News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Thursday 12th February 2015

Irish Life made profit of €184 million under new owners


At least €4 million in extra cost savings from merger with Canada Life now expected

Irish Life generated an after-tax profit of €184 million in 2014 in its first full year under the ownership of Canadian group Great-West Lifeco.

Irish Life generated an after-tax profit of €184 million in 2014 in its first full year under the ownership of Canadian group Great-West Lifeco.

Results published today show that Irish Life’s profit for the three months ended December 31st rose by 94 per cent year on year to €49 million.

This represented Irish Life’s second strongest quarter since it was acquired from the State by Great-West Lifeco in July 2013 for €1.3 billion.

At group level, Great-West Lifeco reported net profit of $2.5 billion Canadian dollars (€1.76 billion) for 2014 and $657 million for the fourth quarter of the year.

The Irish Life integration programme continued last year, with annualised savings of €40.8 million achieved, according to Great-West Lifeco.

The Canadian company now expects to exceed the original €40 million synergy target by at least 10 per cent.

Commenting on the results, Bill Kyle, chief executive of Irish Life, said: “While focused on integration, our business continues to grow. Overall we now have more than one million customers, €56 billion of assets under management and 2,200 employees.”

During the year 2014 Irish Life generated €397 million of Great-West Lifeco’s fee income.

The company said a highlight of the fourth quarter was the success of its Multi-asset Portfolios (MAPs) funds, with more than €3 billion now invested.

Following the acquisition of Irish Life, Great-West Lifeco has merged the business with its existing Canada Life subsidiary here. They will operate under the Irish Life brand.

Mr Kyle said the merger of the businesses is ahead of target. “Our €60 million integration programme is nearing completion, with 69 per cent of the investment incurred as of December 31st. We expect the Canada Life business to be fully integrated with Irish Life, ahead of target, in April 2015.”

Established in 1939, Irish Life is Ireland’s leading life, investment and pension company.

Industry-led alcohol awareness campaign criticised


Senator says most people will think ‘Stop out of Control Drinking’ doesn’t apply to them

Fergus Finlay (far left), chairman of the board for the new campaign to stop out of control drinking, with clinical psychotherapist Joanna Fortune, Labour Relations Commission chief executive Kieran Mulvey, and Áine Lynch from the National Parents Council, at the campaign’s launch.

Allowing a drinks company to fund a public health campaign on alcohol and to “frame the debate” is wrong, a children’s rights campaigner has said.

Independent Senator Jillian van Turnhout said the Diageo-funded campaign “Stop Out of Control Drinking” had many good people associated with it.

But she added that she had carried out two reports for the European Economic and Social Committee on alcohol-related harm and “I saw at first-hand how the industry will try to influence, orchestrate and campaign to ensure that any effective reports one is trying to do are diluted”.

Drinks conglomerate Diageo launched the campaign, which is chaired by Barnardo’s chief executive Fergus Finlay.

Members of the campaign board include Labour Relations Commission chief executive Kieran Mulvey, St Patrick’s Hospital chief executive Paul Gilligan, GP and health commentator Dr Ciara Kelly, National Parents Council chief Áine Lynch and Simon Keogh of the Irish Rugby Union Players’ Association.

Ms van Turnout said most people in Ireland would think the Stop Out of Control drinking was not directed at them and instead “we should be talking about alcohol-related harm”.

She told the Upper House: “Allowing a drinks company to frame a debate and put major money behind a public health campaign is wrong.”

The Independent Senator pointed to the World Health Organisation, which had indicated that “it would be inappropriate for the industry to have a role in the formulation of alcohol policies either nationally or locally”.

She said the alcohol industry’s involvement in the campaign was wrong. “Those involved with the campaign would say it is independent but let us remember that Diageo, the drinks company involved with this, exists to sell alcohol and to make profits for its shareholders.”

That is the reason for the business and she did not argue with that, “but it is not a public health company”.

She warned Senators that it was “unacceptable that any of us would support a campaign that is so clearly the narrative of the drinks company.

“That is what it wants us to talk about, the out of control drinking, not the effect drink has on family households”

She reminded the House: “We cannot have an ambivalent response to alcohol, we need to look at it seriously. It is having a destructive effect in many households.”

Calling for a Seanad debate on alcohol-related harm, she said “let us take the lead on the issue and not put it in the hands of any drinks company”.

Independent Senator Paul Bradford supported her comments and said the drinks industry “has sensed a certain degree of weakness on the Government’s part following the decision not to pursue a ban on advertising by drinks companies in the context of sports events”.

He believed it was a “fundamental error” not to ban alcohol-related sponsorship of sport.

“There is now a view in certain sectors of the drinks industry that they will be able to browbeat the Government further”.

Mr Bradford said the excessive consumption of alcohol was Ireland’s “greatest social problem” and it stretched into criminal behaviour, societal and family breakdown.

A national debate was necessary but should not be led by the drinks industry but “by the Department (of Health), the Government, politicians and community leaders”.

Major increase in Fair Deal waiting lists forecast


Nursing home scheme is ‘Achilles heel’ of health service, says HSE chief

Minister of State for Primary Care Kathleen Lynch has said the Fair Deal scheme would need additional funding to reduce waiting lists and invest in community supports, and ensure patients did not have to go into care.

The HSE chief has issued a stark warning about growing waiting lists and waiting times for the Fair Deal nursing home scheme.

The scheme, which funds nursing home care for 20,000 older people, is the “Achilles heel” of the health services and is putting patients’ health at risk, HSE director general Tony O’Brien said.

Unless extra funding is found, the waiting list for the scheme will grow to 2,200 people by the end of the year while waiting times will swell to 18-20 weeks, he told the Oireachtas health committee.

The additional €25 million funding boost for the scheme provided in the budget will suffice to keep waiting times down at the current level of 11 weeks only until the end of this month, he warned.

Despite this extra funding, the number on the waiting list has started to increase again.

In October there were 1,937 people on the waiting list and the waiting time was 15 weeks. By early January this number had fallen to 1,188, and the waiting time to 11 weeks.

Now, however, the number waiting has increased again to 1,234.

Demographic pressures

Mr O’Brien said due to demographic pressures more people were coming onto the waiting list, even though more people were being taken off it than ever before.

The delays in the scheme represented a clinical risk to patients as there was a direct correlation between Fair Deal waiting time and the number of people on trolleys in hospital emergency departments.

Unless the problems with Fair Deal were solved, the health service was in for a difficult 2015, he warned. The financial allocation of the HSE needed to reflect demographic pressures as quickly as possible.

Patients were also at clinical risk as a result of the enforced cancellation of inpatient procedures, as in some cases their condition might deteriorate in the absence of medical attention.

Minister of State for Primary Care Kathleen Lynch said Fair Deal would need additional funding to reduce waiting lists and invest in community supports, and ensure patients did not have to go into care.

Power nap the best “way to good health”


Many people turn to a power nap before a night out, a big meeting or an important event. And now the benefits have been scientifically backed up, as new research has found just 30 minutes of shuteye can repair damage triggered by lack of sleep by relieving stress and boosting your immune system.

The relationship between sleep and hormones in 11 healthy men aged between 25 and 32 was examined, with participants limited to two hours’ sleep for one night during one session. In the other session, the men slept the same amount of time but were also allowed two 30-minute naps the day after their restless night.

These would take place over three days, beginning with a full eight hours sleep and ending with the males given a night of unlimited snoozing as recovery.

Results discovered that limited sleep produced more norepinephrine, a hormone which increases blood sugar, blood pressure and heart rate, thus resulting in more energy. However there was a lack of interleukin-6, a protein with antiviral properties found in saliva. When the men napped, they still remained alert thanks to the norepinephrine, and their interleukin-6 was boosted.

This concludes that naps can be beneficial for the body as a whole, especially when fending off bacteria.

“Our data suggests a 30-minute nap can reverse the hormonal impact of a night of poor sleep.

“This is the first study that found napping could restore biomarkers of neuroendocrine and immune health to normal levels,” Dr Brice Faraut, of the Université Paris Descartes-Sorbonne Paris Cité, explained.

“Napping may offer a way to counter the damaging effects of sleep restriction by helping the immune and neuroendocrine systems to recover.

“The findings support the development of practical strategies for addressing chronically sleep-deprived populations, such as night and shift workers.”

The study, published in Endocrine Society’s Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, is also hoped to help those who do shift work and suffer from insomnia

Scientist’s ‘Try to contact the aliens’


Seti listens out for signals using its own radio telescope array at Hat Creek in California

Scientists at a US science conference have said it is now time to actively try to contact intelligent life on other worlds.

Researchers involved in the search for extra-terrestrial life are considering what the message from Earth should be.

The call has been made by at the American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting in San Jose.

But others argued that making our presence known might be dangerous.

Researchers at Seti have been listening for signals from outer space for more than 30 years using radio telescope facilities in the US. So far there has been no sign of ET.

The organisation’s director, Dr Seth Shostak told scientists at the AAAS meeting that it is now time to step up the search.

“Some of us at the institute are interested in ‘active Seti’, not just listening but broadcast something maybe to some nearby stars because maybe there is some chance that if you wake somebody up you’ll get a response,” he told BBC News.

The concerns are obvious, but sitting in his office at the institute in Mountain View, California, in the heart of Silicon Valley he expresses them with characteristic, impish glee.

Game over?

Any society that could come here and ruin our whole day by incinerating the planet already knows we are here”

“A lot of people are against active Seti because it is dangerous. It is like shouting in the jungle. You don’t know what is out there, you better not do it. If you incite the aliens to obliterate the planet, you wouldn’t want that on your tombstone, right?”

I couldn’t argue with that. But initially, I could scarcely believe I was having this conversation at a serious research institute rather than a science fiction convention. The sci-fi feel of our talk was underlined by the toy figures of bug-eyed aliens that cheerfully decorate the office.

But Dr Shostak is a credible and popular figure and has been invited to present his arguments at America’s largest gathering of scientists at the AAAS meeting.

Leading astronomers, anthropologists and social scientists are gathering at his institute after the AAAS meeting for a symposium to flesh out plans for a proposal for active Seti to put to the public and politicians.

Seth Shostak on search for extra-terrestrial life: “Just send it all, because if you send a lot of information there’s some chance they’ll figure it out”

High on the agenda is whether such a move would, as he put it so starkly, lead to the “obliteration” of the planet.

“I don’t see why the aliens would have any incentive to do that,” Dr Shostak tells me.

“Beyond that, we have been telling them willy-nilly that we are here for 70 years now. They are not very interesting messages but the early TV broadcasts, the early radio, the radar from the Second World War – all that has leaked off the Earth.

“Any society that could come here and ruin our whole day by incinerating the planet already knows we are here.”

A clash of cultures

His argument isn’t entirely reassuring. But neither is the one made by David Brin, a science fiction writer invited to speak at the AAAS meeting, who opposes the plan.

“Historians will tell you that first contact between industrial civilisations and indigenous people does not go well,” he told me.

Mr Brin believes that those in favour of active Seti have been “railroading” the public into sending a message without a wide and detailed discussion of what the cultural impact might be”

He does not fear a Hollywood-style alien invasion and thinks the likelihood of making contact is extremely low. But the risks, he argues are extremely high and so merit careful consideration before anyone sends out a signal to potentially habitable worlds.

David Brin is arguing for a wide and detailed consideration of active Seti involving the public and government’s across the world because it is a decision that he believes affects the entire planet.

“The arrogance of shouting into the cosmos without any proper risk assessment defies belief. It is a course that would put our grandchildren at risk,” he said.

Also on the agenda at the active Seti symposium is that if we are to send a message to ET – what should it be?

Some involved in the discussions believe we should send a sanitised account of ourselves, leaving out parts of our history we aren’t proud of and putting a positive spin on our achievements – as if our species were attending a job interview or first date. Dr Shostak disagrees. He thinks the only way to win over the aliens is to be ourselves.

“My personal preference is to send the internet – send it all because if you send a lot of information then there’s some chance that they’ll work it out”.

What if the universe had no “Big Bang” beginning?


Reports of the death of the Big Bang have been greatly exaggerated. Big Bang theory is alive and well. At the same time, our universe may not have a beginning or end.

Most of us understand the Big Bang as the idea that our entire universe came from a single point, what astrophysicists call a “singularity.” But we might not need a singularity to have a Big Bang, according to a new study.

Are you seeing the stories this week suggesting that the Big Bang didn’t happen? According to astrophysicist Brian Koberlein – a great science communicator at Rochester Institute of Technology with a popular page on G+ – that’s not quite what the new research (published in early February 2015 Physics Letters B, has suggested. The new study isn’t suggesting there was no Big Bang, Koberlein says. It’s suggesting that the Big Bang did not start with asingularity – a point in space-time when matter is infinitely dense, as at the center of a black hole. How can this be? Koberlein explains on his website:

The catch is that by eliminating the singularity, the model predicts that the universe had no beginning. It existed forever as a kind of quantum potential before ‘collapsing’ into the hot dense state we call the Big Bang. Unfortunately many articles confuse ‘no singularity’ with ‘no big bang.’

The new model – in which our universe has no beginning and no end – comes from Ahmed Farag Ali at Benha University in Egypt and coauthor Saurya Das at the University of Lethbridge in Alberta, Canada. Their paper looks at a result derived from Einstein’s theory of general relativity known as the Raychaudhuri equation. Koberlein says:

Basically his equation describes how a volume of matter changes over time, so its a great way of finding where physical singularities exist in your model. But rather than using the classical Raychaudhuri equation, the authors use a variation with a few quantum tweaks. This approach is often called semi-classical …

The upshot is that this work eliminates the need for an initial singularity of the Big Bang. That is, it eliminates the need for a single infinitely dense point from which our universe sprang some 13.8 billion years ago. The Big Bang itself, however, can still have happened, according to this model. Koberlein says:

The Big Bang is often presented as some kind of explosion from an initial point, but actually the Big Bang model simply posits that the universe was extremely hot and dense when the universe was young. The model makes certain predictions, such as the existence of a thermal cosmic background, that the universe is expanding, the abundance of elements, etc. All of these have matched observation with great precision. The Big Bang is a robust scientific theory that isn’t going away, and this new paper does nothing to question its legitimacy.

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One appealing feature of the new paper is that it also predicts a cosmological constant, a concept originally introduced by Albert Einstein in 1917. Einstein added a cosmological constant to his theory of general relativity keep the universe static, rather than expanding, but he later abandoned the concept as his “greatest blunder” after Edwin Hubble’s 1929 discovery that all galaxies outside our Local Group are moving away from each other.

The idea of a cosmological constant was discarded for some decades, but, since the 1990s, developments in cosmology have revived the idea that we need one to explain the universe as we observe it. In Ali and Das’ new model, a cosmological constant provides a proposed mechanism for the mysterious dark energy known to pervade space and cause an observed acceleration in the expansion of the universe.

So Big Bang theory is alive and well. And, Koberlein says:

While this is an interesting model, it should be noted that it’s very basic. More of a proof of concept than anything else. It should also be noted that replacing the Big Bang singularity with an eternal history isn’t a new idea. Many inflation models, for example, make similar predictions.

Still, it’ll be interesting to see if this model ignites interest among cosmologists and ultimately contributes to altering our thinking about a Big Bang singularity, which has been a fact of most of our lives since we were born. Big ideas like this do change, and it’ll be fun to see if this one does!

Bottom line: Most of us understand the Big Bang as the idea that our entire universe came from a single point, what astrophysicists call a “singularity.” But we might not need a singularity to have a Big Bang, according to a new study by Ahmed Farag Ali in Egypt and coauthor Saurya Das in Canada. The catch – according to astrophysicist Brian Koberlein – is that, without the singularity, this model predicts that the universe had no beginning. It existed forever as a kind of quantum potential before collapsing into the hot dense state we call the Big Bang.


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