News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Wednesday 26th June 2013

Central Bank now studying Anglo Irish Bank transcripts


THE Central Bank is “carefully” studying the various transcripts emerging as part of the Irish Independent expose of conversations between Anglo Irish Bank executives before and after the historical 2008 bank guarantee.

In a statement released today, it said “This is something that is viewed very seriously.

“The Central Bank will be liaising with the Gardaí in this regard and is also examining whether or not any breaches of regulatory requirements may have occurred arising from the information contained in the transcripts.”


The Germans are very unhappy as Anglo ‘mocking’ makes front page

The newspaper Bild says bankers made fun of savers’ naïveté

It took almost five years, but the tapes of ex-Anglo Irish Bank executives have finally put Ireland on the front page of the best-selling Bild tabloid.

“Irish broke bankers mock German customers — Deutschland Über alles” is the headline on today’s page one story.

“They mocked their customers even as they were doomed,” begins the story on the Anglo tapes.

Though the bank’s ex-managers knew a State bank guarantee “would not be enough”, they “made fun of the naïveté of German savers”, described them as “Scheissdeutsche” and “sang the first verse of “Deutschland, Deutschland Über Alles”.

For years the influential Bild has adopted a moderate line on Ireland while attacking “broke” Greeks, “crooked” Cypriots and other bailout candidates. Yesterday marked the end of this kid-glove treatment.

The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung puts its traditional restraint aside in today’s edition, recommending that former Anglo executives are put in a “big sack” along with all shareholders, creditors, members of the last Irish government and relevant members of the Irish Central Bank and Irish and European regulatory authorities.

“Then one hits the sack with a club until the screams of pain are unbearable,” it advised in an editorial. “Afterwards, all decision-makers in Europe take citizens by the hand and assure them that a debacle such as that of Anglo Irish Bank will never again be permitted.”

Germany’s Handelsblatt business daily headlined its report: “Billions ‘pulled out of arse’.”

Citing Taoiseach Enda Kenny, it added: “It remains to be seen if the top floor of Anglo consciously misled then Irish leaders or worked secretly with them to keep the booming property market alive.”

The Neue Zurcher Zeitung, in its report “The Hubris of Irish Bankers”, cited Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore that the “insight into the attitude of Irish bankers would complicate his efforts to have the ESM rescue fund move in the direction of still-existing banks”.

Education Minister Ruairí Quinn reverses special needs cut


Minister moves to reassure parents over education reforms

No child who requires access to SNA support will be deprived of this support, says Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn

Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn last night moved to assure the parents of children with special needs that they would not be disadvantaged while reforms in this area of education were being implemented.

Mr Quinn was speaking in the Dáil, after he reversed a decision to cut extra resource teaching hours by about half an hour for some 42,000 children.

The change had been announced last week by the National Council for Special Education.

The Department of Education last night said also insisted there had been no cut in special needs assistants (SNAs). In a statement the department said “the number of applications has not increased since last year” for special needs assistants.

There were more than 10,490 posts, the same as last year, “to meet the care of 22,000 students”. The Opposition claimed last week however the number of students needing special needs assistants had increased from 20,000 to 22,000.

And last night Fianna Fáil education spokesman Charlie McConalogue said the Government “still refuses to admit that there is any cut to the hours which individual students have access to and they’re sticking to the defence, based on the same pretence that you abandoned today Minister when you agreed to increase the number of resource teachers which you are going to hire”.

Mr McConalogue had introduced a Fianna Fáil private members’ motion calling on the Government to reverse the cuts. The Donegal North East TD welcomed the Minister’s decision earlier yesterday to reverse the cuts in resource teaching hours.

Mr Quinn stressed: “No child who requires access to SNA support will be deprived of this support. There has been no change to the eligibility criteria this year either.”

The Minister said “all eligible children have been allocated SNA support” for the coming school year.

He said 10,490 posts had been allocated and there were 70 posts remaining to be allocated during the school year.

During the debate, which continues tonight, Mr Quinn said: “I wish to take this opportunity to assure parents that their children will not be disadvantaged while we move towards the new model which will ensure greater fairness and quality of education for children with special educational needs.”

Some 2,500 Irish people denied hospice access  A new report states


Volunteers for Irish Hospice Sunflower Day photographed on Grafton Street earlier this year from left Mark O’Donnell Elizabeth Mary Donnelly and Leah Whelan.

Tripling of beds needed to meet demand, Irish Hospice Foundation says

Up to 2,500 terminally-ill patients are denied access to hospice inpatient care each year because of the lack of services nationwide, it emerged today.

A new report by the Irish Hospice Foundation (IHF) found three times as many hospice beds are needed in the country to meet demand.

IHF chief executive Sharon Foley said in some areas of the country patients at their most vulnerable are being denied access to services simply because of where they live.

She added: “Not having access to inpatient hospice beds has a critical impact on whether a patient dies in an acute hospital or not.

“We are calling on the government to explore what might be achievable through a broad end-of-life strategy.”

An estimated 6,000 people died in a hospice last year but areas with limited access to a hospice recorded more cancer deaths in hospital.

Cancer is Ireland’s second biggest killer, accounting for more than 8,000 deaths — more then a quarter of the death toll.

The IHF said going by current population figures, there should be 450 hospice beds in the country but only 155 hospice beds are available.

Another 44 beds are ready in Blanchardstown and Cork but are not yet operational because of funding shortages.

Three regions — the north east (Louth, Meath, Cavan, Monaghan), the midlands (Laois, Offaly, Westmeath, Longford) and the south east (Waterford, Wexford, Kilkenny and Carlow) — have no hospice service while Wicklow, Mayo and Kerry have no hospice inpatient unit, the IHF said.

Report author Eugene Murray warned demand for hospice care is expected to increase to more than 12,500 people in 2016. “While only 26 per cent of all deaths in Ireland occur in the home, 40 per cent of patients cared for by home care teams die at home,” he said.

“Given that these will often be patients with the most complex care needs, this is a great tribute to hospice home care teams countrywide.

“But where keeping the patient at home is not feasible and there is no hospice in a region, the home care team has no choice but to look for admission to an acute hospital.”

The report found home care services in areas where palliative care is under-resourced was better than in regions with hospice beds, with the number of home care nurses per patient population in the north east, the midlands and the south east higher than the national average.

It also revealed the estimated cost per patient receiving specialist palliative home care support is just €686 .

Dr Kathy McLoughlin, who also worked on the report, said many international studies indicate savings when patients access hospice programmes “They also show improved length of life, better symptom control and patient and carer experience,” she added.

“Hospice services can provide real savings to the healthcare system and meet the needs of patients. “By ensuring that patients with life-limiting conditions are cared for in the most appropriate setting for their needs such as hospices, the State can secure the more efficient use of acute hospital resources.”

The strength of Ireland’s defence forces at lowest since the 1970’s


Spending on Army pensions up 30 per cent as retirement rate doubles in recession

The rate of retirements from the Irish defence forces has more than doubled since the recession began, with the full strength of the Army, Naval Service and Aer Corps now well below the 9,500 minimum level set by Government.The spike in retirements has resulted from lingering concerns among personnel that their retirement lump sums and pensions are likely to be adversely impacted the longer the recession continues.

“Every year a new rumour goes around that unless you leave by the end of that year you’ll lose out because of (pension) cuts or a higher tax on gratuity,” said one source.

Minister for Justice and Defence Alan Shatter told theOireachtas committee on Justice, Equality and Defence the rate of retirements was 597 last year, compared to 276 in 2008, the year the economic collapse took hold.

In 2009, 2010 and 2011 retirements reached 425, 427 and 498 respectively.

The increased retirement rate has created a large number of new people on military pensions, with expenditure in that area having increased from €181.7 million in 2007 to €237.9 million last year.

“While we are some way from the end of 2013 and the final number of retirements is not yet known, it is my intention that any shortfall arising on the pensions vote provision will be met from payroll and other savings on the Defence vote,” Mr Shatter said.

Recruitment has been permitted in recent years despite the public service recruitment moratorium but the rate of personnel retiring has increased to such an extent that the level of recruitment has failed to keep pace.

The current number of enlisted personnel, at 9,150, is some 350 below the minimum level set by the Government. That puts the forces at their lowest levels since the early 1970s.

As recently as the end of 2008, the total strength of the Defence Forces was 10,500.

While the reduced numbers have been a concern for senior officers, it is anticipated that a new recruitment in-take will occur in the autumn.

There are some 445 personnel currently posted on 12 overseas missions, the largest number based with the UN in Lebanon. However, in coming months the 360 troops posted there will be reduced to around 160 as the Finnish army takes the lead role on the mission.

Mr Shatter told the committee the number of call outs for the Army’s bomb disposal experts was increasing again this year after previously falling back.

While improvised explosive devices, including pipe bombs, were once only used by subversive groups, criminal gangs were now involved and many of these were supported by, or supplied with devices by, subversive elements.

In 2010 there were 198 call outs, increasing to 237 in 2011 before falling back to 209 in 2012. There were 64 hoaxes in 2011 and 70 finds of viable devices. Last year while the number of hoaxes fell to 50, finds of viable devices increased to 96.

In the first five months of this year there were 110 call outs, 43 of which resulted in the discovery of a viable device.

Diabetes experimental vaccine shows great promise in early trials


An experimental vaccine may be able to delay or prevent the autoimmune disease

The diabetes drug market is a $43 billion-a-year business.

An early stage study suggests an experimental vaccine may be able to tame bits of the immune system that go haywire in people with type 1 diabetes, offering hope for a new way to delay or prevent the autoimmune disease, researchers said yesterday.

For more than four decades, scientists have tried different ways of manipulating the immune system to stop the destruction of insulin-producing cells that is responsible for type 1 diabetes.

Some prior attempts suppressed desirable parts of the immune system, leaving individuals vulnerable to infections and cancer. Several teams are now attempting more targeted approaches in an effort to delay or reverse type 1 diabetes. Those with this form of diabetes currently must monitor their blood sugar and take insulin several times a day, but the treatment is risky – it can cause coma or death at any time and can lead to heart disease, nerve damage, blindness and kidney failure over time.

In the latest effort, published yesterday in the journalScience Translational Medicine, teams from Leiden University Medical Centre in the Netherlands and Stanford University in California tested a vaccine genetically engineered to shut down only the immune system cells causing harm, while leaving the rest of the immune system intact.

“The idea here is to turn off just the rogue immune cells that are attacking the pancreas and killing the beta cells that secrete insulin,” said Stanford professor Dr Lawrence Steinman, one of the study’s senior authors and co-founder of a company called Tolerion recently formed to commercialize the vaccine. The study, done in 80 people diagnosed with type 1 diabetes who were receiving insulin injections, was designed to test the safety of the vaccine known as TOL-3021. After 12 weeks of shots given once a week, patients who got the vaccine showed signs that they helped preserve some of the remaining insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas without causing serious side effects.

Ancient horse bone yields oldest DNA sequence


The study massively extends the time period for which DNA can be used to reveal ancient biological secrets

A fragment of a fossilised bone thought to be more than 700,000 years old has yielded the genome of an ancient relative of modern-day horses.

This predates all previous ancient DNA sequences by more than 500,000 years.

The study in the journal Nature was made possible because the bone was found preserved in Canadian permafrost following the animal’s demise.

The study also suggested that the ancestor of all equines existed around four million years ago.

  A remnant of the long bone of an ancient horse was recovered from the Thistle Creek site, located in the west-central Yukon Territory of Canada.

Palaeontologists estimated that the horse had last roamed the region sometime between a half to three-quarters of a million years ago.

An initial analysis of the bone showed that despite previous periods of thawing during inter-glacial warm periods, it still harboured biological materials – connective tissue and blood-clotting proteins – that are normally absent from this type of ancient material.

DNA puzzle

And this finding was significant as study co-author of the paper, Dr Ludovic Orlando from the University of Copenhagen explained.

You would be amazed how much material of this kind is actually out there… museums are full of fossil material from all over the planet”

Keith DobneyUniversity of Aberdeen said “We were really excited because it meant that the preservation was really good,”

“So at that stage we thought, let’s try a DNA extraction to see how much of the genome we could characterise.”

The multi-national team of researchers pulverised a fragment of the bone to recover its DNA, then subjected it to high-throughput, next-generation gene sequencing to unravel the blueprint of this antediluvian mount.

The first approach they tried resulted in relatively poor yields of horse-derived sequences, so they turned to a technology that could directly analyse single molecules of DNA.

This proved far more successful – but they still had an abundance of data to plough through.

Using high-powered computers and an existing horse genome sequence as a reference, the scientists sifted through the 12 billion sequencing reads to distinguish between DNA motifs belonging to the ancient horse and those from contaminating organisms, such as bacteria accumulated from the environment.

Przewalski’s horse, once extinct in the wild, is viewed as the only remaining truly wild horse

From the resulting equine DNA fragments, they reconstructed a draft of its genome. Although the derived sequence data only covered around 70% of the entire genome, this was sufficient foundation for some revealing analyses.

The tell-tale presence of Y chromosome markers showed that the Thistle Creek bone had belonged to a male.

But the DNA also enabled them to reconstruct the evolutionary history of the larger Equusgenus, which includes modern-day horses and zebras.

To do this, the scientists also determined the DNA sequence of a donkey, an ancient pre-domestication horse dating back around 43,000 years, five modern horses and a Przewalski’s horse, which possibly represents the last surviving truly wild horse population.

Family trees, based on similarity of the DNA sequences, revealed the relationships between these equine stable-mates and their longer evolutionary history.

Heirs and grazes

The Thistle Creek genome was reassuringly ancestral to the modern horses – positioned as it was at the base of the tree.

Geological dating evidence meant that the researchers could calibrate the rate of evolution in the different branches, and from this look back into the depths of the tree to approximate the age of the Equus genus ancestor – the forerunner to the donkey, zebra and horse.

The results suggested it grazed the grasslands between 4 and 4.5 million years ago – twice as long ago as most previous estimates.

Through surveying sequence diversity in a larger number of domestic and Przewalki’s horse samples- by looking in the genes for what are known as single nucleotide polymorphisms or SNPs – past population sizes could be modelled.

DNA was extracted from pieces of the ancient bone

Over the last two million years horses had experienced significant population expansions and collapses associated with climatic changes, and one collapse coincided with the date when the Thistle Creek and modern horses diverged.

The location of the genetic differences between the ancient and modern horses also provided tantalising clues into some of the possible consequences of these genetic differences, as Dr Orlando explained to the BBC.

“Once you have the genome, one thing you can do is to actually look at different genes that we know today are important for different traits.

“What we’ve learned for example the alleles that prime to the racing performance in domestics were not present at that time, for example.”

Commenting on the wider implications of the study, co-author Eske Willerslev of the University of Copenhagen said: “Pushing back the time barrier is important because it has implications for our evolutionary understanding of anything from hominins to other animals, because we can look further back in time than people have done previously.”

Palaeoecologist Keith Dobney from the University of Aberdeen echoed the sentiment.

“There were many things we said wouldn’t be possible in ancient DNA [studies] not that long ago, until next generation sequencing came along and all of a sudden everything has changed, and I mean everything,” he said.

Modern sequencing approaches and better fossil specimens will allow scientists to gaze further and further back into the mists of ancient evolution, and Prof Dobney said that procuring samples for future studies should not be a problem.

“You would be amazed how much material of this kind is actually out there.

“Museums are full of fossil material from all over the planet, caves are fantastic stable environments for preservation and some of the best preserved DNA has come out of cave deposits,” he said.

But would we recognise the Equus ancestor as a horse?

“Even if you look at the Przewalski horse, which has a divergence time of only about 50,000 years ago… and compare it to the domestic horse, you can already see differences,” observed Prof Willerslev.

“I would definitely say it would not look like a horse as we know it… but we would expect it to be a one-toed horse.”


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