News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Wednesday 4th November 2015

Labour Minister and TD absent for vote on Traveller ethnicity

Aodháin Ó Ríordáin and Ciara Conway absent as the Government rejects a Sinn Féin motion calling for the State to grant ethnic minority status to Travellers

      

Labour Minister of State Aodhán Ó Ríordáin and Ciara Conway, who spoke in favour of the Sinn Féin proposal, were absent for the vote.

The Government last night rejected a Sinn Féin motion calling for the State to grant ethnic minority status to Travellers by 58 to 39 votes.

Labour Minister of State Aodháin Ó Ríordáin and party colleague Ciara Conway who spoke in favour of the Sinn Féin proposal were absent for the vote.

Labour chief whip Emmet Stagg said afterwards that theirs was an “agreed absence” and those who were required to be present for the vote attended.

Representatives of the Travelling community were in the public gallery for the debate and one shouted “shame on you” after the vote denying them ethnic minority status.

In an impassioned speech on the first night of the two-night debate, Mr Ó Ríordáin said that everyone in the Dáil should stand by truth and “the truth is that the Travelling community in this Republic are a distinct ethnic group” and they deserved recognition.

Human rights

Ms Conway, said all that was required was for the Taoiseach to make a statement to the Dáil, write a letter to the relevant international human rights agencies that it was granting ethnicity and speak to Traveller representatives about relevant legislation.

Ms Conway said “essentially we’re waiting on someone to make a speech or write a letter while people’s lives are hanging in the balance”.

Sinn Féin justice spokesman Pádraig Mac Lochlainn, who introduced the motion, said Mr Ó Ríordáin and Ms Conway had used powerful words.

He had expected them to vote with the Government, even though they had expressed their frustration and anger with their Government colleagues.

He would not attack them for that but wanted to say to those Government colleagues that “it is time to be on the right side of history”.

Bigotry:–

Mr Mac Lochlainn said he hoped next year Traveller representatives would also be in the Dáil when the taoiseach of the next government would make the belated announcement granting ethnicity.

His party colleague Dessie Ellis also called for the next taoiseach to appoint a Traveller to the Seanad.

He said it would be very important and encouraging to see that change, adding that it was time to stand up at institutional level to bigotry against Travellers, Mr Ellis said. “They are every bit as Irish as you or me.”

Fine Gael TD Tom Barry said, however, they should remove emotive language such as “racism” from the debate. He said that with rights came responsibility.

He said Travellers wanted different things and had different visions and that was fine.

Would you like to see a United Ireland?

People north and south had their say tonight

    

A Prime Special tonight looked at the issue of Irish Unity.

TWO-THIRDS OF people from the Republic of Ireland would like to see a United Ireland in their lifetime, but it’s a different story north of the border.

The results are part of a joint RTÉ-BBC TV production screened this evening that show very similar viewpoints between people in Northern Ireland and the Republic on many issues, except Irish unity.

Compared to 66% in the Republic, 30% of people in Northern Ireland said they wanted a United Ireland in their lifetime. Among those surveyed in Northern Ireland from a Catholic background, 57% answered Yes and 29% answered Don’t know.

In the Republic, the overall support for a reunited Ireland dropped to 31% “if it meant paying more tax”

People both north and south of the border were less likely to favour reunification in the short to medium term, but it was still the most favoured single option among people in the Republic.

The other three together though, represented a larger proportion favouring Northern Ireland remaining in the United Kingdom in the short to medium term.

Social issues

The Behaviour and Attitudes survey was conducted by face-to-face interviews with over 2,000 people also looked a number of social issues.

On abortion, results on both sides of the border were strikingly similar.  It found that 22% of respondents in the Republic and 23% in Northern Ireland said abortion should be available in all circumstances.

On the question of whether abortion should be available in some circumstances, 64% in the Republic supported this with a figure of 56% in Northern Ireland.

This week same-sex marriage was again blocked in Northern Ireland, making it the only part of Ireland and Britain where it is outlawed, but tonight’s survey suggests that people in Northern Ireland support the concept.

The DUP MLA Arlene Foster was grilled on this issue by BBC presenter Stephen Nolan, who asked her several times whether she would attend the (hypothetical) same-sex marriage of one of her children.

Despite his efforts, Foster refused to answer in the affirmative or negative.

Tonight’s joint production by RTÉ’s Prime Time and the BBC Nolan Show was conducted as part of RTÉ’s 1916 commemorations.

Those surveyed were asked about 1916 and found that almost three quarters of those surveyed in the Republic believe that the 1916 Leaders played a very or fairly positive role in our history compared to only 25% in Northern Ireland.

AA calls for action on insurance hikes

      

The cost of car insurance is rising dramatically and urgent action will be required to stem future steep increases, the AA, one of the country’s largest insurance brokers, has said.

Unveiling the findings of its analysis on government, legal and industry failings that are driving car insurance costs, prices have risen almost 35% since the start of 2014 and are up 27% in the last 12 months alone, the AA says that the Government can no longer ignore the problem.

Its advice would save the industry €214m each year, equivalent to €107 off the average car insurance premium.

Reasons the insurance industry give for rocketing prices are mostly true or partly true, it says.

A marked spike in injury claims since late 2015, which are not matched by other figures for the numbers of road injuries, is true.

It is partly true that court compensation awards are rocketing, but not by as much as the industry claims, while the claim that more cars on the road is leading to more accidents holds little water, it says, because the increase in traffic volumes is not that great.

It says industry claims that Irish awards are too generous are true, especially for whiplash, and legal costs are also very high.

“The end result is that the industry is loss-making,” said Conor Faughnan, AA director of consumer affairs. “We have seen a number of (firms) pulling back, and we do not see others coming into the market, which will be very bad for Irish consumers.”

The AA says that the level of uninsured driving here is 8% of all drivers, double the number in the UK, and drink driving remains a big problem. Among its major recommendations, the AA wants:

  • To abolish the 6.5m windscreen discs printed for 2.4m cars, saving €10m a year.
  • The industry to complete its so-called Integrated Information Data Service, to provide deeper understanding of fraudulent claims and fake documentation.
  • To standardise the so-called Book of Quantum; reduce compensation claims to UK levels, where whiplash compensation at €5,000 compares with a €14,000 payout here.
  • Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald to strike a “discount rate”. “No justice minister has done so; she has the power to do so,” says the AA.
  • To give resources to the Central Bank to regulate insurers. The combined bill for the Quinn Insurance and Setanta Insurance debacles came to “an “unacceptable” €200m. And the Government ought to pursue the Maltese government for the €94m losses linked to Setanta Insurance.

Amazing Facebook app answers verbal queries about images

    

Facebook has revealed its latest AI project, with a new app that can answer verbal questions about what appears in pictures.

Speaking at an event in the US, Yann LeCun, director of Facebook’s artificial intelligence research group, showed off the new tool.

Showing a number of photos, the app answered several questions about what was going on, what animals were involved, what they were doing, what colour were they etc.

One example was a dog with a toy in its mouth, with the app correctly answering a question about what game the dog was playing: frisbee.

By using deep learning, which combines software programming with knowledge of how our brains fire up, LeCun – and many others – believe things are going to get a whole lot more accurate quite soon.

Interestingly, it’s almost a year since two major papers were written on technology like this, with Google involved in one of them.

At the time, similar problems were put forward for technology to address – in a basic sense, captioning images.

Google claimed that it had developed the requisite machine-learning to automatically and accurately caption images.

That wasn’t the case, the results were not flawless.

Though they did point to where we would soon find ourselves, with machines describing settings, something which I, at the time, noted could be a major step forward in the art of surveillance.

I still think that, but it’s interesting to note the use of verbal cues with Facebook’s latest tool.

By answering spoken questions, this could genuinely help those who are visually impaired. It seems so simple, but it could prove extraordinarily beneficial to people’s lives.

“What you’re seeing is not fake; it’s a real system, and it’s able to answer basic questions about images,” said LeCun, at EmTech.

“A system that actually describes an image could be a very useful thing for the visually impaired.”

This app is experimental, as is most of the work Facebook’s artificial intelligence lab gets involved in, but it could, one day, complement another task undertaken earlier this year by the social media giant.

During the summer, the lab developed an algorithm that can recognise faces of people in photos even when their faces are hidden from view.

Hilarious pictures of polar bear beating the chill as she tries on a pair of trousers

  

This polar bear has found a novel way to beat the chill – a pair of trousers so let me try them on & the polar bear and her cub have fun with the trousers.

The female polar bear discovered the frozen pants and could resist trying to cover up her ‘bear bum’

Clothes problems: The polar bear is determined she’ll squeeze into the trousers

The female polar bear discovered the frozen pants and could resist trying to cover up her ‘bear bum’.

The hilarious moment was captured near a small Eskimo settlement in the Arctic circle by African professional wildlife photographer Daryl Balfour.

The frolicking polar bear had an inquisitive cub in her company, who was fascinated by his mother’s antics, constantly attempting to steal the strange object from her.

Although it seems like an unusual thing to be lying around in the Arctic, Daryl, 63, assumed it was left there by the natives who use the island for drying fish caught during the summer months.

Daryl said: “This polar bear mum and her cub were frolicking about like it was a balmy day on the Costa do Sol.

They’re mine: It seems the trousers are popular with the polar bear community

“I found the whole episode truly amusing and entertaining.

“While photographing I was imagining the universal question ladies seem to ask: “Does this make me look fat?”

“Polar bears are very inquisitive by nature, playing with foreign items they might find, including driftwood and other items that could wash up in the Beaufort Sea.”

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