News Ireland daily BLOG Monday

Monday 6th January 2014

Ireland set to sell its first potential 10 year post-bailout bond to the markets


Ireland has said it will within days sell its first bond since bond since exiting a joint EU-IMF financial support package last month

Ireland is on the cusp of selling its first bond since the country repaid the emergency financial package provided to it at the height of Europe’s sovereign debt crisis.

The National Treasury Managment Agency (NTMA) said it would issue a 10-year bond “in the near future” in a sign Ireland has recovered investor confidence despite its recent bail-out.

The new bond, the first sold by Ireland in nearly 12 months, is expected to raise as much as €3bn (£2.5bn) and will be the country’s first debt issue since it exited the joint European Union and International Monetary Fund support programme last month.

In a statement, the NTMA said it had selected six investment banks, including Barclays and Citigroup, to lead the benchmark deal that is expected within days.

The bond sale comes on the back of improving investor sentiment towards Ireland on the back of its economic recovery.

Irish GDP is forecast to grow 2% this year, while unemployment has fallen from a peak of just over 15% to 12.5%.

The recovery has also been seen in the property market, where prices have begun to rebound having halved from their 2008 peak.

All three major credit agencies rate Irish debt as investment grade. Standard & Poor’s has a “positive” outlook on the country, pointing to a potential future upgrade.

With Ireland’s improved outlook has come a fall in the yield on its debt, which now stands at about 3.4%.

This means that its bonds are reckoned to be safer than those of larger European countries, such as Spain and Italy.

Ireland’s November 2010 bail-out was forced on it after it was hit with a multi-billion euro bill to rescue its banking system.

Kilkenny hospital has highest level of C-sections while Sligo G.H. has lowest

The figures from St Luke’s for c-section rates are very worrying?


The lowest caesarean rate was found to be at Sligo General Hospital with (19%). less than 2 in 10.

Almost four in 10 births at St Luke’s Hospital in Kilkenny are via caesarean section, new figures from the HSE have revealed.

The figures relate to the country’s 19 public maternity units and include information on the rates of caesarean sections, instrumental deliveries and episiotomies being carried out.

 They reveal that St Luke’s in Kilkenny (left pic) has by far the highest caesarean rate in the country – at 38%. Other maternity hospitals with high caesarean rates include Cavan General (30%), Our Lady of Lourdes in Drogheda (30%), Tralee General (29%), University College Hospital Galway (29%) and Dublin’s Rotunda (29%).

The lowest caesarean rate was found to be Sligo General Hospital (19%), followed by the National Maternity Hospital in Holles Street (21%) and Waterford Regional (22%).

Commenting on the figures, the Association of Improvements in Maternity Services (AIMS), described the St Luke’s figure as ‘very worrying’.

“We very much welcome the publication of this information on a per unit basis. Until now, women availing of maternity services in Ireland have been in the dark about the level of interventions performed at their local maternity units and this data will help inform them about where best to have their babies.

“The statistics show that there are marked regional variations in obstetrical intervention for hospital births,” commented AIMS co-chairperson, Krysia Lynch.

She noted that the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends a national caesarean section rate of 10-15%.

Meanwhile, the figures also revealed varying rates of episiotomy depending on which part of the country a woman gave birth in.

An episiotomy is a surgical cut that is made to a woman’s perineum – the area between the opening of the vagina and the anus (back passage). It used to be relatively common in childbirth as doctors believed it could benefit the woman by, for example, reducing the risk of more extensive vaginal tears during childbirth.

However, research has shown that this is not the case and the procedure should only be carried out in certain circumstances, for example, if the baby is distressed and needs to be born quickly, but the vagina is not stretching enough to allow this.

However, the HSE figures show that at least 27% of births in the National Maternity Hospital at Holles Street involve an episiotomy, far above the hospitals with the next highest rates – University College Hospital Galway, Cork University Maternity Hospital and the Midland Regional Hospital in Mullingar (all 19%). According to Ms Lynch, the Holles Street figure “is a cause for concern”.

The lowest episiotomy rate was found in Wexford General (10%), followed by Portiuncula Hospital in Ballinasloe and Cavan General (both 13%).

The figures also looked at the rate of instrumental births, i.e. the use of forceps or vaccum (ventouse). They revealed that the highest rate of instrumental deliveries took place in Waterford Regional (21%), followed by Dublin’s Rotunda (19%) and Mayo General (18%). The lowest rate was found in Letterkenny General (10%), followed by Wexford General (11%) and the National Maternity Hospital at Holles Street (12%).

Ms Lynch noted that while AIMS is delighted that these figures are now available to women, “we are concerned that these regional variations in obstetric interventions across Ireland essentially present women with a geographic lottery in terms of their maternity care”.

She insisted that there is no standardised maternity care in Ireland and she called for an overhaul of the country’s current maternity care model.

“Our maternity services are 90% obstetric-led and lack continuity of care. Outdated practices, which are evident in this data, are of no benefit to the majority of women. High quality robust evidence, including the recently published Cochrane Review on midwife-led care, shows that the large majority of women benefit from a midwifery-led care model, not obstetric,” she explained.

She added that while obstetric-led care has ‘a very important place in Irish maternity services’ and should be available for women who want or need it, “in failing to provide evidence-based care options, valuable resources are being over-utilised as women have no option but to birth in understaffed and overcrowded consultant-led units”.

Ireland’s Pensioner audit yields almost double amount expected


An audit of pensioners who were in receipt of a State pension and private retirement income has yielded almost double the €45m originally expected.

Thousands of pensioners had presumed they did not need to declare their State pension to the Revenue Commissioners in addition to any private income.

However, in 2012 the Revenue Commissioners controversially announced that it would write to 150,000 pensioners informing them that they were obliged to declare income even if it came from the Department of Social Protection.

In a Dáil reply to Fianna Fáil finance spokesman Michael McGrath, Minister for Finance Michael Noonan said pensioners were being contacted about the collection of outstanding taxes.

“Where underpayments of tax were discovered, PAYE balancing statements and amended notices of assessment were issued to the taxpayers concerned in respect of the particular years reviewed and discussions were held with regard to collection of arrears due,” the minister said.

€24.5m was paid in relation to years prior to 2012.

In Budget 2012, the Government said it expected to raise an extra €45m, however Minister Noonan said a provisional amount of €65m had been collected.

Mr McGrath said that in the vast majority of cases, the issue here was not one of deliberate tax evasion.

“Pensioners in receipt of private pension income made the reasonable assumption that the Revenue was aware they were also in receipt of a State Pension from the Department of Social Protection,” he said.

“It came as a complete surprise to the pensioners concerned that they had in fact been building up a liability because their State pension was not being taxed by Revenue,” he added.

“The fact that Revenue has now collected double the original estimate of €45m from this compliance initiative is evidence that no one really knew the extent of the taxes that were due but not paid,” Mr McGrath said.

Just 30 minutes meditation a day keeps anxiety and depression away


Half an hour’s meditation a day can stave off anxiety and depression, research suggests.

So-called “mindfulness meditation” – a Buddhist technique aimed at focusing on the present moment – also showed promise in alleviating stress and enhancing quality of life, scientists found.

Researchers analysed data from 47 clinical trials involving 3,500 participants looking at the effects of meditation on a multitude of problems, including depression, anxiety, stress, insomnia, diabetes, heart disease, chronic pain and cancer.

They found “moderate” evidence that eight weeks of meditation training improved symptoms of anxiety, depression and pain.

Low evidence of reduced stress and better quality of life was also seen, while there was insufficient evidence for other benefits.

Lead researcher Dr Madhav Goyal, from Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, US, said: “In our study, meditation appeared to provide as much relief from some anxiety and depression symptoms as what other studies have found from antidepressants.”

He added: “A lot of people have this idea that meditation means sitting down and doing nothing, but that’s not true. Meditation is an active training of the mind to increase awareness, and different meditation programmes approach this in different ways.”

Mindfulness meditation is typically practiced for 30 to 40 minutes a day. It emphasises relaxation of the body and mind, and the acceptance of feeling and thoughts without judgment.

The evidence indicated that the benefits of meditation were not simply due to a “placebo effect”, said Dr Goyal.

Follow-up studies showed that the improvements typically continued for at least six months.

However, participants did not generally have full-blown anxiety or depression. Further research is needed to clarify the benefits of meditation and see if they increase with greater amounts of practice, said Dr Goyal.

The research appears in the latest online issue of the journal JAMA Internal Medicine.

Activitists on the tail of fleeing Japanese Minke whaling ship


A Sea Seaherd helicopter has collected graphic images of whales being processed on the deck of a Japanese vessel in waters south-east of Tasmania. 

Activist ships were clinging grimly to the wake of the Japanese factory ship, Nisshin Maru, after it was caught butchering minke whales in the Antarctic.

The Nisshin Maru cut short its whaling and sped north of the Ross Sea with two Sea Shepherd ships on its tail on Monday, its hunt disrupted only days after arriving in the whaling grounds.

Rare, graphic images of minkes being butchered on the deck of the factory ship were captured by the activists in a helicopter inside the International Whaling Commission’s Southern Ocean whale sanctuary.

”It’s just a gruesome, bloody, mediaeval scene which has got no place in this modern world,” said Sea Shepherd Australia chairman Bob Brown.

The engagement marked the resumption of hostilities between the two sides for a 10th season, as a decision on the legality of the hunt is awaited from the International Court of Justice.

A third Sea Shepherd ship, the Bob Barker, was headed for Tasmania’s Macquarie Island in an attempt to shake off a pursuing Japanese ship, with all whaling vessels banned from Australian waters.

This foreshadowed a test of the Abbott government’s resolve against whaling, which Dr Brown questioned after Environment Minister Greg Hunt failed to deliver on an election promise to send a customs ship to monitor the kill. Mr Hunt reconfirmed a government commitment to flights by the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service, which he said was the first monitoring effort in six years. ”It will also allow us to monitor multiple ships in a diversely spread fleet,” Mr Hunt said.

But with the conflict currently in New Zealand’s search and rescue zone, the spotlight is turning on an angry demand of Sea Shepherd by its Foreign Minister, Murray McCully.

Mr McCully said in a letter to Sea Shepherd Australia’s managing director Jeff Hansen that he was ”very disappointed” with the group over its ”unacceptable” previous non-compliance with New Zealand government directives. He demanded the group’s three ships report their positions twice daily while in the NZ search and rescue zone.

Dr Brown said Sea Shepherd may comply if given a public guarantee the same requirement was being fulfilled by the Japanese fleet.

Japan’s consul-general in Melbourne, Hidenobu Sobashima, said the government would not comment on statements by Sea Shepherd, but stood by its belief that the whaling was lawful research for scientific purposes.

Mr Sobashima said unlawful violent activities by Sea Shepherd were unacceptable. ”The government of Japan has repeatedly requested the government of Australia … to take effective measures to ensure the safety of navigation at sea,

How Irish Scientists changed the world


Ireland has certainly produced some great scientists, and the world is certainly changing, but has the work of Irish scientists contributed significantly to this change? And, if so, what is the nature and extent of their contribution? These are just some of the questions explored in Seán Duke’s elegant, erudite new book, How Irish Scientists Changed The World, published recently by Londubh Books in Dublin.

This intriguing book explores the stories and contributions of a range of scientists who were born in Ireland or had strong connections with the country. The book is structured into four parts, the first of which is titled ‘Maps, Earthquakes, Electricity and Climate’.

This part explores the life and work of Francis Beaufort (1774-1857), a Navan-born marine map-maker, Robert Mallett (1810-1881), the Dublin-born founding father of seismology (the study of earthquakes) and Nicholas Callan (1799-1864), the Dundalk-born inventor of the induction coil, among other achievements.

In this part of the book, I was especially taken by the story of Annie Maunder (1868-1947), who was born in Strabane, Co Tyrone, who became an outstanding solar photographer and established the sun-earth climate link, a key factor in global warming. Her intriguing story is very involving and especially well recounted here.

The second part of the book is concerned with ‘Telegraphs, Steamships, Submarines and Space’. This part commences with a lucid and compelling account of William Thomson, Lord Kelvin (1824-1907) who was, to my surprise, born in Belfast and invented the marine compass, astronomical dial and sounding device.

Among other achievements, Lord Kelvin also formulated the second law of thermodynamics, which states, in Lord Kelvin’s own words, that “it is impossible, by means of inanimate material agency, to derive mechanical effect from any portion of matter by cooling it below the temperature of the coldest of the surrounding objects”. This essentially means that heat always moves from a hotter to a cooler body.

How Irish Scientists Changed The World goes on to explore the work of Charles Parsons (1854-1931), the Offaly-born inventor of a steam turbine for sea-faring; William Rowan Hamilton (1805-1865), the Dublin mathematician whose quaternions (equations) are used to guide spacecraft and in computer-game design; and John Holland (1841-1914), the Liscannor-born inventor of the world’s first combat submarine. The photograph of Holland is a particular gem, featuring both an inquisitive, scientific facial expression and a magnificent, scientific-looking moustache.

The third part of this book concerns ‘Atoms, Radio, Pulsars and Spiral Galaxies’ and includes the stories of two Nobel prize-winners, including the truly extraordinary Ernest Walton (1903-1995), the Dungarvan-born scientist who was part of the scientific team that split the atom in 1932. This remains one of the greatest achievements of 20th Century science, and it is gratifying to be reminded of Walton’s profound commitment to the peaceful use of nuclear power. It is also useful to be reminded that, to this day, this extremely nice man remains Ireland’s only Nobel laureate in science.

The other stories included in this part are those of Guglielmo Marconi (1874-1937), the father of radio whose mother was born in Enniscorthy; Jocelyn Bell Burnell (born in Belfast in 1943) who discovered the pulsar (a type of dense, pulsating star); and William Parsons, Third Earl of Rosse (1800-1867), who lived in Birr, Co Offaly, and completed the world’s largest telescope, the Leviathan, in 1845.

The fourth and final part of this book is titled ‘Experiments, Evolution, Life and Logic’ and tells the stories of Robert Boyle (1627-1691), the Lismore-born “great experimenter”, John Tyndall (1820-1893) from Carlow, the father of meterology and defender of Charles Darwin, and the astonishing George Boole (1815-1864) who spent his entire academic career in Cork, where he was first Professor of Mathematics and invented Boolean algebra, the language of electronic devices.

From a medical perspective, one of the most interesting chapters in this book tells the story of Maurice Wilkins (1916-2004), who was born in New Zealand to Irish parents and played a key role in identifying and describing DNA. Fascinatingly, it was another scientist who features in this book, Erwin Schrödinger (1887-1961), who partly inspired Wilkins, Francis Crick and James Watson to discover DNA. Of course, Schrödinger, who became a naturalised Irish citizen in 1948, also devised the Schrödinger equation, which described the nature of the sub-atomic quantum world for the first time.

 Overall, Seán Duke has assembled an extraordinary amount of material about a remarkable collection of talents, and presents it in a fashion that manages to be both engaging and erudite at the same time. Duke is, of course, very well-placed to write a book such as this. He is a graduate of UCD (science), TCD (history) and the Science, Health and Environmental Reporting Programme at New York University. At present, he is a science writer, editor and radio broadcaster, and co-founder of the consistently excellent Science Spin, a popular science magazine.

He also writes for Science and The Sunday Times; is Editor of Science Spinning, a popular science blog; and is co-presenter of a four-part science series on RTÉ Radio, ‘What’s It All About?’ And, in the midst of such an impressive range of activities, he still finds time to do a slot on Declan Meehan’s Morning Show on East Coast FM.

His book arrives festooned with praise from Prof Patrick J Prendergast, Provost of Trinity College Dublin, who notes that “why a place can become a source of some of the world’s greatest creativity is a mystery, a mystery that is partly unravelled in this wonderful book which I recommend wholeheartedly to a wide readership”. Prof Prendergasts’s point about creativity is well-made and is especially relevant to this book about science: The creativity on show among these scientists is easily of an order similar to that of celebrated Irish novelists and poets, playwrights and film-makers.

Irish scientists deserve much more recognition than they traditionally receive and, happily, this book is an important and enjoyable way of understanding and celebrating their work.


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