News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Saturday/Sunday 19th & 20th July 2014

No referendum on abortion in lifetime of this Government’s  says the new Tánaiste


Mistakes of the past will be repeated if 31-year-old decision not revisited, says Independent TD

Catherine Murphy: said “we stand to repeat the mistakes of the past if we do not act to address the grossly discriminatory laws that govern abortion”

Tánaiste Joan Burton has effectively ruled out the possibility of a referendum, in the lifetime of this Government, on abortion in cases of rape, incest and fatal foetal abnormalities.

Ms Burton said that while she personally would like to see a situation where it was possible to address fatal foetal abnormalities, “we do not have agreement on that in the programme for government”.

Independent TD Catherine Murphy said “we stand to repeat the mistakes of the past if we do not act to address the grossly discriminatory laws that govern abortion”.

Referring to the UN Human Rights Committee hearings this week in Geneva, Ms Murphy said the UN confirmed that Ireland was in breach of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights by denying women the option to avail of abortion in circumstances of rape, incest, fatal foetal abnormalities and where a woman’s health is in danger.

The Kildare North TD said Ireland was in breach of basic humanity in denying an abortion to a woman who had been raped, suffered incest or whose baby would not survive after birth.

She added: “I found it profoundly chilling to listen to the remarks of the principal officer in the Department of Health who told the committee that denying these women the right to abortion was the will of the people.”

Ms Murphy said the eighth amendment to the Constitution was introduced more than 30 years ago and attitudes had changed significantly since then as recent polls had shown. “It is inhumane and we cannot rely on a 31-year-old referendum decision.”

The Tánaiste said that “as a democrat, the Deputy must recognised that the people voted” in the 1983 referendum. The Government had dealt with issues from the X case.

The Irish language is not a natural speak for us so it has to be learned


No amount of campaigning can transform the situation of a weak language

According to an old joke circulating in the Department of Foreign Affairs,                                                                                                               if somebody spoke French well they were sure to be posted to China, while Chinese speakers would probably end up in Turkey.

The same spirit seems to have informed Enda Kenny’s decision to appoint Heather Humphreys and Joe McHugh, neither of whom speak Irish well, to ministerial posts in the Department of Arts, Heritage and Gaeltacht Affairs.

Predictably enough there was the usual flurry of protests from Irish-language organisations and Sinn Féin Deputies. Their reasoning is that the State recognises Irish as the first official language, and encourages its citizens to speak it. At the same time the State has deprived its public servants and Gaeltacht citizens of the opportunity to use Irish when communicating with the Minister of State. Once again there is a yawning chasm between statements of intent and actual practice.

Kenny was quick to calm the fears of the Irish-language lobby. McHugh, he told the Dáil, actually is an Irish speaker, all appearances to the contrary. “He’s got the language inside of him, but it’s rusty.” After a crash course in the Gaeltacht he “‘will be fluent in the language”.

This reply incensed his critics even further, but the attitude it expresses is not at all uncommon among the populace.

There is a widespread belief that Irish is somehow encoded in our DNA, and all that is needed is to discover this language gene, and we’ll all start speaking Irish as competently as we speak English.

The bad news for Kenny and for the Irish people is that Irish is not “part of what we are”. It is a language that needs to be learnt from scratch.

Furthermore, it is a difficult language, and one for which few modern teaching-materials exist.

The situation is not helped by the fact that the last handful of native speakers are nearly all bilingual, and prefer to use English for official purposes and when talking to non-Irish speakers.

And, finally, like our fellow Anglophones in Britain and America, we Irish are not renowned for our ability to learn other languages.

‘Too much grammar’

There is no shortage of theories about why we don’t speak Irish: “800 years of British oppression” and “too much grammar”.

In a way the reasons are unimportant. The fact is that most of us don’t speak Irish with any great degree of proficiency. That applies to the enthusiasts just as much as to those who hate Irish. One of the placards carried by a protest group had the inscription “Níos deirge, níos feirge”, which is not comprehensible from a linguistic point of view.

That is not to say that Irish cannot be learnt. Every year a few dozen students graduate from third-level institutions with an impressive command of the language, and I know many foreigners who speak Irish really well. But most people simply don’t have the time, dedication and plain linguistic ability to achieve that level. No disrespect to McHugh, but a few weeks in Glencolmcille is unlikely to release the inner Gaeilgeoir in him.

Ireland’s pharmaceutical sales hit the €40bn mark


Pharmaceutical and chemical items accounted for almost half of the products made and sold in Ireland last year

Pharmaceutical and chemical items accounted for almost half of the products made and sold in Ireland last year.

Official data shows almost €90bn worth of products were manufactured and marketed here in 2013- up 4.6% on 2012.

But 44.6%, or €40.1bn, of sales were classed as chemical or pharmaceutical products, highlighting the importance of the sector to the economy.

And although exports have been dented by the so-called pharmaceutical patent cliff, yesterday’s Central Statistics Office (CSO) data showed that the value of basic pharmaceutical products and preparations increased 7.2% to €29bn.

It is understood the rise in value is attributed to a range of factors, including the fact that new entrants were included in the data and that a blockbuster drug came off patent only halfway through the year.

In addition, only products that were actually sold are included in the CSO survey, not products that were simply manufactured but not bought.

The food and beverages sector accounted for €21.5bn or 23.9% of all Irish product sales while computer, electronic, optical and electrical equipment amounted to €9.6bn or 10.7% of all Irish product sales for the same period.

The data was part of the European Union’s Prodcom survey, which provides statistics on the production of manufactured goods. It contains nearly 3,800 products, of which about 41.4pc are produced and/or sold by enterprises based in Ireland

The term comes from the French “PRODuction COMmunautaire” (Community Production) for 
mining, quarrying and manufacturing.

Government health warning: we can’t make you skinny


80% of people in ireland over 50 are now either overweight or obese. 

The Irish Government cannot make the staggering number of Irish people who are overweight and obese “skinny”, the new Health Minister Leo Varadkar warned.

The minister signalled a “tough love” approach to our escalating crisis of bulging waistlines – although he said he was committed to outlawing cheap alcohol.

Commenting on figures showing four in five over-50s are overweight or obese he said: “The Government is there to help and there are a lot of measures there to help.

“But the Government can’t make you skinny. At the end of the day it is important people modify their lifestyle,” he said, adding that he will be putting emphasis on exercise.

The minister, a trained GP and a self-confessed fitness fan, said he was not in favour of a sugar tax despite the figures.

Earlier, obesity expert Dr Donal O’Shea warned that around 100 people a day were dying from diseases caused by being overweight and Ireland would be the fattest country in Europe by 2030.

The minister said: “At the end of the day it is important people modify their lifestyle.” Four out of five are obese.

“People who are overweight or obese put themselves at greater risk of illness, particularly in later life.

“Ultimately, the vast majority of people can address obesity and being overweight through lifestyle change, through eating healthily and taking a lot more exercise.”

Mr Varadkar said that his predecessor, Dr James Reilly, who is now Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, would continue with his crusade against tobacco.

He himself would be “totally involved” in public health and the logistics of elements that will be shared by Dr Reilly’s department were being worked out, he added.

When questioned on his plans to give medical cards to people on the basis of their medical condition, rather than their means, he conceded that it would be difficult to draw up an “hierarchy” of illness and decide which people should be left out.

Mr Varadkar continued: “There is also severity within those illnesses. Obesity and being overweight are considered illnesses, too, so in that case you would be extending the medical card to almost the entire population, which would not be realistic.”


He said that he would let the review group – which is drawing up the list – do its work and report in the autumn.

Asked about the latest figures, which show a rise in the number of people facing delays for outpatient appointments and operations this year, he said they were an improvement on this time last year.

Mr Varadkar said he believed hospitals could not cut back on services because that would reverse the progress that had already been made.

But the HSE supplementary health budget for this year could be as high as €500m, he conceded.

The minister said he planned to have “realistic” pre-Budget discussions to draw up funding for the health service.

Alzheimer’s rate now decreasing throughout the whole world


Alzheimer’s rate findings show that the disease is now declining in developed countries such as the United States and Germany.

The drop in the Alzheimer’s rate was highlighted at the recent Alzheimer’s Association International Conference in Copenhagen by aging expert Dr. Kenneth Langa from the University of Michigan.

According to Langa, the good news for those in the U.S. comes probably as the result of “more education and control of health factors such as cholesterol and blood pressure.”

An American over age 60 today has a 44 percent lower chance of developing dementia than a similar-aged person did roughly 30 years ago… More than 5.4 million Americans and 35 million people worldwide have Alzheimer’s, the most common form of dementia. It has no cure and current drugs only temporarily ease symptoms.

A drop in rates is a silver lining in the so-called silver tsunami — the expected wave of age-related health problems from an older population. Alzheimer’s will remain a major public health issue, but countries where rates are dropping may be able to lower current projections for spending and needed services… Recent studies from the Netherlands, Sweden and England have suggested a decline, and the new research extends this look to some other parts of the world.

In the U.S., the federally funded Framingham study monitored new dementia cases using data from several thousand people over the age of 60.

The study examined five-year periods starting in 1978, 1989, 1996, and 2006. “Compared with the first period, new cases were 22 percent lower in the second one, 38 percent lower in the third and 44 percent lower in the fourth one,” Yahoo! reports.

The average age of diagnosis also rose from 80 to 85 during the 30-year period.

“The results bring some hope that perhaps dementia cases might be preventable, or at least delayed” by improving health and education, said Claudia Satizabal of Boston University, the study’s leader.

National Institute on Aging epidemiology chief Dallas Anderson agreed.

“For those who get the disease, it may come later in life, which is a good thing. Getting the disease in your 80s or 90s is very different than getting it in your early 70s.”

German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases researchers add that claims data from Germany’s largest public health insurance company indicate new cases of dementia declined significantly between 2007 and 2009 in men and women.

With news like this and recent breakthroughs in cause, treatment, and prevention, do you think the Alzheimer’s rate will continue to drop? Share your thoughts in our comments section.

The world is getting warmer, a global climate report says


The world is getting warmer, as greenhouse gases reach historic highs and Arctic sea ice melts, making 2013 one of the hottest years on record, international scientists said on Thursday. 

The annual State of the Climate Report 2013 is a review of scientific data and weather events over the past year, compiled by 425 scientists from 57 countries.

The report looks at essential climate variables, much like a doctor checks a person’s vital signs at an annual checkup, said Tom Karl, director of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Climatic Data Center.

While Karl declined to give a diagnosis for the planet, he said the report shows some surprises but an ongoing trend that continues the warming pattern seen in recent decades.

“If we want to do an analogy to human health, if we are looking at our weight gain and we are trying to maintain an ideal weight, we are continuing to see ourselves put on more weight from year to year,” Karl told reporters.

“The planet — its state of the climate — is changing more rapidly in today’s world than in any time in modern civilization.”

Global temperatures were among the warmest on record worldwide, with four major datasets showing 2013 ranked between second and sixth for all-time heat, the report found.

“Australia observed its warmest year on record, while Argentina had its second warmest and New Zealand its third warmest,” said the report.

Sea surface temperatures also rose, making last year among the 10 warmest on record.

The Arctic marked its seventh warmest year since records began in the early 1900s.

Arctic sea ice cover was the sixth lowest since satellite observations began in 1979.

Meanwhile, Antarctic sea ice has been increasing — particularly at the end of winter when it is at its maximum — about one to two per cent growth per decade.

“This is a conundrum as to why the Arctic ice cover is behaving differently than the Antarctic,” said James Renwick, associate professor in the school of geography at Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand.

“We love questions like this because it creates more important research questions that need to be addressed.”

Renwick said the growth relates to sea ice in Antarctica, not the glacial ice mass on the continent, which was the subject of recent studies finding that the loss of ice in the Western Antarctic may be unstoppable.

Meanwhile, methane, carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases that come from burning fossils fuels “continued to rise during 2013, once again reaching historic high values,” said the report.

For the first time, the daily concentration of C02 in the atmosphere exceeded 400 parts per million (ppm), as measured by the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii, a year after observational sites in the Arctic observed C02 at 400 ppm in spring 2012.

On average, global sea levels also rose, keeping pace with a trend of adding about three millimeters per year over the past two decades, it said.

“In 2013, global average sea level reached a new record high,” said Jessica Blunden, climatologist at NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center.

“It was one and a half inches (3.81 centimeters) higher than the 1993 to 2010 average.”


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