Monthly Archives: April 2015

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Wednesday 29th April 2015

Troika to meet Irish officials for third post-bailout review of our economy

 

  1. State’s ‘unquestionable’ ability to repay loans is only assessment issue, say Irish officials

Under the terms of Ireland’s bailout, officials will undertake two post-programme surveillance missions each year until 75 per cent of Ireland’s bailout loans are repaid.

Troika officials are due to meet officials from theDepartment of Finance and the Central Bank over the coming days as part of the third post-bailout programme review of the Irish economy.

Representatives from Ireland’s three main lenders during its bailout – the European Commission, European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund – arrived in Dublin on Monday as part of a week-long mission to assess Ireland’s adherence to its commitments under its bailout programme, which ended in December 2013.

Under the terms of Ireland’s bailout, officials will undertake two post-programme surveillance missions each year until 75 per cent of Ireland’s bailout loans are repaid.

Officials are expected to complete their mission by Thursday. As it stands, representatives of the troika are not scheduled to meet Minister for Finance Michael Noonan, although an informal meeting is possible.

Fiscal consolidation

“The mission will take stock of Ireland’s fiscal consolidation and financial repair, as sustained financing conditions are essential for the full recovery of the Irish economy,” a spokeswoman for the commission said today.

“To this end, programme partners’ staff are discussing with the Irish authorities the latest developments in the financial sector, the fiscal and macroeconomic outlook and progress on the structural reforms agreed under the programme.”

Government officials played down the significance of the timing of the visit on the week the government unveiled its inaugural spring economic statement. “The representatives of the troika are completing a post-programme surveillance visit which is part of the post-bailout process. In terms of assessment, the only issue is Ireland’s ability to repay its loans. This is unquestionable,” a Department of Finance spokesman said.

In addition to the three main lenders, a representative of the European Stability Mechanism (ESM) is also participating in the mission. ESM director Klaus Reglinghas consistently argued that the ESM – which manages the euro area’s bailout fund – has an obligation to ensure its members are fully repaid.

The ESM manages the eurogroup’s loans that were offered to Ireland and other bailout countries during the financial crisis.

The Government successfully secured a commitment by the commission to reassess the formulae used to calculate Ireland’s growth projections, in advance of this week’s spring statement.

Mr Noonan raised the issue at a March 9th eurogroup meeting in Brussels at which ministers agreed to grant France, Italy and Belgium greater leeway on reaching budget targets.

Mr. Noonan is understood to have been supported in his call for flexibility for all member states by a number of smaller EU member states, including Portugal.

Heart disease is Ireland’s biggest killer with 27 dying every day,

  • new figures reveal

  

More people losing their lives to it than from cancer or alcohol-related illnesses.

Heart disease is Ireland’s biggest killer with 27 dying every day, new figures have revealed.

More people losing their lives to it than from cancer or alcohol-related illnesses.

The Irish Heart Foundation released a fact sheet about the dreaded disease yesterday (WED) ahead of their annual Happy Heart Appeal next week.

The IHF said many people don’t realise stroke and premature heart attacks are both cardiovascular diseases, which are caused by a build-up of fatty deposits in our arteries.

IHF Medical Director Caroline Cullen commented: “It is well known by medical professionals that cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death and disability in Ireland.

“Coronary disease can be treated more easily now than in the past with medication and stenting so fewer individuals require bypass grafting, there is a perception by the general public that it’s not so bad.

“But it’s important to remember that a stroke can have severe consequences leading to high levels of disability and a heart attack can lead to development of heart failure, a chronic condition which also has high levels of mortality and morbidity.”

Ms Cullen added: “Prevention is crucial and we strongly advocate healthier lifestyles and a less toxic environment.”

Cardiovascular disease begins at birth, when our body starts collecting these lumps. The effect they have on our arteries is influenced by factors such as genetics, age, gender and lifestyle.

The IHF warned that 20% of people will have a stroke.

They debunked the myth that stroke is an older person’s illness, saying it can strike at any age, with children as young as two being affected.

Women are also seven times more likely to die from heart disease and stroke than from breast cancer.

There is good news though, as the IHF said 80% of premature heart disease and stroke is preventable.

They are encouraging us to make lifestyle changes- such as eating healthily, not smoking, being active and keeping an eye on our cholesterol and blood pressure- to avoid getting these diseases young.

Furthermore, we should regularly monitor our blood pressure, as high levels can be deadly.

The top thing we can do to improve our heart health is to quit smoking.

It has been proven that a year after stubbing out, the risk of having a heart of stroke is slashed to half of that of a smoker.

When it comes to warning signs of a heart attack, chest pains are not the only one to look out for.

Men should be aware of indigestion, jaw or neck pain, while women may experience nausea, sweating and vomiting.

There are 90,000 people living with heart failure in Ireland right now and 50,000 who have been left with a disability after a stroke.

The IHF is urging the public to get behind their Happy Heart Appeal, which runs from May 7-9.

Pin badges will be available for E2 from street volunteers and Shaws and Supervalu branches.

All money raised will go towards helping fight heart disease and stroke, through care, prevention and research.

Having a challenging job could protect your brain in later life,

  • A study says

  

  • Jobs that require more speaking, and even arguing with colleagues are key
  • Can protect against memory and thinking decline in old age

Having a tough job could protect your brain in later life, researchers have found.

They say professionals whose jobs require more speaking, and even arguing with colleagues, could be better off.

Having managerial reponsibilities may even give you better protection against memory and thinking decline in old age than co-workers.

Professionals whose jobs require more speaking, and even arguing with colleagues, could be better off.

DOES YOUR JOB PROTECT YOU?

Examples of executive tasks are scheduling work and activities, developing strategies and resolving conflicts.

Examples of verbal tasks are evaluating and interpreting information and fluid tasks were considered to be those which included selective attention and analyzing data.

Memory and thinking abilities were also studied.

‘Our study is important because it suggests that the type of work you do throughout your career may have even more significance on your brain health than your education does,’ said study author Francisca S. Then, PhD, with the University of Leipzig in Germany.

The new study published in the April 29, 2015, online issue of Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology

‘Education is a well-known factor that influences dementia risk.’

For the study, 1,054 people over the age of 75 were given tests that measured their memory and thinking abilities every one-and-a-half years for eight years.

The researchers also asked the participants about their work history and categorized the tasks they completed into three groups: executive, verbal and fluid.

‘CHALLENGES AT WORK MAY INDEED BE A POSITIVE ELEMENT, IF THEY BUILD UP A PERSON’S MENTAL RESERVE IN THE LONG-TERM,’ SAID MR. THEN.

Dublin Zoo announces birth of baby monkey

    

Dublin Zoo is delighted to announce the birth of a Goeldi’s monkey baby to the South American House, proudly sponsored by Kellogg’s Coco Pops.

The new arrival was born on the 3rd March and weighs approximately 30 grams.

The baby joins its parents and older sister, Yari, who is 10 months old.

Commenting on the new arrival zookeeper Susan O’Brien said, “We’re delighted with the new addition. Inca, the mother, arrived to Dublin Zoo in 2012 from Banham Zoo in the UK and is a fantastic mother.

She is keeping the newborn very close to her at the moment and swinging around the habitat with her new baby on her back.”

“The baby is feeding very well on a diet of crickets, mealworms and waxworms.

This may not sound so tasty to us humans, but the insects are fed a high-vitamin diet which in-turn gets passed onto the Goeldi – a perfect diet for a newborn.”

“In a couple of weeks we should be able to get close enough to determine the gender but for now we are happy for the family to bond and get to know each other.

Goeldi’s monkeys blend into the forest so well that they were only first described in 1904.

These dark-haired monkeys, from western regions of South America’s tropical rainforests, mainly feed on fruit, vegetables, insects and bird eggs.

Don’t miss this week’s episode of The Zoo, which will be aired at 7pm on Thursday April 30th on RTÉ One, where footage of the Goeldi’s monkey baby can be seen!

Tesco to play the green card as it seeks to win back its crown

  • Retailer named as biggest buyer of Irish food and drink as it launches Tastebud initiative

 

SuperValu, which recently deposed Tesco Ireland as the largest grocer in the State by market share, makes much in its marketing of its relationship with local food suppliers. It sounds as if Tesco is not yet prepared to cede this turf to its rival.

Tesco on Wednesday launched its annual Tastebud initiative in conjunction with Bord Bia. This is a mentoring programme with the ultimate aim of getting Irish suppliers listed with Tesco.

The supermarket giant also launched a detailed report by Indecon economic consultants on its contribution to the Irish food industry.

The Indecon report concludes that the wider Tesco group is the largest buyer of Irish food and drink in the world, with purchases of €1.57 billion. This puts it well ahead of other big buyers of Irish food products, such as McDonalds, which sources beef here.

Alan Gray of Indecon says that Tesco Ireland accounts for close to €600 million of the purchases. Referencing the remaining €980 million sold to Tesco stores abroad, Gray reckons Tesco accounts for more than 11 per cent of all Irish food and drink exports.

Tesco Ireland’s commercial director, John Paul O’Reilly, insisted that the local operation of the group acts as a promoter of Irish food and drink exports to its sister operations in other countries, predominantly the UK.

With the relative weakness of the euro against sterling, the attractiveness of Irish products to Tesco’s buyers in Britain is likely to increase for as long as the currency remains undervalued versus the pound.

It’s another opportunity for Ireland Food Corporation?

O’Reilly suggested that Tesco plans to make more noise about its contribution to the Irish food and drink industry.

“We’re going to talk to our customers more about this, and about the Indecon report,” he said.

Tesco, which is beginning to find its feet at a corporate level after an annus horribilis due to an accounting scandal and lost market share, was never likely to take its toppling by Super-Valu in Ireland lying down.

As one of the planks of its strategy, shouting that “we are the biggest buyer of Irish food and drink in the world” isn’t a bad option.

Progress M-27M Russian space cargo ship could crash to Earth

 

Russia’s Mission Control has failed to stabilise a cargo ship spinning out of control in orbit and it is plunging back to Earth.

However, Mission Control says it has not yet given up on saving the unmanned spacecraft. The Progress M-27M was launched on Tuesday and was scheduled to dock at the International Space Station six hours later to deliver 2.5 tons of supplies, including food and fuel.

However, flight controllers were unable to receive data from the spacecraft, which had entered the wrong orbit. Mission Control spokesman Sergei Talalasov told the Interfax news agency that flight controllers were still trying to restore communication with the Progress.

However, an official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told the AFP news agency that the cargo ship will plunge back to earth. “It has started descending. It has nowhere else to go,” the official said. “It is clear that absolutely uncontrollable reactions have begun.”

“We have scheduled two more communication sessions to soothe our conscience,” said the official. The vessel would fall back to Earth anytime over the next week. Mark Matney, a scientist in the Orbital Debris Program Office at NASA’s Johnson Space Centre in Houston, said the odds that any of the 7 billion people on Earth will be struck by a piece that makes it back through the atmosphere is 1 in 3,200.

“The odds you will be hit are 1 in several trillion,” Matney said. TASS news agency quoted an unnamed space official as saying the Progress, carrying supplies such as food and fuel, had missed its intended orbit and could be lost if it is not corrected.

Other officials told Russian news agencies there had been a problem opening two antennae on the craft.

Space exploration is a subject of national pride in Russia, rooted in the Cold War space race with the US, but the collapse of the Soviet Union starved the space programme of funds and it has been beset by problems in recent years.

The current crew on the International Space Station is made up of Americans Terry Virts and Scott Kelly, Russians Anton Shkaplerov, Gennady Padalka and Mikhail Korniyenko and Italian Samantha Cristoforetti.

NASA said none of the equipment on board was critical for the US section of the ISS, and that the astronauts have enough provisions for months.

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News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Tuesday 28th April 2015

A spring statement showing five ways it will affect your pocket

  • After Irish Water debacle Government is planning absolutely no nasty surprises.

 

Minister for Finance Michael Noonan speaks delivered the Government’s spring economic statement. He predicts tax reductions and extra Government spending in the Budget.

The spring statement set the goalpost for the budget, but did not give us the detail. We don’t have the budgetary tables of who wins and who loses and by how much and the typical budget day examples such as “Mary”, the single public servant earning €40,000, or “Michael and Siobhán”, the couple earning €85,000. But clear hints have been dropped by Minister for Finance Michael Noonan and Minister for Public Expenditure Brendan Howlin about how the spoils of economic growth will be divided.

Some €1 billion was distributed in tax cuts and spending hikes in the 2015 package presented last October. For next October the indications are that there will be at least €1.5 billion to spare.

Here are five things that this all means for your pocket:

1 Lower tax and charges on pay packets: The Government cut the USC and income tax modestly in the last budget, with tweaks made to claw back some of the gains from those earning more than €70,000 a year. We can expect more of the same in the next budget, as Noonan confirmed when he launched a strong defence of the Government’s tax strategy. Tax cuts of over €600 million are expected next October, compared to €400 million last October.

If the Government is re-elected, Noonan made clear that we can expect more of the same in the years ahead.

Next October we can expect a further increase in the standard rate tax band – single earners now enter the higher 40% income tax rate at €33,800 and this income limit will likely rise, benefiting anyone earning over that level. As happened last year, USC changes are likely to benefit lower and middle income earners in particular.

Last year’s budget boosted after-tax income by 1 -1.5% for most earners with the biggest gains going to a group of lowest earners excluded from USC and to those on incomes of €35,000 to €75,000 for a single earner.

So if, as expected, the Government goes for a “same but a bit more” approach next October, the gains for many will be about 1.5 – 2.5% in terms of a boost to take home pay.

Tax cuts will benefit people’s pockets, but the return of cash is gradual. Tax hikes during the crisis totaled about €10 billion. There were tax cuts of about €400 million last October and a further €2 billion might be affordable over the next three years. So in rough terms taxpayers might get a quarter of the emergency hikes back by 2018.

2 Rising public sector pay: There is no doubt that rising public sector pay in some form is now on the agenda, with Howlin getting Cabinet clearance to commence talks with the unions. How much this will take of the €600 million – €750 million available for day-to-day spending increases next year is not clear. The public pay bill is about €14 billion so the gross cost of each 1% rise is €140 million, though the net cost is lower as the exchequer gets about 30% of any rise back in higher income tax. Howlin was cautious, but he did say in relation to public pay that “the unwinding of the measures will take time”.

The Government will consider increases – the issue is how quickly and on what basis. One option would be to focus initially on the pension levy, which was introduced in 2009 and takes about 7.5% from an average public sector salary. Overall, however, like tax cuts, it is a long way back after pay cuts of 14-15% for most public servants.

3 Increases in Government payments and subsidies: Howlin mentioned the social protection budget as one area set to get more cash. This means more in payments in some areas. In the last budget, the monthly child benefit payment was increased by €5 and another rise can be expected in October. Last year the living-alone allowance paid to 180,000 older people was also increased and more of this kind of targeted payment rises can be anticipated too.

Howlin also referenced a special group examining childcare issues and more help for younger families looks likely. This could involve either subsidies for childcare costs or some kind of tax relief. A second free preschool year is also being examined, as is subsidised after-school activities.

4 No nasty surprises on the way: After the water charges row, the Government is going to do absolutely nothing to raise any additional taxes or charges, no matter how small. There was nothing in the statement that might cause even a hint of controversy. Noonan did say, however, that the property tax and water charges must remain in place.

5 Banking bonus: It is clear that the main banks are gearing up to cut their standard variable mortgage rates and that the Government will take whatever credit it can. Noonan said he will call in the main lenders and would not be likely to do so unless he felt that reductions were imminent.

Those in mortgage arrears are also promised more options in a new package to be unveiled over the next few weeks.

Men in construction sectors ‘account for half of male suicides’

  • Report for CIF and Pieta House suggests a high number of deaths among those in production-type jobs

 

Mind our Workers: a new campaign by the Construction Industry Federation and Pieta House aims to raise awareness of suicide and mental health issues in the sector.

Men working in construction and production jobs accounted for nearly half of all male deaths by suicide in the period 2008 to 2012, a new report suggests.

An estimated 1,039 men from a construction or production background died by suicide during that period out of a total of 2,137 male suicides, according to figures published by the Construction Industry Federation (CIF).

Mind our Workers, a campaign to raise awareness of suicide and mental health in the sector, was launched on Tuesday by the CIF and suicide prevention charity Pieta House.

A report commissioned by the organisations notes there has generally been little data available on the professional background of people who have died by suicide in Ireland.

But in recent years, the National Office for Suicide Prevention commissioned the National Suicide Research Foundation to undertake a study and to establish a suicide support and information system (SSIS).

In the second phase of that study, some 307 cases of suicide in Cork between September 2008 and June 2012 were examined (275 suicides and 32 open verdicts at inquest).

Of the 307 deaths, 246 (80%) were males. Some 120 of those had been working in the construction/production sector, a total of 49%.

This was more than triple the number of deaths accounted for by next highest sector, which was agriculture.

By extrapolating from the trends identified in the research and applying them to the national data, the researchers said “it could be soundly estimated” that at least 1,000 suicides came from a construction/production professional background between 2008 and 2012.” This rose to 1,039 when directly extrapolated from the second phase of the study.

Men account for 108,300 or 93% of the total 116,700 working in the construction sector, the Mind Our Workers report notes.

Ten people a week in Ireland die by suicide and eight of those are men.

Some 6,520 suicides took place between 2000 and 2012 – 81% or 5,263 were male.

Between 2008 and 2012, there were 2,137 male suicides.

Pieta House chief executive Brian Higgins said the organisation was delighted to initiate the campaign in partnership with the CIF.

“It is extremely encouraging that a national body as influential as the CIF sees the impact of suicide on the construction industry and its employees and is partnering with an organisation such as ourselves to help tackle the issue. Partnerships such as this are a way of building resilience within our society.”

CIF director general Tom Parlon said the suicide figures for the sector were “shocking”.

“The industry can’t ignore this problem – there is a necessity to take steps to try to help those in need. Given the amount of time people spend in the workplace, that is where the Mind Our Workers campaign will focus. By promoting a more open approach amongst construction workers and their colleagues we hope it might reduce the number of people who feel they have no way out.”

CIF president Michael Stone said the organisation wanted to see a working environment where it was acceptable for men to ask their friends and colleagues, “Are you ok?”

The ‘Mind Our Workers’ campaign will run throughout the year. Campaign leaflets will be distributed throughout the industry and briefings and workshops will also be organised for CIF members.

Pieta House representatives will also attend regional branch meetings to discuss suicide and mental health.

A series of ‘toolbox talks’ about mental health and suicide will also be organised at workplaces and construction sites.

Separately, more than 100,000 people are expected to participate in the seventh annual Darkness into Light event for Pieta House in the early hours of Saturday May 9th.

No extension to insurance loading date from Leo Varadkar

  • Lifetime Community Rating will begin on May 1

    

The Minister for Health, Leo Varadkar, has confirmed that there will be no extension to the starting date of Lifetime Community Rating, which is due to come into effect at the end of this week.

From May 1, members of the public aged 35 and older who do not have private health insurance, but then choose to take it out, will be charged extra.

Known as Lifetime Community Rating, these consumers will see their premiums permanently loaded by 2% per year from the age of 35. For example, if a 54-year-old decides to take out private health insurance for the first time after April 30, they will have a loading of 40% added to their premium every single year that they remain insured.

The maximum loading is 70% and this will apply to people aged 69 and older who take out insurance for the first time after April 30.

According to Minister Varadkar, this system ‘will help to ensure that older and sicker citizens can still afford health insurance because the healthy and young who do not make as many claims still pay into the system’.

“It will also help to stabilise the market by encouraging people to retain health insurance once they have it. This is an essential measure to protect our system of community rating whereby everyone pays the same premium for the same policy regardless of their age or their health status,” he said.

He added that private health insurers are recording a higher volume of calls and internet enquiries this week and phone lines are remaining open late each night to deal with this.

Women who breastfeed ‘can lower the risk of dying from breast cancer’

   

Women breastfeed their children during a pro-breastfeeding protest in central London in December

Breastfeeding significantly reduces the risk of being killed by breast cancer, a new study has suggested.

Women with the disease who breastfed their babies have a significantly lower risk of the cancer killing them or recurring, according to the paper.

Scientists found a history of breastfeeding lowered the risk of dying by 28 per cent and reduced the chance of the cancer coming back by 30 per cent.

The study, by US health care provider Kaiser Permanente, used data from 1,636 women with breast cancer who completed a questionnaire about breastfeeding.

Breastfeeding had a clear protective effect, especially in relation to particular types of tumour including the most common hormone-sensitive strain.

The protection was strongest for women who had a history of breastfeeding for six months or longer.

Lead researcher Dr Marilyn Kwan said: “This is the first study we’re aware of that examined the role of breastfeeding history in cancer recurrence, and by tumour subtype.

“Women who breastfeed are more likely to get the luminal A subtype of breast cancer, which is less aggressive, and breastfeeding may set up a molecular environment that makes the tumour more responsive to anti-oestrogen therapy.”

Luminal A breast cancer includes oestrogen-positive tumours which are driven by the female hormone and are the most commonly diagnosed form of the disease.

These tumours are less likely to spread to other parts of the body than other types and are treatable with hormonal drugs such as tamoxifen and aromatase inhibitors.

Why women who breastfeed their babies develop less aggressive tumours is not entirely clear.

Co-author Dr Bette Caan, also from Kaiser Permanente, said: “Breastfeeding may increase the maturation of ductal cells in the breast, making them less susceptible to carcinogens or facilitate the excretion of carcinogens, and lead to slower growing tumours.”

The research appears in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

Irish meteor hunters pay attention,

  • Here are 5 steps to finding a recent meteorite

   

Irish meteor hunters pay attention, here are 5 steps to finding the recent meteorite

Those on the island of Ireland who may have spotted a giant flare-like streak in the sky were intrigued to discover that it was in fact a rare meteorite, pieces of which could be worth thousands of euro to its finders.

Perhaps even more eyebrow-raising for meteorite hunters is that the very rare event – approximately twice a year – is so unusual that each piece of the meteorite could be worth 10 times the price of gold at its current rate, which could put it as high as €10,000 per piece.

According to David Moore of Astronomy Ireland, the best guessas to where it landed is most likely in the north of the island and he is now calling on every camera that may have recorded the incident sometime around 10.10pm on Sunday, 26 April to bring forth their footage to better locate the smoking piece of space debris.

Despite Ireland’s small size compared with the rest of the planet, it’s understandably difficult to find a small piece of rock, with the last recorded finding not even occurring this millennium, having been discovered in Leighlinbridge, Co Carlow back in 1999.

Given its rarity, it might be a little daunting to meteorite hunters as to how to actually find the smoking gun/rock, which is why, in their infinite space wisdom, Space.com has previously detailed the essential five steps to making a big find.

  1. Finding a potential spot

Meteor hunting isn’t just a treasure hunt, but a scientific expedition that needs exact detail in order to find where the meteorite may have landed.

While we know that it landed somewhere in the north of the island, with the help of trajectory calculations, the prospector needs to identify the meteorite’s ‘dark flight’, which is the part of its fall when it slows to a speed of between 3-4km per second when its bright tail vanishes from sight.

If this can be located, it can narrow down the potential landing site significantly given that it would likely fall soon after its dark flight.

  1. Make sure you have permission before jumping in a field

Given that there’s a lot of farmland across this island, most patches of grass in the countryside are likely to belong to a farmer or group of farmers.

The one thing to be certain of is that if a meteorite falls onto the grounds of someone’s estate, they don’t have the legal right to ownership of a large chunk of space debris, so once permission is sought, legal possession falls to the finder.

It’s probably best not to make them aware of its potential value, however…

  3  Get a good metal detector … and know how to use it

It might seem obvious to run to the nearest store that might sell metal detectors and pick one up to begin a hunt, but it’s much more complicated than that.

Given the complexity of minerals that make up meteorites, it’s simply not possible to just move a metal detector around a field, as would be seen in movies, as a specific type of metal detector is needed to find one.

According to metal detector enthusiasts, it is vital that, when searching for meteorites, the detector’s iron discriminator is switched off to better locate iron-laden meteorites, while gold-prospecting metal detectors are also good at locating the space debris.

  1. Get your rock verified by a mineralogist

Given that it’s likely that many people in Ireland are not experts in minerals, it’s probably safe to say that should someone discover what they believe to be a piece of the recent meteorite crash, it’s best to take it to someone who could actually determine whether it is from terra firma or outer space.

For preliminary tests, however, it might be a good idea to bring a magnet to see whether the rock is magnetic given that the typical meteorite contains between 10-30pc iron.

However, magnetism does not mean it’s a meteorite, rather that it’s increased the likelihood of it being from space.

Likewise, if the sample is ground slightly, does it reveal a metallic silver substance inside? This is one of the tell-tale signs as to whether a rock is just a rock, or an ancient meteorite.

  5  Science over personal gain?

So you’ve discovered a meteorite, congratulations! But while your thoughts might be on where you’re going to install your new swimming pool, make sure to alert organisations, such as Astronomy Ireland, of your find so as they can analyse the sample with the hope of maybe finding something that could prove beneficial to our understanding of the wider universe.

Astronomy Ireland is currently looking for as many reports as possible from eyewitnesses and potential discoverers of the meteorite fragments so take this into account if you are lucky enough to stumble across them.

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Monday 27th April 2015

An Post could dump our letters that don’t have enough stamps on them

    

An Post could end up dumping away our letters that don’t have enough postage paid on them under new proposed terms it wants to impose on Irish customers.

And consumers could end up insuring letters to carry cash but get nothing back if the mail gets lost.

The regulator ComReg has highlighted a number of serious concerns it has with new terms and conditions proposed by An Post.

It says that some of the new conditions An Post wants to impose are very heavily weighted against customers and would have a “significantly adverse effect on postal service users”.

In a consultation paper on the new postal terms and conditions, ComReg highlights particular issues where consumers want to send cash or vouchers in the post.

ComReg said An Post on the one hand appears to prohibit the sending of cash through the post but then permits it if in a secure insured package.

Another clause then states that cash, bank drafts and vouchers can be sent in postal packets to addresses inside and outside the state, but says they are excluded from compensation.

This implied people could pay insurance but would not then get anything back if the item went astray.

“ComReg considers that it would be difficult for postal service users to know whether they can or cannot send money by post and if so in what circumstances this is permitted and what compensation is payable,” it said.

An Post is also seeking the right to detain or dispose of underpaid letters and packages rather than delivering them with a surcharge to the recipient, as is currently the practice.

ComReg is also calling foul on this new postal condition, arguing that it gives An Post very wide-ranging discretion and that it is “a fundamental change” to how post has always been treated as the property of the addressee.

This new way of doing business would also allow An Post to open private letters, and would mean that neither the sender nor the recipient might be aware what had happened to their mail.

This is the first time that An Post has drawn up terms and conditions that are subject to regulation

ComReg is now looking for interested parties to have their say on the changes by May 20 before new rules are set.

PTSB raises €525m from capital markets with stock priced at €4.50 per share

 

  • Bank sells €400m in shares and sources €125m via debt instrument

PTSB chief executive Jeremy Masding described the investor interest as “exceptional” with the company making more than 100 presentations to potential investors over the past six months.

Permanent TSB has raised €525 million from capital markets through the sale of €400 million worth of shares and €125 million via a debt instrument.

PTSB today raised €400 million through the sale of 88.9 million ordinary shares with private investors. This priced the stock at €4.50 per share, which was the top of the price range indicated by the bank last week.

It has also raised €125 million through the issuance of AT1 capital with a coupon of 8.625%.

In addition, the Government is selling 21.8 million shares in the group for €98 million. All of this will have the effect of reducing the State’s holding in PTSB to 75% from the 99.2% currently.

The bank will now seek admission to the main stock markets in both Dublin and London in the next two days.

The funds will be used in part to plug a €125 million hole in its capital, which was identified in regulatory stress tests last October. In addition, the bank will pay €410.5 million to the Government through the repurchase of the State’s contingent capital notes.

PTSB chief executive Jeremy Masding described the investor interest as “exceptional” with the company making more than 100 presentations to potential investors over the past six months.

The bank also plans an open offer to existing retail shareholders, who own the residual shares in the bank. This will be on the same terms as offered to the new investors today. The open offer will close in three weeks.

The Minister for Finance Michael Noonan, welcomed the capital raising by PTSB and its return of some of its €2.7 billion bailout to the State following its recapitalisation in 2011.

He said it was an “important milestone” for the company and he expressed his satisfaction at the State retaining a “valuable” 75% holding in PTSB.

“The move to the main markets on both the Irish Stock Exchange and the London Stock Exchange is a positive for the bank and allows the State additional flexibility and liquidity to manage its sell down of PTSB in the future,” Mr Noonan said.

Markus Feehily abused to chanted vile homophobic abuse in Sligo pub

  

The singer was forced to leave a pub after a group of men chanted abuse at him

Markus Feehily has revealed he was forced to leave a pub in his Hometown after being subjected to vile homophobic abuse.

The Westlife star was enjoying a drink when a man approached him to take a picture.

A group of the man’s friends then crowded around the singer and began chanting abuse at him.

Shock: Mark was ganged up on in the pub Markus admitted the experience was “intimiating” and “upsetting”.

“A man asked to take a picture of me then four of his friends crowded round yelling, ‘What the f**k are you doing? Why are you taking a photo with him – you gay? You queer!’”

“We left quickly, the fear kicks in. I was shocked,” Markus said.

The Sligo native feels more work needs to be done to crack down on anti-gay sentiment.

“It would be a mistake to think it’s over. Things are far from where they need to be.”

Markus is currently busy promoting his debut solo single Love Is A Drug and recently performed the tune on The Saturday Night Show.

First Irish-American collaboration to target prostate cancer research

  • Irish American collaboration ‘the first of its kind’

    

The Irish Cancer Society (ICS) is to join forces with two leading US institutions in an attempt to advance research and identify new treatments for prostate cancer.

Prostate cancer is one of the most common male cancers, affecting around one in every six men in their lifetime. Over 2,000 Irish men are newly diagnosed with the disease every year.

The ICS is joining forces with the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health to form the Boston-Ireland Prostate Cancer Collaboration.

This new collaboration, the first of its kind, aims to make ‘a significant and lasting impact on the diagnosis, treatment and management of the disease’, the ICS said.

“This fellowship programme will address key clinical needs in prostate cancer such as accurate diagnosis, assessment of treatment options to ensure best quality of life and identification of new therapeutic targets for treatment-resistant disease,” the society noted.

A highly competitive selection process to find a young scientist or clinician to undertake this opportunity is due to start later this year. The successful recipient will spend two years in the US, before bringing their expertise back to Ireland.

“This collaboration brings together internationally unique expertise in the field of prostate cancer. This novel partnership will leverage our combined knowledge and resources to make a real and lasting difference to prostate cancer patients and their families on both sides of the Atlantic,” commented the ICS’s head of research, Dr Robert O’Connor.

Meanwhile, according to Dr Philip Kantoff of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, this collaboration ‘will train bright young investigators in Ireland and Boston with a view to creating a pool of talented and internationally networked researchers’.

“It is through exciting collaborations such as this that leading US and Irish researchers can exchange knowledge which will ultimately lead to significant prostate cancer breakthroughs,” he added.

The announcement about the collaboration was made at the inaugural John Fitzpatrick Irish Prostate Cancer Conference, which took place recently in Dublin in memory of Prof Fitzpatrick, the first head of research at the ICS.

Have scientists found a way to ‘switch off hunger panks’?

  • A team of researchers have identified the brain cells which cause hunger pangs

    

Feeling hungry? It’s all to do with a select set of brain cells, apparently

We all know what it’s like to try and lose weight, only to find ourselves gorging on chocolate once the hunger pangs strike.

There could be hope for dieters however, after scientists identified the brain cells which create the sensation of hunger – findings that they say create “a promising new target for the development of weight-loss drugs”.

Resarchers from Harvard Medical School and Edinburgh University found that a brain circuit known as melanoncortin 4 receptor-regulated (MC4R) is the set of cells which controls the desire to eat.

By switching off the cells in a group of mice, the scientists increased hunger, while switching them on stopped the hunger pangs.

“Our results show that the artificial activation of this particular brain circuit is pleasurable and can reduce feeding in mice, essentially resulting in the same outcome as dieting but without the chronic feeling of hunger,” explained the study’s co-senior author Bradford Low, a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and an investigator at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center for Nutrition and Metabolism.

The scientists managed to activate and switch off the brain cells by exposing the mice to blue laser light, via an optical fibre that was implanted in the animals’ brains.

New dinosaur poses evolutionary puzzle

Paleontologists have unearthed a strange new species of dinosaur that is unlike anything ever seen before.

  

  • Chilesaurus diegosuarezi, a vegetarian dinosaur despite being a close relative of famous meat-eaters like Tyrannosaurus rex.

It was given the name Chilesaurus because it was found in Chile. The “diegosuarezi” part of its name is a tribute to Diego Suarez, who found the first Chilesaurus fossil in 2005 when he was just 7 years old.Suarez was in the region with his geologist parents who were there to study rock formations. He was hunting for stones when he found his first fossil, which belonged to this strange, never-before-seen dinosaur.

It also mixes a bizarre range of characteristics from unrelated dinosaur species, leading palaeontologists to describe it as a platypus dinosaur.

Most families have one, the odd one out who doesn’t seem to look like the rest of the group. The Chilesaurus diegosuarezi takes this to the extreme, and not just in its preference for leaves and plants over a Stegosaurus steak or a Brontoburger.

All dinosaurs had feathers at one time, researchers say

Most of the dozen Chilesaurus specimens excavated so far are about the size of a modern-day turkey, but larger bones suggest the big ones could have been three-metres long.

It is related to tough guys such as the Velociraptor and Carnotaurus, but has a proportionally smaller head and feet that are more like those of the long-neck dinosaurs, according to the authors of a study of the species published in Nature.

Chilesaurus is probably the descendant of meat-eating theropods and eventually evolved to become an herbivore, the researchers conclude. It had plant-chomping teeth like those of primitive long-necked dinosaurs, Plant-eating theropods have been found before, but this was the first one to be seen in South America.

A previously unknown species?

Experts are excited, not just because it was a previously unknown species that dates back to 145 million years ago.

Its admixture of unique anatomical traits makes it one of the most extreme cases of what is known as “mosaic convergent evolution” recorded in the history of life.

This happens when one organism has characteristics from other unrelated species due to a similar mode of life, explains Dr Martin Ezcurra of the University of Birmingham.

In effect, it borrows useful traits from other species because they suit the animal’s particular lifestyle.

Its discovery is a story in itself. Diego Suarez (7) found the fossilised bones while searching for decorative stones with his sister Macarena. They were with their geologist parents who were studying rocks in Chilean Patagonia.

The species must have been very successful despite its oddities, given it came to be “by far the most abundant dinosaur in southwest Patagonia”, lead researcher Dr Fernando Novas, of Bernardino Rivadavia Natural Sciences Museum in Argentina, said.

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Saturday/Sunday 25 & 26th April 2015

Is the general election around the corner?

  • Martin uses the ard-fheis keynote address to set out the FF stall
  • FF chief highlights broken Coalition promises as general election campaign gets under way

    

“If it was a fresh approach you were looking for, [Micheál Martin’s keynote] speech didn’t provide it. It simultaneously offered very little, and a lot more of the same.

Make no mistake about it – the general election campaign is under way.

At least nine months out from the the polls, Micheál Martin used his party’s ardfheis to set out Fianna Fáil’s stall.

The leader used his 30-minute live keynote address to highlight a string of broken Coalition promises – before making a list of promises of his own.

Fianna Fáil wants to reduce the Universal Social Charge (USC) and eventually abolish it.

The party wants to increase mortgage interest relief, extend welfare benefits to the self-employed and put more gardaí on the ground. But ultimately, who doesn’t want this?

If it was a fresh approach you were looking for, this speech didn’t provide it. It simultaneously offered very little, and a lot more of the same.

The party chief missed an opportunity to announce a big-ticket item to win over the public or to atone for their past mistakes.

Mr Martin used his chance to tear apart the Coalition’s record in Government, highlighting the Irish Water scandal, the health crisis and the mortgage arrears issue to remind Saturday night viewers of the error of Fine Gael and Labour’s way.

No amount of spin, fist pumps or photo opportunities can take that reality away, Micheál told delegates and the television audience.

And what of Sinn Féin? They would be a million times worse.

Gerry Adams’s party will promise you everything and deliver you nothing, Mr Martin said.

However, a notable aspect of the address was how little time he spent attacking the party’s main rivals.

The party leader has gone on the attack against Sinn Féin in recent weeks. If the weekend poll is any indicator, this approach might be proving counterproductive. Sinn Féin’s support has risen by 5%.

Fianna Fáil remain calmed.

A Bruising week? No big loss for the party, but no big gain either after a bruising week for the two Government parties.

Martin’s message to delegates this weekend is that it is time to get focused, get on the ground and take the fight to every community in the country.

The only people who can win the fight for Fianna Fáil are Fianna Fáil themselves.

Their biggest stumbling block? Fianna Fáil (and recent history).

Mr Martin’s speech isn’t going to attract the masses to the party, but it may be enough to keep the grassroots happy for now.

He was eager to remind them that their party was founded from the great men and women of 1916.

This was a comment clearly aimed at Sinn Féin, as he stressed that no single party should be allowed to hijack the commemorations.

There was a brief mention of the Celtic Tiger and the collapse of the economy.

This was a warning against making the same mistakes again – something he said Fianna Fáil would be well placed to do, given their hands-on experience during the crash.

Martin did very little wrong with his speech. He looked good, he sounded well and he didn’t frighten the horses.

But if it was inspiration, energy or an alternative you were looking for from the RDS main hall, this didn’t provide it.

Martin is doing his best to juggle the diehard Fianna Fáilers who stayed with the party through thick and thin with the young guns who want a break from the past and a fresh start.

He used the speech to reassure the party faithful, rather than appeal to those outside the FF fold in the RDS. With time running out, he needed to do that.

Fianna Fáil and Micheál may have come through the worst of the storm but on tonight’s showing, there is a still some way to go.

As much as 9% of AIB staff (some 993) are earning €100k or more?

      The old CEO David Duffy above left and the new man Bernard Byrne right pic, will anything change? Probably not.

The number of high-fliers at the State-owned AIB with pay packages in excess of €100,000 totalled almost 1,100 at the end of last year.

New figures provided by AIB to Finance Minister Michael Noonan disclose that 1,092 people at AIB enjoyed remuneration of over €100,000 in 2014. It represents just over 9% of the bank’s 11,047-strong workforce.

Nine staff members enjoyed remuneration of over €400,000; 13 staff workers were on remuneration of between €300,000 and €400,000; and another 77 were paid between €200,000 and €300,000.

The figures, released to Fianna Fáil’s finance spokesman Michael McGrath in response to parliamentary questions, show that 993 AIB staff members were on remuneration of between €100,000 and €200,000.

The remuneration includes annual salary, non-pensionable allowances, and pension contributions.

The number of staff members on salaries of over €100,000 is significantly lower, with 597 in that bracket. This includes:

  • Seven people on salaries over €400,000;
  • Three on salaries between €300,000 and €400,000;
  • 28 on salaries between €200,000 and €300,000;
  • 559 on salaries between €100,000 and €200,000.

Employee numbers at AIB have declined from 13,429 to 11,047 between December 2012 and December 2014.

AIB said it “continues to comply with its remuneration requirements following receipt of Government support”.

Larry Broderick of IBOA, the finance union, said: “The overwhelming majority of employees in AIB earn less than half of the minimum amount quoted in the parliamentary question. Indeed a substantial number earn less than one third of the figure.”

“The last improvement in pay for any of our members in AIB took place in 2009. Since then there have been no increases in rates, no payment of increments, and no payment of performance awards and major changes in the pension scheme.

“At the same time, over 3,000 employees have been made redundant in AIB since the onset of the banking crisis — with many more being outsourced to other companies. Over 70 branches have been closed around the country. At the same time, AIB employees have agreed, albeit reluctantly, to an increase in the standard working week of two hours.

“Through the difficult years since the crisis, the bank’s senior management told our members that pay would return to the bargaining agenda once the bank returned to profit. AIB Group returned to profit in 2014. So our members believe that the time has come for the employer to honour that earlier commitment.”

Separate figures for Permanent TSB show that 160 staff members were on remuneration of over €100,000 at the end of last year:

  • Two people were on remuneration of over €400,000;
  • Three were on remuneration between €300,000 and €400,000;
  • 12 were on remuneration between €200,000 and €300,000;
  • 143 were on remuneration between €100,000 and €200,000.

Again, the remuneration includes non-pensionable allowances and pension contributions.

The number of PTSB workers on salaries over €100,000 is significantly lower, with fewer than half of the 160 in that bracket. This includes three members of staff on salaries between €300,000 and €400,000.

FF promises deposit cash for first-time house buyers,

  • Depending on economy

    

Fianna Fáil is promising a cash bonus to help first-time buyers get on the property ladder.

It is offering up to €10,000 for couples – and €5,000 for single people – to top up their deposits by 25%.

Up to 80,000 people could benefit, under a new housing policy that also aims to build 150,000 homes.

The whole policy would cost more than €300m, but finance spokesman Michael McGrath says none of Fianna Fáil’s policies will be pursued if there is not enough money to do it.

He said: “The promises and the commitements made by all political parties going into the next election will be dependent on economic performance.

“I think that’s a point the parties have not been honest about with the people in the past.

“They have made promises with no conditionality, and they’ve given the clear impression that come what may, this is what’s going to happen.”

Irish pharmacists want women with medical cards to have easier access to the morning after pill

   

Pharmacists want women with medical cards to have easier access to the morning after pill

Pharmacists have called on the HSE to make the morning after pill available to women with medical cards directly from their pharmacy free of charge.

Pharmacists have been allowed to supply the emergency contraceptive Norolevo to women without a prescription since 2011. However women with medical cards still have to go to their GP if they wish to get the medicine free of charge.

At the Irish Pharmacy Union (IPU) national conference in Killarney today, President Kathy Maher said the effectiveness of emergency contraception diminishes between the time of unprotected sex and the time of taking it and this emphasises the need for convenience and accessibility.

77% of pharmacy consultations about the morning after pill occur within 24 hours of unprotected sex and pharmacists say this shows the value of having the medicine available to women as soon as they need it.

  • 22% of women who avail of the emergency contraceptive services in pharmacies have a medical card.

Pharmacists claim that making women with medical cards attend their doctor for a prescription in order to obtain the pill free of charge is “farcical, discriminatory and unacceptable”.

“It is unacceptable that a medicine, which is known to be most effective within a 24-hour period, cannot be accessed immediately free-of-charge by women with a medical card. The delay in accessing treatment for GMS patients is a huge concern, given the potentially far-reaching and life-changing consequences of an unplanned pregnancy,” Maher said today.

“This situation discriminates against women with a medical card over private female patients and needs to be changed as soon as possible.”

Pharmacists today passed a motion at their National Conference calling on the HSE to put a mechanism in place “to make emergency hormonal contraception available to women with medical cards directly from the community pharmacy.”

Ladies always think before you drink?

Because it’s your friend/enemy

Alcohol is not a woman’s best bubbly friend; it is her biggest let-down?

     

Ladies! Hard day? Have a drink. Great day? Have a drink. Going out? Have a drink. Staying in? Have a drink. Feeling good / bad / tired / bored? Have a drink.

This week a conference in Dublin looked at women and booze, says how women now drink as much as men, and sometimes more.

Girls, Women and Alcohol: The Changing Nature Of Female Alcohol Consumption In Ireland was told that since 1995, teenage girls are out-boozing boys, and the seminer also examined the overall rise in female drinking, and how it impacts on our minds and bodies.

According to Alcohol Action Ireland, four out of 10 women report harmful drinking patterns — meaning their drinking is already harming their physical and / or mental health.

Between 1995 and 2004, there was a 29% increase in teenage girls being admitted to hospital for alcohol-related conditions, compared with a 9% increase in teenage boys.

Middle-aged women are developing alcohol-related ill health and dying more prematurely than their male counterparts, with professional women drinking significantly more than non-professionals.

Pictured at the Alcohol Action Ireland conference in Dublin were: (L-R) Ann Dowsett Johnston, author and alcohol policy advocate, Suzanne Costello, CEO of Alcohol Action Ireland, Katherine Brown, Director, Institute of Alcohol Studies, UK and Lucy Rocca, author and founder of Soberistas.com

“In recent decades, Irish women, particularly younger women, have begun to drink more alcohol, more often,” says Suzanne Costello, CEO of Alcohol Action Ireland.

“The shift we have seen in the nature of women’s drinking in Ireland has been influenced by a number of factors, but the main one is undoubtedly how heavily targeted they have become by alcohol marketing and advertising, including the development of many products — often high in alcohol content – specifically for the ‘female market’.”

These facts are here not to induce shame, guilt or fear at an individual level, but to look at the steady growth in the female alcohol market, and how it is affecting our health and well being. Around 57% of Irish women binge drink, followed by 33% of British women, making us Europe’s biggest bingers .

Alcohol is marketed to women as glamorous, sophisticated, feminine, sexy, often placed alongside lipstick, handbags and shoes. “A shot of tequila has just 65 calories,” trills a feature in Woman magazine. “Malt whisky is one of the healthier spirits at just 72 calories.” Forget your liver, just don’t get fat.

“The ‘pinking’ of the market began in the 1990s,” Ann Dowsett Johnston tells me. She is the Canadian best-selling author of Drink: The Intimate Relationship Between Women and Alcohol, and was a speaker at the conference.

In profit and marketing terms, she says of the alcohol industry that: “There was an entire gender underperforming. The invention of alcopops was aimed to steer teenage girls away from beer towards spirits. The profits of Smirnoff went up. Today in Canada and the US, there is Cupcake Wine, Girls’ Night Out wine, MommyJuice wine, berry flavoured vodkas. These are not marketed at men.”

The infantilised alcoholic drinks are next generation Babycham — traditionally a woman’s drink, like cream liqueurs or a small sherry — with social equality, this has changed.

“Socially, we are equal, but metabolically and hormonally we are not,” continues Johnston. “There has been an overall 30% increase in liver disease in the past decade, and 15% of all breast cancers are linked to alcohol consumption.

“But alcohol is our favourite drug and we don’t want to look at that. This is a public health crisis, yet we have very fuzzy values around women and drinking. You can keep your masculinity and have too much to drink — but not your femininity.”

Johnston says that in terms of social acceptability around drinking, the pecking order is highly defined: at the top end are men, followed by women, mothers, poor mothers, and pregnant women. Conflicting reports around ‘safe’ levels of drinking during pregnancy adds to the overall blurriness, (80% of Irish women drink during pregnancy— the highest rate internationally. I was one of them).

Men drink in groups, openly and socially, while — raucous hen nights aside — women tend to drink more in isolation — the glass of wine at home. But why do we drink so much these days?

Three reasons, says Johnston. “First, there is heavy pitching of alcohol to women. Second, it’s the modern woman’s steroid, enabling her to do the heavy lifting. We come home from work, and we start another day’s work. Emancipation has resulted in complex lives.” In other words, women do a double shift at work and at home , and wine makes it easier / more pleasant / takes the edge off / acts as a reward. Or as the book Great Lies To Tell Small Kids puts it, “Wine makes mummy clever”.

“And thirdly,” says Johnston, “We use alcohol to self-medicate. It’s a lot easier to pop a cork than to seek help for depression and anxiety — which we are more prone to suffer from than men. Alcohol is too cheap, too accessible, and too heavily marketed.”

Johnston’s book is sold in the US as Drink: The Intimate Relationship Between Women and Alcohol, but in the UK and Ireland as Drink: The Deadly Relationship Between Women and Alcohol.

This is not mere semantics. “We need a public health dialogue about women and drinking,” she says. “We need to know that low risk drinking is 10-11 units a week, with at least one night off.”

That’s 10-11 measured units, and not all at the same time either. When I used to drink, 10-11 units would have been the equivalent of a snack, a few drinks before I ever went out.

When I was diagnosed with cervical cancer, the doctor suggested it might be connected with my drinking, but I still celebrated my survival with champagne and carried on. Madness? Stupidity? Death wish? No. Alcoholism. (I eventually stopped drinking for good almost a decade ago, and with the ongoing input of 12-step recovery, discovered life was miles more fun without it — who knew?)

Another conference speaker, Lucy Rocca, is the founder of Soberistas, a social media site which offers an online forum for alcohol-dependent women to connect and support each other. Lucy stopped drinking at 35 — she dislikes the term ‘alcoholic’, and 12 Step recovery didn’t appeal, yet four years on she remains sober.

“I didn’t want to define myself as alcoholic despite blackouts and not being able to stop once I had started,” she tells me. “It’s a negative word, and I wanted to reframe my attitude to alcohol to one of pride, not shame.”

She mentions a book by Jason Vale, How To Kick Drink, which states that there is no such thing as an alcoholic or alcoholism. “It changed my life,” she says.

Although Soberistas was originally designed for women to share their alcohol-related experiences anonymously — thereby providing support and identification not dissimilar to 12 Step recovery — these days 25% of its users are men.

Rocca has also written several books about alcohol dependency. She says she loves her post-alcohol life, and has never felt better. I relate totally.

But you don’t have to be alcoholic or alcohol dependent for alcohol to mess with your health. Heavens, no. Anyone can get cancer or cirrhosis — you don’t have to be face down on a park bench. You just need to be sucked in by all the advertising, availability, affordability, and the fact that in Ireland, drinks corporations continue to sponsor sporting events, linking our favourite liquid drug with running around outdoors being healthy.

Yet nobody questions the insanity of this paradox — not when there’s so much money to be made from it.

Shouting at individuals to stop drinking so much hardly works when we are bombarded by cheap, ubiquitous, socially acceptable booze — so do we have to develop disease / hit a wall / start losing things (jobs, partners, kids, the will to live) before we wake up a bit and cut down a bit?

“In order to make any meaningful improvements in problem drinking among women it is essential that we tackle the main drivers of of consumption,” says Katherine Brown, director of the UK’s Institute of Alcohol Studies.

“These are the affordability, availability and promotion of alcohol, which have been recognised by the World Health Organisation as the key areas for policy action.

“Interventions that rely solely on changing individual behaviours simply won’t work while we are surrounded by promotions and cheap offers that normalise everyday and excessive drinking.

“The alcohol industry has worked for years to make alcohol products appealing to women, bombarding us with messages that glamorise drinking while ignoring all the negative health effects such as breast cancer. It’s extremely important that women are told about these risks so that they can be empowered to make informed decisions about their drinking.”

Because ladies, alcohol is not your bubbly best friend or your low-calorie medicine. Have too much — and very little is too much — and it’s your biggest friend-enemy.

Gene Modification technique’s are dangerous to use in Human Embryos,

Say experts

   

The new of Chinese Scientists having modified the genes of human embryos spread like wild fire all over the world. Now, many scientists have called to bring the practice to halt as it’s full of danger for use in human embryos.

A study of Chinese scientists was published in the journal Protein & Cell on April 18, showing that they made use of a genetic engineering technique called CRISPR to cut out a faulty gene and replace it with a healthy one in human embryos.

The gene editing technique has the potential of permanently altering the DNA of every cell to pass any changes from generation to generation. This has prompted leading researchers to issue urgent calls in major scientific journals last month to stop using such techniques on human embryos.

The experiment was given a try by Chinese scientists, but they failed exactly the same ways that had been feared.

They were not trying to produce a baby, but wanted to have an embryo with a precisely altered gene in every cell but no other inadvertent DNA damage. This is the reason they brought into use defective human embryos. But they failed to end up with fulfilling those criteria for any of the 85 human embryos they injected with the CRISPR/Cas 9 complex.

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Friday 24th April 2015

A weak euro helps mask the rise in Irish business costs  “A report says”

    

A customer carries his purchases in a shopping basket as he browses oriental foods displayed for sale inside a Tesco store in London

The weak euro has masked the fact that the costs of doing business in Ireland are on the up, according to a new major economic report.

The study from the National Competitiveness Council, which advises the Government on economic trends, said that although Ireland has become more competitive since the financial crash costs are again starting to rise.

The organisation found that Ireland “remains an expensive location in which to do business, relative to some of our key competitors” and added that the country is the third most expensive location in the euro area for consumer goods and services.

It added that several upward domestic cost pressures are now emerging, particularly in relation to labour, property and business services, although it added that the weak euro and low interest rates are helping to mask the full effect of these factors.

The report concluded that “there is a need to refocus efforts on minimising domestically controllable costs to the extent possible.”

The National Competitiveness Council chairman Peter Clinch said: “It is vital that we continue to take action to address unnecessarily high costs wherever they arise.

“In this regard, there is a role for both the public and private sectors alike to manage proactively their cost base and drive efficiency, thus creating a virtuous circle between the costs of living, wage expectations, productivity and cost competitiveness.”

AIB had ‘no role in drafting Bank guarantee’ says Dermot Gleeson

  

The former chairman of AIB has claimed the bank had no role in drafting the bank guarantee and that no bank could have stopped the bubble.

AIB chiefs submitted their thoughts to the government on the night of the guarantee in 2008 on a scrap of paper, which cannot now be found.

Former chairman Dermot Gleeson said the first time he and his officials heard that six institutions were to be guaranteed was from the media the next morning.

Giving evidence at the banking inquiry, Mr Gleeson outlined how he and bank officials were in Government buildings on the night of September 29, 2008. He said at the time that the appetite for risk and lending was “excessive” in the sector. There was a failure to envisage a serious property downturn, he admitted.

Tax incentives were commonplace, he noted, and local authorities had taken in over €3bn in property-related charges over 10 years. Before the bust, a majority of economists favoured a soft landing, he added.

Anglo Irish Bank had been held up as an “exemplar”, he said: “It was the darling of not just Ireland, but European stock.”

A more intrusive regulator or “referee” should have been in place in the highly-competitive sector, he said. “No bank could stop the bubble… only the authorities could do that.”

However, he did admit that AIB had “gone too far” with individual developers.

He said that, in the lead-up to the guarantee, it was known that two lenders — Anglo and Irish Nationwide — were facing collapse.

The bigger banks — AIB and Bank of Ireland — met with the government.

Mr Gleeson said the two big banks said Anglo and Nationwide needed to be “dealt with decisively” and a guarantee put in place for the remaining banks. It was agreed €10bn would be made available to get them to the weekend.

However, Mr Gleeson said the guarantee was never discussed with AIB and its representatives were not in the room. It was an independent government decision and only their advice was sought.

AIB’s formula had been put on a “slip of paper or a turn of a notebook”, as suggested from the bank’s treasury, the committee heard.

It mentioned guaranteeing deposits and bonds, Mr Gleeson agreed, and contained maybe less than 20 words. This was handed to government but has not been found since. It also included covering senior bond holders, said Mr Gleeson.

He also admitted that, just three days before the guarantee, €260m in dividends was paid to shareholders, including himself. This was a “mistake”, he said. It was done to reassure investors, despite the fact the bank went on days later to be guaranteed.

Mr Gleeson said AIB did not want Anglo or Irish Nationwide incorporated into the guarantee and this had damaged the bank

People in Ireland without medical cards are avoiding doctors like the plague

  

President of the IPU Kathy Maher above centre  says that the survey’s results indicate the ‘effectiveness’ of the Irish health care system is open to question.

Irish people without medical cards are far less likely than those who do have them to visit a doctor.

23% of medical card holders visited their GP in the last week it seems, compared with 4% of people with both no medical card and no medical insurance.

Similarly 78% of medical card holders are routinely prescribed medication compared with 65% of those who hold both no card and no insurance.

The information is contained in a survey undertaken by the Irish Pharmacy Union (IPU) ahead of their national conference in Killarney this weekend and saw 1,000 people aged 16 and above quizzed as to their medical behaviour.

“There’s big differences between (medical card) holders and non-holders when it comes to visiting a GP,” said M/S Maher.

Medical Card holders are much more likely to consider the healthcare system as ‘fit for purpose’.

People who pay for their medical treatment feel let down and this needs to change.

Maher suggests that if medicines used to treat common complaints were available without prescription it would allow people ‘to avoid the hassle and expense’ of most GP visits.

Although, with the Irish insurance D-Day of 30 April fast approaching it seems that those without medical cards will shortly have to pay more for their medical well-being whether they like it or not.

What’s clogging up the sewers of the world? Be careful what you flush down

       

Workers in London recently removed a ‘fatberg’ – a 10-tonne chunk of wet wipes and fat

A quiet moment of respect is surely due to the workers in London who removed a 10-tonne lump of wet wipes and fat from a sewer in Chelsea, London. It was so heavy that it broke the sewer – and it’s set to cost hundreds of thousands of pounds and two months of work to repair it.

Craig Rance of Thames Water will talk to Shane Coleman on today’s Right Hook about the unpleasant operation. Listen live at newstalk.com from 5pm.

These lumps of fat and household waste have been referred to as ‘fatbergs’. They have become a relatively common phenomenon in London and other cities. In 2013, a remote camera captured some of the fatberg in all its ‘glory’, when it was blocking a sewer in the Kingston upon Thames region of south-west London. Suffice to say, it’s not the most pleasant sight, and this apparently isn’t even the main body of the fatberg in question:

Workers eventually cleared the blockage with high-pressure hoses.

Speaking about the latest operation in Chelsea, Stephen Hunt of Thames Water told The Guardian “the original sewer has been so badly abused by fat being chucked down the plughole we’ve had to opt for the time-consuming and disruptive option of replacing many metres of pipe.”

On their website, Thames Water warns that fat, oil, and food leftover from cooking contribute to these fat build ups when washed down the sink. The big problems are caused when that fatty waste combines with wipes, nappies, condoms and sanitary products that do not break down in sewers. Sewers are designed for water, toilet paper and human waste – everything else should be binned instead of flushed down the toilet or washed down the sink.

As you might expect, some bizarre things have however been found in sewers over the years. Mobile phones, false teeth, wedding rings – these, perhaps, are to be expected, as there have been plenty of tales of expensive items accidentally ending up flushed over the years. Dead goldfish, toys, razor blades and other household items are more common again.

But then there’s the really peculiar cases. It was reported a few years ago, for example, that Thames Water recovered half a Mini car from the sewers. BBC, meanwhile, reported in 2010 that a live snake and badger were recovered from Scottish sewers, along with a dead cow and sheep. A working iron was another discovery, while a stolen credit card belonging to the wife of one of the workers was also found. That’s probably not the sort of stolen item you’d be particularly keen to have returned…

Suffice to say, all manner of weird and wonderful things have turned up in the sewers over the years – although significantly weirder and less wonderful after their time in the system, no doubt. So the best advice to everybody is clearly to stick to flushing what’s meant to be flushed – otherwise your area could be affected by an unwelcome fatberg of its own..

World Ocean’s contributes $2.5 trillion to economy annually

    

A new study attempts to place a value of goods and services afforded by the ocean, estimating that if the planet’s seas were classified as a country, it would rank as the world’s seventh largest economy.

Reviving the Ocean Economy, commissioned by environmental group World Wildlife Fund (WWF), “conservatively” places the value of the ocean at $24 trillion based on an estimate $2.5 trillion in products and services generated annually. These include fisheries, coastal storm protection, tourism, and carbon sequestration, among others.

The report uses financial terms to describe the value of the ocean, calling the products and services it provides “assets” and comparing it as a whole to a “global savings account”.

“Our oceans are the planet’s natural capital, a ‘factory’ producing an incredible array of goods and services that we all want and need,” said Brad Ack, senior vice president for oceans at WWF. “But every day we are degrading, over-consuming, and polluting this productive asset to a point of ever diminishing returns.”

“The oceans are our global savings account from which we keep making only withdrawals. To continue this pattern leads to only one place – bankruptcy. It is time for significant reinvestment and protection of this global commons.”

The report details a litany of activities that are degrading ocean ecosystems, including overfishing and rising greenhouse gas emissions that are raising temperatures and causing acidification. But it also lays out a recovery plan that could restore ocean resources via policy measures, market-based mechanisms, climate change mitigation, and protected areas networks. Success will hinge on “concerted action” between a wide variety of stakeholders who benefit directly and indirectly from the ocean’s bounty, according to the University of Queensland’s Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, the lead author of the report.

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Wednesday/Thursday 22nd & 23rd April 2015

AIB executives weather finance committee storm

      

David Duffy denies AIB has been profit taking from variable rate customers

David Duffy, AIB chief executive officer, speaking to Conor Lenihan before addressing the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform at the Dail.

The chief executive of AIB David Duffy and other senior executives at the bank were grilled for more than two hours by the Oireachtas Finance Committee.

Mr Duffy was pushed to explain why the bank’s Standard Variable Rates (SVR) remained 4% higher than the base rates charged by the European Central Bank (ECB) forcing over 140,000 of its customers to pay hundreds of euro more in mortgage repayments than those with the same amount of money borrowed under a tracker mortgage.

Independent TD Stephen Donnelly asked Mr Duffy to explain why its SVR was 3.5% in 2012 when the economy was in a perilous state and 4.1% now when things have improved considerably.

Mr Donnelly said ECB rates had fallen 0.7% in the interval and the level of risk had fallen as had the cost of wholesale funding. He asked if the reason SVRs remained high was to increase shareholder profits.

This suggestion was rejected by Mr Duffy who did more than hint that almost 150,000 AIB customers with Standard Variable Rate mortgages are in line for a rate cut within weeks.

Anticipating questions about its high rates, Mr Duffy started out by saying that if market conditions and the bank’s costs of funding continue to improve over the next month or two – as is widely anticipated – then it will be in a position to cut its SVR rates.

He said funding costs and the risks associated with the loans had fallen over the first part of this year and operational changes had lowered the day to day running costs of the bank. “If we see that trend continuing over the next couple of months we will make a rate cut,” he said.

Mr Duffy denied that AIB had been profit taking from its SVR customers in recent years and said historically low ECB rates painted a misleading picture of the bank’s costs as it only supplied 3% of its funding.

“There is a narrative that AIB funds itself at the ECB rate, that is simply not the case,” he said. He said AIB’s net profit margin was 1.61% which was “below the level across the euro-zone”.

On arrears and the potential for home repossessions, he said the bank always tried to keep customers in their homes “if the customers engage with us” and he said the bank had adopted “a very pragmatic approach to residual debt”.

Fine Gael’s Kieran O’Donnell asked for Mr Duffy’s view on a possible change in the bankruptcy legislation which would see the term fall from its current three years to 12 months. “I don’t see any problem from the bank’s perspective with a reduction of the term,” Mr Duffy said.

Fianna Fáil Spokesperson on Finance Michael McGrath welcomed the “strong indication” from Mr Duffy that the bank could reduce its SVR’s “within the next month or two”.

He said the SVRs being charged by banks in Ireland on around 300,000 customers were “completely unjustifiable. With falling cost of funds and rapidly rising net interest margins, the banks are extracting more and more profits from variable rate customer,” he said.

He called on AIB to ensure Mr Duffy’s comments were “quickly backed up by a significant variable rate cut from the bank.

The pressure is now likely to fall on Bank of Ireland andPermanent TSB who charge SVRs of 4.5% to their existing customers.

Scientists have now succeeded in shutting down brain swelling

 

Researchers prevent tissue damage in rodent brains by turning off single gene.

MRI scan showing a human brain. Researchers have successfully shut down brain swelling in a rodent brain by turning off a single gene.

Researchers have identified a biological switch that shuts down brain swelling after a head injury or stroke. The discovery has widespread medical implications and could be valuable in reducing the risk to sportspeople after injury.

Turning off a single gene successfully stopped swelling in rodent brains, according to a team from the University of British Columbia and Vancouver Coastal Health.

The discovery opens up the possibility of a drug treatment to block brain damage after a head injury, heart attack, stroke or infection.

“This discovery is significant because it gives us a specific target,” said Dr Brian MacVicar, co-director of the centre where the study was conducted.

“Now we know what we are shooting at, we just need the ammunition.”

It has long been known that head trauma can cause a salt build up in brain tissues, which in turn draws in water to cause swelling in the days after injury. If the swelling becomes severe brain tissues can become squeezed, causing them to lose blood supply and die.

Dr MacVicar and colleagues identified the single gene and its protein, SLC26A11, that acts as the channel that brings salt into the nerve cells.

The team switched off this gene, and this stopped the accumulation of fluid in and halted damage to brain tissues. They publish their findings today in the journal Cell.

Scientists now have a target that might help them develop a treatment post-head injury. It will take some years to find and test a drug that can block the action of the protein.

Sports injuries

Concussion is a worry in many sports, but this usually does not cause the severe swelling seen in stroke or accident, according to Dr Noel McCaffrey, sports medicine consultant and lecturer in the School of Health and Human Performance in DCU.

Even so, tragic sports incidents can occur, such as the death of Australian cricketer Phillip Hughes, who died in November 2014 when struck in the head by a cricket ball.

Days later, cricket umpire and former Israel captain Hillel Oscar died after being hit by a ball.

These deaths were likely caused by bleeds into the brain which triggered swelling, Dr McCaffrey said.

Similar head trauma after a slip while skiing in 2009 caused the death of actress Natasha Richardson, wife of Irish actor Liam Neeson.

Cancer risk high in young Irish women drinkers

  

Women who drink alcohol between puberty and their first pregnancy are putting themselves at a greater risk of breast cancer, a public health expert has warned.

Triona McCarthy said young women should be discouraged from drinking alcohol because their breast tissue was more vulnerable.

Dr McCarthy, who works with the National Cancer Control programme, spoke at a conference in Dublin yesterday about the increasing toll alcohol is taking on Irish women.

The consultant in public health medicine referred to a US study that examined the breast cancer risk for more than 91,000 women who had no cancer history when the 10-year study began in 1991.

The researchers found more than 1,600 cases of breast cancer and 970 diagnoses of benign breast disease during the study period.

Drinking alcohol after the first menstrual period and before the first pregnancy was linked with a risk of both breast cancer and benign breast disease.

Dr McCarthy said the risk associated with drinking between puberty and first pregnancy was greater than drinking alcohol later on in life. She said the breast tissue of younger women was particularly vulnerable because of the proliferation and turnover of cells.

“The risk of breast cancer in younger women who drink alcohol is proportionately greater than those who don’t,” said Dr McCarthy.

She said young people should be encouraged to delay starting drinking.

“Even moving the stage at which they start drinking alcohol by a couple of years would make a big difference in the whole lifetime risk,” she said.

Dr McCarthy said at least half of the alcohol-related cancers could be avoided if people kept within the Department of Health’s alcohol consumption guidelines.

A 10-year look back at figures compiled by the National Cancer Registry found 300 alcohol-related breast cancers every year could have been avoided.

“Younger women who are drinking heavily are putting themselves at greater risk down the line because your risk of cancer depends on how much you drink over your lifetime,” said Dr McCarthy.

Another speaker, Canadian author and alcohol policy advocate Ann Dowsett Johnston, said women were starting to out-pace men in terms of risky drinking.

“We need to jump-start a public health dialogue on the meaning of low-risk drinking as soon as possible,” she said.

Ms Dowsett Johnston described herself as the “poster girl” for the modern alcoholic — well-educated, high- achieving, and high-functioning. She is now six years sober.

“I used alcohol to decompress in a high-octane life. We are now witnessing a tragic rise in this sort of behaviour,” she said.

“Alcohol has become the modern women’s steroid, enabling her to do the heavy lifting in a complex world. The truth is it works — until it doesn’t.”

Alcohol Action Ireland chief executive Suzanne Costello said the proliferation of alcohol products designed to appeal specifically to women had contributed greatly to harmful female drinking.

The plastic bag problem still hasn’t gone away in Ireland?

And It is still causing problems

    

New research from Trinity College has found that plastic litter is smothering marine life in Irish coastal marshes and even ‘biodegradable’ bags are having the same negative impacts as less environmentally-friendly options.

The study led by Dr Dannielle Green, an IRC-funded Research Fellow in the Biogeochemistry Research Group at Trinity College Dublin, found that in just nine weeks plastic bags smothered the surface of coastal sediment, prevented oxygen and nutrient flow, and blocked light.

This caused a substantial reduction in the amount of ‘microalgae’ beneath the bags. The tiny algae form the base of the food webs makes them important for animals higher up the food chain, including worms and bivalves, such as clams and mussels. These species, in turn, are food for commercially important fish that feed within the marsh when the tide is in.

Because some of the animals affected during this study are known to be hardy and resilient to other types of pollution, other, more sensitive groups of animals like those living in coral reefs could be more strongly affected from smothering by plastic waste.

“The same effects were there regardless of whether the plastic in question was biodegradable or not,” Dr. Green explained.

“Biodegradable plastics are produced because they are thought to be better for the environment because their persistence is shorter, but our study suggests that the rate at which they break down may not be fast enough to have any meaningful advantage over conventional bags in marine habitats.”

Though it is already well known that plastic litter is harmful to organisms, this study showed that it can affect them within a matter of weeks.

A plastic bag levy in Ireland was first introduced in March 2002 and figures from 2013 showed it had raised over €200 million. Though many other nations since 2002 have considered or are considering similar legislation, the production of plastic has increased from 1.5 million tonnes in the 1950s to around 300 million tonnes in 2013.

Of this, single-use packaging items account for almost 40% and a not-insignificant portion could end up in the marine environment as litter, transported via wastewater flows, inland waterways, wind or tides. Plastic litter currently accounts for up to 80% of all litter found in marine habitats.

According to Green, even if plastics degrade and seem to disappear, they persist as micro-plastics and could cause harm to marine organisms that ingest them.

Mosquitoes ‘lured by Body odour odour genes’

  

The likelihood of being bitten by mosquitoes could be down to genes that control our body odour, a preliminary study in Plos One suggests.

Researchers tested pairs of identical and non-identical twins to see how attractive they were to mosquitoes.

Identical twins were more likely to have similar levels of attractiveness – suggesting shared genetic factors were at play.

The “intriguing” results must now be assessed in larger trials, experts say.

Researchers have long tried to understand what drives mosquitoes to bite certain people more than others. Recent work shows the insects may be lured to their victims by body odour.

And anecdotal reports suggest some relatives are just as likely to be bitten as each other.

Scientists from the UK and US wanted to find out whether genes were behind this phenomenon.

To test their theory they enlisted 19 non-identical and 18 identical pairs of twins in a pilot study.

Identical and non-identical female twins took part in the study

In a series of experiments each twin placed one hand at an end of a Y-shaped wind tunnel as air was pumped through, carrying odour with it.

Swarms of mosquitoes were then released and moved towards or away from each twin’s hand.

For identical twins – who share much of their genetic material – there was an even distribution of mosquitoes in both sections.

This suggests the insects did not prefer the odour of one hand more than the other.

In contrast, results for the non identical twins – who share fewer genes – were more varied.

Researchers say their works suggests attractiveness to mosquitoes could be caused by inherited body odour genes.

Their next step is to uncover which specific genes may be involved.

Further research is now under way. ‘Bespoke control methods’

Providing an independent comment, Dr David Weetman, lecturer at the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, said: “This is a novel and intriguing finding.

“It is the first time a genetic basis has been demonstrated.

“But mosquitoes are not just attracted to scent – things like carbon dioxide also play a role.

“Larger studies will help assess how relevant these findings are outside the laboratory where other factors may be important.”

Lead author Dr James Logan, of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said: “If we understand the genetic basis for variation between individuals it could be possible to develop bespoke ways to control mosquitoes better, and develop new ways to repel them.”

Pesticides give bees the buzz & get them on a high?

   

Bees seem to get a pleasurable ‘high’ from nicotine-like pesticides, a study suggests.

Bees get a “buzz” from nicotine-like pesticides in much the same way as smokers are stimulated by tobacco, startling new research suggests.

In a series of experiments, bumblebees and honeybees actively preferred sugar solutions laced with the neonicotinoid chemicals.

This was despite evidence that the bees could not taste the pesticides.

Rather than enjoying the taste, they seemed to be reacting to a pleasurable “high” as the chemicals activated reward centres in their tiny brains, the scientists believe.

Just like smokers reaching for another cigarette, the bees returned to food tubes containing the “spiked” sugar again and again, choosing them over solutions free of pesticide.

The research is important because it suggests bees may be exposed to harmful doses of “neonics” as a result of being so attracted to the chemicals.

Lead scientist Professor Geraldine Wright, from the Institute of Neuroscience at the University of Newcastle, said: “Bees can’t taste neonicotinoids in their food and therefore do not avoid these pesticides. This is putting them at risk of poisoning when they eat contaminated nectar.

“Even worse, we now have evidence that bees prefer to eat pesticide-contaminated food. Neonicotinoids target the same mechanisms in the bee brain that are affected by nicotine in the human brain.

“The fact that bees show a preference for food containing neonicotinoids is concerning as it suggests that like nicotine, neonicotinoids may act like a drug to make foods containing these substances more rewarding.

“If foraging bees prefer to collect nectar containing neonicotinoids, this could have a knock-on negative impact on whole colonies and on bee populations.”

Previous research indicating that exposure to neonicotinoid residues might be decimating bee colonies led to a two-year European ban on the use of three of the pesticides on flowering crops that began in 2013.

But the move remains highly controversial, with some critics insisting it is not backed by sufficient evidence. While having to enforce the moratorium, the British Government has publicly stated it does not support it.

The new research is one of two new investigations reported in the journal Nature that sound further warnings over the use of neonicotinoids to control insect pests.

The other study, led by Dr Maj Rundlof from Lund University in Sweden, found the pesticides had harmful effects on bee populations in replicated agricultural environments, not just laboratory settings.

Oilseed rape sown from seeds coated in neonicotinoids reduced wild bee density, solitary bee nesting, and bumblebee colony growth and reproduction.

However, neonicotinoid exposure did not have a significant impact on honeybee colonies. As a result, tests on “domesticated” honeybees could not readily be extrapolated to wild bees, said the authors.

Neonicotinoid pesticides are chemically similar to nicotine for a good reason. Nicotine is a potently toxic compound used by some plants, notably tobacco, to defend themselves against herbivorous insects.

Prof Wright pointed out that although highly toxic, in very small doses nicotine – and presumably its neonicotinoid cousin – act as stimulants rather than poisons.

She said: “It’s complicated. A little bit’s medicine and a lot’s toxin. If you have a high enough dose of the stuff it will kill you. At very low doses, though, like the ones found in cigarettes, it’s got a pharmacological effect that affects the reward pathway in the human brain. I think what’s happening here is something very analogous.

“I don’t think they (the bees) can taste it at all. They’re learning the location of the food that contains it. And during the time that they’re eating it they’re getting a stronger feeling of reward.

“It must be very fast acting. As soon as it gets into their blood they’re getting a little buzz, as it were, and they’re responding to that.”

Prof Wright added: “We don’t have any evidence that it’s addictive, but it could be.”

The team recorded electrical activity from the bees’ mouth parts to show that the insects’ “taste” neurons were not reacting to neonicotinoids. This was strong evidence that the bees could not taste the pesticides.

Sandra Bell, from the environmental group Friends of the Earth, which has campaigned against neonicotinoids, said: ” The scientific evidence that neonicotinoid insecticides harm our under-threat bees keeps stacking up.

“These dangerous chemicals should have no place on our farms and gardens. Bees are essential to us – it is vital that action is taken to reduce all the threats they face.

“The next UK Government faces a key green test. It must support a complete and permanent European ban on these bee harming chemicals, and help UK farmers find safer alternatives.”

Biologist Professor David Goulson, from the University of Sussex, said: “At this point in time it is no longer credible to argue that agricultural use of neonicotinoids does not harm wild bees.”

But Professor Lin Field, head of biological chemistry and crop protection at the Rothamsted Research agricultural institute in Harpenden, maintained the two studies did not go far enough to put an end to the neonicotinoid debate.

She said: “We simply need more data before we can really say what the risks are. We also have to consider the reason why we use these compounds: can we afford not to control pest insects? Is it acceptable that yields would be reduced as a result? Are the alternative insecticides any safer to bees? These are questions that a two-year moratorium on neonics is unable to answer.”

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Monday 20th April 2015

Strong growth for Ireland sees national debt fall to 109% of GDP

 

The Managing director of the International Monetary Fund, Christine Lagarde, with Minister for Finance Michael Noonan at Government Buildings Dublin.

Figures show Government debt stood at €203 billion in 2014, down from €215 billion the previous year

Government debt as a percentage of gross domestic product (GDP) fell to 109% last year on the back of better-than-expected economic growth.

Figures from the Central Statistics Office (CSO) show Ireland’s national debt stood at €203 billion at the end of 2014, down from €215 billion or 123% of GDP the previous year.

The improvement was put down to a combination of increased GDP and the early repayment of a portion of IMF loans.

The Irish economy grew by 4.8% in 2014, outstripping even the most optimistic predictions. At the same time, the Government secured permission from its bailout lenders to pay off €18 billion of its €22.5 billion IMF debt early.

Minister for Finance Michael Noonan has stated he now expects the State’s debt to be fall below 100% of GDP by 2018, bringing Ireland close to the European average.

Under the terms of the EU’s fiscal compact treaty, Ireland is committed to eventually reducing its ratio of debt to GDP to 60% over the longer term.

The CSO figures show the general Government spending deficit was -€7.6 billion or -4.1 per cent of GDP in 2014, down from the -€10 billion (5.8% of GDP) recorded in 2013.

Government revenue increased by over 6% from €60.9 billion million in 2013 to €65 billion last year, while expenditure increased by 1.7% from €71 billion to €72.3 billion over the same period.

The changes in revenue and expenditure were driven by increased tax and social contribution revenues and increased capital expenditure, the CSO said.

Taxes and social contributions continue to form the largest component of revenue over the period, representing 88% of total government revenue in 2014, with social benefits, the biggest expenditure category, accounting for almost 39% of government spending in 2014.

Tánaiste Joan Burton favours role for local authorities as mortgage providers

  • However, Joan Burton said there had been no discussion at Government level of €5,000 grants for first-time buyers

  

The Labour Party leader says that home ownership being available to young people is a “valuable” part of Irish society.

Tánaiste Joan Burton has said she might favour a return to a situation where county councils acted as low-cost mortgage providers for some households.

Ms Burton said yesterday that county councils in the past had offered different mortgage products to families who were not in a position to get full bank financing.

She said her own preference was that local authorities would explore the possibility of providing such products again.

She was responding to solutions put forward to overcome difficulties with mortgage distress cases, as well as reported difficulties of new home owners in meeting the more stringent deposit requirement of 20 per cent of value.

First-time buyers’ grant

Asked about a suggestion by her colleague Joe Costello that the first-time buyers’ grant be reintroduced, with a value of between €3,000 to €5,000, she said there had been no detailed discussion on the subject at Government level.

“There is agreement about the value to Irish society of home ownership being accessible to young people,” she said on the This Week programme on RTÉ Radio One.

She said the Government had to be prudent in how it approached this issue and that her own preference was for county councils to offer low-cost mortgage products for new home owners, as had been done in the past.

When it was pointed out that local authorities do not have the finances to do that at present, she responded that some of those solutions would become available as the economy continued to recover.

Local authority approval

Some local authorities have continued to approve mortgages during the recessions. Those who cannot obtain a loan from a bank or building society can apply for a mortgage from the local authority.

A total of 110 such approvals were made in 2012, with 174 in 2013.

The loans are available to a maximum value of €220,000. Under the rules, joint applicants must be earning €75,000 or less.

On demands for pay restoration in the public service, Ms Burton said those working in that sector had taken three reductions in pay and there was a case for this issue to be addressed as the economy came into recovery.

She said she did not want to preempt any discussions. On the question of pay increases being linked to productivity, she said more productivity made sense as it would lead to more efficiency and more money for services.

Most Irish SMEs can’t process online sales

   

More than 90% of SMEs cannot process online sales while six in every 10 cannot take orders online either.

The research carried out by Iedr — which manages Ireland’s .ie domain registry — found that the majority of businesses are not equipped to take and process consumer sales online.

Companies are putting themselves at a huge disadvantage in not tapping into the massive online marketplace, according to Iedr chief executive David Curtin.

“What stands out most is the mismatch between business owners’ acknowledgement of what’s important and their actions. Business owners know it’s important, but they haven’t yet acted to sell online, with 73% saying their website is “important/very important” as a driver of generating sales, yet 62% cannot take sales orders via that website,” Mr Curtin said.

“In an ever-more global economy, the absence of an online sales presence puts Irish businesses at a huge disadvantage to competitors. It acts as a major disincentive to attracting customers, for whom buying online is now the norm,” he said.

The report also finds that half of companies lack the capacity to interact directly with customers through social media or web chat; 54% don’t have responsive website designs for tablet or smartphone; and two-thirds don’t host any video content online.

Furthermore, just 4% of those surveyed have the capacity to run analytics on their website’s performance, meaning the vast majority are foregoing huge amounts of valuable information into the effectiveness of their online presence and behaviour of their customers.

501 Irish SMEs — across all domain names, not just those on the .ie registry — were surveyed to examine their online presence, including their e-commerce capabilities.

Mr Curtin was speaking as Iedr launched its €150,000 Optimise Fund 2015 aimed at supporting SMEs and micro-enterprises in enhancing their online presence.

The fund is designed to help drive businesses’ sales offering online. Since its inception in 2011, the optimise Fund has provided funding to 60 SMEs and micro enterprises to improve web and online sales capabilities.

Francis Brennan, owner of The Park Hotel, Kenmare and Ambassador for the Optimise Fund 2015, said “online sales are critical to our hotel business. They are now a significant and growing part of most successful Irish businesses’ sales strategy.

“While having a website is an important shop window for every business, it’s not enough if your customers can’t use it to buy your goods and services online.”

Galway Fine Gael TD slams Taoiseach over Hospice funding

   

Fine Gael TD Brian Walsh has slammed the Government for its continued failure to provide funding to Galway Hospice.

The Galway West Deputy said that provision of monies would also be the first step to addressing the ongoing issue of ‘bed blockers’ at University Hospital Galway.

He branded Taoiseach Enda Kenny’s failure to allocate funding to the Hospice as a “longstanding injustice”.

“There has been much talk in recent weeks about the provision of additional funding for measures to tackle delayed discharges from hospital, in order to free up acute beds and reduce waiting times for admission.

“There is a compelling argument for some of this funding to be used to expand and enhance the services provided by Galway Hospice in order to reduce occupancy of acute hospital beds by patients in the later stages of cancer.

“The acute hospital setting is entirely inappropriate in such cases, both from the perspective of the patient and the health service. Yet, at present, approximately 50% of all deaths that occur at University Hospital Galway (UHG) are cancer related.

“If even a portion of these patients were cared for by Galway Hospice as either inpatients or through the organisation’s home-care service, it would free up a large number of beds at UHG that could be used to increase surgical activity and slash waiting times.

“The cost of providing an acute hospital bed is around €1,000 per night. A care package could be provided at a fraction of this cost by the Hospice, which would allow the patient to be looked after in their own home.

“The recent allocation of delayed-discharge monies, therefore, represents opportunity to address the longstanding injustice in relation to the funding of Galway Hospice; which has constrained its capacity to provide its invaluable services.

“It is another opportunity for the Government to do the right thing, and – after four years of failure on this issue – its last.

“I have fought long and hard for the Hospice to win political support for its bid to secure fair funding for its service and financial aid for its expansion.

“We’ve had some success, but it’s time that the Government stopped dragging its feet and put its money where its mouth is.

“We’ve heard declarations of support from successive health ministers, but we have yet to see the action that’s required to put our hospice on a par with those in other counties.

“There is a common-sense solution to our hospital-overcrowding crisis right in front of us now in the form of Galway Hospice. If this Government fails to see this opportunity or fails to support it, then I think it would raise serious questions about this administration and its commitment to health-service reform in Galway.

“We have heard enough talk, we need to see action and tangible progress in relation to this issue right now,” Deputy Walsh said.

Colour helps our body clock adjust time

  

Ever wondered how animals know when to call it a day and return to their shelters? The colour of light has a major impact on how the brain clock measures the time of the day and on how our physiology and behaviour adjust accordingly.

“This is the first time that we have been able to test the theory that colour affects our body clock in any mammal,” said lead researcher Timothy Brown from the University of Manchester in Britain.

The research can be applied to humans too.
“So, in theory, colour could be used to manipulate our clock which could be useful for shift workers or travellers wanting to minimise jet lag,” Brown pointed out.

The researchers looked at the change in light around dawn and dusk to analyse whether colour could be used to determine the time of day.

Besides the well known changes in light intensity that occur as the sun rises and sets, the scientists found that during twilight, light is reliably bluer than during the day.

The researchers next recorded electrical activity from the brain clock while mice were shown different visual stimuli.

They found that many of the neurons were more sensitive to changes in colour between blue and yellow than to changes in brightness.

New species of frog’s organs are visible through its belly

   

A new species of frog discovered in Costa Rica has such translucent skin on its underside that it’s possible to see its internal organs.

The species, named Hyalinobatrachium dianae, is a type of glass frog, which are only found in regions of South and Central America. In this case, six specimens of the species have been found in the tropical wet forests of Costa Rica’s Caribbean foothills. The nocturnal creature is distinct from other species thanks to skin texture, colouring and the sound of its call.

The glass frog was discovered by zoologists working at the Costa Rican Amphibian Research Centre and has been detailed in a study published in the online journalZootaxa. While bright green on top, the delicate frog’s transparent underside allowed the researchers to study the arrangement of the frog’s internal organs in detail. “The bulbous liver and digestive organs are covered in white peritonea. The heart and ventral vein are blood red. Lungs transparent, but with a network of red blood vessels. The gallbladder is transparent Sulphur Yellow,” they write.

The frog has been named in honour of the senior author Brian Kubicki’s mother Janet Diane Kubicki, and also Diana the Roman goddess of the hunt, wild animals and woodland. “This being in relation to our own ‘hunt’ among Costa Rica’s mountainous forests to better understand the amphibians dwelling within,” the authors explain.

Glass Frogs can be difficult to observe as they tend to inhabit vegetation high above streams and at sites with tough-to-navigate topography. The last glass frog described from Costa Rica was in 1973. The researchers believe the creature faces very limited human threats in the foreseeable future thank to the fact that very few roads grant access to the area it inhabits.

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Saturday 18th April 2015

Irish Courts to get power to overrule banks under new Coalition arrears plan

  

  • Government planning further measures to tackle worrying mortgage arrears crisis

The Government is expected to announce its final mortgage arrears package at the end of the month, following the spring economic statement

The Government has received tacit backing from the EU Commission for an easing of tight fiscal curbs ahead of its spring economic statement later this month.

The development comes as the Coalition takes further steps to tackle the mortgage arrears crisis.

The Government is finalising plans which would see courts given power to overrule banks when they reject proposals from borrowers with arrears.

Ministers are considering proposals to allow the Circuit Court to impose alternative arrangements to those suggested by banks or other lenders.

Currently, banks can veto deals arranged by advisers to struggling borrowers.

The Government is expected to announce its final mortgage arrears package at the end of the month, following the spring economic statement.

In what would amount to a significant weakening of the banks’ veto, the Circuit Court could decide proposals put forward by advisers to people in mortgage distress offered a viable route to “return to solvency”, according to sources.

Main priority

Coalition figures say the main priority is to keep families in their homes and the aim of the new measures is to encourage people “willing to work their way through their difficulties” to engage in the personal insolvency system.

Should the court decide a bank had unreasonably rejected a proposed settlement put forward by insolvency advisers, it could assess the proposal and impose an arrangement if it felt it was both workable and in the public interest, the sources said.

The new initiative is described as “examinership for homeowners”, taking its lead from the process under which struggling businesses operate as a going concern with the approval of the courts.

One source suggested it would provide “another weapon to borrowers” to encourage them to engage with their lenders.

Bankruptcy term

While the reduction of the bankruptcy term from three years to one is still being considered, it is understood the new court review system is seen as a more effective way of allowing people to stay in their homes.

Well-placed sources said while bankruptcy for businesses could provide a clean break, figures from the Insolvency Service of Ireland showed 70 per cent of homeowners who opted for bankruptcy ended up losing their homes

Separately, Coalition figures expect banks to act on the issue of standard variable rate mortgages in the coming months.

Earlier this week, Taoiseach Enda Kenny told the Dáil the banks had a moral duty to pass on lower European Central Bank interest rates from which they benefited.

Minister for Finance Michael Noonan and Minister for Public Expenditure Brendan Howlin this week received a 20-page draft of the spring economic statement in which they will outline a joint fiscal plan for 2016 and the years beyond it.

At issue now is how they refine the document before publication on April 28th.

Following positive signals from Brussels, the Coalition will be in a position to signal greater scope to raise expenditure and cut tax next year without running the risk of an objection from the commission.

New move presents Irish Government with increased room for economic manoeuvre in the run-up to the general election.

      

  • Chopra says ECB’s threats to Ireland were ‘outrageous’

The European Central Bank acted in an “outrageous” manner and went beyond its remit when it pressured Ireland to commit to years of austerity, according to Ajai Chopra.

The International Monetary Fund’s former Ireland mission chief made the damning assessment during an address at Oxford University.

A recording of his speech uncovered by the Irish Independent reveals Mr Chopra telling an audience that the so-called ‘Trichet letters’ were an “outrageous overreach” of the ECB’s mandate.

In a stinging criticism of the bank, Mr Chopra says he isn’t surprised people in Ireland were upset about the letters between the former ECB President Jean-Claude Trichet and the late Brian Lenihan in 2010 in which Mr Trichet threatened to cut off funds for the Irish banks if the Government did not apply for a bailout.

“The letters actually pressed Ireland to do fiscal consolidation, it pressed them to undertake vague structural reforms without specifying what these were, and that, in my view, is an outrageous overreach by a central bank,” Mr Chopra said.

And he also claimed that the possible effects of burning the bondholders that were put forward by Europe were “exaggerated.”

He told the Irish Independent last night that he had nothing further to add beyond the comments in his address.

The blunt intervention by the man considered the public face of the Irish bailout will cause ructions in the ECB and will pile pressure on the Banking Inquiry here to get answers from the Frankfurt body on its controversial role in the bailout.

The ECB eventually released the letters last November, giving a fresh insight into the build-up to Ireland’s entry into the IMF/EU programme in late 2010.

The letters urged the then-government to commit to structural reforms and restructuring of the financial sector.

“That is not their job,” Mr Chopra said. “Their mandate is to meet inflation. And if you lecture the ECB as to how they might go about that, they talk about their independence.

“But when it comes to lecturing others about fiscal policy or structural policy, they’re not at all hesitant. I’m not surprised that the people in Ireland were very upset about these letters from [Jean-Claude] Trichet.”

Mr Trichet has refused to appear before the Banking Inquiry but he has said he is prepared to speak to Irish politicians at an event in Dublin at the end of the month.

There had been a long dispute between the Inquiry and the ECB over the attendance of Mr Trichet before the committee, which aims to establish the events leading up to the bailout.

Mr Chopra accepted that if you are the lender of last resort, such as the ECB was, it was reasonable for it to ask Ireland about the condition of its banks, and to say that if it isn’t possible to have them recapitalised via the markets, an international rescue package should be sought.

“My reading of the letters is that, if you’re the lender of last resort and you see this [a spike] happening with your liquidity support, I think it’s perfectly reasonable for you to ask the borrower, ‘what is the condition of your banks, are they solvent and do you have a plan to make these banks viable?’

“Every lender of last resort has to be asking these questions and also be saying, ‘look if you can’t recapitalise these banks by borrowing on the market, you’d better get an international rescue loan to recapitalise your banks’.”

During Mr Chopra’s address at the Political Economy of Financial Markets event at Oxford, the former IMF senior official, who is now a visiting fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington DC, also alluded to a number of disagreements between the IMF and Europe concerning Ireland. He said the two sides had “fairly good working relations” but that “it took a lot of effort”.

“A lot of things had to be first negotiated with the Europeans before we could negotiate them with the Irish.

“And that took time. And also, to be honest, they didn’t have the experience or the technology at the beginning of this process,” he said.

Mr Chopra recalled being at a meeting with an Irish official during which one of the European negotiators said something that was “very stupid”.

“At that time, the Irish went out and hired foreigners, including Brits, to help them with what they were doing. And this person just shot them down,” Mr Chopra recalled.

“The person who made the stupid comment made the comment and ended it by saying, ‘I’m not a bank supervisor or bank restructuring expert’. And the person from the Irish side, who happened to be British, said, ‘It shows’.”

Mr Chopra reiterated that it was unfair for Irish taxpayers to suffer the cost of bailing out the banks when senior bondholders got their money back.

“The IMF staff right from the beginning was very much in favour of imposing losses on senior bondholders. The EU partners were dead against it, especially the ECB,” he said.

“The reason given by the Europeans was exaggerated. Yes, there would have been spill-overs. It would not have been so much of a disaster, but the Europeans were just terrified about the implications for bank funding markets.”

Mr Chopra also accused the ECB of being “gung-ho” in terms of imposing lots of austerity early, and he said the Irish Government was also “quite aggressive” on the fiscal front.

He gained celebrity status among a downbeat populous who were attracted to his charisma but concerned at the policies he advocated.

Ajai Chopra was the public face of the austerity programme in Ireland, which was perceived as being imposed by unsympathetic foreigners more concerned with economic theory than the people whose lives were being ravaged by the recession.

The iconic photograph at the outset of the bailout negotiations captured a sharp-suited Chopra walking past the Shelbourne Hotel with his entourage, as a homeless man with a cup begged for change.

That image travelled around the world and became synonymous with the plight of this country during that fateful period.

Fast-forward three years and Chopra was portrayed in a very different image as he donned a vintage costume during a visit to Bunratty Castle, Co Clare.

It was that of a 19th century banker, and by all accounts, he graciously agreed to the request from the photographer to wear it, and could see the humour.

Chopra became a household name for that very reason. He didn’t shy away from publicity – unlike other technocrats.

   Jean-Claude Trichet

Jean-Claude Trichet’s involvement with Ireland has long been controversial, for his alleged role in bumping the country into a bailout.

The Frenchman has held firm to his claim that Ireland’s decision to ask for international funding was one solely taken by the Government, and he never accepted that pressure may have been brought to bear.

But it’s not just in Ireland that he’s stoked controversy.

The former European Central Bank chief headed up the Frankfurt-based body during the early years of the global financial meltdown and his management of that crisis has swung between praise and deep criticism.

He has been quick to point out that he saw the crisis coming before it struck, but claimed his warnings fell on deaf ears.

As far back as 2005, the Frenchman was warning of a looming financial disaster triggered by credit deals that few people understood.

And when the crisis did break out, he won praise for managing to avert a greater meltdown by issuing emergency loans to banks.

But that praise turned to impatience and head-scratching after he refused to follow the lead of other central bankers and cut interest rates.

That has been viewed as one of his biggest mistakes.

Discovered new turbo-charged protein that can fight any cancer or virus’

   

A protein which ‘turbo-charges’ the immune system so that it can fight off any cancer or virus has been discovered by scientists.

In a breakthrough described as a ‘game-changer’ for cancer treatment, researchers at Imperial College London found a previously unknown molecule which boosts the body’s ability to fight off chronic illnesses.

Scientists at the college who led the study are now developing a gene therapy based on the protein and hope to begin human trials in three years.

“This is exciting because we have found a completely different way to use the immune system to fight cancer,” said Professor Philip Ashton-Rickardt, from the Section of Immunobiology in the Department of Medicine at Imperial, who led the study.

“It could be a game-changer for treating a number of different cancers and viruses.

“This is a completely unknown protein. Nobody had ever seen it before or was even aware that it existed. It looks and acts like no other protein.”

The protein – named lymphocyte expansion molecule, or LEM, promotes the spread of cancer-killing ‘T cells’ by generating large amounts of energy.

Normally when the immune system detects cancer, it goes into overdrive trying to fight the disease, flooding the body with T cells. But it quickly runs out of steam.

The new protein causes an energy boost that makes T cells in such great numbers the cancer cannot fight them off.

It also causes a boost of immune memory cells which are able to recognise tumours and viruses they have encountered previously so there is less chance that they will return.

The team made the discovery while screening mice with genetic mutations. Researchers are hoping to produce a gene therapy whereby T cells of cancer patients could be enhanced with the protein and then injected back into the body.

Maple leaves syrup may answer drug-resistant bacteria

Canada Researchers say

  

Canada’s masthead maple tree leave has something more to offer to fight infections acting as an accelerator to antibiotics, especially in dealing with drug-resistant variety, said a new Canadian study.

A concentrated extract of maple syrup combined with common antibiotics can increase the microbes’ susceptibility and help answer the growing concern about the overuse of antibiotics across the world, say researchers from the McGill University in Canada.

Led by Nathalie Tufenkji, the team of researchers from the Department of Chemical Engineering extracted maple syrup consisting of phenolic compounds, which is abundantly available from the maples trees grown in northern Americas.

In their lab tests, the researchers found the extract on its own has little effect in fighting bacteria but combined with other antibiotics can deter infections of certain type of bacteria, including the common E. Coli and urniary tract infection from Proteus mirabilits.

The combination antibiotics and maple tree syrup was able to act on drug-resistant bacteria called biofilms, which are a major concern now. It was able to treat the catheter-related urinary tract infections, in particular, said researchers.

The Sugar maple is generally tapped for sap, which is then boiled to make maple syrup or to produce maple sugar or maple taffy. It takes about 40 litres of sugar maple sap to make 1 litre of syrup but only Acerspecies may be tapped for syrup.

However, researchers have a long way to go before finally concluding on its veracity. “We would have to do in vivo tests, and eventually clinical trials, before we can say what the effect would be in humans,” Tufenkji said.

If proved, the findings may have the potential simple approach to reduce antibiotics overuse or tackle the drug-resistent bacteria. “I could see maple syrup extract being incorporated eventually, for example, into the capsules of antibiotics,” said Tugenkji.

To get the phenolic-rich extract from the maple leaves, they had frozen them before using in the study. The extract has also proved effective in changing the gene expression of the bacteria, repressing their gene number.

A bizarre moment hundreds of leaping carp ‘attack’ university rowing team as they train on a lake

 

The students were practicing their strokes when the fish began propelling themselves out of river into the air – with some even leaping clean over the boat.

This bizarre footage shows the moment a shoal of carp began leaping out of the water – appearing to attack a passing university rowing team.

The students were practicing their strokes when the fish began propelling themselves out of river into the air.

The Giant Asian carp leap so high in their air some appear to jump clean over the rowing boat as it passes.

A few of the carp even land in a smaller boat as it passes through the stretch of water.

The Giant Asian carp shot into the air as the rowers and their boat passed by

The first year students at Washington University were training on the Creve Coeur Lake in Missouri when the strange incident took place.

Filmmaker Benjamin Rosenbaum, filmed the rowers as the passed under a bridge towards the end of their session.

Gentle rippling in the water suddenly get larger until the fish begin flinging themselves into the air, the Express reports.

The rowers can be seen shielding themselves as the fish jump and splash around them.

Splash: Some of the fish even managed to jump clean over the boat

Asian Carps – which can grow to up to 100lbs in weight – are reported to leap from water when frightened.

The video ends with a close up of some of the bemused rowing crew.

Asian carp are known for getting easily frightened by boats and can leap up to 10ft from the water.

News Ireland daily news BLOG by Donie

Friday 17th April 2015

Aer Lingus talks to conclude within weeks

  • Says Pascal Donohoe

Claims that IAG and Government close to deal on Heathrow guarantees

  

Shares in Aer Lingus rose 5.5% to €2.42 at lunchtime yesterday in Dublin

Discussions about the takeover of Aer Lingus by IAG should be concluded within coming weeks, the Minister for Transport, Paschal Donohoe has indicated.

In a statement issued on Thursday afternoon, the Minister said that the Government’s steering group on the takeover proposal and its advisers had engaged further over recent weeks and that this engagement had been “useful”.

He said talks had focused on matters previously outlined by him and that IAG had provided further details on “issues of concern” to the Government. In earlier statements on the proposed deal, Mr Donohue has highlighted employment prospects, expansion plans and commitments on the Aer Lingus Heathrow slots as being particularly significant.

“ Discussions are progressing and as I have indicated previously I do not want this process to be drawn out unnecessarily and I expect that it can be brought to a conclusion in the coming weeks,” he said on Thursday.

Shares in Aer Lingus surged in trading on Thursday following reports of a rapprochement between IAG and the Government, which controls 25% of the Irish airline. A deal on the Heathrow slots is seen as being most significant in the talks.

IAG is proposing to pay close to €1.4 billion for Aer Lingus. The stock was up almost 4% at €2.38 on Thursday afternoon, having climbed higher earlier in the day.

Youthful Ireland top country in Europe for stats on young people

     

Ireland is the most youthful country in Europe, according to new figures from Eurostat.

We have the largest proportion of children under the age of 15, at 22%.

France is next on almost 19%, followed by the UK.

Ruth Deasy of the EU office in Dublin, says the number of people in Ireland under the age of 30 is exceptional.

“Ireland stands out in this study as the most youthful country in the EU, where four out of 10 Irish people are aged less than 30 and this is really quite exceptional,” said Deasy.

“We also have the largest proportion of under-16s in the EU and by quite a large margin.

“Ireland’s fertility rate is high, it is the highest in the EU but it is still slightly below replacement level,” said Deasy.

12 months extension granted for charities to register with CRA

 

Only 200 of the estimated 4,000-plus charities in Ireland required to register with the Charities Regulatory Authority (CRA) have registered, despite the threat of stiff fines for non-compliance.

The Minister for Justice and Equality, Frances Fitzgerald has announced a 12 month extension to the deadline after discussions with the Charities Regulatory Authority.

The one-year extension of the deadline risks undermining confidence in a sector which has been working to regain public trust after the Central Remedial Clinic (CRC)  scandal 18 months ago.

In a statement Minister Fitzgerald said only 200 charities had registered when the original deadline expired.

NOT AFFECTED

The Minister said the move does not affect 8,500 other charities which have been automatically registered with the authority by virtue of the charitable tax status granted to them by the Revenue Commissioners before mid-October 2014.

The Authority was established by the Government last October almost a year after a series of financial scandals at the CRC involving a gold-plated pension for its retired Chief Executive, Paul Kiely, top-up payments to some executives and cross-directorships with a related company.

This and subsequent revelations about finances at the Rehab organisation led to a significant decline in public donations to most of the Republic’s charities.

A SCANDAL?

Responding to the Minister’s announcement, the Irish Charities Tax Reform group (ICTR) has expressed concern that the announcement of an extension of the registration deadline for certain charities risks undermining confidence in the sector which has been trying to regain public trust after the CRC scandal of 18 months ago.

During that scandal it was revealed that the board of the long-established disability charity had approved the use of charitable donations to help fund a €740,000 annual pension for its former chief executive, Paul Kiely.

OVER-AMBITIOUS

A spokesperson for the ICTR group told RTÉ News it was “over-ambitious” of the 2009 Charities Act to set a deadline of six months for unregistered to register with the new Charities Regulatory Authority, as the law had not been fully enacted until 16 October last year.

The spokesperson for the 160-strong umbrella group, which represents some of the country’s largest charities, said that a shortage of resources in the newly-established Charities Regulator’s office compounded the problem.

The CRA website apologises to readers that “due to the high volume of queries we receive, it may take us some time to respond to your query”.

STAFFING

The ICTR has said that only four new additional full-time staff equivalents were allocated to the regulator last year.

It conceded that the regulator also inherited a further five full-time staff from the Commission for Charity Regulation and Bequests but said they continued to fulfill their established functions.

The group said a crunch meeting is scheduled soon with the Department of Justice and Equality on a request from the Charities Regulatory Authority for additional staff.

It said the Scottish regulator was given 50 staff a decade ago to service a population similar to the Republic of Ireland’s

The group estimates that the Republic of Ireland’s regulator needs approximately 11 extra staff to boost its complement to about 20.

AWARENESS RAISING

Meanwhile, an organisation representing over 1,000 charities, The Wheel, has called for big awareness raising initiative to ensure unregistered charities understand their obligation to register.

Welcoming Minister Fitzgerald’s 12 month extension of the deadline for unregistered charities to make themselves known to the Charities Regulator, The Wheel Director of Advocacy Ivan Cooper, said many of the mostly smaller organisations concerned seem to be unaware of their obligation.

The Wheel also called on the minister to ensure that the CRA is sufficiently resourced to communicate with, educate and support charitable organisations that have yet to apply to it for registration.

Mr Cooper also called on the Department to ensure that the CRA is given enough resources to support the other 9,000 or so registered charities that are currently completing their entry in the CRA’s Register.

He said it will be working closely with the CRA and other partners in the charity sector to raise awareness of the requirements facing unregistered charities.

Applications for inclusion on the Register of Charities can be made through the CRA’s website at the CRA’s website at www.charitiesregulatoryauthority.ie

24,000 Irish people could have un-diagnosed diabetes

   

The largest ever study into diabetes risk and cardiovascular risk, conducted by VHI Healthcare, has revealed that 24,000 people in Ireland could have un-diagnosed diabetes.

The research was conducted in VHI Healthcare’s medical centres in Cork and Dublin.

Almost 30,000 people took part in the study from 2009 to 2013.

Of those, nearly 5,000 people (17%) were found to have abnormal initial fasting blood sugar levels.

Men were up to three times more likely to have undiagnosed diabetes.

Research was conducted in VHI Healthcare’s medical centres in Cork and Dublin.

Those with abnormal blood sugar levels were most likely to be older, men, smokers, with abdominal obesity, higher BMI and higher blood pressure.

Study findings included that the risk of undiagnosed diabetes went up by 89% for every 5kg increase in body mass index.

The author of the report and medical director at VHI Healthcare, Dr Bernadette Carr, said: “The results of our research suggest that the rate of undiagnosed type two diabetes and pre-diabetes is higher in Ireland than in similar European countries such as Britain and Holland.

“THESE RESULTS DEMONSTRATE HOW IMPORTANT IT IS FOR INDIVIDUALS TO UNDERSTAND AND MANAGE THEIR OWN HEALTH RISKS.”

Dr Bernadette Carr, The author of the VHI diabetes report said “By making some very simple lifestyle changes, people can improve their outcomes and, in the case of pre-diabetes, can even delay or prevent progression to diabetes,”

Fitness apps will not improve your health  

And it could be harmful?

 

They are the latest health and fitness ‘revolution’, beloved of the fad dieters and the pilates obsessives and not to mention some of our leading politicians.

But what use, really, are increasingly popular health apps like Fitbit and Jawbone that monitor our activity levels, heart rate and even sleep patterns? None at all, according to one leading GP – and they could even end up doing harm.

Writing in the BMJ, Glasgow GP and health commentator Dr Des Spence warns that the products, which increasingly include wearable devices that link to computers and smartphones, providing 24-hour health monitoring, are “untested and unscientific” and could ignite “extreme anxiety” in a new generation of the “worried well”.

Warning that such apps could soon be “ubiquitous”, Dr Spence said that devices that could offer perpetual health monitoring risked giving rise to ‘over-diagnosis’ of health problems, with people unable to distinguish harmless variation or faulty readings from genuine signs of ill health.

“The truth is that these apps and devices are untested and unscientific, and they will open the door of uncertainty,” he writes. “Make no mistake: diagnostic uncertainty ignites extreme anxiety in people. We must reflect on what we might lose here, rather than what we might gain.”

Thousands of health apps are now available and some are even endorsed by the NHS.

George Osborne raised eyebrows when he was seen wearing one – a Jawbone ‘UP’ wristband – at a committee hearing two years ago. It is unclear whether the device played an important part in the Chancellor of the Exchequer’s subsequent weight loss, but he did confirm at the time that former Education Secretary Michael Gove was also using one.

George Osborne sporting the Jawbone wristband
Despite their rising popularity, there is no evidence that smartphone-connected health apps can actually improve health, although two randomised trials of weight loss apps for old-style ‘handheld PC’ devices did show they worked better than paper or web-based fitness programmes.

Not all doctors are convinced health apps are a cause for concern. Also writing in the BMJ, Iltifat Husain, assistant professor of emergency medicine at the Forest School of Medicine in North Carolina, USA, said that apps which encouraged more exercise and a better diet could well carry benefits.

He said that while tests of Fitbit and Jawbone devices had not found evidence they could improve health outcomes or exercise compliance, there was also no evidence they could do harm.

“Healthy people may well benefit from using some health apps…but doctors need to be proactive about telling people which metrics matter and which apps they should buy,” he writes.

Daily brisk walking good for prostate cancer survivors

 

Brisk walking a key for prostate cancer survivors.

Brisk walking for about three hours a week is enough to help prostate cancer survivors reduce damaging side effects of their treatment, according to a promising study.

“Non-vigorous walking for three hours per week seems to improve the fatigue, depression and body weight issues that affect many men post-treatment,” said Siobhan Phillips, lead author from the Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine.

“If you walk even more briskly, for only 90 minutes a week, you could also see similar benefits in these areas,” he added.

Phillips used data from the health professionals follow-up Study. She focused on prostate cancer survivors who were diagnosed with non-advanced disease prior to 2008 and responded to a health-related quality of life (HRQOL) questionnaire.

Common HRQOL symptoms included urinary and bowel problems, sexual function issues, fatigue, depression, increased body weight and erectile dysfunction.

The men reported the average time spent during a week walking to work or for exercise as well as time spent jogging, running, cycling, swimming and playing sports.

They also reported their usual outdoor walking pace as easy, average, brisk or very brisk.

The findings indicate that higher duration of brisk walking were associated with better hormone/vitality functioning (affecting fatigue, depression and body weight).

“Those who are able to walk should be encouraged to start an easy walking routine or engage in other non-vigorous activities soon after a prostate cancer diagnosis,” Phillips noted.

The benefits could help manage symptoms such as fatigue, depression and body weight – and improve overall health.

Walking may also potentially increase survival and impact their quality of life by preventing the onset of those other conditions.

The only surviving male northern white rhino is put under armed guard 24 hours a day

  

Rangers in Kenya risking their lives to keep the above 43-year-old rhino safe.

Sudan is the last hope for this Rhino species now on the verge of being wiped out for ever.

But ivory is now fetching as much as £47,000 per kilo as demand grows

Animal sanctuary Ol Pejeta trying to raise money to help pay for guards

The world’s last surviving male northern white rhino – stripped of his horn for his own safety – is now under 24-hour armed guard in a desperate final bid to save the species.

Sudan is guarded day and night by a group of rangers who risk their lives on a daily basis as they try to keep the rhino from poachers lured by the rising price of ivory.

But even without his horn, keepers in the Kenyan reserve of Ol Pojeta in fear for his safety.

Guard: The rangers keep an armed watch around Sudan at all times to deter poachers after his horn

Northern white rhinos at the Ol Pojeta reserve in 2012

The 43-year-old rhino – who could live until his 50s – is the last chance for any future northern white rhino calves.

Sudan was moved, along with two female rhinos, from a zoo in the Czech Republic in December 2009.

The reserve, which specialises in the conservation of rhinos, was chosen because of its successful breeding programme with black rhinos.

News Ireland daily BLOG update

Wednesday 15th April 2015

Irish Water bills show 46m litres of water leaks per day

  • Leaks see 150 customers use in excess of €1,000 worth of water over three months

Image result for Irish Water bills show 46m litres of water leaks per day  

Irish Water says an estimated 46 million litres of water per day & that’s enough to fill 18 Olympic size swimming pools, water that is leaking each day.

More than 30,000 Irish homes have been identified as having suspected water leaks with more than €1,000 worth of water draining from the pipes of some homes in just three months, according to Irish Water.

The leaks were detected during the utility’s first meter readings covering the period January to March this year.

It has now contacted 2,500 of the worst affected customers offering them a free leak investigation under its interim First Fix Scheme.

Water charges: Full coverage

The utility said the leaks identified were wasting an estimated 46 million litres of water per day – enough to fill 18 Olympic size swimming pools, or fulfil Limerick City’s water needs for 24 hours.

According to the meter readings, 2,500 customers were losing more than 2,000 litres of water every day through leaks.

Almost half of the water lost each day, at around 20 million litres per day, is as a result of leaks at just 1,100 properties.

That is enough water to meet the daily water demand of 70,000 homes.

“Our national metering programme is well ahead of schedule and is already of huge benefit in tackling leakage,” said Irish Water’s Head of Asset Management Jerry Grant.

“Customers who have a meter can see their usage on the reverse side of the bill.”

In the first week of billing 150 customers were found to have leaks that meant they used in excess of €1,000 worth of water over the three months.

While information on how much water is being used in a property is detailed on bills, no-one will be charged more than €65 for water in the first quarter.

In each case where significant amounts of water usage were identified, a constant flow alarm on the customers’ meter was activated.

This entitles the householder to a free leak investigation as part of Irish Water’s First Fix Scheme.

If the leak is found on the customer’s external supply pipe; which connects the meter box and the point of entry to the house, it will be fixed by Irish Water at no cost.

If the leak is inside the house then customers will have to arrange and pay for the repair.

Meanwhile, an Irish Water contractor carrying out a leak investigation on St Laurence Rd in Clontarf in north Dublin was briefly blocked in by up to 10 protestors on Wednesday afternoon.

Gardaí were called to the scene and the van was allowed leave.

About 6% of nurses in Ireland bullied on a daily basis,

  • A study finds
  • INMO survey says workplace bullying has increased by 13.4% in four years

  

A new Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation survey has found that almost 6 % of nurses and midwives are bullied on a near daily basis.

A large-scale survey carried out among nurses and midwives suggests that about 6% are being bullied on a daily basis.

The study findings indicate that the level of perceived bullying involving nurses and midwives has worsened significantly since a previous study undertaken in 2010.

The new study found that almost 6% of respondents reported that they were bullied on a near daily basis and that the percentage of non-union members who experienced this bullying was almost double that of union members.

It also found that over the past 4 years there had been a 13.4% increase in perceived incidences of bullying.

The survey suggested that Government cutbacks were a probable explanation for the significant rise in reported bullying between 2010 and 2014.

About 2,400 nurses and midwives took part in the survey, which was undertaken by theIrish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO), in partnership with NUI Galwayand the National College of Ireland.

‘Very disturbing’

Prof Maura Sheehan of NUI Galway, who headed the study, said: “The finding that almost 6% of respondents perceive to be bullied on an almost daily basis is very disturbing.

“The personal consequences in terms of health, well-being and family relationships of people who experience workplace bullying are extremely serious.

“Almost all organisations have a formal anti-bullying policy in place. Clearly there is a significant gap between the presence and implementation of such policies.

“There needs to be a fundamental culture change in hospitals and care facilities – a zero tolerance policy for any bullying must be implemented. This must apply to all employees, no matter how senior, specialised and experienced.”

INMO director of industrial relations Phil Ni Sheaghdha said the results set out in the survey did not come as a surprise, as they confirmed some of the information which had been reported to the organisation by members.

“[Members] believe the problem has been accelerated due to the effects the cutbacks in healthcare have had in the workplace as hospitals are constantly overcrowded and staffing levels are reduced.

“Employers need to be proactive now and become aware of trends and intervene early to ensure policies are fit for purpose and managers are trained to intervene early and appropriately.”

Irish Banks lose millions in way they treat distressed borrowers

  • Each personal-insolvency rejection costs banks €100,000, says insolvency service

  Image result for Irish Banks lose millions in way they treat distressed borrowers 

Banks are losing more than €100,000 every time they reject a personal insolvency application but many continue to “defy commercial logic” by forcing distressed borrowers down the bankruptcy road, it has been claimed.

Banks are losing more than €100,000 every time they reject a personal insolvency application but many continue to “defy commercial logic” by forcing distressed borrowers down the bankruptcy road, it has been claimed.

In a new report published by the Insolvency Service of Ireland (ISI), Permanent TSB is exposed as the bank least likely to come to an arrangement with a borrower trying to reach a debt repayment agreement.

Since the ISI began accepting insolvency applications in September 2013, banks have exercised their controversial vetoes in one in four cases, with the number of cases rejected climbing to almost 30% when mortgage debt is involved.

Using case data provided by Personal Insolvency Practitioners (PIPs) covering the last quarter of 2014, the ISI highlighted 47 rejected cases involving debt of more than €30m.

In all circumstances the financial return for both secured and unsecured creditors was higher in the arrangements rejected than the alternative available if the applicant declared themselves to be bankrupt.

Proposals drawn up by PIPs involving mortgage debt would have seen creditors recover just over 68% of their loans from borrowers compared to just fewer than 45% if the borrower entered bankruptcy.

Unsecured creditors meanwhile stood to recover 8.6% of their debt through insolvency compared with less than 1% after bankruptcy proceedings were issued.

The overall potential loss for creditors voting down potential agreements was put at almost €5m in a single quarter which worked out at more than €100,000 per case.

“This is why I have always thought the voting system [which requires 65% of creditors back a deal] would work,” said the head of the ISI Lorcan O’Connor. “It seemed to me to be a no-brainer. I have always been of the view that commercial logic would win out.”

Veto

Sub-prime lender Start Mortgages rejected 80% of the Personal Insolvency Arrangements (PIA) put to it. All told it vetoed eight deals and accepted only two. Permanent TSB, meanwhile, voted down 46 deals – a rejection rate of 48%.

Bank of Ireland vetoed 21% of debt deals, Ulster Bank rejected 19% of deals while AIB and EBS combined voted against 14% of arrangements brought forward by PIPs.

Mr O’Connor said the ISI was in the process of arranging meetings with the individual banks to try and establish what are their perceived stumbling blocks when it comes to doing deals. “Once you have statistics and facts at your disposable it is a lot easier to have a conversation,” he said.

The ISI report shows continued growth in applications month on month with activity across all debt solution categories. Growth has been particularly strong since the launch of the ‘Back on Track’ information campaign last October which coincided with the waiving of application fees.

400 arrangements

The ISI’s latest raft of statistics shows that over 400 arrangements involving unsecured debt and mortgages had been reached.

There were 101 Debt Relief Notices involving debts of less than €20,000 A further 43 Debt Settlement Arrangements for unsecured borrowings over that amount were put in place while 129 Personal Insolvency Arrangements which typically involve mortgage debt were done. And 162 bankruptcies were processed.

Since it started processing applications in September 2013, 821 approved arrangements have been put in place while 610 bankruptcies have been declared since the term was reduced to three years from 12. All told the cases involved debt of almost €2 billion. Mr O’Conner accepted the level of applications was still some way off the 7,000 he would expect the ISI to handle annually.

“I can’t deny that the numbers using the insolvency service remain low relative to the scale of the personal debt problem,” Mr. O’ Connor said. However he suggested that many of the 100,000 restructured mortgage deals that banks have now down with borrowers had come about directly as a result of the establishment of the ISI.

He said the number of people using the ISI was “creeping up” and pointed out that in the last applications grew at its fastest rate since the service started 18 months ago.

New Beginning welcomed the ISI figures which, it said, confirmed that the system continues to get traction. “The figures show that in over 75% of cases creditors are agreeing to massive debt write down,” said its spokesman Ross Maguire.

However David Hall of the Irish Mortgage Holders Organisation was less upbeat. “The Insolvency Service press release tries to present what are pathetic figures in as positive a way as possible, but they are fooling no one,” he said.

Irish company hopes to find gold in the hills of Donegal

   

Samples suggest that there could be a considerable amount of gold in the north-west of Ireland.

Tellus boarder survey – darker shades indicate areas where gold is more likely to be found.

Connemara Mining has announced that it has acquired five new prospecting licences covering 187 sq km on the Innisowen peninsula in Donegal.

The company’s geologists believe that the area is a chance of making a high grade gold find in the region – and that there is also the potential for other base metal deposits to be discovered.

The release of the the most recent Tellus geochemical field survey data confirmed the presence of elevated gold in the area – rock samples containing up to 104g/t gold were identified in 2011 by a previous licence holder.

After studying the available data 16 target areas have been identified by Connemara.

The company’s chairman, John Teeling commented on the deal, he says that the company is taking an “aggressive stance” in targeting Ireland’s next gold discovery.

He adds, “It is worth noting that the new licence block is located within the Scottish-Irish Gold Belt along trend from the discovery by Dalradian Gold where they have recently announced an inferred gold resource of 3.5 million ounces.”

Gold has also been found on the Monaghan-Cavan boarder, Easky in Sligo, Killashandra in Co Cavan and Co Tyrone.

Sligo, Ireland on the trail of W. B. Yeats

  • To mark 150 years since the birth of WB Yeats, Fionnuala McHugh revisits Sligo, her childhood holiday destination which inspired the great poet’s works

    

Ben Bulben mountain in Co Sligo, Ireland.

By Fionnuala McHugh

As children in 1960’s England, we dreaded summer trips to Sligo.

  My grandmother’s old house was spidery (we had a relative in the town actually called Miss Moffitt) and filled with In Memoriam cards – photos of other children, mostly drowned in the Atlantic, with the words Jesus, Mercy! Mary, Help! printed above their dead heads.

The milk tasted funny, the back-roads induced car-sickness, it rained or was about to. My grandmother attempted to teach us a poem with tricky Irish words: “When I play on my fiddle in Dooney/ Folks dance like a wave of the sea/My cousin is priest in Kilvarnet/ My brother in Moharabuiee”. William Butler Yeats, she said. Which meant nothing.

Circumstances changed. Sligo became the one constant in our lives.

The wild, glaciated land gripped our imaginations. When such a place clasps you, there’s no release however far you wander; I’m always measuring, say, the South China Sea or the mountains of Ladakh against the peaks and strands of that far western Irish corner. Yeats, born in Dublin 150 years ago this year, spent his childhood summers with Sligo relatives and he carried the force of it within him all his life. He wrote The Lake Isle of Innisfree (“I will arise and go now”) in grey-pavemented 1888 London to express a homesick yearning for somewhere that he heard “in the deep heart’s core”.

  Lough Gill. Truth to tell, Innisfree – the very word so internationally evocative it’s now the name of a South Korean cosmetics company – is an unremarkable piece of scrubland on Lough Gill. In 1992, I wrote a story for the Telegraph’s Saturday magazine about a group of British artists, including Maggi Hambling, who’d travelled to Ireland to paint it. They were fairly underwhelmed by its appearance. On the shoreline, Hambling had said, “It looks like a sponge”. But they understood the concept of a peg on which to hang your creativity.

“Actually, the prettiest island on the lake is Beezie’s,” said George McGoldrick, when I visited Inisfree one recent luminous weekend. “A lot of people would say that’s the one he meant. But Innisfree sounds better.” McGoldrick does tours of Lough Gill on his boat, The Rose of Innisfree, on which his wife Christina serves home-baked scones. Rose was resting, however, prior to the season’s Easter start, so we circumnavigated the lake by car. Every now and then, McGoldrick recited some poetry.

In this inclination, he was not alone; Ireland has declared 2015 the year of Yeats, the first time one individual has been so honoured, and all over Sligo people were leaping into Yeatsian mode at the smallest excuse. I’d already re-visited Lissadell House, where Yeats used to call on the Gore-Booth girls, Eva and Constance (later to become Countess Markievicz, an Easter 1916 heroine – or traitor, depending on your view – and the first woman elected to the British House of Commons), “both/ Beautiful, one a gazelle”. Back in the 1980s, anyone walking through Lissadell woods could see that the Ascendancy had declined into a huddled clutter in a damp back kitchen.

  Sligo on a summer’s day.

Now, however, there’s a new family of seven children in the house, a Yeats gallery, a cheerful tea-room. In Hargadon’s pub in Sligo town, built the year before Yeats was born, people were ringing up to book the daily 1pm slots for reading aloud one of his poems. The Blue Raincoat Theatre Company were planning this summer’s performances of three Yeats plays on Streedagh beach, where the Spanish Armada was wrecked in 1588 (and we used to look hopefully for doubloons). If there’s half-decent weather, that will be one of the most memorable stage-sets, lit by a divine expert, you’ll ever see.

And everyone will be heading to Lough Gill. With its monastic ruins and woods, Beezie’s Island – named after the woman who lived there until 1949 – is certainly a more spacious, not to mention picturesque, spot for nine bean-rows and a cabin in a bee-loud glade. But Innisfree is what the punters want, and in this Land of Heart’s Desire that’s what they get.

“The amount of times we’ve had to drop off ashes or roses on it… ” mused McGoldrick. “Didn’t Yeats bring his wife on a boat and he couldn’t find it? Not that he was good at rowing.” We both laughed. (Sligonians have a tendency to view the Nobel laureate as simultaneously brilliant and slightly dim, a classic product of the Celtic Twilight. To honour this mystic side, the anniversary festivities include having a Harp Festival on every full moon; as 2015 happens to be a blue-moon year that’s 13 of them.)

At Glencar waterfall, someone had stuck a placard into the lower reaches that read ‘From the river to the sea/Irish water will be free’ – not a minor verse by Yeats but an outraged reference to the Irish government’s introduction of water charges. In Ireland, using the landscape to make a point isn’t confined to poets; in the 1970s and 1980s, the spectacular pleats of Sligo’s Ben Bulben became a limestone billboard on which unseen hands would spell Brits Out or – during the Long Kesh hunger strikes – H-Block, with whitened rocks.

  Glencar waterfall near Sligo.

That particular script has gone, and the only words lingering under Ben Bulben’s head are Yeats’ own, carved over his grave in Drumcliff churchyard: Cast a cold Eye/ On life, on Death/Horseman pass by. I used to think (watching, with a frozen eye, the hailstones hop off the tombstones) that it was the bleakest spot in Sligo but nowadays there’s a pleasant tea-room here too. Having died in France in 1939, however, Yeats wasn’t interred in Sligo until 1948, and there’s ongoing debate as to whether the transported bones are really his.

“People fret about the right body,” said Damien Brennan, over an excellent lunch (cooked by his wife, Paula Gilvarry, a retired doctor). “I don’t care. We’ve got the right spirit.”

Damien Brennan is President of the Sligo Yeats Society, in which capacity he’s been to Japan three times. (Yeats’ fascination with Noh drama is heartily reciprocated by Japanese fascination with Yeats.) He lives, bathed by light, in a truly envy-inducing house with floor-to-ceiling windows, and a terrace, overlooking Lough Gill.

This is where you can sample the Yeats Experience evenings – food by Paula, expert blarney by Damien wearing one of his 85 bowties. Ideally, he likes at least 10 people but it’s worth ringing to see if you can make up numbers last-minute. If you’re not up to speed on Yeats when you arrive, don’t worry.

  Parkes Castle in Dromahair Co. Leitrim.

“I start with the premise that people know nothing”, he said, and the chat is wide-ranging, from Sligo’s geology to its archaeology. “I talk about tombs, about how Yeats as a boy, asked about passage tombs and was told not to go near those places because that’s where the fairy folk live . . .”

And I remembered the ancient magic seeping out of Sligo that surely fed a poet’s mind.

One night, I stayed at lovely Coopershill, the 18th century home of the O’Haras, where the air’s so pure, the trees on the 500-acre estate look as if they’re clad in lichen jackets. Simon O’Hara, the seventh-generation to live in the house and a perfect host, organised a dinner deliciously cooked by his fiancée, Christina McCauley; the guests’ subsequent Yeatsian singing and recitations by the fire were spontaneous. For this year’s anniversary, he’s also arranging paddle-board trips to Innisfree, where visitors can have a Coopershill picnic. Luckily, Yeats’ birthday is on June 13, a convenient season for summer outings.

O’Hara talked about it in the car the following morning as we drove to Carrowkeel, one of Sligo’s passage-tomb cemeteries that’s older than the Pyramids. The wind’s ferocity had contorted the trees into goblins (haptotropism, my Sligo school-teacher father used to explain) and we had to air-wrestle our way to the top. Amidst the cluster of 5,000 year-old chambers, we looked down onto the long, piercing gleam of Lough Arrow. You couldn’t measure that land against anywhere else in the world. Not a living soul stood near but the past grew close and the earth felt as if it were singing.

Why us humans have chins?

    

The Wicked Witch of the West can thank facial evolution for her iconic, pointy chin, new research suggests. And so can everyone else.

Compared with other human relatives such as Neanderthals, modern Homo sapiens have particularly prominent chins. Some researchers have hypothesized that the modern human chin helps the jaw stand up to the forces generated by chewing, said Nathan Holton, an anthropologist at the University of Iowa.

In a new study, Holton and his colleagues find that the chewing theory doesn’t hold water.

“The development of the chin doesn’t seem to have anything to do with resistance to bending stresses,” Holton told Live Science. “They’re just not related.” [The 10 Biggest Mysteries of the First Humans]

Instead, he said, the prominence of the chin may simply be a side effect of the rest of the face evolving to be smaller.

Chin mystery

To determine whether chin prominence protects the jaw from bending while chewing, Holton and his colleagues examined X-ray images from the Iowa Facial Growth Study, which tracked children’s skull development from age 3 into adulthood. Using 292 measurements from 18 females and 19 males, the researchers tracked jaw development and bone distribution associated with protecting against various types of stresses.

Chins become more prominent with age, but the scientists found no consistent links between chin prominence and resistance. In fact, jaws are relatively better at resisting some types of forces at age 3, when chins are not well developed, compared to adulthood, Holton said.

The findings appeared online April 11 in the Journal of Anatomy.

Shrinking faces

If chins don’t confer jaw protection, the reason for the pointy human chin is something of a mystery, Holton said. Overall, the Homo genus (which includes humans, Neanderthals and other ancestors) has experienced an evolution toward smaller faces over time, with Homo sapiens showing the greatest reductions in size. Among features on the modern human’s face, the lower jaw stops growing last, making it relatively more prominent compared with the rest of the face.

The prominent chin “is a secondary consequence of faces getting smaller,” Holton said.

So why have faces shrunk? One possibility is that hormonal changes associated with reduced violence and increased cooperation had the side effect of “domesticating” the human face, thus shrinking it, Holton said. He and his colleagues are also exploring evidence that points to the nose as the culprit. As overall body size shrank, Holton said, the nasal cavities did not need to grow as large to provide enough air for survival. The face then did not have to grow as large to support the nose.

“It really seems like a lot of changes in the modern human face are really due to a reduction in size, so if we can explain that, we can explain a lot,” Holton said.