News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Saturday 10th January 2015

Irish industrial production surges some 33% year-on-year

    

Ireland’s manufacturing sector is set for its fastest pace of growth since 1998

Industrial production surged by a third in November compared to the same month last year, paving the way for the fastest pace of growth in the sector for 17 years.

Output was up 4% in November, but jumped a massive 33% year-on-year.

Analysts said the data pointed to a surge in output in the second half of last year.

“All in all, Ireland’s manufacturing sector is set for its fastest pace of growth since 1998,” said David McNamara, analyst with Davy Stockbrokers.

“A flat December would leave output up 20% in 2014. Much of this is related to the multinational sector, with little feed-through to the real economy.

“However, the ‘traditional’ sector is also set for the fastest pace of growth since 2000 at about 9pc for 2014, with surveys pointing to continued growth in 2015.”

The data from the Central Statistics Office shows that the so-called modern sector, made up of a number of high-technology and chemical sectors, showed a monthly increase in production for November 2014 of 9.3%. There was a monthly decrease of 4.4% in the more employment-intensive traditional sector.

In the year-to-date, industrial production has now expanded by 22% on 2013, driven by a bounce-back in the pharma-dominated modern sector, which was up 33.9%, and an 8.1% rise in the traditional sector.

“Looking ahead, the manufacturing PMI points to continued growth in early 2015, with employers taking on new recruits at the fastest pace in 15 years, signalling positive output expectations for the year ahead,” Mr McNamara added.

Alan McQuaid of Merrion stockbrokers said the data underlined how well the Irish economy is doing compared with the rest of the Eurozone.

“Based on the figures up to November and on the strong PMI data, we are now looking for manufacturing output for 2014 as a whole to be around 23pc higher than 2013, following a decline of 2.1pc in the previous year,” he said.

“Another strong double-digit rise is envisaged for 2015.”

Mr McQuaid said that it was crucial that the economy remains competitive as the recovery takes hold.

Separate data from the CSO shows the monthly services sector had a more modest annual rise in November, increasing 5.5%. But it was down on October by 1.1%.

Irish road deaths are on the rise – it is time we looked to Sweden for a safety inspiration?

 

The CEO of the RSA said, ‘We saved more lives than ever before in 2012 we can do it again in 2015’.

After a rise in the amount of road deaths reported for 2014- the first week of 2015 has proved no different.

Six people were killed on our roads in the first 7 days of this year – while figures released for 2014 showed an increase in road deaths from the year previous.

A total of 196 people died last year – compared to 190 in 2013. However, that number was down to 162 in 2012.

The Road Safety Authority has expressed serious concern following the rise in road deaths last year and an equally tragic and poor start for road safety in 2015. CEO of the RSA, Moyagh Murdock, said:

It’s been an appalling start to the year and mirrors exactly the situation at the same time last year.

Ireland’s road record?

It’s important to note that the latest European Transport Safety Council’s (ETSC) Road Safety Performance Index (PIN) report showed that Ireland, Sweden, Norway and the UK had the lowest death rates across Europe based on journeys taken.

Based on 2013 figures, it found Ireland to be well below the EU average of 51 deaths per million population- with 41. The lowest rate was in Sweden at 27, and the highest was in Romania at 93.

Sweden’s roads have become the world’s safest with other places such as New York trying to copy it’s success.

‘Vision Zero’

Three Swedes in every 100,000 die on the roads each year – compared with 11.4 per 100,000 in America and 40 in the Dominican Republic, (which has the world’s deadliest traffic).

In 1997, the Swedish parliament wrote into law a “Vision Zero” plan, promising to eliminate road fatalities and injuries altogether. Deaths have now reduced by half since 2000.

It’s “2+1″ roads – where each lane of traffic takes turns using a middle lane to overtake – is said to have saved over 145 lives over the first decade of the plan.

Sweden also has low speed limits in urban areas, pedestrian zones and barriers that separate bikes from cars.

It’s believed that strict policing has also helped – with less than 0.25% of drivers tested now over the alcohol limit.

Road deaths of children have plummeted—in 2012 only one child was killed, compared with 58 in 1970.

That’s a stark difference to Ireland where there was a doubling in the number of fatalities among children last year.

Sixteen children aged up to 15 years lost their lives in 2014, eight were pedestrians and eight were passengers.

What needs to be done?

A report by the White Roads EU project, showed that good road design, the presence of adequate maintenance programmes, the installation of reliable homogenous traffic signage, road markings and appropriate lighting are among the key aspects that lead to low accident rates on sections of roads.

However, an EU report on road surfaces shows that Ireland drastically reduced its road maintenance budget between 2008 and 2011 due to the economic crisis.

Ireland South MEP and member of the European Parliament Transport Committee Deirdre Clune, said:

The decision to drastically slash our road maintenance budget between 2008 and 2011 has had enormous economic and safety repercussions and was extremely short sighted.

“I understand that budgets were and continue to be limited but there are economic costs associated with poor road maintenance, not to mention an increased risk of accidents on our roads.”

Clune said she met with the European Road Safety Council, ETSC, during the week and that they’re trying to secure a number of new initiatives at European level “including seat belt reminders for the back seats, alcohol interlocks on the ignition and enhanced safety design for cars”.

The CEO of the RSA, Moyagh Murdock, appealed for road users to be extra vigilant, “I would appeal to all road users, as a New Year’s resolution, to please make safer choices when using the road.

Each one of us has the power to make a difference on the road. We did it before, in 2012 when we saved more lives on the road than ever before. We need to do it again in 2015.

Eating Blueberries can help to keep high blood pressure away

  

Eating whole fresh fruit, especially blueberries, grapes, apples and pears, is linked to a lower risk of Type 2 diabetes, but drinking fruit juice has the opposite effect, says a new study.

Eating blueberries on a daily basis could lower both systolic and diastolic blood pressure in just eight weeks, according to researchers at Florida State University.

“To our knowledge, this is the first study to evaluate the effects of blueberries on arterial function as was done in this study, as well as in this study population,” says corresponding author Dr. Bahram H. Arjmandi of FSU. “These findings suggest that blueberries may prevent the progression to full-blown hypertension.”

Postmenopausal women were selected for the study because their incidence of high blood pressure exceeds that of men, and participants were considered to be in the early stages of hypertension.

Working with 48 participants, the research team randomly assigned them to receive either 22g of freeze-dried blueberry powder, the equivalent to approximately one cup of fresh blueberries, or 22g of control powder.

Upon conclusion of the eight-week study, the blueberry group’s collective systolic blood pressure (SBP) was lower by 5.1% and their mean diastolic blood pressure (DBP) was lower by 6.3%.

Arterial stiffness was measured using non-invasive pulse wave velocity technology, and the blueberry group showed improvement, for which researchers believe nitric oxide is to credit since levels increased from 9.11 to 15.35 micrometers (μM).

The placebo group saw no corresponding lowering of their blood pressure, and their nitric oxide levels did not increase.

Aortic stiffness was measured using carotid femoral pulse wave velocity (cfPWV) technology and showed no change in either group, indicating that dietary changes could have more effect on small, peripheral arteries than they do on central ones.

“The recommended intervention for controlling blood pressure in pre- and stage 1-hypertensive individuals is not pharmaceutical interventions, but rather lifestyle modifications including dietary approaches and there is evidence that many cases of HTN can be prevented and treated through diet and lifestyle changes,” says lead author Dr. Sarah A. Johnson of FSU. “Considering the prevalence of HTN in the U.S., preventive strategies such as dietary modifications (e.g. functional foods and dietary supplements) that aim to improve HTN and its related complications are warranted.”

Recently, a Finnish study concluded that wild blueberries could neutralize a high fat diet, which is thought to occur due to the high concentration of polyphenols they contain.

Good bacteria found in beer may help to fight diseases

  

A recent study led by Harry Gilbert, professor of biochemistry at Newcastle University, Eric Martens of the University of Michigan’s Department of Microbiology and Immunology, and Wade Abbott, research scientist at Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, has identified the complex machinery that targets yeast carbohydrates.

The study was published in the journal Nature and explains how our stomach has a certain bacteria that help us digest yeast and other complex carbohydrates. The bacteria is also found in beer and breads and is responsible for the bubbles in beer. This study shows that certain microbes in our digestive tract have evolved over the years to become capable of breaking down complex carbohydrates. It is these complex carbs that make up the yeast cell wall.

The research has unraveled the mechanism by which B thetaiotaomicron has learned to feast upon difficult to break down complex carbohydrates called yeast mannans. Mannans, derived from the yeast cell wall, are a component in our diet from fermented foods including bread, beer, wine and soy sauce.

“One of the big surprises in this study was that B thetaiotaomicron is so specifically tuned to recognise the complex carbohydrates present in yeasts, such as those present in beer, wine and bread,” said Martens.

“However, these bacteria turned out to be smarter than we thought: they recognise and degrade both groups of carbohydrates, but have entirely separate strategies to do so despite the substantial chemical similarity between the host and yeast carbohydrates,” added Martens.

The new findings provide a better understanding of how our unique intestinal soup of bacteria – known as the microbiome – has the capacity to obtain nutrients from our highly varied diet. The results suggest that yeast has health benefits possibly by increasing the Bacteroides growth in the microbiome.

Experts believe that the discovery of this process could accelerate the development of prebiotic medicines to help people suffering from bowel problems and autoimmune diseases.

BT Young Scientist top award won by teen alcohol project

  

Ian O’Sullivan and Eimear Murphy from Colaiste Treasa, Cork win the overall prize at the BT Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition 2015 with their project Alcohol Comsumption: Does the apple fall far from the tree?

A group project by Cork students looking at teenage alcohol consumption has claimed top prize at the BT Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition at the RDS.

The best individual prize went to a Co Louth student for her development of a wrist support for boxers.

The top four awards in the exhibition were announced Friday evening, with Ian O’Sullivan and Eimear Murphy being declared the 2015 Young Scientists.

Alcohol consumption. 

Their project looked at whether parental alcohol consumption has an impact on the drinking habits of their teenage children, explained the 16-year-old transition year students at Coláiste Treasa in Cork.

“We wanted to see if there was a parental effect on their kids’ consumption of alcohol,” says Eimear.

The two put together a survey and distributed it to fifth and sixth year students from schools around the Mallow area, she explains. “We wanted to assess hazardous drinking habits.”

This involves consuming too much alcohol or drinking too frequently, habits that have an impact on health, Ian says.

The two found parental drinking habits, particularly that of the father, had a major impact on their children’s drinking.

They also discovered that parents who believe it is acceptable for their children to drink alcohol on special occasions were up to four times more likely to engage in hazardous drinking than other adolescents.

Perpetual trophy

They receive the BT young Scientist perpetual trophy, a cheque for €5,000 and a chance to represent Ireland at the European Union Contest for Young Scientists taking place later this year in Milan.

The award for best individual project went to Rachel Ní Dhonnachadha (16), a fifth-year student at St Vincent’s Secondary School in Louth.

Wrist injuries

Wrist injuries are a common problem in boxing, and as a former boxer, Rachel decided to do something about it.

She discarded the current approach of binding up the wrist with a cloth bandage, a method introduced in the 1920s.

Instead she designed a glove-like wrist support that could reduce wrist deflection, and so cut injuries. “It is comfortable to wear and supports the wrist without restricting normal movement,” she says.

She asked Irish boxer Katie Taylor to try out the wrist support and the champion found it very good, says Rachel.

She also collected a considerable amount of data to show that her device really made a difference.

“It gives you a competitive advantage,” she says. It slightly increases punching force and reduces down time as a result of injuries, she adds.

Rachel has applied for a patent for her design and has plans to bring it to the International Boxing Association.

She receives a perpetual trophy and a cheque for €2,400.

The runner-up group prize went to transition year students Patrick Sweeney, Chloe Daniels and Annette Moran.

Traditional music

Their novel study looked at whether birdsong may have been the inspiration that caused similarities between African and Irish traditional music.

Migrating swallows and other species spend time in Ireland and Africa, and musicians looking for inspiration could have picked up melodies from the birds, according to the theory proposed by the three students from Carrick-On-Shannon Community School, Leitrim.

All three are traditional musicians and so would have an ear for a tune.

Patrick came up with the idea and presented it at last year’s BT Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition. He came back again this year with his two collaborators.

They began studying birdsong, comparing it with melodies in Irish and African music. They made this easier for themselves by investigating the frequency waves of the music, which allowed them to look at any similarities in great detail.

They also believe they can open up a source of new inspiration by using recordings of birdsong from the isolated Galapagos Islands.

They receive a perpetual trophy and a cheque for €1,200.

The runner-up individual prize went to Jack O’Sullivan (16), of Kilkenny College, Kilkenny.

He developed a way to turn an ordinary smartphone into a fully functional desktop computer.

“The power of smartphones is increasing all the time and is now approaching that found in PCs,” he said.

A considerable challenge

It took a considerable amount of work to achieve this – a blend of hardware development and software development. The fact the phone only has a charging point as a way to connect to the outside world represented a considerable challenge, Jack said.

It would be for the phone manufacturers to decide whether they wanted to include a second connection point that would make it easier to use the smartphone in this way.

“The ultimate goal would be a phone with built-in applications like this,” he said. It would convert the phone into a single device for all of a person’s information technology requirements, he said.

He receives a perpetual trophy and a cheque for €1,200.

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