News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Saturday 27th July 2013

Former Irish President Mary Robinson almost had a breakdown


Ex Irish President Mary Robinson quit her presidency three months before her end of term in 1997 to take up the job as UN High Commissioner for Human Rights

Former Irish president Mary Robinson has revealed she was on the verge of a breakdown when she took one of the top posts in the United Nations.

In a revealing and intimate interview on BBC Radio 4, she also confessed her problems with the Catholic Church over its authoritarian stance on family planning.

Ms Robinson, who quit her presidency three months before her end of term in 1997 to take up the job as UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, said she struggled with stress.

“I decided to get up earlier in the morning, come in, work harder, work later,” she said. “I started taking sleeping pills and by the first Christmas in 1997 I was a wreck. I was exhausted.

“My eldest brother who was a doctor took a look at me and he told me, ‘Mary, you’ve got to watch it, you’re going into breakdown territory’.”

The 69-year-old said she ultimately decided to throw away her sleeping pills and take a break. “I took an extra week and spent a lot of time walking by the lake and pulled myself together,” she said. “I decided I’ve got to get on top of this. I’ve got to do this job.”

Ms Robinson became emotional during an airing of the famous Desert Island Discs. She broke into tears as she recalled a trip to Delhi, when a crowd of children gave a rousing performance of We Shall Overcome – a song she chose as one of her desert island discs.

Ms Robinson, who was Ireland’s first female president as well as the first to meet the Queen at Buckingham Palace, also discussed her faith.

“I’m not somebody who goes to mass every Sunday because I feel I have to,” she said. “I’m deeply spiritual and I’m seeking to understand the way in which so much of the Catholic Church is so authoritarian not supporting family planning. So there’s a great deal that I’m very, very troubled by.”

She said she still believes in the “gospel of Jesus as being the highest standard that we can attain”.

Austerity is hurting too many Irish people says St Vincent de Paul


The Central Bank has urged the Government not to turn away from the path of austerity when formulating the upcoming October Budget.

The bank, in its quarterly bulletin, indicated its dismay that there was talk of pruning back “fiscal consolidation”.

And it emphasised that the Government must ensure that “this temptation must be resisted”.

The Central Bank was also less than optimistic about the future growth of the economy.

It significantly cut its forecast for economic growth, stating gross domestic product will be just 0.7pc this year, down from an earlier prediction of 1.2pc.

However, the Society of St Vincent de Paul has slammed the statement from the Central Bank which, it said, showed a “one-track-mind” with the financial community which will cause “even further hardship” to thousands of Irish people.

STRUGGLING: “The people we assist and those who are struggling throughout Ireland have suffered enough,” a spokesman for St Vincent de Paul said.

“All people in Ireland deserve a living income in and out of work but the level of austerity imposed over the last six budgets has made this aspiration impossible for thousands of individuals and families.

“We believe that Government can choose to close the gap between Ireland’s revenue and expenditure while protecting vulnerable people and the services they rely on,” they added.

The Central Bank outlined that weakness in the economy during the first three months of 2013 was across the board.

“Consumption, having recorded two consecutive quarters of growth during mid-2012, registered its largest quarterly contraction since 2009,” it said.

“Exports of goods and services, which had been the main driver of economic growth in recent years, also fell sharply,” it said in a statement.

“The latter reflects the challenging external environment faced by Irish exporters, as well as structural issues related to patent expiry in the pharmaceutical sector.”

VHI is seeking a longer-term partnership with Berkshire Hathaway


Reilly warns deal cannot be substitute for cost control at State-owned health insurer

The re-insurance conThe State-owned health insurance company VHI has said it is working on securing a longer-term partnership with Berkshire Hathaway, the company run by billionaire investor Warren Buffett (pictured right) .tract between VHI and Berkshire Hathaway, which was announced yesterday, will run for one year.

Meanwhile, the Minister for Health James Reilly has warned that the re-insurance deal could not be a substitute for cost control at the VHI.

Speaking yesterday he said he welcomed the new arrangement between VHI and Berkshire Hathaway.

However, he said the process to control costs would continue unabated and that costs in the private health insurance system were “far too high”.

The deal announced yesterday will see Berkshire Hathaway reinsure about €700 million of VHI’s claims – about 50 per cent of the total.

‘First investment’
In a statement VHI confirmed that it had entered into a reinsurance contract with Berkshire Hathaway, which it described as one of the largest reinsurers in the world.

“This is the first investment this company has made in the insurance market in Ireland and as such is a major vote of confidence in VHI Healthcare. It is a short-term deal; however, we are working on securing a longer-term partnership.”

VHI said the new initiative should reduce the capital requirements of the company to secure authorisation from the Central Bank. The authorisation process is due to be completed by the end of year.

The Government had previously been advised by the Department of health that it would potentially have to invest more than €200 million to bring the company’s reserves up to a level needed to facilitate the authorisation process.

The company said yesterday that the re-insurance deal with Berkshire Hathaway would minimise the amount of capital required from Government.

Blood pressure drugs give brain a boost, researchers find


Researchers say the brain improvements were small but over the years, the boost to cognitive functions could be immense

Researchers in Canada and Ireland have discovered that blood pressure drugs, known as ACE inhibitors, can improve brain function while slowing down the onset of dementia.

ACE inhibitors, known by names such as ramipril and perindopril, have been already been shown in previous studies to delay the onset of dementia. What the medical community didn’t know was that these drugs may also enhance cognitive function.

The study, published in the British Medical Journal, concludes that the use of ACE inhibitors could become useful in the management of dementia.

The study examined 361 patients, all of whom had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, vascular dementia (triggered by lack of blood supply to the brain) or a mix of the two.

Many Alzheimer’s patients suffer dementia, which can affect memory, thinking, reasoning, planning and the ability to speak.

Eighty-five of the patients were already taking the ACE inhibitors while the rest were not.

Researchers also separately tested 30 patients, put on the drugs for the first time, for changes in their brain function. The average age was 77 and participants were followed for one year.

In measuring cognitive function, scientists at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ont., and University College Cork in Ireland, tested the participants six months apart.

The 30 people who had begun taking ACE inhibitors for the first time showed improvement over the six-month period, compared with those already taking them and those not taking them at all.

The study’s authors say it could be because those put on a new drug regimen tend to be more diligent about taking the pills versus those that have been on them for years or, it might be a product of improved blood flow to the brain.

“Although the differences were small and of uncertain clinical significance, if sustained over years, the compounding effects may well have significant clinical benefits,” concludes the study.

The authors do warn the ACE inhibitors can be harmful to some patients and suggest wider studies on the use of these drugs on people suffering from dementia.

New wet suit designed to protect from shark attacks


Scientists at the University of Western Australia and designers at Shark Attack Mitigation Systems created a new wet suit to protect against shark attacks.

The technology was created in response to the growing incidence of shark attacks on the coast of West Australia.

Researchers have created two main designs to keep sharks at bay.

One design makes swimmers almost invisible to the predators.

The designs are based on the science of visual cues for shark attacks.


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