Daily Archives: May 14, 2015

News Ireland daily BLOG by by Donie

Thursday 14th May 2015

PTSB boss says I will refuse Noonan’s calls for cheaper mortgages


Permanent TSB boss Jeremy Masding told the Dáil yesterday that he will reject any political requests to cut borrowing costs for customers on expensive variable mortgages

Permanent TSB boss Jeremy Masding told the Dáil yesterday that he will reject any political requests to cut borrowing costs for customers on expensive variable mortgages.

Asked directly whether he would refuse a request from Finance Minister Michael Noonan, the bank chief executive replied; “Yes; but not bluntly.” He added that he’d tell Mr Noonan that he’d “prefer if you didn’t ask me questions about the running of my organisation”.

The remarks to the Oireachtas finance committee put Permanent TSB on a collision course with Mr Noonan and Taoiseach Enda Kenny, who have promised to demand cuts to variable mortgages.

The chief executives of Bank of Ireland and Ulster have also said they would not listen to Mr Noonan, although AIB boss David Duffy seemed to suggest he would. AIB is almost 100pc owned by the State. Permanent TSB is 75% owned by the State while other lenders such as Ulster Bank are independent. Permanent TSB was controlled by the State but has recently sold a stake on the stock exchange.

Mr Masding again dashed hopes he might soon decide to cut borrowing costs for his existing customers with variable mortgages. He rejected repeated suggestions from TDs and senators who said that Permanent TSB was in a position to stop charging customers more than 40 times what it costs the bank to borrow from the European Central Bank.

The chief executive dismissed the argument about low borrowing costs, saying the bank only borrows 15% of its funds from the ECB. It borrowed more than half during the crisis.

He also told TDs and senators that new customers may get cheaper mortgages than existing customers because the markets regard the new borrowers as a lower risk. Questioned about whether Permanent TSB could lose good customers who pay their mortgages to a cheaper competitor, Mr Masding said “we are spending a lot of time reflecting on this issue” and said the bank was “developing a strategy”.

Following criticism on how the bank is dealing with certain customers in arrears, Mr Masding repeatedly invited TDs and senators to send him details of the individuals who were encountering problems with Permanent TSB’s call centres.

Cost of car insurance increases in Ireland while fuel prices fall


  • Central Statistics Office inflation report reveals mixed fortunes for motorists

Insurance companies who had engaged in a bidding war over the last few years have had to increase premiums to return to profitability.

There was mixed news for Irish motorists contained within the pages of the latest inflation report from the Central Statistics Office (CSO).

One of the most notable changes over the last 12 months has been a decrease of 6% in the overall cost of transport.

Prices across this sector fell mainly as a result of a dramatic decline in the cost of petrol and diesel in the early part of this year as well as a less significant fall in airfares and a reduction in the price of cars.

The average cost of a car fell by 2.5% over the 12 months to the end of April while petrol recorded a fall of 8.7% and diesel dropped in price by 11.3%.

The cost of air fares fell by 27.7% as airlines benefited from cheaper aviation fuel due to falls in the price of crude oil on international markets.

The fall in fuel prices appears to have been arrested over the last four weeks however and the figures show that petrol prices actually climbed by just 2.6% in April while diesel prices inched up by 0.3%.

Many of the gains motorists will have experienced over the last 12 months will have been offset by dramatic increases in the cost of motor insurance over the same period.

Car insurance climbed by just under 16% between the end of April 2014 and April this year.

The key reason prices have spiked in recent times can be attributed to a significant price correction in the market since the beginning of the year. Between 2011 and the end of last year, insurers were engaged in something close to a price war with many cutting premiums in order to increase their market share.

However, this hit their bottom lines and as they faced significant losses, many have had to increase their premiums for this year and next in an attempt to return to profitability.

Why a weak handshake is bad news for your heart


A new study has found that weak grip strength was linked to shorter survival and a greater risk of having a heart attack or stroke.

The strength of your handshake could indicate the chance of a future heart attack, a major study has suggested.

Researchers found that the vigour of a person’s grip could predict the risk of heart attacks and strokes – and was a stronger indicator of death than checking systolic blood pressure.

The study in ‘The Lancet’ medical journal, involving almost 140,000 adults in 17 countries, found weak grip strength was linked to shorter survival and a greater risk of having a heart attack or stroke.

Reduced muscular strength, which can be measured by grip strength, has been consistently linked with early death, disability and illness. But there has been limited research on whether grip strength could be used to indicate heart health.

The findings show that every five-kilo decline in grip strength was associated with a 16% increased risk of death from any cause; a 17% greater risk of cardiovascular death; a 17% higher risk of non-cardiovascular mortality and more modest increases in the risk of having a heart attack (7%) or a stroke (9%). Overall, grip strength was a stronger predictor of all deaths, including those from heart disease, than systolic blood pressure.

The associations persisted even after taking into account differences in other factors that can affect mortality or heart disease, such as age, physical activity level, and tobacco and alcohol use. Potentially, grip strength could be an easy and inexpensive test to assess an individual’s risk of death and cardiovascular disease.

Doctors are warned about combining antibiotics with cholesterol medication


Cork coroner hears Kenneth Beazley suffered from a complex medical history. Kenneth Beazley of Ballybrassil, Cobh, Co Cork, who died on January 19th last.

Physicians have been warned to avoid prescribing fusidic acid antiobiotics to patients who are on cholesterol-lowering statin medications.

Kenneth Beazley (80) of Ballybrasil, Cobh, Co Cork, died on January 19th last at Cork University Hospital (CUH) after being prescribed a bacteriostatic antibiotic fusidic acid in conjunction with his regular statin medication.

Cork City Coroner’s Court heard Mr Beazley suffered from a complex medical history having undergone bypass surgery. He also had hypertension, diabetes mellitus, heart disease and degenerative joint disease. He had two joint replacements arising out of his arthritis.

His GP, Dr Peter Morahan, told coroner Dr Myra Cullinanethat the late Mr Beazley had been a patient of his from 1977. He said he had treated Mr Beazley for a variety of conditions over the years at his Cobh-based surgery.

In November 2014, the doctor noticed a bloody discharge coming from Mr Beazley’s right knee. Mr Beazley went to the surgery on a daily basis from December 1st to 4th, as there was a discharge from the knee.

Dr Morahan consulted with consultant orthopaedic surgeon Dr Richard Creedon who recommended Mr Beazley take a fusidic acid antibiotic in tablet form.

A two-week prescription was written and a subsequent two-week prescription for the same drug was dispensed later that month. Dr Morahan said he was not aware of any problems with prescribing fuisdic acid antibiotics to a patient on statins and that it was a long-established antiobiotic that seemed appropriate to deal with the infection. The acid was developed 40 years ago and specifically works by preventing bacterial replication. It is now primarily used in drug “cocktails” to target anti biotic resistant strains.

On December 22nd, Mr Beazley attended the surgery where the doctor found there was a slight elevation in his INR levels in his blood test. Mr Beazley presented at a level of 3.4, but it wasn’t a cause of major concern as normal levels are in the 2.0 to 3.0 range.

However, in the weeks that followed, Mr Beazley’s INR levels in his blood tests rose from 6.8 to 7.9. He was admitted to the Bon Secours Hospital in Cork on the January 9th. His condition continued to deteriorate and he died at CUH 10 days later.

Consultant orthopaedic surgeon Dr Richard Creedon, who is a specialist in arthroscopic knee surgery, said he had seen Mr Beazley on a few occasions. He told Dr Cullinane that on December 4th Dr Morahan contacted him about pus which was being discharged from the pensioner’s knee. A CT scan was to be organised and a recommendation was made that Mr Beazley be put on a course of fusidic acid antibiotics.

Dr Creedon said he had never come across any problem with that antibiotic and statin medications. He described the pensioner as a “handsome and debonair man” before offering his condolences to the family at their tragic loss.

Dr John McCarthy, a physician at the Bon Secours Hospital, said Mr Beazley was admitted to the facility in January of this year with decreasing mobility issues and muscle weakness. He said a consultant onsite put forward the possibility of problems with the prescribing of fuisidic acid antibiotics and station medication when Mr Beazley’s condition started to deteriorate.

Mr Beasley was transferred to CUH for renal replacement therapy on January 16th. He died of cardiac arrest three days later.

Dr Margaret Bolster, who carried out the autopsy on Mr Beazley, said Mr Beazley had a number of serious aliments including severe heart disease. She noted an extensive breakdown of his skeletal muscle. She said his cause of death was almost certainly the combination of statin drugs and fusidic antibiotics.

However, Dr Bolster described such cases as being extremely rare having only ever come across two instances in all her years as a pathologist.

A verdict of medical misadventure was recorded in the case.

Dr Cullinane said she previously issued a warning about the usage of statin medication and fusidic acid at an inquest in 2008. She asked that the matter be again raised with the Irish Pharmaceutical Health Care Association and the Health Products Regulatory Authority.

Dr Cullinane offered her condolences to the family for their “devastating tragedy.”

Connacht Whiskey Company at launch of ‘Vision for Irish Whiskey’


Bernard Walsh, chairman, Irish Whiskey Association and founder of Walsh Whiskey Distillery, with David Stapleton of The Connacht Whiskey Company, Ballina.

The Minister for Agriculture and Food, Simon Coveney, has launched the Irish Whiskey Association’s ‘Vision for Irish Whiskey’ at an event in the Old Jameson Distillery, Smithfield, Dublin.

The document sets out the industry’s ambition for the future and outlines a strategy to ensure continued growth in the sector.

There are 26 new or proposed distilleries across Ireland and annual exports of Irish whiskey are now valued at over €300 million, up 220% since 2003.

Among those at the launch were The Connacht Whiskey Company, which is setting up in Ballina at the old Duffy’s Bakery site in Belleek.

The Irish whiskey strategy document is based on a comprehensive survey of the sector and outlines the sector’s ambitions, which include: to grow global market share by 300% by 2030 from 4% to 12%; to grow exports from 6.5m nine-litre cases to 12m nine-litre cases by 2020; to double exports again to 24m nine-litre cases by 2030; to grow whiskey tourism from 600,000 visitors to 800,000 in the medium term; to increase employment by 30% from 5,000 direct and indirect jobs to 6,500 by 2025; to invest over €1bn between 2010 and 2025; and to increase production by 41% over the same period.

In order to meet the ambitious targets, the Vision for Irish Whiskey outlines five key pillars that will support sustainable growth. They are: adequately resourced infrastructure, including financial support for new entrants and adequate malting capacity; category integrity and promotion, including clear guidelines on the production of Irish whiskey and the promotion of geographic indication (GI) status; sustainable supply and demand, incorporating additional capacity to support market growth; an all-island approach to tourism, including the Irish whiskey trail; and a strong home market, creating a sense of pride in the industry at home and abroad.

At the document launch Minister Coveney said: “Growth of almost 200% over a decade reflects an industry with ambition, a sense of mission, and a deep understanding of individual markets. Irish whiskey brands now represent the fastest growing spirit globally and with investment of €1 billion planned over a 10-year period, the product and those who champion it will be well placed to generate growth, exports and jobs, and a very special tourist offering celebrating an all-island heritage.”

Bernard Walsh, founder of Walsh Whiskey Distillery and chairman of the Irish Whiskey Association, said: “The potential is massive. If we look at our neighbours in Scotland, we see the world-leading Scotch industry exporting over 90 million nine-litre cases annually. There are over 130 Scottish distilleries that bring investment and employment into rural areas. There is no reason why Ireland cannot achieve similar success.

“We look forward to working with Minister Coveney and other relevant stakeholders going forward to ensure Irish whiskey stays on track to become a true success story for brand Ireland.”

The pint of Science is going down very nicely


Themes for this year’s festival, which moves science to the pub, include sports, obesity and smart devices

How do our brains work? How do we make our water safer and our cities smarter? Can we thwart diseases with devices, food and even maths? These are among the dozens of questions that will fuel the Pint of Science Ireland festival in Dublin, Galway and Limerick later this month.

The festival will feature talks and discussions with more than 80 researchers and the idea is to provide a social setting where the public can engage with research and ask questions, according to Pint of Science Ireland director Dr Seán Mac Fhearraigh. “If we did this in a lecture hall it would remain as a formal setting,” he says. “Instead, thepub provides a place for the public to chat away with researchers during and after talks without the intimidation of asking questions in a large lecture theatre.”


Themes during the three-evening festival will include sports, obesity and nutrition, how smart devices and cities are emerging, the complexities of the human mind and even “The Universe and Hollywood” for the cinematically inclined.

In Galway, Edel Browne will be taking the floor with Free Feet, a laser light device that attaches to the shoe and is designed to treat “gait freezing”, which can be an issue for people with Parkinson’s disease.

Free Feet won the best individual award at the BT Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition in 2013 and Browne has developed it from project to product. “I will be speaking about the inspiration behind the product and how it works, including very promising trial results and plans for the future,” she says.

Browne, a first-year biotechnology student at NUI Galway, hopes the audience will get a sense of how you can innovate outside the lab – she built her first prototype on the kitchen table – and she is keen on the idea of talking about science in a relaxed and sociable setting.


Meanwhile in Limerick, Prof James Gleeson will be looking at the science of contagion as it spreads through a network of connections.

“Infectious disease spreads from an infected person to others that they meet, banks default on their debts and causes other banks to become insolvent, news stories and rumours ‘go viral’ on Twitter and Facebook – all these are examples of contagion,” says Gleeson, who is professor of industrial and applied mathematics at the University of Limerick and co-director of the Mathematics Applications Consortium for Science and Industry.

“The mathematics that describes all these contagion events is very similar, so what we learn about understanding and controlling one type of contagion can be transferred, using the language of mathematics, to the other types too.”

He sees the festival as an opportunity to entertain and inspire people about science, and he hopes to offer the perspective that maths isn’t just about proving theorems: “It is a language for describing all sorts of challenges in the real world, and knowing the language can sometimes give insights that wouldn’t otherwise be discovered.”

Last year’s Pint of Science Ireland festival proved a hit with both researchers and attendees, says Mac Fhearraigh, and this year tickets are being snapped up again. “We will try to provide three days of engaging talks about the science that shapes the world we live in,” he says.


Ireland daily news BLOG by Donie

Tuesday/Wednesday 13 & 14th May 2015

Irish State’s elderly population set to increase significantly in next 45 years


A new EU report has said that the Republic’s elderly population is set to increase dramatically over the next 45 years.

The Irish State’s pension problems may be due to get worse, with new figures showing that the Republic’s elderly population is set to increase dramatically over the next 45 years.

The European Commission’s 2015 Ageing Report, published today, shows the national population is expected to rise to 5.3 million by 2060, with average life expectancy increasing from 79 to 85 for men and from 83 to 89 for women.

The elderly population, currently classified as those aged 80 and over, will rise from its current population share of 2.9% to as high as 10.2% over the same period.

Public spending demands will rise accordingly in the areas of healthcare and pension payments, the report says.

Unemployment benefits

Spending on unemployment benefits, however, will most likely decrease due to a decline in the younger population.

The report says that those aged up to 14 years will fall in proportional terms from 21.9% to 18.5% of the population, with unemployment rates in the 20 to 64 age bracket expected to decrease from 12.8% in 2013 to 6.5% in 2060.

In broader terms, the EU population is projected to increase by almost 5%, rising from 507 million in 2013 to as high as 526 million by 2050.

A decline in population to about 523 million is then forecast over the following decade, although that figure may be altered by variations due to immigration.

According to these projections, the UK would become the most populous country in the EU by 2060, with about 80 million people, followed by France (76 million), Germany(71 million), Italy (66 million) and Spain (46 million).

SuperValu and Tesco on Irish retailer’s top spot


The Irish supermarkets SuperValu and Tesco have now 25% market share each and are tied in first place, according to the latest figures from Kantor for the 12 weeks ending April.

“Over the past 12 weeks SuperValu and Tesco have each captured 25% of the grocery market, with SuperValu battling to hold on to the number one position it claimed last month and Tesco aiming to recover lost ground,” said David Berry, director at Kantar Worldpanel.

Among the big three retailers, Dunnes has posted the strongest sales growth of 3.6%, lifting its market share from 21.5% to 22%.

Dunnes has been benefiting from an offer that gives hefty discounts to customers who make big purchases.

It wasn’t good news for everybody.

“One of the most interesting trends in the latest data is the slowing growth rate of bothAldi and Lidl,” he added.

“While the 8.8% growth posted by Aldi and 7.8% for Lidl remains impressive, this is the first time since 2010 that both Aldi and Lidl have grown their sales by less than 10%.”

Classroom internet access linked to much higher Irish schools sucess test scores


Schools teaching design and graphics programme set to benefit from €7m in grants.

Researchers said “we cannot be certain that the use of internet in the class caused” the higher scores but a strong “relationship” was identified.

Primary school children who used the internet in the classroom had significantly higher mathematics and reading scores on average than peers who had no online access, a study by the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) has found.

The researchers said “we cannot be certain that the use of internet in the class caused” the higher scores but there was a strong “relationship” identified.

The study comes amid further investment in technology in schools, with the announcement of €7 million in grants to post-primary schools to support the implementation of Design and Communication Graphics (DCG) curriculum.

Minister for Education and Skills Jan O’Sullivan announced the funding on Tuesday, which will see 450 schools get an average of €15,560 for the purchase of computers and software to encourage more students to take DCG in the Leaving Cert.

The ESRI study, published in the ‘Economic and Social Review’, identified “encouraging” returns from the state’s investment of €30 million in primary school broadband between 2005 and 2008.

The researchers found “no evidence for Ireland of the negative effects of broadband in schools reported in some studies internationally” but cited a time lapse in the positive results filtering through here.

“We found that on average teachers were more than twice as likely to use the internet in class after broadband service was installed under the programme, but it took about two years for this gain to emerge.

“This is not surprising, because it takes time for teachers to learn to use new technologies and to change their teaching practices.

“In addition, teachers in schools with better computer-related facilities were also more likely to use the internet in class.”

While many teachers and pupils express frustration at slow broadband speeds, the researchers found that having a faster connection speed had no statistically significant effect on educational outcomes.

Of the scale of these improvements, the authors noted, “the average difference in mathematics test scores between children in classes with and without internet use was as big as the rise enjoyed by children whose mothers had completed a degree rather than finishing at the Leaving Cert”.

ESRI and TCD researcher Seán Lyons, one of the authors of the study, said “we think the effect of the internet in the classroom depends on the context, and the way it’s used.

“So it may even differ from one school to another, and certainly from one country to another.”

A study in Portugal last year found that the roll out of broadband in schools led to negative educational outcomes for both male and female pupils.

But Mr Lyons said Portuguese schools appeared to have brought in internet access “in an unrestrictive way”.

The negative impact had been greatest in Portuguese schools where pupils were allowed to access websites such as YouTube.

For the study, the team of researchers, comprising Mr Lyons, Marie Hyland, Richard Layte, Selina McCoy and Mary Silles, examined data from standardised test scores, statistics on the broadband rollout, and figures from the Growing Up in Ireland survey.

Announcing the grants for the DCG programme, Minister for Education and Skills Jan O’Sullivan says the subject incorporated principles of science, materials, manufacture, design, technology and information technology and as such “directly contributes to the key skills required in Ireland’s knowledge-based economy”.

In 2012, 5,319 candidates sat the exam, with the predicted 2015 figure standing at 5,705.

“The allocated funding has been increased accordingly and will ensure that this important subject continues to go from strength to strength,” she said.

Letters will issue to schools detailing the amount of money they’re being allocated, based on the number of students who had taken the subject in the past three-four years.

The Department has also purchased support software from Solid Solutions Ireland for six years and three months, at a cost of €299,000.

Tourism Ireland Board Meets in Sligo


The Sligo Park Hotel was the venue for the May board meeting of Tourism Ireland, which took place on Thursday, 7th May.

The board members took the opportunity to meet with local tourism operators prior to the meeting, to discuss the upcoming peak season and the extensive promotional programme which Tourism Ireland is undertaking to highlight Sligo, the North West and the island of Ireland around the world this year.

Speaking after the board meeting, Niall Gibbons, CEO of Tourism Ireland, said: “We were delighted to be in Sligo for this month’s board meeting and to have the chance to meet with representatives of the tourism industry from Sligo and to hear directly how business is shaping up for the upcoming peak season.”

Man falls flat on his face behind Vincent Browne live on air


TV3 broadcaster Vincent Browne can’t help but chuckle when somebody faceplants behind him as he says his intro on Tonight with Vincent Browne.

During the opening of the show, which was broadcast from the Headfort Arms Hotel in Kells, the unlucky man stumbles and falls, landing at the presenter’s feet, prompting


Vincent to look down in surprise and exclaim, “Somebody’s just fallen down beside me” much to the delight of audience and guests alike.

Robot pets way of future, could change human relationship with animals, researcher says


Robot pets could be common place in 10 years’ time and change the way we interact and relate with the real things, a Melbourne researcher believes.

Dr Jean-Loup Rault from Melbourne University studies animal welfare and the way humans and animals interact with each other.

Recently, he has been looking into how technology has changed the way we relate to animals and pets.

“We know very little about robotic pets, virtual animals online and what they actually do to people,” Dr Rault said.

“Is that going to change the way we relate to animals? Can that be a substitute to a live pet?

“Technology is moving very fast. The Tamagotchi in the early 1990s was really a prototype of a robotic pet and now Sony and other big companies have elaborated a lot on what have become robotic animals.”

He said humans were able to become emotionally attached to objects.

“There’s anecdotal evidence and a few studies that show people actually develop a bond, some kind of emotional attachment to those robots,” Dr Rault said.

“They know it’s not a live pet, they don’t consider it as a live animal but they also don’t consider it a mere object.

“It has an intermittent status between that of an animal and that of an object that projects some kind of personality.”

Dr Rault said robot pets could suit someone living in inner-city or high-density areas, as well as those with allergies and who were unable to look after a live animal.

But robotics expert Professor Maurice Pagnucco from the School of Computer Science and Engineering at the University of New South Wales said there was still a big gap between the current technology and a “virtual pet”.

“I don’t think we’re at the point where you could have a reliable pet,” he said.

“They wouldn’t be at the same level as a real pet, at the moment they’re basically toys.

“But where we’ll be in the future, we can’t really say.”

Technology ‘now part of our normal lives’

Dr Rault said the growing popularity of robot pets also raised questions about the way humans developed socially.

“There are school programs that use animals to teach children about responsibility, if you replace those live animals with robotic animals that don’t need to feed, you just plug them in and turn them off, is that the same thing?” he said.

“Are they going to develop in a different way?

Maybe you have a dog that stays at home when you’re at work so you buy it a robotic companion, so it interacts with it when you’re gone.

Dr Jean-Loup Rault, researcher

“It raises some major ethical questions in the same way that Facebook has – does interacting with others on the site actually make you social or less social?”

Dr Rault said robot pets could also have a positive effect, with robotic baby seals being used in the United States to help people with Alzheimer’s.

“They found out if you gave them a robotic baby seal, people would interact with it and derive some benefits from it,” he said.

“Maybe you have a dog that stays at home when you’re at work so you buy it a robotic companion, so it interacts with it when you’re gone and it keep it company.

“It’s not replacing anything that we have, it’s creating something new.

“Now we think as them as strange, weird and perhaps creepy, but in 10 years’ time people may think it’s normal.

“The new generation is very different. This technology is part of their lives, it’s not seen as something extra.

“Will it change the way we interact with real animals? A difficult question to ask, but it is an interesting one.”