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Friday 1st August 2014

Foreign Minister Flanagan calls for a ceasefire in Gaza


Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan with Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Theresa Villiers at Stormont House in Belfast recently. 

Minister for Foreign Affairs says lifting of blockade is ‘fundamental’ to ceasefire

Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan said  “A ceasefire without action on the blockade will not give rise to a lengthy cessation of hostilities so the lifting of the blockade is fundamental.”

Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan has called for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza linked to an ending of the Israeli blockade of the area.

  “A ceasefire without action on the blockade will not give rise to a lengthy cessation of hostilities so the lifting of the blockade is fundamental,” Mr Flanagan said.

The Minister, who yesterday had his third conversation in a little over a week with Egyptian foreign minister Sameh Shoukry to explore the prospects of a ceasefire, said that since his appointment three weeks ago he had been at pains to express the desire of the Irish people to see an end to the “wholly unacceptable killing” in Gaza.

“I have met the Israeli ambassador here on a number of occasions in Iveagh House and I have conveyed to him in no uncertain terms the revulsion on the part of the Irish people at what is appearing on our screens daily.

“In my most recent meeting I asked that he immediately following the meeting convey a strong message from the Irish Government to my counterpart, Mr Lieberman, and directly to the office of the prime minister, Netanyahu, which I understand that he did,” said Mr Flanagan.

He added that last week at the EU council of foreign ministers in Brussels agreement had been reached on a strong resolution condemning acts the violence. “On behalf of the Irish people I intervened strongly at that meeting in furtherance of that agreed resolution,” he said, adding that the fact the resolution was agreed without dissent was significant.

“On Wednesday of last week, there was the UN vote. I think the vote must be seen in the context of the EU council of foreign affairs on Tuesday. Ireland’s position at that meeting was that we were most anxious to ensure the wording of a resolution that would be passed without dissent.”

Responding to criticism of the Government for abstaining along with other EU states in a vote at the UN condemning the Israeli actions in Gaza, Mr Flanagan said the resolution was not balanced. “The Palestinian proposal was unbalanced and not comprehensive as presented. Our permanent representative made strenuous efforts throughout the day with our EU colleagues and beyond to achieve balance,” he added.

The resolution was supported by a number of countries including China, Russia, Cuba Saudi Arabia and opposed by the US. All of the EU members abstained. “We are a small neutral country with influence. Another small neutral country with influence, Austria, similarly abstained. I believe it is important that our balance be preserved, that our influence be preserved, and that we play a part as a small neutral influential State,” he said.

Mr Flanagan said that in a conversation with UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon earlier this week, he had conveyed to him the views of the Irish people and offered humanitarian assistance such as food and shelter and power and fuel.

“I was very pleased last week that myself and Minister Seán Sherlock made available a further amount of €500,000 by way of direct aid. This will go to UNRWA [United Nations Relief and Works Agency] for direct aid on the ground and that is on top of €10 million that we provide directly by way or relief and support to the Palestinian people.”

Asked about his role in the Oireachtas Ireland-Israel Parliamentary Friendship Group, Mr Flanagan said he was a member of a group that had met in 2009 and 2010 and included TDs Ruairí Quinn, Lucinda Creighton and Joanna Tuffy. He said this cross-party group acknowledged the right of the democratic state of Israel to defend itself and its territory against indiscriminate rocket fire from organisations such as Hamas or other military groups.

He said the group had not met for a long time and as Minister he would not be involved in any parliamentary caucus but would represent the views of the Irish people. “I condemn the disproportionate and indiscriminate attacks on Gaza and I have made that position clear,” he said.

Irish Government ‘bit off more than we could chew’ says Leo Varadkar


Health minister sets out vision of universal GP care followed by universal primary care

Health Minister Leo Varadkar has said his priorities for his time in office will be the introduction of universal GP care and later, universal primary care, including the provision of dental and optical treatments.

Minister for Health Leo Varadkar has said the Government “bit off more than we could chew” when taking power, specifically referring to how quickly universal healthcare could be introduced.

In discussing his vision for the Irish health service, Mr Varadkar said his priorities for his time in office would be the introduction of universal GP care and later, universal primary care, including the provision of dental and optical treatments.

However, he said that bringing about any changes in the current structures involves dialogue and negotiation and cautioned against moving too quickly.

“I do think that probably when we came into office as a Government we bit off more than we could chew. We have tried to bring in universal healthcare in too short a timeframe,” he said in an interview on last night’s Tonight with Vincent Browne show.

Last month, under plans brought to Cabinet by the Minister for Health, the Government said it had agreed to provide free GP cards for all children over the next three years, as well as to those over the age of 70.

If this was an early sign of Mr Varadkar’s intentions to affect change, he expanded on his philosophy last night.

“I am somebody who very much believes in universal healthcare. I think everyone should have access to health services in the same way people do in almost every western country,” he said.

“Health is a universal right. It’s like education, for example. It’s like pensions when you retire; the whole idea is you pay your taxes and you benefit and that’s how we do a lot of things. We don’t do health like that in Ireland. ”

Mr Varadkar also outlined other issues on his radar, saying more could be done to reduce the price of medicines, while health insurance could be expanded to more of those in their twenties and thirties with the incentive of discounted packages.

“I totally understand that if we are going to make universal GP care and universal primary care work that is going to involve resources and those discussions need to be had. At the same time though, governments can’t write blank cheques and we can’t give vetoes to any section of the health service.”

As a trained GP, Mr Varadkar said he understood the mood of doctors and said in the health profession generally, more needed to be done to lift morale and to retain home produced doctors and nurses.


A New Irish Health Bill will set a minimum indemnity cover for doctors


the Move will allow the irish public to seek redress in the event of a medical mishap, says leo Varadkar

Leo Varadkar, Minister for Health: “It is good news for patients

Minister for Health Leo Varadkar has published legislation that will make it a legal requirement for all medical practitioners to have a minimum level of indemnity cover.

Mr Varadkar said the move would allow members of the public to seek redress in the event of a medical mishap or negligence.

The Medical Practitioners (Amendment) Bill 2014, published yesterday, places the onus on practitioners to ensure they have adequate cover, he said.

The announcement follows reports last month of consultants in private practice facing increases in their indemnity premiums of up to 50 per cent.

“At present there is no legal obligation on a medical practitioner to have adequate medical indemnity insurance cover,” Mr Varadkar said on the publication of the Bill.

“This legislation will address this deficit. It is good news for patients as the enactment of the legislation will mean that members of the public will be able to have redress in the event of a medical mishap or negligent care from a medical practitioner.”

Under the law, the Medical Council will seek proof of indemnity from practitioners on registration, and will have the power to impose sanctions on those who do not comply with the minimum requirement.

A statement from the Department of Health said the move would not require any higher payment than would be necessary for a normal and adequate policy. The legislation will be initiated in the Seanad in the autumn.

Last July, it was revealed that the UK-based Medical Protection Society (MPS) would be contacting its Irish private consultant clients to tell them of rises in the cost of indemnity cover by as much as half the existing policy.

Such an increase would likely have the effect of threatening the financial viability of some practices while at the same time increasing the cost of care for patients.

Cost of claims According to MPS, the increase in subscription rates is due to a rise in the rate at which doctors are facing legal action and the subsequent cost of claims. It is unclear what effect the new legislation will have on existing cover.

Expressing concerns at the increased prices revealed last month, Irish Hospital Consultants’ Association chief executive Martin Varley said it would result in “a growing number of patients seeking care in public hospitals at a time when these hospitals do not have the capacity to treat more patients due to a lack of frontline resources and an insufficient number of consultants.”

Women in Ireland over the age of 40 are urged to take contraception


the Well Woman Centre says there are many surprise pregnancies for over 45 year old’s.

Women over the age of 40 are less likely to present for smear tests and are also more likely to consider that they do not need contraception, the Dublin Well Woman Centre has said in its annual report.

The trend in relation to smear tests has been described as “worrying”, according to the centre’s chief executive Alison Begas.

She also warned that many women over 40 who are still sexually active should not stop taking contraception. There were 223 births last year to women over 45 in the State.

“We would see a lot of women coming up to menopause. Even in the year before they officially stop having their periods or the year or two afterwards, they should carry on taking contraception,” she said.

Ms Begas said they had come across women who were surprised to become pregnant in their forties. “They thought it definitely shouldn’t happen to them,” she said. “We have women coming in seeing our pregnancy counsellors saying ‘my God, I didn’t think I would be in this position’. At that stage they are not thinking of being mothers to young babies.

“If their periods stop before they are 50, they should carry on taking contraception for two years. That is the standard practice.”

The Dublin Well Woman Centre medical director Dr Shirley McQuade said there was a “ worrying trend” of women not reporting over the age of 40 for cervical tests.

The average age for the diagnosis of cervical cancer is 44 and the average age of death is 55.

“There are minor changes that can progress to major changes over 10 years. If the minor changes can be detected, it makes it easier to treat,” she said.

In the 18 to 29 age group, almost 80 per cent of women are presenting for a smear test. That figure drops to below 70 per cent for women over the age of 40 and for women over the age of 60 it is less than half.

Dr McQuade said this was an international trend and down to a number of factors.

“ A lot of women are generally fit and healthy. They are not going to the doctor and they have stopped taking contraception. Some of them see themselves as too busy. Their priority isn’t their health. They look after everyone else except themselves,” she said.

“ Keeping up to date with regular smear tests is by far the most effective way to for women aged 25 – 60 to protect themselves from this preventable disease.”

The annual report found that Chlamydia continues to be a concern for patients, with over four thousand tests taken in 2013, with 4.6 per cent testing positive for the infection.

In addition, 881 long-acting reversible contraceptive devices (LARCs) were fitted by the Well Woman Centre in 2013, compared to 914 in 2012.

The Dublin Well Woman Centre welcomed the enactment of the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act, 2013, yet expressed concern over some elements of the legislation.

However, Ms Begas described the legislation as “long overdue”. She accused the Government of presenting legislation which “ fails to deliver a compassionate response to women dealing with a fatal foetal abnormality.

“Learning that a much-wanted baby has a fatal foetal condition is not the fault of the woman, but the lack of compassion in the State’s response to those women clearly places it at fault.”

The Well Woman Centre provides a wide range of primary health care services, family planning, counselling and sexual health services to women and men. The organisation employs nearly 50 doctors, nurses, counsellors and administration staff at three locations in Dublin – Liffey Street, Pembroke Road and Coolock.

Has the mystery of the Northern Siberian craters finally been solved?

Scientist claims they were created by SINKHOLES that erupted outwards

This first giant crater measuring around 262ft and found in far northern Siberia is believed to have been caused by rising temperatures in the area. Recent helicopter video footage of the first hole, in the Yamal region, reveals a mound of loose dirt that appears to have been thrown out of the hole with water inside The discovery eliminates the possibility that a meteorite had struck the region in the Yamal Peninsula - the name of which translates as 'the end of the world'

  • The theory by geophysicist Vladimir Romanovskyis backed up by helicopter footage of the first mystery hole
  • The footage shows a mound of loose dirt that appears to have been thrown ou of the 230ft (70 metre) crater
  • Theory states crater began in a similar way to that of a sinkhole, when ice collected in an underground cavity
  • Rather than the roof of the cavity collapsing, pressure from natural gas such as methane caused an eruption
  • Two other smaller craters have recently been spotted in the region, triggering debate about their formation
  • One of the craters is located in Siberia’s Yamal Peninsula in the Taz district and has a diameter of 49ft (15 metres)
  • The other was spotted on the Taymyr Peninsula in Kransoyark region and has a diameter of 13ft (four metres)

The three mystery craters that appeared earlier this month in northern Siberia have triggered a number of theories about how they formed, including their creation by aliens and meteorites

Now one scientist believes he has a more concrete explanation. The craters, claims geophysicist Vladimir Romanovsky, were formed by a type of sinkhole that erupted outwards rather than collapsing inwards.

His theory is backed up by recent helicopter footage of the first hole in the Yamal region which reveals a mound of loose dirt that appears to have been thrown out.

This first giant crater measuring around 262ft and found in far northern Siberia is believed to have been caused by rising temperatures in the area. Recent helicopter video footage of the first hole, in the Yamal region, reveals a mound of loose dirt that appears to have been thrown out of the hole with water inside

A sinkhole is a hole in the ground created by erosion and the drainage of water in an underground cavity.

The water inside the first crater likely came from melting permafrost or ice, said Mr Romanovsky, who studies permafrost at the University of Alaska Fairbanks speaking to Tanya Lewis at LiveScience.

He explained that whereas most sinkholes suck collapsed material inside, ‘this one actually erupted outside.’

Mr Romanovsky believe the crater’s formation began in a similar way to that of a sinkhole, when ice collected in an underground cavity.

Rather than the roof of the cavity collapsing, he believes pressure built up from natural gas such as methane. This eventually erupted out a slurry of dirt, creating a crater in its place.

However, the theory does not explain why the hole’s border so round or where the gas came from to fuel such an eruption.

Last week two similar craters were discovered. A second is in the same permafrost region of northern Russia, and a third on the Taymyr Peninsula, to the east, in Kransoyark region. Both were spotted by reindeer herders who almost fell in.

The original hole received worldwide attention after being identified by helicopter pilots some 20 miles (32km) from a huge gas extraction plant at Bovanenkov.

‘Theories range from meteorites, stray missiles, a man-made prank, and aliens, to an explosive cocktail of methane or shale gas suddenly exploding,’ reported The Siberian Times.

‘The version about melting permafrost due to climate change, causing a release of methane gas, which then forces an eruption is the current favourite, though scientists are reluctant to offer a firm conclusion without more study.’

The new Yamal crater is in the area’s Taz district near the village of Antipayuta and has a diameter of about 49ft (15 metres).

A deputy of the regional parliament – or duma – Mikhail Lapsui said: ‘I flew by helicopter to inspect this funnel’ which he said was formed last year though only now have reports of it reached the outside world.

‘There is ground outside, as if it was thrown as a result of an underground explosion.

‘According to local residents, the hole formed on 27 September 2013.

‘Observers give several versions. According to the first, initially at the place was smoking, and then there was a bright flash. In the second version, a celestial body fell there.’

The chief scientist of the Earth Cryosphere Institute, Marina Leibman, told URA.RU website in Sibera: ‘I have heard about the second funnel on Yamal, in Taz district, and saw the pictures.

‘Undoubtedly, we need to study all such formations. It is necessary to be able to predict their occurrence.

‘Each new funnel provides additional information for scientists.’

The third crater and hole is in the Taymyr Peninsula and was accidentally discovered by reindeer herders who almost fell into it, in the vicinity of the remote outpost of Nosok.

The funnel is a perfectly formed cone, say locals who are mystified over its formation.

Its depth is estimated at between 200 to 330ft (60 to 100 metres) and its diameter – more than 13ft (four metres).

Experts – geologists, ecologists, and historians – have not come to a consensus about the origin of the funnel, say reports in the region.

‘It is not like this is the work of men, but also doesn’t look like natural formation,’ said one account expressing puzzlement at its creation.

Scientists in Krasnoyarsk region – the second largest in Russia – plan further study of this hole.

he first hole is around 230ft (70 metres) deep and when a group of experts visited it earlier this month, they noted an icy at its bottom.

Their footage highlights a darkening around the rim which was earlier seen as evidence of heat possibly from an explosion during the crater’s creation.

‘They found the crater – around up to 300ft (70 metres) deep – has an icy lake at its bottom, and water is cascading down its eroding permafrost walls.

‘It is not as wide as aerial estimates which earlier suggested between 164ft and 328ft (50 and 100 metres).’

Andrey Plekhanov, senior researcher at the Russian Scientific Centre of Arctic Research, revealed that satellite mapping imagery is being used to establish when the phenomenon was formed, thought to be in the last year or two.

‘The crater has more of an oval than a circular shape, it makes it harder to calculate the exact diameter,’ he said.

‘As of now our estimates is about 98ft (30 metres). If we try to measure diameter together with soil emission, the so-called parapet, then the diameter is up to 197ft (60 metres).

The structure is so fragile that the scientists could not climb deep into the lake and had to send a camera down instead.

One theory is that the feature is a ‘pingo,’ reports the Sunday Morning Herald.

A pingo is a large chunk of ice that is located underground that can create a hole in the ground when it melts.

‘Certainly from the images I’ve seen it looks like a periglacial feature, perhaps a collapsed pingo,’ Dr Chris Fogwill of the University of New South Wales said.

‘This is obviously a very extreme version of that, and if there’s been any interaction with the gas in the area, that is a question that could only be answered by going there.’

Dr Plekhanov added the hole was most likely the result of a ‘build-up of excessive pressure’ underground, due to the region’s changing temperatures.

He said 80% of the crater appeared to be made up of ice and that there were no traces of an explosion.

The discovery eliminates the possibility that a meteorite had struck the region.

‘Could it be linked to the global warming? Well, we have to continue our

research to answer this question,’ said Dr Plekhanov.

‘Two previous summers – years 2012 and 2013 were relatively hot for Yamal, perhaps this has somehow influenced the formation of the crater.

‘But we have to do our tests and research first and then say it more definitively.’

After the hole was discovered, there was speculation online about the crater indicating ‘the arrival of a UFO craft’.

Thanks to their readings (shown) the team now believes the cause was increasing temperatures  Ruling out extra-terrestrial intervention, Dr Plekhanov said: ‘We can say for sure that under the influence of internal processes there was an ejection in the permafrost.

‘I want to stress that was not an explosion, but an ejection, so there was no heat released as it happened.’

The latest expedition organised by the Yamal authorities included experts from Russia’s Centre for the Study of the Arctic, and also the Cryosphere Institute of the Academy of Sciences.

They took samples of soil, air and water from the scene and were accompanied by a specialist from Russia’s Emergencies Ministry.

Anna Kurchatova from the Sub-Arctic Scientific Research Centre, previously said the crater was formed by a mixture of water, salt and gas igniting an underground explosion, a result of global warming.

Gas accumulated in ice could have mixed with sand beneath the surface, and then mixed with salt.

Global warming may have caused an ‘alarming’ melt in the under-soil ice, released gas and causing an effect like the popping of a Champagne bottle cork, Ms Kurchatova suggests.

Yamal, a large peninsula jutting into Arctic waters, is Russia’s main production area for gas supplied to Europe.

Dr Plekhanov said: ‘I’ve never seen anything like this, even though I have been to Yamal many times.’

The crater is different from others on Yamal. The experts say the phenomenon maybe a restarting of a process not seen for 8,000 years when the lake-pocked Yamal landscape was formed on what was once a sea.

This maybe ‘repeating nowadays’, he said. ‘If this theory is confirmed, we can say that we have witnessed a unique natural process that formed the unusual landscape of Yamal peninsula.’


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