News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Saturday 22nd June 2013

A TD and two councillor’s resign from the Labour Party in protest over education cuts


Patrick Nulty says announcement of special education teaching hours reduction was primary reason for leaving Labour

Patrick Nulty and two Labour councillors of “retreating to the comfort of Opposition” after they resigned from the party yesterday.

Mr Nulty cited the announcement that children with special education needs will face a reduction in teaching hours as his primary reason for leaving Labour.

He was expelled from the parliamentary party after voting against the Coalition’s first budget in December 2011, just six weeks after winning the byelection brought about by the death of former finance minister Brian Lenihan.

Irreconcilable differences

Mr Gilmore said he was not surprised by Mr Nulty’s move, saying the Dublin West deputy was already “effectively an Opposition TD”. Mr Nulty was the only TD elected after the programme for government was formulated, the Tánaiste pointed out.

“What I am proud of are the public representatives of the Labour Party who have the courage to see through the decisions that have to be made in these difficult times in order to get our country to recover,” he said.

Mr Nulty said he had “irreconcilable differences” with senior party figures in Government. He had sent an email to head office on Thursday night to say he was resigning with immediate effect.

Powerful interests

“The leadership of the party, and in particular the Cabinet ministers who have sacrificed core social democratic demands for their own personal political ambitions, have brought the entire political system into disrepute,” he said.

“Trust in our political system has been broken. This means there is a need for new ideas and social movements that are accountable to citizens, not powerful interests.”

Mr Nulty said he no longer believed that membership of the party was of any assistance in advancing the political ideas which formed the “cornerstone of his value system”. These ideas were social justice, equality and the creation of full employment with quality work, he said.

Labour returned a record 37 TDs in the February 2011 general election, but those who have subsequently lost the whip are Róisín Shortall, Colm Keaveney, Tommy Broughan and Willie Penrose, who is expected to return to the fold in the autumn. Senator James Heffernan and MEP Nessa Childers have also defected.

Mr Nulty said it was a coincidence that two Labour councillors in Co Wicklow resigned from the party yesterday. Cllr Tom Fortune from Greystones and Cllr Barry Nevin from Bray both stressed their decision to quit was not related to Mr Nulty’s move.


Both Mr Fortune and Mr Nevin said they had lost faith in the party leadership. The pair said they had taken the decision to leave three weeks ago and were convinced they had made the right choice when the cut in teaching hours for pupils with special education needs was announced this week.

“We believe the Labour Party has lost touch with the people they promised to represent. They have reneged on these commitments,” they said.

Former DPP questions suicide clause in abortion Bill


Eamonn Barnes (above) suggests that the Attorney General should represent the interests of the unborn, 

The former director of public prosecutions has intervened in the abortion debate, arguing that the Bill tabled by Government last week is unconstitutional given that “the foetus gets no chance to have its right to survival advocated”.

Eamonn Barnes, who retired in 1999 after 25 years as DPP, says it is “hard to see” how the proposed suicide clause is consistent with article 40 of the constitution, which refers to the “equal right to life” of the mother and the unborn.

He suggests that, when doctors are considering a termination on suicide grounds, the attorney general should represent the interests of the unborn at all stages of proceedings and be empowered to initiate judicial review of a decision.

In line with the X-case ruling of the Supreme Court in 1992, the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill provides for a medical abortion where there is a real and substantial risk of loss of the woman’s life by way of suicide.

In cases of suicidal intent, a panel of three specialist doctors must jointly certify that the risk to the mother’s life can be averted only by carrying out the termination.

Pointing out that the Bill allows the mother to apply for a review of the decision if she is refused a termination, Mr Barnes writes: “She gets two chances to have the life of the foetus terminated. As matters stand at present, the foetus gets no chance to have its right to survival advocated at all or otherwise vindicated.”

“Surely,” he writes, article 40 “calls for an equality of opportunity to have both rights to life adequately asserted”.

The Bill says the three specialists assessing cases involving suicidal intent must include an obstetrician and two psychiatrists. Mr Barnes expresses concern about these procedures, saying he finds it “difficult to accept” that a group of three doctors would be the best way of assessing the “bona fides” of a woman’s claim to be suicidal.

While psychiatric expertise would no doubt be of assistance in “ascertaining the reality of claim that a woman is suicidal because of her pregnancy”, he writes, it could “scarcely be asserted that such expertise is peculiarly or exclusively appropriate” in arriving at a decision.

“Obviously this would be particularly true of a case where a woman would make a spurious or dishonest claim of suicidal ideation for the purpose of obtaining a termination of her pregnancy under the provisions of the Bill if enacted in its present form,” he adds.

Proposing changes, Mr Barnes suggests the attorney general should be the person to ensure that the constitutional right to life of the unborn should be vindicated at all stages. The attorney should also initiate any application for judicial review which “might appear appropriate”.

Where a termination is granted under the suicide clause, there should be a short delay before a termination is carried out so as to enable judicial review to be taken. “Devising procedures to enable this to happen should not be beyond the wit of mankind,” writes Mr Barnes.

As DPP in 1992, Mr Barnes had a role in the drama that culminated in the landmark X-case judgment. Early that year, a family told gardaí their 14-year-old daughter had been raped by a neighbour and was pregnant. They said they intended to bring her to the UK for an abortion.

Mr Barnes referred the matter to the then attorney general, Harry Whelehan. He sought an injunction to prevent the girl leaving the jurisdiction, believing the 1983 amendment required the State to do so to protect the unborn child’s life. The High Court granted the injunction but the case ultimately ended up in the Supreme Court.

Irish Government accused of failing distressed borrowers as 12.3% of mortgages behind in re-payments


Home loans in arrears of 90 days or more rose to 12.3% in first quarter.
The Government has failed distressed borrowers and is more concerned with protecting the State’s banks, the head of the Free Legal Advice Centre, Noeline Blackwell, claimed yesterday as the worsening mortgage arrears crisis was highlighted by the Central Bank.

According to the latest data on distressed mortgages, the number of home loans in arrears of more than three months continued to rise in the first quarter of the year. A total of 12.3 per cent of loans had fallen at least 90 days behind in payments by the end of March.

More than 18,200 home loans were in arrears of 90-180 days, with 77,349 mortgages fallen into arrears of more than 180 days, the Central Bank said.

Early arrears – up to 90 days – showed a slight decline from the previous quarter, falling by 0.7 per cent to 46,564, and the total number of home loans in difficulty was put at more than 142,000.

Buy-to-let difficulty

Many thousands of buy-to-let mortgages are also in difficulty, with 29,369, or 19.7 per cent, falling into arrears of more than three months compared with 28,366, or 18.9 per cent, at the end of December. Some 910 properties had been repossessed by the end of the quarter.

“The numbers in arrears of more than two years has increased by 12 per cent over the last quarter and these deep arrears will be very hard to clear,” Ms Blackwell said. “There are 95,000 households in very serious difficulties and that equates to hundreds of thousands of people, which is a very big problem in a country of this size and it is not going to be just a debt problem but a major housing issue too.”

David Hall, of the Irish Mortgage Holders’ Association, said there was some surprise that the figures released yesterday were as bad as they were.

“There is absolutely no good news here. The number of people in arrears of more than a year is now well over 50,000. That is a very serious problem and one which is not being dealt with in any way by either the Government or the banks.”

The Irish Bankers’ Federation welcomed the slowdown in growth of early mortgage arrears. It said the figures showed that 79,689 mortgages on private homes had been restructured at the end of March 2013, an increase of 1.8 per cent on the previous quarter.

Restructured accounts

“Significantly, the Central Bank data shows that 76 per cent of these restructured accounts were meeting the terms of their arrangements,” it said. “Similarly, some 78 per cent of the 21,504 restructured buy-to-let mortgage accounts were also meeting the terms of their arrangements.”

Fine Gael’s junior minister in the Department of Finance,Brian Hayes, defended the Government’s approach and claimed mortgage arrears was “the number-one issue this year” and that “as we progress this year we have to see progress being made.

“As we see the solutions by the banks being rolled out in a realistic way, we are going to see these figures improve.”

Keep fruit and vegetables in daylight to boost nutrients


Fruits and vegetables should not be stored in the fridge or a dark cupboard because they need a natural cycle of day and night to produce optimum levels of nutrients and flavour, scientists claim.

Because they remain alive after being picked, the biological clocks of fruits and vegetables continue to tick meaning their cells remain active and they are still sensitive to the time of day.

Allowing them to continue on a day-night cycle keeps them in a more natural and healthy state while permanent darkness or light may affect their nutrient content for the worse, researchers found.

Like plants, food crops use their 24-hour clock to change their physical state throughout the day, for example by altering levels of chemicals which help them ward off pests.

These chemical balances can have an important impact on taste and nutritional value and some are even known to have anti-cancer properties.

The findings suggest that the way we store our food, and even the time of day that we eat it, could profoundly alter how healthy it is for up to a week after it is harvested, researchers claimed.

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Janet Braam, professor of biochemistry and cell biology at Rice University in Houston, Texas, explained: “Vegetables and fruits, even after harvest, can respond to light signals and consequently change their biology in ways that may affect health value and insect resistance.

“Perhaps we should be storing our vegetables and fruits under light-dark cycles and timing when to cook and eat them to enhance their health value.”

Writing in the Current Biology journal the researchers, from Rice University in Houston, Texas, described how the chemical balance of cabbage changes depending on how it is stored.

Using cabbage leaves that had been harvested two to three days earlier, the scientists exposed some samples to a 12-hour cycle of daylight and darkness for three days, while others were kept in permanent light or dark.

They found that those kept in a natural day-night cycle contained higher levels of key chemicals which repel pests, and they were gorged on half as much by insect larvae.

Some of these chemicals, known as glucosinates, can affect flavour and have been shown in other studies to have “potent” anti-cancer properties, the researchers said.

Levels of one such glucosinate, known as 4MSO, were also found to peak at certain points in the day.

A cabbage kept in natural light conditions and eaten four to eight hours after the first light would contain two to three times as much of the chemical as one kept in permanent darkness until eating, researchers said.

There was no significant difference between the cabbages after six or nine days, suggesting that their sensitivity to day and night lasts for only a week after harvest, or four to five days after purchase.

Refrigerating the cabbages did not prevent them regulating their chemical levels – but only if they still had a 12-hour period of light each day, meaning vegetables kept in a kitchen fridge may not fare so well.

Further tests revealed that lettuce, spinach, courgettes, sweet potatoes, carrots and blueberries all suffered less damage from pests when kept in a natural light-dark cycle, suggesting similar chemical processes could happen in various crops.

20 years of Humanism in a changing Ireland   


Humanist Association of Ireland (HAI ) is a national organisation that promotes the values of Humanism, working for people who choose to live an ethical life without religion and has been open to anyone from atheists, agnostics and freethinkers to rationalists, secularists and sceptics.

Earlier this year, the HAI was bestowed with an important honour from the Irish government, when it was given the right to conduct legal marriage ceremonies.

That was a key step as previously those who wished to have a humanist wedding also had to have a legal wedding.

In 2012 there were almost 200 humanist ceremonies which were not legally binding while 100 more were performed this year. And with legal ceremonies on the horizon, the HAI had also had 600 more applications by the end of March as interest overflowed.

But there has been a hitch as last month news emerged that accrediting humanist marriage celebrants has been a slow process, with the General Registrar’s Office (part of the Department of Social Protection) delaying the process as it had concerns about people profiting from solemnising.


The HAI’s Director of Ceremonies Brian Whiteside is the only legal Humanist celebrant in Ireland and yesterday he confirmed that there had been no progress on the issue.

Whiteside, who was conducting a ceremony yesterday, said: “There has been no substantial progess but we are hoping that everything goes to plan.”

It was a message echoed by the HAI’s Chairperson Ann James who confirmed that they are still working on the issue. Although the HAI did not celebrate World Humanist Day this year like in previous years, she accentuated the positives, stating that the legal recognition is a huge step forward.

“It is a huge show of respect for us and other like-minded people who look at the world in a different way to religious people, but with an ethical  standpoint,” she said.

It is all the more important given the rising number of people in Ireland who claim non-religious status but may have been compelled to take part in religious ceremonies for ease of access.

In the last census, over 250,000 claimed to have no religion, while a further 68,668 did not a divulge whether they were religious or non-religious.

However over 3.8 million people out of Ireland’s 4.5 million population claimed to be adherents of the Catholic Church, even though church attendance has been plummetting. Only 18 per cent of respondents in the last census were regular churchgoers.

That disconnect between those who claim to be nominally Catholic and those who are active churchgoers may be an issue at the next census, now that non-religious forms of marriage have been given a legal footing.

The HAI has encouraged people who are only religious on census papers to be open about their views in the 2016 census to give a truer picture of Irish society.

One does not need to become a member of the Humanist Association to avail of humanist weddings, but Ann James says that they leave the door open for those interested in its ideals:

“We do like to be attractive so that people who wish to lead an ethical, non-religious life know we are there. We are offering an alternative and even as a religious person you don’t feel excluded when you go to a humanist wedding ceremony.”

The Obama girls fight boredom & the midges in Glendalough Co Wicklow


Criticised for looking bored on their visits to a library and a lake this week, Malia and Sasha Obama were just being teenagers

Can we go now?: Sasha and Malia Obama, with their mother, Michelle, fight off boredom and midges at Glendalough this week.

‘Oh man, we have to have lunch with Bono again!” The anchorman on Good Morning America is one smart guy: rapier-sharp wit, sculpted locks and shiny eyes that can roll backwards in mock horror. He fairly well eviscerated the Obama girls, 14-year-old Malia and 12-year-old Sasha, for their apparent display of boredom during the family’s visit to our shores.

Well, he didn’t actually; he made a lame attempt to impersonate a bored teenager. His imagined line about Bono came at the end of an innocuous report focusing onMichelle Obama and her daughters’ tours of Trinity College Dublin and Glendalough, in Co Wicklow.

The report included a series of images that showed the girls having the temerity to look like ordinary, occasionally sullen teenagers rather than a couple of Shirley Templeswith plaster smiles and an agent for every ringlet.

Monastic settlements and dusty archives are unlikely to light many pubescent fires, whether the hard-pressed US taxpayer is footing the bill or not, and it’s probably fair to assume that trailing around after famous parents in the glare of the media is tedious enough without the added joy of watching dust particles dance in shafts of sunlight at an ancient library and listening to the enthusiasms of a bespectacled academic. It’s cheap to accuse those teenagers of boredom when all they displayed was a refreshing lack of affectation. They seem like demonstrative children: they slouch around in big sweaters and eat their own cuffs.

Give them a break. You can’t climb a family tree. You can skim stones on a lake, though, which was what they did when the history lesson in Co Wicklow was over. And I’m sure the fish and chips in Dalkey were most welcome, even if the vinegar had to be shared with an ageing rock star.

Anyone casting aspersions on the behaviour of the Obama brood has obviously never travelled with teenagers. They certainly haven’t travelled in a six-berth carriage on a sleeper train out of Paris with two male offspring who simultaneously decide to cultivate the art of farting at will. I’d like to take this opportunity to apologise to those two Danes with cushion-sole socks, prudent sandals and sensible haircuts.

There are lots of trips on offer for people who fear holidays with their adolescents – who fear the acres of silence, the caustic eyebrow, the stubborn refusal to co-operate until you dangle food in front of them.

Travel websites are full of helpful suggestions that make one chortle up one’s remortgaged sleeve: cycling in Bangkok, birdwatching in Madagascar, film-making inAlaska. Or how about New York, where, apparently, no teenager will be able to resist the allure of all that cut-price gadgetry?

And if you’re really in big trouble and can’t crack open your glowering teen with a prawn piri-piri or unlimited phone credit, you can always them to a bank-breaking Australian boot camp in the outback.

When I was growing up nobody ever went anywhere. No one on my street knew what delights lay west of Kinnegad, let alone the smell of a Parisian morning or the shriek of a churros seller in the early-morning Madrid streets.


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