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.”


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