News Ireland daily BLOG by DONIE

Thursday/Friday 17 & 18th September 2015

M. D. Higgins rejects an recovering Irish economy

Responsibility needs to be taken for housing lists and homelessness needs to be addressed,

Says the President.


“Our planet is scarred by inequality, and inequality is growing, and the gaps are widening in what are described as some of the most prosperous parts of the world,” President Michael D Higgins has remarked.

Those in positions of authority should apologise for not valuing social housing more in the past in light of the current housing crisis, President Michael D Higgins has said.

Speaking at the launch of Merchants Quay Ireland’s annual report on Friday, he said inequality continues to rise in Ireland, and that he “recoils” from headlines boasting the domestic economy is resurgent once more.

“Our planet is scarred by inequality, and inequality is growing, and the gaps are widening in what are described as some of the most prosperous parts of the world,” he remarked, referencing educational inequality in particular.

“I think it’s important to realise how inequalities are increasing in Ireland itself. I recoil a little bit from a headline that suggests ‘The economy roars back’ – well, the inequalities are roaring much louder in the world.

‘Simply ridiculous’

“It’s simply ridiculous to say that you’re living in a republic with republican values if you have children with different access to literacy itself, in relation to reading the schoolbooks and so forth.”

The President indicated that responsibility needs to be taken for a situation that has seen social housing waiting lists lengthening and people sleeping rough on the streets.

“The public view has to change in relation to that. The public view in relation to whether or not you want to say housing is a right, basic shelter is a right, and that it is a mark of failure in a society if decent, safe shelter is not available.

“I think it would be a great thing to hear from some authoritative body like the County and City Management Association: ‘We’re sorry we didn’t value social housing more’,” he said.

His address was given in the wake of a speech by Merchants Quay Ireland chief executive Tony Geoghegan, who revealed his “deep concern” for the welfare of homeless individuals ahead of the impending winter.

A drop-in service

The organisation’s report stated that its drop-in service provided over 5,600 supportive interventions including referrals to emergency accommodation, and served nearly 80,000 meals last year.

“I think it’s fair to say that the homeless situation at the moment is just unprecedented – we certainly haven’t seen anything like it before and it is going to require an unprecedented response to do something about it,” Mr Geoghegan said.

“Looking into this winter, we are deeply concerned for the welfare of homeless people and what is going to happen, and I’m praying and hoping that it’s not going to take something as extreme as people dying on the streets, as it did last Christmas, before there is a response,” he added.

Talking to reporters after the launch ceremony, Mr Higgins cautioned against creating an artificial “war among the poors” between those struggling for basic services in Ireland and the 4,000 destitute refugees set to enter the State, in response to commentators who say the country should resolve its own domestic problems before welcoming a large influx of immigrants.

“The very most unhelpful thing that could happen is if some kind of false tension was invented between those who shouldn’t be waiting for health services, who shouldn’t be homeless, who shouldn’t be waiting excessive periods on waiting lists, and people who are excluded in other ways,” he said.

He continued: “Our future is a diverse society that plays to the best of our Irishness […] these suggestions are that you must set the poor in contest with each other as some kind of ‘war among the poors’.

“It has always been something that is negative, and of course in many places in Europe it has led to xenophobia and in some places racism – so let’s just see it for what it is right at the beginning.”

New €1m campaign to promote potato consumption in Ireland


A new €1m marketing campaign was launched today (September 17) to boost potato consumption among Irish consumers, by the Minister for Agriculture, Simon Coveney.

Bord Bia will coordinate and manage the three-year campaign which has been designed to dispel fattening myths around potatoes, positioning them as naturally fat-free, tasty and versatile.

According to Kantar Worldpanel, retail sales of fresh potatoes in Ireland have declined by 25% over the last decade and by as much as one-third between 2002 and 2014.

Speaking at today’s launch Minister Coveney said that the potato is part of our culture like no other food, inextricably linked to Ireland’s story and part of who we are.

“This campaign will bring the different varieties and versatility of the Irish potato to a younger generation,” he said.

The initiative will be co-funded by the EU, Ireland’s potato industry and the Department of Agriculture and will be run in conjunction with the British Potato Council.

The overall strategy is to implement a single umbrella campaign, across both the Irish and British market, which will raise the image and profile of potatoes, and re-establish their relevance within the weekly shopping basket.

The Minister welcomed the European Commission’s decision to approve a total fund of €4.6m to promote potatoes on the Irish and British markets over the next three years of which 50% will be funded by the EU.

My department is also availing of the opportunity to grant financial support to the Irish potato industry for this positive promotional activity.

“Combined with industry funding the total campaign will be worth €1m over the three years in Ireland,” he said.

Mike Neary, Horticulture Manager at Bord Bia, highlighted some of the challenges facing the industry.

“Potatoes are still Ireland’s preferred main meal carbohydrate, however shoppers under-45 account for only 33% of potato sales and these consumers will ultimately make up a major part of the total market in the years to come.

“Younger consumers view potatoes as a traditional, unexciting food and less convenient than modern carbs such as pasta and rice,” he said.

The new promotional campaign, entitled “Potatoes – more than a bit on the side”, will focus on younger consumers, in particular, 22-44-year-old females.

Neary said that we really need to challenge consumer perceptions of fresh potatoes – particularly amongst younger age groups – in order to combat declining consumption.

“This integrated campaign will highlight the fact that potatoes offer enormous potential within the world of modern cooking and build awareness of the added health and nutritional benefits of potatoes in comparison to competitor carbohydrates,” he said.

The campaign will include print and digital advertising and it will kick off with National Potato Day on Friday, October 2.

It is estimated a total of 9,122ha of potatoes were grown in Ireland in 2014 producing 350,000t. Last year, the retail market was valued at €184m.

The main varieties of potatoes grown in Ireland include Rooster (60%), Kerr Pinks (8%), Queens (8%) and Whites (7%).

Meath, Dublin, Wexford, Louth, Donegal and Cork are the largest potato growing counties with approximately 500 active potato growers in Ireland.

HSE failed to deal with ‘sexual contact abuse in home,

A report finds

Man involved in incidents of ‘sexual abuse nature’ with another resident and a staff member


A report published by the Mental Health Commission into Knockroe House found evidence of three instances of sexual contact between a man and woman in its care over a five-month period in 2014.

Pamela DuncanThe HSE is to carry out a review of mental health services in Roscommon after it was found to have failed to take appropriate action on recorded instances of sexual contact between two residents in a Castlerea community service.

A report published by the Mental Health Commission into Knockroe House, a 14-bed community residence on the outskirts of Castlerea, found evidence of three instances of sexual contact between a man and woman in its care over a five-month period in 2014.

It also reported one incident “of a sexual nature” involving the same man and a woman staff member.

The inspection report published on Thusday said: “Inspection of the Incident Report books in Knockroe House identified three recorded instances of sexual contact between two vulnerable adult residents, one male, one female, over a five-month period in 2014 and one incident, also of a sexual nature, involving a female member of staff in 2015.”

Failed to assess

As regards the incidents of sexual contact between the two residents the Mental Health Commission reported that the HSE had failed to assess the two residents as to their capacity to engage in a sexual relationship or take other steps to ensure “neither resident is placed in a position where they may be exploited”.

It also said that, in the absence of such safeguarding measures, gardaí should have been informed.

The inspectors noted that, following the third recorded incident between the two residents in August 2014, management separated the two residents: one is accommodated in another community residence from Monday to Thursday, returning to Knockroe on weekends when the second resident is on home leave.

The inspectors said this was not an appropriate action as the other setting was “wholly inappropriate” for the resident who had been transferred.

In a subsequent inspection carried out in June inspectors recorded a further incident of a sexual nature involving the same male resident.

General secretary of the Psychiatric Nurses Association, Des Kavanagh said the Mental Health Commission report vindicated the concerns raised by nursing staff in the Galway/Roscommon mental health services prior to the April inspection.

“The incidents raised were clearly very serious and the response of management was not appropriate,” he said.

The HSE announced it had determined it “necessary to conduct a review of the quality, safety and governance of services within the Roscommon area”.

It said the review had been “prompted in part by a number of specific incidents” which would also form part of the review which would examine management, staffing levels and compliance with relevant national and HSE frameworks.

The HSE said it was conducting a systems analysis review into the incidents in Knockroe House as well as having commissioned an external review of the mental health services in Roscommon.

“As both these processes are currently under way we are unable to comment further at this time. The HSE has reported these matters to the Gardaí and safeguards have been put in place to ensure patient safety,” a spokeswoman said.

Mr Kavanagh said he hoped the review would result in an improvement of services and the safeguarding of residents in the Roscommon area.

Ireland’s plan to tackle alarming decline of our valuable bees


 “If the bee disappeared off the surface of the globe, then man would have only four years of life left. No more bees, no more pollination, no more plants, no more animals, no more man.”

That is a comment attributed to Albert Einstein and reflects why 68 governmental and non-governmental organisations are busy with a shared plan of action to tackle pollinator decline and make Ireland a place where pollinators can survive and thrive.

The All-Ireland Pollinator Plan 2015-2020, published today, makes Ireland one of the first countries in Europe with a strategy to address pollinator decline and protect pollination services. The initiative has generated huge support and has culminated in agreement to deliver 81 actions to make Ireland more pollinator friendly.

The plan identifies actions that can be taken on farmland, public land and private land. These include creating pollinator highways along our transport routes, making our public parks pollinator friendly and encouraging the public to see their gardens as potential pit-stops for our busy bees.

With the support of organisations like An Taisce Green-Schools, it aims to ensure that everyone, from schoolchildren to farmers, gardeners, local authorities and businesses, knows what pollinators need and which simple cost-effective actions they can take to help. The Plan will also support bee-keepers in keeping our honeybees healthy.

“Unfortunately, Irish pollinators are in decline, with one third of our 98 bee species threatened with extinction,” said Dr Úna FitzPatrick from the National Biodiversity Data Centre, who chaired the plan steering group. “Bees are declining because we’ve drastically reduced the areas where they can nest.”

The pollinator plan is not just about protecting bees but also about protecting the livelihood of farmers and growers who rely on their ‘free’ pollinator service, which allows consumers to buy Irish fruit and vegetables at an affordable price. This service is worth more than £7 million per annum for apples in Northern Ireland, and €3.9m for oilseed rape in the Republic of Ireland.

It’s not just crops; about three-quarters of our wild plants also require insect pollinators. Without pollinators the Irish landscape would be a very different and much less beautiful place. The value of pollination to tourism and branding our produce abroad is enormous, but has never been assessed in a monetary sense.

Dr Jane Stout, Associate Professor in Botany at Trinity College Dublin, who co-chaired the group, added: “If we want pollinators to be available to pollinate our crops and wild plants for future generations we need to manage the landscape in a more sustainable way and create a joined-up network of diverse and flower-rich habitats as well as reduce our use of chemical insecticides. This doesn’t just mean in the countryside, but in our towns and villages as well.”

The actions in the plan are based on scientific evidence from research conducted in Ireland and elsewhere.

However, there are still gaps in our knowledge. Dr Stout’s Plant-Animal Interactions research group in Trinity College Dublin will continue to do research to understand the full implication of pollinator declines.

Bee aware

According to the Royal Horticultural Society, the best ways to encourage bees of all types into your garden is by providing nectar- and pollen-rich flowers throughout the year.

  • Clumps of bee-friendly plants in sunny places will be more attractive than plants that are scattered or in shade. These include foxgloves, pussy willow, bluebells, honeysuckle, thyme, and summer heathers, while non-native species like sunflowers, sweet pea, and lavender will provide plenty for bees to forage on. Planting wildflower meadows will also greatly benefit bees.
  • Use pesticides sparingly. Those based on fatty acids or plant oils and extracts pose little danger to bees but will not control all pests. Do not spray open flowers.
  • Provide nest sites for bees. Some will nest in hollow stems, such as bamboo canes or herbaceous plant

As much as 3.3m people die annually from air pollution

A study shows


Air pollution is killing 3.3m people a year worldwide, according to a new study. Surprisingly, farming plays a large role in soot-and-smog deaths in industrial nations.

Scientists in Germany, Cyprus, Saudi Arabia, and Harvard University calculated the most detailed estimates yet of the toll of air pollution, and what caused it. The study projects that if trends don’t change, the yearly death total will have doubled to 6.6m a year by 2050.

The study, published in the journal Nature, showed that three quarters of the deaths are from strokes and heart attacks, said lead author Jos Lelieveld at the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry in Germany.

The findings are similar to other, less detailed pollution death estimates, outside experts said. “About 6% of all global deaths each year occur prematurely, due to exposure to ambient air pollution. This number is higher than most experts would have expected, say, 10 years ago,” said Jason West, a University of North Carolina environmental sciences professor who wasn’t part of the study, but who praised it.

Air pollution kills more than HIV and malaria combined. China has the most air pollution fatalities, with 1.4m, followed by India, with 645,000, and Pakistan, with 110,000. The United States, with 54,905 deaths in 2010, ranks seventh. What is unusual is that the study says agriculture caused 16,221 of those deaths, second only to 16,929 deaths blamed on power plants.

In the US northeast, all of Europe, Russia, Japan, and South Korea, agriculture is the leading cause of soot-and-smog deaths. Worldwide, agriculture is the second-biggest cause, with 664,100 deaths, behind 1m deaths from in-home heating and cooking done with wood, and other biofuels, in the developing world.

The problem with farms is ammonia from fertiliser and animal waste. That ammonia combines with sulphates from coal-fired power plants, and with nitrates from car exhaust, to form the soot particles that are the big air pollution killers, he said.

In London, for example, the pollution from traffic takes time to be converted into soot, and then it is mixed with ammonia and transported downwind to the next city, he said.

“We were very surprised, but, in the end, it makes sense,” Lelieveld said.

He said the scientists had assumed that traffic and power plants would be the biggest cause of deadly soot and smog.

Agricultural emissions are becoming increasingly important, but are not regulated, said Allen Robinson, an engineering professor at Carnegie Mellon University, who was not part of the study, but who praised it.

Ammonia air pollution from farms can be reduced “at relatively low costs,” Robinson said. “Maybe this will help bring more attention to the issue.”

In the central United States, the main cause of soot-and-smog premature deaths is power plants; in much of the West, it’s traffic emissions.

Jason West, and other outside scientists, did dispute the study’s projections that deaths would double by 2050. That is based on no change in air pollution. West and others said it’s likely that some places, such as China, will dramatically cut their air pollution by 2050.

And Lelieveld said that if the world reduces a different air pollutant — carbon dioxide, the main gas causing global warming — soot-and-smog levels will be reduced as well, in a “win-win situation in both directions”


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