Daily Archives: May 25, 2014

News Ireland daily BLOG

sUNDAY 25TH mAY 2014

Damaging Election results place huge pressure on Irish coalition Government relations


Efforts to remould the programme for government and reshape the Cabinet are likely to take place next week.

The Coalition is well and truly shaken after a stinging result for Labour and a bad day for Fine Gael. Whatever about the fate of Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore, efforts to remould the programme for government and reshape the Cabinet are now likely to be hastened. But will it work?

Both Gilmore and Taoiseach Enda Kenny find themselves at something of a crossroads. While setbacks are inevitable in any mid-term election, the force of the rebuke from voters greatly increases the stakes for both parties. Whether they can retrieve their composure and common sense of mission is in question. This will have implications for their capacity to settle another budget this autumn and work together into the final year of their mandate.

Meetings on Wednesday of Fine Gael and Labour TDs will be official forums for internal debate, but the postmortem is already under way. Within a dejected Labour, the sense remains that the result is worse than expected. Within Fine Gael, TDs say assertive action is required to regain the political initiative and arrest the drift seen since the start of the year.

If an immediate move into talks between the parties might smack too much of panic, developments can be expected shortly. Labour’s election wounds are deeper than Fine Gael’s, but a balance will still have to be struck between the needs of both parties when it comes to the reshuffle.

Political revamp The challenge is to freshen the public face of the Coalition and bolster its authority. While that would necessitate radical change, Kenny’s instinct would be conservative. The Taoiseach might have to go further than he would wish. That too is risky, for reshuffles always leave disappointment in their wake.

Whether Gilmore faces an immediate challenge to his leadership remains unclear. It is a given by now, however, that he wants out of the Department of Foreign Affairs. Labour has designs on the jobs and enterprise brief held byRichard Bruton, but Fine Gael has no intention of yielding. Indeed, its guiding principle is that there should be no new division of portfolios with Labour.

While the likely departure for Brussels of Minister for the Environment Phil Hogan frees up one portfolio, there are other strains. Fine Gael has long been unhappy with Joan Burton’s performance in the Department of Social Protection. Similarly, Labour and many in Fine Gael are displeased with Minister for Health James Reilly.

Ditching Reilly poses a challenge, for he is deputy leader of Fine Gael. That said, Kenny was ruthless in disposing ofAlan Shatter and Frank Flannery. Some of his own Ministers believe he should replace Reilly with Leo Varadkar.

Then there is the matter of the programme for government. There is no mystery to the themes for discussion: an increase in disposable income by widening the higher income tax band, a reworking of the medical card review and measures to boost house-building. With Fine Gael in pursuit of tax cuts, the quid pro quo for Labour might be a hike in the minimum wage.

Financial strictures All

fine in principle, but the Coalition’s problems centre on the financial strictures within which it must operate. Any promise of help for the hard- pressed in the Government programme would face an early test in budget 2015, to be agreed by mid-October.

The obvious difficulty remains that the Government is legally bound to achieve a budget deficit below 3 per cent next year. Opinions vary as to whether that requires a €2 billion retrenchment – which now seems like a political impossibility – or €500 million from the water tax. Either way, it will be a huge challenge to deliver an appreciable uplift in take-home income while attaining the deficit cut.

Resolving these tensions is essential if the Government is to turn the narrative in its favour. Voters appeared unmoved by ritualistic complaints about the mess the Coalition inherited from Fianna Fáil in 2011.

These elections serve to alter the relationship between Fine Gael and Labour: the parties could not form a government if the results were repeated in a general election. Thus their inherent codependence is not as it was, even if the argument is made that voters behave differently in second-order elections. There’s no comfort in that for former councillors and MEPs.

Burton indicates possible heave against Gilmore after Labour electorate hammering


‘I’m not not going to call anything like that until we have all of the Election results in’

Joan Burton has strongly hinted that she is considering launching a heave against party leader Eamon Gilmore.

The Social Protection Minister has hinted that there needs to be changes at the top of the party, which she says has been given a “shellacking by the electorate”.

“I think in some ways Barack Obama, talking about the mid term elections in the United States, probably put it well when he said: You know, ‘the electorate have given the Labour Party a hammering.'”

Asked specifically if she would consider launching a heave against Mr Gilmore, Ms Burton replied:

“I’m not going to call anything like that until we have all of the results in.”

While she said she has “confidence” in Mr Gilmore, Ms Burton gave a far from ringing endorsement of his leader.

On two occasions during an interview with reporters at the City West count centre, Ms Burton called for an examination of “the way business is done” within the party.

“I think the issues are far wider than simply the issue of one person or personalities, I think the issues go much wider and I think they affect policy and the way business is done,” she added.

Ms Burton was pressed on several occasions on her support for Mr Gilmore with a number of reporters pointing out that she was stopping short of given a full endorsement.

“It’s not about individual personalities within the Labour Party. It’s actually about the purpose, about the content of the policies and the way government works, I think we need to look at all of that,” she said.

She branded Labour’s election result as a “shellacking” as she gave a of party leader Eamon Gilmore.

Ms Burton was flanked by Loraine Mulligan, the party’s by-election candidate who faces being eliminated in seventh place.

Minister Kathleen Lynch said on the Labour result: ‘‘..maybe we haven’t been very good at the message and rebutting the clear lies and distortion that others have levelled at us and maybe we need to get better at that,’’ she told George Hook on Newstalk.

‘‘It wasn’t as if we went into this government blind, we knew the crisis of the country then – it had four months money remaining – …..and we brought the country back from that brink.’’

‘‘The central question for me is this. Is this a protest vote or is it a vote for alternative government?’’

Girl of 6, draws up bucket list of things to see before she goes blind


Kinsay, 31, with her brave daughter Jessica, 6.

A six-year-old girl has drawn up a ‘must see’ list before an incurable disease robs her of her sight.

Jessica Smith wants to swim with dolphins, visit a monkey sanctuary and become a Disney princess for a day before she goes blind.

The primary school pupil was diagnosed with rare genetic condition Leber’s Congential Amaurosis, which results in vision loss from little to no light perception.

Her mum Kinsay, 31, said she noticed Jessica’s eyes were ‘extremely wobbly’ when she was just three months old. She was forced to wear glasses from seven months.

Last year she began complaining of headaches and sore legs, and her skin was covered in pink bruises. Further tests revealed the full extent of her condition.

With the help of her family, the youngster from Wallasey, Merseyside, is preparing for life without vision.

She began to learn braille in September and uses a walking cane to play with her four sisters.

Her bucket list also includes a trip to Legoland, a professional photo shoot and a visit to the zoo, and her parents have now launched a website asking for donations in a bid to turn Jessica’s dreams into reality.

Meteor shower can be seen peaking tonight, as long as bad weather keeps away


A brand-new meteor shower will peak tonight in skies across the U.S.

A brand-new meteor shower with a name that sounds like a magician’s incantation—Camelopardilids—is predicted to peak late night on May 23 and in early morning hours of May 24. Skywatchers in the United States should be treated to a spectacular display—weather permitting, that is.

The predicted meteor shower consists of bits of dust cast off from the comet 209P/LINEAR, a periodic comet discovered in 2004. Because the meteor shower is new, astronomers are not sure what to expect. Some say it will be a real light show, with hundreds of shooting stars per hour.

Weather watchers say that stargazers in the north-central part of the nation will have the best viewing weather. A large dome of high pressure north of Chicago likely means clear skies over the Great Lakes region and the greater Ohio Valley to the mid-Atlantic coast, according to report in the Christian Science Monitor.

Other regions, however, may not be so lucky. The Deep South, the Central Great Plains, Texas and Oklahoma will see a stationary front that is likely to spawn heavy cloud cover, showers, and scattered thunderstorms, the Monitor reports. People on the North Carolina coast, too, may see cloudiness and scattered showers due to a small wave of low pressure in the region. The northeastern part of the country will probably experience widespread cloud cover along with light rain and drizzle, mostly across central and southern New England.

In Arizona and other parts of the Southwest, a powerful upper level low-pressure system is likely to bring thunderstorms and heavy downpours, the Monitor says.

For the lucky ones able to see the Camelopardilids, however, the burst of meteors is expected to be brief but brilliant. Although the meteor shower appears to originate from the dim constellation Cameloparidalis, the shooting stars will appear all over the sky, according to Sky and Telescope. The name comes from the Latin for ‘camel will spots like a leopard,’ or, as we know it today, a ‘giraffe.’

If bad weather makes it impossible for you to view tonight’s celestial event, several media outlets will be hosting live coverage of the Camelopardilids shower. You can watch webcasts at Slooh.com, the Slooh meteor shower feed on Space.com, and the Virtual Telescope Project.


New Ireland daily BLOG

Saturday 23rd May 2014

What do the Local and European Elections results mean for the next

General Election?


The votes are still being counted, but attention is already shifting to whether this weekend’s Local and European Elections mark a breaking of the mould in Irish politics, or merely a mid-term realty check for the Irish Government.

None of the established political parties have much to celebrate: Fine Gael is suffering a backlash, Labour is fighting for survival and Fianna Fáil is showing a steady – but hardly triumphant – comeback.

There has been a major shift towards Independent and anti-austerity candidates, while Sinn Féin are now in with a shout of being the biggest party in some councils around the country.

“Something profound has happened in the people’s attitudes to politics,” said deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald as the tallies came in.

But the big question is whether this marks a change in the party political order to followed through in the next general election, or is it just a blunt message to the Coalition that people have had enough.

Patterns have shown that voters are more likely to experiment with their mid-term vote and use it to make a statement – in this case, possibly, a rejection of the Troika-driven austerity programme or the “politics as usual” shown by the Coalition’s broken promises.

But previous trends have also shown that local election results can be a good indicator of the make up of the next Dáil.

The Labour Party gained 43 council seats in 2009 leading to the “Gilmore Gale” in the 2011 general elections.

Similarly, Fianna Fáil lost 135 seats at the time – a sign of things to come in its Dáil representation.

This weekend’s result not only give Sinn Féin a footprint in many parts of the country where they previously had little or no presence, they have also returned many candidates to local councils where they can be nurtured to grow into Dáil contestants.

The flip side for Sinn Fein is that the results will put a sharper focus on its economic policies, while also giving the public the chance to “try them out” by watching how they get on in local councils.

Minister Leo Varadkar put in in the stark terms when he said the next general election will be a choice between Fine Gael and Sinn Féin to lead the next Government.

Based on an analysis by Dr Adrian Kavanagh of NUI Maynoth on the RTÉ poll of polls in the campaign, which is somewhat similar to the exit poll results this morning, Fine Gael would have 45 Dáil seats after a General Election; Fianna Fáil would have 38; Sinn Féin would have 32, Labour would have just two and Independents and others would have 41.

This would present three options for forming a Government: A coalition of Fine Gael and Sinn Féin, which is not going to happen; A coalition of Fianna Fáil and Sinn Fein with the support of nine or 10 independents, or – most realistically – a coalition of Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil.

In which case Leo Varadkar would be proven right. And this might give Fine Gael the opportunity to argue that the choice is between returning good old reliable them or giving power back to “the last lot” that got us into this mess supported by Sinn Féin and an incoherent bunch of others

Margaret Gormley tops poll in Sligo County Council election



Margaret Gormley a county councillor of 34 years had to wait until just before midnight for official confirmation that she had topped the poll in Sligo County Council’s electoral area of Ballymote-Tubbercurry,   but it was obvious from minutes after the boxes were opened that her vote would  be massive.

The Independent councillor who has been on the county council for some 34 years attributed her vote of 2,701 some 1018 above the quota due to her very hard work.

She said she had encountered a lot of anger on the doorsteps especially from elderly people who had lost telephone and electricity allowances. She said the poor condition of roads, poor broadband, water charges and the cuts to medical cards were major issues throughout the campaign.

“Medical cards should never have been centralised,” she said. “Community welfare officers knew the circumstances of families and now that you are only a number”.

Election fears hit EU markets but Irish bonds remain firm


The bond markets appeared unruffled by the likelihood that half the population was set to vote for independents or Sinn Fein in the European and local elections – with Irish borrowing costs dipping yesterday.

Elsewhere in Europe, investors were not so relaxed. Lower-rated peripheral bonds inched up yesterday with niggling EU election concerns curbing enthusiasm over the latest round of ratings upgrades.

Italian and Spanish 10-year yields opened two basis points lower at 3.03pc and 3.22pc respectively. Greece was one basis point down at 6.51pc, while Irish bond yields actually dipped to about 2.77pc.

Strategists were recommending investors to favour safe haven bonds yesterday ahead of EU elections which could destabilize some of the eurozone governments.

In Greece, a strong showing by anti-bailout parties may hurt an already-fragile coalition, potentially paving the way to national elections.

In Italy, a poor result for Prime Minister Matteo Renzi’s (below) party might weaken his drive for the swift reforms he promised when he took power in a party coup.

Prices in peripheral bonds have stabilised after a sharp sell-off, but with EU election results set to be released tomorrow ahead of long weekends in the UK and the US, trading volumes were fairly subdued yesterday.

“The short-term outlook ahead of the weekend still looks shaky… (German) Bunds look supported,” said global banking and financial services company Commerzbank in a research note.

In a separate development ratings agency, Fitch lifted Greece’s rating for the second time in a year yesterday, while Standard and Poor’s followed through with a widely-expected upgrade on Spain.

“The periphery has rallied off their lows but I’m not sure how much more mileage there is left in it,” said Marc Ostwald, a strategist at Monument Securities.

Fitch praised Greece’s improving fiscal track record as it lifted its rating from B- to B, with a stable outlook. It becomes the most bullish agency on the country which defaulted just two years ago, although its rating is still five notches below investment grade.

Standard and Poor’s brought its rating for Spain in line with Moody’s, lifting it to BBB from BBB- based on its economic prospects. Fitch remains the most optimistic on Spain, with its rating of BBB+ one notch above the other two main agencies.

S&P also affirmed the Netherlands at AA+ with a stable outlook. Moody’s was scheduled to deliver its verdict on France and Slovenia later yesterday, with the former being widely rumoured for a downgrade and the latter tipped for a upgrade.

Type 2 people with Diabetes face a flood of drugs and tests


Drug and device makers displayed their products at the American Diabetes Association’s traveling EXPO in New York City in March. Credit Christopher Gregory for The New York Times

At the American Diabetes Association’s traveling EXPO, many exhibitors have their eye on the prize: People with Type 2 diabetes. Clinilabs offers such patients more than $3,500 to join a drug trial. Sanofi-Aventis has 10-foot-tall insulin pens on display. Walgreens offers a free test to check long-term blood sugar levels, a promotion for a new home-testing kit.

Type 2 diabetes, which afflicts an estimated 25 million Americans, is one of the new frontiers for drug and device makers. As more and more people are given the diagnosis, more products are being been developed to tap into this multibillion-dollar market. But some experts say that for many patients the profusion of choices has often led to confusion, not better treatments, as well as skyrocketing costs.

“There are now 12 classes of drugs, many of them expensive, and the question is, are we any better off?” said Dr. Silvio E. Inzucchi, director of the Yale Diabetes Center. “You can control glucose with generics for $4 a month or some new ones that are $8 or $9 per pill. Some medicines are 100 times more expensive, but they’re certainly not 100 times as effective. In fact, they’re probably equal for most people.”

Unlike those who suffer from its rarer and more dangerous cousin, Type 1 diabetes, in which the body stops making insulin in childhood, people with Type 2 diabetes typically do not make enough insulin or do not respond vigorously enough to the insulin they do make. As scientists have learned more about this complex process, drug makers have begun offering new medicines that target the cascade of reactions that starts with the ingestion of food and leads to the removal of glucose from the blood.

Type 1 diabetes is rapidly life-threatening if not treated with insulin. But Type 2 can usually be controlled with various treatments, though it can slowly damage vital organs over many years if not kept in check. Demand has grown for drugs, because the earlier that blood sugar is under control, “the greater the chance of reducing the risk of long-term complications,” wrote Mary Kathryn Steel, a spokeswoman for Sanofi, in an email.

While the disease can, initially, often be treated with changes in diet and exercise, there is usually little support and financing to help with such solutions. And there is encouragement aplenty to move on to costly drugs, including insulin, which most experts say is necessary for only a minority of Type 2 patients after other options have failed.

Judy Boncaro, 71, of Portland, Ore., was taking cheap generic drugs that had long controlled her Type 2 diabetes when a knee injury left her unable to exercise and her blood sugar started climbing. A doctor suggested that she start on an injectable drug called Byetta, which costs close to $500 per month, nearly double the price when it was introduced in 2006. She refused the treatment and is saving money to cover the co-pays for surgery on her knee.

When Juanita Neitling of the city of The Dalles, Ore., was given a diagnosis of Type 2 diabetes two years ago, at 75, her MedicareH.M.O. arranged for her to attend four nutrition classes and counseling. She is not diabetic anymore. But many conventional insurers would not have picked up the tab for such counseling, which can cost more than $1,500 annually.

Lacking comparative studies about the effectiveness of the new drugs flooding the market, the American Diabetes Association and its European counterpart convened a panel of experts in 2012 to recommend how to deal with the disease.

The first step is to lose weight, exercise and eat better, the panel found; much of the rise in Type 2 cases is linked to the growing incidence of obesity. The second step is an old generic drug called metformin, which reduces blood sugar and costs just pennies.

But the panel concluded the next step was discretionary — up to the doctor and patient, weighing factors like convenience, side effects and cost. Options range from old, cheap oral medicines to expensive new injectable drugs and long-acting forms of insulin. (A large trial run by the National Institutes of Health to compare the new options is just starting and results are years away.)

Drug makers promote products to keep blood glucose in the near normal range — a treatment strategy called tight control. But many researchers debate whether tight control is important or appropriate for many people with Type 2 diabetes, since they do not typically experience the life-threatening metabolic disturbances and extremely high glucose levels of people with Type 1 of the disease. They usually do not suffer some of the most dreaded complications, like blindnessand kidney failure. They tend to die of heart attacks and strokes, and only after many years.

“These new medicines reduce glucose,” said Dr. Inzucchi of the Yale Diabetes Center. “But if you control blood pressure and lowercholesterol, the added benefit may be lost for many patients.”

Dr. Robert Ratner, chief scientific and medical officer at the American Diabetes Association, said that doctors had to individualize therapy for patients: A 25-year-old trying to get pregnant or an active 35-year-old would merit aggressive control since they would live decades with the disease. An 80-year-old with Alzheimer’s might not derive benefit, and the risks of mistakes from a complicated injectable regimen could prove deadly.

Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggest that more than three million Americans with Type 2 diabetes are on insulin today, a large increase compared with a decade ago, experts said. And studies show that growing numbers of them are arriving in emergency rooms unconscious from low blood sugar — generally a result of too much insulin or missing a meal.

Many people who develop Type 2 diabetes when they are young will need combinations of different drugs as they age and the disease progresses. After a decade of living with Type 2 diabetes, Regina Lavasseur found that inexpensive pills were no longer controlling the disease and a doctor told her she needed insulin.

Uninsured at the time, the 60-year-old Seattle resident bought insulin derived from pigs, the standard treatment a quarter century ago, over the counter (in some states only newer synthetic human insulin requires a prescription). Now, with good insurance, Ms. Lavasseur is on a once-a-day long-acting insulin, Lantus, that retails for over $600 a month for her dose, of which she contributes a small co-pay.

Dr. Joel Zonszein, director of the Clinical Diabetes Center at Montefiore Medical Center in New York, said many patients who might benefit from some of the newer treatments did not get them because insurers required high co-pays and special approvals. “The primary care doctors don’t know how to use them and if they do, they have to fight with insurers,” he said, “so they throw in the towel.”

Meanwhile, others might get too much intervention. Type 2 patients are often encouraged to use meters that measure blood sugar and other testing equipment. Ms. Neitling said that as soon as she received her diagnosis, she got “one or two meters” and more supplies than she ever needed — all of which were provided to her for free but billed to her insurer. At the Diabetes Expo in New York City in March, salespeople were signing up Type 2 patients to request a new meter — getting their name, their doctor’s name and an insurance card.

Two days later, Dr. Zonszein said, he faced piles of forms from companies asking him to prescribe a new device. Many, he said, were for patients who do not need close monitoring, or who already have two or three other meters at home.

There is no evidence that patients with Type 2 diabetes require daily home testing if they are not on insulin and are on stable doses of medicine, doctors say. While some physicians find that frequent testing can motivate some patients to be more attentive to diet and exercise, one study in Britain found that the main effect of intensive monitoring was simply added stress.

If you are looking for a Healthy Environment then follow the Dancing Bee


(Right picture)  Dr. Margaret Couvillon decoding dance movements.

Honeybee “waggle dances” could help conservationists judge whether wildlife restoration efforts are working

Honeybees can tell one another when they find a particularly sweet patch of flowers by using an intricate back-and-forth motion called a “waggle dance.” Their highly attuned ability to identify the best spots for pollination in their immediate surroundings holds potential for helping naturalists to determine the health of a particular ecosystem.
In a new study, published today in Current Biology, scientists have used bee dances to find out which parts of a patchwork landscape the insects prefer to visit. They’re using this information to determine what types of land management are effective at improving habitat for pollinators and other wildlife.
The focus of their research was the waggle dance, which ethologist Karl von Frisch deciphered in the 1940s (earning him a Nobel Prize in 1973). The bee boogie consists of a figure-8 movement that the bees make repeatedly in the hive in the presence of other bees.

Von Frisch discovered that the angle of the waggle portion of the dance, which connects the upper and lower loops of the movement, corresponded to the direction relative to the sun where the good flower patch or other food source could be found. Additionally, the longer the bee waggled, the farther the distance (roughly) the sweet spot was from the hive.
Margaret Couvillon, the lead author of the new study and a researcher at the University of Sussex, wondered whether the bees could be used to evaluate the environmental health of the landscape surrounding three hives. The researchers chose an area of 94 square kilometers around the hives that included urban, agricultural and protected areas, and divided that area into 60 square blocks. Then, by videotaping and painstakingly decoding over 5,000 waggle dances over the course of two years, they could see where the bees preferred to go.
Couvillon and her co-authors, Roger Schürch and Francis Ratnieks, wanted to see specifically whether efforts to improve the landscape for wildlife were in fact helping bees and other pollinators. In the U.K. “agri-environment schemes” reward landowners for farming or managing their land in environmentally and wildlife-friendly ways.

Couvillon and her co-authors wrote in their paper, there is “either a lack of or mixed evidence-based support for the schemes.” The bees, she says, are a good proxy for other insect pollinators, which have seen recent declines. “Where they collect their food other insect pollinators will also be collecting their food,” she says. The a honeybee can act as an “ecological monitor.”

The scientists found that overall, bees were significantly more likely to give an approving waggle to land that had been targeted for more intensive restoration of grasslands or of margins around the edges of agricultural fields compared with areas having less stringent requirements. Oddly, they also found that bees seemed to specifically avoid some areas that had been targeted for low-level restoration.

Couvillon says that this may be due to how these schemes are managed—frequent mowing, for instance, may reduce the number of flowers. But the bees were often on target. The scientists found that two blocks most frequently tagged with a waggle—after correcting for distance from the hives—each contained a protected nature reserve.
James Nieh, a professor at the University of California, San Diego, who studies bees but was not involved in the research, says the work is an interesting use for waggle dance data. Whereas other studies have used similar techniques to see where bees are foraging, he says, “This is the first real broadscale evaluation that I know of to really evaluate, ‘How good is this agricultural environmental scheme?’”
Couvillon points out that her team’s observations are only one example at a single site. But she hopes that other groups will attempt similar studies elsewhere. She thinks that this work might help combat the widespread declines of bees and other pollinators.

Bees face a variety of challenges, “from pesticides to pathogens to pests,” she says, but a fundamental challenge persists: “Healthy or sick, your bee still needs to eat.”