News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Tuesday 15th April 2014

Gardai call for tough new laws to protect whistle-blowers at AGSI conference


The Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors says officers who expose wrong-doing should not “suffer reprisal or fear of victimisation.”

Mid-ranking Gardai yesterday called for stronger whistleblower laws so malpractice in the force can be exposed.

But delegates at the annual Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors (AGSI) conference in Killarney said the Garda Ombudsman should not handle complaints from within the force.

AGSI vice president Antoinette Cunningham stressed it was important whistleblowers “do not suffer reprisal or fear of victimisation”.

The motion was discussed in the wake of evidence given by whistleblowers, former Sgt John Wilson and Sgt Maurice McCabe to the Dail Public Accounts Committee about abuse of the penalty points system.

Ms Cunningham said whistleblowers’ claims “must be taken as genuine until proven not to be so”.

She added: “We do not want allegations of malpractice buried, we want to be able to report in confidence.

“We believe there has been damage to the confidential reporting system, members may be reluctant to report to a body which may have previously investigated them. At national level we have discussed this and it is not appropriate that GSOC could be the confidential recipient.

“GSOC was set up to investigate members of the Gardai and for us that is the job they do. If someone is investigating you, the confidential recipient should be entirely different.”

The motion was proposed by Sgt Jim Collins from Donegal.

He said: “With the exposure of recent whistleblowers, and the extensive media coverage they have received, confidence in the current system of confidential reporting has taken a serious blow.

“It is the belief of the Donegal branch colleagues the system is deterring whistleblowers within An Garda Siochana from reporting any matters they may deem relevant to these regulations, thus defeating the intended purpose of the legislation and regulations created to allow for the confidential reporting of corruption.”

Sgt Tony Lavery, from Claremorris station, Co Mayo, said reporting of the whistleblowers scandal did more “reputational damage to An Garda Siochana than anything since the foundation of the force”.

He added: “Members are sick to the back teeth with negative publicity.

“Their attitude is, ‘Why should I do anything, if I do I only get into trouble?’ It is driving morale into the ground.”

The motion was welcomed by Interim Commissioner Noirin O’Sullivan.

Irish Government still wants €2bn in budget cuts and taxes for 2015


Tax rises and cuts on department’s agenda despite ERSI’s positive forecast. 

The Department of Finance is pushing back against the clamour for a softer budget next year as the economic recovery picks up.

In a fiscal policy document to be published today the department will also indicate that the improvement in economic conditions does not yet call for a big upgrade in its growth forecasts.

Minister for Finance Michael Noonan will seek Cabinet approval today for a document in which his department says there should be no step back from the plan for €2 billion in tax rises and spending cutbacks in 2015.

Opening position

The Stability Programme Update document, which will be sent to Brussels for the approval of the European Commission, represents the department’s opening position in advance of talks on the preparation of the October budget.

After years of grinding austerity, the Government has billed the 2015 budget as the final round of deep cutbacks and steep tax hikes after years. However, Ministers would still prefer to keep any further retrenchment to a minimum.

  The Department of Finance document comes days after the Economic and Social Research Institute think tank said scope may be opening up to reduce retrenchment in the next budget to some €500 million from €2 billion and still meet fiscal targets set by the EU.

The ESRI said last week that the Government may be in a position to achieve a budget deficit below 3 per cent next year, as it is obliged to do under European agreements, by doing nothing more than introducing the new water charge.

At the same time, the institute said the Government should continue to plan for a €2 billion package of tax and spending measures and wait until September to change course if the quickening of economic growth continues.

Unwavering demand

Mr Noonan’s endorsement of the unwavering demand for a €2 billion adjustment next year reflects concern in his department to avoid giving line Ministers the impression that they can slacken the effort to assert control over the public finances.

This conservative approach is mirrored in the department’s update of its own official forecast for economic growth, which is appreciably below the forecast set out last week by the ESRI.

Although the unemployment rate is lower than expected at the start of the year, the Stability Programme Update says a only modest increase in the growth forecast is appropriate at this point.

The document is understood to forecast growth of some 2.1 per cent in gross domestic product, up only slightly from 2 per cent growth forecast set out in the budget for 2014.

Forecast validated

The department’s new forecast has been validated theFiscal Advisory Council, a formal body set up in 2011 to monitor fiscal policy. By contrast, the ESRI report last week forecast a 2.6 per cent expansion in GDP this year.

At its meeting today the Cabinet is also expected to sign off on legislation to introduce free GP care for children under the age of six.

No Irish Government decision made on basic water charge’s yet

says the Taoiseach


Enda Kenny tells Dáil report of charge arose from draft Irish Water memo.

The Government has no made no decision on introducing a basic water charge for householders, Taoiseach Enda Kenny has said.

The Government has no made no decision on introducing a basic water charge for householders, Taoiseach Enda Kenny has said.

Mr Kenny also said no decision had been made on the level of waters charges, or the subvention to be paid by the Government to Irish Water, and he also firmly ruled out the privatisation of the service. He repeated that householders would know the details of the charges before the local elections on May 23rd.

Speaking in the Dáil this afternoon, Mr Kenny said he had seen the media report of a standing charge for water. “My understanding is that arose from a draft memo submitted by Irish Water,’’ he added.

Fianna Fáil leader Micheal Martin said that Irish Water had confirmed that it had sought the introduction of a 100 euro standing charge for all households.

“This, indeed, has shocked many people and has caused a considerable degree of disquiet and anxiety amongst the general public,’’ he added.

Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams said the company was seeking to impose a standing charge of one-third of the water bill, adding that it was very high when compared to other countries.

A helpline is the only contact some elderly Irish people have with others


Over 2,000 Irish people have called Senior Help Line in the first three months of this year.

One man called the Senior Help Line last month described how he felt, saying “I am going mad with loneliness.”

The helpline has received over 6,000 calls already in the first three months of this year.

The biggest concerns for callers include the cost of living, cuts to services, instances of abuse and feelings of suicide.

The CEO of The Senior Help Line, Aine Brady, said that the most common factor among those who call is a sense of isolation and loneliness.

Callers have expressed their loneliness by saying “The house is so empty since Christmas” and “I have no contact with my family any more”.

The high volume of calls since the start of the year is a sign of the challenges that older people are facing.

For many Senior Help Line is their only means of contact with other people. Callers have said “I find the days very long on my own.”

Listening services for the elderly.

“Regardless of age, we all have problems and worries. It is important to have an outlet, someone to talk to, to share those worries with.

For many older people, their trusted circle of friends has diminished and there is no one to share a worry or even the joys of life with.

“We urge any older person who is worried about issues concerning health, family or any other matter to call us.”

The Senior Help Line is Ireland’s only peer to peer national listening service for older people.

Brady explained, “A unique aspect of our service is older people listening to older people. This helps create an empathetic atmosphere for the caller helping them to open up and discuss their problems easily.”

However, for all the calls we answer, we know that many go unanswered. Our resources are limited. We are working hard to answer as many as we can and to be there for as many people as possible.

Senior Help Line is available 365 days a year from 10am-10pm.

All calls to 1850 440 444 are handled in strict confidence.


Loneliness is a health risk for the elderly people of Ireland & the world


Extreme loneliness has twice the impact of obesity on premature death.

Feeling extreme loneliness can increase an older person’s chances of premature death by 14% according to research by psychologist John Cacioppo.

A 2010 meta-analysis showed that loneliness has twice the impact on early death as obesity does.

The consequences to health are dramatic, as feeling isolated from others can disrupt sleep, elevate blood pressure, increase morning rises in the stress hormone cortisol, alter gene expression in immune cells, increase depression and lower overall subjective well-being.


Cacioppo joined other scholars at a seminar “The Science of Resilient Ageing” in Chicago over the past week.

The researchers looked at dramatic differences in the rate of decline in physical and mental health as people age.

They examined the role of satisfying relationships on older people to develop their resilience, the ability to bounce back after adversity and grow from stresses in life.

Cacioppo said:

Retiring to Florida to live in a warmer climate among strangers isn’t necessarily a good idea if it means you are disconnected from the people who mean the most to you.

Although some people are happy to be alone, most people thrive from social situations in which they provide mutual support and develop strong rapport.

Silver Demographic

Cacioppo says we are “experiencing a silver tsunami demographically. The baby boomers are reaching retirement age”. Speaking about America, he said:

Each day between 2011 and 2030, an average of 10,000 people will turn 65.

The researchers identified three core dimensions to healthy relationships:

  • Intimate connectedness – which comes from having someone in your life you feel affirms who you are
  • Relational connectedness – which comes from having face-to-face contacts that are mutually rewarding
  • Collective connectedness -which comes from feeling that you’re part of a group or collective beyond individual existence

Cacioppo said older people living alone are not necessary lonely if they remain socially engaged and enjoy the company of those around them.

However some aspects of ageing, such as blindness and loss of hearing place people at a special risk for becoming isolated and lonely.

Diabetes care for Irish children falls badly short in our hospitals


A team at Temple Street Children’s Hospital conducted the research, which found only one of the 19 hospital centres treating children with type-1 diabetes had the recommended ratio of nurses to patients

Only one of the 19 hospital centres treating children with type-1 diabetes had the recommended ratio of nurses to patients, according to a new study.

Insulin pump instruction was available in eight centres and the number of children using these alternatives to an insulin injection ranged widely from zero to 42%.

The study, by the Department of Paediatric Endocrinology in Temple Street Hospital in Dublin, pointed out that type-c diabetes is a chronic condition affecting five to 40 per 100,000 of the child population.

The incidence is higher in the UK, Ireland and Scandinavia than in most of central and southern Europe and is rising, particularly in children under five.


The report in the ‘Irish Medical Journal’ showed a wide variation in the structure and process of care between centres. The authors said that “regionalising diabetes care for children with type-1 diabetes should be considered”.

Large patient numbers are necessary to justify full-time employment of a large multidisciplinary team. “This would allow for the maintenance of skills, attendance at best practice meetings and improvement in patient care,” said the study.

“It would also facilitate skilled out-of-hours coverage as well as emergency cover of sick leave. While this may improve patient outcomes, it will be associated with an increased requirement for patients to travel to appointments and careful geographic consideration of location of centres is required to mitigate the burden for families,” it added.

Tiny particle that is smartphone readable could curb counterfeit goods

Researchers hope to crack down on counterfeiting of all types with a new invisible microparticle that is smartphone-readable and glows brightly under near-infrared light.

Some 2 to 5 per cent of all international trade involves counterfeit goods, according to a 2013 United Nations report. These illicit products – which include electronics, automotive parts, pharmaceuticals, and food – can pose safety risks and cost governments and companies billions of dollars annually.

Many strategies have been developed to try to label legitimate products and prevent illegal trade – but these tags are often too easy to fake or cost too much, according to MIT researchers who have developed a new alternative.

Led by Patrick Doyle and Albert Swiston, the researchers have invented anew type of tiny, phone-readable particle that could be deployed to help authenticate currency, electronic parts, and luxury goods, amongst others.

The particles, which are invisible to the naked eye, contain coloured stripes of nanocrystals that glow brightly when lit up with near-infrared light.

These particles can easily be manufactured and integrated into a variety of materials, and can withstand extreme temperatures, sun exposure, and heavy wear, says Doyle, the senior author of a paper in Nature Materials. They could also be equipped with sensors that can record their environments – for example, if a refrigerated vaccine has been exposed to heat. The paper’s lead authors are Jiseok Lee and Paul Bisso.

A massive encoding capacity

The new particles are 200 microns long and include several stripes of different coloured nanocrystals, known as “rare earth upconverting nanocrystals.” These crystals are doped with elements such as ytterbium, gadolinium, erbium, and thulium, which emit visible colours under near-infrared light. By altering the ratios of these elements, the researchers can tune the crystals to emit any colour in the visible spectrum.

To manufacture the particles, the researchers used stop-flow lithography, a technique developed previously by Doyle. This approach allows shapes to be imprinted onto parallel flowing streams of liquid monomers – chemical building blocks that can form longer chains called polymers. Wherever pulses of ultraviolet light strike the streams, areaction is set off that forms a solid polymeric particle. In this case, each polymer stream contains nanocrystals that emit different colours, allowing them to form striped particles. So far, they have created nanocrystals in nine different colours, but it should be possible to create many more, Doyle says.

Using this procedure, they can generate vast quantities of unique tags. With particles that contain six stripes, there are 1 million different possible combinations; this capacity can be exponentially enhanced by tagging products with more than one particle. For example, if the researchers created a set of 1,000 unique particles and then tagged products with any 10 of those particles, there would be 1030 possible combinations – far more than enough to tag every grain of sand on Earth.

Versatile particles

The microparticles could be dispersed within electronic parts or drug packaging during the manufacturing process, incorporated directly into 3D printed objects, or printed onto currency, the researchers say. They could also be incorporated into ink that artists could use to authenticate their artwork.

The biggest advantage of these particles is that they can be read without an expensive decoder like those required by most other anti-counterfeiting technologies. Using a phone camera equipped with a lens offering twentyfold magnification, anyone could image the particles after shining near-infrared light on them.


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