News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Monday 22nd December 2014

The number of unfinished housing estates throughout Ireland now stands at 992


Minister of State for Housing says total number of incomplete developments has been reduced from nearly 3,000 in 2010

Some 992 housing developments throughout the State remain unfinished, a reduction of almost two thirds on the 2010 figure of just under 3,000.

Minister of State for Housing Paudie Coffey published the third annual progress report on tackling the issue of unfinished housing developments on Monday.

The 2014 National Housing Development Survey tracks progress since 2010.

Mr Coffey said some 1,263 developments were inspected in 2014. Of these, 992 would remain on the unfinished housing developments database. Some 271 of those inspected were considered substantially complete.

With the aid of a €10 million Special Resolution Funding Scheme, another 74 of these should be resolved in the coming months to reduce the total figure to 918.

Some 226 (23%) of the total 992 estates remain completely unoccupied. A total of 30,709 homes within the total are described as complete and occupied; 4,453 are complete and vacant; 12,027 are in ‘various stages of completion’ and 29,168 units have not yet been started.

Cork county has the highest number of unfinished developments, at 130 (13%) of the total 992. The four Dublin local authority areas account for 53 (5.3%) of the total.

Kerry has 67 unfinished estates, Donegal 64, Roscommon 53, Wexford 52, Cavan 51, Tipperary North 49 and Leitrim38.

The report says inspections recorded the first increase in construction activity on unfinished developments in four years.

Mr Coffey said his objective was to resolve as many more developments as possible with a particular focus on the 766 of these developments which have residents.

The minister said the process was complex, both technically and legally. Some parts of houses had been knocked down to clear sites, but he did not classify these as demolitions.

“Certainly I don’t want to see any completed houses demolished at all.”

Some of the 271 resolved sites had had parts of unfinished houses, such as gable walls, removed. But this was in circumstances where they would never have been completed anyway.

But Mr Coffey said people were “looking more at extracting the value out of what they have than demolishing at this stage”.

Funding for what was initially established as a public safety initiative to ensure developments were made safe from a health and safety perspective had now been discontinued. There had been “substantive progress” on this front following the introduction of that emergency measure by the Government, Mr Coffey said.

With regard to the timeframe for completing the remaining 992 unfinished estates, Mr Coffey said the progress over four years should indicate the Government was “genuinely determined to have these sites resolved”.

For what was “considerably small money” in comparison to the complex problems that existed, “huge progress” had been made, he said.

He did not want to raise expectations by giving time limits on something that was very complex, for reasons that included water treatment issues, legal reasons and also planning issues.

“None of those are an exact science and I’m not going to be raising anybody’s expectations by giving specific timelines.

“But what I will say, is it will demand and it will be given my total focus and determination to continue making progress and the same goes for all the people that are involved in this.”

Officials indicated a number of estates will be finished in January and February.

Plenty of Joyful homecomings at Dublin Airport this Xmas


DAA expects over three quarters of a million people through airport over festive season

With Christmas just around the corner, we speak to arrivals in Dubln airport’s Terminal 2. DAA expects over three quarters of a million people to pass through the airport over the holiday season.

At the arrivals lounge in Dublin Airport, Declan Carroll waits anxiously for his wife Orla as she makes the long journey from the tarmac, through customs clearance and out to Terminal 2.

It’s a well-trodden route for many of us, but those final few tentative minutes of waiting for Declan- with nieces Emma and Lucy in tow- pale in comparison to the circuitous journey he and his wife have had to endure to come home for the holidays.

“I came in on Saturday morning, and Orla comes in this morning. We’ve been in Savannah, Georgia for about three and a half years.

We like it over there, but we come home to visit family every year,” says Declan, as he tries to contend with frantic energy of his elf-attired companions following an hour-long delay.

It may only have been three days since they parted company, but both Declan and Orla are duly enveloped by the emotion of the occasion as she walks through the gate, and stoops below the safety barrier to embrace her ecstatic younger family members.

“We have a Frozen singalong to go to now,” says Orla, who can’t expect much respite despite an exhausting journey.

Unsurprisingly, the Carrolls’ joyful homecoming is an oft-repeated spectacle around these parts during December. TheDublin Airport Authority expects over three quarters of a million people to pass through the airport between December 19th and January 2nd .

Given the obvious cultural links betweenIreland and America- some 35 million US citizens are of Irish descent, not to mention the 30,000 who’ve left these shores to seek better fortunes in America since 2008- there’s a palpable sense of excitement and expectation as the early morning flights from New York, Chicago and Philadelphia touch down.

Flora O’Connor was lucky to avoid the tortuous delays that many have to endure at this time of year. But despite her early arrival from Chicago, the wider O’Connor clan still had all the bunting and banners unfurled well in advance of her anticipated homecoming.

“My mother brought us here for Christmas as a surprise, and my husband’s on his way on another flight. We can’t believe they’re all here, we didn’t know the Mallow crowd were coming down as well so we’re very excited,” says Flora, still trying to absorb her rapturous reception.

“It’s been eight years since I’ve been home. We’re very excited, we’re going to party like it’s 1999!”

Over in Terminal 1, André Hillebrand and his assembled antler-clad relatives eagerly await the return of brother Francois to Ireland for only the second time in 14 years.

“My brother was supposed to come visit for the holiday but he was held back from South Africa because of work commitments, so the whole family went up to get him,” says André, who is now based in Dublin.

“It’s midsummer in South Africa now, so the weather is completely different over here. It’s a more authentic Christmas for him being here,” he adds, following a long-overdue familial embrace.

Back in T2, New Yorker Paul Purcell is engaging in a now-annual tradition of returning to his ancestral homeland to enjoy the holidays with extended family.

“I’m visiting my sister and my nieces. There’s also a nephew but he’s at rugby practice. It’s five years running now, we come home every Christmas. Our parents passed away five years ago, so the new tradition is now we come here,” says Paul, who’s looking forward to a Christmas Eve gathering complete with his 15 or so cousins, among plenty of other family and friends.

Cancer breakthrough that could spell the end of chemotherapy


The value of genetic testing is demonstrated by Angelina Jolie’s experience. 

Cancer treatment could be transformed by a landmark project to read the DNA of thousands of men, women and children.

Scientists believe that unlocking secrets deep in patients’ genetic code will lead to faster and more accurate diagnosis, speed the development of ‘wonder’ drugs and mean better use is made of existing medicines.

It is even predicted that the genetic revolution will make chemotherapy obsolete within 20 years.

The treatment of rare genetic diseases is also set to benefit from the 100,000 Genomes Project, which will combine genetic data with information from health records to give Britain “the greatest healthcare system in the world”.

Sir Bruce Keogh, the NHS’s medical director, said the £300 million (about NZ$600 million) initiative puts the UK in a position to “unlock a series of secrets about devastating diseases which have remained hidden for centuries and to unlock those on behalf of the whole of humankind”.

Professor Mark Caulfield, the project’s chief scientist, said: “If there was just one medicine that came out of this programme that would be well worth the investment.”

But there are fears that drug companies and insurers will take advantage of research material – and that confidential medical information could be made public. Some campaigners fear it is the first step towards a national DNA database.

The project, which is launched today, aims to read the genetic blueprint, or genome, of around 75,000 volunteers.

This includes patients with breast, bowel, ovarian and lung cancers and leukaemia, and people with rare genetic diseases and their relatives.

With genetic diseases usually striking early in life, many of those taking part will be children. Cancer patients will have two samples read – one from the tumour and one from healthy tissue – taking the total number of genomes read to 100,000.

After the DNA is decoded, the information will be combined with data from the person’s medical records, creating a ‘lifecourse picture’ of the disease.

Patients will be given any information that will help treat their illness. For instance, the data might show that a certain cancer drug is likely to work particularly well or that a child with a rare disease could be given a diagnosis for the first time.

Those who choose to will also receive information about a small number of illnesses that can be seen in their DNA and for which treatments are available.

But they will not be given other information, such as whether they have a gene that puts them at high risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.

The value of genetic testing is demonstrated by Angelina Jolie’s experience.

Testing revealed that the Hollywood actress carries a mutation of the BRCA1 gene, meaning she had an 87 per cent risk of developing breast cancer and a 50 per cent risk of ovarian cancer.

The data led Jolie, 39, to have a preventative double mastectomy. Her mother, actress and producer Marcheline Bertrand, died from ovarian cancer at the age of 56.

The NHS, which is ploughing £20 million into the 100,000 Genomes Project, will keep one set of data. A second set will be anonymised and put on a separate database.

Universities and drug companies will be able to access this database and use the information to develop new diagnostic tests and drugs.

Those behind the project say investment from industry is vital if progress is to be made.

Patients with a disease that is of interest will have to consent to their information being shared with industry and can withdraw from the project at any time.

The first to benefit are likely to be children with hard-to-diagnose genetic diseases. Reading their DNA could lead to their condition being named – and treated for the first time.

The information could also be used to tailor cancer treatment to the patient’s DNA. For instance, the breast cancer drug Herceptin only works on cancer with a certain genetic flaw.

Crunching data from thousands of people could provide the clues to new tests and drugs including those that prevent disease rather than merely treat it.

Other possibilities include cancer drugs that kill the tumour without harming healthy tissue – sparing patients the ordeal of gruelling chemotherapy.

It could also provide valuable insight into which patients will benefit most from medicines already available – so making better use of the health service’s precious funds.

Eleven NHS trusts will take part initially, with 100 new genomic medicine centres established by the end of the three-year project.

Supermarket war leads to much lower prices this Christmas in Ireland


Lower prices as supermarkets battle it out in run up to Xmas

Despite a 3% dip in sales, Tesco remains Ireland’s leading supermarket

The latest supermarket share figures from Kantar World panel show that competitive pricing among the State’s largest retailers in the run up to Christmas has seen grocery price of inflation fall to 1.9%.

Tesco remains Ireland’s largest supermarket with a 25% share. It is closely followed by Super-Valu on 24.5% while Dunne’s is in third place on 23.5%. Both Aldi and Lidl continue to post impressive sales figures, with this trend looking likely to continue throughout the festive period.

“In a bid to emerge victorious over the all-important Christmas period, competitive pricing among the retailers has led to inflation dropping,” said David Berry, commercial director at Kantar World-panel. “Shoppers are reaping the benefits, with staple items such as vegetables, eggs and bread costing less this year compared with last – meaning savings on Christmas dinner purchases.”

Despite a 3% dip in sales, Tesco remains Ireland’s leading supermarket, benefiting from a slight increase in footfall to their stores of 18,000 shoppers.

The challenge now facing the retailer is encouraging shoppers to buy more at the tills.

Super-Valu has experienced a slight up lift in sales thanks to expanding its customer base by 42,000, the majority drawn from its strong base in provinces like Munster and Connacht. For only the second time since returning to growth in May, Dunnes Stores has experienced a drop in sales, with the retailer’s market share standing at 23.5%.

The figures also highlight a continued strong performance from Aldi and Lidl, as the two reach a combined market share record of 16.2%

Lidl and Aldi continue to post impressive sales, reporting growth of 16.6% and 13.1% respectively. “Lidl and Aldi have each enjoyed strong sales growth throughout 2014. It seems likely that they will maintain this streak over the festive period, which will top off what has been a stellar year for the German retailers,” Mr Berry said.

World’s deepest fish found dwelling in the Mariana Trench


Scientists from the University of Aberdeen have discovered the world’s deepest fish dwelling in the Mariana Trench. The fish is among other new species caught on video as part of a deep sea expedition to provide a detailed analysis of the trench.

The Mariana Trench is the deepest part of the world’s oceans, with a maximum-known depth of 10,994 meters. The trench is part of the hadal zone, which describes the deepest marine habitats on the planet. To date there are 21 such trenches with depths that range from 6,000 to 11,000 meters, (or 3.7 to 6.8 miles). The new species discovered this month add to over 400 known species that are able to survive at these depths.

The latest expedition, a 30-day Hadal Ecosystem Study (HADES), was achieved with the UK’s deepest diving vehicle, the Hadal Lander. An international team of scientists conducted the analysis while aboard Falkor,  Schmidt Ocean Institute’s Research Vessel. The team covered the entire depth range of the trench, sampling between 5,000 and 10,600 meters.

The fish receiving extra attention is a certain type of snailfish and was observed at 8,145 meters deep making it the greatest depth a fish has been found. Not only is it now the deepest fish known, its unique appearance adds some mystique.

“This really deep fish did not look like anything we had seen before, nor does it look like anything we know of”, said Dr Alan Jamieson from the University of Aberdeen, in a statement. “[I]t is unbelievably fragile, with large wing-like fins and a head resembling a cartoon dog”.

The footage of the snailfish adds to the numerous discoveries made. Footage of a ‘superigant’ amphipod was also recorded, representing the first time the species was filmed alive. The giant amphipod was first recovered in traps off New Zealand in 2012.

Researchers exploring the hadal zone hope to collect as many species as possible and to characterize the unique ecosystem. Trench subduction zones are also the sites of earthquakes that sometimes result in tsunamis, so further analysis of this region could shed light on factors which contribute to these events. Researchers are also hopeful that specimens collected in the hadal zone can lead to the discovery of therapeutic agents.

Marine life capable of living in the hadal zone has had to evolve to survive the extreme pressure and temperature. Scientists are particularly interested in compounds that help protect proteins from folding improperly under these conditions.

One of these molecules, a molecule called trimethylamine N-oxide (TMAO), has already been discovered. Researchers have previously found that TMAO increases with depth in bony fish. This molecule is also being investigated for its potential to treat Alzheimer’s disease.

Though the team has collected over 100 hours of footage, their work has just begun, and they expect the samples they returned with to keep them busy for a while.

“We have tons of animal samples, mud samples, rock samples, and water samples and when we get back from the holidays, all of us are going to start analyzing those,” said Jeff Drazen of the University of Hawaii,  the co-chief scientist on the research cruise. “Hopefully we’ll have many more discoveries in the next year or two.”


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