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News : International Last Updated: Aug 31, 2011 - 8:04 AM


Wednesday Newspaper Review - Irish Business News and International Stories - - August 31, 2011
By Finfacts Team
Aug 31, 2011 - 6:58 AM

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The Irish Independent reports that Education Minister Ruairi Quinn has admitted for the first time he doesn't know the number of unqualified second-level maths teachers -- five months after asking experts to find out.

Despite the urgency of tackling the maths crisis, Mr Quinn suggested to the Teaching Council last April that it "might wish to advise" his department on "teacher supply".

But the council -- the teaching watchdog -- has yet to begin the investigation to establish the number of unqualified maths teachers.

And it claims it does not have the resources to undertake such a study and will have to outsource the work.

That means thousands of current Leaving Cert students are destined to study under the same system that has led to worryingly low grades in maths over recent years.

This latest development will fuel demands

for an investigation to pinpoint the shortfalls.

A spokeswoman for Mr Quinn said that within a month of entering office a formal request had been made for firm information on the level of teacher supply for every subject.

"He has acted very swiftly," she added.

It has been another disastrous year for maths in the Leaving Certificate, with just 10,000 students taking the subject at higher level and 10pc of those sitting the ordinary paper failing the exam.

The quality of maths teaching had been called into question following research which revealed that up to half of those teaching the subject do not hold a third-level maths degree.

But there are no official figures on:

  • The exact number of unqualified maths teachers.
  • The schools in which they teach.
  • And if there are blackspots in need of urgent attention.

Last April, Mr Quinn asked the Teaching Council to carry out an audit of second-level schools. But five months on, the council is still in the process of working out how the research will be done.

Parents and pupils will have to wait until next September, at the very earliest, before any major changes will be made.

A spokesperson for the minister said the scale of the research would be finalised shortly. She said Mr Quinn would be particularly interested in finding out the extent of the shortage of qualified maths teachers.

"With maths, he has said there is a problem in both the teaching and learning of maths, so clearly the minister is keen to find out what the situation is there," she said.

"Some geographical areas have a huge demand because of rising population, for example the commuter belts around Dublin. But there are rising enrolments in general and we need to project what our needs are going to be and ensure we have an adequate supply of qualified teachers."

The Teaching Council, which is responsible for registering teachers and governing professional standards, said there are currently 4,062 teachers qualified to teach maths.

However, not all of these may be teaching. Retired teachers and those working in other areas often maintain a registration to do short-term work.

The council denied it had been slow in acting. It pointed out that it received some 200 submissions on foot of a call for input on the education of future teachers.

It decided "a substantial piece of research" was needed. However, it could not say definitively if schools would be contacted directly over unqualified teachers. It was also unable to estimate the cost, as the scale of the research had not been decided.

The Irish Independent also reports that Irish house prices still haven't reached the bottom and are not "cheap" at current levels, according to Dermot O'Leary, an economist at Goodbody Stockbrokers.

Earlier this week, the Central Statistics office (CSO) said house prices in Dublin had fallen by 12.5pc in the year to July from the peak prices seen in February 2007.

In a note yesterday, Mr O'Leary, said that while house prices had continued to fall for the past four years, the CSO data confirmed the downward trend, recording a 42pc drop nationally and a 49pc fall in Dublin.

He believes that they will have to drop to 60pc from the boomtime prices before they become "realistic". This forecast is based on an assessment of the prices that people can now afford to pay for property.

At the peak, property was being bought, on average, for as much as eight times the buyer's annual income. And while this has reduced to five times at current prices, it still looks expensive when compared with international trends.

Mr O'Leary said: "While there has been a significant correction, the international evidence would not suggest this.

"Given high unemployment and lack of consumer confidence, this scale of a drop in house prices would make property more affordable and begin to attract buyers once again."

There is a time lag between when Irish house price data are published and when the changes are recorded. When this is taken into account, the actual house price decline has been more severe, Mr O'Leary says. Some properties have already been sold at a 60pc discount from the boomtime peak.

This was the size of the discount on properties offered in the recent Allsop's auction. It suggests that prices have further to fall, particularly outside of the Dublin area, he said.

Location

Much will depend on the type of property being sold and its location but Mr O'Leary believes prices still need to decline significantly before they become affordable and good value.

However, another economist, Alan McQuaid of Bloxham Stockbrokers, said on Monday that he was optimistic about house prices rising in the medium term.

"We think house prices should increase on a five-year view as the labour market improves" he said in a note.

"That said, the level of any rise over the next few years is only likely to be in low single digits as banks adopt a more cautious stance to lending than in the Celtic Tiger era" he said.

The Irish Times reports that the Financial Regulator and the governor of the Central Bank will set out their concerns about any mortgage debt relief scheme at an Oireachtas committee discussion later this week.

Minister for Finance Michael Noonan served notice on the banks and building societies yesterday that some measures will be taken by the Government.

When he goes before TDs and Senators at the committee meeting tomorrow, he is to be asked to elaborate on the plans to deal with the developing crisis over mortgage arrears and other personal debt.

Ministers discussed the issue at Government Buildings in Dublin yesterday but agreed to defer concrete decisions until a group of civil servants and bank representatives delivers a report on this complex issue at the end of next month.

However, the Cabinet agreed that a “tailored” approach was needed and that there was no “one-size-fits-all, broad-brush solution”.

The 10-member body is chaired by Declan Keane, an accountant seconded from KPMG to the Department of Finance, and includes officials from several departments and the Central Bank as well as expertise from the banking sector.

Figures published by the Central Bank this week showed that more than 55,000 homeowners were more than three months behind in their payments at the end of June and this will almost certainly top 60,000 by the end of September.

On his way into the meeting, Mr Noonan placed the spotlight firmly on the banks and their role in resolving the difficulties.

Pointing out that the Government had “put a lot of capital into the banks” to deal with mortgage problems, he added: “The capital is in the banks to allow the banks write off some of that debt”.

The Minister’s comments were described by Noeleen Blackwell of the Free Legal Advice Centres (Flac) as “the first sign of any real urgency from this Government that it is willing to tackle the issue sooner rather than later”.

The Government’s approach is likely to come in for sharp Opposition criticism when Mr Noonan faces the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform tomorrow morning.

Central Bank governor Patrick Honohan and head of financial regulation Matthew Elderfield are expected to provide details about the problems with introducing formal debt restructuring when they appear before the committee on Friday.

Mr Elderfield has previously warned that any approach to restructuring needs to take account of the risk that it would create incentives for borrowers to cease meeting their obligations.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny told reporters yesterday the Government was “acutely aware” of the seriousness of the situation facing many households. “In all of these cases, people borrowed money, banks lent money and, because of circumstances, sometimes outside their control, there are now difficulties.

“The Government and members of the Cabinet are acutely aware of this because we meet them every day. We have commissioned a report on a broad range of issues here and we’ll make decisions when that comes to hand,” he said.

Minister for Transport Leo Varadkar backed previous comments by Tánaiste and Labour leader Eamon Gilmore ruling out blanket debt forgiveness. “There are lots of people struggling to pay their mortgages and just about managing and they shouldn’t have to pay for those who can’t or won’t.

“But at the same time if people are losing their houses or having their houses repossessed, I don’t think it’s fair that the negative equity, or the debts if you like, should follow them,” he said.

Flac director-general Ms Blackwell said: “We need a coherent strategy that takes into account the entire personal debt crisis, not just mortgage arrears.”

The Irish Times also reports that concerns were mounting yesterday for the future of a $500 million investment at Intel’s plant in Leixlip, Co Kildare.

Contractors working on the refurbishment of the Intel plant’s Fab 14 unit yesterday said they had been informed the project had been delayed and they were being laid off.

One contractor who spoke to The Irish Times on condition of anonymity said up to 200 specialist construction, engineering and design staff were told the project was being put on hold.

The contractor said many of these workers had started on the contract only on Monday and some were stopping work immediately. A number of staff said they were cautioned yesterday against talking to the media.

A spokesman for DPS Engineering, which is involved in the design and project management of specialist parts of the refurbishment of Fab 14, said the firm was continuing to work for Intel and that all projects were on track.

Earlier this week an Intel spokesman said that while contracting companies may have spoken to staff, Intel’s policy was to not comment on the activities of its contracting firms.

Intel has been refurbishing Fab 14, an older building on its Leixlip campus, in anticipation of a new production line being located there. The global technology firm, which is the world’s largest producer of computer chips, said it would invest $500 million in the refurbishment.

Up to 850 construction staff have been working on the project and another 200 technical roles have been filled in anticipation of the new manufacturing line going live in 2013. Although no firm commitment had been made by Intel to place a manufacturing line in Leixlip, it was hoped the refurbished unit would be used to produce so-called 1270 chips.

Company sources suggested these chips would now be built at plants in Israel and in the US state of Arizona. Leixlip would be in line for the 1272 chips, but these will not go into production until 2013.

The Intel spokesman insisted, however, that there had been “no change to the plans for Fab 14”.

Intel set up in Ireland in 1989 and has invested more than $7 billion at its Leixlip campus. Almost 4,000 staff are employed there by Intel and third parties.

The Irish Examiner reports that Bord Bia believes it is getting closer to being able to roll out Food Brand Ireland, the highly anticipated umbrella brand to promote Irish agrifood exports.

Bord Bia’s director of marketing services, Una Fitzgibbon, said that artisan food producers will have a vital role to play in the new brand. Artisan and speciality food companies employ 3,000 people in 350 firms with a combined output of €400 million.

Ms Fitzgibbon said: "Work is at an advanced stage in the development of an umbrella brand for the Irish food industry in order to maximise the potential for growth at a time when the global demand for food is projected to increase by 70% over the next 40 years.

"Central to the brand promise is that ‘we are natural and we can prove it’. The brand model will, in particular, highlight the role of place and culture, in which the artisan food industry plays an integral part, in building the brand story of Irish food and drink and delivering the vision and strategy for Food Brand Ireland."

Ms Fitzgibbon was speaking at yesterday’s launch of the Taste Council of Ireland’s inaugural Food Summer School, at Brook-Lodge Hotel, Co Wicklow. Over 150 representatives from the artisan food sector attended, including Darina Allen, Myrtle Allen, John and Sally McKenna, Bridgestone Food Guides, Dr Oliver Moore, Kevin Sheridan and Georgina Campbell. Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney delivered the closing address.

Taste Council chairman Evan Doyle said: "Irish agriculture is at cross-roads; there are many choices to be made as to how we best utilise our great agricultural heritage and resources. We believe that the strategic development of the Irish artisan and speciality sector will lead to sustainable job creation through increases in revenue and market share."

Teagasc researcher Dr Áine Macken-Walsh said Irish food producers could compete on cost, or on their unique and superior value. She also proposed a Middle Farm model in which farmers would come together in small co-operative-type organisations.

Dr Macken-Walsh said:
"These organisations can then bring in the necessary marketing and production expertise to deliver not necessarily an organic, processed or artisan product but an indigenous product — conventional/authentic in Ireland, produced non-intensively on family-run farms using traditional farming methods, compliant with environmental standards, enriched by cultural, social, ecological significance of these farms."

Besides a paid subscription, the Financial Times provides the following options:

Exxon and Rosneft sign Arctic deal - - Successor to failed BP tie-up gives Russians access to US oil reserves; The new deal underscores international oil companies’ determination to explore and develop the Russian Arctic, one of the few places in the world with large, untapped oil and gas reserves, and Russia’s recognition that it needs international help to exploit those resources. Putin said Exxon “has unique technology” for work in the Arctic. “I was surprised that one of your platforms was able to withstand being struck by a 1m ton iceberg,” he said.

Europe bank regulator plans radical funding aid - - EBA already facing resistance over any shift in EFSF powers; Among the policy proposals being considered by the European Banking Authority is a new guarantee scheme for bank bonds, a controversial measure that would require the eurozone’s €440bn bail-out fund to be given new powers.

Fed official makes plea for more stimulus - - Central bank staff permanently cut growth forecasts; A leading Fed policymaker called for more monetary stimulus on Tuesday as it emerged that staff at the US central bank have permanently cut their growth forecasts.

Martin Wolf: Struggling with the great contraction - - Nouriel Roubini, also known as “Dr Doom”, predicts a downturn. “A stopped clock”, some will mutter. Yet he is surely right that the buffers have mostly gone: interest rates are low, fiscal deficits are huge and the eurozone is stressed. The risks of a vicious spiral from bad fundamentals to policy mistakes, a panic and back to bad fundamentals are large, with further economic contraction ahead.

German MPs to draft eurozone rescue rules - - Merkel nearer to Bundestag support; On the eve of Ms Merkel’s cabinet signing off on a bill to implement changes to the EFSF, Michael Meister, a top Christian Democrat finance policy expert, proposed that new aid programmes be put to a full vote, while the Bundestag’s budget committee would monitor implementation by the EFSF or its successor from 2013, the European Stability Mechanism.

Access to the New York Times online is free up to 20 articles per month. For subscription information, click here

Editorial: The New Resentment of the Poor  - - Several top Republicans want to raise taxes on the poor and working class. But the problem is how many citizens are poor, not how much they pay in taxes; This is factually wrong, economically wrong and morally wrong. First, the facts: a vast majority of Americans have skin in the tax game. Even if they earn too little to qualify for the income tax, they pay payroll taxes (which Republicans want to raise), gasoline excise taxes and state and local taxes.

Hurricane Cost Seen as Ranking Among Top Ten - - Hurricane Irene will most likely prove to be one of the 10 costliest catastrophes in the nation’s history.

What Price Life? - - Maureen Dowd asks should those whose job it is to prepare for the worst be punished because the worst didn’t happen?

In a Wall Street Journal column, Bret Stephens suggested “a new edition of the Three Little Pigs, this one for the CYA age.”

Ordered to evacuate from his Manhattan home near the Hudson River, Stephens took his family to his parents’ wood-framed house in Connecticut, where a 50-foot elm crashed in the yard. So he went hard on the Chicken Little mayor. “What’s the wisdom of the ages,” Stephens asked, “when a mayor wants to erase the stain of mishandling last winter’s snowstorms by forcibly relocating people from his zone of responsibility to places that are somebody else’s zone of responsibility?”

Fed Divisions Led to a Compromise on Interest Rates - - Debate over aid for the economy ended with the current low-interest-rate commitment, according to minutes from Aug. 9; Officials also came to a temporary policy compromise by giving markets clearer guidance on how long interest rates would continue to hover around zero. Some committee members said they wanted to set a calendar deadline, and others preferred to instead peg interest rates to a specific rate of unemployment or inflation.

Exxon Reaches Arctic Oil Deal With Russians - - Exxon Mobil struck an agreement to explore for oil in a Russian sector of the Arctic Ocean that is opening for drilling in a deal that could grow to $500 billion over time; Under the new agreement, the state-owned Rosneft could become a part-owner of drilling operations in the United States. Those operations could include two of the industry’s most contentious oil extraction methods — drilling for oil in the deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico and using the so-called hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, technique on land. The Russians want to learn about both types of drilling for use at home.


© Copyright 2011 by Finfacts.com

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