Monthly Archives: August 2015

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Friday 28th August 2015

Suspicious package sent to Alan Kelly’s office declared a hoax

 

The package was sent to Alan Kelly’s constituency office in Nenagh, Co Tipperary

A package containing white powder which was sent to Environment Minister Alan Kelly’s constituency office has been declared a hoax.

The alarm was raised after a letter sent to the building on Summerhill in Nenagh, Co Tipperary, was opened by a member of staff.

The Defence Forces’ bomb squad was called in by gardai and declared the scene safe within an hour of arriving.

“The Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) Team was called to deal with what is described as a letter containing suspicious material. The EOD team arrived on scene at 12.40 pm and following an examination declared the letter and material a hoax,” they said.

Mr Kelly was not in the office at the time and it was closed during the scare.

He has spoken openly about threats made against him personally since he took over the environment portfolio and pressed ahead with the roll-out of controversial water charges.

A bomb scare threat was phoned in to his constituency office last year and a death threat was also made against him, while the minister has said other threats have been made against his wife, family and staff.

Mr Kelly said sending the white powder was a deplorable act.

“It is not something any office of any occupation should have to deal with at any time,” he said.

“I will not be making any further comment other than to acknowledge the hard work and dedication of the constituency office staff who regrettably have to encounter such instances. My primary concern is for their health and safety.”

The alarm was raised at 9.05am and the bomb squad declared it safe at 1.30pm after spending under an hour at the office.

Cars, bars and home decor drive Irish economy recovery in retail

Retail sales jump by a record 11.6% in July

    

Retail sales jumped 11.6% in July, the largest monthly rise in 10 years, as new car sales benefitted from the introduction of 152 number plates and consumers spent more in bars and on home decor.

The latest figures from the Central Statistics Office (CSO) indicate retail sales have risen by 9.9% year-on-year.

When motor trades are excluded, the monthly rise was 0.6% and 6.6% on an annual basis.

The sector with the largest monthly increases was motor trades, which saw sales rise 22.9%. New car sales peak due to the dual registration system, which saw the 152 number plates from July 1st.

However, there were also increases in sales of furniture and lighting (+6.7%) and bars (+4.4%).

The sectors with the largest monthly decreases were hardware, paints and glass (-3.5 per cent), books, newspapers and stationery (-2.4%) and food, beverages and tobacco (-1.4%).

On an annual basis, sale in most of the 13 business sectors covered by the survey grew, with car sales (+18.9%), furniture and lighting (+13.8%), and electrical goods (+14.4%) leading the charge.

Only food and beverages recorded a year-on-year decline, falling by 2%.

“Following on from the positive employment and earnings trends, it is little surprise the Irish consumer spending recovery is continuing,” Goodbody economist Dermot O’Leary said.

Noting the jump in car sales, he said the growth in big ticket items was a confirmation of the improvement in consumer confidence and belief about the sustainability of the recovery in the labour market.

He also said the renewed buoyancy in bar sales was “a sign that discretionary spending is also on the up”.

Isme, the Irish Small and Medium Enterprises Association, acknowledged the figures reflected a broad-based recovery.

However, chief executive Mark Fielding said the continuing pressure on margins and the increase in business costs were crippling the sector.

“Irish consumers are holding back a certain amount of spend. However, they are willing to buy when they can see value. Unfortunately for our retailers, that means more sales at higher costs leading to lower profit margins”.

“The Budget could rectify this through a reduction in the tax burden for consumers and a reinstatement of the 4.25% employer’s PRSI”.

HSE investigates Lloyds pharmacy prescription payments

Lloyds denies fraud over boosting income by claiming multiple medical card prescription fees

  

Lawyers for Lloyds Pharmacy criticised the HSE for alleging fraud and breach of contract in a letter sent to managing director Goretti Brady (pictured) earlier this month.

The HSE is investigating the way Lloyds, the largest pharmacy chain in Ireland, has significantly boosted its dispensing fee income by claiming multiple payments from the State for single prescriptions presented by medical card holders.

Individual pharmacies in the LloydsPharmacyIreland chain could boost their fee income by 66 per cent by using a system developed within the company, branch managers were advised in an internal memo.

Lloyds has denied there was any fraud in its practice of claiming up to four fees in a month in respect of a single prescription dispensed in one visit and said its approach was no different to any other pharmacy.

Lawyers for the company criticised the HSE for alleging fraud and breach of contract in a letter sent to Lloyds managing director Goretti Brady earlier this month.

In its replying letter, Lloyds’ lawyers called on the HSE to withdraw the “entirely unfounded” allegation for which no substantiation had been offered.

LloydsPharmacyIreland operates a system known as MyMed, which, in the case of a four-week drug supply, involves putting a patient’s medication into four separate compartmentalised trays, one for each seven-day period. The drugs are all supplied to a patient in a single visit to the pharmacy.

Lloyds claims it is entitled in such a case to both the first dispensation fee of €5 and three additional phased dispensing fees of €3.27 each.

The HSE, however, contends that when all medication is dispensed to a patient on the same date, Lloyds is entitled only to the €5 dispensing fee per prescription item.

Concerns within the HSE were raised when it became aware of a notice from Lloyds head office to its pharmacies, entitled “MyMed Profitability”. The notice said: “Wondering why we’re obsessed with MyMedding?!” and included a graphic which it said “should show you why it’s so important to hit your target. And why it’s even better to hit your target early so you can make a real dent on your overall profitability for the year.”

The notice said the graphic illustrated “the difference in fees between a MyMed and normal dispensing”.

The graphic showed that for five items dispensed for the “regular fee” of €5 each, the total fees would be €25. On another line, the graphic showed that the regular fee of €5 for five items, plus 15 phased fees of €3.27, would result in total fees of €74.05. This would result in an additional €588.60 in dispensing fees for such a MyMed patient in a year, it stated.

Elsewhere, under the graphic, the notice stated: “MyMed increases our dispensing fees by 66%!”

When the HSE wrote to Lloyds about the issue, the pharmacist’s solicitors said they were instructed the MyMed system involved considerable resources and “dramatically increases the time it takes to prepare the prescribed medication for dispensing to patients”. They said Lloyds took the view the process “clearly involves the assembly of four separate weeks’ supply of medication, each of which require to be checked individually and amounts to the dispensing of medication on a phased basis, notwithstanding that all four trays may be supplied to the patient at the one time”.

They added: “It is on this basis that our client claims the additional phased dispensing fees.”

The HSE wrote to Lloyds earlier this month after receiving allegations from a whistleblower and after an inspection last July of certain pharmacies.

The HSE declined to comment on the matter as there was an investigation underway.

A spokeswoman said pharmacists were entitle to claim a fee for each tranche of medicines dispensed. They could claim an additional fee for phased dispensing “in certain narrow circumstances” relating to patient safety or the shelf-life of medicines.

25% of parents leave children alone in the car despite huge risk research reveals

   

Kids not able to share mp3 player

A shocking new study has revealed that a quarter of parents regularly leave their children in the car alone, sometimes for up to a half an hour.

More than 25% of parents admitted leaving children as young as four unattended in a parked vehicle for an average of 22 minutes despite the serious risks involved.

Younger couples were found to take this risk more than older parents as 42pc of parents between the age of 18 and 34 confessed to doing this at least once.

Choosing to leave children in a parked vehicle without supervision poses huge risk of endangerment particularly if they should they release the handbrake.

Mothers were found to be more conscious of the risks involved than dads, leaving children in the car for an average of 17 minutes compared to a dad’s 27 minute average.

The research, carried out by UK company Kwik Fit Insurance, found that parents often return to the car to find the interior has been damaged and alarms have been set off. Children are also found to be bickering upon their parents return.

Parenting expert Richard Curtis revealed that the study’s findings are hugely concerning.

“There are a number of hazards that could pose a risk to children left in an unattended car.

The World Is ‘Locked Into At Least 3 Feet of Sea Level Rise, And Probably More’

   

The world has seen three inches of sea level rise since the early 1990s and we should expect “at least three feet” more by roughly the end of the century, NASA scientists said in a press briefing Wednesday, as global warming accelerates the melting of the planet’s ice sheets and the slow but steady expansion of the oceans.

“Given what we know now about how the ocean expands as it warms and how ice sheets and glaciers are adding water to the seas, it’s pretty certain we are locked into at least three feet of sea level rise, and probably more,” said Dr. Steve Nerem, a professor at the University of Colorado-Boulder and the head of NASA’s Sea Level Change Team. “But we don’t know whether it will happen within a century or somewhat longer.”

NASA released a series of visualizations at Wednesday’s briefing that show just how much sea level rise has varied around the world over the past 23 years, based on satellite data.

While some parts of the world have actually seen sea levels drop thanks to long-term processes like the retreat of ancient glaciers, others (like some Southeast Asian nations) have seen sea levels rise by as much as 9 inches, thanks to periodic ocean cycles like the Pacific Decadal Oscillation.

“Sea level along the west coast of the United States has actually fallen over the past 20 years because long-term natural cycles there are hiding the impact of global warming,” Josh Willis, an oceanographer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) said in a press release.

“However, there are signs this pattern is changing,” he added. “We can expect accelerated rates of sea level rise along this coast over the next decade as the region recovers from its temporary sea level ‘deficit.'”

Global sea level has been measured accurately and continuously by satellites since 1993. (NASA/Steve Nerem, University of Colorado)

Scientists say the sea level rise we’re experiencing today is due to three culprits:

  • The expansion of the oceans as their water warms up. “We know this from basic physics,” NASA points out in this explainer. “When water heats up, it expands. So when the ocean warms, sea level rises.”
  • The loss of ice from the massive Greenland and Antarctica ice sheets
  • The melting of mountain glaciers around the world, such as in Central Asia

The melting of the Greenland ice sheet offers up one of the starkest scenarios of how far sea levels might rise in the future. Spanning some 660,000 square miles – nearly the size of Alaska – and with ice nearly two miles deep at its thickest point, the island’s ice holds the potential to raise global sea levels by about 20 feet.

Though it would take centuries for Greenland’s ice to melt away completely, its melting is accelerating thanks to its location in the Arctic, which is warming up at roughly twice the rate of the rest of the planet. The island’s pattern of losing ice in summer and gaining it back in winter “fell out of balance in the 1990s, and is now shedding more and more ice in the summer than it gains back in the winter,” NASA says.

What’s more, the rest of the world’s glaciers are melting faster than ever today too. Meanwhile, big changes are occurring also at the southern end of the world, where Antarctica’s two major regions have begun to experience big changes over the past decade.

The 2002 breakup of the Larsen B ice shelf on the Antarctic Peninsula served as an omnious sign of things to come. Made up of some 1,250 square miles of floating ice just off the peninsula and stable for more than 10,000 years, the ice shelf broke up that year thanks to warming air and ocean temperatures, and is now gone forever.

That loss has been followed by the breakup of additional ice on the peninsula, which has in turn sped up the flow of glaciers into the ocean. And while the complete melting away of all of Antarctica’s ice would take thousands of years, the continent contains enough ice to raise the world’s oceans by 190 feet.

It’s enough to prompt scientists to ask what could happen in the meantime – especially for the world’s coastal cities –  in the meantime. “We’ve seen from the paleoclimate record that sea level rise of as much as 10 feet in a century or two is possible, if the ice sheets fall apart rapidly,” Tom Wagner, the cryosphere program scientist at NASA Headquarters in Washington, said in a press release.

“We’re seeing evidence that the ice sheets are waking up, but we need to understand them better before we can say we’re in a new era of rapid ice loss.”

While the prevailing view among scientists who specialize in this area has been that much of Antarctica remains stable, “we don’t really know,” said Eric Rignot, a glaciologist at University of California-Irvine.

“Some of the signs we see in the satellite data right now are red flags that these glaciers might not be as stable as we once thought,” Rignot added. “There’s always a lot of attention on the changes we see now, but as scientists our priority needs to be on what the changes could be tomorrow.”

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News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Thursday 27th August 2015

The Oireachtas is wasting cash on new printers

Says Lucinda Creighton

  

Creighton said she was ‘astonished’ the Oireachtas was splashing out on new printers and insisted she did not want a new one

RENUA leader Lucinda Creighton has hit out at the Oireachtas authorities for “wasting” taxpayer’s money on new printers for politicians.

Ms Creighton strongly criticised the replacement of every printer in Leinster House during the Dáil’s summer recess, insisting that the appliances are still working.

The Oireachtas has rejected the criticism, insisting that full value for money is being achieved in the replacement of the printers.

But Ms Creighton said she was “astonished” the Oireachtas was splashing out on new printers and insisted she did not want a new one.

“The timing is very curious given that we are approaching an election. We were astonished, we didn’t request additional equipment – a lot of this equipment is a little more than six-months-old,” Ms Creighton told the Irish Independent.

“We would far prefer if this expenditure went on things like schools, hospitals and nursing homes…It is the sort of thing that gives politics a bad name.”

However, the Oireachtas insisted the new printers would result in savings and said the newer printers being replaced will be reused.

“There is no question of any waste of public money in these new arrangements. In fact, the new approach is expected to produce savings of up to 20pc on our current print costs per annum,” said a spokesman.

“It would also be wrong to infer that recently purchased printers will be rendered obsolete. While the vast majority of our current printers are over five years old, all newer devices are being re-used to meet the requirements of remote sites on the Oireachtas network.” The Oireachtas did not say how much the new printers cost.

Joanne O’Riordan the outstanding Young Person of the Year

 

Teen with rare congenital disorder says award highlights abilities of every citizen

Joanne O’Riordan (19) from Millstreet, Co Cork, with President Michael D Higgins during a visit to Áras an Uachtarain in 2014.

Teenager Joanne O’Riordan has been awarded the prestigious Junior Chamber International (JCI) Outstanding Young Person of the Year award.

Ms O’Riordan (19), from Millstreet, Co Cork is one of seven people in the world with Total Amelia, a syndrome in which individuals are born without limbs. She also has curvature of the spine.

Total Amelia, a very rare congenital disorder, is caused by mutations in the WNT3 gene.

Studying criminology

Ms O’Riordan, who is studying criminology at UCC, was informed she had won the award by JCI president Ismail Hazdene.

She said she is “blown away” to receive such an accolade.

“To say I’m over the moon was an understatement. I was joking with my brother Stephen last night that if I am ever interviewed on the Late Late again I’ll have to ask Ryan Tubridy to address me as the Outstanding Young Person of the World.”

Joanne added that the award highlights the ability of every citizen, irrespective of disabilities.

“I want people to realise that people with disabilities are contributing to a wider society in a more positive and helpful way,” she said.

Ms O’Riordan secured over half of the 26,000 online votes. She also secured the judges’ vote. She will travel to Japanin November to pick up her award.

National prominence

Ms O’Riordan rose to national prominence in 2011 when she challenged Taoiseach Enda Kenny about cuts to the disability benefit.

She subsequently gave a keynote speech to the United Nations on how technology has helped her advance her life.

She had won the Rehab Young Person of the Year Award in 2012.

Half of all speeding offences take place within towns and cities

Motorists can expect more speed checks on Friday as part of ‘national slow down day’

  

Gardaí will begin a 24-hour speed enforcement campaign from 7am on Friday.

Town and city speed limit zones are the worst for speeding offences, new figures show.

According to Gardaí, nearly half of all speeding offences take place within 50km/hr zones – the limit which replaced the old 30m/hr speed limit in towns and villages.

In the first six months of this year, 50,000 notices were issued imposing fines and penalty points for speeding offences in 50km/hr zones.

The figures were released as gardaí prepare for a 24-hour speeding detection campaign as part of “National Slow Down day” which starts on Friday.

From 7am on August 28th, to 7am on Saturday, August 29th, Gardaí will operate an intensive speed enforcement operation aimed at reducing speed-related crashes.

What are described as “high visibility enforcement activities” will be deployed on both national primary and secondary roads.

Gardaí will use a range of technologies including laser hand-held speed detection devices, safety camera vans and in-car speed detection systems to reinforce the message: “If you speed this weekend we will catch you”.

They said privatised Go-Safe vehicles will also be working in areas where serious and fatal injury crashes have occurred.

The 727 speed enforcement zones to be targetted are available on the Garda website.

According to the Road Safety Authority, excessive or inappropriate speed is a major contributory factor to road traffic collisions with a direct correlation between higher speeds and more severe injuries.

As a general rule, a 1% reduction in average speed brings about a 2% reduction in minor injury collisions, a 3% reduction in serious injury collisions and a 4% reduction in fatal collisions, according to safety authorities.

This year an effort is being made to involve fleet operators, who have been asked to reinforce the road safety message among employees. Whether driving for business or private purposes, drivers will be reminded to “always drive within the speed limit and at a speed appropriate to the prevailing conditions”.

The Garda website and social media will be actively used to promote the initiative.

Speaking in advance of the initiative Superintendent Con O’ Donohue, of the Garda National Traffic Bureau, revealed details of a recent Garda analysis of speeding.

The analysis found:

Up to -90% of detections were more than 10km/hr over the speed limit.

– 10% of detections were made for speeds from 1-9km/hr above the posted speed limit

– 79% were made from 10-29 km/hr above the posted speed limit

– 11% of detections were for speeds in excess of 30 km/hr above the limit

– 50km/hr zones worst for speeding offences, nearly half of all speeding offences were detected in this zone.

To date this year 106 people have been killed on Irish roads, 21 fewer than this date in 2014.

Some 109,000 speeding fixed charge notices were issued between January and June 2015

THIS IS THE SIMPLEST WAY TO SHIFT SOME EXCESS POUNDS WITHOUT HITTING THE GYM

  

If you’re looking to drop some excess pounds, but hate the gym, this might be the news for you.

While in an ideal world we’d all head to the gym five times a week and preach the ‘clean eating’ lifestyle, in reality we’re usually tired after a long day in work and settle in front of Netflix with a good cup of tea and a biscuit.

Now new research published in the journal Obesity has proven that the key to losing weight might be as simple as drinking a pint of water before every meal.

A study conducted by the University of Birmingham asked a group of obese adults to drink a pint of water half-an-hour before mealtimes for 12 weeks.

As well as being given a weight management consultation and advice on how to lead healthy lifestyles and diet, only half of the adults were told to ‘pre-load’ themselves with a pint of water before meals.

The second half of adults were told to ‘imagine’ they were full before they ate rather than drinking the water.

After 12 weeks, the group who drank water before meals lost on average 4.3kg. Those who didn’t drink the water only lost an average of 0.8kg over the same period of time.

Dr Helen Parretti, National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) clinical lecturer at the University of Birmingham, said:

“The beauty of these findings is in the simplicity. Just drinking a pint of water, three times a day, before your main meals may help reduce your weight.

“When combined with brief instructions on how to increase your amount of physical activity and on a healthy diet, this seems to help people to achieve some extra weight loss – at a moderate and healthy rate. It’s something that doesn’t take much work to integrate into our busy everyday lives.”

Dinosaur foot found by student takes story of Wales’ newest dinosaur forward

  

Recently discovered fossils of a Dinosaur’s foot has helped advance the story of Wales’ newest dinosaur adding a new chapter in a story started off by two brothers at Lavernock Beach, near Penarth in South Wales.

Sam Davies, a palaeontology student at Portsmouth University, stumbled upon the fossilised foot of possibly the earliest Jurassic dinosaur in the world. Davies arrived at the South Wales location no more than 10 hours after a cliff fall, that effectively unearthed the fossilised remains of a dinosaur foot.

Upon close examination, Dr David Martill, Reader in Palaeobiology at the University of Portsmouth, concluded that the fossil remains are actually a part of the same therapod dinosaur – a distant cousin of Tyrannosaurus rex – which was found earlier and is on display at National Museum Cardiff until 31 August.

Davies saw the the fossil, embedded in a 20 cm piece of rock, because it was in his line of sight as he was walking along.

“It was pure luck that I found it. It was just sitting on top of a slab of rock. It was obvious the fossil was fingers or toes, because there were three in a row, but the first thing that came to mind was that it was some sort of plesiosaur”, Davies said.

Dr Martill says that the new specimen will enable them to chart the evolution of dinosaur feet, specifically looking at the number of toes and the nature of the ankle bone.

“What we can tell already is that this dinosaur was primitive. It’s right at the bottom of where we draw the line and say ‘These rocks are Triassic, and these are Jurassic’, added Dr Martill.

Dr Caroline Buttler, Head of Palaeontology at Amgueddfa Cymru added: “The dinosaur found by Nick and Rob Hanigan is the first skeleton of a theropod found in Wales. Sam’s find adds to its significance because we can learn more about the animal and how it is related to the dinosaurs that eventually evolved into birds.

“We’re very grateful to Sam for donating the foot to the Museum and hope to put it on display for our visitors to see very soon.”

The skeleton, already on display at National Museum Cardiff includes the small dinosaur’s razor sharp teeth, and claws.

The Welsh dinosaur was a small, slim, agile dinosaur, probably only about 50cm tall and about 200cm long, which had a long tail to help it balance. It lived at the time when south Wales was a coastal region, offering a warm climate. It had lots of small, blade-like, sharp, serrated teeth suggesting that it would have eaten insects, small mammals and other reptiles.

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Wednesday 26th August 2015

Irish Developers sent on golf and F1 trips by banks as perks

 

Two of the country’s leading property developers have revealed details of corporate hospitality lavished on them and their associates by banks during the boom.

AIB organised trips for senior management to the Monaco Formula One Grand Prix and to the Ryder Cup in the US.

Trips to the Ryder Cup in Kentucky and other major sporting events were among junkets detailed by developers Gerry Gannon and Peter Cosgrave in statements to the Oireachtas Banking Inquiry.

Former AIB group managing director Colm Doherty also told the inquiry that entertainment it provided to developers was “multi-faceted, occurring across a number of countries in which we operated”.

Impossible list of hospitality?

In a written submission to the inquiry, Mr Gannon detailed a trip to the Ryder Cup courtesy of AIB in 2008, a trip to Venice with Anglo Irish Bank and further corporate hospitality afforded to him by Anglo at a race meeting at the Curragh.

Another executive director of Gannon Homes, Aidan Kenny, went on a trip to Paris with Anglo, Mr Gannon told the inquiry.

Mr Cosgrave said it was impossible to provide the inquiry with an exhaustive list of hospitality arranged by the banks for senior executives in the Cosgrave Property Group.

However, in a written submission, he was able to outline trips to several of the world’s top sporting events, as well as golf days in the UK, France and the US, courtesy of Ulster Bank, AIB, EBS and Bank of Ireland.

Trips to the Irish and British Open golf tournaments were organised by Ulster Bank, while it and AIB took senior executives to the US Masters in Augusta, Georgia.

AIB organised trips for senior management to the Monaco Formula One Grand Prix and to the Ryder Cup in the US.

  1. Horse racing also featured on the list provided by Mr Cosgrave.
  2. Bank of Ireland took company executives to the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe.
  3. AIB and EBS hosted senior management at race meetings in Punchestown and Leopardstown.
  4. There was also a one-off ski trip and visits to the opera and theatre organised by Ulster Bank.

In a written submission, Mr Doherty told the inquiry that where corporate hospitality was valued in excess of €500, it had to be recorded in a business unit register within the bank.

He said he believed the corporate hospitality and entertainment spending by AIB on corporate clients was “generally appropriate” and “on par with common practice in the industry”.

He said he could not comment on the extent of entertainment provided by the bank to developers.

However, he said he was aware that AIB had taken “a large contingent of property clients” to the Ryder Cup in Kentucky.

These were also provided with the use of corporate boxes in Croke Park and tickets for rugby and soccer matches, concerts and the theatre.

Ethical

Mr Doherty said AIB had developed a policy on the giving and receiving of gifts in 2003, setting out ethical standards for staff to abide by.

This permitted gifts, benefits or entertainment valued at up to €500. Any gifts valued between €500 and €1,000 had to be registered, he said.

Pre-approval was required for the acceptance of any gifts, benefits or entertainment valued in excess of €1,000.

Mr Doherty said he believed the limits set out in the policy were appropriate.

He said he was aware of only one instance where hospitality received by AIB staff members from a loan client was deemed inappropriate.

“This occurred in our UK business. In this case the executives involved were subject to disciplinary proceedings, resigned and left the bank,” he said.

Kathleen Lynch confident she will get extra funding for mental health

  

The Minister with responsibility for Mental Health said that she is confident that she can secure extra funding for services.

The group Mental Health Reform has launched its ‘Invest in my Mental Health’ campaign, setting out how an extra €35m is needed.

Minister Kathleen Lynch said that she will be fighting for the increased budget.

“It may come as a surprise now to Michael Noonan and Brendan Howlin, and I’m saying this publicly but that is the aim,” said Minister Lynch.

Minister Lynch admits there are still recruitment issues in the mental health services area.

But she says there’s been substantial progress on waiting lists for young people.

“There is one issue in terms of child and adolescent mental health services which I was hugely concerned about and so was mental health reform, and we have managed to make progress on that.

“We have the waiting lists reduced considerably, it’s reducing month-on-month, and if we go the way we’re going, those waiting lists will no longer be there at the end of this year. We will have no one waiting longer than 12 months.”

Irish surveyors rule out rent controls as ‘retrograde’

   

No rent controls, a reduction in Vat on new homes, tax breaks for landlords and an apprenticeship scheme for construction workers are among a list of demands for the Government unveiled by the Society of Chartered Surveyors Ireland yesterday.

In a pre-budget submission, the SCSI has called on the Government to support the delivery of more housing units, more commercial office space and to introduce an apprenticeship scheme to address the skills shortage and create more jobs.

The SCSI, which is the professional representative body for the property, land and construction sectors, said Budget 2016 was an opportune time to put in place key measures to create a more sustainable sector.

The SCSI’s recommendations for the housing sector include:

  • A temporary reduction in Vat on new homes from 13.5% to 9% for properties up to a value of €300,000.
  • A more favourable tax regime for professional providers of rental accommodation.
  • A reduction in development levies.
  • More commercially priced finance for developers.
  • The introduction of low- cost modular housing for people in need of emergency accommodation.

Andrew Nugent, president of the SCSI said: “We are calling for the introduction of a suite of measures that would kick-start building and increase supply.

“The Housing Agency has projected a need for 21,000 units annually and we are currently building less than half of that figure and we now need some short-term measures to stimulate house building activity,” he said.

Commenting on recent coverage on proposals to introduce rent controls, Mr Nugent described this as a retrograde step: “International evidence has shown that rent controls do not work in markets where there is an acute supply shortage.

“Building more units and supporting the financing of rental schemes will make rents more affordable, not artificial controls.”

In the commercial property market, the SCSI has called on Government to increase in available development finance at more attractive rates for viable developments.

It pointed to the recent announcement of a €500m joint venture between the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund and KKR Credit for house building and said that similar funds should be considered for commercial projects.

“One of the main sources of delay on commercial projects coming to the market is difficulties accessing finance. We need to see more finance at commercial rates being made available,” said Nugent.

To advance the construction of commercial buildings in strategic locations, the society is recommending that the IDA should underwrite the rent for office buildings in these areas.

“The IMF estimates suggest that as much as 27% of Ireland’s potential economic output was lost between 2008 and 2013 and the SCSI believes that investment in essential public infrastructure including transport, social housing and broadband provision must be prioritised in terms of public capital investment,” said Nugent.

The SCSI said the Home Renovation Incentive (HRI) scheme which has attracted nearly €300 million worth of construction work should be extended beyond 2015.

The proposals are outlined in the SCSI’s pre-budget submission 2016 document, Building for Growth.

Women urged to know their heart attack risks

  

Most Irish women have no idea what the biggest killer of females in this country is — wrongly presuming their number one threat is cancer.

A survey for the Irish Heart Foundation found only one in 10 women correctly identified cardiovascular disease — mainly heart attacks and strokes — as the single biggest killer of females here, responsible for about one in three deaths.

The majority believed cancer, in particular breast cancer, claimed most lives despite the fact that women are six times more likely to die from cardiovascular disease than breast cancer.

A campaign to make women more aware of the disease and how best to avoid it is being run by the Irish Heart Foundation.

The Red Alert campaign aims to dispel some of the myths and misinformation around cardiovascular disease, alert women to the risk factors, and help them make better lifestyle choices to minimise their chances of falling victim to it.

Dr Angie Brown, a consultant cardiologist and medical director of the Irish Heart Foundation, said women tend to view a heart attack as mainly a man’s problem, with 75% of women believing more men die from heart disease when in fact the death rate is equal.

“Most women are more concerned about breast cancer even though six times as many women die from heart disease and stroke in Ireland each year. Our goal is to alert women that especially after the menopause, they are at risk of heart attack and stroke, as much as any man.”

She said women’s hormones protect against heart disease but after the menopause, their risk caught up with that of a man.

Dr Brown also said women sometimes delayed getting to hospital after a heart attack because their symptoms could be less clear than those experienced by men. A woman may experience more vague symptoms such as nausea, tiredness, shortness of breath, rather than the more usual crushing pain in the chest. The good news is that 80% of cardiovascular disease is preventable and a positive lifestyle can alter risk factors for cardiovascular disease.

“This September’s Red Alert is a wake-up call to every woman in Ireland to take care of her heart health.

“Remember, it’s usually not the fancy stuff that makes you live longer, it’s about the basics: weight, cholesterol, blood pressure, being active, quitting smoking and knowing your family history,” she said.

Norah Casey, an ambassador for the campaign, lost her father to a heart attack and is conscious about heart health: “It was a devastating lesson to learn about the importance of heart health. Heart disease is one of the few largely preventable diseases and we hold the key to heart health in our hands — we just need to use it.”

Theft is more likely to involve an electronic device when you’re outside of London

 Smartphones and tablets are more likely to be taken during a theft in Leicestershire than in London, new research shows.

Data obtained by a series of Freedom of Information requests to England’s police forces by security and communications firm ViaSat found that while electronic device theft accounted for 27% of theft reports to City of London and the Metropolitan Police, the figure rose to 51% in Leicestershire.

This was much higher than the national average; which was 19% of all thefts being device-related. However, ViaSat reported a drop in total reported thefts compared to similar research carried out last year – with reports to the Metropolitan Police falling 37% alone, and on average 34% across the country.

ViaSat chief executive Chris McIntosh said that personal data on the devices was still a draw for criminals: “Whether a corporate smartphone, a personal tablet, or your bank manager’s laptop, there is a huge amount of information stored on electronic devices that can compromise our privacy.

“The simple fact is that, for many thieves, the most tempting target isn’t necessarily the device itself, but what it contains. From access to your bank records; to blackmail; to flat-out identity theft, a lost or stolen device can still damage its owner long after it’s stolen.

“As the largest city in the UK, with the most visitors, London will have a disproportionate number of thefts. But as we can see from these results, wherever you are in the UK you need to not only be wary of your own devices; but make sure that anyone who records and stores your sensitive data does so responsibly and securely.”

Between March 1 2014 and February 2015, there were 285,312 reports of theft to the City of London and Metropolitan Police, with 77,243 involving electronic equipment. In Leicestershire there were 8,661 reports of theft, with 4,451 involving electronics.

Scientists discover new reef that might be even bigger than the Great Barrier Reef

  

You know Great Barrier Reef off the eastern coast of Australia that you’ve seen in countless videos and pictures? Well, it turns out there’s yet another similarly impressive reef that’s located near the same country.

The Great Barrier Reef in Queensland is part of the UNESCO World Heritage, and Mashable reports that it might have an actual rival located in the south of Australia. Officials from Parks Victoria said that the newly exposed Wilsons Promontory Marine National Park reef near Melbourne can match the Great Barrier Reef in terms of the abundance of coral, sponge and fish.

The problem with the Victoria reef, however, is that it’s located deeper underwater than the Queensland reef, making it inaccessible to snorkelers.

Scientists from the parks service used an ROV (Remotely Operated Vehicle) to explore the region for the first time and revealed some interesting findings of the underwater area.

“The resulting footage shows that the deep reef habitats are teeming with life and are home to rich and abundant marine ecosystems that are comparable to Australia’s better-known tropical reef areas,” Parks Victoria Marine Science Manager Steffan Howe said. “The extent and abundance of spectacular sponge gardens and corals is a particularly exciting find.”

The scientists found coral fans and dunes that measured at around 30 meters high and 2 kilometers long that house rare fish such as the Australian barracuda and Longsnout Boarfish and also “large sea whips and colorful sponge gardens beyond scientists expectations.”

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Monday 24th August 2015

Upbeat mood on Ireland’s third quarter economic outlook

  

Economic uncertainty across Europe and in China appears to be weighing on investors’ minds, with a 2% drop in positive sentiment evident in the latest Rabo- Direct Investor Barometer.

Nonetheless, some 89% of investors are confident about the country’s economic prospects in the third quarter — down from 91%.

A slightly larger decline in the number of people expressing confidence in the global economy was recorded with 76% of this mind, a drop of 3%.

Investor confidence in the Irish property market has fallen sharply, down 10% from 67% to 57%.

An increasing number of investors are optimistic about their personal finances, however, up 3% to 84%.

“The stream of good news about the Irish economy continues to sustain overall sentiment, which has impacted positively on investors’ confidence around their personal financial situation.

However, not surprisingly, recent events in Greece and China have impacted investors’ economic outlook,” said Rabo-Direct head of investments, Killian Nolan.

“With the likelihood that the current low growth and low inflation trend will persist in the medium term, the challenge for investors is around achieving a return on their available funds.

The growing influence of technology in our daily lives and in replacing jobs through software and robots means some of the best returns available today are in technology investment. Other investments performing well include healthcare and European property markets.”

FIRST TIME HOME BUYERS IN IRELAND ARE GETTING OLDER

   

The average age of the first time HOME buyer in Ireland has risen by four years to 33 over the past decade, with one estate agency group predicting that this figure may rise sharply yet again over the next few years.

In 2005 the average first time buyer in Ireland was approximately 29 years old, but, according to a Real Estate Alliance (REA) survey, this figure has increased by 14 per cent and is still rising due to a combination of circumstances.

High rents and the introduction of the mortgage deposit rules have combined to create a situation that is increasingly delaying the entry of young people into the housing market.

“While many young people are now returning from abroad with the growth in the economy, they are finding it difficult to secure mortgage approval without a full year’s employment behind them, which is pushing the average up all the time,” said REA CEO Philip Farrell.

“Through economic or other reasons, our young people left the country in their droves over the past decade, and this has created a lost generation in housing purchase terms.

“A high percentage of young Irish adults in their early 20’s chose to travel the world for extensive periods of time – at one stage emigration was claiming 60,000 young Irish people a year.

“In many cases the decision to do this is taken following completion of college education or after learning a skill.

“As a result of this people are taking longer to return home, settle down and have families – we estimate that emigration has put many people’s life plans back by five years.

“We are also finding that young people’s attitude towards property buying in their 20s is changing as a result of the global crash.

“Due to the uncertainty surrounding property values during the recession, many young people chose to ‘park the bus’ in relation to purchasing their own home and confidence in property as an investment was diminished.

“Interestingly, average life expectancy in Ireland has increased by four years to nearly 81 over the last 15 years. This figure will continue to increase and it is our opinion that young people feel that they have more time on their side.

“As a result of both of these factors, we have seen many potential first time buyers choosing to either remain in the family home or rent for longer periods rather than following the race to get on the property ladder.

“This has had a knock-on effect and the average age of the second-time buyer is 39 and also increasing.

“It is important to remember that there exists particular pockets of the country where these figures are both lower and higher than the average.

“We estimate that the average first time buyer in the capital is closer to 35, due to high property values.

“However, in rural country towns with a large multinational IT employer, our agents report that the first time buyer average is in the late twenties as well-paid employees secure mortgages for more affordable properties.

“Over the past two years average property values have increased at a faster pace than average wage levels, therefore the whole area of affordability has become a factor.

“One issue for consideration is the low prevailing interest rates which will not remain so forever and ultimately will also affect the affordability issue.”

One of the main deterrents for young purchasers is getting adequate access to finance, according to REA agents.

“The introduction of the Central Bank’s mortgage deposit requirements, combined with higher rents, has made it increasingly difficult for young people to save deposits, especially in Dublin.

“While their use as a medium to restrain house price increases has been welcome, they have had the effect of suppressing movement in many areas of the market.

“This has been most apparent amongst second time buyers who need to raise a full 20% deposit. Their inability to do so is creating a knock on effect in supply of suitable housing for first time buyers.

“The new income requirements of 3.5 times salary combined with increased deposit requirements introduced by the Central Bank in February of this year will continue to put pressure on the average age of first time buyers in this country.

REA agents are also reporting that young people are also being forced to reapply for finance due to mortgage offers expiring as a result of sales falling through when part of a selling chain.

Robert Grimes of REA Grimes Mortgages in Dublin feels that the traditional view of the property ladder has changed for young people.

“I feel that first time buyers are looking for a house that they can possibly live in for life rather than having to plan to trade up.

“I definitely feel that there is a fear factor of not making the same mistake that family members, friends or work colleagues did a decade ago.”

Psoriasis drug may aid diabetes treatment

Drug benefits those with type 1 diabetes

   

Scientists have discovered that a drug that is currently used to treat the skin condition, psoriasis, could benefit people with type 1 diabetes.

The news has been welcomed by the national diabetes charity, Diabetes Ireland.

A team in the US discovered that the drug, Alefacept, which targets the immune system of psoriasis sufferers, appears to keep the insulin-producing cells of people with type 1 diabetes safe and healthy.

The results follow a two-year clinical trial involving people newly diagnosed with type 1 diabetes.

The same team of scientists had already reported positive results back in 2013, but now, 15 months after the last dose of the drug was given to participants, they are taking less insulin on a day-to-day basis.

They have also been found to have higher levels of the C-peptide protein in their blood than those given a placebo. This is a by-product of insulin protection. This suggests that those taking Alefacept are making more of their own insulin than those not taking the drug.

Meanwhile, the scientists also found that people who had taken the psoriasis drug had lower levels of cells that are known to attack the pancreas in type 1 diabetes, and higher levels of cells that regulate the immune system.

Dr Anna Clarke, research manager at the Diabetes Ireland Research Alliance, described the findings as ‘really promising’, particularly because this drug is already in use, ‘so is already deemed to be safe’.

“Any development that helps us understand how people respond to a therapy that alters the immune system could create new treatment approaches and make a cure or vaccine for type 1 diabetes one step closer,” she commented.

Dr Gerald Nepom, director of the Immune Tolerance Network, which carried out the clinical trial, acknowledged that ‘achieving a long-term benefit following a short-course therapy is a challenging goal’. He said the next step in the research will be to carry out a detailed analysis of the immune cell types in the blood of those who responded to the psoriasis drug.

“This will help us identify the best way to improve this type of immune therapy for people with type 1 diabetes and potentially other autoimmune conditions,” he said.

New system with An Post to slash retail red tape

  

Retailers will be the first group to benefit from a new licensing portal which it is hoped will slash through much of the cumbersome red tape that has existed up until now.

The new portal being established by the Government in conjunction with An Post and Escher Groups will act as a one-stop shop for retailers to register and apply for licences they are obliged to have for trading purposes.

The system, which will be rolled out to some 20,000 retailers by December, is expected to dramatically reduce the amount of time in form filing required to comply with various licensing obligations.

Welcoming the announcement of the system, Jobs Minister Richard Bruton said the it was being rolled out in response to issues with the current system raised by businesses.

“I am very conscious of the time businesses spend on the various licence applications required by Government and agencies and this initiative is in response to business demands. By streamlining this system it goes some way towards our goal of making Ireland the best small country in the world in which to do business,” Mr Bruton said.

A review of the current system was undertaken to study the various licences required by businesses, from which the idea of the portal was born.

The Government then committed that all relevant licensing authorities would work towards the development of an integrated system amalgamating processes in existence across government departments, agencies and licensing authorities.

To begin with, the system will be available for retailers to make use of with applications for 29 core licences across 40 public sector authorities available.

Among the licences retailers will be able to apply for are gaming licences, the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) licence, as well as those required by food business operators and casual traders.

An Post and its technology partner Escher are putting the system in place to allow licences to be available on the portal for the retail sector by December.

“This has the potential to be a significant step in reducing the administrative burden for business, particularly for small businesses and startups. As the minister with responsibility for SMEs, the feedback I often get from entrepreneurs is that while we have made significant strides in reforming and reducing bureaucracy for business, there is still too much red tape

“The new system will save time for businesses and make it easier to apply for and renew licences,” Minister for Business and Employment, Ged Nash said.

Ancient fire fountains once exploded on the moon’s surface

  

Scientists may have solved the mystery of how fiery eruptions took place on our moon’s surface. Researchers have discovered the volatile gas that drove the eruptions.

“The question for many years was what gas produced these sorts of eruptions on the moon,” said Alberto Saal, one of the researchers, in a news release. “The gas is gone, so it hasn’t been easy to figure out.”

The evidence of explosions come in the form of tiny beads of volcanic glass that can be found on the lunar surface. The researchers carefully analyzed glass beads brought back to Earth from the Apollo 15 and 17 missions. In particular, they looked at samples that contained melt inclusions, which are tiny dots of molten magma that become trapped within crystals of olivine.

So what did they find? It turns out that lava associated with lunar fire fountains contained significant amounts of carbon. As it rose from the depths of the moon, the carbon combined with oxygen to creast substantial amounts of carbon monoxide gas (CO). This CO gas was responsible for the fire fountains that sprayed volcanic glass over parts of the lunar surface.

“Most of the carbon would have degassed deep under the surface,” said Alberto Saal, one of the researchers, in a news release. “Other volatiles like hydrogen degassed later, when the magma was much closer to the surface and after the lava began breaking up into small globules. That suggests carbon was driving the process in the early stages.”

The findings reveal a bit more about the history of the moon which, in turn, may reveal a bit more about the formation of our own planet.

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Sunday 23rd August 2015

“Coalition Government” working yet Irish voters want rid of them

 

Despite presiding over Europe’s fastest-growing economy, everything in the garden is not rosy for Enda Kenny and his inner circle,

‘For Enda Kenny and Fine Gael, being replaced as the leading party would feel like the equivalent of taking over as manager of a team that has just been relegated, winning promotion, and then being sacked the following year’

The Central Statistics Office recently confirmed that economic output in Ireland grew by a spectacular 6.5% in the first quarter of 2015, from a year earlier, as measured by Gross Domestic Product (GDP), making it by far and away the fastest-growing economy in Europe.

However, Eurostat’s ruling (issued one day before the CSO’s news) that Irish Water will have to remain on the State’s balance sheet, allied to concerns raised about the new utillity’s commercial status, stole the limelight – something that has become a feature of the current Government.

Positive developments at a macro level, the big-picture view of the economy over the last four years (resurgent economic growth, reduced unemployment, record low borrowing costs etc) have been continuously overshadowed by government mismanagement at a micro level on the provision of social services and the growing sense of inequality. The haphazard implementation of Irish Water is the classic example – a stream of negative headlines, distraction after distraction, all of which could have been avoided.

Irish Water was doomed from the outset when water charges were linked to the bailout deal with the Troika. In this context, instead of being viewed as a payment for the provision of public water and waste-water services, it came to be seen as a payment to bail out the bankers, the bondholders and the elite.

Of course, it was made worse by the Government’s lack of strategic direction and reports of excess when the utility was being set up. Hence, they were never going to be able to change opinion on the true agenda behind Irish Water, as much as a proper functioning national water utility makes sense.

I have no political bias, nor am I inspired by many of our political leaders. But it is worth remembering that when the Fine Gael-Labour coalition Government came to power in 2011, the economy was on the rocks, almost every economic indicator was flashing red and the outlook looked bleak. We were effectively on financial life support from the Troika.

After serving as Fine Gael leader since 2002, it is clear that handing Enda Kenny his debut as Taoiseach was not so much a reflection of the people’s confidence in his leadership skills, rather it was an indictment of the previous government’s failings. People had just had enough of Fianna Fáil.

Four years on, presiding over the fastest-growing economy in Europe, with GDP surpassing the pre-crisis peak, one could be forgiven for thinking the Government should be riding high.

The recovery we have seen in Dublin has not reached all parts of the country in the same way yet – but rebalancing an economy so skewed to the construction sector prior to the crash was always going to take time.

Of course, GDP has its flaws in measuring the health of an economy, but it is difficult to find one economic indicator that can encompass the inner complexities of all its stakeholders.

Looking from outside the country, the perception of Ireland as a place for doing business continues to be strong based on our ability to continue to attract multinational companies, albeit helped by our favourable corporate tax rate.

Certainly, the approval ratings from the international bond markets are high. The rate at which the State can borrow at over 10 years has fallen from near 15% in 2011 to 1.26%. The ECB has played its part – but as we saw in Greece, yields can rise sharply when a member state’s financial position deteriorates, even in an ECB-inspired low-rate environment.

Yet many people can’t wait to get rid of the current Government. What explains this disconnect between approval ratings at home and abroad? Domestically, the issue is the same issue that plagues all governments – their failure to efficiently allocate tax revenue for the provision of a sustainable and high-standard public service.

Pension levies, income levies, property taxes – and people are still wondering what is there to show for it. The healthcare system is still sub-standard, health insurance costs are soaring and public waiting lists are longer.

Private pensions were raided while our tax revenue is being used to fund massive public service pensions. Perhaps most galling of all was the recent announcement of pension increases for the likes of Brian Cowen and Bertie Ahern – the political leaders who failed in their duties leading up to the crisis.

Irish Water was just the tipping point. The explicit non-payment of water charges is simply the means by which the people of Ireland are expressing their loss of faith in the political establishment. It is not about paying for water. There is a feeling that not much has really changed under the current Government, the same old politics reign supreme: a system that bails out the banks and wealthy elite and where money and power are intertwined.

Economic utopia does not exist, but the current Government has missed a massive opportunity to set a new standard in terms of how the country is run. Can politics change? I am not convinced.

Still, if Fine Gael and Labour can shift the focus to the big picture, the improvement in the broad economy and away from the usual political shenanigans and the likes of Irish Water, they have a strong case for being given an opportunity to lead what should hopefully be the next stage of recovery.

For Enda Kenny and Fine Gael, being replaced as the leading party would feel like the equivalent of taking over as manager of a team that has just been relegated, winning promotion, and then being sacked the following year.

Think of Chris Hughton. He took over as caretaker manager of Newcastle United in 2009 following relegation, gained promotion to the Premier League by winning the Championship and was sacked the following December with the team sitting in 12th place.

However, in the case of Fine Gael, the leading replacement is Fianna Fáil – the party that led us into relegation.

Only five out of 13 homeless charities have applied for funding, says agency

   

Hundreds of millions of euros are lying unclaimed by homeless charities.

The Government’s Housing Finance Agency (HFA) claims that just five out of 13 charities registered as approved housing bodies, have applied to it for funding.

The current homeless problem has been labeled as a “national emergency” by Focus Ireland, but according to today’s Sunday Times the charity still has not sought funding from the HFA, despite qualifying as an applicant earlier this year.

Chair of the Housing Finance Agency Michelle Norris, said: “Some of the subsidies they get from Government are a bit too complicated and the Government have moved to address that.

“The rest of the problem is that some of the organisations are very go-ahead and entrepreneurial and keen to use new sources of funding. Questions need to be raised with the organisations that are not drawing down the source of funding, about what they are planning to do.

“We need a really pro-active approach and we need to ask hard questions.”

Ireland is becoming a haven of talent for Silicon Valley giants

  

As more and more of Silicon Valley’s tech giants open European operations in Ireland, one thing becomes more and more clear that Ireland is becoming a haven for tech talent.

Just last week, it was announced that Ireland is experiencing a huge surge in inbound tech talent.

And that talent is most definitely needed. In July alone, more than 2,200 tech jobs were announced, and the fact remains that there are more job vacancies than people to fill them.

It stands to reason, therefore, that Ireland would become a destination for tech talent seeking opportunities on new shores.

A vast number of those moving to Ireland for tech jobs are from countries in Eastern Europe.

And they clearly like it here.

Over the last few years, Siliconrepublic.com has been speaking to people who have moved to Ireland for work.

In those conversations, we have heard people from Eastern Europe describe Ireland as “the easiest country to emigrate to and still feel part of the community”, “a small cosy country with great opportunities”, and a country full of “charm and spirit”.

Others say “life is more simple here”, that it is full of warmth, and strangers who will greet you on the street, and that the Irish people are good and genuine.

Though there are some naysayers, if the worst that can be said about Ireland is that no one here distils their own whiskey (not publicly, at least), then maybe it’s not such a bad place.

Sweet chestnut tree leaves could be used to ‘disarm’ the MRSA superbug

   

Scientists are excited about the range of potential applications for the compound, and have already filed a patent.

As bacteria become more and more resistant to drugs, scientists are increasingly looking towards traditional remedies to help cure infections. Sweet chestnut tree leaves, traditionally used by rural people in southern Italy and other parts of the Mediterranean to treat skin infections, have been found to contain chemicals capable of taming the MRSA superbug.

The compounds “disarm” Staphylococcus aureus bacteria and stop them producing harmful toxins, say scientists – yet they do not appear to boost levels of drug resistance.

Traditional folk remedies based on chestnut leaves inspired the US team at Emory University.

Lead researcher Dr Cassandra Quave said: “We’ve identified a family of compounds from this plant that have an interesting medicinal mechanism.

“Rather than killing staph, this botanical extract works by taking away staph’s weapons, essentially shutting off the ability of the bacteria to create toxins that cause tissue damage. In other words, it takes the teeth out of the bacteria’s bite.”

The chestnut extract was even effective against the superbug Staphylococcus strain MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus), healing mice with serious skin infections.

For years the Emory team had investigated the traditional remedies of rural people in southern Italy and other parts of the Mediterranean.

Detective work by the researchers led them to the European sweet chestnut tree, Castanea sativa.

“Local people and healers repeatedly told us how they would make a tea from the leaves of the chestnut tree and wash their skin with it to treat skin infections and inflammations,” said Dr Quave.

In the laboratory, the scientists steeped chestnut leaves in solvents to extract 94 chemicals including the anti-bacterial ursene and oleanene compounds.

A single 50 microgram dose of the extract cleared up MRSA skin infections in laboratory mice, halting damage to tissue and red blood cells.

Lab dish tests showed that the compounds did not harm skin cells or bacteria that live harmlessly on the skin, the researchers reported in the online journal Public Library of Science ONE.

The university’s Office of Technology Transfer has filed a patent on the extract’s unique properties. The scientists are now looking at its individual components to see if they work best in combination or alone.

Potential applications include a protective spray for athletic equipment, coatings for medical devices and personal products such as tampons, and as a treatment for MRSA.

Dr Quave said: “Many pharmaceutical companies are working on the development of monoclonal antibodies that target just one toxin. This is more exciting because we’ve shown that with this extract, we can turn off an entire cascade responsible for producing a variety of different toxins.

“It’s easy to dismiss traditional remedies as old wives’ tales, just because they don’t attack and kill pathogens, but there are many more ways to help cure infections, and we need to focus on them in the era of drug-resistant bacteria.”

It is now official as US confirms marijuana or cannabis does kill cancer cells

    

After a series of laboratory tests and speculations, scientists from the National Cancer Institute (US Department of Health) have confirmed that cannabis, or marijuana, does kill cancer cells.

In its website, the institute wrote, “cannabis and cannabinoids may have benefits in treating the symptoms of cancer or the side effects of cancer therapies” and also that “cannabis has been shown to kill cancer cells in the laboratory.”

The website also records that “cannabis and cannabinoids have been studied in the laboratory and the clinic for relief of pain, nausea and vomiting, anxiety, and loss of appetite.”

Having said that, the researchers also stressed that marijuana has only shown these effects on mice, and are not yet ready to recommend the drug for human use in fighting cancer.

Although Cancer Research pointed out that there is not yet enough evidence to determine whether cannabis can be effectively used for cancer treatment, but this could be a big moment in the battle against the disease.

This new development could also pave the path for a nationwide legalisation of marijuana!

Doomsday not near as NASA denies Asteroid impact with Earth report

NASA makes it absolutely clear that the world ending Asteroid impact will NOT take place next month

  

Recently various web postings as well as blogs were claiming that a huge asteroid will impact Earth somewhere around 15 till 28 September 2015.

The predictions had originated from the prophesy of the much famous Reverend Efrain Rodriguez, who also claimed that on the doomsday, the impact will take place near Puerto Rico which will result in causing “wanton destruction to the Atlantic and Gulf coasts of the United States and Mexico, as well as Central and South America”.

Some blogs even blamed the U.S. government for covering up the news with an aim to prevent unnecessary panic in public.

Mid of this week, the U.S. space agency, NASA, was forced to make a statement denying the rumors that went viral on the social media predicting the occurrence of world-ending asteroid impact in September.

NASA made it quite clear that the rumors are totally baseless and they convinced public that there will NOT be any such occurrence of the world-ending asteroid impact next month. In addition NASA also provided some vital facts that supported the denial.

NASA said: “There is no scientific basis — not one shred of evidence — that an asteroid or any other celestial object will impact Earth on those dates,” said Paul Chodas, manager of Nasa’s Near-Earth Object office, in an official statement which seemed to be somewhat in anger.

He continued: “In fact, not a single one of the known objects has any credible chance of hitting our planet over the next century.”

NASA, accepted that asteroid impacts is a common thing; however it also noted that all the “Potentially Hazardous” rocks which are known to NASA have been classed and at least till next century there are rarest chances, mere 0.01 percent, that Earth should be hit by some such asteroid which would result in a ‘Doomsday’.

Chodas added: “If there were any object large enough to do that type of destruction in September, we would have seen something of it by now.”

He continued: “Again, there is no existing evidence that an asteroid or any other celestial object is on a trajectory that will impact Earth. In fact, not a single one of the known objects has any credible chance of hitting our planet over the next century.”

This is not the first time that NASA was forced to deny some such absurd rumor that indicated the “end of the world situation” which has gone viral in the world of social media. In its official website, NASA said that ‘Doomsday theorists’ had made similar predictions earlier also which were not backed by scientific facts and we can see that none of them turned out to be true.

Way back in 2011, there were rumors that Comet Elenin was going to hit Earth and NASA had to intervene and make a statement to deny this prediction.

Next, in  2012, there were various prophetic conspiracies for which NASA had to issue multiple denials and to be very frank, none of these prophesies occurred in reality including the Mayan calendar!

Chodas said: “Again, there is no existing evidence that an asteroid or any other celestial object is on a trajectory that will impact Earth.”

Some facts about asteroids:

Currently, NASA and other space agencies have confirmed that there are no such huge asteroids detected yet; however it is also a fact that the current methods and techniques which our present space agencies use to identify and track any such potentially dangerous objects in space is not enough.

It is a fact that the Nasa’s Near-Earth Object Observations Program (‘Spaceguard’) is able to track and detect the asteroids which are only within 30 million miles. Other agencies including ESA too have similar projects.

On the other hand, as per the ‘Asteroid Day project’, which was set up with an aim to increase the awareness of asteroid impacts, one can find huge asteroids which measure around one kilometer in their diameter, lying in the Asteroid Belt that falls between Jupiter and Mars. Besides, this belt also comprises of more than millions of smaller rocks and pieces of debris.

It has been estimated that there are around 1,00,000 asteroids which are large enough to cause the impact and destroy Earth on the scale of the Tunguska event.

Tunguska event is the 10-15 megaton explosion that occurred in Siberia in 1908 and destroyed the entire city. It seems with the current equipment available the space agencies all over the world can detect and track only 10,000 asteroids, so what about the rest 90,000 asteroids……is definitely a very BIG question!

It is also a fact that the 2013 major impact, which occurred above Chelyabinsk in Russia, which was accompanied with severe explosion with a kinetic force of 500 kilotons of TNT and injured about 1,500 was noticed only after it took place!

Right now, none of our space agencies have any methods to either deflect or destroy the hazardous asteroid which is coming towards Earth, nor are there any fool proof methods to track them.

For now, NASA has ensured the public that there will be NO asteroid impact between the specified dates next month. Well, that means for now people can definitely chalk out their plans for October and even beyond, smartphone lovers can wait the next release of their most favorite high tech phone while the Earth continues its existence?

Donie’s Ireland daily news BLOG

Saturday 22nd August 2015

Irish Government begins sending out applications for water conservation grant

  

Government begins sending applications for water conservation grant.

Under the current water conservation grant, anyone registered with Irish Water before the end of June is entitled to receive a €100 fee to help them conserve water.

They added that Minister for the Environment Alan Kelly will not be bringing the reported proposals to Cabinet when it reconvenes.

The department confirmed that people will be asked to provide their PPS numbers when applying for the payment which must be done online as there is no application form.

Data released under Freedom of Information has revealed that Department of the Environment has suggested the Local Government Management Agency could establish a new database of Irish Water customers and non-customers to be used by the Department of Social Protection to administer the grant from next year.

After the EU group’s ruling that Irish Water must remain on the exchequer’s books, and its swipe at the grant in particular, it appears a number of Government TDs have now given up on the argument – this time with one eye on the safety of their own Dáil seats.

“I think it is reasonable to say, given all the focus we have had especially with a utility like Irish water, to look at what measures can we take and what further work can be done to improve its efficiency and ensure it is better able to meet the needs of providing safe and secure water for Ireland”, he added.

The payment of the grant is fixed for 2015 and cannot be changed.

Therefore, any attempt to limit payment of the €100 grant could impact negatively on this cohort, most of whom are rural-based.

The cost of water charges drops to €160 for a family and €60 for an individual when the grant is included.

And when, depending on who you listen to, that policy relates to either wasting taxpayers’ money on a grant given to people refusing to pay water charges or taking money away from struggling would-be voters, it is yet another no-win situation for the Coalition and an open goal for an opposition constantly waiting to pounce.

Mr Cowen said it was time for real, alternative policies in relation to Irish Water.

Meanwhile, Sinn Féin TD Dessie Ellis said the Coalition was “at sixes and sevens” over the conservation grant.

“There must be a single public utility for the supply of clean, fresh, drinking water for every home in the country, free of domestic water charges”.

Canadian company offers help with Irish BCG vaccine shortage

  

A Danish company is the only licensed supplier of the BCG vaccine in the EU.

A healthcare company in the Republic of Ireland said a Canadian firm has offered it 40,000 doses of a vaccine that protects against tuberculosis.

It follows concerns that the BCG vaccine would not be available until later this year or early next year.

Health Minister, Leo Varadkar, said problems meant the vaccine, produced in Denmark, was not available.

He blamed production difficulties, delivery delays and sealing problems.

Carysfort Healthcare said it has been offered 40,000 doses of the BCG vaccine from the Canadian medical supply company, Intervax.

The delivery can be made in the next two to three weeks, but the offer will expire on 25 August due to shortages of the vaccine in other countries.

The Danish company is the only licensed supplier of the vaccine in the EU. However, according to Carysfort’s managing director, Fintan Smith, the BCG offered is prequalified and approved by the World Health Organisation.

Mr Smith has been in contact with the Health Products Regulatory Authority in connection with the offer and whether it will allow the medicine to be used as an emergency as it is not licensed in the Republic of Ireland.

‘50,000 babies affected’

Sinn Féin TD Gerry Adams had raised the vaccine’s lack of availability after a Louth councillor from his party, Jennifer Green, who is due to give birth in three weeks, had been told her baby would not be given the vaccine as recommended by the Health Service Executive (HSE).

Mr Adams said the difficulties had been known by the Irish Department of Health since last year.

He said that, as a result of failing to find an alternative supplier, at least 50,000 babies, and potentially many more, would not receive their BCG when appropriate.

The Department of Health said other countries were experiencing similar delays in acquiring supplies of the vaccine from the Danish company.

The statement added that production was suspended in 2014 pending an extensive investigation regarding a possible problem with the capping of the vials.

It said the investigation had ended and product produced during 2014 was being released.

The statement also said the HSE would arrange appointments for children to attend clinics when the vaccine supply was restored.

The HSE said it had “no control over when BCG vaccine will be delivered by the vaccine manufacturer” and that “these supply issues will continue until at least quarter one, 2016.”

Redheads come together at Cork Convention festival 

  

Redheads will this weekend have the opportunity to have their portrait taken while supporting a good cause at one of the country’s more unusual festivals.

Professional photographer Jörg Köster will take portrait photos of all eligible redheads at this weekend’s Redhead Convention in Cork. While it is free for redheads to have their picture taken, proceeds from prints at Jörg’s photobooth will go to the Irish Cancer Society.

The German native, who has been based in Cork since 1990, has been developing a portfolio of redhead portraits towards an exhibition and possible book, and expects to have boosted his body of work to some 1,000 portraits by the time his photobooth closes at the end of this weekend’s festival.

A fashion and food photographer by profession, Köster developed an interest in redheaded subjects after shooting Irish clothing products for German catalogues. Having started his redhead portfolio, a friend alerted him to the Crosshaven festival.

“I got in touch with the promoters and it was an added attraction for them, so I’ve been there since 2011,” said Köster.

“It works for both of us. We sell prints, and proceeds go to the Irish Cancer Society. It allows me to do sunlit photoshoots with 200 to 300 redheads in two or three days, whereas it would take me decades to get 1,000 pictures like that in natural light otherwise,” he said.

The brainchild of siblings Joleen and Denis Cronin, the Redhead Convention is in its sixth year in Crosshaven and will today feature a Kids Zone, Redhead Cinema, and Foxygen — a dedicated redhead music festival.

Among the redhead performers are Ginger Nutz, a trad band made up entirely of natural redheads from the West of Ireland; ginger-fronted West Cork band The Baby Cheeses, and the Crosshaven Ukuladies.

   The red-headline act for the weekend is Irish jazz and blues singer Mary Coughlan.

Jacky Colliss Harvey, author of Red: A Natural History of the Redhead, will be signing copies of her book and the afternoon will see the coronation of the King and Queen of the Redheads.

Meanwhile, a panel discussion with successful redheads in business will hear contributions from Tristan Rogers, publisher of international redhead art magazine MC1R, and Emma Kelly, a blogger behind the campaign to include ginger emojis in Apple’s iPhone.

The Irish Cancer Society is also set to receive 20% of ticket fees, and other fund-raising activities, such as an outdoor yoga session, will provide donations to the national charity for cancer care, research, and support in Ireland.

Organisers say red hair is the rarest of hair colours and accounts for just 0.6% of the global population. Ireland has the second highest per capita population of redheads at 10%, next only to Scotland at 13%.

Want supermarket tomatoes to taste better? Then dunk them in hot water

 

Ever felt that the tomatoes you bought in a supermarket were lacking in taste? Like they were good, but not good enough?

Tomatoes sold in supermarkets can apparently be made to taste better by dunking them in hot water before they ripen. We’re listening.

The discovery could result in tomatoes bought from stores being as flavorsome as those straight off the vine.

If these green tomatoes are picked then a hot bath could make them taste

Yep. We’d be pretty happy about that too. Because vine tomatoes are a serious luxury.

Typically tomatoes destined for supermarkets are picked while still green and coaxed to ripen while they are stored and transported at low temperatures.

The problem is that chilling degrades their flavour, making supermarket tomatoes relatively tasteless compared with those sold on farms.

Early tomatoes could taste as good as vine-ripened varieties with this hack

Step on up the scientists from the US Department of Agriculture. They found that a simple treatment process can dramatically boost the flavour of transported tomatoes.

Dr Jinhe Bai said: “Ideally, tomatoes should be picked ripe and then sold immediately, as they are at farm stands.

“To produce a better tasting tomato, we added a hot water pre-treatment step to the usual protocol that growers follow. We found that this pre-treatment step prevents flavour loss due to chilling.”

Pick ripe and sell straight away is best, but the hot water trick could help

In the tests, Florida-grown green tomatoes were dipped in water heated to about 51.6C for five minutes and allowed to cool at room temperature.

Only then were the fruit chilled to the temperatures normally used for shipping.

Samsung to make US stock market debut in 2016

  

The listing of Samsung Bioepis on the Nasdaq Stock Market is aimed at securing funds for investment in a new breed of drugs

South Korea’s dominant Samsung conglomerate will make its first entry into US stock markets next year with the listing of a biotechnology affiliate, a company official has said.

The listing of Samsung Bioepis on the Nasdaq Stock Market is aimed at securing funds for investment in the field of biosimilars – a new breed of drugs that mimic the effects of far more costly biologic drugs made from living cells.

“With an underwriter already designated, preparations are under way for the public stock listing of Bioepis in the first half of next year,” the Samsung official said.

Bioepis will be the first Samsung affiliate to list in the United States.

Samsung Electronics, the world’s largest mobile phone maker which accounts for the lion’s share of the group’s sales and profits, controls 46% of Samsung BioLogics, which in turn holds 90% of Bioepis.

The Samsung group is already remarkably diverse, with interests ranging from electronics to construction and shipbuilding, and sees biotechnology as a revenue growth engine for the future.

Spiders ‘as big as mice’ trying to invade Irish homes

    

A number of people last year had strong reactions to the spider’s venom

Experts say that spiders ‘as big as mice’ may be trying to invade Irish homes.

Trevor Hayden of Complete Pest Control told the Star that spiders up to 12cm long are possible in Ireland these days. It comes after reports in the UK of spiders ‘as big as mice’ were reported.

‘Amazingly they can get that big,’ he said. However, this super-sized spider is nothing to worry about.

“While they can bite, they are not dangerous,” he added, though that won’t put those terrified of creepy crawlies at ease.

Thanks to a wet spring and a relatively warm summer the numbers of house spiders in Ireland this year has risen sharply, and when you learn that they can have 60 spiderlings at any one time, it is no surprise that there seems to be a spider epidemic.

An abundance of food for spiders to eat, chiefly other insects, has also led to the larger-than-normal eight-legged creatures.

But the good news is that of the 420 different species of spider in Ireland, only one, the infamous false widow, is a danger to humans.

A number of people last year had strong reactions to the spider’s venom after getting bitten but house spider venom is harmless to humans.

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Wednesday/Thursday 19th & 20th August 2015

Irish household debt falls by 2.3% on 1st quarter & most in five years

Central Bank figures show total household debt fell to €154.6 billion or €33,530 per capita

 

Irish household debt fell by the most in five years during the first quarter of 2015, according to the Central Bank.

Its latest Quarterly Financial Accounts show debt total household debt fell to €154.6 billion or €33,530 per capita during the period, representing a fall of €3.7 billion or 2.3% on the previous quarter.

This was the largest decline in debt since the second quarter of 2010.

Though Irish household debt has decreased significantly in recent years in tandem with recovery elsewhere in the economy, it still remains high relative to other countries, the Central Bank said.

It noted that only Denmark and the Netherlands had higher household debt relative to disposable income during the first quarter of 2015.

The figures also indicated that non-financial corporation debt as a percentage of gross domestic product (GDP) fell from 205 per cent in the final quarter of 2014 to 194 per cent in the first quarter of this year.

“However, the decline reflected both an increase in the value of annualised GDP, as well as, a €10.4 billion fall in the stock of debt.

New Irish mobile operator iD launches today

  

iD, Ireland’s newest mobile operator, goes live across Ireland today.

Irish customers will be able to build their own plans, picking and choosing elements that suit their needs. Customers can choose anywhere from 100 to 5,000 minutes, 100 to 5,000 texts, and a data cap of 125MB to 20GB. 4G is included in all plans by default.

There will be no roaming packages initially. iD says that its roaming prices will be competitive with the market.

Not only will customers be able to tailor a plan to suit themselves, but they’ll also be able to decide how much to pay for a new phone upfront and how long to pay the handset off for.

These costs are separate, so once a customer pays off the phone their monthly bill will be cheaper.

iD will offer 20 handsets initially, the majority of which will be 4G-enabled. Apple fans will have to wait to make the move to this new operator; the iPhone is not being offered at launch.

The average SIM-only plan will cost €20.81 per month. Analysts expect that iD’s launch will lead to price reductions across the board as other mobile operators react to lower prices.

iD is operated by Dixon’s Carphone and is piggybacking on Three Ireland’s network. The new mobile operator is aiming to secure around 6% of the Irish market within five years.

AIB’s credit card redress bill likely to be small

   

AIB yesterday launched a redress scheme for 110,000 credit card customers who paid for insurance they didn’t need.

However, it is likely the Government-owned bank will pay less than half of the estimated bill of up to €7m owing to affected users.

The Central Bank said it had been working with AIB for the lender to pay back insurance to credit card customers who had bought credit card protection insurance from Pinnacle Insurance because the card holders were already covered for parts of any losses.

AIB had been selling the insurance cover at an annual premium of €16 since August 2006, and repayments will therefore be calculated on the number of years customers have paid out for the insurance cover.

It believes the average payment per customer will be €66 and the total cost, if every customer were to apply, would reach over €6.6m.

AIB says it will be contacting affected customers and explaining to them how they can apply to get their money back under the redress scheme.

But experience of other redress schemes involving excessive credit card insurance payments show that at most 40% of affected customers will end up applying.

In recent months, the Central Bank had issued guidance to 161,000 customers affected by a separate redress scheme for credit card customers at Bank of Ireland, MBNA, and Ulster Bank.

Affected customers at these banks had been sold insurance cover through Homecare Insurance Ltd (HIL), but again parts of the insurance were already covered by the card providers.

Only €9m was claimed under the three banks’ redress scheme, meaning that around €10m was left unclaimed by card users.

It is believed that the Central Bank will continue to urge customers of the three banks to seek compensation even though the deadline for applying under the redress scheme has officially passed.

“We require all firms to make full disclosure to consumers of all relevant material information when selling any financial product,” said Bernard Sheridan, director of consumer protection at the Central Bank.

“It is important that consumers can have confidence that firms are acting in their best interests and that they are not sold any cover which they do not need,” he said.

“Where this has occurred it is our priority to ensure that consumers receive full redress. We encourage all affected consumers to make a claim.”

An AIB spokeswoman said that it was following procedures used in earlier schemes to compensate customers.

Study shows prolonged sitting as bad as smoking for health

 

Researchers find sitting for long periods linked to an increased risk of heart disease and early death

Sitting for long periods of time is just as dangerous for your health as smoking, according to researchers at Queen’s University Belfast.

Sitting for long periods of time is just as dangerous for your health as smoking, according to researchers at Queen’s University Belfast.

Researchers from the university found prolonged sitting was linked to an increased risk of heart disease, obesity, diabetes and an early death.

They said it was as big a threat to public health as smoking.

Dr Mark Tully, from the UKCRC Centre of Excellence for Public Health at Queen’s, said most people sit for an “inordinate” amount of time at work, driving or at home watching television.

“One of the biggest threats to health is the amount of time spent sitting. On average people spend over nine hours, or up to 80 per cent of their waking day, sitting down,” he said.

Dr Tully said levels of sedentary behaviour increased as peopled aged.

“Public health scientists have recognised the need to develop effective interventions to address the high levels of inactivity across ages, with sitting regarded as ‘the new smoking’,” he said.

The four-year-study, which is being carried out in conjunction with researchers in Scotland, Germany,France, Denmark and Spain, is looking at developing new ways to help older adults be more active and will test the new methods on 1,300 people in Europe.

Carbon nano-fibres made from CO2 in the air

  

Out of thin air we get carbon nanofibres

Scientists in the US have found a way to take carbon dioxide (CO2) from the air and make carbon nano-fibres, a valuable manufacturing material.

Their solar-powered system runs just a few volts of electricity through a vat full of a hot, molten salt; CO2 is absorbed and the nano-fibres gradually assemble at one of the electrodes.

It currently produces 10g in an hour.

The team suggests it could be scaled up and make an impact on CO2 emissions, but other researchers are unsure.

Nonetheless, it could offer a cheaper way of making carbon nano-fibres than existing methods.

“Until now, carbon nano-fibres have been too expensive for many applications,” said Prof Stuart Licht of George Washington University. He was speaking at the autumn meeting of the American Chemical Society in Boston.

Carbon nano-fibres are already used in high-end applications such as electronic components and batteries, and if costs came down they could be used more extensively – improving the strong, lightweight carbon composites used in aircraft and car components, for example.

The question is whether the “one-pot” reaction demonstrated by Prof Licht and his team could help to drop that cost.

At the moment 10g of nano-fibres – like this sample Dr Licht brought to the conference – can be made per hour

The idea of turning CO2 from the air into useful products is a popular one, and the field is strewn with many more unfulfilled promises than success stories.

But Prof Licht is confident his design can succeed. “It scales up very easily – the entire process is quite low energy.”

He also suggested that the system could provide “a reasonable path to bring down CO2 levels in the atmosphere”.

This would involve adopting the reactors on a colossal scale and the idea has raised some eyebrows.

Dr Katy Armstrong, a chemical engineer at the University of Sheffield, said the process was “promising and very interesting on a lab scale” but that Prof Licht’s bigger vision might be problematic.

“As they are capturing CO2 from the air, the process will need to deal with huge volumes of gas to collect the required amount of carbon, which could increase process costs when scaled up,” she told the BBC.

Dr Paul Fennell, a chemical engineer and clean energy researcher at Imperial College London, said: “If they can make carbon nano-fibres, that is a laudable aim and they’re a worthwhile product to have.

“But if your idea is to take CO2 out of the atmosphere and produce so many carbon nano-fibres that you make a difference to climate change – I’d be extremely surprised if you could do that.” Prof Licht insists it is worth trying.

“There aren’t any catches; there’s a necessity to work together, to test this on a larger scale, to apply some societal resources to do that.”

Meanwhile, other chemists were impressed by the simple fact that Prof Licht’s team had produced nano-fibres from atmospheric carbon.

The carbon nano-fibres gradually build up on one of the device’s electrodes

Dr Dario Corradini was also at the American Chemical Society meeting, presenting his theoretical work on absorbing CO2 with a similar type of electrochemical cell.

“These cells are relatively inexpensive in terms of energy consumption – it’s definitely a realistic approach to producing the nano-fibres,” he said.

Humans would have had chicken brains (literally) if it weren’t for one tiny molecular change

 

Scientists may have finally uncovered the reason why us humans aren’t birdbrains (literally!).

We kid you not, researchers believe the reason why the human brain is much more powerful than a chicken is all down to a single molecular event.

Losing a tiny fragment of protein is thought to have spurred the evolution of the complex mammalian central nervous system, and without that change we could all literally be birdbrains.

A tiny fragment of protein (a lack of it, to be precise) is the reason why our brains aren’t like those of chickens.

The reason why mammals are so brainy compared with other vertebrates such as birds, lizards and frogs is a mystery since all these groups share similar genes.

The answer could lie in a biological process called alternative splicing (AS), part of the assembly system that attaches together the building blocks of proteins from genetic instructions.

During AS in mammals, a small fragment of a protein found in all vertebrates called PTBP1 is left off – like a single brick omitted from a Lego model.

Scientists believe that a biological process called alternative splicing is the reason why the human brain evolved.

Scientists found that in mammalian cells, the new shorter version of PTBP1 unleashed a cascade of events leading to the generation of neurons.

When chicken cells were genetically engineered to produce the mammalian form of PTBP1, similar events were triggered.

When scientists genetically engineered chicken cells to produce the mammalian form of PTBP1, they noticed a more complex brain development.

“One interesting implication of our work is that this particular switch between the two versions of PTBP1 could have affected the timing of when neurons are made in the embryo in a way that creates differences in morphological complexity and brain size,” said Professor Benjamin Blencowe, lead scientist from the University of Toronto in Canada.

News Ireland daily BLOG

Tuesday 18th August 2015

Renua Ireland not copying Fianna Fáil’s policies

   

The Renua Ireland deputy leader Billy Timmins has denied the party is “ripping off” Fianna Fáil policies.

Responding to accusations from Fianna Fáil’s jobs spokesperson Dara Calleary that Renua was sneakily repackaging the party’s ideas as its own, Mr Timmins said the two organisations could work together in government as they had such similar outlooks.

Making light of the allegations of plagiarism as he launched Renua’s drive to open up the pre-budget process, Mr Timmins declared: “I was going to say we are now going to launch policy number 41 belonging to Fianna Fáil! Fianna Fáil were in government for a long period in time. I thought they would have had all progressive policies implemented.

“When we launched the party on March 13 we had 16 policies. Three of them have been launched since in a fanfare by government. It may have been coincidental or it may have been otherwise but we don’t care once it’s progressive and once policies are implemented,” Mr Timmins said.

He said he would not close the door on a post-election coalition with Fianna Fáil, stating: “And according to Dara Calleary we are singing off the same hymn sheet anyway.”

Mr Timmins also joked about his party’s poor showing in the opinion polls, saying the rise from 1% to 2% in the latest survey showed a “100% increase”. “Maths wasn’t always my strong point but we were 1%, we went to two, so that’s 100% increase. If it goes up incrementally then we’ll be up to 4% next month and we’ll be somewhere around 16% come the election.

“On a serious note the way I look at it is politicians are unpopular at the moment, particularly political parties.

“Until such a time as the election is called — be that this October, be it next February — the public’s mind won’t concentrate on what they’re going to do with their vote,” Mr Timmins said.

The Wicklow TD said that voters had not fully engaged with how to vote in the next general election, as on current polling the most likely outcome would be a Sinn Féin/Fianna Fáil coalition, but he did not expect that to happen on polling day as the electorate would be more focused on the future then.

The TD was speaking as he launched Renua’s ‘Better Budgets and Modern Governance’ policy which includes a four-point plan to improve the “amateur” budgetary process.

Under the proposed changes, Dáil committees would be given legal powers of budgetary scrutiny as well as an oversight role.

Branding the current budgetary process as a “seasonal soap opera”, Mr Timmins called for a major overhaul of procedures.

“The budgetary process is a rubber-stamping exercise in which neither government TDs nor the opposition have any opportunity to contribute or exert influence. It does not serve the public interest and it needs to be modernised,” the TD said.

Renua also wants training and technical advisory support to help Oireachtas members carry out their duties more effectively on committees.

Mr Timmins said Renua would rule out any post-election deal with Sinn Féin.

Aer Lingus joins IAG as shareholders approve deal

End of an era as airline waves goodbye to Irish ownership

  

Aer Lingus will continue to fly with a shamrock on its tail but it will no longer have an Irish owner as it joins the British-Spanish group IAG.

It’s the end of an era as more than 95% of Aer Lingus shareholders vote in favour of an acquisition by British Airways owner IAG, thus formally bringing to an end almost 80 years of state involvement in the airline.

In a statement on Tuesday evening, IAG said that its €1.5bn acquisition of the Irish airline “is now wholly unconditional”, following the submission of Ryanair’s acceptance. The significance of this announcement is that the sale of Aer Lingus is now irreversible.

Willie Walsh, IAG chief executive, said: “We’d like to welcome Aer Lingus into IAG. It will remain an iconic Irish brand with its base and management team in Ireland but will now grow as part of a strong, profitable airline group. This means new routes and more jobs benefiting customers, employees and the Irish economy and tourism”.

On Tuesday, the deadline by which shareholders had to vote, Ryanair submitted its form of acceptance, bringing shareholder approval for the deal above the 95% mark. IAG can now enforce compulsory purchase of the remaining amount.

Shareholders who accepted the offer by Tuesday’s deadline of 1pm, will be paid on or before 1 September 1st 2015. Shareholders will receive a cash payment of € 2.50 for each share held, and a cash dividend payment of 5 cents per share.

Those shareholders who have still not accepted the offer, can do so before the final closing date of 15.00 on September 1st 2015. They will be paid within 14 days of acceptance.

“Aer Lingus shareholders who have not yet accepted the offer are encouraged to do so without delay,” IAG said.

But there are still some steps remaining before Aer Lingus can claim to be owned by IAG. Firstly, the shareholders must receive payment, a process which is expected to take about two weeks. In addition, IAG will move to delist Aer Lingus from both the Dublin and London stock exchanges. IAG said that this will take effect “no earlier than 0800 (Irish time) on 17 September 2015”. The board of Aer Lingus must also officially resign.

AERL Holding, a subsidiary of IAG, will now acquire compulsorily any outstanding Aer Lingus shares and will then re-register Aer Lingus as a private company.

IAG first launched a €1bn bid for the airline in December 2014, which was rejected on the grounds that it “fundamentally undervalued” the airline. The group later upped its bid to €2.55 a share and ultimately succeeded in getting approval from the major shareholders in the airline, including the Government’s 29.7% stake.

The accuracy of evidence from drunk sex assault victims is not affected by intoxication

A study says

Rate of sexual assault on women between 16 and 24 four times higher than any other age

  

Drinks were labelled either “vodka and tonic” or “tonic water” and participants were not told the amount of alcohol they received.

The accuracy of evidence given by victims of sexual assault is not affected by alcohol intoxication, according to a British study.

Researchers at the University of Leicester found that participants who were drunk, reported fewer pieces of information about an assault but the information provided was as accurate as that of those who were sober.

Results from the research by the university’s Department of Neuroscience, Psychology and Behaviour are now being applied in Britain in conjunction with the Crown Prosecution Service and Leicestershire police to develop national guidelines about the conduct of police interviews with intoxicated victims of sexual assault.

Eighty eight women aged between 18 and 31 were involved in the study after responding to an advertisement for “female social drinkers”.

According to the researchers the rate of sexual assault on women aged between 16 and 24 is four times higher than on any other age group

The study “Alcohol and remembering a hypothetical sexual assault: Can people who were under the influence of alcohol during the event provide accurate testimony?” was published in the journal Memory.

The research involved a placebo controlled trial to investigate the effects of alcohol on memory.

Drinks were labelled either “vodka and tonic” or “tonic water” and participants were not told the amount of alcohol they received.

A hypothetical rape scenario was described and participants read introductory information about the male portrayed including a physical description and photograph, and details about his occupation and possessions.

Participants were then presented with 24 sentences which appeared one at a time on a computer screen and they responded each based on whether or not they wished to remain in the hypothetical encounter.

The research team examined the influence of alcohol on remembering the interactive hypothetical sexual assault scenario in a laboratory setting.

All the participants completed an online memory test 24 hours later and four months later 73 per cent completed a recognition test.

Sober participants

The study indicated that participants reported less information if they were “under the influence” compared to women who were not.

But researchers found the accuracy of information from those who had been drinking did not differ from that of sober participants.

Study leader Dr Heather Flowe said “when a victim is intoxicated during the crime, questions about the accuracy of testimony are raised in the minds of criminal investigators.

“Out of these concerns, the police might forgo interviewing victims who were intoxicated during the offence. On the other hand, almost always in sexual offences, the victim is the only one who can provide information about the crime to investigators.”

Dr Flowe said a crime was unlikely to be solved without victim testimony.

“If they take into account that their memory has been impaired by alcohol, they should report information only when they believe it is likely to be accurate.

“Accordingly, intoxicated victims should report less information overall, but the accuracy of the information they do report might not be different from sober victims.”

The study was funded by Britain’s Economic and Social Research Council.

Couples trigger hunger hormone during fights,

A new study finds

  

Arguments are followed by a peak in the hormone that fuels hunger.

Couples are driving each other to the fridge, according to scientists who discovered an appetite-triggering hormone is released after hostile marital arguments.

A US study of “hostile” couples has revealed arguments are followed by a surge in the “I’m hungry” hormone ghrelin, as well as a link to poor food choices in period after their fighting.

The results of the University of Delaware research add weight to theories of why rejection and relationship difficulty can make people hungry.

Assistant Professor Lisa Jaremka said hostile couples had significantly higher amounts of ghrelin after -arguments, however there was no difference in levels of the appetite-suppressing hormone leptin.

Writing in the journal Clinical Psychological Science, Prof Jaremka said the hunger ¬hormone only rose in people with a healthy weight or deemed overweight, but not in those who were obese.

“Right now, it’s one-size-fits-all — diet and exercise,” she said.

“I hope this will help us start to tailor interventions … a personalised approach would be beneficial in the long run.”

World’s oldest human-like hand bone sheds light on our evolution

  

Scientists have discovered the oldest known fossil of a hand bone to resemble that of a modern human, and they suggest it belonged to an unknown human relative that would have been much taller and larger than any of its contemporaries.

This new finding reveals clues about when modern humanlike hands first began appearing in the fossil record, and suggests that ancient human relatives may have been larger than previously thought, researchers say in a new study.

A key feature that distinguishes humans from all other species alive today is the ability to make and use complex tools. This capability depends not only on the extraordinarily powerful human brain, but also the dexterity of the human hand.

The OH 86 hominin manual proximal phalanx in (from left to right) dorsal, lateral, palmar (distal is top for each) and proximal views. Scale bar, 1 cm. M. Domínguez-Rodrigo

“The hand is one of the most important anatomical features that defines humans,” said study lead author Manuel Domínguez-Rodrigo, a paleoanthropologist at Complutense University of Madrid. “Our hand evolved to allow us a variety of grips and enough gripping power to allow us the widest range of manipulation observed in any primate. It is this manipulation capability that interacted with our brains to develop our intelligence.”

Past analysis of fossils of hominins — the group of species that consists of humans and their relatives after the split from the chimpanzee lineage — has typically suggested that ancient hominins were adapted for a life spent in the trees. For instance, ancient hominin hands often possessed curved finger bones that were well suited for hanging from branches. Modern humans are the only living higher primates to have straight finger bones.

Scientists have often suggested that modern hands evolved to use stone tools. However, recent hominin fossil discoveries have suggested a more complex story behind the evolution of the modern hand. For instance, the hand bones of some ancient hominin lineages are sometimes more similar to modern hands than those of more recent lineages are.

To learn more about the evolution of the modern hand, scientists analyzed a newly discovered hand bone dated to more than 1.84 million years ago, dug up from Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania. Previous excavations at Olduvai helped confirm that Africa was the cradle of humanity.

The new bone was probably part of the little finger of the adult left hand of an unidentified hominin lineage similar to Homo erectus, the first hominin known to regularly keep tools it made. The bone is about 1.4 inches (3.6 centimeters) long — “the same size as the equivalent bone in our hand,” Domínguez-Rodrigo said.

The straightness and other features of this new bone suggest adaptations for life on the ground rather than in the trees. It adds to previous findings suggesting that several key features of modern human body shape emerged very early in hominin evolution. (This unknown hominin was not, however, a modern human.)

Before this oldest known hand-bone fossil was discovered, scientists weren’t certain when hominin hands began looking like modern hands and became specialized for manipulation. “Our discovery fills a gap — we found out that such a modern-looking hand is at least 1.85 million years old,” Domínguez-Rodrigo said.

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Monday 17th August 2015

A technical error sees Revenue ask foreign businesses for millions of euro

The issue relates to the new ‘VAT Moss’ system.

  

The Irish revenue has said that a “technical error” resulted in around 2,000 overseas businesses being sent incorrect invoices.

These were supposedly for the new VAT Moss system that has been put in place to allow businesses to pay tax abroad without having to register in each jurisdiction.

Revenue has said that it is working to update the system to prevent a recurrence of the problem.

Traders who received the invoices took to social media to express their disbelief, with the error being covered on the WebDevLaw blog. Earlier Alastair Houghton, a member of the HMRC/SME VAT Moss Working Group in the United Kingdom, said that the letters had come from the Irish Revenue Commissioners but had been sent in error.

There has been no financial impact on those who received the invoices and Revenue has issued an apology for the incident.

Earlier letters were asking some individuals for amounts in excess of €1 million.

Invoices were mostly sent to customers in the United Kingdom. Other correspondence is known to have been sent to the Netherlands and possibly the United States.

The letters sent out were addressed from Michael Gladney, the collector-general with the Revenue. Individuals were given instructions on where to transfer money to.

Irish Water staff start calling customers who fail to pay first bills

  

Irish Water Staff now calling customers who have not made a payment after first two bills, and they remind customers to pay the bill and the charges due.

Irish Water has started calling customers who have failed to make any payments on their first two utility bills to remind them to pay the charges.

Irish Water spokeswoman Elizabeth Arnett said call centre staff last week began phoning customers who had yet to make any payments 21 days following the issuing of their second water bill.

The company had stated five weeks ago that it intended to take this step, which was normal practice “in every single utility company”, she said. Ms Arnett denied suggestions made in some media that there was any targeting of older customers by the call centre staff.

“There is no age profiling, no targeting of older people. I absolutely categorically refute that, it is absolute nonsense.”

She also emphasised the calls were being made by the company’s call centre, and the debts had not been passed on to a debt collection agency. Suggestions made by anti-water charge protesters that some elderly people had been told their water supply would be cut were also false, she said.

“We record every single phone call, this would not and could not happen.”

Payment’s.

Call centre staff offer customers the opportunity to pay over the phone, and outline the different payment methods to those who do not wish to pay at that time, she said.

Figures released by Irish Water in mid-July showed 46 per cent of water charges issued for the first three months of the year had been paid, €30.5 million of the €66.8 million due

This equates to about 675,000 households or 43 per cent of the estimated 1.5 million households on the public water network.

While follow-up calling for non-payment of utility bills may be a common practice, the decision represents yet another public relations blunder for Irish Water. There have been a succession of incidents that have plagued the utility.

Questions were raised over executive remuneration and bonus payments. Head of Irish Water John Tierney revealed on RTÉ that the company had paid €50million to consultants. Then within weeks it emerged that 29 staff members earned more than €100,000 each.

The ESRI economist John FitzGerald calculated that the extra 2,000 staff the company absorbed from local authorities would cost Irish Water up to €2 billion by 2025.

Two weeks ago Eurostat raised a number of concerns about the Government’s considerable control of the utility company. The EU statistics agency confirmed the company had failed the Market Corporation Test which means it must remain on the exchequer balance sheet in the coming years. It also took issue with Government control regarding board appointments and operations.

A third of us have spotted people shaving or putting on make-up while driving

 

Almost a third of drivers say they regularly see people applying make-up or shaving while driving.

The figure comes from a survey by the AA, which also says that 83% of us have seen people using a phone while behind the wheel.

56% of those polled said they had seen people texting while driving, while another regular experience was witnessing people not indicating properly on roundabouts (84%).

Personal grooming – applying make-up or shaving – are not explicit offences, but the AA warned it could be considered “driving without reasonable consideration.”

“It is worrying to think that people are still taking risks despite the fact that everyone with an ounce of sense knows the dangers. There are stricter provisions on mobile devices that will soon become law and there are really no excuses,” said Conor Faughnan, Director of Consumer Affairs at AA Ireland. “Certainly not for personal grooming; that’s ridiculous behaviour.”

The AA also collected anecdotal evidence by positioning a fieldworker on a busy intersection to observe traffic. They reported that, out of 415 vehicles observed passing the intersection during one hour, 10 motorists – including two taxi drivers – were using mobile phones. Another four used their phones while first in the queue at lights.

Researchers target early warning system signs of concussion

Leinster Rugby and TCD have linked up in two promising brain injury studies.

  

Ulster’s Stuart Olding above picture left leaves the field after a head injury sustained against Munster at Thomond Park in last season’s Pro12 competition.

Concussion continues to hang over rugby like an unwelcome cloud. We can expect the World Cup to highlight the dangers and see how far the sport has travelled on what has been a steep learning curve. But the threat of brain trauma is becoming less sinister and more understood as academics in Trinity College Dublin begin to make inroads and promote some optimism.

In recent months researchers at the university doing work involving blood examinations, as well as using cadavers to see how body movement behaves on impact, have joined forces with Leinster Rugby for two innovative projects into the diagnosis and analysis of the injury.

Early warning system

Ultimately, the teams hope to identify incidences of concussion and predict when a player should be taken out of a match. They are not at that stage yet, but initial findings have moved both projects closer to the main objective of an early warning system that would increase player welfare.

One of the projects is based on studying the movement of human bodies in car accidents to help understand what positions and actions cause brain trauma in sports collisions.

The other is a simple blood test that shows up proteins that are associated with concussion. In time they hope a pin-prick test can be used to determine head injury. They have already identified what they call metabolic patterns that indicate trauma has taken place.

“Every activity in the body leaves a map,” says Dr Fiona Wilson, a former Irish rowing team physiotherapist, who along with physiologist Áine Kelly, is conducting the research into blood.

“The fluids of your body tell you a lot. It’s a protein and shouldn’t appear in the general circulation unless the blood brain barrier has been compromised. We are looking at these metabolites and early stages show we may have a map.”

Brain trauma

They have studied the blood from people with severe brain trauma and examined the proteins. They then took blood from rowers, who do not have any collisions in their sport but their metabolic systems work as hard as professional rugby players.

This was to determine that the proteins found in rugby players were from multiple collisions and not physical exercise. From the injured patients they knew what “brain damage” proteins would appear in the blood.

“It’s the same as having a heart attack,” adds Wilson.”You go in to hospital with a pain in your chest and they measure cardiac enzymes. It’s like a brain injury. We know patients with brain injury so we can match our players against that.

“Our initial findings indicate that we have made significant progress in identifying the blood test. Collaboration with Steno Diabetes centre in Denmark means progress can be made towards a finger-prick blood test already familiar to diabetes management.”

In time, debates like those around Irish outhalf Johnny Sexton and Welsh winger, George North – should they or shouldn’t they return to play – will be measurable, a sort of Hawkeye for head injury.

The movement patterns, of bodies involved in collisions may appear ghoulish, but in scientific endeavour there’s no such thing as squeamish and dead people can often keep the living alive for longer.

Associate professor Ciarán Simms and bioengineering PhD student Gregory Tierney are using multi-angled videos to look at collisions. They take real footage of rugby incidents and superimpose a model skeleton image on the players.

Based on previous knowledge from experiments conducted on cadavers and studies of pedestrian crashes, they use mathematics to conclude what forces are in play and identify various tolerance thresholds.

From a database compiled over years of research, they can look at the kind of body movements and collisions that cause concussion. It takes several weeks to do a study, but with automation the goal is for real time use during rugby matches.

“The aspiration is to have a real time use. But we’re at early stages,” says Simms. “We are also reconstructing collision cases with ‘what if’ scenarios. For coaches, for example, you could ask what could a player do to effect a tackle without getting injured.”

The findings are ready to be peer reviewed, with a draft of findings expected to be ready within a month. The perfect outcome would be that for each match a TMO equivalent could look at impacts and use the technology to instantly tell whether a concussive impact has occurred or not. In tandem with the blood markers and the other battery of neurological tests there is excitement about bringing the lab to the pitch.

“Leinster is very supportive of the research,” says Wilson. “They have been so invested in making sure this happens. Every time the players give blood it’s a favour because there is no immediate benefit to them. It’s unusual for athletes, because they are usually being pulled in all directions by different people, to be so helpful.”

The research is being funded from America by the NFL’s Head Health Challenge, a fund for the development of new materials and technologies that can detect early-stage mild traumatic brain injuries and improve brain protection. As collaborators, they are committing up to $20 million to a variety of projects.

Owls use a ‘stealth technique’ to capture their prey

 

Owls are equipped with sophisticated ‘stealth technique’ to help them swoop on prey undetected, according to new study that unveils the secret behind the nocturnal bird’s silent flight.

Owls are equipped with sophisticated ‘stealth technique’ to help them swoop on prey undetected, according to new study that unveils the secret behind the nocturnal bird’s silent flight.

Scientists have long been puzzled by the owl’s ability to flap its wings hard enough to rise into the air without a sound while swooping silently on swift-moving rodents out of the still night.

The researchers crowned the owl the “king of acoustic stealth” after discovering that its wings absorbed the energy of flight vibrations and converted it to heat much more efficiently than other birds they examined.

Generating enough thrust to get aloft involves a large amount of force and disturbs a lot of air. Yet most owl species manage to do it at frequencies below 2 kilohertz (kHz), well out of their prey’s hearing range, ‘The Times’ reported.

Researchers used the feathers of a long-eared owl, a golden eagle and a pigeon.

Simulating wing-beats, they measured the vibrations and found that the owl feathers trapped much more of the energy as heat than the others.

Scientists could copy the owl’s noise-reduction mechanisms to quieten machine noises such as the thrum of onshore wind turbines, said Jinkui Chu, professor of mechanical engineering at Dalian University of Technology in China.

“The owl’s silent flight ability is even more superior than we thought,” said Jinkui.

“It not only manages to suppress aerodynamic noise when gliding, but also mechanical noise caused by vibration during flying. This is remarkable, considering the noise that creates for other birds,” he said.

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Monday/Tuesday 10th & 11th August

Germany saved €100bn from Europe’s debt crisis

 

Fall in borrowing costs far outweigh costs of crisis to economy, says Leibniz institute

German chancellor Angela Merkel and finance minister Wolfgang Schaüble. Investors have fled instability in the euro zone for the safety of German bonds since 2010, pushing down interest rates on those bonds.

Germany has saved €100 billion since 2010 because its borrowing costs have fallen during Europe’s debt crisis – savings that outweigh the cost of the crisis to the German economy, an economic think tank has reported.

Investors have fled instability in the euro zone for the safety of German bonds since 2010, pushing down interest rates on those bonds. Paying less interest has helped the government save more than 3 per cent of gross domestic product, the Halle-based Leibniz institute for economic research said.

The institute created a model of a fictitious “normal” situation, without the crisis, to establish what German interest rates would have been, based on inflation and slack in the economy.

The report observed a close connection between political flashpoints in the euro zone debt crisis and fluctuations in the interest rate on German government bonds.

Interest on German government bonds fell sharply when markets saw bad news out of Greece, such as Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras’s decision in late June to hold a referendum on reforms demanded by its creditors. Similarly, rates rose on good news from Greece.

The total savings from this pattern since 2010, an estimated €100 billion, far outweigh the costs of the euro zone crisis to the German economy, even if Greece were to prove completely unable service its debts, the institute said.

Government bonds in other countries – including France, the United States and the Netherlands – have also benefited in the same way from the crisis, the report suggested, but on a smaller scale.

Over half of Irish people use their phones in the loo

 

We know you also use your phone as a mirror and to avoid talking to people. Really!

10% of Irish people check their mobile phone 160 times per day, according to a new study.

The research, carried out by Ireland’s newest mobile operator iD, also found that more than half of us (56%) use our phones in the bathroom.

While one in three use it as a mirror. Over 40% of women said they used their phone to check their appearance, compared to 28% of men.

The study also revealed that while Irish people check their phone on average 40 times per day, one in 10 people check their phones 160 times a day. That’s an average of six times per hour, or once every 10 minutes.

One in two people surveyed admitted to using their phone to avoid talking to someone, with 63% of 18-24 year olds being the biggest offenders.

When asked about who you contact most often, a spouse or partner is number one for 49% of people, but before you go thinking we’re all so romantic it’s worth noting that almost one quarter of those aged 25 or younger said they dumped someone over the phone. Ouch. The survey was carried out on 1,000 people.

Turf cutters ‘close’ to agreement on right to cut

  

Plot owners at one of the country’s most contentious bogs are close to a deal to end their row with the Government.

Ross Bog on the Meath-Cavan border has been the scene of protests by turfcutters as rangers from the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) sought to implement the ban on removing turf under the terms of the EU Habitats Directive.

Members of the Sheelin Turfcutters Association have fiercely defended their right to cut their turf despite the designation of the raised bog as a Special Area of Conservation and gardaí have attended at the site as tensions rose between the sides.

Last year, almost 100 people marched at Ross Bog to assert their right to continue to cut turf there and to protest against the ban on working the peat banks.

Earlier this year, the association sat down to negotiate with senior officials of the NPWS to ensure they would retain their right to work the bog as their families had done for generations. The meetings in Castlepollard hinged on the amount of bog that would be retained for the plot owners under a relocation scheme that would be acceptable to both sides.

At a recent meeting, the turfcutters were offered 12.9 hectares of bog on which they could continue to cut turf for their own use.

The association declined the offer and has held out for a greater area. The NPWS, which implements the terms of the EU Directive on behalf of the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, is now to carry out a further survey of the site to examine the possibility of making an improved offer.

However, chairman of the Sheelin Turfcutters Association, Sean Reilly indicated that an agreement between the sides was now close and the survey was expected to be completed within a matter of weeks.

Action needed on climate change before the point of no return

   

The focus on not letting world temperatures rise more than 2C can distract from the fact that many places are already feeling the effects of climate change,

IN 2009, global leaders agreed to try not to let the world warm more than 2C above pre-industrial times. This is sometimes seen as a rule of thumb for keeping on the right side of climate change, within ‘safe’ territory.

But that’s not at all how scientists meant it, Camille Parmesan, an expert in biodiversity at the University of Plymouth in the United Kingdom said. Climate risks don’t begin at 2C, she said; it’s more like where they go from high to intolerably high.

The planet has already warmed by about 0.8C since the late-19th century.

Some of the world’s most iconic places are also the most vulnerable, and they are already feeling the effects.

“We’re already seeing contraction of species in the most sensitive ecosystems, such as those dependent on sea ice or those living on mountain tops,” said Prof Carmen.

“We’re also seeing declines in some tropical systems, such as coral reefs, and the valuable services they provide for fish nurseries, tourism and protection from coastal flooding.”

And that’s just the beginning.

“At more than 2C, we wouldn’t just face losing the most sensitive species but some common ones, too,” said Prof Parmesan.

“So it wouldn’t just be the polar bear and the mountain pika, but other species living in lowland and temperate habitats that aren’t necessarily at risk right now.”

Against this backdrop, the world’s carbon emissions have continued to rise and the task of staying below 2C looms ever larger. Global leaders will meet again in Paris in December to agree on a plan for how to get ourselves on a pathway to achieving 2C in the long term.

But suppose that doesn’t happen. Suppose we collectively decide the task of keeping to this target is too great, or the price of cutting emissions quickly is too high. What would it mean to resign ourselves to a post-2C world? And if not 2C, then what?

Science is helping to answer these important questions. Climate models tell us that if carbon emissions stay very high, global temperatures could reach 4C above pre-industrial temperatures by the end of the century, perhaps even rising to 5C.

And unless emissions cease altogether after that, temperatures will continue to rise long past the end of the century.

And that would mean a world unlike anything we have ever known.

Climate change won’t treat all countries the same. Often the most serious and damaging effects will happen in the countries that are least able to cope.

A global temperature rise of 4C by the end of the century would see parts of Africa warm by up to 6C, making life near impossible for vulnerable urban populations and people working outdoors.

Drying of river basins and falling crop yields would raise the risk of food and water scarcity in many parts of the world, particularly among poorer rural populations.

Society is vulnerable to extreme weather. The UN body whose job it is to assess the science on climate change says the North Atlantic and Western North Pacific will see more strong storms like Typhoon Haiyan, which tore through the Philippines in 2013.

In Europe, heatwaves like the 2003 event, which killed 70,000 people, are already 10 times more likely than a decade ago, and this pattern is set to continue. Scientists also know that warmer air will mean rainfall in heavier bursts, while higher seas will make storms more likely to breach coastal flood defenses.

As humans, we tend to focus on what we experience up here on Earth’s surface. So it’s often overlooked that more than 90% of the heat trapped by greenhouse gases goes into the oceans, warming them up from the surface to hundreds of metres below.

The oceans take up some of the extra carbon in the atmosphere, too, making them more acidic. Warming and acidifying oceans spell bad news for marine ecosystems, including valuable fisheries that people the world over depend on for their food and livelihoods.

As seawater warms, it expands. That’s why, throughout Earth’s history, changing temperatures and sea levels have always been closely linked. Since the turn of the 20th century, the global sea level has risen by nearly 20cm, which is already enough to threaten low-lying island nations such as Kiribati, Tuvalu, or the Maldives.

Even if the oceans continued this steady march, scientists expect sea levels to be at least another half a meter higher by the end of the century. But the higher temperatures rise, the greater the chances of tipping the balance into a totally altered state, which carries far more serious consequences.

At some point, the vast Greenland ice sheet will collapse. Scientists don’t know exactly when this will happen, but they say it’s likely to be with less than 4C of global warming. The collapse wouldn’t happen quickly, perhaps taking centuries or millennia.

But once it starts, we’d be committed to a sea-level rise of several metres. This would inundate some of the world’s biggest cities, including New York and Shanghai.

At the other end of the globe, scientists are already seeing early signs of collapse in parts of the Antarctic ice sheet. And once that starts, it’s likely to be unstoppable.

In the meantime, almost all the world’s glaciers are losing ice. In the Arctic, temperatures are rising more than twice as fast as the global average, and if we stay on a path to 4C, scientists predict there could be no Arctic sea ice left in summer in as little as 30 or 40 years.

The climate system, in all its infinite complexity, is impossible to predict entirely.

There are some things happening that scientists don’t completely understand yet, such as why ice floating on the sea around Antarctica is currently growing slightly.

Scientists think, perhaps counter- intuitively, that it’s down to climate change, too, as the winds encircling the continent push freezing water outward from the coastline, extending the icy platform offshore.

And the climate system could still hold some surprises. As the Arctic warms, the once-frozen ground is thawing and releasing the powerful greenhouse gas methane.

Scientists are unsure yet just how much 4C of global warming could speed up this process.

Two, three, and four degrees are all points along a global warming continuum. None represents a climate precipice, but it’s clear that as the temperature rises, so do the risks.

What’s left to decide is, how much of a chance are we willing to take? The science is solid enough that whatever we choose, we can’t tell future generations that we didn’t know the risks.

Bees ‘prefer gardens with native flowers’

  

Gardeners keen to help wildlife are advised to plant a variety of flowering plants

Bees and other pollinating insects prefer gardens planted with flowers that are native to the UK and the northern hemisphere, a study has found.

But exotic plants provide nectar and pollen food for bees and hoverflies at times of the year when native flowers are thinner on the ground, while certain foreign blooms can prove a hit with some species, the Royal Horticultural Society research showed.

The researchers, writing in the Journal of Applied Ecology, said the best advice for gardeners keen to help wildlife was to plant a variety of flowering plants, focusing on native and northern hemisphere species but with a selection from further afield.

With around half of gardeners in the UK actively encouraging wildlife into their gardens, the findings will help nature-lovers make their plots more attractive to bees, hoverflies and other insects

Garden border-like plots were planted with three different sets of bulbs, perennials, shrubs, climbers, grass and ferns that were either native to the UK, near-native from the northern hemisphere, or exotic species from the southern hemisphere.

The plots were monitored for the abundance of flowers and the number of pollinating insect visitors over a four year period for the study, which was supported by the Widllife Gardening Forum.

More flowers – wherever they were from – meant more visits from pollinators, but a greater number of insects were recorded on the plots with native and near-native species than the exotic ones, with 40% fewer visits to the beds with flowers from far away.

Short-tongued bumblebee species were found in larger numbers on the native and near-native plants, hoverflies favoured native flowers and honeybees preferred the near-native plots, the study found.

Long- tongued bumblebees and solitary bees were found on all three sets of plants in around the same numbers, but in the exotic plot a third of visits by solitary bees were to one type of plant, the Eryngium agavifolium Griseb, a variety of sea holly.

There were fewer visits to exotic plants in early summer compared to the other plots, but relatively more later in the season when the non-native species were flowering more than the UK and northern hemisphere blooms.

RHS experts said the results showed that gardeners who wanted to encourage and support pollinating insects should plant a mix of flowers from a wide range of geographical regions.

While there should be an emphasis on plants native to the UK and the northern hemisphere, southern hemisphere plants such as Lobelia tupa and Verbena bonariensis can play an important role.

Southern hemisphere plants tend to flower later, extending the flowering season and providing much needed food for bugs and bees after other species have gone to seed.

Lead researcher Dr Andrew Salisbury said: “The UK’s 1,500 species of pollinator are thought to be under increasing pressure due to the loss of habitat and food sources.

“As more traditional habitats have been reduced the role of gardens as havens for pollinators and other wildlife is growing in importance.”

But he said the role native and non-native plants play in helping wildlife had been unclear and confusing before now.

“Now for the first time, gardeners can access robust, evidence-based information on the most effective planting strategy they can adopt if they wish to attract and support pollinators.

“These findings will help gardeners to confidently pack their borders, window boxes and allotments with flowers without getting hung up on the idea that they are somehow doing the ‘wrong thing’ if the plants are not all UK natives,” he said.