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News : Irish Last Updated: Mar 6, 2013 - 10:00 AM

Wednesday Newspaper Review - - Irish Business News - - March 06, 2013
By Finfacts Team
Mar 6, 2013 - 9:56 AM

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The Irish Independent reports that Health minister James Reilly has rebuked the Health Service Executive (HSE) over plans to serve up junk food to patients.

Dr Reilly revealed he is to hold talks with the HSE about the tender it issued for the supply of almost 90 tonnes of frozen chips, 62,000 sausage rolls and other highly processed foods for public patients over the next four years. The minister said he could not agree to moves to have hospital patients and elderly nursing homes dining on high-fat, calorie-laden foods.

"It is not what I would want to see served in hospitals," said Dr Reilly, who was hosting a meeting of EU ministers in Dublin Castle to discuss childhood obesity and other public health threats.

The junk food menu proposed by the HSE would not be suitable for cardiac patients and it is the "last thing they should be eating", he added.

He said he intends to make his feelings known to the HSE and points out that a stay in hospital should be a chance to educate people about healthy eating.

The HSE has still only tendered for the food contracts and has not yet entered any agreements with companies, he pointed out.

The Irish Independent also reports that if Michael Noonan felt like basking in the glow of another deal on Ireland's debts, he wasn't showing it yesterday.

On a day when EU finance ministers were set to approve in principle an extension of part of our bailout loan maturity dates, Mr Noonan was very much in business mode.

Arriving at the ministers' meeting in Brussels, he met reporters looking for more detail on the maturity extension. Instead, he first insisted on getting across what was on the agenda for the day in terms of new capital requirements for banks and caps on bank bonuses among other EU regulations.

Only after that did he discuss the maturities, but, in contrast to the triumphalism that followed the promissory-note deal last month, he was very low key as to what the deal means.

There are probably two reasons for this change in attitude, both related.

The Government was quite happy to let the belief that the deal would mean easier budgets in future to take root, and this caused ructions within the EU.

There was fury in Brussels and Berlin. Germany, where Angela Merkel faces elections in September, was privately outraged at such claims, while the EU's reserved economic chief Ollie Rehn was moved to come out publicly and say Ireland needed to "keep to the fiscal adjustment".

It's little wonder then that this time around the Government is dialling things back a little.

The other reason is tied to Ireland's presidency of the EU. As the chair of these meetings until July, Mr Noonan can't be seen to be relentlessly pushing his national agenda at the expense of EU business.

At a certain level he needs to be the impartial chairman. Little wonder he was in subdued form yesterday.

The Irish Times reports that overtime payments totalling €167,000 to a junior doctor in a hospital in the southeast “shouldn’t have happened”, according to the Health Service Executive.

HSE chief operating officer Laverne McGuinness described the sum as “extortionate” but said it was an “outlier” among overtime payments to junior doctors generally. The overtime was run up when the doctor was on leave and worked in a different hospital, Ms McGuinness told the Oireachtas health committee yesterday.

The HSE had made significant progress in reducing the working hours of junior doctors, she said, but smaller hospitals in remote locations sometimes were not able to support the larger rotas needed to achieve this objective.

24 continuous hours 

The HSE aimed to ensure that no junior doctor had to work more than 24 continuous hours on site from June and that no doctor worked more than 68 hours in a week by the end of March 2013, she said.

It would require hospitals to identify non-medical staff in each hospital to lead delivery of key tasks such as the taking of blood sample and the siting of cannulas and catheters.

“We’re not happy we haven’t achieved the compliance with the 48-hour week but some work has been done.”

Earlier, the Irish Medical Organisation warned that patients could die as a result of the excessive working hours of junior hospital doctors.

Shirley Coulter, assistant director of industrial relations, predicted accidents would happen “with serious or fatal consequences” in hospitals as a result of the failure of the HSE to ensure junior doctors did not breach EU regulations against excessive working hours.

Junior doctors were working an average of 60-65 hours a week, not the 54 hours claimed by the HSE, she said.

The future of the health services was being jeopardised as more and more of its “best and brightest” young doctors turn their back on a chaotic health system that had no regard for their interests.

Training overseas 

Non-consultant hospital doctors (NCHDs) were increasingly pursuing shorter training periods under better conditions overseas and then staying there after training.

“Unless things change, there will be more NCHDs in our airports than in our hospitals,” Ms Coulter said.

The Irish Times also reports that the Central Bank of Ireland met with the country’s main lenders yesterday to begin a process that it hopes will lead to a voluntary framework on how “multi-borrowed distressed borrowers” are dealt with by credit institutions.

This will encompass the thorny issue of mortgage arrears, which is the biggest source of debt for many individuals.

The regulator is seeking to agree a set of “general principles” that would be applied by lenders when dealing with borrowers who are in arrears with their repayments and owe money to a number of institutions.

Such cases usually involve secured and unsecured lending and the Central Bank is seeking to establish a protocol among lenders to deal with this issue.

This could prove a divisive issue within the financial industry.

Banks hold a stronger hand, given that they often hold security over certain assets such as properties or motor vehicles.

In contrast, credit union lending is typically unsecured.

Persuading banks with security to allow borrowers to make repayments to unsecured lenders will be a key issue for the Central Bank.

Voluntary framework 

It is understood the Central Bank and the Government favour an industry-wide voluntary framework to deal with this issue, instead of borrowers pursuing a solution under the new Personal Insolvency Act (PIA).

This could involve borrowers applying for bankruptcy.

Fiona Muldoon, director of credit institutions and insurance supervision at the Central Bank, described the meeting yesterday as “very productive . . . with plenty of constructive dialogue and frank discussion on strongly held views”.

She said “all issues” were aired by the various institutions. “We will work through them now one by one,” Ms Muldoon said.

“Collectively those present agreed a path forward to progress the mutual objective of a framework for multi-borrowed distressed borrowers.”

A second meeting is due to take place tomorrow with the Central Bank keen to agree a framework in the coming weeks, ahead of the implementation of the PIA around the middle of this year.

The Irish Examiner reports that the latest tax defaulters list from the Revenue Commissioners bears a resemblance to the witness list of the tribunals of yesteryear.

Former Fianna Fáil fundraiser Des Richardson who was linked with making payments to disgraced lobbyist and former government press secretary Frank Dunlop, appeared on Revenue’s tax defaulters list for the under-declaration of more than €38,000. With interest and penalties, Mr Richardson settled for the sum of €108,906.

Mr Richardson was a witness at the Mahon Tribunal. He brought a High Court challenge last year against a number of its findings including that he failed to disclose the source of IR£39,000 held in a bank account.

Two other high profile tribunal witnesses, builders Tom Brennan and Joe McGowan, also appeared on the tax defaulters list along with William Brennan and Michael Brennan. The four individuals described as company directors made settlements of €400,000 each, following a revenue investigation.

Tom Brennan and Joe McGowan were among the largest house builders in Ireland in the 1970’s with an output of 700 properties a year.

The Flood Tribunal accused the two builders of colluding in their evidence to obstruct the investigation into payments made to off shore accounts and the former Fianna Fáil minister Ray Burke.

In total some 135 people were named on the tax defaulters list, which covers the last three months of last year, with settlements totalling more than €27m.

The single largest settlement was made by a Wicklow plant hire contractor, Micheal Healy for more than €2m.

A Co Wexford-based artist, Mark O’Neill made a settlement for €721,000 following the under declaration of tax of half a million. Artists are entitled to an exemption from income tax on the first €40,000 they earn since 2011, when the exemption was cut from €250,000.

A Kilkenny based bookmaking firm, Harrington Bookmakers, and two directors behind it made four settlements with the Revenue Commissioners totalling €2.8m.

Other notable findings included seven individuals making settlements totalling €1.51m following probes into offshore funds.

Four settlements, adding up to €1.68m, came about as part of Revenue’s investigation into single premium insurance products.

A spokesperson for the Revenue Commissioners said: “Settlements are only published when the extensive voluntary disclosure options are not availed of and the default is a result of careless or deliberate behaviour.

“A total of 2,077 Revenue audit and investigations together with 12,001 risk management interventions were settled in the October 1, 2012 to December 31, 2012 period resulting in yields of €115m.”

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