• Delegation from US Congress to visit Belfast. A delegation from the US Congress is due to travel to Belfast next weekend, amid renewed interest in Washington in the Northern peace process. Members of the Helsinki Commission – a US government body dedicated to human rights is scheduled to visit Belfast next Friday for a three-day trip. Up to a dozen members of Congress from both the House of Representatives and the Senate will take part. A number of engagements are scheduled, including a meeting with Belfast Lord Mayor John Finucane, a visit to Stormont and to peace walls in the city, as well as meetings with cross-community groups.
• Pressure on prisons as numbers jailed rises. Overcrowding blamed on longer sentences and more arrests. According to the Irish Prison Service annual report published yesterday, the average number of prisoners in custody daily rose by 8% to 3,911 last year. The average cost of jailing a person for a year was €73,802 up by 7 per cent on €68,535 in 2017.
• College Green traffic ban to ‘test’ plaza proposal. College Green in Dublin city centre will be traffic-free for three days this summer, the business representative group Dublin Chamber has confirmed. College Green, the area in front of the Bank of Ireland would be pedestrianised on Sunday, July 21st, Sunday, July 28th and Sunday August 4th.The aim is to test the popularity of a car free plaza at College Green.
• Human rights body highlights housing benefit discrimination by landlords. The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (IHREC) say they have been approached most often by people on rent supplement or the housing assistance payment (HAP) seeking advice. Since January 2016, “housing assistance” has been a ground on which it is explicitly illegal to discriminate in the letting of housing. However, it appears that landlords are filtering out people by demanding professional references to beat regulations.
• Major setback for plan to create Munster university. Plans to create a new technological university for the Munster area have suffered a major setback after an international panel raised concerns over the financial viability of the application. The planned merger of Cork Institute of Technology (CIT) and IT Tralee into a new Munster technological university would have created one of the country’s largest third-level institutions with more than 18,000 students.
• BAI wants more funds to police internet. Considerable additional budgetary resources will be required by the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI) if it is to regulate online video content posted on social media platforms chief executive Michael O’Keeffe has admitted. The body, which currently polices commercial television and radio, has submitted a proposal to Government in which it seeks to be given extra powers to supervise content shared online.
• Number of doctors drawn to Australia rises. Medical emigration to Australia has increased year-on-year since 2014, in contrast to general emigration, which has declined with the improvement of the economy here, indicated the study, carried out by researchers with the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland (RCPI). In 2017-2018, 326 Irish citizen doctors were issued with work permits in Australia more than double the 153 issued in 2008-2009.
• Pride flag to fly over Leinster House. The Pride flag will fly over Leinster House for the first time after TDs, party members and staff met as part of a new Oireachtas LGBT+ support group yesterday.
• PAC criticises governance at University of Limerick. The Dáil Public Accounts Committee (PAC) has criticised the University of Limerick for what it says is a “governance failure that could have cost the State €1.2 million”. A report by the Comptroller and Auditor General (C&AG) last year found two executives at a University of Limerick subsidiary company were added to the university’s State-funded pension scheme at a cost of more than €1.2 million even though they were not university employees.
• New law to allow medical cannabis. Legislation allowing people access to medical cannabis on a limited basis over the next five years has been signed into law by Minister for Health Simon Harris. Mr Harris said the programme would allow “compassionate access to cannabis for medical reasons” in cases where conventional treatment has failed. The drugs can be prescribed by a consultant to treat multiple sclerosis, nausea related to chemotherapy, and severe cases of epilepsy.
• Sexual offences and fraud on the rise. The number of sexual offences being reported has continued to rise over the last two years, according to data from the Central Statistics Office (CSO), which shows a 10 per cent increase from 2,938 to 3,231 in the year to the end of March. Other data showed fraud and deceptions related offences were up by 28.5 per cent, from 5,322 to 6,841 over the same 12 months. The number of recorded drug offences increased by 16.2 per cent, from 16,564 to 19,247. However, burglary and related offences fell by 10.3 per cent to 16,766 incidents. Damage to property and environment offences decreased by 5.8 per cent. Homicides fell from 84 to 72.
• Dáil to debate Army’s EU role. The participation of the Defence Forces in a German-led battle group next year is to be debated this week in the Dáil. The Government has already approved Irish participation in the stand-by force, which will also include personnel from Austria, the Czech Republic, Croatia and the Netherlands. A memorandum of understanding agreed with the other participating countries will be signed once Dáil approval is given. Minister of State for Defence Paul Kehoe brought a memo to Cabinet last week on the memorandum of understanding and Defence Forces participation in the battle group, which will be on standby for six months from July of next year. EU battle groups are ready for deployment within five to ten days of an EU Council decision to a possible mission including crisis management and humanitarian assistance missions in Europe.
• Plan for use of body cameras by gardaí. Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan will seek support from other ministers to draft legislation. The Garda Representative Association (GRA) has said body cameras would not only improve transparency, but also cut down on the number of assaults on gardaí and help collect evidence.
• ‘Seamless’ transfers for EU students. Students will be able to study for degrees by completing modules across a “seamless” network of European universities under a new initiative. Trinity and DCU have been selected to take part in the “European University” alliance, which is being piloted over the next three years by the European Commission. 114 higher education institutions from across the EU are participating in the initiative, which aims to strengthen mobility of students and staff across what officials describe as a new “European education area”.
Business and Economy
• Inheritance tax reaches record high of €466m as property prices soar. The exchequer reaped an inheritance tax windfall last year, as the amount collected reached a record high of some €466.3 million on the back of soaring property prices and largely unchanged tax-free thresholds. More than half of all the tax collected was paid by grandchildren, nieces and nephews who inherited more than €32,500 from a relative last year. According to Revenue figures, some €466.3 million in inheritance taxes were collected last year, up by 48 per cent on the Celtic Tiger era in 2007, and by 10 per cent on 2017.
• Record number of ‘prime-age’ workers employed. The proportion of “prime - age” workers employed in the Republic is now higher than at any other time, a testament to the current strength of the labour market. The share of workers aged 25-54 classified as employed a measure known as the employment-to-population (Epop) ratio rose to nearly 80 per cent in the first quarter of 2019. This was higher than the 78.7 per cent recorded in the first quarter of 2007 when employment here was boosted by a surge in construction
Business and Economy (continued)
• Tax cuts will be postponed in event of hard Brexit. Taoiseach Leo Varadkar’s proposal to cut income tax by changing the point at which workers become liable for the highest rate will be postponed if there is a no-deal Brexit later this year.
• State pays €1.6m for Brexit checks site near Rosslare. The State paid €1.6 million for a site near Rosslare Port where State inspectors will carry out checks on UK imports in the event of a no-deal Brexit. The purchase price paid by the Office of Public Works (OPW) for the 16-acre site about two kilometres from the south eastern port is revealed in a record released by the State agency under the Freedom of Information Act.
• Irish Water got €1.1bn in State funding last year. State-owned Irish Water received €1.1 billion from the Government last year while its parent company Ervia gave €139 million to the exchequer. This compares to €1 billion in 2017. Figures published yesterday show that Irish Water spent €683 million on the Republic’s water supply system last year and received €1.1 billion from the Government.
• Spirits high as sales of gin surge in Republic. Sales of spirits have shot up on the back of a sharp jump in the number of people drinking gin. New figures compiled by research company International Wine and Spirits Research show a 6.5 per cent jump last year in sales of spirits in the Republic to 2.4 million nine-litre cases from 2.25 million in 2017. The increase was largely due to a spike in sales of gin, with volumes up 31.8 per cent to 324,000 nine-litre cases from 246,000 a year earlier. According to the data, gin volumes have practically trebled since 2014 with locally produced brands such as Shortcross, Bertha’s Revenge and Drumshambo Gunpowder holding their own against traditional brands such as Gordon’s or Bombay Sapphire.