Monthly Archives: April 2014

News Ireland daily news BLOG

Sunday 27th April 2014

Taoiseach Kenny issues invite to Pope Francis to visit Ireland


Mr Kenny made the announcement today after he met with the pontiff after the double canonisation of Pope John XXIII and Pope John Paul II in St Peter’s Square.

“I invited him to Ireland, and while it’s not an official responsibility of the Government, I did say that if the Church authorities extended an invitation and he’s willing to travel, the Government will see to it that everything is done to make that visit a real success.”

He also said “It would be my hope that if it does happen, that the Pope would travel to Northern Ireland as well, given the changed events in politics where you’ve had the circle of history closed, as Her Majesty referred to, with her visit a few years ago, and Uachtaran Higgins’ visit to Britain in the last few weeks. The events warrant to be built upon”.

When asked if the pontiff had reacted to his invitation, Mr Kenny said, “Well, I wouldn’t say that his eyes lit up, but he did of course recognise the country I was speaking about, and the invitation is extended officially through the church authorities.

  Pope Francis makes saints of John XXIII and John Paul II in an historic day in Rome

The Taoiseach also revealed that Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore will be bringing the name of a new ambassador to the Holy See to the Cabinet meeting this week. “I expect the Tanaiste to bring a name to Cabinet on Wednesday for appointment as ambassador to the Holy See,” he said.

The decision to close the Vatican embassy in November 2011 caused controversy, and as recently as last September the Tanaiste stated there were “no plans” to re-open it.

However today the Taoiseach denied that the reversal of this decision was sending out “a mixed signal on the Government’s stance towards the Catholic Church.

Pope Francis leads the canonisation mass in which John Paul II and John XXIII are to be declared saints on April 27, 2014 in Vatican City, Vatican.

“Quite a number of people in Ireland have been complimentary about that decision. That’s not a mixed signal, it’s very clear and decisive. The decision made in the beginning was based strictly on economics because there was a vacancy here in the Vatican.”

Speaking alongside Cardinal Sean Brady at the Irish College in Rome, Mr Kenny described the double canonisation of the popes as “an extraordinary event and I was happy to be here on behalf of the Irish people”.

Big companies in the global window are at the heart of Dublin’s Silicon Docks


Dogpatch Labs is becoming the proving ground for tech start-ups – and it’s where you’ll find the hottest new companies

You may not have heard of Dogpatch Labs – but it’s emerging as the tech start-up hub at the heart of Dublin’s Silicon Docks.

If an Irish tech firm – or an international one with a significantDublin operation – is going to be the next billion-euro success, then it’s a near certainty that it will have passed through its doors.

It’s where you’ll find the hottest, fastest-growing, early stage Irish companies and an increasing number of international ones that you may not have heard of, yet.

One to have recently passed through its doors is US website and online store platform Squarespace, which raised €29m in New York just last week.

The company, which employs 40 people here, recently graduated from a new IDA initiative at the Labs, and is eyeing expansion that will see the creation of up to 60 new jobs here over the coming months.

Instagram, the photo and video sharing firm that Facebook bought for $19bn (€13.7bn) is the best-known business to have graduated from Dogpatch’s San Francisco hub, where the concept was established in 2009 by €2.5bn US venture capital heavyweight Polaris Ventures.

Several Irish start-ups – Intercom, Logentries and Boxever – also share the honour of being recent alumni, having raised €28.5m between them in the past year, as we recently revealed.

Since being established in Dublin in 2012, 32 companies have been residents or alumni of the Labs. The first 29 of them have raised €58m and in the next few months that number will exceed €72m. By the end of this year these businesses are expected to employ more than 400 people and create another 400 new jobs by the end of next year.

They join an ever-expanding international alumni network of many hundreds of entrepreneurs and start-ups that have passed through the US Labs.

Underpinning the expansion here to some extent was an investment of €37m that Polaris received from the National Pensions Reserve Fund in 2010.

This was invested in Irish and foreign prospects, according to the firm’s Dublin-based partner Noel Ruane, but it appears to be on course to match that with Irish investments since it has invested €29m in tech firms founded here since the beginning of 2013.

“Some of those we’ve announced, some we haven’t,” Mr Ruane says. Those announced include Boxever, Logentries, BalconyTV and Corkman James Whelton’s CoderDojo and its partners HelloWorld Foundation.

The qualifying criteria to become a Labs-based company are quite tough, he adds. “In the same way as we appraise investments, we look at the founders, their team, their background, the market opportunity, the scalability and their business model.

“Ideally we’re looking for firms that can build a global company, who might achieve a market value of at least €180m. We’re very selective in terms of who we pick and who we want to work with,” Mr Ruane says.

There are typically between 12 and 15 companies based at Dogpatch at any one time, but the benefits are very significant.

“Our aim was to bring like-minded people who are similarly driven into a co-working space that builds, supports and catalyses a community. We’ve seen that in our Labs in San Francisco, Boston and New York, and we’re seeing it in Dublin too,” Mr Ruane says.

“We specifically look for the brightest and the best founding teams and when they’re in one room together, they are usually about two degrees of separation or less away from a person they might need to meet or recruit who might be in marketing, user experience, design, or have some other skills they need.

“If you look at the teams there and the Labs’ alumni, you’ll find that we have tentacles that extend internationally, to all the tech companies that have come to Ireland and to all the universities. If we don’t know someone in a certain company, we know someone who does,” Mr Ruane affirms.

Recognising these advantages, the IDA’s emerging business division, headed up by Barry O’Dowd, has recently linked up with Dogpatch, taking a section of the Labs as a “landing space” that allows fast-growing firms like Squarespace to test the waters, either for functions based in Dublin or for expanding into Europe from the US, from a ready-made and relatively inexpensive fully-serviced location.

The building itself is tucked away beside a car park off Barrow Street, next door to Google’s Silicon Docks, and fittingly enough, there’s a small kennel just past the reception desk, and we’re greeted by a grey Scottish Terrier when we visit.

Open plan and airy, with lots of potted plants, meeting rooms, a pool table, mini cafeteria and a chillout space, it’s a little more functional and not quite as cool and brightly coloured as the more hip offices of the internet giant next door.

In the IDA’s landing space section we meet Emma Morris, the international partnership director of 247 Traffic, a Tel Aviv and Cyprus-based online trading platform company that launched four years ago. It is marketing its services to customers all over Europe from Dublin and hopes to recruit up to 20 people soon.

At another desk is Gianni Matera, an entrepreneur who has just arrived from Milan. The owner of two digital advertising and content businesses based in Italy, he made the decision to relocate here some time ago and is working on an idea for an innovative web and mobile payment app.

Once his idea is more developed he plans to apply to join a financial services technology accelerator programme here. He’ll be in good company as Hedgeguard, a financial portfolio management software firm from France, has also taken a number of desks here.

Nearby is Michael Corbett, a user interface developer with Sohalo, which occupies four desks. An online customer loyalty and marketing platform based in California, it counts British Airways among its customers and was founded in 2011 by serial entrepreneur Michael Geraghty.

Also occupying several desks is Logentries co-founder Trevor Parsons and two of his colleagues. His Dublin-based development team have been here for two years but are about to move to a new office.

“There are like-minded companies and people here and we’ve found that one of the other companies here might be dealing with a problem that you’re also working on. There’s great camaraderie among everyone here and there’s a great mix of skills too.

“Being here has boosted our confidence and I think that in turn has helped us raise money recently. The fact that companies here are vetted by Polaris gives you a degree of recognition as well,” he says.

Online video ad creation firm Viddyad’s Dublin staff are also based here. “Every tech company knows how significant Polaris are and Noel is very well connected. The location is perfect as well. Google is next door and Facebook and the other big tech firms are all nearby,” agrees founder Grainne Barron, speaking from San Francisco, where she is now based.

This position that the labs occupy as a key hub of the people, jobs and skills ecosystem supports the rapid pace of growth of the likes of Squarespace in much the same way as it does for Viddyad, O’Dowd emphasises.

Two new Squarespace recruits were hired as a result of referrals from other people working there, while Dublin manager Kim Cahill herself previously worked for Microsoft here and a senior colleague managed several teams at Google, giving some idea of how people can migrate through the ecosystem in the course of their careers.

“Speed to market is key for such companies. They often need to put together a multi-skilled, multi-lingual team quickly and efficiently. Our landing pad is a great model in terms of satisfying these needs,” says O’Dowd, whose division is in the process of expanding from 12 to 16 people as the agency seeks to strengthen its resources.

Working together in this way should continue to bear fruit for the Dogpatch and the IDA – as well as the wider economy – concludes Ruane, who suggests it may only be a matter of time before Dogpatch Labs itself also expands.

The Garda whistleblower McCabe says hundreds of offences were changed or falsified


A Garda whistleblower claims that hundreds of records of criminal offences were changed, erased, or falsified after being brought to the attention of senior management.

An reporter  says that this latest allegation by Sergeant Maurice McCabe will be referred for further investigation in a review being carried out by by barrister Sean Guerin for the Government.

Sgt McCabe says the records show how offences were detected but never followed up on.

It is claimed documents were sent back from Garda headquarters to the Cavan/Monaghan division and the falsification took place sometime later.

Sergeant McCabe has also claimed that in Baileborough station where he worked in Co Cavan, up to 40 offences a month were ignored.

Credit Unions say they will provide members with good-value car insurance


The ILCU believes members will be very interested in the alternative.

The expansion of Ireland’s Credit Union services looks set to continue with an initiative to supply car insurance to members just announced.

Speaking to 2,000 delegates at the 2014 AGM of the Irish League of Credit Unions in Belfast, president Martin Sisk revealed that it would be teaming up with insurance firm AIG Europe.

He told RTÉ News, “We believe premiums will be very, very competitive. We believe credit union members will be very interested in this alternative.”

The move follows research into the sector where there is a large amount of switching between providers.

According to the most recent ‘What’s Left?’ tracker, six out of 10 motorists examined the possibility of changing their insurers over the past year as they looked to reduce their annual car-running costs.

One in four also motorists find car insurance expensive and cannot afford to pay it.

Credit Unions will offer online insurance. They already offer travel insurance.

The deal will see credit union members received a full year’s cover, for the price of 11 months.

In a statement, CEO Kieron Brennan said: “The easily accessible credit union offering is comprehensive and competitively priced and provides a further option for those looking for good value car insurance.”

Last month, plans to issue debit cards for use at Credit Unions were revealed.

Indeed, the theme of this weekend’s conference is Opportunities for Growth, which the ILCU says reflects the “demand from the membership for credit unions to expand their range of services, and the potential credit unions have for growth”.

Discussions have focused on how to provide better and more efficient services to members.

Economist David McWilliams is also speaking to delegates about both the British and Irish economies.

Brennan said demand for services in Northern Ireland grew “across the board in 2013″.

In the past 12 months, credit unions in Northern Ireland provided £449 million in loans, an increase of 3 per cent on year-end figures from 2012.

Membership has increased by 13,000 in the same period, bringing the total number of members to 425,000 members across the six counties.

In addition, savings increased significantly to £965 million.

Bio-Duck’ the ocean sound that mesmerised scientists for decades is now finally solved


After more than 50 years of trying to find the source of a mysterious oceanic sound, scientists captured an acoustic recording that allowed them to identify the animal. The sound, nicknamed “bio-duck,” was finally analyzed using data from a multi-sensor acoustic recording of intense sounds, which led researchers to single out the Antartic minke whales as its owner.

Researchers recorded sound in the Southern Ocean, which sounds oddly duck-like, but it has also been located in the Antarctic waters and off the Australian west coast. The findings are published in the Royal Society journal Biology Letters.

“It was hard to find the source of the signal. Over the years there have been several suggestions… but no one was able to really show this species was producing the sound until now,” Denise Risch, lead researcher from the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Northeast Fisheries Science Center in Massachusetts, told BBC News.

In February 2013, researchers captured acoustic recordings that distinguished two marine mammals that could have possibly made the sound, however it wasn’t until this new long-term acoustic recording gave them a definitive answer.

“It was either the animal carrying the tag or a close by animal of the same species producing the sound,” Risch said.

The two Antarctic minke whales located off Western Antarctica, were tagged by Risch’s colleagues with suction-cup tags with the original intent of studying the whale’s feeling behavior and movement. The tags also contained underwater microphones, and once they analyzed the acoustic recordings Risch realized they contained the duck sounds, along with downward-sweeping sounds previously linked to the whales.

After analyzing the sounds they “can now be attributed unequivocally to the Antarctic minke whale,” Risch and her team wrote in the study.

The sound that was necessary to make a positive identification had been difficult to capture because the Antarctic minke whales inhabit a sea-ice environment that is difficult to access. This has led to failed efforts to capture the sound, especially since the environment changes rapidly in certain regions.

During the winter and spring, scientists have recorded the bio-duck sound in both Western Australia’s coast and the Weddell Sea located southeast of the Antarctic Peninsula in the Southern Ocean. According to their findings, the bio-duck sound has been one of the most prevalent sounds in the Southern Ocean during austral winters and its identification has been a priority to theInternational Whaling Commission.

This drew the conclusion that the species they were following divided into one group that were seasonal migrators and another population that had a year-round presence in the Antarctic waters.

The Antarctic minke whale had been labeled as a subspecies in 1804, but after studying their genetic data it was given full species status in 1998, according to the Society for Marine Mammalogy. At maturity, the minke whale is 30 to 35 feet long, or about the length of a standard school bus. This specific whale species lives up to 60 years and is divided into a northern and southern group, with the northern species slightly smaller.

Researchers are still trying to understand the reason for the distinct sounds, however they do know that they are generated close to the surface right before the whales dive deep into the water for their food, such as krill.

“Identifying their sounds will allow us to use passive acoustic monitoring to study this species,” said Risch, who has been recording in the Southern Ocean for the last few years.

Being able to distinguish and I.D. a whale’s sound to a particular species is valuable for researchers to monitor and understand the behavior and patterns of the Antarctic minke whale

“That can give us the timing of their migration — the exact timing of when the animals appear in Antarctic waters and when they leave again — so we can learn about migratory patterns, about their relative abundance in different areas, and their movement patterns between the areas,” she added.


News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Saturday 26th. April 2014

Miriam O’Callaghan has no problem with European candidate Ronan Mullen’s using photo’s


The election poster with Miriam O’Callaghan and Ronan Mullen (on the left).

The popular RTE star Miriam denies backing Ronan’s campaign as her picture is used in his voting drive for Europe.

European candidate Senator Ronan Mullen is using a picture of RTE star Miriam O’Callaghan in his election leaflet.

Leaflets sent to voters in the Midlands/North West constituency feature a snap of the Senator and the top presenter at an Irish Hospice Foundation event.

The picture could pose a problem for Miriam, 54, as broadcasters are strictly banned from endorsing candidates.

But a spokeswoman for M/s O’Callaghan said she had no issue with the pictures appearing in the leaflet. She said: “Miriam first became aware of it last Tuesday.

Miriam carries out three charity events a week and it is perfectly clear in the leaflet the picture was taken at a charity event.

“It is clear that she is not endorsing his campaign and does not intend to make any complaint.”

The European elections kicked off on Tuesday night with posters being erected across the country.

Candidates are also sending letters to hundreds of thousands of homes.

Senator Mullen’s leaflet includes four pictures under the headline: “A record of representation.”

Snaps of Ronan speaking in the Seanad and at the Council of Europe sit alongside the image of him with Miriam at the charity event.

The Broadcasting Authority of Ireland rules state: “Endorsements by broadcasters of election candidates, participating political parties or election interests are not permitted.

“Similarly, endorsements by staff who are employed, contracted or who volunteer with a broadcaster are also not permitted.

“Broadcasters should ensure that those with responsibility for overseeing election coverage are fully familiar with the content of these guidelines and the provisions of the Code Of Fairness, objectivity and impartiality in news and current affairs.”

Senator Mullen was unavailable yesterday but his spokeswoman said the picture was used to illustrate “public activity”.

She added: “Ronan hasn’t sought endorsement. This was cleared personally with Miriam O’Callaghan as a courtesy.

“He contacted her in advance, advised her that he wasn’t in any way seeking an endorsement of presenting it as same.

“He realised her position as a journalist. He mentioned it as a courtesy and there was none. Miriam was very courteous.”

FG Brian Hayes stares defeat in the face in European elections,

A recent poll shows


Fine Gael Junior Minister Brian Hayes is facing defeat in next month’s European elections as Sinn Fein and Independents look set to capitalise on a wave of anti-Government public sentiment.

According to a new Sunday Independent/MillwardBrown opinion poll of the make or break Dublin constituency, the first comprehensive poll of its kind in this election, a decisive backlash against both Fine Gael and Labour is crystallising, with less than five weeks to polling day.

Today’s poll shows Fine Gael junior finance minister Brian Hayes, the perceived early favourite to take the first seat, is lagging behind Sinn Fein’s Lynn Boylan (20%) and Independent MEP Nessa Childers (19%).

Based on the figures published today, Mr Hayes, on 15%, is in a dogfight for the last seat with Fianna Fail’s Mary Fitzpatrick (13%), Labour’s Emer Costello (12%) and Green Party leader and former Minister Eamon Ryan (11%).

Our poll also asked for people’s second preference in terms of candidate and of greater concern for Mr Hayes, is the fact he is not as transfer friendly as Ms Costello, Mr Ryan or even Ms Fitzpatrick.

On this basis, Mr Hayes is facing an uphill battle to take one of the three Dublin seats.  Any failure by Fine Gael to win a seat in Dublin would have serious internal ramifications for Mr Kenny within a party who are furious about the mishandling of the Shatter crisis.

Nationally, taking both yesterday’s Irish Independent poll and today’s poll together, Sinn Fein look set to take three seats in the European Parliament, one in each constituency, which would represent a remarkable surge in their fortunes. Fine Gael and Fianna Fail look set to take two seats each, while Labour are only in contention for one seat.

According to today’s Dublin poll, which was taken last Tuesday and Wednesday, Ms Childers is the most transfer friendly of all of the candidates, with18 per cent saying they would give her their number two preference.

Sitting unelected Socialist MEP Paul Murphy, who replaced Joe Higgins after he was elected to the Dail in 2011, is polling at just 4pc and at this stage looks unlikely to retain his seat.

Mr Murphy is sitting one point behind the People Before Profit candidate, Brid Smith, while Direct Democracy Ireland’s Tom Darcy is at 1pc.

For full Coverage of the Sunday Independent/MillwardBrown opinion poll, see tomorrow’s Sunday Independent or

Irish broadband connection’s to be improved with Fibre powered service for everybody


Rural Ireland’s dodgy broadband is going to get much better – but what is yours like now?

Almost one million rural households and businesses in Ireland are to see a boost in their broadband service following an announcement that fibre powered broadband is spreading all over the country.

Fibre Powered broadband

The Minister for Communications, Pat Rabbitte, announced that the Government has committed to a “major telecommunications network build-out to rural Ireland” which will see reliable high speed broadband for all.

In today’s poll up to 2am the poll results below show that Irish people rate their internet connection as pretty poor at 30%. 

The Poll Results:

Ireland’s Government to invest €512m on Internet to ensure entire country is covered with fibre


Ireland’s Government to invest €512m to ensure entire country covered in fibre

Communications Minister Pat Rabbitte has said his department has Cabinet sign-off on a €512m plan to ensure 1,100 villages in areas commercial operators don’t consider viable will be connected to future-proofed fibre networks.

Rabbitte said in urban areas in Ireland, broadband is already comparable with any city in Europe or the US and that industry investment since 2012 has been €2bn.

Currently, Eircom is rolling out a €400m Next Generation Access fibre network that will provide 1.4m homes with 100Mbps by 2016 – 800,000 homes can now access this network.

As well as this, UPC has invested €500m in connecting more than 700,000 homes with 200Mbps broadband and businesses with up to 500Mbps broadband.

The ESB is entering into a joint venture with Vodafone to bring fibre to towns and villages across Ireland in a plan that will address 450,000 homes.

And three out of four of Ireland’s mobile operators have begun rolling out their 4G networks.

Wooden poles

However, Rabbitte pointed out that the private-sector companies’ plans do not address 1,100 villages and districts in rural Ireland, amounting to around 900,000 homes and businesses.

He said the Government is deliberately stepping away from metrics, such as having a minimum of 30Mbps to every home by 2015, and will instead look further down the line and aim to have future-proofed fibre as readily available as possible.

The new plan envisages spending between €355m at the lower end and €512m at the upper end to connect between 1,000 and 1,200 villages.

“Large tracts of Ireland have a basic service that is not acceptable. People are entitled as citizens to the same quality and there’s a huge argument in terms of regional development and facilitating businesses in provincial Ireland.”

He pointed out Ireland spent €17.5bn on its roads between 2002 and 2012 and virtually nothing on telecoms infrastructure, which is vital to the future.

“Fibre is the Rolls-Royce of connectivity and this investment will provide the opportunity for parts of rural Ireland to anticipate they will have this access.”

He said it is intended to connect rural areas with fibre via ESB poles whereby a third, slightly lower-hanging cable containing the fibre would be added and which would be contained in a protected sleeve.

Rabbitte said the plan is ultimately to address areas simply not served by existing operators and that a commercial operator selected by the State would sell the fibre services to homes and business.

Delivery of the fibre network is dependent on the Government also qualifying for funding from the European Investment Bank, as well as getting funds from the Strategic Investment Fund (National Pension Reserve).

Rollout of the new infrastructure will only happen once a detailed mapping exercise is carried out for the European Union.

While Rabbitte acknowledged the rollout won’t be complete “during the life time of this Government” he said the aim is to have the process complete in the next four years.

“Data is exploding. What we know for certain is the pace of change of technology requires future-proofing, not solutions that would be inadequate in a few years. It’s important to get the solution right.”

Economic impact

Rabbitte said he is hopeful the arrival of the ESB/Vodafone joint venture will help drive competition and ensure services are affordable.

“Eircom sees the new joint venture as competition for them, but competition is good.”

In talking with the Irish Farmers Association, he said the use of ESB poles to distribute the new fibre will not require any changes to existing relations with landowners.

Ultimately, Rabbitte said, the people of Ireland, especially rural Ireland, right now want the proper broadband quality that people are enjoying in towns and cities across the world.

“People of rural Ireland are more concerned about getting a quality service than whether the State owns the network.”

The real reward, he said, will be the economic impact fibre will have on local economies.

“The exciting thing is it will provide young people in rural Ireland with the opportunity to employ themselves and stay employed and stay in their own region.

“This is an opportunity that the entire west coast of Ireland never had before when faced with emigration.

“This technology offers the opportunity for people to make a living in their domestic environment.”

He cited the example of an architect in Carrick-on-Shannon, Co Leitrim, who works with customers in London, who would be otherwise unemployed if not for an 80Mbps broadband connection. Another company, Western Print & Packaging in Loughrea, Co Galway, has seen its business prospects transformed because of the ability to transact online.

“I believe this kind of transformation can have the same impact in Clonakilty or anywhere else in the country,” Rabbitte said.

Our generation will be the last to worry about dying from cancer

Says top GB scientist


A leading research scientist in Cambridge GB Prof. Evan (above left) is confident the next generation will not have to “worry” so much about dying from cancer.

World-renowned cancer research expert Professor Gerard Evan believes that remarkable developments in technology and knowledge of gene mutation has revolutionised the treatment of cancer.

“We are going to see dramatic shifts in our abilities to treat and contain human cancers in the next 10, 15, 20 years,” said the Professor of Biochemistry at the University of Cambridge in Britain.

  “I can pretty confidently say that my children will never have to worry about dying from cancer in their lifetimes.”

Prof Evan was speaking ahead of joining 40 researchers from throughout Ireland who will gather next week to help explain the latest developments in the science behind battling cancer – as the Irish Cancer Society (ICS) announces the ‘Researcher of the Year’ award for pioneering work.

“I can’t tell you how exciting it is at the moment for someone who has spent their life in cancer research,” Professor Evan told the Irish Independent.

The researcher explained that his own offspring were now aged 24 and 32 but in 30 years’ time, he strongly believes, cancer will be treatable.

“I’m more worried about global warming than my children dying of cancer,” he said.

“I started my life as a graduate student in 1977 and for the first 25 years of that, most of us thought if breakthroughs would come it would be 100 years from now – it was almost banging your head against a brick wall.”

Over the past 15 years a combination of technological developments and increased understanding of gene mutation has driven research forwards. Now laboratories can strip cells down and identify the ‘drivers’ behind the cancer which has allowed pharmacists to make drugs to inhibit them.

“The combination has done amazing things – for decades there were no really new cancer drugs working in new ways,” he said.

Now, some drugs can put patients into remission in 60pc of cases for five or 10 years.

“The way things are going, if the person relapses there will be lots of new drugs in five or 10 years,” he said.

“We will be able to knock them back again and again.”

He highlighted multiple myeloma, a cancer of the blood cells, once considered “pretty much a death sentence”, yet a combination of three drugs has now “transformed the lives” of a large number suffering from the disease.

Prof Evan is just one of a number of experts who will be addressing the ICS’s free public event on research aiming to eliminate cancer on Wednesday, April 30 at the Hilton Hotel, at Charlemont Place, in Dublin 2.

The event, taking place from 5pm to 7pm, is free.

Warning’s on side effects of drugs for Irish people suffering from mental illness


Failure to monitor the side-effects of drugs to treat long-term mental illness is shaving up to 20 years off the lives of thousands of patients, according to a leading consultant psychiatrist.

Siobhán Barry said up to 100,000 people, “enough to fill Croke Park on any given Sunday”, are on psychotropic medications — which have been shown to cause conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol.

This was mainly because of the significant weight gain associated with these drugs, said Dr Barry. In addition, many suffering mental ill health also smoked, and this compounded their physical health problems.

Yet the reality was psychiatric outpatients were not regularly monitored for the adverse health effects of long-term medication.

Ideally, their metabolic and cardiac health should be monitored from the time they started on medication and then checked every six months, Dr Barry said.

Potential problems could be picked up that way and addressed early. Failure to carry out these health checks was “reckless”, she said.

Instead, she said, they “die 20 years younger than their peers” who do not have enduring mental illness and are not on long-term medication.

The drugs in question included powerful tranquillisers such as Olanzapine, used to treat schizophrenia, rather than common antidepressants.

Addressing doctors at the Irish Medical Organisation’s AGM in Co Kildare, Dr Barry proposed a motion calling on Health Minister James Reilly to request that the Mental Health Commission audit the adequacy of facilities available for the physical monitoring of outpatients prescribed long-term psychotropic medication.

The motion was passed unanimously.

A separate motion calling on Dr Reilly to “urgently publish guidelines” in respect of the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act was also passed.

Outgoing IMO president, consultant psychiatrist Matt Sadlier, said failure to supply guidelines to doctors was akin to giving someone sitting a driving test a copy of a Road Traffic Act instead of the rules of the road.

However, the Department of Health said yesterday that a final draft of the guidance document to assist health professionals in the implementation of the Act has been signed off by a committee tasked with drawing up the guidelines.

“It is expected that this document will be ready for publication and dissemination shortly,” a department spokesman said.

How sloths breathe upside down as explained by Zoology scientists


Zoology researcher Rebecca Cliffe studied how sloths were able to breathe normally hanging upside down

A Swansea University team has found out how sloths are able to spend up to 90% of their lives hanging upside down yet continue breathing normally.

The research found the mammals, which live in the rainforests of south and central America, have a way of fixing their internal organs to the rib cage.

These adhesions prevent the stomach, liver, kidneys and even the bowels and bladder from pressing on the diaphragm.

The research carried out in Costa Rica is published by the Royal Society.

The scientists say much is still to be learned about these elusive and endangered creatures – the world’s slowest mammals – as even basic information such as their natural diet and habitat preference remains a mystery.

PhD zoology researcher Rebecca Cliffe, 24, is one of the authors of the paper, based on work at the Sloth Sanctuary of Costa Rica.

The research was carried out a sloth sanctuary in Costa Rica

She said: “With an extremely slow metabolic rate and low energy diet, sloths are experts at saving energy.

“They have a very slow rate of digestion and can store up to a third of their body weight in urine and faeces. For a mammal that spends a significant amount of time hanging upside down, this large abdominal weight pressing down on the lungs would make breathing very costly in terms of energy, if not impossible.

“Sloths have solved this problem by anchoring their organs against the rib cage.

The facts about Sloth’s.

•           The sloth is the world’s slowest mammal, so sedentary that green algae grows on its coat, which helps camouflage it

•           They sleep for 15-20 hours a day and even when awake will remain motionless

•           Sloths carry up to a third of their bodyweight in urine and faeces and will only defecate once a week

•           Sloths are endangered.

“They have multiple internal adhesions that bear the weight of the stomach and bowels when the sloth hangs inverted. We estimate that these adhesions could reduce a sloths energy expenditure by 7% – 13% when hanging upside down.

To a sloth, an energy saving of 7% – 13% is a big deal. They generate just about enough energy from their diet to move when and where required, but there is not much left in the tank afterwards.

“It would be energetically very expensive, if not completely impossible, for a sloth to lift this extra weight with each breath were it not for the adhesions. The presence of these simple adhesions therefore really is vital.”

Prof Rory Wilson, of the College of Science at Swansea University, a joint author of the paper, said: “Nothing that sloths do is normal.

“They are quite the most extraordinary and “off-the-wall” mammals I have ever come across and yet we know so very little about them.

“How foolish we would be to watch these creatures become victims of deforestation and habitat fragmentation and the like without having the slightest idea how to help.”

News Ireland daily BLOG Friday

Friday 25th April 2014

Emily Logan says ombudsmen should be given a lot more independence


Ombudsman for Children Emily Logan says Government should cede direct budgetary responsibility for Ireland’s ombudsmen in order to enhance their independence.

Government should end direct budgetary control of offices, children’s advocate says

Government should cede direct budgetary responsibility for Ireland’s ombudsmen in order to enhance their independence, according to the Ombudsman for Children,Emily Logan.

Ms Logan made the call this morning at a conference to mark the tenth anniversary of her office. She also spoke about the “resistance” her office has experienced over the past decade in advancing children’s rights.

She said the legislature should reconsider the relationship between the executive and ombudsmen institutions to ensure their independence. “At the moment, the executive controls the funding of ombudsmen through Oireachtasvotes, even though the ombudsmen are charged with overseeing the very public bodies that determine our budgets.”

The potential for this situation to weaken the independence of ombudsmen could be diminished by a more direct relationship with the Oireachtas, she suggested. Control of determining their budgets could be given to an Oireachtas committee, for example.

Ms Logan said her office has been confronted with significant pockets of resistance, both active and passive, to the advancement of children’s rights. “This resistance can be subtle. This comes in the form of civil or public administrative tensions with my office in the course of an investigation.”

Sometimes, this resistance could be overt, as when her office decided to include the rights of children in State care among its priorities. This provoked an unexpected negative response in some quarters in the form of a legal challenge, she recalled.

“While this challenge was unsuccessful, my card was marked by those who to this day continue to resist the notion that children are individual rights holders and indeed active participants in the exercise of their rights,” she said.

Over the past decade, her office has dealt with almost 10,000 cases, in areas such as health, education, housing and children in care, she said. These included the detention of children in St Patrick’s prison, now ended, the refusal of a school to admit a pregnant 16-year-old and the issue of separated children living in hostels.

In the future, Ireland must orient its laws and policy towards fuller respect for the rights enumerated in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Policy development should be proactive rather than reactive, as it has been.

Ms Logan, whose second term as ombudsman ends next year, said her work now would focus on the position of children affected by assisted human reproduction, adoption, surrogacy and those raised by same-sex couples.

Mother and her three young children forced to live in car in Dublin


A 36-year old woman who says she has been living and sleeping in a car with her three young children in Tallaght Co Dublin.

Sabrina McMahon (36), who has spent a week in a car in Tallaght, feels ‘like a hopeless parent’

A 36-year old woman says she has been living and sleeping in a car with her three young children in Tallaght, Dublin, for the past week after a series of temporary housing arrangements broke down.

  In the boot of Sabrina McMahon’s 2005 car are three suitcases, a buggy, nappies and baby wipes. On the passenger seat is a carrier bag of clothes, a bag of bread rolls and milk.

A friend lets her wash and do laundry in her house. “I’ve been putting the kids in their pyjamas in her house, but they had to sleep in their clothes last night.”

Michaela (3) and Chelsea (18 months) sleep in their car seats on the back seat, with Karl (5) sleeping beside them.

“I’m in the driver’s seat. I don’t put the seat back because they have so little space as it is,” she says. “When Michaela wakes for a bottle I knock on the engine to warm up the car.”

“We’re all wrecked. I’m exhausted. They ask where we’re going and I tell them I have nowhere to bring them. I feel like a hopeless parent, just hopeless.”

A spokesperson for South Dublin County Council said it was “aware” of the case. “South Dublin Council does not wish to make any further comment at this stage,” it added.

A waiting list for houses.

Ms McMahon has been on the council’s housing waiting list for more than a year while she has been staying with family and friends. Originally from Tallaght, she brought her children back there from Athy, Co Kildare, after her relationship with their father broke down more than a year ago.

“Since then we’ve stayed with my mother, father, sister and friends. But it’s a lot to ask, to ask someone to have a whole family staying in their house.”

In addition, some of their lease arrangements did not allow them to have a family staying. “So last week I had to stop asking.”

She says she has tried to find private rented accommodation but has not been able to find a landlord who will accept rent allowance.

As the head of a family at immediate risk of homelessness, she went to the Dublin Central Placement Service last week but was told she must present at Kildare County Council for emergency housing. She says she does not want to go back to Kildare. “I’d end up isolated again. I need to be near my family and Karl goes to school in Tallaght.”

‘Homelessness now a tsunami’

A former dental nurse and carer, Ms McMahon says she would like to go back to work. “If I had a roof, we could get settled and I’d love to go back caring for the elderly.”

Local Sinn Féin councillor Máire Devine has been making representations on behalf of the family for the past year. “This is one of the worst cases but homelessness and housing is now the biggest issue in my clinics. It’s a tsunami and no one in Government seems to have any policy on it, any plan, any direction on this disaster that is affecting thousands of ordinary people.”

Japanese women’s healthy diet is the key to a long life, some 86.4 years of it

A new study suggests


The figures released by the Office for National Statistics showed that Japanese women have an average life expectancy of 86.4 years

Forget fad diets and Hollywood celebrity endorsements: Japanese women could hold the dietary key to a long and healthy life.

A new study has indicated the benefits of a diet rich in raw fish, vegetables and green tea, with Japanese females having the highest life expectancy of women in selected countries, living for an average of 86.4 years.

The data released by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) showed that Japanese women outstrip their English counterparts, who can expect to live to 82.8 years. Women in Northern Ireland and Wales have a life expectancy of 82.1 years, while in Scotland the same figure is 80.7 years.

But the ONS said there is nothing stopping British women achieving a similar longevity if they adopt a Japanese lifestyle, with the figures indicating the “potential for further increases” in life expectancy for women in the UK, The Times reported.

The traditional Japanese diet incorporates lower-calorie foods served in controlled portions.

According to Naomi Moriyama, the co-author of Japanese Women Don’t Get Old or Fat:

Secrets of My Mother’s Tokyo Kitchen, the average Japanese person eats around 25% fewer calories than the average western person.

Crag Wilcox, a leading gerontologist, told The Times that the Japanese diet is full of disease-fighting foods.

He said: “They eat threes servings of fish a week, on average. Plenty of whole grains, vegetables and soy products too, more tofu and more konbu seaweed than anyone else in the world, as well as squid and octopus, which are rich in taurine – that could lower cholesterol and blood pressure.”

But Japanese men do not reinforce the trend. They can expect to live to 79.9 years on average, which is little more than the average male life expectancy of 79 in England. Men in Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland can expect to live to 78.1, 77.7 and 76.5 years respectively.

Men in Iceland have the longest life expectancy at 80.8 years, followed by Swiss men who can expect to live to 80.5 years of age.

The findings were published as part of an international compendium of data published by the ONS. It compared figures on population, employment and the economy.

Cow manure has diverse new antibiotic resistance property Genes


A new study funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation and the U.S. National Institutes of Health found that cow manure harbors diverse new antibiotic resistance genes. This material is commonly used as a farm fertilizer.

It’s worth noting that produce is one of the main sources of food poisoning in the United States; fertilizer, along with runoff from farms are two of the ways leafy greens and other fruits and vegetables can become contaminated.

The study, published in American Society for Microbiology journal, tried to find which antibiotic resistant genes are in cow manure. The scientists used a “screening-plus sequencing” approach and found 80 unique and functional antibiotic resistant genes. Those genes made E. coli bacteria resistant to antibiotics.

Researchers found an entirely new family of antibiotic resistant genes that are resistant to chloramphenicol antibiotics that are used to treat respiratory infections in livestock. The resistance genes were found in clusters and were in a diverse set of species.

This study is the first in a sequence of studies. The scientists are going to see if they can find these genes in the soil, in food, and then in people. These genes can get into the human ecosystem either through bacteria or a horizontal gene transfer into bacteria that affect people.

Previous studies have found antibiotic resistance genes in pigs and chickens, which are given lots of sub therapeutic doses of antibiotics. Cows are not fed as many antibiotics, so the resistant genes found in their manure was important.

Khumbathe Zonkey that’s a (Half Donkey & Half Zebra) born to a Zebra and its really adorable



This donkey-zebra hybrid was not bred in some laboratory run by an evil scientist who manically laughs while lighting strikes behind him. The way this animal came about is actually quite sweet.

The Reynosa Zoo in Northern Mexico has a zebra named Rayas, and she used to visit her friend Ignacio, a dwarf, blue-eyed albino donkey that lived on an adjacent farm. Well, obviously these two went from friends to more than friends because soon enough, Khumba the calf was born!

Zoo officials say that the half donkey, half zebra is extremely rare as zebra chromosomes and donkey chromosomes are not compatible. But if we learned one thing from Jurassic Park, it’s that the person who is a specialist on Velociraptors will undoubtedly get eaten by them. But if we learned two things, it’s that we didn’t say the magic word.

But if we learned three things, it’s that life finds a way. And we’re sure glad it did because look at this adorable animal that has a sweet donkey face and zebra-striped legs! We love it.

This is not the first zonkey to ever be created, but it’s definitely one of very few.

Our only hope about this story is that there wasn’t a male zebra who was around for the birth, hoping to see a full-blown zebra calf come out of his partner. Because that would’ve been awkward.

News Ireland daily BLOG update Thursday

Thursday 24th April 2014

Another Ulster Bank fiasco as apologies are made to ‘out-of-pocket’ customers for latest systems fault


Some customer accounts hit by the latest Ulster Bank ATM machine fault of duplicating debits.

The number of cash-dispensing ATMs affected by the latest fault has not been confirmed.

Ulster Bank has apologised to customers in Northern Ireland following the latest problem which saw some customers being debited twice for a single transaction.

The bank, which suffered a significant IT problem in 2012, said it was working to correct the problem and restore funds to customers’ accounts by tonight. However, the bank has not yet given any indication how many accounts were compromised by the technical problem.

The number of cash-dispensing ATMs affected by the fault has not been confirmed.

A spokesman said: “We are aware of some issues with duplicated debits, we are working hard to fix this, sorry for any inconvenience.”

The bank stressed yesterday that customers would not be left “out of pocket”.

“We are aware of an issue regarding duplicate ATM transactions involving some Ulster Bank customers between 4.15pm on Easter Monday and 4.15pm on Tuesday afternoon.

“We are working to correct this for affected customers and restore money to accounts tonight.

“Customers will not be left out of pocket and can contact us if they require further assistance. We apologise for any inconvenience caused.”

Massive systems failure

The bank had to apologise for problems last December when some services were interrupted.

This followed a massive systems failure in 2012 when large numbers of customers lost access to their accounts.

Some 100,000 customer were affected by the fault which resulted in 80 branches staying open late to deal with the backlog of transactions.

Ulster Bank said the original technical problem was caused by a software upgrade to the payment processing system which was corrupted.

Very low approval rate for mortgage-to-rent scheme by our Banks in Ireland


Just 38 properties have transferred ownership under the mortgage-to-rent scheme

A scheme to allow people with unsustainable mortgages give up ownership of their homes and rent them instead has seen less than 2% of applications approved.

Under the Government-backed initiative, a property is bought at a market price from a bank by a voluntary housing agency, which then lets the home to the occupants.

Since the mortgage-to-rent scheme was rolled out nationally almost two years ago, 38 properties have transferred ownership.

However, banks had proposed 2,337 cases for approval.

Dublin properties must be bought for less than €220,000 and homes outside the capital for less than €180,000.

The details have been disclosed in a Dáil reply by Housing Minister Jan O’Sullivan to Fianna Fáil’s finance spokesman Michael McGrath.

“With thousands of repossession proceedings in the system, it is deeply concerning that the Government’s mortgage-to-rent scheme is failing miserably to provide a safety net for those in arrears facing the prospect of losing their home,” Mr McGrath said.

“The Government needs to urgently review the scheme, remove the unnecessary bureaucracy and complexity inherent in it, and make it workable.”

To be eligible a mortgage must be unsustainable, the owners must agree to surrender their home, the property must be in negative equity and the home owners must be eligible for social housing.

The two biggest banks – AIB and Bank of Ireland – have only completed one mortgage-to-rent scheme each.

Pepper, which manages mortgages originally issued by GE Money, has had 24 mortgage-to-rent schemes approved.

In her reply, Minister O’Sullivan said 464 cases “have been advanced and are under negotiation, with 988 cases in the initial stages of the process”. She said that 847 cases are not progressing.

Polish people and embassy say ‘go raibh maith agat’ for ten years of an Irish welcome


The Polish Embassy have released an YouTube video as Gaeilge to mark a decade since their EU membership

Polish diplomats have thanked the Irish people for ten years of welcome in a video which not only shows off their Irish language skills but also a local sense of humour.

The YouTube video released today by the Polish Embassy marks ten years since the eastern European nation of 38 million people became part of the European Union. Since then 120,000 have made Ireland their home, according to the 2011 census.

The whole video is in Irish with English subtitles. It opens with the Polish ambassador Martin Nawrot speaking from his office in Irish “dia dhaoibh go léir”. “On behalf of all the Poles in Ireland we thank the Irish people for your welcome,” he says.

The video then casts a jaundiced eye at Irish sport, culture, food and weather.

“Thank you for all the cheerful and easy to read books” the voiceover says showing a woman reading James Joyce’s Ulysses upside-down

“Thank you for the beautiful weather”, says the voice-over showing three people relaxing on the wet the beach as the wind blows an umbrella away

“We thank you for all your unusual sports “, the voice over says showing scenes of rugby and hurling blunders .

“We thank you for the healthy food,” the voiceover says showing a plate of a traditional greasy Irish fried breakfast

“But most of all thanks for being so open and making us feel at home for the past ten years,” the video says.

The video closes with staff outside the Polish Embassy shouting “Go raibh míle maith agat a mhuintir na hÉireann”

Ireland has the third highest number of Polish migrants in the world, and the most per capita. Polish is the second most widely spoken language in the State.

The Polish Embassy siad it wanted to convey “gratitude to the Irish people for the openness and kindness they have shown to Poles in Ireland” and for “all the joys the Emerald Isle has to offer”.

It’s time to hold Irish journalism to account


It’s time for us to redefine the regulatory system for journalism in Ireland?

‘It’s as if both sides of the media industry – print on the one side and radio and television on the other – were hoping the new-fangled digital media was a trend that might just go away.

  The media regulatory system in Ireland has a decidedly old-fashioned feel. On the one hand, there is the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland, charged under legislation to oversee radio and television; meanwhile, over in Westmoreland Street in Dublin’s city centre, is the Press Council and the Press Ombudsman that administers the voluntary system for the newspaper and magazine industry. Nowhere is there a regulator for online media.

Only one solely web-based publication has joined the Press Council,, though it is believed its application was not met with wholehearted enthusiasm.

It’s as if both sides of the media industry – print on the one side and radio and television on the other – were hoping the new-fangled digital media was a trend that might just go away. Of course, the Press Council can adjudicate for web-based publications, but mainly as adjuncts to their newspaper parents. In the case of RTÉ’s websites, strangely, they do not come under any regulator at all.

It would appear that there is a long overdue case for redefining the regulatory system for journalism.

So why look at the workings of press regulation now? Well, the retirement of the first press ombudsman, Prof John Horgan, after six years offers an opportune time to examine the system and consider where it might go from here.

Without doubt the Press Council of Ireland has had a good first six years. It started life under a threat. At the launch of the council the then minister for justice, Brian Lenihan, said: “I don’t think I am breaching any State secrets when I tell you that not all my colleagues had boundless enthusiasm for this approach [the establishment of a press council] . . . I am bound to make it clear to you that if the media fails to show respect for the right to privacy. . . the government will have no choice but to proceed with its privacy legislation.”

Libel reform needed.

The Press Council was established for two reasons, as far as newspaper proprietors were concerned, as a quid pro quo for libel reform, and to stave off the threatened privacy legislation. Both have been achieved – there is little talk of privacy legislation today, and libel reform has taken place, or as much reform as it likely for some time to come. Others had different agendas. Journalists did not want to find they were excluded, as had happened in the UK, so the NUJ has a place on the council.

The British press in Ireland did not want to be involved at all and there was quite a campaign to rubbish the council before it was established. In the end nearly everyone joined and have, by all accounts, worked well together for the past six years, alongside the public interests members (who have no media links, but represent the wider public).

The Irish system also became a form of gold standard of press regulation at the Leveson inquiry into the phone hacking and media ethics in Britain. A number of media organisations pointed to the “Irish model” as it became known, as something that Britain might import. Britain is still debating what its model should be, which is unlikely to be the Irish model, but it was nice to have a day in the sun.

Suicide by 14 patients in three counties sparks probe of the HSE’s care


The Inspectorate for Mental Health Services is carrying out a review after it was revealed that 14 people have committed suicide in the past 18 months while under the care of the HSE in Carlow, Kilkenny, and South Tipperary.

The move comes after Des Kavanagh, the general secretary of the Psychiatric Nurses’ Association, highlighted the level of suicide among psychiatric patients under the care of the HSE.

He said nurses in several services are raising concerns, and in one service, Carlow, Kilkenny, and South Tipperary, 14 people have died by suicide in the past 18 months, three in-patients, six following discharge, and the remainder who had some involvement with the mental health services.

A spokesperson for the Mental Health Commission confirmed that “the Inspectorate for Mental Health Services has been to Carlow, Kilkenny, South Tipperary Mental Health Services to carry out a review”.

“This review is in the process of being completed and the inspectorate will inform the commission of its findings in due course,” he said.

“The Inspector of Mental Health Services reported to the Mental Health Commission a number of unexpected deaths. On the back of this, the commission asked the inspectorate to carry out a review of service users’ safety.

“Once this review has gone through fair process, the commission will determine whether or not it’s appropriate to publish the findings,” a spokesman said.

A HSE spokesman said “serious incidents that occur in any mental health treatment facility are reported to the relevant authorities and a review is carried out as a matter of priority.”

Mr Kavanagh had addressed the issue at the annual delegate conference.

“There is no doubt that in order to provide a modern Mental Health Service where patients are cared for in the least restricted way possible, risks must be taken and casualties will occur, but surely 14 in 18 months is too much. Surely this points to system failures which need to be reviewed,” he said.

“My concern is that the system is not working, the system is failing people, and we need to learn from such failures in the best interests of our people going forward so that our services can be more successful in preventing such suicides in future.”

“Adam and Eve’s” Genes suddenly split about 200 Million years ago?


Differences between the sexes as we know it now started taking shape about 180 million years ago. That is what researchers say from Switzerland and Australia, is the approximate time when there was a biological split between females, which have two X sex chromosomes, and males, which sport one X and also one Y chromosome.

Actually, the X and Y chromosomes used to be identical, explains Henrik Kaessmann, associate professor at the Center for Integrative Genomics and group leader at the Swiss Institute of Bioinformatics, both in Switzerland. The first “sex genes,” he said, apparently showed in different species at about the same period, an estimated 180 million years ago.

Then, for reasons that still need to be determined, the Y chromosome, which is ultimately responsible for all the morphological and physiological differences between males and females, started to differentiate from the Xs in males, progressively shrinking to such an extent that, today, it only contains about 20 genes, compared to the thousand or in the X.

By studying samples taken from the testicles of several male species, the researchers recovered the Y chromosome genes from the three main mammal lineages: placentals, which include humans, apes, rodents and elephants; marsupials, such as opossums and kangaroos; and monotremes, which are egg-laying mammals, such as the platypus and the Australian porcupine echidna.

The team pieced together the largest gene atlas of the “male” chromosome ever created.

The study found that one type of sex-determining gene, known as SRY, formed in the common ancestor of placentals and marsupials around 180 million years ago. Another gene, AMHY, caused the emergence of Y chromosomes in monotremes approximately 175 million years ago.

Both genes, said Kaessmann, are “involved in testicular development,” and emerged “nearly at the same time but in a totally independent way.”

The research said the exact nature of the sex-determination system found in the mammalian common ancestor — in other words, why the sexual break happened —remains unclear, since it’s assumed, based on the data so far collected, that Y chromosomes did not yet exist prior to that specific time.

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Wednesday 23rd April 2014

Irish doctors not happy with new health bill proposals published today


The IMO says it’s “appalled” at some of the proposals.

The Irish Medical organisation has said it’s “appalled” at some details of legislation for the new GP Contract.

Legislative proposals were published today by the Department of Health with the aim of overhauling the contractual relationship between GPs and the HSE.

The IMO said the proposals in the Health Bill 2014 would effectively force GPs to sign up to a new under sixes contract by removing existing medical card patients to the new scheme.

Chairman of the GP Committee of the IMO, Doctor Ray Walley, said “this legislation has nothing to do with GP visit cards for children.

It is nothing less than a unilateral attempt to replace the long-standing GMS Contract with a new, draconian contract which will destroy the very fabric of the GP service in Ireland.

Dr. Walley said that the new legislation would accelerate the departure of GPs from the Irish Health Services.

This legislation will effectively destroy General Practice and should not be enacted. It reflects an arrogant mindset by an arrogant Government that should know better.

New proposals

The IMO says the new contract as proposed would institutionalise the provisions of emergency legislation (FEMPI) in regard to GPs, allowing the Minister to unilaterally reduce, vary and change fees paid for GP services at any time.

The union claims it would force GPs to move to the new contract by removing existing GMS patients to the new scheme.

They also say it would abolish the right of the IMO to negotiate on behalf of its GP members and allow the Minister to vary the fees without any negotiation at any time Dr.Walley continued that,

On the one hand the Minister says he wants to talk to the IMO while on the other publishes legislation that appears to make talks a futile exercise.

The issue of free under-six care is set to dominate the IMO conference that will be held this coming weekend in Kildare.

The Minister for Health James Reilly will not be at this years event but the Minister of State with responsibility for Primary Care Alex White will be attending.

Vaccinations in Ireland at highest level in the State’s history


Childhood vaccinations are at the highest level ever recorded in Ireland.

New figures issued by the HSE Health Protection Surveillance Centre to mark European Immunisation Week show that more children here are now vaccinated that ever before.

Altogether 92pc of children at 12 months have had the recommended three doses of the six in one vaccine which defends against diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough, Hib (haemophilius influenza causing meningitis) polio and hepatitis B.

A similar number have been given two doses of the PCV (pneumococcal conjugate vaccine) against 13 common strains of a bug that cause meningitis and septicaemia.


By two years of age 96pc of children are vaccinated with the six in one vaccine and 93pc of children have also had the MMR vaccine.

By between four and five years of age 90pc of children have received the recommended four in one vaccine booster dose for diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis and polio and 89pc have received an MMR second dose.

Public Health Medicine specialist with the HPSC, Dr Suzanne Cotter welcomed the high level of vaccination.

But Dr Cotter warned: “It is still important to remind parents that children need to fully complete the childhood immunisation schedule to be protected against a range of serious vaccine preventable diseases.”

Dr Cotter added that some children, teenagers and adults might still be vulnerable to these diseases because they were never vaccinated, incompletely vaccinated or had lost their immunity because of age, illness or the lapse in time since the injections.

“The fact that more children in Ireland are now protected against vaccine preventable diseases than ever before reflects the confidence parents have in vaccination to prevent what used to be the most common infectious diseases of childhood,” she stressed.

Dr Cotter also emphasised the need to identify areas where “there are inadequate levels of vaccination uptake, indicating an increased risk among some to these diseases and outbreaks.

“Reasons for under vaccination should be identified and any measures identified should be taken to address the underlying reasons,” she said.

Gardaí arrest 26 people for drink driving on last Good Friday


Special operation introduced to target drivers on mobile phones

Gardaí said today 153 people were arrested for drink driving over the Easter Bank Holiday weekend.

Assistant Garda Commissioner John Twomey said 26 people were arrested on Good Friday, a day when “the vast majority of licensed premises are closed”.

Mr Twomey of the Garda National Traffic Bureau also outlined a recent drink driving enforcement operation which targeted ten rural towns and two areas within Dublin city where gardaí set up a series of mandatory alcohol checkpoints.

“We advertised it in advance to let people know we would be doing it. While we didn’t give them the specific locations, we did say that we would be out there targeting particular areas,” he said.

“In that hour between 12.30am and 1.30am, nine people were arrested for drink driving.”

The Assistant Commissioner also spoke about the upcoming special operation this week which will target motorists using mobile phones while driving.

“The risk and the dangers posed by holding and using a mobile phone while driving are such that you put yourself and others at risk,” he said, adding that research shows there is a four-fold increase in the risk of having a collision when using a mobile phone.

“Unfortunately, the use of mobile phone while driving is becoming a real challenge to An Garda Síochána and is now the second-highest offence that has been detected.” The highest is speeding.

Almost 10,000 drivers have been detected holding a mobile phone while driving in the first three months of this year.

In 2013 there were more than 28,000 people detected.

Provisional figures from a national phone operation carried out in March 2014 found there has been a 300 per cent increase in the number of people using their phones while driving.

This week’s operation, which will be conducted by gardaí this Thursday and Friday, will issue fixed charge notices of €60 and penalty points to those caught on their phones while driving.

“Our message is there’s no call or no text that is that important that you should put your own life or the life of other road users at risk,” said Mr Twomey.

“The risks and the dangers are there for everybody to see, we need to become aware and we need to address this.”

“I’m asking all of your listeners to be aware of the dangers and the risks,” he added. “We will be out there enforcing the road traffic act and will continue to work tirelessly to improve road safety,” he told RTÉ’s Morning Ireland.

EU’s resistance to GMOs is holding Irish farmers back says the IFA


Europe’s resistance to genetically modified organisms (GMOs) is holding farmers back, according to the IFA.

Irish farmers must be able to compete on a level playing field and the current EU stance on GMOs does not allow that, IFA General Secretary Pat Smith has said. “It has to be a level playing field in relation to GMOs and hormones. These issues are stifling EU agriculture and our hands are tied. It is costing EU agriculture all the time.” He was speaking at the launch of the IFA’s manifesto for local and european elections.

He said EU policies were ruled by politics, not science. “Politics is superimposed on science in the EU.”

“We are five to 10 years out of date with regard to licensing, as what Europe is legislated to import is not being grown any more.” He said this means EU importers have to choose varieties that are less efficient but are approved by Europe. Countries which have adopted technologies such as GMOs, he said, have seen gains of 2-3% in their agricultural output in the past 10 years.

Because of this, our competitiveness is becoming an issue. “Science should dictate what is safe and what isn’t safe and that goes for growing GM crops in Ireland too. How can we compete when we can not use technologies others can use?”

He went on to say that Irish farmers are the most efficient producers of food in Europe, yet will have to increase their production levels to meet increasing demand for food. There is also a shortage of protein in Europe, he said, so farmers have to import soybeans which is an issue because of the GMO regulations in Europe. Sourcing non-GMO soybeans, he said, is becoming more and more difficult as less people are growing less of these varieties as they make less economical sense than GM varieties of soybean.

Illegal cigarette smugglers take to the high seas from Africa & Asia


The routes map of Illicit cigarettes that arrive in Ireland on planes and trucks from various countries.

This map shows the major tobacco smuggling routes into Ireland and reveals that cigarettes made in Asia and Africa generally come into the country by sea.

However, from mainland Europe the illicit products mostly arrive here on planes and trucks.

It is a trade that costs Irish retailers €450m a year.

Ireland has one of the highest rates of illegal tobacco trade in Europe, and 25pc of cigarettes smoked here are not taxed, according to figures released by major tobacco manufacturing company JTI.

From the Baltic countries, Russia and Spain, illegal tobacco is arriving by plane.

GANGSTERS: It comes in cargo ships from the Suez Canal and the Canary Islands, while smugglers from mainland Europe favour the main motorways before travelling by ship to the UK and again by sea to Ireland.

Sources say a small number of Irish criminals have made millions of euro from the smuggling of illegal cigarettes into the country.

One of the most prominent Irish gangsters involved in this activity is a veteran Ballyfermot criminal who controls illegal smuggling of cigarettes into Ireland in an operation that is believed to be worth over €10m.

He is now mostly based on Spain’s Costa del Sol, and his son plays an increasingly prominent role in the business.

The gangster – a long-term target of the Criminal Assets Bureau – has made millions from smuggling illegal cigarettes over the past two decades.

He cannot be named here for legal reasons.

“We are committed to fighting this highly damaging and unregulated trade. This is costing retailers and the taxpayer hundreds of millions, and continues to fuel crime in communities across Ireland,” said John Freda, general manager of JTI Ireland.

CHILDREN: “The illegal tobacco trade has huge societal impacts. Criminals and gangs use children to sell products and channel the profits into other illegal activities.

“Cigarettes are at least 50pc cheaper on the streets than the ones sold by legitimate retailers, which encourages minors to buy illegal tobacco in unregulated markets and back alleys.”

The JTI report claimed non-duty-paid tobacco is costing the exchequer more than €250m and the retail trade €450m a year.

How common bacteria found in soil & water talks to each other


Bacteria communicate by sending chemical signals

Common bacteria found in soil and water “talk” to each other using a language in some ways as sophisticated as our own, say scientists.

The bugs display a level of “combinatorial” communication previously thought to be unique to humans and certain other primates.

It involves using two signals together to transmit a message that is distinct from them both.

A human example would be the word “boathouse” which does not invoke separate independent thoughts of a “boat” and a “house”, but something different – a boathouse.

This type of communication has never been observed before in species other than humans and their closest relatives.

Yet the lowly microbe Psuedomonas aeruginosa appears to be capable of it, using chemicals instead of words.

The bugs exchange dual chemical messages to signal when to produce certain proteins vital for their survival.

By blocking one signal and then the other, scientists found that if the signals are sent separately, the effect on protein production is different from when both are sent together.

Lead researcher Thom Scott-Phillips, from the University of Durham, said: “We conducted an experiment on bacterial communication, and found that they communicate in a way that was previously thought to be unique to humans and perhaps some other primates.

“This has serious implications for our understanding of the origins of human communication and language.”

The findings are published in the online journal Public Library Of Science ONE.

Brain size plays a major role in self-control and restraint 


An animal study revealed that brain size plays a major role in displaying self-control and self-restraint, according to a team of University researchers.

This study, conducted on 36 species of mammals ranging from orangutans to zebra finches, is the first large-scale investigation into the evolution of self-control. Study authors found that chimpanzees had more self-control than foxes and squirrels. They also found that brain size has a lot to do with the level of self-control these animals displayed.

The researchers noted that species with larger brain volume had more superior cognitive powers than species with larger body size. Additionally, species that were not particular about what they included in their diet showed better self-restraint.

Findings of the new study debunk previous statements that suggest “relative” brain size is a more accurate predictor of intelligence than “absolute” brain size.

  Species included in the study were bonobos, chimpanzees, gorillas, olive baboons, stump-tailed macaques, golden snub-nosed monkeys, brown, red-bellied and aye-aye lemurs, coyotes, dogs, gray wolves, Asian elephants, domestic pigeons, orange-winged amazons, Eurasian jays, western scrub jay, zebra finches and swamp sparrows.

One experiment included training big and small creatures to access food inside a cylinder through a side entrance. In the first part of the experiment, researchers placed food items in an opaque cylinder and trained the creatures to gain access to the food by entering the cylinder through a side entrance. Once the creatures grew familiar with how to enter the cylinder, the food was moved to a transparent cylinder.

Researchers wanted to observe whether the animals would directly dash into the cylinder to grab the food or will use the previously learnt technique to enter the cylinder and eat the food.

The results showed that gorillas and other large-brained animals utilized the previously learnt technique to attain the “bait.” The smaller brained animals showed mixed results.

“About half of the squirrels and gerbils did well and inhibited the direct approach in more than seven out of 10 trials,” UC Berkeley doctoral student Mikel Delgado said in a statement. “The rest didn’t do so well.”

Another test included placing three cups (A, B and C) in a row with food in one of the cups (usually cup A). At first the animals were allowed to see which cup the food was placed in. After a while the cups were turned upside-down and the animals were made to identify which cup contained the food. If an animal could tap the correct cup three times, it proceeded to the next round. In the next round, the food was moved from cup A to cup B.

“The question was, would they approach cup A, where they had originally learned the food was placed, or could they update this learned response to get the food from a new location?” Delgado said. “The squirrels and gerbils tended to go to the original place they had been trained to get food, showing a failure to inhibit what they originally learned.”

The study authors went on to highlight a possible explanation as to why species with bigger brains had better self-control. The researchers assume that because bigger brains can accommodate more number of neurons, the brain becomes more modularized, facilitating the development of “new cognitive networks.”

Researchers said that this experiment also delivers a useful message to humans too recommending people should stop and think for a while before making any decisions or snatching a reward.

Donie’s news Ireland daily BLOG

Tuesday 22nd April 2014

Honours maths will be mandatory for primary Irish teachers training


Quinn’s comments about ‘highly feminised profession’ prompt widespread disapproval

Comments by the Minister for Education about the ‘highly feminised’ primary teaching profession caused disapproval among delegates at the INTO’s annual conference.

Honours leaving certificate maths will become a minimum requirement for entry into teacher training, Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn said today.

In a comment which caused widespread disapproval among the 750 delegates at the annual conference of the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation, Mr Quinn referred to his “highly feminised audience and profession”.

“I also want to see Higher Level Mathematics in the Leaving Certificate becoming part of the minimum entry requirements for Initial Teacher Education and I’ll tell you why – to a highly feminised audience and profession – our research shows that young women who do the Junior Certificate and take Higher Level Mathematics comfortably in the Junior Certificate exam, drop Higher Level Mathematics when they do their Leaving Certificate because it is not a requirement. This is evidence-based research, and that’s why we want to see it happen.”

However general secretary of INTO Sheila Nunan provoked roars and cheers by opening her response to Mr Quinn’s speech with the words: “Sisters – hell hath no fury”.

While Ms Nunan said she was “quite agnostic about honours maths”, the “sisterhood” knew well the “simple sums of the primary school are: 30 into 1 teacher doesn’t go very easily”.

As delegates got to their feet in approval she continued “46 per cent cuts in assistant principal posts do not make for a good running of schools and 20, 40 and 86 pupils in a 2,3,4 teacher-school … are not easily divided, so whatever way you multiply it, add it, subtract it, do the Pythagoras theorem, I have one message, Minister, the sum we’re looking for is an increase in the money that goes into education”.

Ms Nunan added: “It wasn’t the honours maths that made the Irish women the way they are today, let me tell you. It was the boys who did the honours maths led the country to ruination”.

Mr Quinn made his remarks as part of his speech which addressed the “need to continue to ensure that most entrants to initial teacher education come from the top 15% of all leaving certificate students.

He later told reporters he had been paying tribute to women members of the audience who had been able to spot the lack of a requirement for higher maths and amend their study schedule accordingly.

He said his remarks were “a compliment” to the young women who make up 85% of the primary teaching profession.

“They realise that they don’t need Higher Level maths for entry into the Initial Teacher Education and that requires more work than Ordinary Level so they drop it. I think that we need, in fact, to have our primary school teachers at the same level in mathematics that we require of them in the Irish language,” he said.

Electric Ireland warns residents over disconnecting Sligo housing estate 


an Outstanding bill and who should pay it at the centre of dispute

There has been concern among residents of a Sligo housing estate after Electric Ireland warned the electricity supply to public lighting would be disconnected today.

There was concern among the residents of a housing estate in Sligo after a warning from Electric Ireland that the electricity supply to public lighting would be disconnected today.

An outstanding bill and who should pay it is at the centre of the dispute. Following the collapse of the developer, the estate became part of the liquidation process administered by KPMG.

The residents of over 200 houses were forced to take an active part in the running of the estate and had to settle the last electricity bill over 18 months ago. However the residents’ association committee says it does not have the financial resources to pay the €5,051 demanded by Electric Ireland.

Sligo Borough Council has yet to instigate a “taking in charge” process and says it is still awaiting an application from the liquidators, KPMG.

The council is to be abolished next month and Sligo County Council will now assume the administration of an application when received.

Cllr Matt Lyons (FG) said it was unacceptable that the residents were faced with the threat of having their streetlights turned off and he would be pursuing the matter with Electric Ireland and the council.

Obesity crisis as 1in 4 of Ireland’s tots are overweight


Seven out of ten Irish children are eating sweet or savoury treats at least once a day, according to a leading obesity expert,

At present, a quarter of Irish children at the age of three are already classed as overweight or obese while obesity rates among women have doubled and quadrupled among men in the past 20 years.

Director of food safety board Safefood Cliodhna Foley-Nolan said one of the biggest culprits contributing to childhood obesity is the treats which make up one fifth of the calorie intake of an average Irish child every day.

She said: “Over 70pc of children have snacks and stuff from the top shelf at least once a day. The contribution of sweet and savoury snacks is contributing to a fifth of calories intake of children a day. We’re not just talking about one little Marietta.

“We put diesel or premium petrol in a car but what we are giving our children, their bodies weren’t meant to run on that.

“It’s the preponderance of nutritionally poor but calorie rich food. There is very little nourishment in them.

She said many Irish parents are also piling too much food on their children’s plates.

She said: “We’ve shown that children of five years of age need roughly half the amount of food that an adult needs but the evidence is they are getting bigger and bigger portions.


“It is almost seen as a sign of intelligence or progress if they want more.

“Children in particular have difficulty in regulating their appetites. If they are presented with more, and particularly more of highly palatable food like chips or like chicken nuggets, they will eat more than they need.”

She said the fruit and vegetable consumption for many Irish children is still well below recommended guidelines despite all health campaigns.

“There are more pre-made meals, and snacks, treats and sugary drinks are a big issue,” she said.

“Only about one in four children actually get the amount of fruit and vegetables they require.”

Studies have shown that almost half the children under three in the lower social classes in Ireland are watching more than two hours of TV a day.

Foley-Nolan said weight gain in the first three years needs to be monitored by parents.

She said: “It is a time when children put on weight and it is more difficult having put it on to lose it.

“Things like early weaning, the introduction of solid food, and breast feeding are other factors which impact on weight gain and the amount of time that under three years olds watch TV.

“Those early years are critically important. Weight at three years of age does predict overweight and obesity in later childhood and into adulthood.”

Deer’s head seized as poachers hit by Operation Bambi 


This is the deer’s head that Gardai seized as part of an investigation into poaching code-named Operation Bambi.

The discovery was made by Tallaght Gardai when five officers entered a house last Friday week after they obtained a warrant under the Wildlife Act.

It is understood that the head belonged to a deer that was poached using two lurchers and a spotlight in the Dublin Mountains.

Sources have revealed that gardai were alerted to the situation after an image of the deer’s head was placed on Facebook.


Operation Bambi, being conducted by gardai and the National Parks and Wildlife Service, is co-ordinated by Insp Martin Walker who is based at Carlow garda station.

It is understood that the Facebook image of the deer’s head was sent to Insp Walker who passed on the information to colleagues in Tallaght who then conducted a search of the house.

Commenting on the seizure, Damien Hogan, the secretary of the Wild Deer Association of Ireland, said: “The Wild Deer Association of Ireland welcomes this development and would like to thank all involved.

“There has been a significant increase in the number of successful prosecutions and detections in recent months, and we would encourage our members and supporters to continue to report suspected incidents of deer poaching.”

The Herald revealed last December that a gang that gardai targeted was responsible for poaching up to 200 deer after boasts about their exploits were posted on Facebook.

The deer hunters had been operating without licences in counties Wicklow, Carlow and Kilkenny and were under investigation by gardai since the start of the season last September.

Senior sources said that one suspect used Facebook to boast that he had killed 15 deer in one night, and that gardai would not catch him.

The poachers operated with the help of a high-powered lamp and an electronic device imitating the call of a stag during the rut, or mating season, in October.

This attracted stags to come out of their cover in heavily forested areas and become easy targets for the poachers.

Co Wicklow is reckoned to have the highest concentration of Sika deer in Europe after it was introduced from its native Japan by Lord Powerscourt in 1859, at his estate near Glencree.

Sika and red deer are closely related, and as a result of interbreeding all of the deer now in Wicklow are hybrids.


It is estimated that about 12,000 of the 32,000 deer shot under licence last year were killed in Wicklow, while hundreds more fell victim to poachers.

It is understood that venison from poached Irish deer is being exported.

Intelligence available to the Operation Bambi team indicates that some of those involved are supplying poached deer directly to British dealers who collect carcasses at prearranged locations using refrigerated lorries.

And now it turns out that Monkeys are pretty good at doing Maths as well


A recently concluded experiment shows that rhesus monkeys are capable of doing simple addition using numbers 1 through 25. But more interesting than that is the observation that they also make the same mistakes as us.

To test whether monkeys can represent and manipulate numbers in their head, neurobiologist Margaret Livingstone of Harvard Medical School and her colleagues set up a rather interesting experiment.

Prior to this, however, the monkeys learned to associate the Arabic numbers 0 through 9 and 15 select letters with the values zero through 25. This was done by having the monkeys choose larger numbers as a means to acquire greater quantities of a food reward.

But for the new experiment, the monkeys had to work a bit harder for it. They had to perform addition in order to correctly choose the larger reward. Specifically, they were given a choice between performing a sum calculation and a single symbol rather than just two single symbols. Eventually, they learned how add the two symbols and compare the sum to a third, single symbol.

To rule out the possibility that they were simply memorizing combinations of symbols, the researchers taught the monkeys an entirely new set of symbols. They were still successful, calculating previously unseen sets of combinations.

The monkeys weren’t perfect, however. And in fact, they committed an error often exhibited by humans. Aviva Rutkin from New Scientist explains:

The monkeys made more mistakes on problems involving numbers that were close in value – a fact which might ultimately prove more interesting than their success at small numbers.

Neuroscientists already know that the human brain is better at distinguishing between two low numbers than two high ones. For example, you could easily tell the difference between two and four birds sitting in a tree, but you’d be less likely to spot the difference between a flock of 22 and a flock of 24.

What we don’t know is why. Some think it is because the brain encodes numbers logarithmically, so that we perceive the distance between two small numbers as greater than that between two large ones. Others argue that the brain encodes numbers linearly, as on a number line, but that our concept of a number becomes less distinct as the value increases.

As Rutkin points out, the monkeys were biased towards a linear scale. More insight is likely to emerge if and when monkeys are asked to perform tasks involving multiplication.

Study shows dangerous asteroid impacts hit Earth every six months


A study using data from monitoring stations designed to enforce a nuclear test ban treaty shows that the Earth is enduring far more dangerous asteroid impacts than previously thought.

Between 2000 and 2013, the Earth was hit by 26 asteroids that exploded with a force of between one and 600 kilotons – an average of one every six months. Even more concerning is that in all cases the asteroids themselves weren’t detected in space and only came to light when they detonated in Earth’s atmosphere.

The study was carried out by the B612 Foundation, a group set up by three former astronauts who are worried about the threat of asteroids to life on Earth. The foundation’s CEO (and former shuttle pilot) Dr. Ed Lu presented the report’s findings at a press conference in Seattle’s Museum of Flight on Tuesday.

“While most large asteroids with the potential to destroy an entire country or continent have been detected, less than 10,000 of the more than a million dangerous asteroids with the potential to destroy an entire major metropolitan area have been found by all existing space or terrestrially operated observatories,” said Lu.

“Because we don’t know where or when the next major impact will occur, the only thing preventing a catastrophe from a ‘city-killer’ sized asteroid has been blind luck,” he concluded.

The study notes that four of this century’s collisions have been larger than the atomic bombs that took out Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In 2013, over a thousand people were injured when an asteroid exploded over Chelyabinsk, and 20 kiloton impacts were recorded over Indonesia, the Southern Ocean, and the Mediterranean.

All of these are dwarfed by the 1908 Tunguska impact, when the earth wandered into the path of a comet or large asteroid that exploded with a force of around 10 megatons – an explosion that leveled the surrounding forests and blasted down trees for 2,150 square kilometers (830 sq miles.)

NASA’s Spaceguard project, named after the fictional asteroid-watching body described by Arthur C. Clarke, has done a good job at finding larger clumps of space junk that could seriously threaten human life on Earth, but it is missing a lot of the smaller debris that could just wipe out a city or cause a tsunami.

To spot this material, the B612 Foundation wants to build and launch a privately funded orbital asteroid detector, dubbed the Sentinel Space Telescope Mission. The designs have already been completed and the team estimates it could find 200,000 smaller asteroids a year after its planned 2018 launch.

The study shows that most of the kiloton-range explosions recorded this century resulted in very little debris striking the planet’s surface. Asteroids are ablated by the earth’s thick atmosphere and heat up to the point of explosion – most of the time – but sooner or later, probability suggests, one will hit and cause major damage. ®


The curious name of the B612 Foundation stems from the popular French book The Little Prince, by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry.

In the fable, the author meets a small man after crash-landing his plane in the desert, who explained he lived on an asteroid named B612. The foundation used this name because, it says, the moral of the prince’s tale was that what is essential in life is often invisible to the human eye.

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Monday 21st April 2014

Irish Hospitals given an HSE warning in €530m over spends


Cash strapped hospitals have been told by the HSE that they won’t be getting any budget bailout this year.

A confidential government report shows that the health service is heading for a €530m over-run this year, with many hospitals running over budget already.

The HSE document suggests overspends this year at all the major hospitals in Dublin, with St James’ the highest at €24.3m.

The other overspends outlined in Dublin are:

* Mater Hospital, €7m.

* Crumlin Children’s Hospital, €6.8m.

* Beaumont Hospital, €4.3m.

* Tallaght Hospital, €3.2m.


The positions in the hospitals around the rest of the country are not specified, but over-runs are predicted in every region including €22.3m in the Northern Health Area, the Midland Health Area (€22m) and Western Health Area (€20.3m).

The over-spend is being caused by a spill-over of payments from last year, hospital admissions being up and demographic pressures.

But the health budget is also bloated due to the well-publicised problems with savings from medical card probity, and implementing the Haddington Road agreement.

The HSE report predicts “a full-year 2014 potential cash shortfall of €532m”.

Department of Health and HSE sources say the startling projection is on the basis of nothing happening to address the over-run and there is action being taken to fix the budget.

The figures are based on spending in the first few months of the year, which is always higher due to bills hanging over.

These sources say the shortfall will ultimately be in the region of €150m to €200m.

But the HSE has written to hospital managements informing them they must manage spending within their budget allocation and there will be no bailout.

The letter, from HSE chief financial officer Tom Byrne to hospital bosses, was sent in the past week.


The latest black hole in health is now threatening the Coalition’s ability to deliver tax cuts in next year’s Budget.

Tensions are mounting within the Government over Health Minister James Reilly’s failure once again to get spending under control and achieve savings under the Haddington Road agreement.

Mr Byrne said the €530m figure was simply based on the level of cash spent in the first two months, known as the “burn rate”, which would not reflect the year as a whole.

Mr Byrne also said there would be measures taken to contain spending throughout the rest of the year.

Irish teachers focus on pay and pensions at INTO congress


The number one item on the agenda at the INTO conference is the take home pay of teachers.

Union leaders meeting in Killarney from today say they want a commitment in the Haddington Rd agreement for the restoration of pay cuts to be respected, if the economy continues to recover.

They are also calling for the phasing out of the pension levy.

Primary teachers are also concerned about resources for small schools – especially the number of teachers.

Eight Irish schools have only one teacher, and the INTO is warning more schools are likely to follow.

“We want to have a conversation with the minister about proper planning of sustainable school in rural areas,” said Sheila Nunan, INTO General Secretary.

There’s huge uncertainty and a lot of distress in the communities about the future of their schools.”

Psychiatric nurses call for better recording of suicide in cases where help is sought


Psychiatric nurses have called for a more comprehensive recording system to identify patients who died by suicide because they did not get the treatment they needed.

The Psychiatric Nurses Association (PNA) is extremely concerned that the premature discharge of patients, or delays in being admitted to psychiatric facilities had led to people taking their own lives.

PNA general secretary, Des Kavanagh, said a comprehensive reporting system would provide clarity on the statistics in relation to their concerns.

At its annual conference, Mr Kavanagh said many nurses in several parts of the country had told him that the number of suicides occurring in or related to their services far exceeded what it would have been in the past.

In one area spanning Carlow, Kilkenny and South Tipperary, the nurses had identified 14 cases in less than 18 months.

However, last week on RTÉ radio, Minister for State with responsibility for mental health, Kathleen Lynch, said the standard in that area was particularly good.

“I don’t accept that people are prematurely discharged. That is a clinical decision and not one that I have any expertise in, nor, indeed, does Des.”

Ms Lynch said “hard and firm” evidence that such suicides occurred would be investigated “We can’t investigate every public utterance,” she added.

Mr Kavanagh, speaking on RTÉ radio yesterday, said he had hard and firm evidence, as did the minister.

He said consultant psychiatrists in north Dublin wrote to the minister last May and a number of times since then to the HSE about having to discharge patients “precipitously” because of a lack of acute beds.

Senior nurses had also claimed that the discharges were only occurring when there was a shortage of beds.

Chair of the Mental Health Commission, John Saunders, said it could not be assumed there was a relationship between early discharge or late admittance and how people had died.

“Suicide, whenever and wherever it happens, is a very complex process.

Mr Saunders said suicides notified to the commission did not indicate there was a trend suggesting that early discharge or delayed admission was a critical factor in those deaths.

Indian doctors shocked to find 12 gold bars inside a businessman’s stomach


A team of New Delhi doctors were “shocked” to find out a 63-year-old businessman complaining of abdominal pain earlier this month had 12 gold bars  inside his abdomen, Indian news publication the Press Trust of India reported.

According to PTI, the man visited the hospital seeking surgery to remove a water bottle cap he claimed to have swallowed, but after doctors conducted an X-ray, they found a dozen gold bars, each weighing 33 grams, in his stomach.

“He approached us on April 7 seeking surgery to remove a water bottle cap which he claimed he had accidentally swallowed,”  Dr C S Ramachandran told the Indian news agency. “We got an X-ray done and it didn’t appear to be a cap. As the gold bars got stacked one behind the other it appeared to be a metal.”

“We were shocked to find not one but 12 gold biscuits in his abdomen.”

Doctors operated on the man April 9 and discharged him less than a week later.

“When we asked him he was not ready to speak. We immediately sealed them in a container and handed it over to the medical superintendent,” said Ramachandran, adding that police and custom department officials were also notified.

According to PTI, the man swallowed the gold bars – worth about $22,000 – in an attempt to smuggle them into India from Singapore, but when he landed he was unable to get the bars through his stool and he was forced to see a doctor.

What do you think?

“I am at least happy that I could save his life,” the doctor said. “If it would have stayed inside for couple of more days, it would have led to severe bleeding and rapture of the intestine and septicemia. Moreover, he had severe diabetes.”

“Eating and exercising” here are 5 tips to maximize your workouts


Know when and what to eat to enhance your workouts.

Eating and exercise go hand in hand. When and what you eat can be important to how you feel when you exercise, whether it’s a casual workout or training for a competition. Consider these eating and exercise tips.

1. Eat a healthy breakfast

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If you exercise in the morning, get up early enough to finish breakfast at least one hour before your workout. Most of the energy you got from dinner the previous night is used up by morning, and your blood sugar might be low. If you don’t eat, you might feel sluggish or lightheaded when you exercise.

If you plan to exercise within an hour after breakfast, eat a light breakfast or drink something to raise your blood sugar, such as a sports drink. Emphasize carbohydrates for maximum energy.

Good breakfast options include:

  • Whole-grain cereals or bread
  • Low-fat milk
  • Juice
  • Bananas
  • Yogurt
  • A waffle or pancake

And remember, if you normally have coffee in the mornings, a cup before your workout is probably OK. Also know that anytime you try a food or drink for the first time before a workout, you risk an upset stomach.

2. Size matters

  Be careful not to overdo it when it comes to how much you eat before exercise. The general guideline:

  • Large meals. Eat these at least three to four hours before exercising.
  • Small meals. Eat these two to three hours before exercising.
  • Small snacks. Eat these an hour before exercising.

Eating too much before you exercise can leave you feeling sluggish. Eating too little might not give you the energy to keep you feeling strong throughout your workout.

3. Snack well

  Most people can eat small snacks right before and during exercise. The key is how you feel. Do what works best for you. Snacks eaten soon before exercise probably won’t give you added energy, but they can help keep up your blood sugar and prevent distracting hunger pangs. Good snack options include:

  • Energy bars
  • Bananas or other fresh fruit
  • Yogurt
  • Fruit smoothies
  • Whole-grain bagel or crackers
  • Low-fat granola bars
  • Peanut butter sandwiches

A healthy snack is especially important if you plan a workout several hours after a meal.

4. Eat after you exercise

  To help your muscles recover and to replace their glycogen stores, eat a meal that contains both protein and carbohydrates within two hours of your exercise session if possible. Good post-workout food choices include:

  • Yogurt and fruit
  • Peanut butter sandwich
  • Low-fat chocolate milk and pretzels
  • Pasta with meatballs
  • Chicken with brown rice

5. Drink up?

  Don’t forget to drink fluids. You need adequate fluids before, during and after exercise to help prevent dehydration.

To stay well-hydrated for exercise, the American College of Sports Medicine recommends that you:

  • Drink roughly 2 to 3 cups (473 to 710 milliliters) of water during the two to three hours before your workout.
  • Drink about 1/2 to 1 cup (118 to 237 milliliters) of water every 15 to 20 minutes during your workout. Adjust amounts related to your body size and the weather.
  • Drink roughly 2 to 3 cups (473 to 710 milliliters) of water after your workout for every pound (0.5 kilogram) of weight you lose during the workout.

Water is generally the best way to replace lost fluids. But if you’re exercising for more than 60 minutes, use a sports drink. Sports drinks can help maintain your body’s electrolyte balance and give you a bit more energy because they contain carbohydrates.

Keep in mind that the duration and intensity of your activity will dictate how often and what you should eat and drink. For example, you’ll need more energy from food to run a marathon than to walk around the block.

When it comes to eating and exercise, everyone is different. So pay attention to how you feel during your workout and to your overall performance. Let your experience guide you on which pre- and post-exercise eating habits work best for you. Consider keeping a journal to monitor how your body reacts to meals and snacks so that you can tweak your diet for optimal performance.

Big concerns over hi-tech toddlers and their use of smartphones


Experts in child psychology have spoken of their concern that almost a third of Irish toddlers could now be using tablets and smartphones before they have even learned to read.

Trinity assistant professor in educational psychology Dr Conor McGuckin (right pic above making a speech) has warned that at an age when children should be learning to communicate, they are glued to screens and not interacting with people.


He was speaking as research in the US and UK has revealed a growing number of young children now using mobile devices, with the number of babies and infants under two using the technology rising to 38pc in the US and 28pc of three to four-year-olds in the UK.

Leading psychologists have warned that the same figures would apply here, and urged policy-makers to look at young children’s access to technology.

“We’re exposing children to developmental levels that they are not ready for,” warned Dr McGuckin.

“Basically, at that age children should be learning the art of conversation, how to take turns and mimicking behaviour. They need to be exposed to social norms. If they are mostly interacting with a tablet, they are not getting that feedback from others.”

Dr McGuckin said the increased use of technology by younger children could be putting them at risk of “nature deficit disorder”.

“In their formative years children should be learning experiences from outside. Now we’re in a situation where many have never collected frog spawn or gone for nature walks,” he said.

“Just because technology has increased doesn’t mean a child’s development has. They still develop at the same rate as our parents or we did.

“In the real world, we teach children to cope. We teach them to wear a coat if they go outside or to take care when crossing the road. We’ve no idea how to teach them to cope with the online world.”

His concerns were echoed by Dr Ciaran McMahon, of the Royal College of Surgeons Ireland, who said the first two years of a child’s life were responsible for a significant amount of development.

“Object permanence is fundamental and this is something they learn early,” he said.

“With tablets, children press the screens and pictures keep changing, then if they are given magazines they are confused.”

However, both experts acknowledged the positive aspect of children using such technology if properly monitored.


Dr McMahon also praised the social advantages of online literacy, but stressed that there must be a debate among the public and among policy-makers about the implications of young children using such technology.

“Society dictates what is not suitable for children and legislates for that,” he said.

“This is in the hands of the people and therefore in the hands of Government.”

Climate change will cost the planet €2bn a year as droughts hit food crops


Climate change will play havoc with our seasons and finely balanced agricultural sector unless serious efforts are made to reduce emissions.

An analysis of the potential impacts of global warming reveals the huge burden the economy will have to shoulder within just 40 years, with annual costs of up to €2bn possible for the agriculture sector alone due to drought, drops in crop yields and pests.

The warning comes as the United National Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) revealed that immediate action was needed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from transport, energy and the agricultural sectors to limit global warming to 2C by the end of the century.

Rising sea levels and risk of flooding, food shortages, drought and possible conflict would arise unless the amount of carbon being produced was halted and reductions implemented as soon as possible, its fifth assessment report on the state of the climate said.

The impacts of global warming were “severe, pervasive and irreversible”, it added. Dr Frank McGovern, from the Environmental Protection Agency(EPA), who represented Ireland during discussions to finalise the IPCC report, said the implications of failing to act would be catastrophic. “Unmitigated climate change is not something we like to consider,” he said.

“A scenario of unmitigated climate change, or business as usual greenhouse gas emissions, is likely to have significant consequences for Ireland. It would increase the risk of both direct and indirect climate change impacts. These would evolve over the course of this century and beyond. The details remain uncertain but some elements can be identified.

“For Ireland, reasons for concern include sea-level rise, increases in extreme events, loss of ecosystems and loss of assets and infrastructure.

“They would also include associate risks of loss of life, risks of increasing health impacts and social and economic disruption of key sectors including agriculture.

“Vulnerable groups in Ireland are likely to require on-going assistance or relocation. There may be a movement of peoples to Ireland from other areas of Europe and elsewhere, perhaps on a seasonal basis, due to adverse climate conditions.”

The Government is currently finalising climate change legislation, which is expected to be published in the coming weeks.

The Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Bill will set out how Ireland will become a low-carbon economy by 2050.

Environment Minister Phil Hogan has repeatedly said that Ireland will comply with emissions targets agreed at EU level, however, the bill is behind schedule.

It was due to be published last year and the Government was expected to adopt a national policy setting out the transition to a low-carbon economy by the end of 2013.

There are concerns about the cost of financing the changes needed, including moving away from fossil fuels and producing power from renewable sources.

However, the IPCC says that tackling climate change would shave 0.06pc off expected annual global growth rates of 1.3pc to 3pc.

The report did not factor in the financial benefits of reducing emissions, such as improved energy security and cuts in air pollution.

The most recent figures show that emissions from all sectors currently stand at 57.92 million tonnes of carbon dioxide a year, a slight increase.

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Sunday 20th April 2014

Ireland’s recovery is still too weak to withstand any tax cuts in the budget


Temporary budgetary advantages are no basis for a programme of tax cuts in the Budget. Is it too early to talk about tax cuts? Normally, it would be. With the Budget now taking place in October, speculation about it shouldn’t really be inflicted on anyone until July, right? Fair enough.

But this year is an election year. And many voters would like to, ahem, express a view on the expectations they had regarding the burden of tax. Expectations for tax cuts have also been stoked by recent ministerial comment. Furthermore, the penny is dropping that asking Irish industrial workers to pay marginal tax rates designed for Monaco millionaires is neither politically nor economically sustainable. So please Santa, please, can I have a tax cut?

‘Can Government afford to give you one?’ is the real question. Were the McCarthy report to be implemented, local government to be radically slimmed down and reformed, and the privatisation nettle grasped and were welfare to be focused on need rather than universality then, yes, tax cuts would be possible. And desirable.

But until politicians get an appetite for radical reform, the case for cuts must rest on buoyancy in the economy. And if the Government’s Stability Programme Update (SPU) forecasts are right, that particular beast remains elusive.

As that forecast acknowledges, the real “take off” in our recovery seems to have a rainbow characteristic to it: visible but always just out of reach. In its April 2012 stability programme the Government predicted that the economy would grow last year by 2.2%. It shrank by 0.3%. That 2.5% gap is, according to the SPU’s calculations, worsened by the underlying budgetary balance by around 1% of GDP.

And yet the Government met its target deficit. But this was because this structural decline was offset by several “lucky” events, including a €200m benefit from lower than expected debt interest payments (thanks to clever footwork by the NTMA buying back Irish bonds) and a higher than expected Central Bank surplus. The latter windfall is due to a temporary little arrangement whereby bonds sold by Government hang around on the Central Bank’s balance sheet for longer than the ECB would like them to.

Even if the NTMA can continue to imitate Muhammed Ali in his prime and even if the Government faces down the ECB, these temporary budgetary advantages are the only buffer against the budget deficit scraping against Excessive Deficit Procedure (EDP) limit. They are certainly no basis for a programme of tax cuts in the coming Budget. GNP growth last year – 3.4% isn’t much comfort here, arising as it does mainly from adjustments in the national accounts relating to multinational profit flows.

What about tax buoyancy? Aside from “lucky” events, if tax revenues started growing strongly enough and of their own accord, that would justify tax cuts, wouldn’t it?

If that were the case it certainly would. A fortnight ago news of a 4.7% jump in the first quarter’s tax take prompted hopeful murmurings. But the strongest growth rates are coming not from underlying buoyancy but from discretionary tax rate rises: annualised growth rates in March tax receipts for Capital Gains (80.2%), Capital Acquisitions (52.9%) and Stamp Duty (34.7%) are only sustainable if bank lending picks up. After the ECB’s November review, bank lending may just do that. But while this in itself would be welcome, tax cuts based on this would – as we now know from bitter experience – most certainly not. So a close look at the figures suggests tax revenue growth so far doesn’t offer too much hope.

Could that be about to change? SPU forecasts suggest the recovery is about to get stronger. From flat growth last year, economic growth is supposed to start averaging 2.5% a year over the next two years. But these stability forecasts have been saying this for the last three years in a row. In fact, given recent misses in GDP forecasts, it is surprising that the Independent Fiscal Advisory Council (IFAC) has been so quick to endorse these latest forecasts.

In my view, more caution is warranted about our near term fiscal position. Perhaps the IFAC is too understaffed to spot emerging signs of trouble. But they are there. For example, the April 2012 SPU forecasted GDP to grow by 2.2%, 3 and 3% respectively over the years 2013, 2014 and 2015. That’s cumulative growth over that three years of 8.2%. Instead, GDP fell 0.3% in 2013 and is forecast to average 2.5% this year and next. That’s cumulative GDP growth of 4.5%. So GDP will by the end of 2015 be 3.7% lower than we thought. So the Government must work harder – or get luckier – if it is to stick to its deficit targets.

Constantly kicking to touch our national debt ratio reduction underlines the problem. In April 2012 the stability forecast expected the debt ratio to peak at 120.3% last year and fall to 117.4 per cent in 2015. It rose instead to 123.7% last year and is forecast now to be at 120% in 2015. And that’s assuming no more nasty surprises on the GDP front.

So if you’re dying for a tax cut, don’t hold your breath. And if an election candidate promises you one, ask them how they expect to pay for it. The recovery is sadly still too weak to do so. And that leaves only two options: kicking debt ratio reduction below 120 per cent further down the road, or implementing radical, deep structural reforms. Unsurprisingly, few politicians during elections are willing to commit to the latter.

Why Facebook and Google are buying into drones


The profit motive is behind both firms’ investment in unmanned aircraft, whatever terms they might couch it in

Google recently acquired Titan Aerospace, a start-up firm that makes drones.

Back in the bad old days of the cold war, one of the most revered branches of the inexact sciences was Kremlinology. In the west, newspapers, thinktanks and governments retained specialists whose job was to scrutinise every scrap of evidence, gossip and rumour emanating from Moscow in the hope that it would provide some inkling of what the Soviet leadership was up to. Until recently, this particular specialism had apparently gone into terminal decline, but events in Ukraine have led to its urgent reinstatement.

The commercial equivalent of Kremlinology is Google- and Facebook-watching. Although superficially more open than the Putin regime, both organisations are pathologically secretive about their long-term aspirations and strategies. So those of us engaged in this strange spectator-sport are driven to reading stock-market analysts’ reports and other ephemera, which is the technological equivalent of consulting the entrails of recently beheaded chickens.

It’s grisly work but someone has to do it, so let us examine what little we know and see if we can make any sense of it. First of all, what do we know for sure? We know first of all that these two companies are run by smart people who have a deep understanding of the capabilities and potential of computing technology.

We also know that these folks have: total control of their companies on account of a cunning two-tier shareholding structure, which effectively liberates them from stock market control; megalomaniacal ambitions; and – for the time being at least – money-pumps, which provide limitless resources and enable their founders to indulge their ambitions and visions.

After that, all is speculation. The only thing we have to go on is what Google and Facebook have been up to in the public marketplace. And what they have been doing is acquiring companies in the way that, pacePG Wodehouse, ostriches go for brass doorknobs.

In the last 18 months, for example, Google has bought at least eight significant robotics companies, and laid out £400m to buy the London-based artificial intelligence firm Deepmind. Facebook, for its part, bought Instagram, a photo-sharing network, for $1bn and paid an eye-watering $19bn in cash and shares for WhatsApp, a messaging company. More puzzling was its decision to buy Oculus VR, a virtual reality company, for $2bn. And in the last few weeks, both companies have got into the pilotless-drones business. Google acquired Titan Aerospace, a US-based startup that makes high-altitude drones, which cruise near the edge of the Earth’s atmosphere, while Facebook bought a UK-based company, Ascenta, which is designing high-altitude, solar-powered drones that can fly for weeks – or perhaps longer – at a time.

In trying to make sense of these activities, we need to separate out short-term panic from long-term strategy. Facebook’s acquisition of Instagram and WhatsApp was the product of two things: naked fear and the ability to mint a particular form of Monopoly money known as Facebook shares. Users’ photographs are Facebook’s lifeblood, and Instagram’s meteoric growth suggested that it, rather than Facebook, might ultimately become the place where people shared their pictures. Much the same applies to WhatsApp: it was growing much faster than Facebook had at a comparable stage in its corporate development, and looked like eventually becoming a threat; besides, most of the $19bn price was paid in Monopoly money rather than in hard cash. As for the Oculus VR acquisition? Well, like the peace of God, it passeth all understanding.

Which leaves us with the strategic stuff. Here we see clear long-term thinking at work. The Google boys have decided that advanced robotics, machine-learning, distributed sensors and digital mapping are going to be the essential ingredients of a combinatorial future, and they are determined to be the dominant force in that.

As far as the high-altitude drones are concerned, Google and Facebook are on exactly the same wavelength. Since internet access in the industrialised world is now effectively a done deal, all of the future growth is going to come from the remaining 5 billion people on the planet who do not yet have a proper internet connection.

Both companies have a vital interest in speeding up the process of getting those 5 billion souls online, for the simple reason that the more people who use the internet the greater their revenues will be. And they see high-altitude drones as the means to that profitable end. They piously insist, of course, that this new connectivity will be good for humanity, and perhaps indeed it will. But ultimately profitability, like charity, begins at home.

Charlie Flanagan warns Govt. Cabinet to beware of SF/FF coalition


Fine Gael chairman Charles Flanagan last night revealed there was growing concern in the party that complacency in the Cabinet could create a scenario where a Fianna Fail/Sinn alliance would be “a viable coalition option”.

Mr Flanagan was speaking as today’s Sunday Independent/Millward Brown poll reveals a SF/FF alternative, with the support of 42 per cent of the public, is now 7 per cent ahead of the Coalition in the polls.

He warned: “The Government is now in the scenario where we have lost the votes of a fifth of the electorate who voted for us in 2011.”

He added this gap means “a Sinn Fein/Fianna Fail coalition is appearing by stealth”.

Mr Flanagan also criticised the attitude of one government minister last year who said there was “no alternative” to the current Coalition.

He added: “I hope that attitude is not shared by his colleagues; there is always an alternative and in this case the alternative is Sinn Fein/Fianna Fail. We need to be careful we are not sleepwalking into such a scenario. There is a Europe-wide drift to extremism; that may occur here, Ireland is not unique. We are not insulated. There is growing and general concern in the backbenches that we cannot take SF for granted’.”

Mr Flanagan urged voters to “look closely” at Sinn Fein, adding that “their populism is a recipe for destruction.”

But he admitted that Sinn Fein could clean up in the forthcoming local and European elections.

Mr Flanagan told the Sunday Independent: “The Sinn Fein fear factor is being constantly diluted amongst the voters and will be further diluted if a raft of new Sinn Fein councillors are elected in two months’ time.”

He also warned that the Government must pay more attention to facing down a growing SF by being a more “reforming administration”.

“In the first half of its term the Government was dealing with the economic crisis; the second half should have a greater emphasis on reform with particular emphasis on the democratic revolution.”

What is it like for parents to have a child with autism?


One in 100 children have some form of autism, but what is it like for their parents?

About 1 in every 100 children are born with some form of autism.

For children born with the disorder, there is an increasing, but still deficient, support network and awareness.

For parents of those children, it is a constant challenge, but one that many say comes with its own rewards.

A Facebook post from a mother whose two boys have autism was widely shared at the start of the month, to mark World Autism Awareness Day.

“When Autism was first mentioned to us, we were scared to death,” the mother says, echoing what Steve* says.

He was young when his son was born and says that while he was adjusting to becoming a dad, he received a bombshell.

“There’s no point saying that it wasn’t a shock or that you’re immediately ok with it. You worry.

“The doctors tell you about all of the support available, but that in itself sounds like a lot of work and doctors visits and struggles.”

Steve’s son is now eight and is in mainstream school, but that comes with its own challenges.

“It’s hard to ask kids to understand something as complex as autism. Luckily, the school are great.”

Other people

Of course, the reaction of children isn’t the only worry. Says the Facebook post from a Cavan mother:

“In the early days the hardest part was often the responses from other people. When we would tell them our son was going through assessment for autism they’d say “There’s nothing wrong with that child, sure isn’t he great there playing away on his own, quiet as a mouse”.

“You almost felt you were making it up, making it worse than it was. And it creates guilt in you for believing that something might be wrong. People said to me “He doesn’t look autistic” as if a child with autism looked a certain way. And I was even told “he’d grow out of it” which six years later he definitely hasn’t.”

“The problem I find is people think they know what autism is. But my son is very calm most of the time. People think he must not be autistic because he’s not like a guy they’ve seen on tv. But the reality is very different.”

The challenge: having a child is a big challenge, but having autism multiplies that.

“The things you take for granted in your daily life, are often the most challenging parts of our day, rigid routines, irrational fears, terrible meltdowns and restricted diets are all the norm for us.

I could write all day about the tears from my kids when they didn’t get invited to classmates parties or when another kid told them they were acting or speaking weird, listening to my son cry about being bullied in school, or going to endless meetings with the school to have his voice heard.

“Or the feeling you get when you notice strangers in a shop looking at your son as he jumps up and down flapping his arms in excitement.”

“Simple things become battles. Things that my friends don’t worry about with their are my daily worries. That frustrates me, but it’s something you learn to live with.”

Both parents say that they would encourage other parents to talk to their children about autism. Says the Cavan mother:

“Believe me exclusion and bullying does more damage to the child’s self esteem and self worth than the autism ever did. My boys have autism; they are different but not less.

Irish researchers discover new method to produce large volumes of high quality graphene


The Science Foundation Ireland funded materials science centre headquartered at Trinity College Dublin have, for the first time, developed a new method of producing industrial quantities of high quality graphene.

Described as a wonder material, graphene is a single-atom thick sheet of carbon. It is extremely light and stronger than steel, yet incredibly flexible and extremely electrically conductive.

The discovery will change the way many consumer and industrial products are manufactured. The materials will have a multitude of potential applications including advanced food packaging; high strength plastics; foldable touch screens for mobile phones and laptops; super-protective coatings for wind turbines and ships; faster broadband and batteries with dramatically higher capacity than anything available today.

Thomas Swan Ltd. has worked with the AMBER research team for two years and has signed a license agreement to scale up production and make the high quality graphene available to industry globally.

The company has already announced two new products as a result of the research discovery (Elicarb®Graphene Powder and Elicarb® Graphene Dispersion).Until now, researchers have been unable to produce graphene of high quality in large enough quantities.

The subject of on-going international research, the research undertaken by AMBER is the first to perfect a large-scale production of pristine graphene materials and has been highlighted by the highly prestigious Nature Materials publication as a global breakthrough (“Scalable production of large quantities of defect-free few-layer graphene by shear exfoliation in liquids”). Professor Coleman and his team used a simple method for transforming flakes of graphite into defect-free graphene using commercially available tools, such as high-shear mixers.

They demonstrated that not only could graphene-containing liquids be produced in standard lab-scale quantities of a few 100 millilitres, but the process could be scaled up to produce 100s of litres and beyond.

Prof Jonathan Coleman.Commenting on the development, Prof Jonathan Coleman, AMBER commented, “This shows how industry and academic collaboration can lead to research of the highest calibre, with real commercial applications. This paper combines basic and applied research and contains elements of physics, chemistry, materials science and chemical engineering. It brings together academic expertise with the wealth of experience provided by Dr Keith Paton, Thomas Swan’s researcher who is working with us here on-site in AMBER.

Graphene has been identified as a life changing material and to be involved at this stage of development is a wonderful achievement”.Harry Swan, Managing Director, Thomas Swan, added, “It was scientific excellence that first attracted us to working with Prof. Coleman and we have developed an excellent working relationship with both him and the AMBER research team. We have also been impressed by the speed at which the project progressed from initial discussions in 2011 through to product launch in early 2014.

This research and licence offers us the opportunity to produce and deliver a truly revolutionary material to many industries globally”.Minister for Research and Innovation Sean Sherlock, TD commented; “Professor Coleman’s discovery shows that Ireland has won the worldwide race on the production of this ‘miracle material’. This is something that USA, China, Australia, UK, Germany and other leading nations have all been striving for and have not yet achieved.

This announcement shows how the Irish Government’s strategy of focusing investment in science with impact, as well as encouraging industry and academic collaboration, is working.”Prof Mark Ferguson, Director General of Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) and Chief Scientific Adviser to the Irish Government added; “This is a very significant global achievement for Prof Coleman and AMBER.

The research and licence agreement with Thomas Swan is an example of the real industry partnerships which SFI is establishing and developing. This research discovery opens the door for industry worldwide to bring their graphene ideas to commercial reality and is an example of the innovative research being conducted by the internationally renowned SFI Research centres.”

Scientists discovered genetic switches that caused differences between us Humans and the Neanderthals


Israeli scientists made a major breakthrough as they discovered genetic switches that caused differences between extinct neanderthals and modern humans.

Israeli scientist published the research in an online edition of the prestigious journal and said “Science may explain what separates modern man, or Homo sapiens, from Neanderthals”. Human and their extinct Neanderthal cousins different in mind and body were found to be 99.84 similar genetically.

Four years after scientists discovered that the two species’s genomes differ by a fraction of a percent, geneticists said on Thursday they have an explanation: the cellular equivalent of “on/off” switches that determine whether DNA is activated or not. Many genetic switches are turned on in humans that are switched off in neanderthals and vice-versa, study revealed.

“People are fundamentally interested in what makes us human, in what makes us different from Neanderthals,”said Sarah Tishkoff, an expert in human evolution at the University of Pennsylvania, who was not involved in the new study. Discovering the differences in gene activation is “an amazing technical feat,” she said.

Study also revealed why humans have neurological and psychiatric disorders including autism and schizophrenia but our ancestor Neanderthals did not. In an interview, Carmel said “any given gene might “do many things in the brain.When dozens of brain-related genes became more active in today’s humans, that somehow produces the harmful side effect of neurological illness”. Scientists mapped neanderthal’s and human’s epigenome and found that more than 99 percent of the maps matched.

HOXD, a cluster of five genes which influences size and shape of limbs was found absent in the ancient species. Chris Stringer of the Natural History Museum in London said in an interview that the HOXD gene finding “may help to explain how these ancient humans were able to build stronger bodies, better adapted to the physical rigors of Stone Age life.

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Saturday 19th April 2004

What the Irish bankers knew on the night of the September 2008 bank guarantee fiasco


How events unfolded on September 29th, 2008, that will ultimately cost us €64bn

In the run up to September 2008 conditions in the international financial markets had become very difficult. Bank of Ireland was concerned by the situation internationally and was concerned to ensure its own liquidity and that its assets books were properly collateralised. During this time I had regular but infrequent meetings with the governor of the Central Bank of Ireland (CBI),

Mr John Hurley. However, the then chief executive officer of the Bank of Ireland was the primary contact with the CBI and with the Irish Financial Services Regulatory Authority (the financial regulator.)

The events of September 29th, 2008

On the morning of September 29th, 2008, I met with Brian Goggin who had been meeting with officials from the financial regulator over the weekend in relation to Bank of Ireland’s potential interest in Bradford & Bingley Building Society. We discussed our general concern regarding the increasing withdrawal of deposits from Bank of Ireland. I was due to meet with John Hurley that afternoon to discuss the possibility of the European Central Bank (ECB) extending the availability of credit.

I believe that I received a call from Mr Seán FitzPatrick, then chairman of Anglo Irish Bank, at about noon in which he requested an urgent meeting with myself and Brian Goggin.

I agreed to his request, and myself and Brian Goggin met with Mr FitzPatrick and Mr David Drumm, then chief executive of Anglo Irish Bank, in a boardroom at the bank’s head office on Baggott Street at approximately lunchtime.

This meeting was quite short. Mr FitzPatrick claimed that Anglo Irish Bank had a significant credit facility which was to fall due the following day and that it was not in a position to repay this facility or to roll it over. I cannot, at this stage, recall the size of this facility but I remember that it was significant. Mr FitzPatrick asked if Bank of Ireland would be interested in buying Anglo Irish Bank or any part of it.

I informed Mr FitzPatrick that the acquisition of Anglo Irish Bank or any part of it was not something of interest to Bank of Ireland. The meeting then concluded, and Mr FitzPatrick and Mr Drumm left, with Mr FitzPatrick saying that he was going to contact Allied Irish Banks plc.

As I was now aware that Anglo Irish Bank was going to face a very serious difficulty the following day, I decided that this was something I had to raise with Mr John Hurley at my scheduled meeting that afternoon. During my meeting with Mr Hurley I updated him on the position as I understood it regarding Anglo Irish Bank. Mr Hurley advised me that there was very little that he could do in the circumstances.

Following my return from my meeting with Mr Hurley, I spoke with Mr Goggin. We were both concerned about Anglo Irish Bank’s position and the risk of collateral damage to Bank of Ireland. We decided that we should seek an urgent meeting with the government to update them on the situation. We both felt that AIB would share a similar view to our own, so I called the then chairman of AIBDermot Gleeson.

He agreed that such a meeting should take place and said that he and Eugene Sheehy, the then chief executive officer of AIB, would also attend. Telephone calls were then made to the Offices of the Taoiseach and the Minister of Finance, and a meeting was scheduled for approximately 9.30pm that night.

When we arrived in Government Buildings we were shown into a waiting room and subsequently invited to meet with the Government officials. As I recall, the meeting was attended by the Taoiseach, the Minister for Finance, the governor of the Central Bank, the secretary general to the Taoiseach, the secretary general to the Department of Finance, and the assistant secretary of the Department of Finance. I believe that there were others who came and left the room at various stages during the meeting but I cannot be certain.

The Taoiseach asked us to explain the purpose of this meeting and I briefed the meeting on the general global issues in the international financial markets and specifically the concerns which we had arising from our meeting with Anglo Irish Bank earlier that day.

I recall that Mr Gleeson also addressed the meeting and that Mr Sheehy and Mr Goggin also spoke. I recall that Mr Hurley asked if AIB and Bank of Ireland could provide immediate liquidity support to Anglo Irish Bank. I recollect that the amount being discussed was approximately €5 billion each.

We left the room to consider whether this was something that the Bank of Ireland could provide and Mr Goggin made some calls to Bank of Ireland to see if this could be done.

We were subsequently invited back into the meeting and I confirmed that the Bank of Ireland could provide this amount of liquidity but that it would require a guarantee from the Government that the Bank of Ireland would get its money back.

We were then informed that the Government was considering putting in place a guarantee of all of the Irish financial institutions and that there would be a Cabinet meeting the following morning to approve this. I cannot recall the exact time that the meeting ended but it was very late, approximately 3.30am or 4.00am.

Unite for Life Sligo–Leitrim group thank local Politician’s for their pro-life support


As we approach the first anniversary of the passing of the law which for the first time permitted abortion in Ireland, we would like to say Thank you to those Councillors and Senators who had the moral courage and clarity to oppose that legislation and we would strongly urge our supporters to vote for them in the upcoming local and European elections.

We want to be represented by people of principal. The Fine Gael & Labour Government legalised abortion (right up to full term pregnancy) based on a threat of suicide in the full knowledge that there is no evidence it is a treatment for suicidal feelings. They even refused an amendment that would provide pain relief for an unborn baby during late term abortions. The Fine Gael Party promised voters they would not legalise abortion.

But they broke their promise like many more promises made before the last general election?

How Sligo County Councillors Voted on 1st July 2013

Motion proposed by Matt Lyons & Seconded by Michael Clarke:

“That Sligo County Council call on the Government to amend the draft protection of life during pregnancy bill and remove suicidal ideation as grounds for abortion. Furthermore that the council calls on all local Oireachtas representatives to vote against the bill in its present form”

For the motion and against the abortion legislation (9)

Martin Baker, Michael Clarke, Jude Devins, Margaret Gormley, Jerry Lundy, Matt Lyons, Jim McGarry, Rosaleen O’ Grady and Joe Queenan

Against the motion and for the abortion legislation (1)

Sean MacManus.

Those who abstained or walked out of meeting on 1st July 2013. A total of (12)

Mary Barrett, Declan Bree, David Cawley (abstained), Veronica Cawley, Thomas Collery (abstained), Michael Fleming, Hubert Keaney, Joe Leonard, Pat McGrath (abstained), Aoife McLoughlin, Gerard Mullaney, Dara Mulvey (abstained).

Not at meeting on 1st July 2013 (3)

Patsy Barry, Deirdre Healy – McGowan, Gerry Murray.

As the result there were 9 for the motion, 1 against, 4 abstentions the Cathaoirleach declared the motion carried.

Here is a reminder of how our 8 Local Oireachtas Members Voted for the amendment:

Michael Colreavy T.D. (SF) voted for the abortion legislation

Senator Michael Comiskey (FG) voted for the abortion legislation

Senator Imelda Henry (FG) voted for the abortion legislation

Tony McLoughlin T.D. (FG) voted for the abortion legislation

Senator Mark McSharry (FF) voted against the abortion legislation and Senator Pascal Mooney (FF) voted against the abortion legislation.

Senator Susan O’ Keeffe (LAB) voted for the abortion legislation

John Perry T.D. (FG) voted for the abortion legislation

Finally the Unite for Life Sligo–Leitrim group

Would like all supporters to vote no 1 for Ronan Mullen as our representative in Europe in the next EU Parliament.

  Senator Ronan Mullen has campaigned vigoursly against the abortion legislation and voted against it in the Seanad in 2013. 

Michael McGrath FF accuses the IDA of Dublin jobs bias?


Large swathes of the country are being ignored by foreign investors with 12 counties recording no IDA-sponsored visit by an overseas investor for the first quarter of this year.

New figures provided by the Minister for Jobs, Innovation and Enterprise, Richard Bruton, show that out of 89 IDA sponsored visits between January and the end of March this year, 53 were in in Dublin.

Fianna Fáil Finance spokesman, Michael McGrath TD, claimed the figures are “further evidence of the Government’s failure to put in place balanced regional development at a time when towns and villages are dying on their feet”.

“The statistics show that there is a striking bias in favour of bringing companies to Dublin. The figures show that 60% of the visits this year were to Dublin. It is a remarkable statistic.”

The counties that failed to record an IDA-sponsored overseas investor visit in the first quarter were Carlow, Kerry, Kildare, Laois, Leitrim, Longford, Mayo, Monaghan, Offaly, Roscommon, Tipperary, Waterford and Wexford.

Cavan, Kilkenny, Meath, and Westmeath recorded one visit, and Clare, Donegal and Wicklow two.

The second most popular county for foreign investors to visit was Cork with 10 visits, Limerick recording six and Galway four visits.

The figures represent a continuance of Dublin dominating foreign direct investment visits, with the 2013 figures showing that Dublin accounted for 55% of 180 of the 326 IDA-sponsored visits.

Deputy McGrath obtained the statistics through a written Dáil response and said the IDA had a very good track record of attracting foreign direct investment into Ireland “but it is failing by and large to bring overseas investors to counties outside Dublin”.

He said: “The IDA has a very important role to play in influencing overseas investors and inform them of the strengths of locating outside Dublin where it is much less costly to do business with lower property prices for instance.”

Mr McGrath said the failure to ensure a greater proportion of foreign direct investment visits around the country “only leads to a two-tier economy”. Cork was punching below its weight when it came to attracting foreign direct investment .

Separate figures received by Deputy McGrath show that Dublin-based IDA supported firms received €198.2m, or 32% of the €626.9m IDA grand aid between 2006 and 2012.

A spokesman for the IDA said: “A county- by-county breakdown of job creation trends, as is being used here, and is used by others wishing to undermine the IDA’s work in the regions, reveals virtually nothing about how Ireland is performing in attracting foreign direct investment.”

He said: “Site visits are in no way indicative of IDA’s efforts to market a region to overseas investors or indeed of IDA’s activities in that area.

“IDA executives from our 19 offices across the world are marketing our regions in their own marketplaces on a daily basis.”

He pointed out that total employment at IDA client companies is now at the highest level since the foundation of the state investment agency.

He added: “IDA Ireland works extremely hard to make its client companies aware of the opportunities that exist outside of Dublin.

The spokesman said: “A large part of IDA’s regional work includes working with our existing base of companies to sustain and increase their levels of investment. This work is vitally important but is rarely acknowledged or picked up in these statistics.

“The final decision on where to locate an investment ultimately resides with the client company, despite IDA efforts and financial support available in some regional locations.

He said: “IDA Ireland continues to make its clients aware of opportunities to locate their businesses outside of Dublin and Cork. This includes designing itineraries for prospective clients in which IDA executives will drive prospective investors around the country to meet with recruitment and property professionals in the regions, as well as existing clients.”

The charities regulator was meant to be set up by Easter, said Minister Shatter?


Úna Ní Dhubhghaill was appointed as CEO of the authority in March of this year. 

Minister Shatter had a set a deadline of this weekend, but instead will look to appoint the board “in the near future”.

The board of directors of the charities regulator is to be appointed in the near future – but is likely to miss Minister Shatter’s deadline of this weekend.

The Justice Minister said in January he intended to have the Charities Regulatory Authority set up by Easter.

While Principal Officer in the Department of Justice and Equality Úna Ní Dhubhghaill was appointed as CEO of the authority in March of this year, it’s unlikely the rest of the board will be announced by tomorrow.

A Department spokesperson said this is likely to take place “in the very near future”.

A call for expressions of interest was announced in late January, with a view to making appointments before Easter to allow the authority to come into operation at that time, Shatter said.

The creation of the new regulatory authority has been in the works since in July 2013, aiming to increase public confidence in charitable organisations.

Minister Shatter previously stressed that charitable organisations “have a duty” to use funds received from the public “efficiently and ethically in pursuit of their charitable purpose”.

The sector has been hit by recent revelations over pay and remuneration.

A recent survey revealed that almost 400,000 fewer people gave to charity over Christmas, with Fundraising Ireland stressing that the sector needs to regain the public’s confidence by being completely transparent and accountable.

EIB to offer Ireland & EU €2bn in funding for low-carbon energy projects


EIB to offer €2bn in funding for low-carbon energy projects. 

The European Investment Bank (EIB) is to invest €2bn in funding for low-carbon renewable-energy projects across the European Union.

The funding has been raised by the sale of 300m emission allowances worth an estimated €548m under the NER300 programme, one of the largest funding programmes for carbon capture and storage demonstration projects and innovative renewable-energy technologies in the world.

The EIB, acting on behalf of the European Commission (EC), started to sell the first round of 200m of the EU allowances covered by the NER300 scheme in 2011, followed by more than €1.5bn raised during the first phase of sales that ended in 2012.

Jonathan Taylor, EIB vice-president, believes the funding will contribute significantly to the future of renewable energy in the EU and beyond. “The EIB is pleased to support future investment in low-carbon demonstration projects.

“Successful completion of monetisation of carbon allowances under the NER300 scheme will help both carbon capture and storage schemes and innovative renewable-energy projects across Europe reach a commercial scale. We will continue to work closely with the EC to ensure that the best applicants can be awarded proceeds raised from the ground-breaking NER300 scheme,

New earth-sized planet in habitable zone may have ability to hold water, means life


The Kepler space telescope discovers Earth-sized planet in a habitable zone.

Like Hubble, NASA’s Kepler space telescope is the gift that keeps on giving. It has located nearly 1,000 confirmed exoplanets in almost 80 star systems, leading astronomers to conclude there might be as many as 40 billion Earth-sized planets orbiting habitable zones in the Milky Way galaxy–and now for the first time, Kepler has found one of them.

Astronomers have announced they have discovered a planet called Kepler-186f, artist's illustration shown. It is the first Earth-sized planet outside out solar system that has been discovered in the habitable zone of a star, which means it could have both water and life on its surface The newly found planet, cataloged as Kepler-186f, is only 10% larger than Earth and orbits its star in that region of space known as the habitable zone–the distance from its sun that is just right, neither too cold nor too hot for liquid water to exist without boiling away or turning to ice.

“The discovery of Kepler-186f confirms that planets the size of Earth exist in the habitable zone of stars other than our sun,” NASA said in a statement.

However, just because a planet is in a habitable zone does not mean it is home to any life forms. For example, Kepler-186f could be rocky or metallic, with an atmosphere that is very thin, very thick, or nonexistent.

Relatively speaking, Kepler-186 is right in Earth’s back yard, at a distance of only 500 light years away. So, when you consider that the Milky Way galaxy is 100,000 light years across, it is easy to see that there could easily be billions of Earth-sized planets scattered across it, many of them located in habitable zones. And that realization makes it easy to conclude that among these billions of planets, there must be some containing life forms.

Some astronomers are on the lookout for just such planets. For example, the lead author of the study describing Kepler-186f, Elisa Quintana, is a research scientist at the SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) Institute, NASA said. The study was published April 17 in the journal Science.

“We know of just one planet where life exists–Earth. When we search for life outside our solar system, we focus on finding planets with characteristics that mimic that of Earth,” said Quintana in a statement. “Finding a habitable zone planet comparable to Earth in size is a major step forward.”

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Good Friday 18th April 2014

The reform of public contract rules to boost opportunities for small Irish firms


Irish business chiefs have broadly welcomed new government guidelines designed to make it easier for smaller firms to bid for public contracts.

SME representatives have been complaining that the Government is sidelining small firms from public procurement.

Under the new guidelines, buyers must consider breaking contracts into separate lots, to allow smaller companies to compete for those elements.

They’re also urged to encourage businesses to form consortia if they are not of a sufficient size to tender in their own right.

Public Expenditure and Reform Minister Brendan Howlin said the measures will improve small firms’ access to the public sector market.

“The public sector has massive purchasing power, spending in the region of €8.5bn each year on goods and services, in addition to expenditure on public works,” Mr Howlin said.

“Taxpayers demand that Government secures value for money in all of its spend but in a way that also recognises the importance of SMEs to our economy.”

Junior Finance Minister Brian Hayes said the reform of public procurement was a key element of the public sector reform programme.

“Our goal is to ensure that it gets easier for businesses to engage with public procurement while at the same time driving improved value for money for the taxpayer.”

Under the guidelines, public sector buyers are instructed to undertake market analysis prior to tendering in order to better understand the range of goods and services on offer and the specific capabilities of SMEs.

And buyers should not, for routine goods and services competitions, set turnover requirements at more than twice the estimated contract value.

Chambers Ireland welcomed the announcement but said the proof will be in the take up.

“Real success will be evident through an increase in the number of local businesses being awarded contracts,” Chambers Ireland deputy chief executive Sean Murphy said.


“We cannot afford to have another four years of too many SMEs being effectively excluded from public procurement.”

IBEC hailed the announcement as a step towards eliminating barriers for small and medium-sized businesses, but said the rules were just a start.

“There is scope to make significant improvements to the public procurement process, which will benefit all parties and ultimately the tax-paying public,” said Ibec’s Enterprise Executive Aidan Sweeney.

“To achieve the priority of better government, it is vital that these new changes are adopted by buyers right across the public sector.”

Adult Human cells cloned for first time


“Certainly this kind of technology could be abused by some kind of rogue scientist,” Paul Knoepfler of the University of California, Davis, School of Medicine,

Ever since Dolly the Sheep was cloned in 1996, scientists have been trying to do the same thing with human cells. Using the same technique, scientists say they’ve finally accomplished the feat with adult cells.

“What we show for the first time is that you can actually take skin cells, from a middle-aged 35-year-old male, but also from an elderly, 75-year-old male” and use the DNA to create tissue with cells of an exact match, said co-author of the study Robert Lanza.

   Last year, the technique was successfully used with infant cells, but in order to create tissue in a lab that could treat adult diseases, such as Alzheimer’s, scientists needed to know if the technique would work with adult cells.

“I’m happy to hear that our experiment was verified and shown to be genuine,” said Shoukhrat Mitalipov, a development biologist at Oregon Health and Science University, who led the 2013 study.

The work confirmed that starting with a quality human egg is key to the process. The researchers replaced the original DNA in an unfertilized egg with the donor DNA, and then cultured the cells in a lab dish. The stem cells, which were an exact match to the donor’s DNA, can then be turned into various tissue types.

Even though full human cloning is a long way off, the report may raise an equal amount of concern and excitement.

Shortage of top doctors in Ireland forces a rethink on consultant pay scales


A medical brain drain and problem recruiting to key posts has triggered a review of policy

The announcement by Minister for Health James Reillyyesterday of fresh talks after Easter on pay for hospital consultants is the first indication that the Government will probably have to revisit the significant cuts it imposed nearly two years ago.

The Coalition came into office hospital-consultant pay firmly in its sights. In autumn 2012, the Cabinet acted on the programme for government commitment and unilaterally introduced a 30 per cent pay cut for senior doctors taking up such posts from that point.

Following that cut the salary for new entrants ranged from €95,000 to €116,000 depending on the type of contract.

However, for the Government the unintended consequence was that it made these positions much less attractive at a time when Irish-trained medical graduates were in high demand abroad.

Over the past year or so, medical representative bodies such as the Irish Medical Organisation and the Irish Hospital Consultants’ Association (IHCA) argued that a brain drain was effectively under way. They maintained that Irish-based consultants and senior non-consultant doctors were opting to leave while those abroad were choosing to remain overseas.

It emerged in January that the Public Appointment Service had received no applications in relation to four recruitment campaigns last year in the areas of paediatric intensive-care medicine, geriatric medicine and radiology.

In January The Irish Times reported health management had received a report that recognised problems were emerging concerning retention of senior doctors and that that the HSE had suggested to Dr Reilly that the pay issue be reconsidered.

The HSE proposed a revised scale for newly appointed consultants with greater experience or who had additional training.

Yesterday a strategic review group came to the same conclusion – that the lower pay rates in place for new consultants appointed after 2012 were acting as barrier to recruitment.

The Haddington Road caveat

A process on pay for new-entrant consultants is expected to be in train within weeks, with an aim of completion by July. However, one potential sticking point is that the proposed talks will take place within the context of the Haddington Road agreement to which the IHCA has to date declined to sign. If a change of heart is not forthcoming it may not be invited to attend.

Hospital consultants are some of the highest-paid staff in the public service. But it is not only those appointed after autumn 2012 who have seen their salaries reduced. Pay cuts were imposed on other consultants under the Haddington Road pact last year.

It remains to be seen whether any revision of pay rates and the introduction of other proposed reforms proposes by the working group will be sufficient to make Irish hospital positions more attractive for young doctors.

An Easter apparition? This is for real the face of Jesus in a field in Drogheda is art


The portrait covers two acres and was created using fertiliser to help bring out the image from the surrounding grass.

Did you see it? It’s only Jesus Christ’s face in a field in Drogheda.

Okay, before the pilgrims set off, this is not an apparition. An Irish artist created this artwork in Drogheda in a unique way to celebrate Easter.

The gigantic portrait of Jesus was inspired by a line in the Psalms – ‘I will remove sin as far as the East is from the West,’ said Richard Moore, the artist.

He said the eyes of the image are on a line in that is on an east west line that extends all the way from Drogheda to Croagh Patrick, an alignment which also marks the Spring and Autumn Equinox sunrise and sunset.

Two acres

The portrait, which covers approximately two acres was created using fertiliser to help bring out the image from the surrounding grass.

Speaking to, Moore said that he wanted to have something ready by Easter.

“I had the permission of the local parish priest, who was very enthusiastic about the project,” he said.

The image can’t be seen from the ground, said Moore, who said he was unsure if he had scaled the image correctly. A friend who had a quadcopter took an image from the air, and to Moore’s relief he said it looked fine.

“The fertilizer still has to begin its work, it should take 10-15 days to see the proper results,” he said, adding that currently the portrait is made by brushing away the early morning dew on the grass.

Watch the mischievous honey badgers taunt BBC filmmakers

Natural World: Tonight watch mischievous honey badgers taunt BBC filmmakers 

Could these cute black and white critters be the most fearless animals in the world? How many other animals do you know that bite lions’ balls, fight with venomous snakes and raid bees’ nests? Series editor Roger Webb and director Steve Gooder reveal more about these incredible creatures.

Honey Badgers: Masters of Mayhem takes a look at these naughty, tenacious mammals from South Africa, described as the most fearless animal on the planet.

We’ll take a look at different people’s encounters with honey badgers in Limpopo and Kruger National Park. One is a scientist named Brian Jones, who is trying to get a better grasp of what these animals are capable of. “At one point, he was trying to look after a honey badger in his house,” explains series editor Roger Webb. “It gets up to all sorts of mayhem, raiding his fridge, nicking his bacon. Eventually he tries to put it in an enclosure but it keeps escaping.”

For its size, the honey badger has a huge brain. These very intelligent creatures can undo locks, use tools and climb out of enclosures. “They are smarter than they should be,” explains show director Steve Gooder, who spent four weeks in one location, desperately trying to get some footage of the cheeky creatures. “They gave us the slip every time,” says Gooder, who wasn’t going to give up. “They’re relatively mysterious, they’re not thought to be rare but they keep a low profile and are quite sneaky.”

However, honey badgers are not afraid of being found; this is, after all, the same creature that would happily pick a fight with a lion. “They come with a massive reputation,” says Gooder, whose team gets attacked by a honey badger while filming (see clip below). “There are all these stories about them biting people’s balls.

They have a reputation for attacking private parts. Everyone we spoke to had a story about them. One guy we talked to said that a honey badger had broken into a lion enclosure deliberately so he could fight lions. Apparently, he went for their private parts and the lions were completely freaked out. Another guy we met said that they bite hyenas’ private parts when they have fights with them. They are super smart.”

These marvelous creatures also have a penchant for venomous snakes. “They eat all the different kinds of snakes from cobras to black adders and black mambas, and all these snakes have different kinds of venom,” explains Gooder. “What they will do is fight the snake, get bitten by it and that will knock them out a bit so they will go to sleep as they process the venom. Meanwhile, they’ve mortally injured the snake and they wake up and just scoff the snake. They’re quite cool little critters.”

Beekeepers in Africa often run into honey badgers, which try to break open their hives. One man in the show tries to create a badger proof hive. Gooder says it was no use; “he built this great big cage with beehives in it, but the badgers managed to climb up these poles, even though there’s no grip. He tried to grease the poles but even that didn’t keep them off.” Somehow the badgers always outsmart the humans.

Coming up on Natural World next – David Attenborough’s Fabulous Frogs. “David adores frogs,” says Webb, “they’re creatures that are very easy to overlook and underestimate. They’re quite remarkable, they live in every environment on earth, from the frozen north to the desert, which is extraordinary for an animal like a frog. I think we just think of them as jumping around in ponds. It makes you realise what remarkable animals they are.

“What we love about Natural World, and we hope the audience does as well, is that we always look for the remarkable in nature, the stories that stand out.”