Friday/Saturday 11th & 12th October 2013
Our financial crisis was caused by greed says Central Bank Chief
“Greed, disregard for risk” and “gross mismanagement” helped cause the banking crisis, according to the new deputy head of the Central Bank.
In his first public address since being appointed the deputy governor of the Central Bank, Cyril Roux questioned whether an ever-increasing amount of rules and directives is the best way to regulate the banking industry, or if there needs to be a switch to a so-called principles-based framework.
In a hard-hitting speech, he hinted at a shift in focus for regulators, away from a focus on what banks do and instead focusing on bankers themselves.
He said: “Few would dispute that some of the most galling failures have had very little to do with capital requirements and everything to do with greed coupled with disregard for the risks, or gross misjudgment about them.”
The focus of banking regulation tends to be on guarding against the risk of damaging bank runs, he said.
In contrast, supervision of the securities industry – including bond and share dealing – grew out of the need to protect investors, he said.
Mr Roux was speaking at a conference on regulation held by the Central Bank in Dublin yesterday.
Five years after the collapse of Lehman Brothers and the start of the financial crisis, he asked whether “we have fully seized the opportunity” of the crisis to tackle the issue of how best to regulate the sector.
Financial regulation is ultimately a product of the political process, he said.
Figuring out how best to resolve the “conundrums” involved will be achieved through democratic dialogue.
French-born Mr Roux replaces Matthew Elderfield who left the bank in the summer to work for Lloyds Bank in London.
Small businesses in Ireland upbeat about the next 12 months
Ireland’s small business community is upbeat about its prospects for the next 12 months, with most respondents to a survey saying they expect further improvements in trading conditions in the coming year.
The latest quarterly SME Business Trends survey, covering the third quarter of the year, from sectoral lobby group ISME details positive movement in 11 of the 12 confidence indicators. A reading of 15% — up from 5% in the previous quarter — of firms expecting to increase employment in the next year marks the best figure in this regard since the end of 2007.
ISME chief Mark Fielding said: “It is imperative that the budget next Tuesday does nothing to stifle the positive sentiment and trends in the indigenous SME sector. While the majority of SMEs continue to battle out of recession, the mindset is positive and cautiously expansionary. The main focus must remain on cost curtailment, and any government budgetary intervention must not interfere with the turnaround.”
The last quarter saw a fall in the percentage of SMEs exporting goods — from 29% to 22% — but this was the only indicator to show a decline. Profitability expectations went from 0% in the second quarter to 14% at the end of September, putting the rating in positive mode for the first time since the beginning of the economic downturn.
The survey also shows SMEs have increased appetite for investment — the level of firms investing in their business is up from 16% to 26% on a quarter-by-quarter basis, with the level of firms planning future investment up from 20% to 23%.
Over half of young Irish people suffer a mental health problem by age 24
Young Irish people have a higher rate of mental health difficulties than their peers in Europe and the USA, with more than half suffering a significant problem by the age of 24.
The mental disorder could involve a young person experiencing a behavioural or psychological problem either causing them distress or anxiety, such as a bereavement.
More seriously, it could see the young person suffering from a mood disorder such as depression, experiencing psychosis, or having suicidal thoughts.
By their mid-20s, nearly 75pc have engaged in binge drinking, with one in five meeting the criteria for mental health problems linked to this behaviour at some time in their lives.
The findings from research by the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI) showed one in five young Irish adults aged 19-24 and one in six young people aged 11-13 are experiencing mental disorder.
The ‘Mental Health Of Young People in Ireland’ report pointed out that suffering psychological stress in early life leaves young people at increased risk during their adult years.
Professor Mary Cannon of the RCSI said: “Our research shows that high numbers of teenagers and young adults in Ireland are experiencing mental ill-health at any given time.
“For the first time in Ireland, we have evidence. . . that young people who experience mental ill-health during adolescence have higher rates of mental disorders and substance misuse during their young adult years.”
High numbers of young adults aged 19-24 engaged in the misuse of alcohol and drugs, according to the findings of the RCSI Psychiatric Epidemiology Research across the Lifespan (PERL) Group.
“Of particular concern is that three out of four young adults met lifetime criteria for binge drinking. The research also reveals that almost one in five (19pc) had thought about suicide,” said Prof Cannon.
The research involved surveying and interviewing more than 400 people between the ages of 11 and 24. It is the first time such comprehensive data about disorders among young people in Ireland was published.
“Our research points to high levels of self-injurious behaviour and suicidal thoughts among Irish youth,” she said.
“For young adults, just under one in 10 had engaged in deliberate self-harm and one in five experienced suicidal thoughts.
“Both of our studies (found) many of the young people who were experiencing mental health difficulties had not sought help,” Prof Cannon added.
‘DISCORD’ “We found that experiences of family discord, intimate relationship abuse and stress related to death, health, work and relationships were implicated in young people’s risk of experiencing a mental disorder.
“We also found that being of a minority sexual orientation was associated with mental ill-health among young adults.”
The report was launched by Junior Health Minister Kathleen Lynch.
She said: “I would appeal to any young person who thinks they may have a mental health issue not to suffer in silence and to seek help.”
New Alzheimer’s treatment breakthrough as British scientists pave way for a simple pill cure
Historic ‘turning point’ hailed as UK researchers discover how to halt death of brain cells, opening new pathway for future drug treatments
Scientists have hailed an historic “turning point” in the search for a medicine that could beat Alzheimer’s disease, after a drug-like compound was used to halt brain cell death in mice for the first time.
Although the prospect of a pill for Alzheimer’s remains a long way off, the landmark British study provides a major new pathway for future drug treatments.
The compound works by blocking a faulty signal in brains affected by neurodegenerative diseases, which shuts down the production of essential proteins, leading to brain cells being unprotected and dying off.
It was tested in mice with prion disease – the best animal model of human neurodegenerative disorders – but scientists said they were confident the same principles would apply in a human brain with debilitating brain diseases such as Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s.
The study, published today in the journal Science Translational Medicine, was carried out at the Medical Research Council’s (MRC) Toxicology Unit at the University of Leicester.
“It’s a real step forward,” team leader Professor Giovanna Mallucci said. “It’s the first time a substance has been given to mice that prevents brain disease. The fact that this is a compound that can be given orally, that gets into the brain and prevents brain disease, is a first in itself… We can go forward and develop better molecules and I can’t see why preventing this process should only be restricted to mice. I think this probably will translate into other mammalian brains.”
In debilitating brain diseases like Alzheimer’s, the production of new proteins in the brain is shut down by a build-up of “misfolded proteins” or amyloids. This build-up leads to an “over-activation” of a natural defence mechanism that stops essential proteins being produced. Without these proteins to protect them, brain cells die off – leading to the symptoms of diseases like Alzheimer’s.
The compound used in the study works by inhibiting an enzyme, known as PERK, which plays a key role in activating this defence mechanism. In mice with prion’s disease, it restored proteins to protect brain cells “stopping the disease in its tracks”, restoring some normal behaviours and preventing memory loss.
Although the compound also produced significant side effects in mice, including weight loss and mild diabetes, which was caused by damage to the pancreas, Professor Mallucci said it would “not be impossible” to develop a drug that protected the brain without the side effects and that work towards doing so had been “very promising”.
The breakthrough was greeted with excitement by scientists, who nonetheless cautioned that it remained a significant proof of principle and a possible basis for new treatments, rather than a guarantee of an Alzheimer’s cure in the near future.
A Computer graphic of a vertical (coronal) slice through the brain of an Alzheimer patient.
Professor Roger Morris, acting head King’s College London’s department of chemistry, said: “This is the first convincing report that a small drug, of the type most conveniently turned into medicines, stops the progressive death of neurons in the brain as found, for instance, in Alzheimer’s disease. True, this study has been done in mice, not man; and it is prion disease, not Alzheimer’s, that has been cured. However, there is considerable evidence that the way neurons die in both diseases is similar; and lessons learned in mice from prion disease have proved accurate guides to attenuate the progress of Alzheimer’s disease in patients.”
“From finding the first effective drug in a mouse, to having an effective medicine in man, usually takes decades to bring to fruition, in the very few cases in which it is successful. So, a cure for Alzheimer’s is not just around the corner. However, the critical point of principle made by Professor Mallucci’s study is that a drug, given orally, can arrest neuro-degeneration caused by amyloid in the brain.
”This finding, I suspect, will be judged by history as a turning point in the search for medicines to control and prevent Alzheimer’s disease.“
David Allsopp, professor of neuroscience at Lancaster University said that the study had thrown up ”very dramatic and highly encouraging results“, but said that more research was needed to overcome the “problematic side-effects” and to prove the technique would be effective against other disease like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
There are currently 800,000 people in the UK with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause. The number of people living with the condition is set to break one million by 2021, and represents an enormous health burden for the NHS and the social care system. Parkinson’s affect 1 in 500 people and around 127,000 people suffer from the condition.
Dr Eric Karran, director of research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said: “Targeting a mechanism relevant to a number of neurodegenerative diseases could yield a single drug with wide-reaching benefits, but this compound is still at an early stage. It will be important for these findings to be repeated and tested in models of other neurodegenerative diseases, including Alzheimer’s disease. While Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia, other diseases that cause dementia are also characterised by the abnormal build-up of proteins in the brain.
“If this process is also working overtime in these conditions too, targeting it could be a promising avenue for investigation. However, what is true in animals does not always hold true in people and the ultimate test for this compound will be to see whether it is safe and effective in people with these diseases.”
Irish greenhouse emissions rise raises fears over our stance on pollution
The 3% rise in agricultural emissions was driven by a surge in animal numbers, particularly cattle and sheep.
Ireland’s greenhouse gas emissions rose in 2012 for the first time in six years, according to new research.
The statistics, released yesterday by the state-run Environmental Protection Agency, showed that carbon emissions jumped by 1pc to 57.92 million tonnes last year – breaking a downward trend that started more than half a decade ago.
The unexpected rise raises questions about Ireland’s commitments under the Kyoto Protocol – the international treaty that set binding obligations on industrialised countries to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.
Some 192 states have ratified it, including all UN members except Andorra, Canada, South Sudan and the US.
Kyoto research has found that most known reserves of fossil fuels will need to remain unburned to prevent temperatures rising more than 2pc above normal levels.
In Ireland, agriculture shouldered most of the blame last year, accounting for about a third of Irish CO2 emissions, the single largest contributor, followed by energy generation and transport.
The 3% rise in agricultural emissions was driven by a surge in animal numbers, particularly cattle and sheep.
This is partly the result of government plans to expand milk production, and will continue with the removal of milk quotas in 2015.
Sheep stock numbers alone rose by 9pc due to a favourable market.
The 6pc increase in emissions from energy generation was driven by an increase in the use of carbon-intensive coal, which has dropped in price, while the cement industry was mostly to blame for a rise in industrial emissions. CO2 levels generated by cement projects grew by a massive 18pc.
Emissions by some sectors still dropped, helping to mitigate results. Residential emissions dropped 6pc, compared with 2011 levels, after higher-than-average temperatures lowered demand for heat from households.
Transport emissions were also down, a fifth year of decline after significant growth in the run-up to the recession. Tightened consumer spending coupled with increases in motor tax and vehicle registration tax has reduced the number of cars on the roads in recent years. But transport emissions in 2012 were still a massive 113pc higher than in 1990.
Though Ireland should still meet its targets under the Kyoto Protocol, the EPA yesterday said the increase in emissions in 2012 “points to the significant challenges ahead”.
The agency is calling for greater efficiency on farms, less car travel and reduced energy use and energy loss in households.
Why do icicles have their ridges? Science has an answer
Sure, Ruffles have ridges, but why do icicles? Well, it turns out it’s all about the salt.
A team of scientists at the University of Toronto has discovered that the salt in water is responsible for the distinctive ripples seen in the ice stalactites that grow from eaves and on bridges during the winter.
Other contaminants as well probably contribute to the formation of the characteristic bumps, says senior author Stephen Morris, an experimental physicist at the University of Toronto.
“We didn’t expect this, but it turns out that very slightly dirty water — like Toronto tap water — produces nice ripply icicles,” says Morris of the research, which is published this week in New Journal of Physics.
“And pure water, or even just distilled water which is pretty pure but not super pure, produces smooth icicles with no ripples on them.”
His team was trying to figure out why icicles form with ripples.
It may be blue sky research, Morris acknowledges, though it’s completely serious. Figuring out how ice forms and why it takes the shapes it does is important for dealing with ice buildup on planes, ships and bridges, among other things.
“There’s a huge engineering field concerning ice buildup and this is directly connected to ice buildup,” Morris says.
“In fact, the icicle is just about the simplest kind of ice buildup you could ask for. And we don’t understand it. It’s surprising.”
The thinking has been that the ripples are the result of surface water tension effects on the thin water film that flows over the ice as it forms. Surface tension is what allows small insects to dance on the water of a lake, for instance.
It’s known that adding soap to water reduces the surface tension, so Morris’s group added soap to water to see if it affected the shape of icicles. But icicles made from soapy water didn’t form ripples.
As the work progressed, however, the team realized there was a difference between icicles made from distilled water and from regular water from the tap.
“Toronto tap water is very close to pure water and we didn’t believe initially that it would make any difference using tap water or really pure water. But it does,” Morris says.
The effect is noticeable in a picture of three icicles formed in the experiment — a smooth icicle made of distilled water, a moderately ridged one made with distilled water plus a little salt and a carbuncled icicle made from distilled water plus a lot of salt. The image can be seen on a Flickr page Morris set up.
He says it’s not clear why salt has this effect, but it’s worth studying. Morris does other research into why substances that are smooth develop bumps — roads, for instance — and he says the work is all linked.
“Everything is connected in physics. Even the most trivial phenomenon can turn out to be important,” he says.
“Crystal growth — and an icicle is a crystal — is a huge field in engineering.”