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.”


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