News Ireland daily BLOG Sunday

Sunday 8th September 2013

Northern Ireland is now a far better place for residents,

says Eamon Gilmore


Gilmore asks northern communities to reflect on outcome of triumphalist displays

Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore is urging communities in Northern Ireland to respect their neighbours during commemorations, adding the province is now a better place in which to live.

In an address scheduled for the British Irish Association in Cambridge today, Mr Gilmore said: “Let me be clear. Northern Ireland is an immeasurably better place than it was even five years ago, notwithstanding the very real economic challenges we all face.”

Mr Gilmore also criticised last month’s IRA commemoration rally in Castlederg, Co Tyrone, saying it lacked respect and sensitivity.

“The events of recent months surrounding disputes over flags and parades and the tensions and disorder they have provoked, alongside the unresolved issues of how to deal with the past, are exerting a harmful and even regressive effect on politics and community relations.

“Both communities and the organisations which claim to represent them have the right to celebrate their history and traditions, but if these events commemorate acts of conflict or involve displays of triumphalism or antagonism against their neighbour, then people need to reflect more deeply about the value of such commemorations and how they are marked.”

Mr Gilmore said he hoped to host representatives of the British royal family and the British government, along with the leaders of unionism, at commemorations for the centenary of the Easter Rising in 2016.

He said he wanted all sides to respectfully remember those who gave their lives in the battle of the Somme, as well asIrish men who died fighting in a British uniform.

Mr Gilmore, who plans to lay a wreath at Belfast’s Cenotaph on Remembrance Day on November 11th for the second year running, said all have a responsibility to prepare and carry out commemorations in a way that gives no offence and is mindful of the sensitivities of all citizens.

Mr Gilmore also raised concerns that voices advocating Britain’s detachment from Europe were gaining in strength and volume.

British prime minister David Cameron has pledged to renegotiate the terms of Britain’s EU membership and hold an “in-out” referendum if re-elected in 2015.

“A UK detachment from Europe would be bad for Europe, which is better for Britain’s voice,” Mr Gilmore said. “I believe it would be bad for Britain, diminishing, rather than enhancing, its voice in international affairs.

“It would be bad for Northern Ireland, which has benefitted immeasurably from the EU – economically, financially, socially and indeed politically.

“It would be bad for the Republic if its most important economic partner were to distance itself from the European Union. And it would be bad for North-South co-operation.

“But most pertinent for our purposes this weekend, I believe it would be bad for British-Irish relations.”

Mr Gilmore travelled to England after attending a meeting of EU foreign ministers for talks on Syria, Egypt and the Middle East with US secretary of state John Kerry.

Cancer stories waiting to told & aired says Aine


RTE current affairs presenter Aine Lawlor says breast cancer is not so much black and white but more a case of “fifty shades of grey”.

Aine, 51, who has landed two coveted jobs on radio and television this autumn, is speaking from experience after being treated for the disease with surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy.

Now fighting fit and co-presenting News at One on radio, as well fronting television’s The Week in Politics, the broadcaster is also working on a series of documentaries on the disease.

Speaking to the Sunday Independent as part of our special supplement to mark the 50th anniversary of the Irish Cancer Society, Aine said: “There is a hunger for this to be aired. It’s using patients’ own stories to give a picture of what’s happening in cancer medicine.”

   Up to 30,000 people in the country will be diagnosed with cancer this year.

Aside from providing an essential listening ear to patients, the Irish Cancer Society also plays a pivotal role in awareness, education, advocacy and research.

Aine has seen the work the society does at first hand: “I remember one day in the hospital there was an old lady having a very tough time.

There was a woman with her who was minding her, rubbing creams in her mouth, getting her cups of tea. I thought she had a fantastic daughter, but it wasn’t a daughter – it was the volunteer from the Irish Cancer Society’s Care to Drive programme.”

Aine also spoke of her own mother’s battle with the disease.

“It was kind of the case you went behind the door to be sick, and you came out in a coffin or got well. Unfortunately, she didn’t,” she said.

“I remember the first time I had my picture taken going back to work. There was a lot of interest in getting a picture. It was the first time there was a before and after (picture). I didn’t like it, and felt very vulnerable.

“I went back to the ward, and all the women were very happy because it was a picture of someone like them. We talked about seeing yourself. Hopefully I do what I can. I want to create a space for them.”

The big challenge of mental health illness


When someone suffers from a nervous breakdown, his loved ones will find it hard to cope if they lack knowledge about mental health.

Something like that happened to a friend’s family not too long ago.

The friend’s 36-year-old sister was suddenly diagnosed with schizophrenia, a chronic and disabling brain disorder.

No one in the family thought that such an illness would befall her as she had always been described as an extrovert with an optimistic outlook. She had always kept herself busy with community work as she loved to help as well as interact with people.

Her only flaw, according to her siblings, was that she was a perfectionist. Every minute detail had to be checked, and made flawless, if possible.

We don’t know whether stress it was that triggered her condition. No one else in the family suffers from schizophrenia but we do know that it is important for one to look after one’s physical and mental well-being.

In the beginning, her mother took her to Taoist temples to consult mediums.

The last we heard, she had been seeking treatment at a general hospital and is on the road to recovery. However, she has to be on medication.

It is best not to say or do things that would make anyone with this condition unhappy or she would be besieged with delusions again.

Befrienders Johor Baru is organising a forum at Permai Hospital, Johor Baru, on Saturday in conjunction with World Suicide Prevention Day.

Do not miss this opportunity to learn more about mental health as the event will focus on suicide, which is one of the leading causes of death in the world.

Suicide has become a major public health problem in high-income countries, and low-and-middle-income countries as well.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) survey found that nearly one million people worldwide die by suicide each year. This corresponds to one death by suicide every 40 seconds.

The number of lives lost each year through suicide exceeds the number of deaths due to homicide and war combined.

And, it was learnt that many of those who attempt or commit suicide suffer from mental illness.

The sad thing is a lack of access to proper care and the stigma associated with mental illness. It may be difficult for people who have recovered from mental illness to secure a job.

Unless stigma is confronted and challenged, it will continue to be a barrier to the treatment of mental illness and suicide prevention.

So, have a exercise regime to ensure that your body is fit but also find the time to relax your mind so that you do not overload it with work problems or relationship woes. Get rid of grudges that only poison your mind and body.

It is not worth going crazy over people who do not like you. They are not going to care if you are going cuckoo.

Suicide prevention must be reformed says Marc McSharry of Fianna Fáil


Fianna Fáil is calling for a major restructuring of the National Office for Suicide Prevention.

Senator Marc Mac Sharry, the party’s Health Spokesman, is urging the government to increase its budget spend to help tackle the issue ahead of World Suicide Prevention week which takes place later this week.

Marc Mac Sharry said he believes the service needs to be restructured, expanded and for appropriate resources to be provided.

“Deal with this issue – put in place the resources to deal with it, because the reality is this is a winnable battle, but unfortunately all governments over the last number of decades have paid little more than lip service to this silent plight which is ravaging communities all over the country,” he said.

The right bacteria might help fight obesity


The correct bacteria just might be able to help fight people’s fat.

Different kinds of bacteria that live inside the gut can help spur obesity or protect against it, say scientists at Washington University in St. Louis who transplanted intestinal germs from fat or lean people into mice and watched the rodents change.

And what they ate determined whether the good germs could move in and do their job.

Thursday’s report raises the possibility of one day turning gut bacteria into personalized fat-fighting therapies, and it may help explain why some people have a harder time losing weight than others do.

“It’s an important player,” said Dr. David Relman of Stanford University, who also studies how gut bacteria influence health but wasn’t involved in the new research. “This paper says thatdiet and microbes are necessary companions in all of this. They literally and figuratively feed each other.”

The research was reported in the journal Science.

We all develop with an essentially sterile digestive tract. Bacteria rapidly move in starting at birth — bugs that we pick up from mom and dad, the environment, first foods. Ultimately, the intestine teems with hundreds of species, populations that differ in people with varying health. Overweight people harbor different types and amounts of gut bacteria than lean people, for example. The gut bacteria we pick up as children can stick with us for decades, although their makeup changes when people lose weight, previous studies have shown.

Clearly, what you eat and how much you move are key to how much you weigh. But are those bacterial differences a contributing cause of obesity, rather than simply the result of it? If so, which bugs are to blame, and might it be possible to switch out the bad actors?

To start finding out, Washington University graduate student Vanessa Ridaura took gut bacteria from eight people — four pairs of twins that each included one obese sibling and one lean sibling. One pair of twins was identical, ruling out an inherited explanation for their different weights. Using twins also guaranteed similar childhood environments and diets.

She transplanted the human microbes into the intestines of young mice that had been raised germ-free.

The mice who received gut bacteria from the obese people gained more weight — and experienced unhealthy metabolic changes — even though they didn’t eat more than the mice who received germs from the lean twins, said study senior author Dr. Jeffrey Gordon, director of Washington University’s Center of Genome Sciences and Systems Biology.

Then came what Gordon calls the battle of the microbes. Mice that harbored gut bacteria from a lean person were put in the same cages as mice that harbored the obesity-prone germs. The research team took advantage of an icky fact of rodent life: Mice eat feces, so presumably they could easily swap intestinal bugs.

What happened was a surprise. Certain bacteria from the lean mice invaded the intestines of the fatter mice, and their weight and metabolism improved. But the trade was one-way — the lean mice weren’t affected.

Moreover, the fatter mice got the bacterial benefit only when they were fed a low-fat, high-fiber diet. When Ridaura substituted the higher-fat, lower-fiber diet typical of Americans, the protective bug swap didn’t occur.

Why? Gordon already knew from human studies that obese people harbor less diverse gut bacteria. “It was almost as if there were potential job vacancies” in their intestines that the lean don’t have, he explained.

Sure enough, a closer look at the mice that benefited from the bug swap suggests a specific type of bacteria, from a family named Bacteroidetes, moved into previously unoccupied niches in their colons — if the rodents ate right.

How might those findings translate to people? For a particularly hard-to-treat diarrheal infection, doctors sometimes transplant stool from a healthy person into the sick person’s intestine. Some scientists wonder if fecal transplants from the lean to the fat might treat obesity, too.

But Gordon foresees a less invasive alternative: Determining the best combinations of intestinal bacteria to match a person’s diet, and then growing those bugs in sterile lab dishes — like this study could — and turning them into pills. He estimates such an attempt would take at least five more years of research.

Study links warming to some 2012 wild weather


study of twelve of 2012’s wildest weather events found that man-made global warming increased the likelihood of about half of them, including Superstorm Sandy’s devastating surge and the blistering U.S. summer heat.

The other half — including a record wet British summer and the U.S. drought last year — simply reflected the random freakiness of weather, researchers with the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the British meteorological office concluded in a report issued Thursday.

The scientists conducted thousands of runs of different computer simulations that looked at various factors, such as moisture in the air, atmospheric flow, and sea temperature and level.

The approach represents an evolution in the field. Scientists used to say that individual weather events — a specific hurricane or flood, for example — cannot be attributed to climate change. But recently, researchers have used computer simulations to look at extreme events in a more nuanced way and measure the influence of climate change on their likelihood and magnitude.

This is the second year that NOAA and the British meteorology office have teamed up to look at the greenhouse gas connection to the previous year’s unusual events.

“We’ve got some new evidence that human influence has changed the risk and has changed it enough that we can detect it,” study lead author Peter Stott, head of climate monitoring and attribution for the British meteorological office, said at a news conference.

The researchers said climate change had made these 2012 events more likely: U.S. heat waves, Superstorm Sandy flooding, shrinking Arctic sea ice, drought in Europe’s Iberian peninsula, and extreme rainfall in Australia and New Zealand.

The 78 international researchers, however, found no global warming connection for the U.S. drought, Europe’s summer extremes, a cold spell in the Netherlands, drought in eastern Kenya and Somalia, floods in northern China and heavy rain in southwestern Japan.

That doesn’t mean that there weren’t climate change factors involved, just that researchers couldn’t find or prove them, said the authors of the 84-page study, published in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society

All 12 events — chosen in part because of their location and the effect they had on society — would have happened anyway, but their magnitude and likelihood were boosted in some cases by global warming, the researchers said.

The two events where scientists found the biggest climate change connection both hit the United States.

The likelihood of the record July U.S. heat wave that hit the Northeast and north-central region is four times greater now than in preindustrial times because of greenhouse gases, Stanford University climate scientist Noah Diffenbaugh found in his analysis.

The kind of surge-related flooding that Superstorm Sandy brought to parts of New York City is about 50 percent more likely than it was in 1950,

Said study co-author William Sweet, a NOAA oceanographer.

Stott said one of the hardest connections to make is for rainfall. The researchers were able to connect three of the eight instances of too much or too little rain to climate change; the five other instances were attributed to natural variability.

The different authors of the 21 chapters used differing techniques to look at climate change connections, and in some instances came to conflicting and confusing conclusions.

Georgia Institute of Technology professor Judith Curry, who often disagrees with mainstream scientists, said connecting shrinking sea ice to human activity was obvious, but as for Sandy and the rest: “I’m not buying it at all.”

Thomas Karl, director of NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center, said the study provides “compelling evidence that human-caused change was a factor contributing to the extreme events.”


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