News Ireland daily BLOG Monday

Monday 13th January 2014

Will Irish eyes smile after next Friday’s Moody’s review?


Government hoping for a rating upgrade

Irish eyes will be on Moody’s Investors Services this Friday, but will they be smiling, as the ratings agency updates its view on the country?

The Government will be hoping for a ratings upgrade, with Moody’s being the only major agency that still classes Irish Government debt as risky.

National Treasury Management Agency chief executiveJohn Corrigan last week joked that his people were using their best chat-up lines to persuade Moody’s to lift Ireland’s credit rating out of junk. However, market commentators are split on whether the charm offensive will succeed when the ratings company delivers its latest verdict.

Moody’s, which gave Ireland its top Aaa grade in 1998 before the euro was introduced, cut the country’s rating to non-investment grade, or junk, in July 2011 following the financial collapse.

Minister for Finance Michael Noonan has said he hopes Moody’s will raise the country’s credit ranking this year.

Between the EU-IMF bailout programme exit and the NTMA’s success in securing €3.75 billion from a syndicated 10-year treasury bond issuance at a competitive yield of 3.543 per cent, the chances of an upgrade might just be improved. Moody’s analyst Kristin Lindow said the Irish sale of 10-year bonds “confirmed broad investor appetite for the Government’s debt at quite low yields, which is credit positive as the authorities undertake the next steps to regain debt sustainability amid a strengthening domestic recovery”.

However, she added that the bond sale has no direct relationship to the Moody’s rating per se.

Second bailout
Only last March, Moody’s expressed its view that Ireland would need a second bailout.

It expected Ireland would face challenges regaining market access in 2013 and would need to rely on the European Stability Mechanism, at least partially, when the bailout programme ended.

This Friday will also see the publication of a review of our fellow PIGS partner in crisis – Portugal. Standard & Poor’s will release its assessment on Portugal and while many market participants say an upgrade of the country’s “junk” status is unlikely, the ratings agency is expected to raise its outlook.

Some questions TDs are likely to ask John Tierney of Irish Water


John Tierney and other executives to appear at committee over €50m spend on consultants

John Tierney faces questions from the Oireachtas environment committee on the setup costs of Irish Water

Irish Water was quick to accept the invitation to appear before an Oireachtas committee tomorrow to explain itself and answer questions about the €50 million it spent on consultancy fees in its first year of operation.

The speed of its response indicated the seriousness with which it is taking the controversy. The company is clearly aware that it needs political and public support this year as it begins water metering in earnest.

Although the first bills with not drop through letterboxes until this time next year, they will be backdated to October 2014.

Water charges are likely to be one of the main political issues of the coming months, and any missteps from Irish Water will be met with howls of political and public outcry.

Chief executive John Tierney’s interview with Sean O’Rourke on RTÉ Radio last week has caused a rocky start, but Mr Tierney will have an opportunity to steady things at the Oireachtas environment committee.

Committee chairman Michael McCarthy, a Labour deputy for Cork-South West, says he expects a “full and frank” discussion.

Here are some key questions Mr Tierney is likely to face, and which he should deal with adequately.

What is the detailed breakdown of the €50 million consultancy spend?

Irish Water must deal with this issue satisfactorily or else there is little point in it turning up at the committee at all. It has previously said it is prevented from providing a breakdown for commercial reasons, but that excuse will not find any purchase with TDs. It is likely to be one of the first questions to be asked, and simply must be answered.

What service did each company provide?

As well as laying out the amount of money paid to each company, Irish Water must also detail the services each company provided, and why exactly the services were needed.

How come it took an RTE interview for the information to be disclosed?

If there is one thing TDs like less than being refused information by State bodies, it is having to look on while the media steals their thunder. The issue of Irish Water’s consultancy fees has been doing the rounds for a few months, and repeated parliamentary questions yielded no answers.

It took a question from Seán O’Rourke to draw the information from Mr Tierney. Expect the Irish Water chief executive to be asked why TDs couldn’t get the same answer.

Man with seven-week-long erection treated at Dublin hospital

A fall on to the handle bars of a mountain bike started an erection which lasted for seven weeks.

The condition is known as a priapism.    
The condition is known as a priapism.

A Hospital in Dublin has successfully treated  man who had an erection lasting for seven weeks.

The Irish Medical Journal reports that the erection began when the 22-year-old suffered “a blow to perineum when he fell on to the crossbar of his mountain bike”.

The man was in pain and discomfort for a number of days but when the pain subsided the man had an ongoing rigid erection.

Five-weeks later the man presented to the urology department at the Adelaide and Meath Hospital in Tallaght.

Doctors there found no signs of injury but the penis remained erect. The condition is known as a priapsim and there are only two reports of this ever occurring following a bicycle fall.

Doctors at the hospital found that the erection stopped when the penis was compressed but noted that “the penis rapidly refilled with blood to full tumescence”.

For two more weeks the condition was managed by a pressure dressing.

A penile angiograph was then taken and the number of catheters and a four platinum coils were inserted to cure the condition.

Thankfully, the unwanted erection was resolved immediately and the man had a uneventful recovery.

After one month the patient reported satisfactory erection and intercourse.  A happy ending for all involved.

Caffeine boosts long term memory for humans


The image of bleary-eyed college students surrounded by cups of coffee or cans of energy drinks used to fuel a late-night study session may not be a representation of the best study habits, but their beverage choice may give them an edge:

The caffeine in their drinks is a memory enhancer.

New research from Johns Hopkins University has concluded that caffeine has a positive effect on long-term memory in humans.

Writing in the journal Nature Neuroscience, the researchers report that caffeine enhances certain memories at least up to 24 hours after it is consumed.

“We’ve always known that caffeine has cognitive-enhancing effects, but its particular effects on strengthening memories and making them resistant to forgetting has never been examined in detail in humans,” said the paper’s senior author Michael Yassa, an assistant professor of psychological and brain sciences at Johns Hopkins. “We report for the first time a specific effect of caffeine on reducing forgetting over 24 hours.”

For the study Yassa and his colleagues recruited participants who do not regularly consume caffeine. The study subjects were asked to study a series of images, then were given either a 200-milligram caffeine tablet or a placebo tablet five minutes after studying.

The subjects caffeine levels were measured via salivary samples before the study session, and again one, three and 24 hours after the dose was administered.

The following day, the caffeinated group and the placebo group were both tested on their ability to recall the images from the previous day’s study session.

During the recall test, some of the images presented were the same ones, some were new additions, and other images were similar but not exactly the same as the items previously viewed.

Most members of the caffeinated group were able to correctly label similar images as such, versus erroneously identifying them as the same.

By being able to recognize the difference between two similar but not identical items, the subjects were demonstrating a deeper level of memory retention known as pattern separation.

“If we used a standard recognition memory task without these tricky similar items, we would have found no effect of caffeine,” Yassa said. “However, using these items requires the brain to make a more difficult discrimination — what we call pattern separation, which seems to be the process that is enhanced by caffeine in our case.”

Little research has been conducted on the effect of caffeine on long-term memory. Of the few studies that have been done, the general consensus was that caffeine had little to no effect on long-term memory. One reason the results were different with Yassa’s study may have been that the subjects were given caffeine only after they had view and attempted to memorize images.

“Almost all prior studies administered caffeine before the study session, so if there is an enhancement, it’s not clear if it’s due to caffeine’s effects on attention, vigilance, focus or other factors. By administering caffeine after the experiment, we rule out all of these effects and make sure that if there is an enhancement, it’s due to memory and nothing else,” said Yassa, who conducted the research at Johns Hopkins before moving his lab to the University of California, Irvine at the beginning of this year.

“The next step for us is to figure out the brain mechanisms underlying this enhancement,” he said. “We can use brain-imaging techniques to address these questions. We also know that caffeine is associated with healthy longevity and may have some protective effects from cognitive decline like Alzheimer’s disease. These are certainly important questions for the future.”

Recent storms cause €18m worth of damage to Galway

Large parts of the west coast suffered damage in the recent storms (Pic: Carsten Krieger) 

Storms which ravaged the West have caused more than €18m worth of damage to Galway county

As the clean-up continues, a report from Galway County Council laid out the extent of the damage caused. Roads, cemeteries and tourist spots were all seriously damaged by the storms and subsequent flood waters.

An interim submission by Galway County Council described the storms as “the worst such event in living memory based on local knowledge all along the Galway Coastline”.

It estimated the cost of the damage at €18.32m. However, it warned that the figure could be higher as a complete assessment of damaged locations was still ongoing.

“In many instances a more complete assessment cannot be made until clean-up operations have been completed and a number of locations particularly coastal areas require more rigorous investigation,” it added.

It added that approximated €500,000 had been spent on the clean-up cost to date.

Giving a breakdown of the damage, the county council stated that €6.5m was required for coastal protection of roads along the coast and on the islands. A further €3m was needed to repair damage to coastal lands. The council is now recommending a two stage coastal protection plan be implemented. This is expected to cost a further quarter of a million euro.

Damage was done to roads at 100 different locations, with sections of the road being washed away in several instances. The council estimate the cost of repairing these roads at €2m. A further €2m needed to repair piers and harbours across the country.

A total of six cemeteries near the coast were badly damaged. The council estimated a cost of €700,000 to carry out repairs to walls, boundary treatments and in some cases individual burial plots.

An estimated €2.5m will be required to repair tourism infrastructure including beaches, amenity areas, walkways, and parking areas.

“In addition to the direct damage to the beach itself, ancillary infrastructure has been badly impacted. Lifeguard huts have been severely damaged, associated bring banks and signage have also been blown away in certain areas.

“The beaches and adjoining areas have significant amounts of debris including litter and seaweed. Many of the adjoining sand dunes are severely damaged. There will be substantial costs associated with bringing these beaches back to an acceptable standard, in this area which is so dependent on tourism,” the report stated.

The council was also predicting a bill of €20,000 for environmental pollution, for the retrieval of a number of vehicles which were washed into the sea at Inisboffin and Cleggan.

Further costs were estimated for repairing inshore island causeways, (€100,000), the Inis Mheain Airstrip (€250,000) and non-coastal flooding damage of roads (€500,000)

Pine Island glacier melting reaches an irreversible level

Antarctic Ice Water ‘Flowing Faster’ Into The Ocean


A close-up view of the crack spreading across the ice shelf of Pine Island Glacier shows the details of the boulder-like blocks of ice that fell into the rift when it split in 2011. Last year, a giant mass of ice broke off Pine Island and slowly drifted away. 

Pine Island Glacier’s slow death is old news to most, but a new analysis of Antarctica’s massive ice sheet suggests the ice is melting much faster now and that the damage is “irreversible.” Research shows the massive 68,000-square-mile sheet of ice, believed to be the biggest single contributor to sea-level rise in Antarctica, has begun to shed water at a rate not seen before.

An international team of scientists from the CSC-IT Center for Science in Finland, the Chinese Academy of Sciences and the Universities of Exeter and Bristol combined field observations and computer models to forecast how the ice will change over the coming decades.

They concluded that the Pine Island Glacier has “started a phase of self-sustained retreat and will irreversibly continue its decline,” according to Gael Durand, a glaciologist from France. Scientists believe the glacier is capable of losing up to 100 billion tons of water a year, the equivalent of about a 10mm rise in global sea levels by 2034.

“The Pine Island Glacier shows the biggest changes in this area at the moment, but if it is unstable, it may have implications for the entire West Antarctic Ice Sheet,” Dr. G. Hilmar Gudmundsson, who works for the British Antarctic Survey and was a researcher on the project, said in a statement.

“At the Pine Island Glacier, we have seen that not only is more ice flowing from the glacier into the ocean, but it’s also flowing faster across the grounding line — the [underwater] boundary between the grounded ice and the floating ice. We also can see this boundary is migrating further inland.”

Gudmundsson and the rest of the team analyzed the glacier’s grounding line, and according to the study, published Sunday in the journal Nature Climate Change, this line has receded 10 kilometers in the past 10 years and is likely to retreat an additional 30 kilometers over the upcoming decades.

“Not only is more ice flowing from the glacier into the ocean, but it’s also flowing faster,” Gudmundsson said.

Scientists have long looked at the Pine Island Glacier as a kind of litmus test for global warming. According to Live Science, the glacier is the fastest- and longest-changing glacier on the West Antarctic Ice Sheet.

Rising global temperatures are believed to be thinning Antarctica’s ice sheets, including the Pine Island Glacier, which has had several events of iceberg calving – when icebergs break off from an ice sheet and float out to sea – over the years, including a dramatic calving last year of an iceberg larger than Chicago.

While calving itself does not directly contribute to rising sea levels – the ice was already in the water – scientists warn that if Pine Island Glacier continues to splinter and shrink, it could spell trouble for Earth’s oceans.

“The Pine Island Glacier currently acts as a plug, holding back part of the immense West Antarctic Ice Sheet whose melting ice contributes to rising sea levels,” Live Science noted in July 2013.


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