Monthly Archives: September 2013

News Ireland daily BLOG update Monday

Monday 30th September 2013

Transport Minister Varadkar blames high taxes for Ireland’s brain drain


Our best and brightest people are paying too much tax and should be given some relief to stop the brain drain, a senior minister has warned.

Highly qualified younger workers are going to Canada, the US and Australia because they are getting “a better lifestyle, higher pay and lower taxes”, Transport Minister Leo Varadkar told the Irish Independent.

He said recent figures showing many highly skilled workers are emigrating highlight the need to keep taxes low.

“Equality and fairness are important, but we must not push our best talent out of Ireland,” he said.

Mr Varadkar’s comments will be seen as a signal of Fine Gael priorities once Ireland exits the bailout, and of putting down a marker to Labour if it tries to push again for tax increases during the lifetime of this Government.

The Dublin West TD said that while it is too early to introduce tax cuts now, it should be on the agenda, particularly for income tax and the Universal Social Charge (USC), once the country exits the bailout.

Mr Varadkar’s comments came after junior finance minister Brian Hayes said the Government cannot continue to “tax the hell” out of people and as preparations for the October 15 Budget intensify.

The Government will get the crucial figures for the September Exchequer returns today, which will allow it to make a final call on the Budget adjustment.

The Coalition is keen that people are given some indication that years of pain are coming to an end, even if austerity will not end just yet.

“We need to show people that we’re on the way out of this situation,” a Labour source said.

Mr Varadkar said: “People calling for more tax hikes for the successful need to consider the effect that would have.”

He added that young people moving up the career ladder are seeing almost half their extra earnings taken in tax.

The Coalition almost came to breaking point before last year’s Budget, when Labour demands for a 3pc increase in the USC failed when Fine Gael countered with a proposal for an across-the-board cut of 3pc in welfare rates.

Negotiations for the upcoming Budget will intensify this week, and the Government is expected to decide on a final figure for the exact number of cuts and taxes. The final figure is expected to be between the originally planned €3.1bn and the €2.5bn Labour is pushing for.

Any leeway is unlikely to be used to cut taxes. Labour wants some let-up in welfare and education cuts while Fine Gael says any extra money will be used to stimulate jobs.

But the new tax concerns have been sparked by a study released last week which found a disproportionate number of highly educated young people are leaving the country, with rural Ireland most affected.

MYTH: It said 62% of recent emigrants have a degree from a third-level course of three years or more.

The UCC study also found half of those emigrating left full-time jobs to go to another country and less than a quarter were unemployed.

Mr Varadkar said the study “debunks the myth that everyone who is emigrating is unemployed”. “In fact, most have jobs and many are highly skilled or qualified,” he said. “I know from my own experience and peers that we are losing really well-qualified people to other countries.”

He also pointed out that not only has the economic crisis reduced salaries, but workers were being moved into the higher rate of tax – at 52pc – when they are earning average wages.

Northern Ireland vote sought for Irish presidential elections


Irish citizens in Northern Ireland should be given the right to vote in Irish presidential elections, the Republic’s constitutional think-tank has recommended.

An overwhelming majority of the 100 members of the Constitutional Convention backed proposals to extend the vote to Irish emigrants around the world, and to people in Northern Ireland.

The recommendations will now go to the Irish government, which will decide within four months whether to hold a referendum on the issue.

Of those polled at the conference, 78% said voting rights for presidential elections should be extended to those living outside the Republic.

A further 73% agreed that residents in Northern Ireland should be allowed to have their say on thenext Irish president.

But Alliance’s man at the Convention urged caution. Stewart Dickson MLA said the Good Friday Agreement did not create joint authority or sovereignty.

Members of the Irish diaspora worldwide contributed to the convention meeting in Malahide, Co Dublin, via video-link.

One in five (20%) of Irish motorists evading fines, A report finds


State spending watchdog says Government debt rose by almost 14% in 2012

Comptroller and Auditor General Seamus McCarthy, the State’s public spending watchdog, has called for the Garda to urgently address ‘significant’ shortcomings in the fixed penalty system.

Up to one in five drivers are evading fines because of weaknesses in the fixed penalty system, an investigation has found.

Offenders are getting away with breaking the law because their cars are registered to a company or because officials cannot track them down.

There is also a high failure rate in serving summons by the Garda, with the C&AG finding that around half the summonses issued were not served.

Redesigned Irish passport unveiled by Tánaiste Gilmore


New lower cost identity will feature images of Aviva Stadium and Rock of Cashel

The picture page of the new Irish passport unveiled today.

The newly-designed Irish passports have been officially launched by Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore.

The passport features images of iconic Irish landmarks including the Croagh Patrick, Kylemore Abbey and Croke Park. There will also be drawings depicting Irish music and dance and Gaelic games. All Irish passports issued from October 3rd will have this new design.

The new book contains enhanced security to stop forgery with Ogham characters reacting to heat and images only visible with a special lens that border control will have.

Mr. Gilmore said “We have combined the latest security technology with selected imagery in order to produce a passport which represents Ireland – our culture, our history, and our people”.

“Today, Irish passport holders travel more often and to more destinations than at any time in the past. In 2012, we issued over 600,000 passports to Irish citizens around the world. I would urge Irish citizens to check the validity of their current passport and to apply for a new book well in advance of any travel” he added.

The images used range from a perspective of the Cliffs of Moher to the new landscape along the river Liffey, with the Dublin Convention Centre to the foreground and the Custom House and Liberty Hall.

The passport also features poems from three Irish poets: Nuala ní Dhomhnaill, William Butler Yeats, and James Orr.

More than 630,000 passports issued in 2012 – of which about 350,000 issued to adults – and 67% of all passport applications were received through the Passport Express channel.

The Department of Foreign Affairs says almost 53,000 applications were received through the London Passport Office, the highest number outside the State. After London, the highest number was issued in Canberra – 5,600 passports, followed by 5,300 by the Consulate General in New York.

July was the busiest month last year, with 78,000 passports issued – while December was the quietest with just over 20,000.

New drugs could cure skin cancer in the years ahead


Skin cancer sufferers could be cured of the disease with new breakthrough drugs, experts claimed, as they hailed the “beginning of a new era”.

Seriously ill patients are said to have seen “spectacular effects” after receiving the medication which could eventually be used to combat other forms of the condition.

It is the first time scientists have come this close to providing a remedy for advanced melanoma.

The development will bring hope to thousands of people who are diagnosed with skin cancer in Britaineach year.

Until now the prognosis for advanced melanoma has been very poor and many patients die within months of diagnosis.

Professor Peter Johnson, chief clinician at Cancer Research UK, said: “We’re just at the beginning of a new era of cancer treatments using the immune system.

“These drugs that can turn the body’s own defences against a tumour are starting to show real promise for melanoma and other types of cancer.

“It’s only through research that we can gain the insights needed to develop new treatments for cancer patients.”

The new cure contains two types of drug – ipilimumab (known as ipi) and anti-PD1s which break down the defences of cancer cells and are still in clinical trials.

Doctors can effectively reboot a patient’s immune system by combining the two.

One in six patients are already being saved by the ground-breaking treatment, the European Cancer Congress has been told.

A new combination of drugs could mean more than half are cured of the deadly condition.

Professor Alexander Eggermont of the Institut Gustave Roussy in France said: “Advanced] melanoma could become a curable disease for perhaps more than 50% of patients within five to 10 years.”

“If I’d made this bizarre prediction five years ago, people would have said I was mad,” he said.

“But it now looks like we are going to have control of advanced melanoma for years, in a substantial proportion of patients.”

Advanced melanoma is diagnosed when the disease has spread and can no longer be surgically removed.

Advice on the Cancer Research UK website currently warns patients that this form of skin cancer “can’t be cured”.

It states: “Treatments are available that can shrink the melanoma or stop it growing. It may be possible to control it for quite a while.”

Cygnus spacecraft docks with International Space Station for first time


Orbital Sciences’ Cygnus capsule, delivering food and supplies to astronauts, successfully docks with the International Space Station for the first time.

Nasa’s newest delivery service arrived at the International Space Station on Sunday after a week’s delay, bringing more than half a ton of meals to astronauts onboard.

With the linkup, Orbital Sciences Corporation became only the second company to accomplish such a shipment.

The space station astronauts used their ship’s huge robotic arm to latch on to the Cygnus capsule, as the two vessels zoomed 260 miles above the Indian Ocean.

“Everybody is just so excited,” Nasa’s Mission Control radioed. Ground teams described the achievement as “epic” and “superb.”‘

It was supposed to reach the space station last Sunday, but was held up by inaccurate navigation data, later fixed by a software patch.

Cygnus then had to wait until a Russian spacecraft brought three new astronauts in midweek.

The successful arrival means the Virginia-based company can begin making good on a $1.9 billion contract with Nasa for a series of Cygnus deliveries.


News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Sunday 29th September 2013

Ex-Sean Quinn firm makes an operating profit of €43.5m


The company that controls many of the former manufacturing businesses that once belonged to Sean Quinn said it made an operating profit of €43.5m before exceptional items and impairment charges in 2012.

That was close to twice the level seen in 2011. Pre-tax profit for Quinn Manufacturing Group Holdco Ltd’s first full year came in at €7m compared to a loss of €44.3m the previous year.

The company, which was created from the remains of bankrupt businessman Sean Quinn‘s manufacturing empire, said sales jumped 8.2pc to €679.9m, thanks to improvements in the container glass business.

Eliminating the impact of foreign currency movements, turnover grew by 4pc.

“The group’s financial statements for 2012 show an improvement in all aspects of financial performance on a like-for-like basis over the prior year,” said chief executive Paul O’Brien.

“The cash generation is the most pleasing aspect of this performance as we managed to improve working capital management and this enabled a paydown of €20m of senior debt ahead of schedule.”

The company, which does everything from glass and plastics to packaging and radiators, was formed from the wreckage of Sean Quinn’s former empire.

Last year, was the first full year when it was controlled by its new owners, who include bondholders and other creditors.

Having debts increases your mental health risk


People who cannot keep up with their credit card payments may be at an increased risk of mental health problems, a new study indicates.

According to UK researchers, levels of debt have increased significantly in recent years as a result of the recession. They decided to look at the relationship between health and unsecured debt.

Secured debts are tied to an asset that is considered collateral for the debt. For example, a mortgage on a property is considered a secure debt. However, unsecured debts refer to debts that are not backed by an underlying asset, such as credit card debts, utility bills and medical bills.

The researchers undertook a review of all the previous studies that had been carried out on this issue. These studies involved almost 34,000 people.

The review found that people with unsecured debts were at least three times more likely to have a mental health problem compared to those who were not in debt.

In fact, those in debt were more likely to suffer with depression and psychosis and were more likely to be dependent on drugs.

The findings also indicated that people who die by suicide are more likely to be in debt.

Overall, less than one in 10 people with no mental health problems were in debt. However at least one in four people who was in debt had a mental health problem.

Commenting on the findings, Dr Thomas Richardson of the University of Southampton, said that they show a ‘strong relationship’ between mental health and debt, however it is difficult to say which causes which.

“It might be that debt leads to worse mental health due to the stress it causes. It may also be that those with mental health problems are more prone to debt because of other factors, such as erratic employment.

“Equally it might be that the relationship works both ways. For example people who are depressed may struggle to cope financially and get into debt, which then sends them deeper into depression,” he explained.

Dr Richardson suggested that debt advisors ‘should consider asking about mental health when speaking to members of the public’.

“Similarly mental health professionals should ensure they ask about whether their patients are in debt,” he said.

He called for further research in this area to ‘show exactly how debt leads to poor mental health, so that interventions can be designed to try and prevent those in financial trouble developing mental health problems and vice versa’.

Breast surgeon faces six allegations of professional misconduct after patient death


Diagnosis of patient delayed by 10 months fitness to practise inquiry told

A surgeon specialising in breast cancer is facing six allegations of professional misconduct after a patient in his care had a diagnosis of cancer delayed by 10 months and subsequently died.

A woman who died after her diagnosis of breast cancer was delayed by 10 months was worried about her “daughter and her will” when she received her diagnosis, her GP told a Medical Council fitness-to-practise inquiry yesterday.

The GP said Ms K was “very upset” and felt “very hard done by” when she called him in June 2008 having been diagnosed with the condition. The GP had referred her to a consultant breast cancer surgeon the previous year, in August 2007.

The surgeon, who was not named at the Medical Council fitness-to-practise inquiry, is facing six allegations of professional misconduct and or poor professional performance. He is accused of failing to consider adequately or at all his patient’s condition, failing to carry out an adequate examination, failing to refer her for specialist review and failing to arrange adequate follow up. He also allegedly carried out an ultrasound without being qualified.

The unnamed woman, then aged 40, was referred by the surgeon in August 2007, suffering from lumps in her left breast. Dr C carried out a physical examination of Ms K at the first appointment and also carried out an ultrasound himself, but did not refer her for a mammogram. She was not diagnosed with breast cancer until June 2008, Rory Mulcahy BL, for the Medical Council said.

Ms K was given the option of a follow up appointment in December, but did not take it. She made contact again in February, still concerned, was seen in March and received a mammogram in June. She was then diagnosed with breast cancer. After diagnosis, she asked for a second opinion and was referred to the Mater hospital in Dublin. She was given a mastectomy, chemotherapy and radiotherapy there, but died in September 2012. She had made a complaint to the Medical Council about Dr C in April 2012.

Dr C is currently on sick leave, Mr Mulcahy said.

Cathal Murphy BL, for the doctor, said his client did not accept that the events that took place amounted to professional misconduct. He also said Dr C had undertaken a two-day course in the use of ultrasounds and was qualified to carry them out.

Giving evidence, the patient’s GP, who was also not named for fear of identifying the surgeon, agreed he had no complaints about Dr C and had continued to refer patients to him after the delayed diagnosis.

Consultant surgeon Maurice Stokes of the Mater hospital, who subsequently treated Ms K, told the inquiry if he had seen Ms K from the start he would have organised a mammogram.

“I tend to work on the cautious side; I would want a 40-year-old to have a mammogram,” he said.

Expert witness for the Medical Council, consultant surgeon Anthony Peel from the Royal Marsden Hospital in London agreed.

“Unfortunately clinical examination is unreliable,” he said.

“At 40, the image of choice is the mammogram.” He also said he believed if Ms K had a mammogram in August 2007 the “calcification” discovered in June would have been detected.

Mr Murphy said an expert witness for Dr C would say that at the first appointment there was no clinical evidence that indicated Ms K needed a mammography and he would not have sent her for a mammogram.

Also giving evidence, clinical nurse Ms R described Dr C as “very impressive, very professional and easy to work with”. She said she regularly got compliments from patients about him and about the “care and attention” he gave them.

At the opening of the case, chairman of the inquiry, Dr Michael Ryan, said the committee had agreed to “anonymise” Dr C in the case after hearing “compelling evidence” in private for not naming him.

Get Your Body in Shape for Weekend Outdoor Adventures


Psyched to hit the trails this fall? Of course you are! It’s fall and the scenery is beautiful this time of year. Hiking is great exercise and a known mood-booster. It can also leave your body hurting in the morning if you’re not prepared to walk up- and downhill, and traverse over uneven ground.

Here are some simple and quick yoga and Pilates moves from industry pros that will prepare your body for hiking up mountains with ease. You’ll enjoy the beautiful fall foliage without limping into the office Monday morning — you’re welcome.

Pre-and Post-Hike Stretch

Although one does not necessarily need to warm up before going on a hike, it is always a good idea to stretch the key muscles that will be engaged before any activity. There are a few simple yoga poses that will prepare the body, as well as prevent next-day soreness. Below is a sequence from Jessica Bellofatto, yoga instructor and founder of KamaDeva Yoga in East Hampton, N.Y., and creator of Yoga Athletica, a class geared specifically for lifestyle athletes that like to participate in such activities as hiking, running, cycling and paddleboarding.

Cat cow: Begin on hands and knees, with the wrists lined up under the shoulders and the knees lined up under the hips; begin to synchronize your breath with your movement. As you inhale, arch the spine (concave into the body), move the sitting bones back and apart, open the chest, lift the face and look up. As you exhale, round the back, pull the navel to the spine, curl the tailbone and release the chin to the chest. Cat cow warms up the entire spine and invites breath into the body.

Cat cow with leg variation: After several rounds of regular cat cow, on the next inhalation extend the right arm forward and the left keg back. Keep the spine neutral and gaze at the floor. Exhale and release down. Inhale and extend the left arm forward and the right leg back; exhale and release down. Repeat at least five times on each side; then hold for a few breaths. This move will strengthen your hamstrings and buttocks muscles in preparation for walking uphill.

Downward-facing dog: From the same hands and knees position, lift the hips high into the air, drop the head between the arms, straighten the legs and press the thigh bones back into the hamstrings (backs of legs). Let the buttock bones lift to the sky as the heels reach back and down into the earth. This will stretch and open the backs of your legs and the calf muscles. It will also open up the upper back and chest, inviting the breath in.

A Well Balanced Body

In addition to strong legs, it is often important to have balance while hiking to traverse over rocks and other obstacles. Below are Pilates exercises recommended by Julie Erickson — owner of Endurance Pilates & Yoga in Arlington, Mass., and creator of Barre Boston — to strengthen your core to improve balance for fall hikes:

Standing Pilates: Starting with your legs hip-width distance apart, lift up onto your toes so the heels are in the air. Externally rotate at the hip sockets to bring the heels together to engage all of the leg muscles from the heels up into the buttocks. Maintaining this heel-to-seat connection, lower the heels so that they graze the floor, but don’t allow weight to transfer. Lift the heels up. Repeat 20 times. Turn the legs back to parallel and bring the inner thighs to touch. Lower and lift the heels 20 times. Turn the legs inward from the hips. The hips stay at the same height from the floor as the heels lower and lift and the knees come together and apart. Repeat 20 times. Repeat entire sequence three times. You guessed it: This move strengthens the calves.

Push-up sequence: Start from a standing position with your arms reaching up to the ceiling. In Pilates stance — heels together, toes a fist distance apart, heels lifted away from the floor — start to roll down the body a bone at a time, so that your spine achieves complete articulation and the hip flexors stay open until they assist the torso in reaching the mat. Walk your hands out so that the wrists are slightly behind the shoulders and the body is in a plank position. Lower the body forward and down so that the elbows are at shoulder height. Press back up to start. Walk the hands back to the feet and pause. Walk back out to the plank position and perform two push-ups. For beginners, repeat five times. Great for the core!

Arm weights sequence-lunging: Stand with legs in Pilates stance and small weights — between 5 pounds and 8 pounds — in hands. Step right leg as far out to the side as possible, and band right knee to 90 degrees, extending left leg completely and grounding through the left foot. Reach upper body forward with arms extended in line with shoulders and parallel to floor as belly scoops back in opposition. Return to start (way easier said than done!). Repeat five times on each side.

 Strong Legs

To make it to the top of the mountain, it is crucial to have strong legs. Below are poses recommended by April Martucci — yoga instructor and creator of FireDragonYoga in New York City — to strengthen and stretch your legs for hiking:

The dragon on the throne: Start with back against the wall, feet and legs hip-width distance apart. Bend your legs like you are seated in a chair, with your back flat against the wall. (Hands can rest on top of the thighs.) Tuck in your tailbone and make sure your front ribs are pulled in. Hold for 10 breaths. This can then be done in the center of the room with your arms in the air. This pose helps to stimulate the diaphragm and heart. Arthritis of the knees can be treated by regularly performing this pose. Click here for a demonstration.

Devoted dragon: Start in Vira I or Warrior I pose. Feet should be apart about 3.5 feet or one-leg’s distance. Bend the front leg at 90 degrees; pivot the back foot onto the mat. Bring your arms over the head — hands apart to start — and hold for five breaths. Straighten the front leg, and interlace your hands behind the back. Inhale, arch and look up at the ceiling. Re-bend your front leg; descend torso and arms over head to the inside of the leg. Shoulders and head on the inside of the front leg; hold for five breaths. Stand up with straight legs. Switch sides and repeat. Warrior I not only develops concentration, balance and groundedness; it also improves circulation and respiration, and energizes the entire body. Click here for a demonstration.

Peaceful dragon: Start in Vira II or Warrior II pose. Start out in Warrior I pose (see above). Stretched out your arms at shoulder height to start, hold for five breaths. Straighten your front leg for one breath, then re-bend. Stretch the back arm down the back leg like going to touch the back ankle; the front arm reaches up and back overhead for a side stretch. Hold for five breaths. Switch sides and repeat. This move is therapeutic for flat feet, sciatica, backaches and osteoporosis. It will also increase the strength and flexibility of the legs, ankles and feet. Click here for a demonstration.

Twitter the new face of crime


Criminals are taking it from the streets to their tweets, increasingly using Twitter to recruit members, boast about their illegal activities and promote their brand.

Crime has a new face: Twitter.

Political extremists, criminals and gang members are advertising their wares, flaunting their exploits and recruiting new members in 140 characters or less, according to law enforcement authorities, criminologists and security experts.

The most shocking example occurred a week ago when the extremist group al-Shabab live-tweeted about the mall siege in Kenya, defending the mass killing, threatening more violence and taunting the military.

But the list is long — and growing — of those using Twitter and other social media venues for nefarious purposes.

Extremists spread their propaganda via video. Gangs post their colors, signs and rap songs to showcase their criminal enterprises. Prostitutes and drug dealers troll for new customers. Teens trash a former NFL player’s house and brag about it with photos on Twitter.

But while Twitter can serve as a valuable recruitment and communications tool, it also can be a double-edged sword: Public boasting about illegal deeds can serve as a road map for law enforcement officials and lead to arrests.

Extremist groups, domestic and international, have been particularly savvy in their use of social media, says Evan Kohlmann, a senior partner with the security firm Flashpoint who specializes in the online communications of extremist groups. Twitter has become their site of choice because it is easy to sign up and remain anonymous among millions of users and tweets.

“These groups realize they need to reach as many people as possible,” he says. “And Twitter and Facebook is where you find people.”

In the beginning, extremist groups were reluctant to use social media. They relied on password-protected online forums, Kohlmann says. But as social sites became ubiquitous, the groups and their members jumped in like everyone else, he says.

One of the early and most prolific outfits to turn to Twitter was al-Shabab, the radical Somali group with links to al-Qaeda whose name means “The Youth” in Arabic.

Al-Shabab used Twitter during the hostage siege at the Westgate Shopping Mall in Nairobi to ballyhoo the mayhem blow-by-blow. Tweets defended the attack, mocked the Kenyan military and president, posted photos of members inside the mall and threatened more bloodshed.

Twitter shut down at least five different accounts used by al-Shabab. But each time the microblogging site suspended an account, the group created another with a different user name.

Twitter says it doesn’t comment on individual accounts for security and privacy reasons.

Al-Shabab currently has a working feed on the site. Since Wednesday, the group posted audio statements by its leader, Ahmed Abdi Godane, also known as Mukhtar Abu Zubair, justifying the siege and threatening more attacks. It posted a tweet accusing the Kenyan government of demolishing the mall intentionally: “To cover their crime, the Kenyan govt carried out a demolition to the building, burying evidence and all hostages under the rubble #Westgate.” The Associated Press reported Friday that the military caused the collapse, citing an unnamed senior Kenyan police official. The official said Kenyan troops fired rocket-propelled grenades inside the mall, but would not say what caused the collapse or whether it was intentional.

J.M. Berger, a security analyst who is editor of Intelwire, an online magazine that monitors extremist activity, says it’s not the first time the group has tweeted about its activities in real time. He says Al-Shabab used Twitter to broadcast messages and threats during bombings in Mogadishu and to trumpet an attempt to assassinate the president of Somalia in early September.

“This time was more visible simply because the attack itself was more visible and unusual in its nature,” Berger says.


  A growing number of homegrown extremists are also turning to Twitter.

A May 2013 report on digital hate speech from the Simon Wiesenthal Center says Twitter helped spur a 30% growth in online forums for hate and terrorism over the past year. The study says more than 20,000 “hate-spewing hashtags and handles” appeared on Twitter in 2012, up 5,000 from the year before. The group identified Twitter as a “chief offender” among social media sites because of a lack of monitoring of hate and terrorist content.

Those who monitor extremist activity online say that as the site of choice for extremists, Twitter needs a clear, transparent policy as to what content is off-limits, and it has to enforce that policy vigorously.

“They respond to abuse reports, but their criteria for suspension is very limited,” Berger said in an e-mail interview. He spotted al-Shabab’s tweets during the mall siege and notified Twitter.

“They are broadly permissive of extremist content in a way that other services, like Facebook and YouTube, are not,” he says.

Twitter, through spokesman Nu Wexler, would not make anyone from the company available for an interview. He directed a reporter to a blog post by the company’s head of safety, Del Harvey, who wrote that manually reviewing every tweet is simply not possible. Users post up to 500 million tweets a day in more than 35 languages.

“We use both automated and manual systems to evaluate reports of users potentially violating our Twitter Rules,” Harvey wrote. “These rules explicitly bar direct, specific threats of violence against others and use of our service for unlawful purposes, for which users may be suspended when reported.

INTERNET-BANGING AMPLIFIED: Closer to home, gangs in the United States have been adding Twitter and Facebook accounts to their arsenals for years in what University of Michigan social work professor Desmond Patton calls “Internet-banging.”

“If we think about violence as a disease, one particular host of that disease is social media,” he says.

Historically, displaying pictures of the gang or recording ”jump-ins,” an initiation rite in which recruits endure a severe beating by gang members to demonstrate their toughness, or other acts of violence, required expensive equipment and lots of time, Patton says. That’s no longer the case.

“With the advent of smartphone technology, youth can upload pictures and videos to social media sites quickly,” he says.

A March study by Arizona State University criminologist Scott Decker found that nearly 20% of gang members reported that their gang had a website or social networking page and 50% said that their gang posts video online.

Eleven percent said their gang organized activities online, often using code. A gang member in St. Louis said he posted, “We got a baseball game” on Facebook to call the gang together for a fight. A gang member in Fresno said his gang avoided organizing drug business online but used the Internet to set up meetings, parties and even fundraisers for “bail or other emergencies.”

Decker says gang members used to proclaim their allegiance via graffiti or by taunting their rivals.

“Now the kind of things that result in fighting take place online,” he says. “Challenges to manhood, challenges to how tough the gang is. … It could be YouTube videos, posting on someone’s Facebook site.”

He says gangs involved in drug dealing use Twitter, but because police know the corners and other spots where transactions generally take place, gang members will tweet out an address. He says the context of the tweet is unclear to a lay person, but the person on the receiving end understands the message.

DECIPHERING THE CODE: Rob D’Ovidio, a Drexel University criminologist, says gang members use code to boast about their deeds. For example, he says, they use “biscuit” or “clickety” for a gun, “food,” “sea shells” or “gas” for bullets and “rock to sleep early” for murder.

He says street gangs are crafty in their online recruitment techniques. The gangs associate their group with popular music that has a violent message or a message that portrays ethnic oppression, which leads youngsters to believe they have something in common with the gang, he says.

“It is very reminiscent of how white supremacists use the World Wide Web to recruit kids,” D’Ovidio says.

But the braggadocio can backfire: In January 2012 in New York City, police arrested 43 gang members from rival gangs and linked them to six killings, 32 shootings, 36 robberies and numerous other crimes. The arrests came about because of posts the members put on Twitter crowing about what they had done.

Criminal activity online has led more than 2,600 police departments from New York City to Seattle to create social media units to monitor sites. Urban schools in Chicago monitor social media because fights that start online often spill into hallways.

Cincinnati police officer Dawn Keating was one of the first to track gangs on social media. In 2007, she began tracking a gang calling itself the Taliband that had a heavy presence on the now virtually forgotten MySpace. The gang posted photos of members, rap songs, its colors and signs. The posts helped Keating gather intel about the members and their connections. The online surveillance eventually led to 5,000 pieces of evidence and 90 indictments of gang members, she says.

She says drug dealers use Twitter to advertise their wares and their locations, and petty criminals brag about their exploits by posting photos of themselves with cash or stolen items on Facebook. She tells the story of a thief who committed five robberies in downtown Cincinnati. Police knew him only by a nickname, which they found on Facebook, along with photos of the man with cash and other items he’d stolen. That led to his arrest.

Prostitutes use Twitter to attract new customers or post their locations, daily specials and rates, the way lunch trucks let customers know where to find them, D’Ovidio says. He says they use hashtags such as #Vegas, #escort, #services and #callgirl.

“It clearly is a way for the call girl or prostitute to act as an individual entrepreneur in that it allows them to reach an audience for virtually no cost,” D’Ovidio says. “In the past, they would need to hook up with an agency that would then advertise, via paid ads, at the back of free newspapers. Social media sites are allowing individuals to cut the middle person out.”

And some bad actors do it just for the attention of a large audience that Twitter provides. Take the partying teens who broke into the vacation home of former NFL player Brian Holloway in Upstate New York, causing $20,000 in damage, including broken windows and holes in the wall. The teens posted photos of their antics onTwitter. Six people have been arrested so far and police expect dozens more arrests.

“With criminals, it’s one thing to brag on the street,” Cincinnati officer Keating says. “But now, with social media, they brag and get credibility worldwide.”

News Ireland Saturday BLOG as told by Donie

Saturday 28th September 2013

Irish Property prices rise, signaling a possible rebound for the ailing economy


Prices Expected to Show First Annual Increase Since Housing Market Crashed

Irish home prices rose for the fifth consecutive month in August, again led by a strong rise in the capital, evidence that the country is beginning to emerge from the property crash that sent its economy into a tailspin and wrecked its banks.

Ireland’s government and its international bailout creditors watch home prices for signs that the economy is recovering from its banking and fiscal crisis. The banks need the property market to recover very strongly to help stem losses they suffered on their loan books after house prices collapsed more than five years ago and sent the country to the brink of bankruptcy.

The scars of the country’s long property slump remain deep. Home prices countrywide are still 49% below their 2007 peak, marking one of the largest declines recorded world-wide, and it will likely be many years before they ever again match such levels.

But the Central Statistics Office data published Thursday shows prices are at last stabilizing and starting a “slow recovery,” said David Duffy, a housing expert at the Economic and Social Research Institute, Ireland’s leading think tank. He predicts that prices will rise 5% countrywide in 2013, the first such annual rise since the crash began, led by large gains in Dublin.

Prices rose 0.9% in August, following increases of 1.2% in July, 1.2% in June, 0.3% in May and 0.8% in April, the CSO said, and were 2.8% higher than in August 2012.

In Dublin, residential prices rose by 1.9% in August, and were 10.6% higher than a year earlier, marking the largest annual increase since April 2007.

Prices outside the capital rose in August by only 0.1% on the month, showing evidence of a clear urban/rural divide, and a very uneven housing-market recovery.

“There is no doubt that lack of supply has driven Dublin house prices up,” said Alan McQuaid, chief economist at Merrion Capital.

Cash buyers are also driving price rises in the capital, which isn’t a sign of a healthy housing market because there are only so many people who can pay cash for property, analysts warn.

Simon Ensor, chairman of real-estate agency Sherry FitzGerald Residential, estimates that half of the Dublin transactions are cash deals, led by expatriate Irish investors who are returning home after doing well in the U.S. and U.K.

“But the stock of houses for sale in Dublin is less than 1%, which is well below the 3% level of transactions that would characterize a healthy market,” Mr. Ensor said.

A strong and sustained recovery in home prices will require a return to a sound market for home loans, but banking industry figures don’t yet suggest that is under way.

Many households continue to grapple with large debts and few economists expect a very strong recovery in residential prices. The Irish government is preparing to detail next month tax increases and spending cuts in its budget for 2014, which will mark the country’s sixth year of austerity.

Unemployment, though down from its peak, is at 13.4%, and emigration remains at elevated levels. Ireland’s economy expanded in the three months to June by 0.4% from the first quarter, but was still 1.2% lower than a year earlier, the CSO said last week.

Nonetheless, the evidence of rising house price rises should come as a relief to the coalition government as a sign that the wider economy is starting to recover.

In the final years of the housing boom, 2006 and 2007, prices rose 14.7% and 7.3% respectively.

When the bubble burst, Irish home prices fell by an annual 7% in 2008, and then plunged 18.8% in 2009 and 12.4% in 2010. Prices also posted double-digit declines in 2011 and 2012.

With prices for commercial property also slumping, Irish banks were left with huge losses, and required huge sums from Irish taxpayers to rescue them from collapse. Ireland eventually was forced to strike an international bailout deal in late 2010.

Nama should step in to stop new Irish property bubble


Nama should intervene to ensure that a house price bubble does not form in the Dublin market, said Dermot O’Leary chief economist with Goodbody Stockbrokers.

After one of the steepest house price crashes among OECD countries, a new property cycle is emerging as the domestic economy recovers. He cites international comparisons which show that in a crash of this magnitude, house prices decline for six years and then grow by on average 6% each year.

“A similar occurrence in Ireland would mean that 40% of the drop in prices would be recovered within five years, leaving prices still down 30% from the peak,” said Mr O’Leary in a new study on the property market

However, it is going to be a multi-speed recovery. Dublin house prices increased by 11% over the past 12 months, whereas they are still falling in the rest of the country. He said there is a shortage of supply in Dublin, particularly in the south of the city, which means that new building is required immediately.

The latest mortgage approval figures released by the Irish Banking Federation show that 1,776 mortgages were approved in August, of which 1,637 (92%) were for house purchase. This is up 11.1% compared with Aug 2012, although it fell by 5.3% compared with the previous month. The value of mortgages approved was €297m.

Eircom recovery ahead of target


Eircom is ahead of schedule in terms of its long-term recovery plan, its management has claimed, despite its latest annual results showing further earnings and revenue declines.

The former State-owned telecommunications company, yesterday reported group revenues of just under €1.4bn for the 12 months to the end of last June.

This was down by €121m, or 8% on the previous financial year. Earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation (EBITDA) declined by €55m, or 12%, to €487m. However, chief financial officer Richard Moat noted that the latter figure is €22m ahead of target and the €123m EBITDA figure for the quarter marked the second successive quarter of earnings growth.

Mr Moat added that Eircom’s recovery is an ongoing process and the last financial year, though successful, was just the first of a five-year turnaround plan. A total of 850 people left the company last year as it continues its plan to realise 2,000 job cuts by June of next year. Operating costs were reduced by €37m — to €612m — last year, and cumulative cost savings should amount to €100m by the end of next June.

“During the course of the year, we took a number of steps to stabilise our bottom line performance with continued focus on cost. This has delivered consecutive quarters of EBITDA growth. At the same time, we need to address our top line. Now that we have the network capability, we believe that we can provide compelling offers that will retain and eventually grow our customer base,” Mr Moat said.

Eircom closed out June with 2.39m customer, 3% down on the previous year, but a slowdown in customer losses. Broadband customers dipped 1% to 451,000, but Eircom expects growth in its current year.

In mobile — taking in the e-Mobile and Meteor brands — customer numbers fell by 2%, to just under 1.06m, but earnings almost doubled to €17m, with a near 70,000 increase in post-pay customers. The 83,000 extra post-pay customers represented the best performance in the market.

Mr Moat said Eircom’s ability to be first to market with new fourth generation (4G) services, this week, has been “vital”, as it shows the company can be an industry leader, in new product offering, rather than a follower.

Some people wear cancer like a badge, says comedian Jennifer Saunders


Kelly Davidson (right picture) says her tattoo ‘symbolises her transformation’ after cancer

British comedian Jennifer Saunders hits out at cancer survivors who wear the disease as a badge of honor

following her own battle with the disease

The British comedian (55) was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2009 but kept her illness and treatment a secret until she was pictured at a party without her blonde wig.

The Absolutely Fabulous star received the all-clear in 2010 but said she was attacked by some former sufferers for suggesting she was “free” from the disease after she revealed her regrown hair at a party.

“People were writing, ‘How dare you say that! You’re never free of cancer!”’ she told The Times Magazine. “And I thought, ‘No, actually I am free of cancer now.”’

Asked if she believed some people keep wearing cancer like a badge, she responded: “For ever — and I’ll give you why. “Because it is the job you don’t have to work for. “You suddenly get so much attention, and if you’re not used to that, I bet it can sway you a little bit.

“I’m used to it. My job gives me the attention I would otherwise crave. They must be so pissed off when their hair grows back. And you think, ‘Oh, come on, cancer is so common now’.”

The comedian and mother of three, who received chemotherapy and radiotherapy after doctors found a number of malignant lumps, said she never worried she would die from the disease because “they told me I wasn’t going to”. Saunders, from Richmond in west London, has previously made light of her illness and joked about her ”lovely pert new bosoms” when she spoke out about it for the first time.

But her husband Ade Edmondson has described difficulties endured by those with cancer and said the ordeal should not be referred to as a ”battle”.

“It’s not a great three-part TV drama full of moments, it’s a long grind, like a slow car crash that will last five years and then, hopefully, we’ll get out,” he said.

Google turns 15 years and celebrates by smartening up search engine


New features such as comparisons and filters are part of Google’s ‘Hummingbird’ advanced search ranking system

Google is now 15 years old, and the company is celebrating by smartening up its bread-and-butter technology, search, and adding new features such as comparisons and filters.

The new features are part of an advanced search ranking system that Google has been rolling out over the past several months, called “Hummingbird.” Hummingbird, a Google spokeswoman said, is designed to make users’ search results more useful and relevant, especially when they are asking the search engine long, complex questions.

Not too complex, though. The query, “What is Google planning to do for its 20th birthday,” did not produce any definitive answers.

Instead, Google used more simple queries to show how the new search tools, announcedThursday, work.

To start, Google is adding filters and comparisons to search. Both tools are designed to improve the intelligence of Knowledge Graph, Google’s developing technology to better understand search queries in their natural language, said Amit Singhal, senior VP of search.

With comparisons, users can enter queries such as “compare butter with olive oil,” or “compare Earth vs. Neptune,” and Google will display the results in a grid that makes clear the differences between the two. (While Earth has a 365-day orbital period, Neptune’s is 165 years, according to Google.)

The comparison tool does not work for all searches. A search for “compare Google vs. Facebook” did not present any such grid in its results.

The filters tool is meant to tackle questions that have multiple answers and let users dive deeper into each result. For example, users can search for “impressionist artists,” and a horizontal panel will appear at the top of the results page displaying photographs of people such as Claude Monet, Edgar Degas and Mary Cassatt, which people can click on to learn more. With the filters button, users can change their search to examine other styles of art, such as baroque or abstract.

The tool can give results for a broad range of topics. Top postmodern authors?  The panel of photos starts with Don DeLillo, David Foster Wallace and William S. Boroughs. Los Angeles Dodgers pitchers? Brian Wilson, Clayton Kershaw and Ricky Nolasco.

But like comparisons, the filters tool does not work for everything. A search for “technology CEOs” yielded nothing, and neither did “James Bond villains.”

The company will also be releasing a new version of its Google Search app for the iPhone and iPad to help those devices better communicate with each other. With the update, people will be able to use one device, such as a tablet, to create a reminder of what to buy at the grocery store. Then, if the person walks into the store with a different device, such as an iPhone, a reminder will pop up.

The updated Google Search app is coming in the next couple of weeks, the company said.

Finally, the company is applying some cosmetic changes to search on mobile phones and tablets, to take out some of the clutter and present the search results on cards, “so you can focus on the answers you’re looking for,” Google said.

The search upgrades were presented Thursday by Google’s Singhal, not on the Google campus but at a house in nearby Menlo Park, California — Google’s original “headquarters.”

Bob Geldof among stars starts training for his space journey


Bob Geldof said: ‘Elvis may have left the building, but Geldof has left the planet’

Footage of Bob Geldof preparing for his trip to space has been released by the Space Expedition Corporation.He has been undergoing training ahead of his $100,000 per person flight on the Space XC commercial service next year.In the video, the 61-year-old said: “I think there’s been less than 300 human beings ever (who) have left the planet or been in space, and I’m one of them, you know.”I’m also, so far, the only rock guy. So, Elvis may have left the building, but Geldof has left the planet.”

SXC intends to fly space tourists to the edge of space from the island of Curacao in the Caribbean.

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Friday 28th September 2013

Brain drain as educated Irish are leaving for a new life abroad


UCC survey shows 62 per cent of emigrants aged 25 to 34 have a third-level qualification

Ireland is experiencing a “brain drain”, as the people currently leaving Ireland for a new life abroad are much more likely to have a higher level of education than the general population, a major survey on emigration has found.

The research, which will be published today at an international conference on “austerity emigration” in University College Cork, reveals that 62 per cent of emigrants aged 25 to 34 have a third-level qualification, compared to 47 per cent of Irish people in that age group overall.

Using data from the 2011 Census, researchers from the UCC Émigré project carried out door to door surveys of 2,500 households, while data was collected online from 1,500 Irish abroad and 500 intending emigrants attending jobs fairs. More than 60 emigrants were interviewed in-depth over Skype.

The final report claims to be “one of the most representative studies ever” of Irish emigration, providing a detailed profile of the age, gender, education, occupation and origin of Irish emigrants for the first time, as well as their experiences once they leave and intentions for the future.

Some 32 per cent of adults who responded to the household survey have had an immediate family member emigrate since 2006, while 44 per cent have had an extended family member leave. Almost 17 per cent of households have seen at least one member emigrate in the period.

Sparsely populated rural areas have been disproportionately affected, with 25 per cent of households losing a member to emigration. In commuter belt areas, where residents would be more likely have negative equity mortgages and young children, less than 11 per cent of households had experienced emigration.

Rural areas are also most likely to feel that emigration has impacted negatively on their community, with householders describing a loss of “vibrancy” associated with younger residents, lack of support for older community members, decimation of local sports teams and clubs, and reduced spending in the local economy.

Six in ten people have had a member of their circle of friends emigrate since 2006, rising to nine in ten among those aged 25 to 29.

Almost half of all emigrants left full-time jobs to emigrate, while one in eight worked part-time. Students, many of whom had just graduated, made up 15 per cent, while 23 per cent were unemployed.

Over 17 per cent of all emigrants had a background in construction, while 7 per cent were previously employed in manufacturing and engineering and 5 per cent in wholesale and retail. Teachers made up 5.4 per cent, while 9.5 per cent had a background in health or social work.

Of those employed full-time before departure, four in ten said they left because they wanted to travel and experience another culture, indicating that there is still a sizeable proportion of emigrants who are leaving by choice. They are likely to be professionals with qualifications in demand in other countries, especially in the areas of IT or health.

Professional insecurity and a lack of job satisfaction played a significant role in their decision to go, with the temporary nature of contracts, lack of opportunities for career advancement and low salaries commonly cited as reasons for leaving full-time employment.

Others cited a desire to find work or gain professional experience not available to them in Ireland, especially those previously working in an area unrelated to their qualifications or experience.

Students who emigrated after graduation said they had struggled to break into the labour market, where they faced unfair competition for fewer positions from more senior, experienced candidates who had lost jobs.

Three per cent of emigrants surveyed had children living in a different country, suggesting a considerable number of parents are taking up overseas positions to support a family still living in Ireland.

Although almost 40 per cent of recent emigrants would like to return to Ireland to live in the next three years, just 22 per cent see it as likely, though 82 per cent said improvements in the Irish economy would improve their likelihood of returning.

New Irish report says children should get two years of free pre-school


Government advisory group proposes increase in investment in early years education of Irish children.

The report advises reviewing guidelines for pre-schools to ensure all children in early care and education services have access to outdoor spaces, either on site or in the local community.

The free pre-school scheme should be extended to allow children up to two years of care and education. That is one of a number of proposals contained in an expert advisory group report on the Government’s new early years strategy.

This blueprint will guide the development of children’s services over the next five years or so. At present, the terms of the free pre-school year mean some children do not begin the scheme until they are 4½ years old. It is also limited to a single year.

The expert group report says it should be opened to children of three years of age. This would allow children to benefit from up to two years of free pre-school, depending on when they start junior infants. It also advocates increasing investment in early care and education from 0.4 per cent of GDP to 0.7 per cent within the next five years.

The document notes that Government spending on early years care and education is below “acceptable levels” and that investing in young children’s health and education will ultimately save money for and result in a healthier and better educated workforce .

The report says that if Ireland“gets it right from the start” by adopting a comprehensive early years strategy, we will end up with a generation of children who are happier, healthier, safer and better able to cope with the adversity that life throws up. “It could break cycles of poverty and disadvantage and remove barriers of inequality. It could significantly reduce anti-social behaviour, dependency, and alienation. It could help to build a stronger economy,” it adds.

The expert advisory group was chaired by Dr Eilis Hennessy of UCD and included 15 members from a range of groups such as the HSE and Department of Education, along with children’s groups such as Early Childhood Ireland, Barnardos and Start Strong.


– Extend the entitlement to free pre-school provision, so that a free part-time place is available from every child’s third birthday until they enter primary school.

– Introduce the regulation and support of all paid, non-relative childminders.

– Increase investment in early care and education services, with investment rising to achieve the international benchmark of 1 per cent of GDP within 10 years.

– Give longer periods of paid parental leave for parents by incrementally extending leave at the end of the present period of paid maternity leave (six months) to a full year.

– Put public health nursing service at the core of a dedicated child health

workforce, including home visits to every child in the first year of life.

– Introduce a national parenting action plan aimed at making a range of universal and targeted supports available to parents.

– Review guidelines for pre-schools to ensure all children in early care and education services have access to outdoor spaces, either on site or in the local community.

– Introduce a national policy on access to pre-school special needs assistants, including guidelines on entitlements to such supports and on their role in early years and primary school provision.

Proposals contained in Report of the Expert Advisory Group on the Early Years Strategy to the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs. This document will feed into a Government blueprint to be published later this year

Social welfare and pensions safe in Irish budget, Joan Burton urges


The Minister for Social Protection, Joan Burton, said she is confident that neither weekly social welfare rates nor the bus pass will be hit in the budget.

Joan Burton has yet to have a formal meeting with the Public Expenditure Minister to discuss cuts, which could be as much as €440m for her department.

She insisted, however, that she has a tight control on spending and hopes to be able to leave certain welfare rates alone.

“I would be confident that we’ll be able to maintain our commitment … to protect core weekly social welfare rates, particularly, obviously for people who are retired and are on the retirement pension,” she said.

The top five fats for a healthy mind and body


Fat has become somewhat of a blacklisted word in the eyes of the grocery shopper. A leery eye is poised to locate and eliminate any product from consideration that has what they deem to be excess fat content.

While it may be true that the fats in labeled food products often contain the type we want to avoid, we have to be careful not to lump them in with these top five healthy fats, that are an essential requirement for a healthy body and mind.

Extra virgin coconut oil:   Coconut oil contains lauric acid, an important fatty acid that is also found abundantly in mothers’ milk, which also has a potent antiviral effect on the body. It is also excellent for the thyroid and does not raise cholesterol when consumed in a diet rich in essential fatty acids.

An also very important note is that anyone suffering from candidiasis can benefit greatly from the caprylic acid in coconut oil because of its potent antifungal properties.

Fish oil:   Many of the benefits of fish oil are due to the presence of omega-3 essential fatty acids like DHA and EPA. Other useful essential fatty acids in fish oil include alpha-linolenic acid and gamma-linolenic acid.

According to the American Heat Association, clinical trials have shown that omega-3′s are effective in reducing the incidence of cardiovascular disease. This is one reason why fish oil has been attributed to a reduced risk of heart disease.

Fish oil is also known as an effective anti-inflammatory and natural antidepressant and protects against Alzheimer’s and ADHD.  Ensure you get a pure form of fish oil, free of mercury and other contaminants.

Hemp oil:   One of the most beneficial components of hemp is its full range of amino acids as well as being a perfectly balanced source of Essential Fatty Acids (EFA’s), making it one of the very few plant based complete protein sources.

EFA’s include the optimal ratio of omega-3′s and omega-6′s, which helps maintain a healthy immune system and is responsible for healthy looking skin, hair and nails. The exceptional concentration of EFA’s in hemp, is also known for its role in preventing heart disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, cancer, arthritis and much more.

It’s also important to keep in mind that EFA’s are indispensable for function and development of the brain and nervous system and the production of healthy cell membranes.

Avocados:  Avocados are rich in monounsaturated fats, and can contain up to 22 grams of fat in a medium sized fruit.  They also provide up to 20 essential health boosting nutrients, including fiber, potassium, vitamin E, B vitamins and folic acid.

Avocados are one of the safest fruits to purchase conventionally grown, as the thick skin protects it from the already lower level of pesticide exposure it receives.

Avocados have plenty of other benefits, including anti-inflammatory properties, increased fat-soluble nutrient absorption (such as beta carotene and lutein), improved lipid profiles and inhibiting and destroying oral cancer cells.

Walnuts:   Walnuts not only taste great but are also a rich source of monounsaturated fats. One quarter cup serving can deliver up to 95% of your Recommended Dietary Allowance of omega-3 fats.

Walnuts have been studied and promoted for their cardiovascular benefits, anticancer properties, anti-inflammatory effects and brain health properties.  Eat walnuts on their own, in salads or a vegetable dish or with fruit.

Bombs from the above & the threat of meteorites


An asteroid 10km in diameter wiped out the dinosaurs and extinguished life on Earth. The scientific community is working to avoid a repeat

A meteorite trail is seen above a residential apartment block in the Urals city of Chelyabinsk, on February 15th. A heavy meteor shower rained down on central Russia, sowing panic as the hurtling space debris mashed windows and injured dozens of stunned locals.

Astronomer Alan Fitzsimmons has a lot on his mind. He is interested in our solar system, but also in how to save planet Earth. The Queen’s University Belfast scientist studies how to deflect space rocks on a collision course with our planet, as part of NeoShield, a European-funded project. One option is to nuke an incoming asteroid, another to ram it.

Extra impetus arrived on February 15th when an asteroid exploded over central Russia, producing a blast 30 times as powerful as the Hiroshima bomb. The Chelyabinsk meteor had travelled 18km per second, before disintegrating at high altitude. About 1,600 people were injured in the sparsely populated area and thousands of buildings damaged.

It was a small asteroid, Fitzsimmon’s says, about the size of a bus. “An object that small [20m wide] will not make it to Earth’s surface, but will explode at altitude,” he says. By coincidence, hours later a 20m by 40m asteroid whizzed by Earth, closer to us than our communication satellites, but it was predicted. Chelyabinsk arrived unannounced.

“We still miss these small asteroids all the time, even with our sophisticated telescopes,” says Fitzsimmons, who uses a telescope in Hawaii to survey for danger in another project, Pan-Starrs. Once a minute, a 1.4 billion-pixel image of part of the sky is recorded and then analysed for comets and asteroids that may be winging our way. It detected the 10,000th “near-Earth object” early this June. Cataloguing these is a priority for Nasa too.

Don Yeomans of Nasa’s near-Earth object programme says 90 per cent of objects over a kilometre across have been identified, and Nasa is now focusing on those more than 130m. After following them for a few years, scientists can work out their orbit and do impact probability calculations, often for a hundred years into the future.

“A one-kilometre object gives you a global catastrophe,” Fitzsimmons warns. “An object 40m to 70m across would cause major damage locally, with the severity depending on the exact velocity, size and composition.”

Anything greater than 30m across will likely strike Earth’s surface, but damage potential is still under investigation.

“To better predict the hazards of future impacts, we need to know how much damage objects of different sizes and types of material produced,” says David Kring, an impact expert at the Lunar and Planetary Institute in Houston. “Chelyabinsk is providing the first high-precision calibration point on the curve that relates impact energy to surface damage.”

Russian roulette: The Russian fireball was a weak stony asteroid called a chondrite; one fragment knocked an eight-metre hole in the ice of Chebarkul Lake. Experts say a 20m object enters Earth’s atmosphere about once a century on average, so it was a rare event. Chances are it wouldn’t hit a city.

Impressive impact craters in Canada and South Africa stretch almost 200km across, but the most famous lies under the Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico. “The Chicxulub impact event, which wiped out the dinosaurs and extinguished life on Earth, was produced by an asteroid about 10km in diameter,” says Kring. “It is much more difficult for such a large object to go undetected, but not impossible. The scientific community is working hard to detect all objects that size, to minimise that risk.”

A rock this size equals catastrophe. The Chicxulub blast laid down a tell-tale layer of iridium-rich dust spread across the globe, a clue to its force. “That asteroid would have come in at around 20km a second, and something that size would have no chance of being slowed down by the atmosphere. It would have penetrated way down into the crust, where all that kinetic energy was converted instantly to heat. The rock would have simply exploded and vaporised, giving a hot dusty atmosphere,” says Ian Sanders, a meteorite geologist in Trinity College.

The PCC report: global warming is ‘unequivocal’  

Man’s influence on climate change is “clear”, according to the latest IPCC report which states that global warming is “unequivocal”

The new assessment by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change states that it is “extremely likely” humans have been the principal cause of warming since the 1950s.

Without making “substantial and sustained reductions” of greenhouse gas emissions, the world can expect an increase of extreme weather including heatwaves and heavy rainfall.

Three out of four future climate change scenarios, based on projected levels of gas and aerosol emissions, suggest that by the end of this century global temperatures are likely to reach 1.5C higher than pre-industrial levels.

In the two highest of the four scenarios, warming by 2100 is expected to exceed 2C, the benchmark after which there are likely to be dangerous effects on the planet.

The effects of climate change will continue for several hundred years even if emissions of carbon dioxide stop, the report states.

Scientists and politicians from 195 countries have been working late into the night all week to finalise details of the document.

In an official statement issued to press on Friday morning, the panel said: “Human influence on the climate system is clear. This is evident in most regions of the globe.

“It is extremely likely that human influence has been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century. The evidence for this has grown.”

Warming in the climate system is “unequivocal” and changes seen since the mid 20th century have been “unprecdented over decades to millenia”, they added.

The discussions, which took place at a brewery-turned-conference facility in central Stockholm were frustratingly slow but there is understood to have been little of the infighting between nations that has characterised past meetings.

One delegate told the Telegraph on Thursday night: “The good news is that the Saudis are not objecting to every word like used to happen [at previous meetings].

“It is pretty tame compared to the early years of the IPCC when you used to have a real scrum between people like the Chinese, who could be quite difficult. There is no-one in there saying climate change isn’t real.”

The summary for policymakers is a condensed version of a much larger report running to thousands of pages, which will be released on Monday.

It states that the atmosphere and oceans have become warmer, with the oceans absorbing more than 90 per cent of the extra heat energy accumulated between 1971 and 2010.

In fact, many scientists believe that warming of the deep oceans, on which data is still uncertain, has been masking climate change at the surface. This could explain why atmospheric temperatures have barely changed in the past 15 years during the so-called “pause”, they say.

Political delegates from the UK and other leading countries such as the US and Brazil are understood to have pushed hard for the report to make explicitly clear that the comparative lack of warming during the past decade and a half does not mean climate change has stopped.

Sir Mark Walport, the Government chief scientific adviser, said the challenge for scientists in overcoming scepticism about man-made climate change was one of “communication.”

He told BBC’s Radio 4 Today programme: “Scientists have got to communicate this. There are some people that don’t want to confront the policy decisions and they say ‘the easiest way we can do this is rubbish the science.’ They can’t do this, it’s absolutely robust.”

The summary states: “Due to natural variability, trends based on short records are very sensitive to the beginning and end dates and do not in general reflect long-term climate trends. As one example, the rate of warming over the past 15 years, which begins with a strong El Nino, is smaller than the rate calculated since 1951.”

The report makes clear that each of the past three decades has been successively warmer at the Earth’s surface than any preceding decade since 1850, and that 1983-2012 was likely the warmest 30-year period of the past 1,400 years.

Concentrations of carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide in the atmosphere have reached levels unprecedented in the past 800,000 years, including a 40 per cent increase since pre-industrial times.

The report also states that sea levels have risen by 19cm since 1901, and that they will continue to rise during this century as surface temperature rises and the Arctic sea ice continues to shrink and thin and glaciers around the world recede.

The oceans are also set to become more acidic as they absorb more carbon.

Qin Dahe, co-chair of the working group, said: “Our assessment of the science finds that the atmosphere and ocean have warmed, the amount of snow and ice has diminished, the global mean sea level has risen and the concentrations of greenhouse gases have increased.

“As the ocean warms, and glaciers and ice sheets reduce, global mean sea level will continue to rise, but at a faster rate than we have experienced over the past 40 years.”

Thomas Stocker, the other co-chair of the group, added: “Continued emissions of greenhouse gases will cause further warming and changes in all components of the climate system. Limiting climate change will require substantial and sustained reductions of greenhouse gases.

“Heatwaves are very likely to occur more frequently and last longer. As the Earth warms, we expect to see currently wet regions receiving more rainfall, and dry regions receiving less, although there will be exceptions.

“As a result of our past, present and expected future emissions of CO2, we are committed to climate change, and effects will persist for many centuries even if emissions stop.”

Ed Davey, the Energy and Climate Change Secretary, said solutions to the problem of man-made greenhouse gases accumulating in the atmosphere “must be set in motion today.”

He said: “The risks and costs of doing nothing today are so great, only a deeply irresponsible government would be so negligent.

“Without urgent action to cut greenhouse gas emissions this warming will continue, with potentially dangerous impacts upon our societies and economy.”

The report strengthened the case for international leaders to work for an “ambitious, legally binding global agreement” in 2015 to cut carbon emissions, he added, thanking the scientists behind it for making clear “what is at stake if we don’t act.”

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Thursday 26th September 2013

Growing numbers of Irish teenager’s being gang-raped

“Says a report”


Cari said it was alarmed by the dramatic rise in reports of attacks by multiple perpetrators in 2012, which doubled to 41.

Mary Flaherty, chief executive, said staff also recorded a 162% increase in rape and sexual assault allegations on under 18s, from 132 to 351.

She revealed teenagers told volunteers they often felt culpable in attacks, were witnessed or sometimes encouraged by others, and left traumatised by recordings which were viewed or discussed on social media sites.

“The sexualisation of children and young people and easy access to pornographic imagery plays a vital role in how young people perceive sex and sexuality,” she said.

“The nature of our calls has changed so much in the past 20 years that this issue needs to be addressed.

“Social networking sites also need to play a role in child welfare and protection – which to date they have not done.”

Ms Flaherty said a 13% cut in State funding last year impacted severely on services, leading to the closure of its service in Cork and all staff being laid off for a month.

Therapy hours had to be cut by 7% nationwide, from 2,650 hours in 2011 down to 2,474, leaving more than 50 children who were sexually abused on a waiting list for therapy by the end of the year.

Ms Flaherty said it was an appalling indictment on the nation that some of the 3,300 youngsters who report abuse to health chiefs each year are being let down.

“Children in Ireland continue to be sexually abused every day and we continue to fail them,” she said.

“If you are an adult who has experienced abuse, either in the last 24 hours or as a child, you have access to counselling in every health board area. You also have rape crisis and domestic violence units nations.

“If you are under 18 you only have support two children’s hospitals in Dublin and a service in Limerick which we run.”

The helpline took 1,493 calls during the year, up 4%.

They included 1,182 where a child spoke about their ordeal, 208 silent calls which were seen as a victim’s first step for help and 104 that went unanswered due to resources, a 30% drop on 2011.

The majority of allegations involved a family member and some parents raised concerns over the sexualised behaviour of their teenagers, although no abuse had taken place.

Cari, which also supported 64 children or family members through the criminal courts, also criticised the three to four year delays in cases which impact on a child’s life and healing process.

Majella Ryan, acting national clinical director, said the long term effect of child sexual abuse on children when they do not receive the appropriate interventions is well documented.

“Children as young as eight years old present with thoughts of suicide, self-harm and mental health issues,” she added.

“Many struggle at school as a result of their experiences.

“When left untreated, they can go on to develop problems with addiction, social skills and many other things that can make life difficult and unbearable.

“When these children are made safe and receive the right intervention, they can move on and the abusive experience does not have to define them.”

Number of tourists visiting Ireland up by 142,000 6.7% increase


THE number of tourists visiting Ireland this summer increased by 142,000 over the same time last year to over two million, according to the latest figures from the CSO released this morning.

A total of 2,264,800 return trips were made between June and August – an increase of 6.7% over the same period last year.

Visitors from the UK represented the largest group of visitors here who made 879,500 visits during the peak summer months of June, July and August, an increase of  4.7pc.

But the key North American market showed impressed gains of close to 20pc over the same period last year with visitors from Canada and the USA making 437,900 return trips.

Visitors from Eastern Europe, Switzerland, Turkey and other European countries were the third largest group who made 172,600 visits, followed by Germany at 169,100, France at 136,900, other areas – including Africa, Asia and theMiddle East – at 86,000 followed by Benelux countries at 79,500, Italy at 77,400, Australia and New Zealand at 66,700 and Scandinavia at 63,400.

The figures, especially for North American visitors, reveal that The Gathering tourism initiative is paying off.

There were almost 300,000 overseas visitors here by the end of August, which is close to The Gathering’s target of 325,000 overseas visitors by the end of the year.

“There are still gatherings taking place until the end of the year so we are very confident we’ll hit the target,” a Failte Ireland spokeswoman said.

Failte Ireland CEO Shaun Quinn added: “For us in Fáilte Ireland, these figures are clear evidence that The Gathering is providing tourism with the ‘jump-start’ we always imagined it would. The North American performance is very impressive and the European markets are bouncing back. The increase in British visitors is particularly welcome as that market has been challenged for some time. The trick for tourism going forward will be to maintain the momentum created by the Gathering and build on this performance.”

The statistics also reveal that Irish residents took slightly more trips abroad and within Ireland for business and leisure this summer than last.

Some 4.4 million trips were taken over the summer – an increase of 4.9pc over the same time last year.

Failte Ireland attributed the heatwave in July and Gathering events for a slight increase in the number of Irish people making last-minute getaways within Ireland.

There was also a slight increase in the number of overseas trips taken (3.9pc) to 2.1 million, including holiday and business travel as well as visiting family.

Irish ploughing championships pull in record attendance’s this year


The number of people attending this year’s National Ploughing Championships has broken all records.

Almost 230,000 people visited the three day event in Ratheniska near Stradbally in Co Laois.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny was the guest of honour on the third and final day of the 2013 Ploughing Championships in Co Laois, which are drawing to a close this evening.

A recording breaking 228,000 people turned out in Ratheniska near Stradbally since Tuesday morning – 43,000 more than last year’s figure.

“We knew that we’re in the cross roads of Ireland here, and we’re in between two major motorways … [and] the weather was a major, major factor,” said Anna May McHugh, Managing Director of the National Ploughing Association.

The organisers confirmed this evening that next year’s event will also take place in Ratheniska.

Irish Carbon Monoxide awareness Week 2013


Most Irish people are unaware of the connection between burning fossil fuels and the risk of carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning, new research has found.

CO is a poisonous gas, however, it is colourless and odourless. It is produced when fossil fuels, such as oil, gas and coal, do not have enough oxygen to burn completely.

If inhaled into the body, CO combines with the blood, preventing it from absorbing oxygen. If a person inhales CO over a period of time, they are at risk of becoming seriously ill or even dying. Around six people die every year in Ireland as a result of accidental CO poisoning.

However, a survey of 1,000 adults released as part of Carbon Monoxide Awareness Week, revealed low levels of consumer awareness when it comes to the connection between CO and the burning of fossil fuels.

For example, just one in three people are aware that oil and gas can produce CO when burned, while only one in four are aware that coal, kerosene and bottled gas can produce it.

Meanwhile, just one in five people know that charcoal, peat and turf can produce the poisonous gas, while only one in seven know that burning wood and wood pellets can produce it.

In order to prevent CO, fuel burning appliances, such as gas boilers, should be serviced on an annual basis and chimneys, vents and flues should be kept clear.

According to the research, almost three in four people are aware of the importance of regular servicing of these appliances, however for almost six in 10 people, the cost of such a service is a prohibiting factor.

Furthermore, when asked when was the last time they had their heating appliance serviced, 8% said that to their knowledge, it had never been serviced, while 15% said they did not know.

“This research shows that everyone needs to be more aware that every fossil fuel when burned has the potential to produce CO. CO poses a very real threat to people’s lives. Regular appliance servicing and keeping vents, flues and chimneys clear are extremely important to ensure the safety of family members and loved ones,” commented Dr Paul McGowan of the Commission for Energy Regulation (CER), which organises this event.

As part of Carbon Monoxide Awareness Week, which runs until September 29, people are being reminded of the importance of installing a CO alarm in their homes.

Symptoms of CO poisoning can include cold-like symptoms, headaches, dizziness, chest pains, diarrhoea and lack of energy. For more information on CO, click here

IMO calls for Irish minimum alcohol prices structure to reduce abuse


The Irish Medical Organisation is calling for a minimum unit pricing structure for alcohol across the country.

The group says the introduction of a minimum price would effectively reduce the problem of alcohol abuse on future generations in Ireland.

The President of the IMO, Dr Matt Sadlier, said they were seeking an all-island policy including the North to help to tackle the issue.

“Our reason for looking for minimum pricing for alcohol is that where minimum unit pricing has been introduced, it has been shown to reduce consumption – and thus reduce the social difficulties with alcohol,” he said.

The IMO is also urging the government to ensure that young people are not exposed to alcohol marketing and to introduce a complete ban on drinks advertising and promotion.

First pair of Okapis arrive at Dublin Zoo


Dublin Zoo has announced that the first okapis in Ireland have become its newest residents.

Males Kamba, aged 14, and Kitabu, aged six, arrived from Rotterdam Zoo this month.

Dublin Zoo said: “The okapi is originally found in the Ituri Rainforest, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, in central Africa.”

Dublin Zoo continued: “It is one of the last species of mammals to be described by western science and even today the okapi largely remains a mystery to the outside world.

“For most people living in Ireland this will be their first opportunity to see these extraordinary animals.”

Dublin Zoo added: “Okapis are the only living relative of the giraffe. The okapi has a dark red-brown-coloured coat with horizontal, white-striped markings on their hind quarters and at the tops of their legs. Its long, black tongue is prehensile, meaning that it is able to strip leaves from the branches above.

“Unfortunately, due to deforestation and hunting, their numbers are declining rapidly.”

Director of Dublin Zoo Leo Oosterweghel said: “It is a privilege to see such a rare and beautiful animal. They are a shy and sensitive animal and are still settling in so may not be visible every day.”

Curiosity findings show 2% of Mars soil contains water


The first analysis of soil dug up by the Curiosity rover reveals new insights into the red planet’s propensity for retaining water beneath its surface.

After examining fine-grained soil particles extracted by the Curiosity rover from beneath the surface of Mars, scientists have concluded that roughly 2 percent of the Martian surface soil is made up of water. While showing no indication of organic material besides Earth-transported microbes, the results bode well for future manned missions to Mars, wherein astronauts could mine the soil for water, and advance scientists’ understanding of Mars’ history.

The findings, published Thursday in the journal Science, are part of one article in a five-paper special section on the Curiosity mission that began in August 2012. “One of the most exciting results from this very first solid sample ingested by Curiosity is the high percentage of water in the soil,” lead author Laurie Leshin, dean of the School Science at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, said in a NASA press release.

The tool Curiosity used to analyze the sample was a collection of instruments called Sample Analysis at Mars, or SAM, that contains a gas chromatograph, a mass spectrometer, and a tunable laser spectrometer.

The rover first scooped up dirt, dust, and finely grained soil from a 2.5-inch-deep hole it dug in a patch of Mars’ soil referred to as Rocknest back in February. Then a tiny, pill-size portion of the sample was fed into SAM, where it was heated to 1,535 degrees Fahrenheit.

The gases that were released — which included significant portions of carbon dioxide, oxygen, and sulfur compounds — were analyzed, and gaseous carbonite was found in a quantity that suggests the water presence in Martian soil.

The Sample Analysis at Mars, or SAM, instrument suite prior to installation inside Curiosity.

“This work not only demonstrates that SAM is working beautifully on Mars, but also shows how SAM fits into Curiosity’s powerful and comprehensive suite of scientific instruments,” said Paul Mahaffy, a lead investigator for SAM at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.

These findings come on the heels of disheartening news last week that Curiosity has yet to crack the methane mystery that has persisted around Mars since 2003, when scientists observed methane plumes and the public and professional interest in finding life on the red planet soared.

The lack of methane thus far indicates that the rover has little chance of finding active microbial life on the planet, but the existence of water in such great quantities in the surface soil brings scientists one step closer to piecing together the planet’s past potential for harboring life.

“By combining analyses of water and other volatiles from SAM with mineralogical, chemical, and geological data from Curiosity’s other instruments, we have the most comprehensive information ever obtained on Martian surface fines,” added Mahaffy. “These data greatly advance our understanding surface processes and the action of water on Mars.”

Given the renewed interest of late in manned missions to Mars — from non-profit organizations like Mars One, privatized transportation companies like SpaceX, and the unofficial plans in the works over at NASA — these findings are reassuring. Leshin confirmed a cubic foot of soil, as opposed to the tiny sample Curiosity analyzed, could yield nearly 2 pints of condensation when heated.

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Wednesday 25th September 2013

Mater hospital to comply with legislation


Hospital says it has carefully considered Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act

Fr Kevin Doran, who sits on the Mater’s board of directors and the board of governors, would not comment on the hospital’s decision.

 The Mater Hospital in Dublin has said it will comply with the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act 2013.

In a brief statement issued yesterday the hospital said it would comply with the Act, which sets out the circumstances where a termination of pregnancy may be performed.

The statement says: “The Mater Hospital has carefully considered the Act. The Hospital’s priority is to be at the frontier of compassion, concern and clinical care for all our patients. Having regard to that duty, the Hospital will comply with the law as provided for in the act.”

The hospital’s compliance with the legislation came into question during the summer when a member of its board of directors said it could “not comply” with the legislation as it ran counter to its Catholic ethos. Fr Kevin Doran, who sits on both the board of directors and the board of governors would not comment this afternoon on the hospital’s decision or his future involvement in it.

The Mater Misericordiae University Hospital is a Catholic voluntary hospital and was founded by the Sisters of Mercy in 1861. In its mission statement, the hospital says that by caring for the sick, “we participate in the healing ministry of Jesus Christ”.

Though it is named in the Act as one of 25 “appropriate institutions” for the termination of pregnancy, Fr Doran said during the summer: “The Mater can’t carry out abortions because it goes against its ethos. I would be very concerned that the Minister [for Health, James Reilly] seesfit to make it impossible for hospitals to have their own ethos.

“The issue is broader than just abortion. What’s happening is the Minister is saying hospitals are not entitled to have an ethos.”

A spokesman said the hospital’s board and management had consulted “widely across the hospital” since the enactment of the legislation in July. The issue had also been discussed at board level.

When asked yesterday about the hospital’s decision, Fr Doran said: “I’m not going to comment on anything. This has just happened.”

Asked if he was going to remain on as a member of the hospital’s boards of governors and directors, again said: “I am not going to comment on anything.”

He had said in August that if the hospital were to decide to comply with the legislation he assumed there “would be very serious discussion between the Archbishop [of Dublin Dr Diarmuid Martin] and the management of the hospital.”

The Mater hospital is a single-member company.

Its parent company is the Mater Misericordiae and the Children’s University Hospitals (Temple St) Ltd.

Its website says the majority of the members of the parent company are Sisters of Mercy and the remaining members represent the Catholic Archdiocese of Dublin, the Catholic Nurses’ Guild of Ireland, the Society of St Vincent de Paul and the medical consultants of Mater Misericordiae University Hospital and the Children’s University Hospital.

Irish planning permissions up 37% in second quarter


Planning permissions for apartments jump 79% in the second quarter of 2013

New Central Statistics Office figures show that planning permissions were granted for 1,926 dwelling units in the second quarter of 2013, up 37% on the same time last year.The CSO noted the 37% increase was off a low base in 2012.Planning permissions were given for 1,496 houses in the three months from April to June, up 28.3% on the 1,166 the same time last year.The number of planning permissions for apartment units soared by 79% to 430 apartment units from 240 units in the second quarter of 2012.

Today’s figures show that one-off houses accounted for 35.5% of all new dwelling units granted planning permission in the three month period.

Twitter to create 100 new jobs at its new Dublin office


Microblogging website Twitter is to double the number of employees at its Dublin office to 200 by the end of next year.

The announcement was made as the company marked the second anniversary of the opening of its European headquarters in Dublin.

The company currently employs 100 staff at its new Pearse Street offices.

Managing Director Stephen McIntyre said the company had a positive experience in finding specialised and experienced staff to fill vacancies, as had other social media companies with a presence in Ireland.

The new jobs will be in a variety of business areas, including sales, legal, HR, finance, marketing, engineering and user services.

Recruitment for the first 30 of the new positions has already begun.

Twitter has more than 200 million active users around the world, with more than 500 million tweets sent daily.

The Twitter service is available in more than 30 languages, with 70% of its users based outside the US.

Earlier this month, the company announced it is to sell its shares on the stock market.

The announcement has been welcomed by the IDA.

Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation Richard Bruton also welcomed the news.

He said: “ICT is a key sector targeted in the Government’s Action Plan for Jobs, and in recent years we have seen significant jobs growth in the area as world-leading internet companies decide to establish and expand operations in Ireland.

“Twitter is one of the biggest names on the internet and one of the fastest-growing companies in the world.

“Twitter’s decision in 2011 to establish its European HQ in Dublin was a major coup for Ireland and further confirmation of our status as the internet capital of Europe.”

Many cases of blindness can be prevented through early diagnosis and treatment


People over the age of 50 are being warned to watch out for symptoms of AMD (age-related macular degeneration) Ireland’s leading cause of registered blindness.

The call was made to coincide with AMD awareness week, which runs until September 29.

AMD (age-related macular degeneration) affects central vision, making it blurry. Central vision is necessary for everyday activities such as reading, driving and watching television. The condition affects one in 10 people over the age of 50.

However, the majority of cases of blindness associated with AMD can be prevented through early diagnosis and treatment.

“As the leading cause of blindness among people over the age of 50, it is likely that AMD will continue to affect vision loss in this older age group. However it is reassuring to note that 75% of blindness is preventable through early diagnosis and treatment.

“In the case of AMD, prevention is aided by maintaining a healthy lifestyle with a balanced diet and blood pressure control, quitting smoking and by having regular eye tests,” explained Patricia Quinlan, an eye doctor and member of the Irish College of Ophthalmologists (ICO).

A framework report recently launched by the National Coalition for Vision Health in Ireland revealed that 224,000 people in Ireland are affected by severe vision loss. However, this figure is expected to jump by 21% – to 272,000 – by 2020 as a result of this country’s ageing population and changing lifestyle factors.

According to Lynda McGivney-Nolan, an optometric advisor with the Association of Optometrists Ireland (AOI), it is important that people over the age of 50 undergo regular eye tests.

“In fact it is advised that you should undergo a test at least every two years. We encourage this age bracket to stay vigilant for the early signs of AMD,” she commented.

Early signs include a sudden onset of vision distortion and blurring in the centre of a person’s vision. The test for AMD is simple, quick and non-invasive – it can take place as part of a routine eye exam at any optician.

“Because eyesight can start to deteriorate gradually in old age, too many older people put up with it, seeing the deterioration as just part of the ageing process. In so many instances that is not the case,” warned Des Kenny of the National Council for the Blind of Ireland (NCBI).

He added that to lose your sight unnecessarily because of failing to visit an optician ‘is one of the saddest mistakes a person can make’.

“This is all the worse when eyesight can be saved through prompt diagnosis and treatment,” he added.

AMD Awareness Week is supported by the NCBI, the ICO, the AOI and the charity, Fighting Blindness. As part of the event, free AMD testing will be available at a number of venues nationwide. For more information, click here

For more information on eye health, see our Eye Clinic here

Global warming and “What the leading scientist’s say”


The UN panel looking at the impact of human activity on the planet is about to release its latest report. Representing the peer-reviewed work of hundreds of leading climate scientists, it offers no cause for scepticism or complacency

A lot has changed since the world’s leading climate scientists last gathered in the name of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in 2007, to put the finishing touches to their fourth landmark assessment of the state of global warming.

Since the release of that report in Geneva, the world has been through a prolonged and continuing economic downturn. This was arguably good for the environment in the short term, because the resulting slump in manufacturing had the effect of curbing the growth in damaging carbon emissions.

But in the longer term, the recession has been profoundly damaging, because it has knocked green issues firmly off the political agenda. While renewable technologies such as wind and solar power can benefit from free sources of energy, the initial investment is huge and the rewards will not be felt until much further down the line.

The cause of reducing emissions was dealt a further significant blow at the annual UN climate change conference in Copenhagen in December 2009, when the world’s governments failed to agree on legally-binding targets to reduce their CO2 emissions.

This failure to forge a treaty to replace the 1997 Kyoto protocol, which was rejected by the US and which placed no obligations on big developing countries such as China, was hugely disappointing to many and took much of the wind out of the sails of the campaign to reduce emissions.

Climate sceptics have effectively exploited the opportunities provided by the recession and the disappointing Copenhagen summit to push their case, arguing that the last thing people need is expensive and unnecessary renewable energy pushing up their utility bills.

According to a recent survey from the UK Energy Research Centre, they have been effective. The proportion of people living in Britain who do not believe in climate change has more than quadrupled since 2005 – from 4 per cent to 19 per cent.

But the prospect of the world’s leading governments agreeing dramatic and co-ordinated action to tackle climate change has brightened considerably in recent months.

China and the US, the world’s biggest emitters of CO2 by far, have lately made a series of positive noises about the prospect of cutting their carbon footprint and have even agreed to team up to tackle the matter.

It is against this backdrop that the fifth IPCC assessment will be published in Stockholm tomorrow. With its synthesis of thousands of peer-reviewed papers put together by hundreds of leading scientists, it will be the most authoritative document ever produced about climate change.

It will therefore play a central role at the next significant UN Climate Change Conference in Paris in 2015. This is when governments have agreed to try and negotiate legally-binding emissions reductions targets that, they hope, will be sufficient to keep global warming to 2C – the level beyond which the consequences become increasingly devastating.

1. Atmospheric observations 

  The report will say there is a 95 per cent chance – which it defines as “extremely likely” – that humans are responsible for the majority of climate change through their greenhouse gas emissions. This compares with the 90 per cent figure given by the previous IPCC assessment in 2006. This, in turn, was a significant increase on the 66 per cent certainty reached in the 2001 assessment and just over 50 per cent in 1995.

The report will say that the “global combined land and ocean temperature data” show an increase of about 0.8C between 1901 and 2010 and of about 0.5C between 1979 and 2010.

It is also expected to slightly reduce the minimum temperature increase that is “likely” (defined as a greater than 66 per cent chance) to result from climate change in the long term, to 1.5C, compared with 2C in 2006. The upper end of the “likely” temperature increase remains at 4.5C.

The report is also like to reference the fact that, in May, the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere breached the symbolic level of 400 parts per million for the first time in five million years, after rising at its fastest rate since records began.

The elevated carbon emissions reading harks back to the Pliocene period, of three to five million years ago, when global average temperatures were 3C or 4C hotter than today; the Arctic was ice-free, sea levels were about 40m higher than today, and jungles covered northern Canada.

2. Ocean observations 

The report will say “it is virtually certain that the upper ocean has warmed since 1971 and that ocean warming dominates the change in the global energy content”. This is because warming of the ocean accounts for more than 90 per cent of the extra energy stored by the Earth between 1971 and 2010, it will say.

The largest warming is found near the sea surface, with the top 75 metres recording a 0.1C increased per decade, between 1971 and 2010, decreasing to about 0.015C per decade by 700 metres. In terms of sea levels, the report will find it to be “virtually certain” that over the 20th century the mean rate of increase was 1.4-2mm a year, rising to 2.7-3.7mm a year from 1993.

It will also forecast that, by the end of the century, sea levels could rise by up to 81cm – largely as a result of an expansion in the volume of the oceans as they warm, and from the melting of glaciers.

It will say it is “virtually certain” that the oceans have absorbed huge amounts of carbon dioxide that have resulted in the gradual acidification of seawater. Estimates of the global oceanic content of anthropogenic (human-sourced) carbon range from 93bn to 137bn tonnes in 1994 to 125bn-185bn in 2010.

3. Cryosphere 

  This term collectively describes those parts of the Earth’s surface where water is in solid form, including sea, lake and river ice, snow cover, glaciers and frozen ground, or permafrost.

There’s not much good news here. The overarching conclusion of the draft report is: “More comprehensive and improved observations strengthen the evidence that the ice sheets are losing mass, glaciers are shrinking globally, sea ice cover is reducing in the Arctic, and snow cover is decreasing and permafrost is thawing in the Northern Hemisphere.”

It notes that global glacier mass has declined by between 210bn and 371bn tonnes since 2003. It also finds that the Greenland ice sheet is diminishing at an accelerating rate – the average annual ice loss from Greenland was between 101bn tonnes and 145bn tonnes between 1993 and 2010, rising to 174bn to 282bn tonnes a year in the period 2005-2010.

The report will also show that the Antarctic ice sheet is losing mass at an accelerating rate, and that the overall decrease in Arctic sea ice between 1979 and 2011 has been about 3.9 per cent per decade.

The state of the cryosphere is seen as a barometer for the extent and fallout from climate change because it is so clearly (though not exclusively) influenced by global temperatures. Its demise also has the added effect of speeding up climate change because snow and ice curb warming by reflecting the sunlight back into space.

4. Carbon allowance 

  The report is likely to say that the world has already burned more than half the maximum amount of fossil fuel that can be consumed if catastrophic levels of global warming are to be avoided. Scientists estimate that if global warming is to have an above-average chance of remaining below the crucial 2C level, the total amount of carbon burnt since the industrial revolution must not exceed one trillion tonnes.

This is because CO2 can remain in the atmosphere for more than 200 years, giving the greenhouse gas a cumulative impact. Scientists calculate that about 570bn tonnes, or 57 per cent of that one trillion tonnes maximum, has been burnt in the past three centuries and these, or similar, figures are expected to be included in the final report.

The report is also expected to warn that we are on course to use up our entire remaining global carbon allowance of 330bn tonnes within 30 years, unless drastic action to curb emissions is taken. This is because rapid economic growth in developing countries is accelerating the increase in carbon emissions.

Experts have blamed much of the increase on rising emissions from China and India, which still rely heavily on coal for their energy, although it is not known whether the latest IPCC assessment will single them out. Reduced absorption by shrinking forests is another factor.

About 50bn tonnes of CO2 is emitted globally each year, with the average global citizen producing seven tonnes, compared with about ten tonnes per person in the UK. Scientists estimate global emissions need to come down to about 20bn tonnes a year if the world is to have a fair chance of limiting global warming to 2C.

5.The warming hiatus

   The most contentious part of the report will probably be how it deals with the “hiatus” in warming, with signs that the rate of increase in global temperatures has slowed dramatically. In a development that climate sceptics have seized upon as evidence that the threat of climate change is greatly exaggerated, the temperature rise has slowed from 0.12C per decade since 1951, to 0.05C per decade in the past 15 years. It is understood that some governments are pressing the report authors to be clearer about the reasons behind the slowdown in the report, in a bid to head off the climate change sceptics.

While the precise wording and prominence of the “hiatus” section are still being hammered out, the gist of it is that it is unlikely to last. It will say factors such as a haze of volcanic ash and a cyclical dip in the energy emitted from the sun are likely to have contributed to a slower warming trend since 1998. It will also point out that the decade to 2012 was the warmest since records began in the mid-19th century.

The IPCC forecasts a resumption of the higher level of warming that it will say is likely to cause ever more heatwaves, droughts, floods and rising sea levels. “Fifteen-year-long hiatus periods are common” in both historical records and computer models, the report will say. “Barring a major volcanic eruption, most 15-year global mean surface temperature trends in the near-term future will be larger than during 1998-2012.”

Heated debate: Publishing an IPCC report

The publication of any Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report is always preceded by several days of intense debate, as hundreds of scientists descend on the launch city – in this case Stockholm – to agree the final wording of the first instalment of a three-part report that is likely to weigh in at more than 3,000 pages in total, released over the next 14 months.

One rather prominent member of the proceedings in particular, the IPCC’s vice-chair, Francis Zwiers, could put a few noses out of joint.

While most climate scientists are likely to be wrangling over just how bad climate change is – and why it seems to have slowed down recently – Mr Zwiers, the director of the Pacific Climate Impacts Consortium at the University of Victoria in Canada, is likely to be focusing more on the inadequacy of established climate models, for failing to predict the warming “hiatus”.

Published in the journal Nature Climate Change, the study he recently co-authored was scathing about these models. It found they have “significantly” overestimated warming over the past 20 years – and by even more over the past 15 years, the period which coincides with the warming hiatus.

IPCC vice-chair Francis Zwiers: climate models failed to predict ‘hiatus’

“Recent observed global warming is significantly less than that simulated by climate models. This difference might be explained by some combination of errors in external forcing, model response and internal climate variability,” the study found.

However, Lord Stern, the author of the influential Stern Review into the financial implications of climate change, said that climate-change models significantly underestimated the extent of global warming.

Mr Zwiers’s stance on the effectiveness of climate models will feed into the reasons for the slowdown in climate change in the past 15 years.

IPCC panellist Shang-Ping Xie, a professor of climate science at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego, said: “It’s contentious. The stakes have been raised by various people, especially the sceptics.”

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Tuesday 24th September 2013

What will the Irish Government target next to raise taxes in next month’s budget?


While income tax is unlikely to rise, the Government may target pensions, USC, DIRT and capital gains tax

There’s no avoiding it. On October 15th, Minister for Finance Michael Noonan will deliver yet another austerity budget. It will be the seventh budget since 2007 with a common theme – falling social welfare payments and rising taxes.

While most people might be saying “enough” by now, the Government has to make further cuts if it is to stay on course with its adjustment of up to €3.1 billion. So how might it be done?

Extending USC
The Government has stressed that no income tax hikes are on the agenda. However, Anne Bolster, tax director with PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), says it is possible that an increase in the Universal Social Charge (USC) might be on the way for PAYE employees earning more than €100,000. A surcharge of 3 per cent already applies to self-employed people earning above this level. As such, Bolster notes, such a move would be perceived to be equitable.

  Tax on unearned income
Another way of ensuring parity between those who are self-employed and those who are in the PAYE sector is to broaden the applicability of PRSI on unearned income.

Self-employed people have already been paying this, but from January 1st, 2014, it’s possible that everyone will have to pay tax on so-called passive income – which includes rental income, investment income, dividends and interest on deposits and savings.

“It would follow through that introducing PRSI for employees on other income would seem to be fairly fair,” says Bolster, although she adds that a “big question” would be how the tax might be implemented, given that PAYE employees typically – unless they own an investment property – do not file annual tax returns.

On the topic of PRSI, it might also be the case that the rate will be increased to 6 per cent for self-employed people, in return for better social welfare benefits.

Property tax
It was only introduced this year, but it was done so at a rate – 0.18 per cent – lower than that originally envisioned. So is there scope for an increase?

Padraig Cronin, tax partner with Deloitte, thinks so, but adds that it’s unlikely to come this year.

“It would be very easy to move it up,” he says, but adds that he doesn’t think the timing is right for an adjustment in the short-term.

“When higher rate income taxes are back down at 40 per cent, you could counter it by increasing property taxes.”

In any case, it will feel like the rate has increased next year given that it will be the first year that people have to pay the tax at the full rate.
Tax on deposit interest has moved upwards steadily in recent years and, if the aforementioned application of PRSI on unearned income comes to pass, DIRT could be pushed up to 37 per cent.

Some 1.18 million Irish adults have €50 left after all bills are paid

Survey finds 


Financial position improving for many, credit union study finds

The number of people with nothing left to spend at the end of the month once all essential bills have been paid has fallen sharply since last summer. Figures published by the Irish League of Credit Unions also suggest the level of disposal income is continuing to stabilise.

The figures indicate that the financial circumstances of many are improving, but nearly half of all adults are still struggling to pay their bills on time, with a growing number cutting back on food to make ends meet.

The credit unions’ latest “What’s Left” income tracking survey shows that 493,000 adults have nothing left at the end of the month once bills have been taken care of compared with 602,000 who said they were in the same financial position in June of last year.

  Disposable income
The survey has also found that disposable income has increased to €172 this month from €163 in May for an average adult.

The increase in monthly disposable income for working adults has gone up from €188 in May to €205, a jump of 9 per cent.

Mortgage repayments, the cost of utilities and the amounts people are paying to clear credit card debt have all fallen, which accounts for much of the increase in disposable income.

The figures are improving but 1.18 million adults say they have €50 or less left at the end of the month once all bills have been paid while 40 per cent say they are struggling to pay their bills on time and have to sacrifice spending in areas such as health and life insurance to cover everyday expenses.

“Once again we see further and continued signs of disposable income stabilisation into the second half of 2013,” said chief executive Kieron Brennan.

“There is a long way to go in terms of building confidence in the economy. It will be interesting to see where the Government has made cuts in the upcoming budget and how this will impact disposable income levels and indeed the finances of families around the country.”

Irish rural farmers fear for safety and want guns to protect themselves


Eight out of ten Irish farmers say they should have the right to own a gun to protect themselves and their property. 

An Irish Examiner/ICMSA survey reveals the level of fear that exists in large parts of rural Ireland, with 81% of farmers polled in favour of gun ownership to combat rising crime levels.

The ICMSA said the findings were not surprising given that criminals were now targeting rural families and the scale of recent garda station closures.

The survey found support for gun ownership was higher amongst male farmers than female farmers. Farmers under 35 showed the least support for the provision. However, support for gun ownership was well over 70% across all age groups and irregardless of sex.

Gun ownership and the right to use it for self-defence has long been a contentious issue in rural Ireland.

It first hit the headlines in 2004 after traveller John ‘Frog’ Ward was shot dead by Mayo farmer Padraig Nally, for trespassing on his property. The farmers stated that he had acted in self-defence at all times.

Following a trial in 2005, Mr Nally was acquitted of murder but convicted of manslaughter. It was the first murder trial to be held in Mayo in nearly a century.

A retrial took place took place in December 2006, where Mr Nally was acquitted of manslaughter. In total, he served 11 months in prison.

During the trial, the Mayo farmer became something of a pin-up for rural homeowners and farmers arguing they should have the right to protect themselves using force, if necessary.

The issue also came back into focus earlier this year focus again this year following the decision by the Government to close 100 rural Garda stations across the country.

  Of the regions surveyed for the study, Athenry in Galway expressed the most support for the measure at 98%.

Skibbereen in Cork expressed the least support for the provision, with 69% stating they either agreed strongly or agreed with the measure.

Amongst farmers who vote Sinn Féin, gun ownership received 100% support. This was followed by those who are undecided (87%), independent (85%), Fianna Fáil (83%) and Fine Gael (71%).

John Comber, ICMSA president said it was understandable that farmers feel they have the right to protect themselves. 

Arthur may call time on his day as backlash gathers force


Company anxious celebration is recognised as expression of Irish conviviality

Arthur’s Day celebrates its fifth anniversary on Thursday.

It’s a celebration of “great people who make things happen”, suggest stout supporters of Arthur’s Day. Those calling for last orders on the boozy affair, meanwhile, insist it is a crass exploitation of a nation’s weakness for alcohol by a multinational corporation profiting handsomely from products linked to some of our society’s gravest ills.

Arthur’s Day celebrates its fifth anniversary on Thursday with events in several countries. About 1,000 performers will be paid handsomely by Diageo to raise a glass to Arthur at 500 venues around Ireland.

The company, which records profits of more than €3 billion annually, is anxious its brainchild is recognised as a joyous celebration of the Irish pub, Irish conviviality and Irish culture. But no matter how loudly it urges people to “drink responsibly” and despite all its talk of the good things it does with (a tiny portion) of the money it makes, it is struggling to shake off some awkward truths. The most awkward one being the damage its products do.

More than two years ago, Minister for Health Dr James Reilly was told by experts that adults here drink “in a more dangerous way than nearly any other country”, while children “drink from a younger age” and “more than ever before”. He heard that alcohol was “a contributory factor in half of all suicides and it accounts for up to 10 per cent of bed days in hospitals, while alcohol-related road accidents cost an estimated €530 million in 2007”. Alcohol-related liver disease, meanwhile, has doubled over the past decade.

That is the bigger picture. The smaller picture is not too pretty either. It is plain to see for anyone who has ever wandered the streets of Dublin, Cork or Galway, stepping over the rivers of urine and vomit which flow freely, and dodging the rows that break out as closing time looms just what impact Arthur’s Day can have. This viewwas confirmed by the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland yesterday, which reminded people that Arthur’s Day was behind a 30 per cent increase in ambulance call-outs.

In the doctors’ corner are musicians such as Christy Moore,Steve Wall and The Waterboys, while across a wider spectrum, calls for a boycott of Arthur’s drinks on the big day are growing, with even some Diageo people privately admitting that the hangover may not be worth it.

But just how much responsibility rests with the company? It has done all it can to insert an elaborate and expensive marketing wheeze into the Irish social calendar. But it doesn’t hold people down and force the black stuff down their throats with a funnel.

People make choices. People will choose to go out on Thursday. And some of them will choose to get drunk – and
some may possibly end up in life-threatening situations as
a result.

The drink-related problems besetting the country willcontinue until those who can make a more tangible difference do something.

The Government said there would be an overhaul of legislation once the National Substance Misuse Strategy steering group published its report 18 months ago, with controls on pricing and advertising and greater enforcement of existing laws aimed at curbing problem drinking.

Nothing has happened yet and until it does, the palaver about Arthur will be nothing more than a sideshow to be forgotten as soon as the bad Friday hangover lifts.

Young Irish scientists win the top award at European event

BT Young Scientist winners come No 1 for biology in Europe (From left) Ciara Judge, Sophie Healy-Thow and Emer Hickey, 2013 BT Young Scientist and Technology Exhibiton winners and now winners of a first prize at the European Union Contest for Young Scientists.

Irish projects outperform all other countries. 

Right Pic. (From left) Ciara Judge, Sophie Healy-Thow and Emer Hickey, 2013 BT Young Scientist and Technology Exhibiton winners and now winners of a first prize at the European Union Contest for Young Scientists.

Ireland’s young scientists have done it again, winning a major prize at the European Union Contest for Young Scientists in Prague today.

Ciara Judge, Emer Hickey and Sophie Healy-Thow won a first prize in the biology section at the competition in Prague.

Last January their project on plant germination won the top prize in the 2013 BT Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition at the RDS.

Their win entitled them to compete in the European Contest representing Ireland. The competition was intense with 120 students from 38 countries taking part. Their prize was € 7,000 plus an all expenses paid trip to the London International Youth Science Forum.

“In 25 years of competing at the EU competition, Ireland has now taken home the top honours 15 times, out-performing all other countries,” said BT’s chief executive officer Colm O’Neill.

The three students are transition years attending Kinsale Community College, Cork.

The 2014 BT Young Scientist & Technology Exhibition will take place in the RDS, Dublin from January 8th – 11th 2014. Students are being urged to get their entries in by the 2nd October 2013 deadline. For more information on the exhibition, log onto

How old is the moon? Scientists put formation forward 100 million years


Rock samples from Apollo 16 mission finally analysed show the moon is millions of years younger than previously thought.

The moon is much younger than scientists have been led to believe, according to researchers analysing samples taken from the Apollo 16 mission.

The prevailing theory surrounding the creation of the moon is that a Mars-sized body known as ‘Theia’ collided with a newly formed proto-earth approximately 4.56 billion years ago, shortly after the formation of the solar system.

The massive impact caused melted material to break off into pieces in space, before eventually re-joining to form the moon.

As the Moon cooled, this magma ocean solidified into different mineral components, the lightest of which floated upwards to form the oldest layer of crust.

New analysis of material collected from it’s surface suggests that the moon is 100 million years younger than previously thought.

A piece of lunar rock sample gathered in the Apollo 16 mission of 1972 has been analaysed by researchers at the University of Copenhagen, using newly refined techniques to assess the age of the sample.

The team of scientists, led by James Connelly from the Centre for Star and Planet Formation, examined the isotopes of the elements lead and neodymium to place the age of a sample of a FAN at 4.36 billion years.

This is significantly younger than earlier estimates, which put the moon’s age as nearly as old as the solar systems – 4.567 billion years.

Mr Connelly said: “Although the samples have been carefully stored at NASA Johnson Space Center since their return to Earth, we had to extensively pre-clean the samples using a new method to remove terrestrial lead contamination.

“Once we removed the contamination, we found that this sample is almost 100 million years younger than we expected.”

The new, younger age obtained for the oldest lunar crust is similar to ages obtained for the oldest terrestrial minerals – zircons from Western Australia – suggesting that the oldest crust on both Earth and the Moon formed at approximately the same time.

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Monday 23rd September 2013

Eamon Gilmore invites Bono to his office to talk about Irish tax


Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore has invited Bono to drop into his constituency office if he wants to discuss the Government’s tax policy.

The U2 frontman has given his most comprehensive defence of the band’s controversial decision to move their business overseas, to legitimately avoid paying tax.

Bono says the band’s stance is in line with the government policy on “tax competitiveness”.

As he lives in Killiney, Bono is a constituent of Mr Gilmore’s in Dun Laoghaire.

When asked if he agreed with his constituent’s views on where his company pays its tax, Mr Gilmore ducked the question.

But he did appear to invite Bono in to talk about tax policy, if he wanted.

“No constituent has come into my constituency clinic to express the views or to put on my table the issue that you have just raised with me.

“And if they did I wouldn’t talk about it in public anyway because it has always been my practice not to talk about the individual tax matters of individual taxpayers and I think that is the view of the Revenue Commissioners.

“If any of my constituents want to take to me about their tax matters or tax matters relating to their company, my constituency address is 47a Patrick Street, Dun Laoghaire, and I don’t believe it’s too far from any of the constituents you might be thinking about,” he said.

Bono’s mansion, Temple Hill, on Vico Road in Killiney is just five kilometres away from Mr Gilmore’s constituency office.



The Department of Finance has said that the new levy on wine has taken in €45m so far this year.

An extra levy of €1 per bottle was imposed on wine in the last Budget.

Finance Minister Michael Noonan says 45 million bottles of wine were sold between January and the end of August.

In total, taxes on alcohol products have brought in €175m in the first eight months of a year.

Research finds more Children reporting high life satisfaction and less children smoking or drinking


The Minister for Health, Dr James Reilly TD, today (23 September), launched the Health Behaviour in School-aged Children (HBSC) Ireland Trends Report 1998-2010.

The survey was carried out by the health Promotion Research Centre in NUI Galway.

The HBSC is a cross-sectional study conducted in collaboration with the World Health Organization (WHO) Regional Office for Europe.

 It runs every 4 years and in 2010 there were 43 participating countries and regions collecting data on the health behaviours, health outcomes and contexts of children’s lives.

In terms of risky behaviour, the survey reports that in 2010 12% of Irish children said they were smoking compared to 21% in 1998.  28% reported that they had been drunk compared to 29% in 1998.  8% reported that they had used cannabis compared to 10% in 1998.

In terms of positive behaviour, seat-belt wearing rates have doubled (82%) amongst children since 1998 and 33% reported that their health was excellent compared to 28% in 1998.  High rates of life satisfaction (76%) and reported happiness (91%) continue.

Commenting, the Minister said that: “I am encouraged that the number of children who have smoked tobacco has decreased, similar to the trend in alcohol consumption and use of cannabis. This is a step in the right direction and I hope to see this continue for the good of all our children.  I have been consistent in highlighting the deadly dangers of smoking, in particular, for our children and I will continue that battle.”

Commenting on the findings, Principal Investigator Dr Saoirse Nic Gabhainn of NUI Galway stated “this report is the culmination of many years of work, and brings some good news about the health behaviours of children in Ireland over the years, with a decrease in smoking and in alcohol use for example. Yet still more needs to be done to improve their health, in particular around physical activity. Importantly, the proportion of children reporting high life satisfaction and being happy, fundamental aspects of childhood, has increased over the years, as have health and safety behaviours such as wearing a seatbelt and brushing teeth”

The survey has been carried out by the Health PromotionResearch Centre, NUI Galway since 1998 and brings together all the data (relating to almost 40,000 Irish children) collected over this period to examine the key trends and patterns between 1998 and 2010.

Overall, 12% reported in 2010 that they currently smoke compared to 21% in 1998; 49% reported in 2010 that they had their first cigarette at age 13 or younger, compared to 61% in 1998; 28% reported in 2010 that they ever been drunk compared to 29% in 1998; 8% reported in 2010 that they used cannabis in the last 12 month compared to 10% in 1998.

Positive health behaviour
Overall, 20% reported in 2010 that they consume fruits more than once a day compared to 18% in 1998; 82% reported in 2010 that they always wear seatbelt when they are travelling by car compared to 41% in 1998; 51% of children reported in 2010 that they exercise 4 or more time per week compared to 54% in 1998.

Health and well-being
Overall, 33% of children reported in 2010 that their health is excellent compared to 28% in 2002; 91% of children reported in 2010 that they are happy with their life compared to 89% in 1998; 76% of children reported high life satisfaction in 2010 compared to 75% in 2002.

General findings 
Overall, 67% of children reported in 2010 that they brush their teeth more than once a day compared to 58% in 1998; 37% of children reported in 2010 that they have been injured in the past 12 months compared to 40% in 1998; 52% of children reported in 2010 that they talk to their friends on the phone, via text messages or on the internet every day compared to 31% in 2002.

Mullaghmore, Sligo, named by Lonely Planet as top surfing spot with 15 foot waves


Multiple Irish spots highlighted in new Ultimate Adventures book

Lonely Planet included surfing spot Mullaghmore, Sligo in its new book, 1000 Ultimate Adventures which lists top tens for adventurers. Walking across Ireland was also included in the new book as one of the best coast to coast missions.

  Lonely Planet listed Mullaghmore as one of the Best Spots to Catch a Wave. Last year surfers there rode waves measuring 15 metres high. The Independent quoted Lonely Planet, “High winds, choppy surfaces and blinding rain can present obstacles, but the heavy, long tubes make up for the conditions.”

The boost in publicity augments Ireland’s own efforts to attract adventures. Tourism Minister Michael Ring told the Irish Mirror, “In recent years the Government and the tourism agencies have been working hard to develop Ireland as a strong adventure tourism venue and get the word out across the world. Ireland was once the best kept secret in activity tourism but increasingly, due to the great product we have to offer, the word is getting out.”

Meaning “the great summit,” Mullaghmore has a sandy beach that makes it well suited for swimming, windsurfing and other water sports. The small fishing town also has several good restaurants and bars. It was listed as an easy coastal walk in Sligo Walks.

Mullaghmore and walking the coast were not the only suggested activities to do in Ireland. The book also recommended climbing Croagh Patrick and riding horses at the Castle Leslie estate. Croagh Patrick was on a list alongside the Hajj in Saudi Arabia and the Camino de Santiago in Spain. Castle Leslie was recommended for its historic house, good horses and “a touch of eccentricity.”

Situated near the picturesque town of Westport in Co Mayo, Croagh Patrick is a popular destination for hikers and pilgrims. St. Patrick is said to have fasted for forty days on the mountain and pilgrims climb to the top of the mountain where Mass is celebrated in a modern chapel. The mountain also holds archaeological interest since a hillfort from the pre Christian era is located at the base.

Castle Leslie is a castle turned hotel with miles of green fields for its guests to ride. Lessons and events are offered for riders of all levels including children over the age of five.

Lonely Planet’s 1000 Ultimate Adventures lists a hundred different top ten lists for various activities and destinations for adventurers. Hopefully the book will be helpful for tourists visiting Ireland. Failte Ireland CEO Shaun Quinn said, “Hiking, cycling, water sports and other activities are all becoming increasingly popular with overseas travellers- particularly Europeans and especially in one of our key markets, Germany.”

Reducing Greenhouse Gas emissions could prevent Premature Deaths

  Balance of suns radioation and reflection

Reducing the flow of the greenhouse gases that spur global warming could prevent up to 3 million premature deaths annually by the year 2100, a new study suggests.

Greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide trap heat, helping warm the globe. The surge in carbon dioxide levels due to human activity since the Industrial Revolution is now causing an overall warming of the planet that is having impacts around the globe. And the burning of fuel generates not only carbon dioxide, but also air pollutants that are harmful to human health.

Past studies have analyzed how reductions in greenhouse gas emissions would also improve air quality. [5 Ways Climate Change Affects Your Health]

However, most of this previous work has treated any mortality from air pollution as a near-term and local effect, generally not further analyzing how air pollutants can drift across national borders, long-term changes in human populations or the indirect effects of climate change on air quality, said researcher Jason West, an atmospheric scientist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Now West and his colleagues have devised a global model to simulate likely future scenarios of the interaction between mortality and air pollutants, such as ozone and particulate matter (tiny particles suspended in the air).

The researchers found that aggressively reducing greenhouse gas emissions could help prevent 300,000 to 700,000 premature deaths annually by the year 2030, two-thirds of which would be in China. By 2050, such reductions would prevent 800,000 to 1.8 million premature deaths annually. By 2100, between 1.4 million and 3 million premature deaths annually could be averted.

“We found reducing greenhouse gases could lead to a pretty striking reduction in air pollutants, and thus a pretty significant impact on lives saved,” West told Live Science

Based on standard cost-benefit analysis that assigns a monetary value to saving lives, the researchers estimated that reducing a ton of carbon dioxide emissions was valued at $50 to $380.

“This is much more than the costs of reducing carbon dioxide emissions, so this can justify reducing carbon dioxide emissions from the point of view of human health,” West said.

   The International Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the international body that assesses the current science on climate change, is due to release its next summary on climate science on Sept. 27. The panel will also release further reports on how climate change will impact the world, and how it might be mitigated, in 2014.

“Climate change is an important problem that needs strong action, and our study suggests serious benefits to reducing greenhouse gases in addition to helping slow down climate change,” West said. “Many times, long-term global problems such as climate change are hard to act on, but here we show that reducing greenhouse gas emissions can have near-term, local benefits for health, as well, which might strengthen the arguments for action with governments and citizens.”

In the future, researchers can analyze the impacts of efforts to intentionally improve air quality as well as reduce greenhouse gas emissions, West said.

West and his colleagues detailed their findings online Sept. 22 in the journal Nature Climate Change.

News Ireland as told by Donie

Sunday 22nd September 2013

We should deal with rogue priests here, not Rome says Diarmuid Martin


Censured Redemptorist priest Fr Tony Flannery (right pic.) who has been threatened with excommunication by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

Archbishop Diarmuid Martin has said the spate of censures of five Irish priests by the Vatican should have been dealt with by the Irish church instead of Rome.

He was speaking on RTE Radio about the publication of an in-depth interview with Pope Francis by the Italian Jesuit journal ‘La Civiltà Cattolica’, in which the Pontiff criticised the excessive number of denunciations sent to Rome about priests and theologians complaining of their lack of orthodoxy.

In the interview, the Pope said these conflicts over orthodoxy should be handled by local bishops’ conferences rather than the Curia.

Responding, Dr Martin said he hoped that the problems and the tensions within the Irish church would be eased “so that we get away from a climate of bickering into one in which we all work together.”

He said he also strongly believed that these matters should alwaysbegin with the local church and where possible be resolved within the local church.

Noting that Irish society had been through some difficult years, Dr Martin said he agreed with the Pope that the church shouldn’t be so over-concerned by just abortion, gay marriage and contraceptives.

Meanwhile, censured Redemptorist priest Fr Tony Flannery who has been threatened with excommunication by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith – over his stand on women priests and contraception – told the Irish Independent that what the Pope said, “seems to amount to a fairly substantial critique of the way in which the Curia and, in particular, the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith have been operating.”

In his interview, the Pope said that in some cases, when Vatican Congregations are not functioning well, “they run the risk of becoming institutions of censorship”.

The Pope’s call for local bishops’ conferences to handle such matters could potentially be “good news” for Fr Flannery and the other censured Irish priests.

“It changes the rules of the game in the sense that it appears that the Curia has largely been taken out of the business of dealing with disciplinary matters and it has been handed back to the local church to deal with it,” he said.

For Fr Flannery, that means that the matter should be dealt with by his Redemptorist congregation.

The priest – whose recently launched book ‘A Question of Conscience’ has sold out and a second reprint is due in just over a weeks’ time – said there was “no question” that the Pope was criticising the “thought police” who spent their time reporting people to Rome.

Irish people ‘do not need another reason to drink’


Doctors have launched a scathing attack on an annual event that promotes Guinness, claiming alcohol-related illnesses in Ireland have reached “epidemic” proportions.

As Arthur’s Day approaches, the Royal College of Physicians Ireland (RCPI) has organised a public talk aimed at highlighting the dark side of alcohol.

Liver disease specialist Dr Stephen Stewart, who will speak at the event tomorrow, said he has treated patients as young as their 30s with end-stage liver disease who were unaware they had a drinking problem.

“We have a progressively worsening relationship with alcohol in Ireland, which manifests itself in the increasing numbers of young people dying from alcohol-related illnesses,” Dr Stewart said.

The doctor, who serves as director of the Liver Disease Centre in the Mater Hospital, said deaths relating to cirrhosis of the liver have doubled between 1994 and 2008, and that hospital admissions for alcoholic liver disease almost doubled between 1995 and 2007.

“Alcohol is more affordable than ever. Alcohol is more acceptable than ever. Alcohol is more available than ever,” he said.

“We need measures to address this epidemic. Where does Arthur’s Day fit into all of this?”

Chair of the RCPI’s policy group on alcohol Professor Frank Murray will open the public meeting.

He said with alcohol consumption and binge drinking at such high rates, the nation does not need “another reason to drink”.

Child and adolescent psychiatrist Dr Bobby Smyth, who will also address the event, warned young people who drink feel more depressed and more anxious while women who open bottles of wine to “de-stress” after a hard work day do more harm than good.

“This strategy for coping with the slings and arrows of life is counterproductive and is not a good model to set for children,” he said.

Arthur’s Day is an annual event organised by Diageo to celebrate the anniversary of the Guinness brewing company.

More than 500 music events featuring over 1,000 different acts will be held across the country on Thursday.

The RCPI meeting – called Join the National Conversation on Alcohol: Who’s calling the shots – will take place at 6pm on Monday at the college’s headquarters on Kildare Street, Dublin.

Survey reveals potential for Ireland to raise adventure tourism numbers


Failte Ireland has said there is greater potential to grow activity tourism numbers across the west of Ireland and the Atlantic coast line, according to research published by them today.

They surveyed more than 15,000 holidaymakers from the four key overseas markets of Britain, France, Germany and the Netherlands as well as tourists from within Ireland.

The survey shows that Ireland is extremely well positioned in the adventure and activity segment of tourism.

The Green Isle continues to be a huge draw for international visitors who love action-packed holidays more than the city trip or beach break.

Our European neighbours enjoy Ireland’s music and sights but the survey shows that they prefer to participate in adventure activities along our coasts or mountain walking.

Cycling, walking and horseriding are still proving the most popular activities.

Next year, Ireland will host the 2014 “Year of Adventure” with the Adventure Travel World Summit getting underway in Killarney.

The mental strain of making do with less in your diet


Diet’s don’t just reduce weight, they can reduce mental capacity. In other words, dieting can make you dumber.

Understanding why this is the case can illuminate a range of experiences, including something as far removed from voluntary calorie restriction as the ordeal of outright poverty.

Imagine that you are attending a late-afternoon meeting. Someone brings in a plate of cookies and places them on the other side of the conference table. Ten minutes later you realize you’ve processed only half of what has been said.

Why? Only half of your mind was in the meeting. The other half was with the cookies: “Should I have one? I worked out yesterday. I deserve it. No, I should be good.”

That cookie threatened to strain your waistline. It succeeded in straining your mind.

This can happen even with no cookie in sight. Dieters conjure their own cookies: psychologists find that dieters have spontaneous self-generated cravings at a much higher rate than nondieters. And these cravings are not the dieters’ only distraction. Diets force trade-offs: If you eat the cookie, should you skip the appetizer at dinner? But that restaurant looked so good!

Many diets also require constant calculations to determine calorie counts. All this clogs up the brain. Psychologists measure the impact of this clogging on various tasks: logical and spatial reasoning, self-control, problem solving, and absorption and retention of newinformation. Together these tasks measure “bandwidth,” the resource that underlies all higher-order mental activity. Inevitably, dieters do worse than nondieters on all these tasks; they have less bandwidth.

One particularly clever study went further. It tested how dieters and nondieters reacted to eating a chocolate bar. Even though the bar provided calories, eating it widened the bandwidth gap between dieters and nondieters. Nondieters ate and moved on, but dieters started wondering how to make up for the calories they had just ingested or, even more fundamentally, pondered, “Why did I eat the bar?”

In other words, diets do not just strain bandwidth because they leave us hungry. They have psychological, not just physiological, effects.

The basic insight extends well beyond the experience of calorie counting. Something similar happens whenever we make do with less, as when we feel that we have too little time, or too little money. Just as the cookie tugs at the dieter, a looming deadline preoccupies a busy person, and the prospect of a painful rent payment shatters the peace of the poor. Just as dieters constantly track food, the hyper-busy track each minute and the poor track each dollar.

As Prof. Eldar Shafir at Princeton University and I argue in our new book, “Scarcity: Why Having Too Little Means So Much” (Times Books), a similar psychology of scarcity operates across these examples but with varying degrees of force. If a cookie can tax our mental resources, imagine how much more psychological impact other forms of scarcity can have.

Take the case of poverty. In a paper published last month in Science, with Profs. Anandi Mani at the University of Warwick and Jiaying Zhao at the University of British Columbia, Professor Shafir and I waded into politically charged territory. Some people argue that the poor make terrible choices and do so because they are inherently less capable. But our analysis of scarcity suggests a different perspective: perhaps the poor are just as capable as everyone else. Perhaps the problem is not poor people but the mental strain that poverty imposes on anyone who must endure it.

One of our studies focused on Indian sugar cane farmers, who typically feel themselves to be both poor and rich, depending on the season. They are paid once a year at harvest time. When the crop is sold, they are flush with cash. But the money runs out quickly, and by the time the next harvest arrives they are stretched thin: they are, for example, 20 times as likely to pawn an item before harvest as after it. Rather than compare poor and rich farmers, we compare each farmer to himself: when he is rich against when he is poor. This kind of comparison is important because it addresses valid concerns that differences in psychological tests merely reflect differences in culture or test familiarity.

We measured farmers’ mental function — on what psychologists call fluid intelligence and executive control — one month before and one month after harvest. And the effects were large: preharvest I.Q., for example, was lower by about nine to 10 points, which in a common descriptive classification is the distance between “average” and “superior” intelligence. To put that in perspective, a full night without sleep has a similar effect on I.Q.

Bandwidth scarcity has far-reaching consequences, whether we are talking about poor farmers or affluent dieters. We all use bandwidth to make decisions at work, to resist the urge to yell at our children when they annoy us, or even to focus on a conversation during dinner or in a meeting. The diversity of these behaviors — combined with the size of the measurable effects — suggests a very different way to interpret the choices and behaviors of the poor. Just picture how distracting that cookie was, and multiply that experience by a factor of 10.

For dieters, bandwidth scarcity has one particularly important consequence, illustrated inone study that gave people a choice between fruit salad and cake. Before choosing, half of the subjects had their bandwidth taxed: they were asked to remember a seven-digit number. The other half had a mentally less-demanding task: they were asked to remember a two-digit number. Those with less available bandwidth ate more cake: they were 50 percent more likely to choose cake than the others. There is a paradox here: diets create mental conditions that make it hard to diet.

This may sound defeatist. But there are positive lessons for how to manage the different kinds of scarcity.

THE United States government, laudably, offers financial aid for low-income students to attend college. Qualifying for it, though, requires completing a densely packed 10-page booklet, mentally taxing for anyone. A one-page version would not only be simpler but it would also recognize that the poor are short on bandwidth as well as cash.

The same tactic — economizing on bandwidth — can be used in dieting. Take the Atkins diet, which effectively bans many foods, including bread and a lot of desserts. A ban is less complex than the trade-offs and calorie accounting required by many other diets. While all diets require self-control, Atkins requires less thinking. This might explain its popularity, and even its effectiveness: a recent study shows that people persist longer with diets that require less thought.

The same study had another interesting finding: it was the perceived complexity of a diet — not its actual complexity — that determined persistence.

So keep this in mind the next time you’re picking a diet to shed a few pounds. Try one that won’t also shed a few I.Q. points.

New Hope for H.I.V. Vaccine


“Kafkaesque” is not a word normally used to describe immune responses, but it’s how Dr. Louis J. Picker described what his experimental vaccine did to his rhesus monkeys: “It’s like their T-cells were turned into the East German secret police, hunting down infected cells until there were none left.”

Recent work by Dr. Picker, a vaccine expert at Oregon Health & Science University, has shaken up the long, frustrating search for an AIDS vaccine. His latest study, published in Nature last week, has scientists scratching their heads, wondering if it might open up a new avenue for research.

Dr. Picker tested his vaccine in 16 monkeys who were then infected with simian immunodeficiency virus, a close relative of H.I.V., which normally would have sent them spiraling rapidly down to a miserable death. The experimental vaccine protected only nine of them, but it also did something never seen before: these monkeys slowly “cleared” the virus and now appear to be cured. “Three years later, you can’t tell them from other monkeys,” Dr. Picker said.

Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the head of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said the effect was “unique.”

And Dr. Barton F. Haynes, the director of the Human Vaccine Institute at Duke University’s medical school, said it was “potentially extremely important to understand how this happened.”

Scientists often test ideas for potential AIDS vaccines by creating similar ones against S.I.V. Never before has one eliminated an existing infection. In that sense, the effect of Dr. Picker’s vaccine was less like that of a measles or flu shot and more like that of the AIDS cures used in two famous cases, known as the Berlin patient and the Mississippi baby.

The Berlin patient, Timothy Ray Brown, was infected with H.I.V. and cured only by obliterating his immune system to defeat his leukemia, and then injecting bone marrow from a donor with a rare H.I.V.-blocking mutation. The unidentified baby was born to an infected mother in Mississippi and apparently infected with H.I.V., but then cured with early and large doses of antiretroviral drugs.

Both now appear to have no H.I.V. lurking deep in their bodies, but it is impossible to be sure because not every bit of their tissue can be tested.

Because he works with monkeys, Dr. Picker was able to do something that would be unthinkable with human patients — necropsy them, grind up every organ and take 240 samples from each to be sure that they harbored no hidden virus.

Making vaccines by simply weaAids

kening the virus that causes AIDS has failed because the virus mutates a hundred times faster than even the fast-mutating flu virus. In Dr. Picker’s vaccine, S.I.V. genes are fused to those of another virus, the cytomegalovirus. (The name means “big cell,” and it is in the herpes family but different from its relatives that cause lip and genital sores, chickenpox and shingles.)

H.I.V. fusion has been tried with adenoviruses and others, but cytomegalovirus seems to work better. It’s not entirely clear why, but one theory is that cytomegalovirus has a very long history of infecting primates — so much so that 100 percent of monkeys and about 80 percent of humans get it in their lifetimes.

Therefore, we primates have adapted to it. Although the virus can be lethal to fetuses and to those with immune systems suppressed by AIDS or transplant drugs, in most victims it causes no symptoms.

The body responds to cytomegalovirus more slowly and calmly than it does, for example, to a flu.

As in any infection, the thymus gland generates new white blood cells called T cells — in this case, CD8 hunter-killer cells — primed to target the specific virus. But in the case of Dr. Picker’s vaccine, those cells stay in an unusual “half-alert” state. A full-blown immune response eventually exhausts itself, and can even be dangerous. For example, the rare humans who catch H5N1 bird flu often die of the immune response itself; they drown in the flood of CD8s and other would-be saviors pouring into the lung tissue, spoiling for a fight.

That “half-alert” state is the “Kafkaesque” element: unactivated CD8s wander around aimlessly, while fully activated ones behave like storm troopers. But the half-activated CD8s persist in tissues, eliminating their targets quietly without triggering inflammation or even a mild fever.

When S.I.V. genes are fused to the cytomegalovirus spine, the CD8s kill S.I.V.-infected cells too.

Since it protected only some monkeys, the new technique might be best used in combination approaches. For example, Dr. Fauci said, it could be given with a vaccine that generates antibodies against H.I.V. “and maybe eliminate the cells that sneak past the antibody shield.”

Alternatively, the vaccine might be given to infected patients who are on antiretroviral drugs to see if it can “mop up” lingering reservoirs of virus.

It should take up to three years to get a human version ready for trials, Dr. Picker estimated.

“Now the outstanding question is, ‘Why only half?’ ” said Dr. Mike McCune, an AIDS researcher at the University of California, San Francisco, referring to the monkeys who were protected in Dr. Picker’s trial.

Too often, AIDS advances that work in lots of monkeys don’t work in many humans.

“Not all monkeys are the same,” Dr. McCune said. “They’re not as inbred as mice, but they’re sometimes from the same families, they get the same diets… Who knows what will happen if this goes into humans?”

News Ireland daily BLOG

Saturday 21st September 2013

Ireland no longer playing catch-up with rest of the eurozone


Figures released on Wednesday by the Central Statistics Office showed Ireland’s economy has now exited its second recession since 2008, driven by a jump in exports coupled with a pick-up in personal consumption.

Exports increased by €1.5bn between the start of April and the end of June, while personal spending jumped 0.7pc on the previous quarter. The country’s construction industry is finally beginning to show signs of growth too, expanding by 4.2pc in the same period.

We’ve now caught up on the eurozone as a whole, which officially pulled out of an 18-month recessionat the end of June.

In fact, Irish growth actually exceeded the eurozone average in the most recent quarter.

Yesterday, the European Commissionsaid investor confidence in the single currency trading bloc had reached a two-year high in September.

The eurozone’s recovery, however, remains fragile. While Ireland has finally found itself in growth mode, other countries are still mired in recession – two consecutive quarters of economic contraction – and those conditions persist in Spain, Italy, Cyprus, the Netherlands and Slovenia. That list could be longer; not all countries, including Greece, report quarterly GDP figures.

In some of these countries, a return to growth looks unlikely to happen any time soon.

Italy cut its growth forecasts yesterday and will probably need further austerity measures to bring its budget deficit to below the European Union’s 3pc threshold, as promised this year.

But even though we can’t be sure of its quarterly GDP performance, the news still looks more positive for embattled Greece.

Unofficial estimates released this week said the country’s battered economy expanded from April to June on a quarterly basis, for the first time since its crisis erupted four years ago.

Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras said on Thursday that the economy was inching towards recovery, as unemployment registered its first quarterly fall in almost four years. “Signs of a recovery are now evident,” he said.

These greenshoots of hope could provide a boost to government revenues that would help Athens avoid further, painful austerity measures to meet the fiscal targets under its international bailout. Encouraged by the figures, Prime Minister Antonis Samaras urged lenders not demand any more cuts to jobs, wages and pensions.

The troika begins an inspection tomorrow that will assess the country’s compliance with reforms and establish any further financing Athens needs before it regains market access.

Cork, Limerick and Galway to get bikes for hire next year


THE hugely successful Dublin bikes-for-hire scheme will be available in three other cities from next summer and could be rolled out to other towns in the near future.

Public Transport minister Alan Kelly has unveiled plans to have 700 bikes installed in Cork, Limerick and Galway by next July, but told the Irish Independent that other towns and cities could also benefit.

Sponsored by Coca Cola Ireland, the bikes will be branded ‘Coke Zerobikes’, with 315 for Cork, 200 in Limerick and 185 in Galway.

There will be 31 docking stations in Cork, 23 in Limerick and 19 in Galway, with the locations to be decided over the coming months.

The schemes, which will be the first of their kind outside the capital, will allow cyclists to use bikes for either free or at a low cost and take or leave them at various docking stations throughout the cities. “This is a breakthrough day for cycling in Ireland,” Mr Kelly said.

“Cork, Galway and Limerick will be joining the likes of Paris, London,Barcelona and Dublin as the cities which have their own public-bike schemes.

“We would estimate that an additional 700,000 cycling trips will be taken per annum because of this scheme. This project has been over two years in the making.

COST: “I’m quietly confident we will be able to do something in Waterford in the future and in areas including Kilkenny, Letterkenny, Athlone and Clonmel.”

The bike stations and bikes will be funded by the Department of Transport, through the National Transport Authority (NTA), at a cost of €4m to install. It will cost another €900,000 a year to operate and maintain the service.

It is understood that Coca Cola Ireland has paid €3m over five years to secure the branding rights – much of this will go on maintenance, with the balance to be made up by councils and the €250,000 expected to be generated in subscriptions.

The cost has not yet been decided, but is expected to be the same as Dublin, where it costs €10 per year to subscribe, with the first half-hour of a bike hire free. After that, charges range from 50c per hour.

The number of cyclists in Dublin has grown by 40pc since 2009. The NTA is currently in the process of competitive tendering for companies to supply,install and maintain the bikes as part of the scheme.

The tender process is expected to be completed by December 2013, and the bikes will be available by next July.

The NTA also plans to extend the Dublin Bikes scheme from 550 bikes at present to 1,500 over the next year.

Praveen Halappanavar begins right for life action against hospital, doctor


Proceedings allege negligence and breach of Savita’s right to life by hospital and clinicians

Praveen Halappanavar alleges medical negligence and a breach of wife Savita’s right to life, by Galway hospital and the team of clinicians.

The husband of the late Savita Halappanavar has served legal proceedings against Galway University Hospital and the consultant who treated her in the week before her death.

  Praveen Halappanavar’s solicitor, Gerard O’Donnell, said the proceedings, against hospital and Dr Katherine Astbury, were served to the hospital’s solicitors in the city yesterday. He said the proceedings alleged medical negligence and a breach of Ms Halappananvar’s right to life, by the hospital and the team of clinicians led by Dr Astbury.

Ms Halappanavar died at the Galway hospital on October 28th last. She had been 17 weeks pregnant and miscarrying when she was admitted to the hospital on October 21st. She had requested a termination of the pregnancy after being told she was miscarrying but this was refused as the foetal heartbeat was still present. She contacted septicaemia and went into septic shock, particularly after October 24th, after she delivered the foetus. She suffered multi-organ failure and died at 1.09 am in intensive care a week after she arrived at the hospital.

A inquest into her death in April returned a verdict of death by medical misadventure, while a HSE investigation into her care found there was an overemphasis on the welfare of the unviable foetus and an under emphasis on Ms Halappanavar’s deterioration. An investigation by the Health Information and Quality Authority (Hiqa) is ongoing.

The proceedings relate to the care she received between October 21st and the morning and early afternoon of October 24th. Mr Halappanavar has no issues with the care his late wife received in the high dependency and intensive care units between the afternoon of October 24th and the time of her death, at 1.09 am on October 28th.

Speaking to The Irish Times today, Mr O’Donnell said his client was “pleased” the proceedings had now been served. The decision to take legal action against the hospital was first reported in The Irish Times in July.

“He is anxious to get things moving,” said Mr O’Donnell. “This is another strand in achieving accountability. That is what my client wants and it is what her family wants.”

Canada has plenty of jobs but Ireland is my home


My Canadian and Irish friends thought I was mad to move back after two years in Toronto but I’m happy, writes Claire O’Keefe

I’m writing this at home, in the family sitting room with its high ceilings, abandoned webs and familiar ripe scent of ancient wood. I’m home after spending nearly two years living and working in the great city of Toronto. I had adapted to the Canadian culture, the way of life, like every other emigrant and landed a permanent job in my field of work, but two years in, I made the big decision to return home to Ireland.

My own choice was made, my future was decided but my circle of friends, both Canadian and Irish, had interesting reactions to my choice.

I’m not going to pretend the decision-making process was easy. It was a tough undertaking, over the past few months, to weigh up the pros and cons of living in a rich, vibrant city like Toronto, with so much diversity and so many opportunities. Honestly, there is a real sense that the impossible can be achieved in Canada. But the cons won out in the end.

I had reached the point when my work permit was set to expire and the next step was to apply for permanent residency, which is one step away from citizenship. The truth is I wasn’t enamoured enough with Canada – despite all its treasures – to consider living there long term. There is also the issue of wanting to be near the people you love. When your heart feels heavy for home, and has felt that way for a long time, there’s no diet for that; there’s no cure until the Visa card is whipped out and the plane tickets are booked.

I booked mine in June. Now that I’m home (I got back in early September) I’m comforted by the fact that I’ve felt nothing like regret since I clicked the ‘book now’ button on that warm evening in our apartment’s small kitchen. I’m also glad that I’ll be armed with close to two years of professional experience. But looking at my decision to move back to Ireland through other peoples’ eyes was a little extraordinary.

“You’re not serious.” This was generally the reaction I got from my Irish friends living in Canada when I told them my news. The eyebrows raised; the eye-to-eye stare endured and then, seconds later, the pity arrived. You could see it in their expressions, leaking empathy with their Puss ‘n Boots eyes. “It’s because you’re homesick is it?” they said. “Ah you’re right girl, it’s hard work living in Canada.”

The compassion was not meant to antagonize or annoy, but to help me to justify a hard decision. That’s nice, but no justification is necessary.

The Canadians had a different reaction altogether. “I’m leaving Canada for Ireland,” I’d say to my Canadian friends. “What?” they’d ask. “I’m leaving for Ireland,” I’d say again because they don’t believe me. “You’re going home?!” they say with absolute incredulity. Over and over again, I repeated the decision and explained the reasons why it was made. Over and over again I was met with astonishment.

“But why is she going to Ireland,” I heard my Canadian friend ask my Irish friend, “does she really want to go back?”… as if I had a gun to my head.

It’s a comical reaction. It may be founded in the Canadians’ patriotism, clearly evident from the word ‘CANADA’ and the Maple Leaf emblazoned on clothes, bags, and hats. It may be hard to process the notion that someone would want to leave such a great and wonderful country as theirs.

It also may be founded in the belief that I might be mad. Why would I go back to a near-beaten country with Cute Hoors and white collar criminals roaming free? Why would I dismantle and destroy a life I’ve built in a safe, secure and regulated country like Canada, to return to chaos in a nation that can be called Europe’s Whipping Boy?

Because it’s Ireland. Because it’s unique. Because it’s home.

Transcending climate catastrophe: hopeful answers from the Great Spiritual Traditions


This year’s droughts, floods, and horrific wildfires all come after a mere 1 degree Fahrenheit of global warming over the 20th century. With a projected 9 degrees of warming by 2100, how do we deal with the potential extinction of civilization?

Personal Death, the great mystics tell us, is always on our minds, even if buried deep in the psyche. If you think otherwise, notice your response the next time you’re crossing the street, intently talking on your cell, when a bus suddenly bears down on you at 60 mph.

Human-caused climate change is just such a bus.

We’ve recently seen 65 % of the nation gripped by drought, record Western wildfires, more than 26,000 heat records shattered, the U.S. corn crop withered, herds of cattle slaughtered for lack of water. 2011 saw the record Mississippi River and Midwest floods, and Texas drought. 2010 saw Russia’s wildfires and Pakistan’s floods. This happened with just 1 degree Fahrenheit global warming over the 20th century. The horrific impacts of 9 degrees warming – likely by 2100 on our current course – is unimaginable.

Clearly, the potential demise of our civilization, our species, of hundreds of thousands of other species, of the world of tigers and maple trees and temperate weather is underway. It is equally on all our minds at all times, and yet buried as deep down as we can bury it.

The denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance being displayed by everyone – from politicians to pundits to parents, plumbers and poets – is indicative of this now innate but forbidden knowledge.

For those of us who are activists and journalists, who do bring it to the surface, we hold out the irrational bargaining chip of carbon taxes, solar power, or better light bulbs, as if these elixirs will save us. In so doing, we invoke the denial and wrath of the right wing pundits and politicians, who irrationally insist our collapsing global ecosystems are a hoax perpetrated by Al Gore and the UN to gain world domination. None of us is bad or evil in our assertions – rather we all stand at different stages of the grieving process.

This year’s record Arctic meltdown – ignored by the media and presidential candidates –likely sounded a death knell for all we hold dear: our world, country, community, our families, ourselves. It is clear that our well-meaning scientists got it wrong with their models. The extreme weather that wasn’t supposed to happen until after 2050, the Arctic meltdown that wasn’t supposed to begin until after 2070, the Greenland and Western Antarctic Ice Sheet meltdown that wasn’t to begin until after 2100, are all under way now.

The rate of damaging global change is turning exponential, even as the rate at which the world burns fossil fuels rises. Like a chain smoker, diagnosed with terminal cancer, we can’t stop.

Those alive in 2100 will likely be living on a very different, hostile planet. Monster heat waves, droughts, deluges, sea level rise, die off of fisheries and forests, destruction of industrial agriculture, water shortages, famine, plague, war… all likely await those of us who live into the 2020s, 2030s and beyond.

So where do we begin? What do we do?

The best and healthiest response may be surrender (this does not mean inaction!). We are personally powerless to stop this terrible thing from happening. Though hard to swallow, surrender is the only means to serenity and sanity.

Of course, this will be hard. Few of us has surrendered to the inevitability of our own deaths – I, for one, have not. Surrendering to the death of civilization, and possibly humanity and much of life on earth comes even harder. But it is the only way to avoid the bitterness and desolation that await otherwise.

How should we act from within surrender? As mystics tell us, by preparing for a good death with a good life.

This means embracing love instead of hate, peace instead of war, joy instead of despair. It means giving up selfish separateness for selfless unity with the planet and all living beings. It means surrender to service over personal gain.

The great spiritual teachers of every tradition tell us: we personally are transitory. This world is transitory. All this will pass. To avoid the pain and suffering at such a great loss, the only solution is to live fully into the present moment, to surrender and bless it all.

For today, we can be bigger and better people than we were yesterday. Change the light bulbs for sure. Change the world to be a better place too. But also, try to change your life to be full of hope, love, meaning, charity, peace and equanimity in the face of all the possibilities to come.