus is on food businesses to ensure at all times that the food they serve is safe to eat,” said Mr Hegarty. “All food businesses must have a food safety management system in place that is consulted and updated on a regular basis, in order to avoid non-compliance issues and breaches of food safety legislation.”
He urged food business owners unsure of their legal obligations to contact the FSAI through the company’s advice line on 1890 336677 or the FSAI website.
Last month the FSAI reported an increase of 2,738 complaints in 2014 by consumers about food quality and food premises. The authority said the increase in complaints reflected the growing awareness among consumers of the need to report poor hygiene practices.
Objects discovered in food items in 2014 included dead maggots, insects, wire, a razor blade and cigarettes.

“Quack Quack” It’s my next meal as bald eagle flies away with a duck in its claws


The predator kept its eye on the prey as it dragged it off, in South Carolina, US, and this image was captured just as it swooped.

Amazing: This is the dramatic moment an eagle swooped down and caught a startled duckling for dinner…..before bending over to look its poor prey right in the eye
Staring down at its next meal, a bald eagle flies away with a duck in its talons after plucking it from the water.
The predator kept its eye on the prey as it dragged it off, in South Carolina, US.
Phil Lanoue, who took the snap, said: “I saw the eagle swoop and hit the water.
“It sat there for a few seconds, trying to get something in its talons.”
The bald eagle is not actually bald and has been named because of its white head.
It builds the largest nest of any North America bird and is only found there and in northern Mexico.
The bald eagle is both the national bird and the national animal of the United States and appears on its seal.
At the end of the last century the bald eagle was threatened with extinction but numbers are now flourishing – and it certainly looks like it from this amazing picture.
But one bald eagle who was not so graceful was Lewis, who was released inside the on-campus chapel at Oral Roberts University as part of a special service to celebrate the start of term – and crashed into a window.

A jawbone of the very first human discovered in Ethiopia


The fossil’s teeth are smaller than those of other human relatives

Scientists have unearthed the jawbone of what they claim is one of the very first humans.
The 2.8 million-year-old specimen is 400,000 years older than researchers thought that our kind first emerged.
The discovery in Ethiopia suggests climate change spurred the transition from tree dweller to upright walker.
The head of the research team told BBC News that the find gives the first insight into “the most important transitions in human evolution”.
This is the most important transition in human evolution”
Prof Brian Villmoare of the University of Nevada in Las Vegas said the discovery makes a clear link between an iconic 3.2 million-year-old hominin (human-like primate) discovered in the same area in 1974, called “Lucy”.
Could Lucy’s kind – which belonged to the species Australopithecus afarensis – have evolved into the very first primitive humans?
“That’s what we are arguing,” said Prof Villmoare.
But the fossil record between the time period when Lucy and her kin were alive and the emergence of Homo erectus (with its relatively large brain and humanlike body proportions) two million years ago is sparse.
The 2.8 million-year-old lower jawbone was found in the Ledi-Geraru research area, Afar Regional State, by Ethiopian student Chalachew Seyoum. He told BBC News that he was “stunned” when he saw the fossil.
“The moment I found it, I realised that it was important, as this is the time period represented by few (human) fossils in Eastern Africa.”
The fossil is of the left side of the lower jaw, along with five teeth. The back molar teeth are smaller than those of other hominins living in the area and are one of the features that distinguish humans from more primitive ancestors, according to Professor William Kimbel, director of Arizona State University’s Institute of Human Origins.
These new studies challenge us to consider the very definition of what it is to be human”
“Previously, the oldest fossil attributed to the genus Homo was an upper jaw from Hadar, Ethiopia, dated to 2.35m years ago,” he told BBC News.
“So this new discovery pushes the human line back by 400,000 years or so, very close to its likely (pre-human) ancestor. Its mix of primitive and advanced features makes the Ledi jaw a good transitional form between (Lucy) and later humans.”
A computer reconstruction of a skull belonging to the species Homo habilis, which has been published in Nature journal, indicates that it may well have been the evolutionary descendant of the species announced today.
The researcher involved, Prof Fred Spoor of University College London told BBC News that, taken together, the new findings had lifted a veil on a key period in the evolution of our species.
“By discovering a new fossil and re-analysing an old one we have truly contributed to our knowledge of our own evolutionary period, stretching over a million years that had been shrouded in mystery,” he said.
Climate change: ---- The dating of the jawbone might help answer one of the key questions in human evolution. What caused some primitive ancestors to climb down from the trees and make their homes on the ground.
A separate study in Science hints that a change in climate might have been a factor. An analysis of the fossilised plant and animal life in the area suggests that what had once been lush forest had become dry grassland.
As the trees made way for vast plains, ancient human-like primates found a way of exploiting the new environmental niche, developing bigger brains and becoming less reliant on having big jaws and teeth by using tools.
Prof Chris Stringer of the Natural History Museum in London described the discovery as a “big story”.
He says the new species clearly does show the earliest step toward human characteristics, but suggests that half a jawbone is not enough to tell just how human it was and does not provide enough evidence to suggest that it was this line that led to us.
The jawbone was found close to the area where Lucy was discovered
He notes that the emergence of human-like characteristics was not unique to Ethiopia.
“The human-like features shown by Australopithecus sediba in South Africa at around 1.95 million years ago are likely to have developed independently of the processes which produced (humans) in East Africa, showing that parallel origins are a distinct possibility,” Prof Stringer explained.
This would suggest several different species of humans co-existing in Africa around two million years ago with only one of them surviving and eventually evolving into our species, Homo sapiens. It is as if nature was experimenting with different versions of the same evolutionary configuration until one succeeded.
Prof Stringer added: “These new studies leave us with an even more complex picture of early humans than we thought, and they challenge us to consider the very definition of what it is to be human. Are we defined by our small teeth and jaws, our large brain, our long legs, tool-making, or some combination of these traits?”    

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