News Ireland daily BLOG Monday

Monday 8th July 2013

Parliamentary inquiry the right forum to question Anglo chiefs, says Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore


SF’s McDonald calls for explanation on Dukes’s ‘singing dumb’ about existence of Anglo tapes

Directors and senior managers of the former Anglo Irish Bank should be questioned at a parliamentary inquiry, Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore has insisted in the Dáil.

He was responding to Sinn Féin deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald, who asked why Anglo Irish Bank chairman Alan Dukes, a former Fine Gael leader, did not tell the Central Bank about the existence of taped conversations between senior executives.

Ms McDonald said a public inquiry was not required for the Government to put some “very straightforward questions” to Mr Dukes.

The Dublin Central TD asked why did Mr Dukes, appointed to represent the interests of the public, “sing dumb” about the tapes. She also asked if the Nyberg banking commission, which investigated the bank collapse, was supplied with the tapes of senior executives.

“We don’t need a banking inquiry to establish that,” she said. She said to Mr Gilmore: “I want to know and I want you to find out what the public interest director was doing. Why did Alan Dukes sing dumb? I don’t think that matter can wait.”

Noting the revelation that the conversations of 18 senior executives were taped, the Sinn Féin TD said, “it seems inconceivable that senior managers didn’t know about these tapes since the gardaí sought these tapes through court orders”.

She said Fianna Fáil could also easily ask one of its former senators, Aidan Eames, also a director of the bank, what he knew.

But Mr Gilmore insisted directors and senior managers of the former Anglo Irish Bank should be questioned in a parliamentary inquiry.

“I believe that those questions need to be asked and put to the people concerned in a public forum.”

He said millions of electronic documents and tens of thousands of hard-copy documents had been seized and a special liquidator was investigating how the tapes came to be leaked.

But he warned: “We have to be careful to avoid prejudicing any proceedings.”

No conviction in almost 40% of Ireland’s sex cases


Almost four out of 10 rape and sex offence cases brought before the criminal courts last year did not secure a conviction, figures show.

A total of 83 suspected sex offenders were charged in 2012 – a 32% jump in two years – with 21 acquitted and 12 nolle prosequi entered.

The Court Service said domestic violence cases also soared by 20% as new laws allowed same-sex couples, co-habiting partners and former couples with a child to apply for protection.

Some 12,655 men and women sought a safety, protection or barring order, with 230 people jailed or handed suspended sentences for breaching the orders.

Elsewhere 41 murder cases were heard in the Central Criminal Court, with 35 convictions for murder, manslaughter or attempted murder.

But the Court service said there was a significant decrease in high visibility, high nuisance and highly dangerous activity, including a record 41% fall in drink-driving cases over two years.

Almost 160,000 defendants accused of 384,231 offences came before the courts, resulting in 693 criminal trials.

The Chief Justice, Ms Susan Denham above left picture, said there was a general 14% reduction in more minor criminal matters on 2011.

“Specifically there was a 10% drop in more minor drug offences, a 22% drop in public order and less serious assaults, and a one third drop in drink-driving orders,” she said.

“There was also a 30% reduction in juvenile crime.

“We might well stop and wonder why there was such a drop in these high visibility and high nuisance criminal activities.

“Is this related to the effects of greater emigration or a lessened population?

“Are intervention and awareness programmes working?

“Are the sanctions of the courts taking effect?

“Whatever the answers to the above, they show that our courts mirror an ever-changing society.”

Justice Minister Alan Shatter said the drop in numbers before the court, and falls recorded in recent crime figures, was down to smart policing initiatives despite having a smaller force.

“This is now a safer country than it was two and a half years ago,” he said.

Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan said fighting crime remains a constant battle for gardai and warned the theft of mobile phones and cash remains a concern, particularly in city centres.

But he commended officers involved in the significant explosives and arms find in Santry last week.

“This is down to intelligence-led policing by very dedicated specialist units who are committed to making this country safer here in the south, and making the country as a whole safer for our colleagues in Northern Ireland who of course always balanced that nexus logistical support here and active service units operating in Northern Ireland,” he added.

Elsewhere, Fianna Fáil claimed there are genuine concerns that latest crime figures, showing a decrease in most recorded crimes, do not ring true and called on the Garda Commissioner to appear before the Oireachtas Committee on Justice
Niall Collins, the party’s justice spokesman, said: “The reality is that we still have a very serious problem with burglaries, muggings, drugs and violent crime in many parts of the country.

“People are struggling to see the evidence of the significant reduction in crime that Minister Shatter rushed to welcome last week.”

Lice, damned lies and statistics on Salmon fishing 


Biased Siggins on ‘Morning Ireland’ repeatedly distorted the science and politics of salmon-farming and sea lice – failing elementary journalistic standards

Lorna Siggins’ performance on ‘Morning Ireland’ last Friday stunned those who have been following the fish-farm and sea-lice controversy which yields only one credible conclusion, confirmed by world experts and numerous studies – that fish farms generate sea lice that latch onto and devastate wild salmonids (salmon, trout, graylings etc).

Siggins has become part of the problem – a source of what Mark Costello, the leading scientist in the field, told Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney in May was ‘recent incorrect information in the media’. Costello, Professor at the University of Auckland and Chair of the World Register of Marine Species, says he does ‘not normally get involved in such debates’ but felt conscious-bound to make it clear that sea lice are ‘linked to mass fatal parasite infestations on wild salmon and trout in Ireland, Scotland, Norway and Canada’.

Said to be once so abundant that a man could walk across Irish rivers on their backs when they returned to spawn, human impact has devastated salmon across Europe. In Ireland, a dramatic decline in their population from  1.5 million in the 1970s only halted at 150,000 in 2006 when drift-net fishing was banned. With propagandists like Siggins controlling the media discussion those responsible for continuing threats can rest easy.

Siggins greenwashed the new Marine Institute Report she was invited on ‘Morning Ireland’ to discuss. Introducing the subject of her interview, farmed-salmon sea-lice and wild-salmon mortalities, she told the duped Rachael English ‘a working group then in 1994 said there was actually no way of confirming that link.’

That Government Working Group said no such thing and no scientist would make or encourage such a statement.  Siggins was in fact told about what the 1994  Report actually concluded more than a year ago, when it was published on Friends of the Irish Environment’s website with a Press Release sent to her desk.

The 1994 Working Group concluded that while the evidence available to date had not ‘disclosed a causative relationship between lice on farmed salmon and the collapse of the sea trout, the Working Group has now been able to demonstrate, for the first time, that a highly significant statistical relationship exists.’ Almost the opposite of what Siggins was spinning under-informed Rachael English.

Rather than dismissing a link, the Report concluded ‘Until further advances are made in this direction [knowledge concerning the precise nature and mechanisms of the causative relationship] a precautionary approach dictates that it would be prudent to avoid siting new fish farms, or increased farmed salmon production (above existing tonnages for the operation) within 20 km of a sea trout river mouth.’

Why did Siggins ignore this?

Talking about the new stooge Report from the Marine Institute’s Dr David Jackson, disingenuous Siggins told the nation that ‘they’re more or less saying that there really is no neglible [sic] impact of sea lice from fish farms on wild salmon stocks.’

But the new paper actually does not include any data on sea lice levels at all. No data on sea lice. Siggins got it completely wrong – once again to the advantage of the fish farmers.

The new paper merely says that the healthiest rivers are those that have fish farms sited near them. But that is simply because fish farms can only be located in the cleanest waters – it doesn’t prove a thing about the relationship between good salmon stocks and salmonid-farming sea lice. It is confusing correlation and causation. A first-year science course would sort that out.

But that misrepresentation paled when Siggins referred back to Jackson’s previous paper, released in 2011. She babbled that it proves from ‘a nine-year study of 250,000 salmon smolts which were released in eight different rivers and they were paired batches one treated for sea lice and the other one not and they found there was very little difference between the two and that sea lice were probably affecting about 1% of marine mortality of salmon overall.’

What she doesn’t say there – though all this has been patiently explained to her again and again by NGOs like the Friends – is that Jackson considered mortalities from sea lice not just where the salmons’ migratory path crossed the farm’s potential sea-lice blooms, but also where salmon smolts never crossed salmon farms – thus inevitably hugely diluting the true figures of the impact of sea lice on wild salmon.

If Jackson had given us the data in his paper to separate out those salmon studied exposed to lice populations in their migration paths from those whose paths did not cross salmon farms, we would have known what percentage  of smolts exposed to lice die compared to those not exposed. As Siggins knew and conceded during the interview, IFI conclusions showed 39% more salmon died if unprotected from lice from salmon farms – based on a 3-country EU sponsored 3-year study of protected and non-protected salmon passing by salmon farms.

Siggins claimed ‘that there really is no neglible impact of sea lice from fish farms on wild salmon stocks’. That flatly contradicts every single serious paper ever produced on this subject. Even Jackson’s Marine Institute nine-year study of 250,000 thousand salmon smolts (which included smolts which never saw sea lice) demonstrated a statistically significant higher return from smolts treated with protections, proving (once again) that lice are a statistically significant source of mortality.

Siggins ’understood’ that the Commission ‘may’ have had the latest paper (the one that actually has no sea-lice data at all in it) in reaching its decisions to dismiss the NGO complaint about sea lice. In fact, the record shows that not only did they have the lackey Jackson papers, the scientist himself was in Brussels to argue to have a complaint from the Irish NGO Salmon Watch Ireland dismissed.

Her best sleight Siggins kept to the end.

She reported that the Friends had appealed the closing of the recent EU probe into the issue on the grounds that ‘the Commission didn’t actually have all the information that it needed before it came to that conclusion’. As a professional journalist it might have been expected this would have been a central concern to her, assuming – which cannot be denied – that it is the truth.

Her failure is all the stranger since she had been informed, by the Friends, of Ireland’s outright lie to the Commission that it did not have the Report from Inland Fisheries Ireland (IFI) –  the Irish Body legally-charged with protecting wild salmon.  IFI’s Report flatly disagreed with the devious case the Marine Institute/Government was making. Siggins  had none of the usual journalistic instincts to highlight  a cover-up.

In fact, sycophantic Siggins had run a story in the Irish Times, leading to the ‘Morning Ireland’ interview.  It covered only Jackson’s irrelevant new study, though the ‘Morning Ireland’ piece shows she knew the significance of the Commission’s ‘not having all the information’. There was no mention in the ‘paper of record’ that the Friends had just filed three complaints for official maladministration over Simon Coveney’s Department of Agriculture concealing the Report from the investigation, though it had been submitted to them almost a year previously. The dog ate it?

The suppressed IFI report used the Marine Institute’s own sea-lice monitoring figures to show that: ‘This does not constitute good sea lice control’. It said that the Government’s position to the EU  that ‘no empirical evidence has been made available suggesting the presence of sea lice in salmon fish farms has a significant impact on the protected species’ is ‘not consistent with available information’, providing ‘numerous records that provide contrary evidence’. It concluded that ‘Mortalities of salmonids attributable to sea lice have been well documented.’

This is a cautious science-and-evidence-driven governmental body’s circumspect but unambiguous way of saying the Government’s position was wrong and misleading.

Today, Monday, Lorna Siggins has an apology of a piece in the Irish Times referring to IFI concerns about the Marine Institute study but both the IFI and she fail to mention the cover-up of the IFI’s own report.

Fact/fiction, statistical relationship/causation, link/no-link, openness/cover-up. Siggins just doesn’t seem to get the difference.

When it comes to science, journalists like Siggins whose Linkedin site proudly proclaims her education in ‘Arts Humanities’ and ‘History’, need to tread far more carefully, at least if their agenda is the truth.

47% of babies studied have flat spots on heads


Placing healthy babies on their backs to sleep reduces the risk of SIDS and takes precedent over concerns about positional plagiocephaly, a flattened head condition that generally can be reversed.

An education campaign launched in 1992 to have healthy babies sleep on their backs is credited with a 50% decrease in the infant mortality rate in the U.S. from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. But along with the decline has come greater awareness of a condition called positional plagiocephaly, in which an infant’s head is flattened or misshapen, from too much time in the back position in the first months of life.

Other studies have put the rate of positional plagiocephaly (pronounced pley-jee-uh-SEF-uh-lee) anywhere from 3% to 61%. A new, large sample of 440 healthy infants finds 47% of babies ages 7 to 12 weeks had the condition.

By this age, plagiocephaly resulting from the use of forceps or other instruments during delivery typically would have resolved, says researcher Aliyah Mawji,an assistant professor of nursing at Mount Royal University in Calgary, Alberta, Canada.

Ongoing flat spots on the back or one side of an infant’s head “are signs that the baby has not been given enough opportunities for repositioning” to prevent pressure on the flat areas and gradually correct the head shape, says Mawji, lead author of the study in the August issue of the journalPediatrics, published online today.

In 1999, Canadian health officials also began recommending that all healthy infants be placed on their backs to sleep, and have likewise seen reductions in the number of SIDS cases but also increases in reports of plagiocephaly, says the new study.

Of the 205 infants in the study observed to have some form of plagiocephaly, 78% were classified as having a mild form, 19% moderate; 3% severe. Most infants (63%) were affected on the right side of the head.

The right-sided preference has been documented in other studies and may be related to a “position of comfort” established by some babies when in the uterus and the birth canal, says Mawji.

According to an American Academy of Pediatrics’ 2011 clinical report on positional plagiocephaly, these conditions are “generally benign, reversible” anomalies that do not require surgical intervention, as opposed to craniosynostosis, a serious skull abnormality that can result in neurologic damage and progressive craniofacial distortion.

The vast majority of cases can be corrected with physical therapy and non-invasive measures, according to the AAP. If the condition appears to be worsening by 6 months, referrals should be made to a pediatric neurosurgeon to help determine whether a skull-shaping orthotic helmet or other interventions are needed.

The high incidence rate of positional plagiocephaly in this new study indicates that greater parent education about prevention is needed before infants arrive for the 2-month checkup, says Mawji.

Both the AAP and the National Institutes of Health stress that flat spots are much less serious than SIDS and that parents and caregivers should continue to place infants on their backs to sleep, while incorporating repositioning strategies, including:

• “Tummy time” when the infant is awake and supervised. This not only helps prevent flat spots, but it also helps the head, neck and shoulder muscles get stronger as part of normal development.

• Changing the direction that the infant lies in the crib from one week to the next. This encourages the infant to turn his or her head in different directions to avoid resting in the same position all the time.

• Avoiding too much time in car seats, carriers and bouncers while the infant is awake. Spend “cuddle time” with the child by holding him or her upright over one shoulder often during the day.

• Changing the location of the infant’s crib in the room so that the child has to look in different directions to see the door or the window.

Chocolate and fizzy drinks could be used as cancer detectors because malignant tumours feed off sugar


  • Malignant tumours consume more glucose than healthy tissues
  • Scientists can scan for glucose uptake using MRI to identify tumours

Chocolate, fizzy drinks and other sugar-laden foods could soon be used to detect cancer.

Scientists have developed a technique that identifies the disease by tracking how sugar is absorbed by the body.

Malignant tumours consume much more glucose – a simple sugar – than healthy tissues in order to feed their rapid growth.

By adjusting an MRI scanner to look for glucose uptake, researchers at University College London discovered tumours glowed brightly during imaging, after something sweet had been consumed.

The breakthrough provides a safer and simpler alternative to standard radioactive techniques, and could be available in as little as 18 months.

Due to the need for radiation, the current method of scanning is not recommended for pregnant women and children, and only available at a limited number of larger hospitals and specialist centres.

In contrast, MRI facilities are commonplace, meaning less travel for patients. And as there are no adverse effects from the technique, it can be used on a frequent basis to track whether a cancer is responding to therapy and tailor a patient’s treatment.

As well as being cheaper and safer, the new method also raises hopes of improved survival rates.

Senior author Professor Mark Lythgoe, director of UCL’s Centre for Advanced Biomedical Imaging (CABI), said the results had been unexpected.

He said: ‘I certainly didn’t believe it as possible to fine tune an MRI scanner to pick up glucose movement even 18 months ago. But our research proves it can be done.

‘It can be done after consuming a sweet drink, like a cola or a fruit juice, or food. We can detect cancer using the same sugar content found in half a standard sized chocolate bar.’

In the study, published in the journal Nature Medicine, the team tracked tumours in mice with bowel cancer. They found the cancerous growth was detectable by an MRI scanner following glucose ingestion.

The method has also been trialled on a handful of cancer patients with early signs of success.

He said: ‘It was promising. You could see the uptake of the glucose in the area around the tumour.’

Unlike the current method of scanning, known as positron emission tomography (PET), which requires a trace amount of a radioactive substance to be injected into a patient, the new technique is needle free.

‘Effectively you don’t even have to give a patient an injection, as sugary food is absorbed so quickly, so it will be good news for those who don’t like needles,’ said Professor Lythgoe.

He added: ‘As for PET, there is always a small risk associated with anything involving radioactivity. So it can only be used sparingly, and is not suitable for pregnant women or children.

‘Too much radiation can damage DNA, and can either result in cell deaths or some cellular damage which can lead to secondary cancerous growths.

‘But with glucose scanning, there are no adverse effects, so it can be carried out much more often. If a doctor wants to follow up how a cancer is responding to treatment then they can scan the tumour on a weekly, or even a daily basis.’

Lead researcher Dr Simon Walker-Samuel, also from CABI, said the newly-developed technique used radio waves to magnetically label glucose in the body.

‘This can then be detected in tumours using conventional MRI techniques,’ he said. ‘It could offer a cheap, safe alternative to existing methods for detecting tumours, which require the injection of radioactive material.’

Clinical trials are now taking place, said Professor Lythgoe, who added: ‘We don’t have to refine the technique, as it stands it works. In a year’s time, we will be able to see hospitals picking it up.’

Dr Kat Arney, Cancer Research UK’s science communications manager, said: ‘Researchers have known for many years that cancer cells produce energy and use sugar slightly differently from healthy cells.

‘This exciting experimental scanning technique, suggests that regular, non-radioactive glucose can be used to detect bowel tumours in mice. It’s got the potential to become a safer, cheaper way of diagnosing and monitoring cancer, so the next step is to test it in patients – using controlled doses of pure glucose rather than sweets or chocolate –  to see how well it works in the clinic.’

Antarctic Lake Vostok could have some fish & complex animals living in it


Researchers have to drill through thousands of metres of ice to reach the surface of Lake Vostok

There could be some complex animals living in Lake Vostok, which lies close to 4km below Antarctica’s ice sheet.

The possibility is raised by scientists who have sifted genetic material in ice drilled from close to Vostok’s surface.

They found signatures for organisms such as bacteria that are often associated with marine molluscs, crustaceans and even fish.

But the team cautions in the PLoS One journal that this material may also represent past contamination.

Scientists now recognise that Antarctica is underlain by a complex network of rivers, and many of the identified organisms, or their traces, could perhaps have been delivered to Vostok from the ocean. The lake is 200m below sea level.

It is, nonetheless, another fascinating twist in the story of this deeply buried lake.

First identified in 1956 by the Russians and mapped in the 1990s by the British, Vostok covers an area of 15,000 square km, and in places is 800m deep.

Researchers believe it has not been open to the atmosphere for many millions of years, and a drilling effort has recently tried to sample its waters.

The new PLoS study examined genetic material – stretches of RNA – isolated from ice that froze on to the ice sheet as it moved above the lake. The supposition was that this content might hint at the type of life present in Vostok.

Thousands of unique matches were identified with sequences already listed in public databases.

The vast majority (94%) of these matches were with bacteria, while a smaller group (6%) were with more complex, multi-cellular organisms (eukaryotes). A handful of links were made also to archaea – very primitive, single-celled microbes.

A large number of bacterial sequences, reports the team, were from “animal commensals, mutualists and pathogens… including those associated with annelids, sea anemones, brachiopods, tardigrades and fish.”

The team also found matches to types of bacteria that thrive in hot environments, such as around volcanic hydrothermal vents on the sea floor. If such vents existed in Vostok, they could “provide sources of energy and nutrients vital for organisms living in the lake”, the team writes in PloS One.

Lake Vostok is the largest of about 375 sub-glacial bodies of water now mapped under Antarctica’s ice sheet.

These “ghost” lakes are kept in a liquid state by heat rising from the rockbed below and from the pressure of all the ice pushing down from above.

Astrobiologists have a particular interest in the lakes.

Conditions in them may not be that different from those in the liquid water bodies thought to exist under the surfaces of icy moons in the outer Solar System.

Places like Europa, which orbits Jupiter, and Enceladus, which circles Saturn, may be among the best places beyond Earth to go to look for alien organisms.


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