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.

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