News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Thursday 19th November

Ireland prepared to send troops to help France, says Enda Kenny

Government willing to send soldiers to replace French forces in Mali or Lebanon

   

Taoiseach Enda Kenny said he had been briefed this morning by the national security committee.

The Government is prepared to send additional Irish troops to Mali or Lebanon in order to relieve French soldiers who will be sent to fight Islamic State, Taoiseach Enda Kenny has indicated.

Mr Kenny said the French ambassador to Ireland has told him France is already stretched in its military commitments as it prepares to intensify its efforts against Islamic State in Syria.

Speaking on Thursday at an Action Plan for Jobs press conference, Mr Kenny said no formal request had come from France to the Irish Government requesting aid.

However, Mr Kenny indicated the Government is prepared to send a small number of Defence Forces personnel to Mali or Lebanon to relieve their French counterparts.

“We have said that, within our conditions and our circumstances, we will assist in whatever way we can here, though probably the numbers will be small,” Mr Kenny said.

French president Francois Hollande has said his country is at war with IS and the French government this week invoked a mutual defence clause within the European Union’s Lisbon Treaty.

“When I signed the book of condolences at the French embassy the other day, the French ambassador did mention this to me that France is now very stretched,” the Taoiseach said.

“At the meeting of (EU) ministers for defence during the week, the French defence minister invoked the relevant article from the European treaties looking for help.

“It’s a matter for every country as to their own national security and defence position, how they might assist in that regard.

We have been working with the French in Mali, 10 members of the Defence Forces out there doing particular duties. “Now, a formal request has not come in from France yet. It may come through the Minister for Defence, it may be dealing with extra personnel that the French may withdraw from south Lebanon or Mali or whatever.

“The point the French make is that the French president has declared that France is at war in respect of these incidents in Syria. The French defence forces are stretched in quite a number of countries and they may make a request for assistance in that regard.

Obviously, there is a process by which Ireland being a neutral country would offer assistance in particular forms and we would consider that when it comes.”

Mr Kenny also said the national security committee – which includes Garda Commissioner Noirin O’Sullivan and the Defence Forces Chief of Staff, Vice Admiral Mark Mellett – briefed him, Tánaiste Joan Burton and Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald this morning.

“The Tánaiste and I and the Minister for Justice and the Minister for Foreign Affairs and the Minister for Defence had a briefing this morning from the national security committee, including the Garda Commissioner and the chief of staff of the Defence Forces,” Mr Kenny said.

“The situation insofar as Ireland has concerned has not changed since the Paris attacks. An incident is possible but not likely.”

Atlantic Philanthropies gives €138m grant to tackle dementia

Trinity College Dublin and University of California to share largest allocation to date

    

Atlantic Philanthropies founder Chuck Feeney (right) with president and chief executive Christopher Oechsli.

Atlantic Philanthropies is to give €138 million – its largest grant to date – to Trinity College Dublin and University of California San Francisco to help tackle the looming dementia epidemic. Almost 50,000 people are living with dementia in Ireland, a number which is projected to double every 20 years if there is no effective intervention.

The new initiative will involve training hundreds of health professionals to carry out dementia research, deliver healthcare and change policies and practices around treatment of the disease. Details are due to be formally announced later today at an event attended by Taoiseach Enda Kenny.

Professor of psychology at Trinity College Dublin Ian Robertson said dementia amounted to a “public health emergency” comparable to the Aids epidemic of the 1980s.

“That led to a big social movement which required all sorts of social advocacy, political will and biomedical research which resulted in Aids becoming a largely treatable condition. “Now we face an even greater problem with dementia,” he added. “There are 48 million people with the disease. That’s set to double every 20 years – and we don’t have any treatment for it.”

The Trinity team will be headed by Prof Robertson and by ProfBrian Lawlor, who specialises in old-age psychiatry.

Latest research indicates that up to 30 per cent of new dementia cases may be preventable through changes in diet, exercise, mental stimulation and tackling risk factors such as diabetes and heart disease. Prof Robertson said a new “global brain health institute” would accelerate the application of science in this area, as well as drawing in additional funding for new research.

In all, some 600 health professionals, or “fellows”, will be trained over the next 15 years to help change policies and practices in the field. It is hoped they will then return to their home countries to become leaders in developing dementia-related healthcare programmes.

Neuroscience

A separate “scholars programme” will focus on training journalists, managers and filmmakers to teach others about the preventable causes of cognitive impairment. Training for both programmes will be multi-disciplinary, including geriatrics, cognitive neuroscience, public policy, health economics, health law and communications.

Christopher Oechsli, Atlantic Philanthropies president and chief executive, said: “Our goal is to create a generation of leaders around the world who have the knowledge, skills and drive to change both the practice of dementia care and the public health and societal forces that affect brain health.”

Atlantic Philanthropies is due to wind down its operations by the end of the decade following three decades of grant-making around the world. The organisation, founded by billionaire Chuck Feeney, has granted more than $6 billion worldwide, with about €1.25 billion going to projects in the Republic and Northern Ireland.

Dr Patrick Prendergast, president and provost of Trinity said the latest announcement would bring benefits to people around the world, create jobs in Ireland and deepen expertise in neuroscience and ageing.

“The sum donated is huge but so, too, is the problem we are trying to solve. There is hardly a family anywhere that has not experienced dementia in some shape or form,” he said.

Prof Bruce Miller of University of California San Franciso said the scale of funding and training in the dementia initiative could help change the course of this disease and protect vulnerable people around the world.

“We want to train leaders, not just in medicine and public policy, but also social science, journalism, law, business and the arts, who can teach others about the preventable causes of cognitive impairment, which disproportionately affect the poor,” he said.

Up to 15% of Irish homes have no access to broadband services – report

   

Respondents say, compared to two years ago, they are paying around €7 less per month for mobile phone bills

Up to 15% of Irish homes do not have access to broadband services and fewer younger people are watching live scheduled TV programming, according to a new survey focusing on our relationship with technology.

The study, commissioned by ComReg and carried out by RedC, also suggests that consumers are paying less for TV, broadband and mobile services when compared with 2013.

Over three quarters (76%) of homes across the country have access to fixed broadband.

This figure rises to 89% for Dublin homes, while just 66% of homes in rural Ireland have broadband access.

The research indicates that although 96% of homes have access to TV services, 9% of households use Netflix and spend an average of seven hours per week viewing the video streaming service.

Moreover, 14% of online paid-for TV service users said they have stopped watching live TV.

The data also suggests that traditional TV viewing has declined among younger audiences, with 6% of 18-24 year olds having no TV subscription (compared with 2% across age groups).

Sky is most popular provider of TV services in the country, with a 49% market share. UPC is next with 23%, while Saorview has risen to third spot at 19%.

With regard to mobile phone usage, the ComReg research shows the ownership rate for a mobile phone among Irish people stands at 97%.

Women and those aged between 18 and 24 are the most likely to use social media and instant messaging on mobile phones, while 12% of respondents who use these services said they have stopped sending traditional text messages as a result.

Vodafone has the largest market share among mobile service providers at 42%, followed by Three (28%), and Eir (23%).

Respondents say, compared to two years ago, they are paying around €7 less per month for mobile phone bills.

Fewer than half (46%) of people aged between 18 and 24 now use landlines at home, while 88% of those over the age of 65 still have a home landline.

From the 1,039 interviews conducted for the study, the vast majority of respondents (70%) purchase TV, phone, and broadband services in bundles. This rate falls to just 49% in rural areas.

Those buying TV, phone, and broadband services in a bundle claim they are now paying €4 less per month than they were in 2013.

The number of bundles sold that cover broadband, TV and phone has doubled since 2013, from 16% to 33%.

ComReg also commissioned similar research for Irish SMEs, with the results showing that 68% of firms use social media for business purposes, while Facebook is the most popular site.

Of the 500 companies surveyed by RedC, 55% of them use the social network to engage with potential customers.

Superbugs breach final antibiotic line of defence

E.coli strain showing resistance to colistin isolated from intensively farmed pig in China 

   

Superbugs are thought to have spread from animals & have smashed through the last line in antibiotic defences and now pose a global threat, scientists say.

Researchers identified a gene that makes infectious bacteria such as Escherichia coli (E.coli) highly resistant to polymyxins, the last group of antibiotics left after all others have failed.

The discovery in China, described as “extremely worrying” by one scientist, suggests the gene can easily be transferred to bacteria with the potential to cause epidemics.

Besides E. coli they include the pneumonia bug Klebsiella pneumoniae and Pseudomonas aeruginosa, which can trigger serious lung, blood and surgical infections.

An E.coli strain showing resistance to the polymyxin drug colistin was isolated from an intensively farmed pig in Shanghai during routine testing.

Scientists found the bug was able to transfer its immunity to the drug to other strains via the mobile gene mcr-1. This led to further tests of bacterial samples collected from pigs at slaughter in four Chinese provinces, and pork and chicken sold in 30 open markets and 27 supermarkets across Guangzhou province between 2011 and 2014.

Bacteria from infected patients at two hospitals in Guangdongand Zhejiang provinces were also tested.

A high prevalence of the resistance gene was found in E. coli bugs isolated from animals and raw meat samples. The gene was also identified in 16 E.coli and K. pneumoniae samples taken from 1,322 hospitalised patients.

Alarmingly, the proportion of samples testing positive for the super-resistance gene increased from year to year, said the scientists.

Lead researcher Professor Jian-Hua Liu, from the South China Agricultural University in Guangzhou, said: “These are extremely worrying results. The polymyxins (colistin and polymyxin B) were the last class of antibiotics in which resistance was incapable of spreading from cell to cell. Until now, colistin resistance resulted from chromosomal mutations, making the resistance mechanism unstable and incapable of spreading to other bacteria.

“Our results reveal the emergence of the first polymyxin resistance gene that is readily passed between common bacteria such as Escherichia coli and Klesbsiella pneumoniae, suggesting that the progression from extensive drug resistance to pan-drug resistance is inevitable.”

It was likely that polymyxin resistance via mcr-1 originated in animals before spreading to humans, said the scientists writing in The Lancet Infectious Diseases journal.

Increasingly heavy use of colistin by Chinese farmers may have helped E.coli to acquire the gene, they added.

Worldwide, the demand for colistin in agriculture was expected to reach almost 12,000 tonnes per year by the end of this year, rising to 16,500 tonnes by 2021.

The scientists wrote: “The emergence of mcr-1 heralds the breach of the last group of antibiotics. Although currently confined to China, mcr-1 is likely to emulate other resistance genes… and spread worldwide. There is a critical need to re-evaluate the use of polymyxins in animals and for very close international monitoring and surveillance of mcr-1 in human and veterinary medicine.”

The Chinese Ministry of Agriculture has launched an immediate risk assessment of colistin use in animal feed additives.

British experts called the discovery “disturbing” and “alarming”.

Dr David Burch, veterinary surgeon and an independent member of the Ruma (Responsible Use of Medicines in Agriculture) Alliance, said: “The report of a new resistance gene (mcr-1) against polymixins (colistin) found in Escherichia coli from pigs in China, which can be potentially plasmid transferred between bacterial species and potentially to man via meat, is indeed disturbing and disappointing.”

He pointed out that China’s pig farming industry is the largest in the world, more than twice the size of Europe’s. The use of generic antimicrobial drugs in animals is not normally under veterinary control in China.

The risk of the resistance gene spreading was heightened by increased trade and tourism bridging China and the West, said Dr Burch.

Professor Nigel Brown, president of the Microbiology Society, said: “This discovery that resistance to colistin can be transferred between bacteria is alarming.

“Although resistance to this important and widely-used polymyxin group of antibiotics has previously been shown, it was generally caused by mutation in individual organisms. Now that it has been demonstrated that resistance can be transferred between bacteria and across bacterial species, another line of defence against infection is in danger of being breached.

“We need careful surveillance to track the potential global spread of this resistance, and investment in research to discover new drugs with different modes of action.”

Climate change is ‘single biggest threat’ to polar bear survival

   

‘High probability’ of a 30% decline in polar bear numbers by 2050 due to retreating sea ice, IUCN study finds

In Canadian towns such as Churchill, polar bears have already come into conflict with humans as the ice season in Hudson Bay shortens.

Global warming is now the single most important threat to the survival of the polar bear with retreating sea ice set to decimate populations, according to a new study by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

It found a “high probability” that the planet’s 26,000 polar bears will suffer a 30% decline in population by 2050 due to the loss of their habitat, which is disappearing at a faster rate than predicted by climate models.

“There is a high risk of extinction and the threat is serious,” said Dena Cator of the IUCN’s species survival commission. “You could consider polar bears to be a canary in the coal mine. They are an iconic and beautiful species that is extremely important to indigenous communities. But changes to their sea ice habitat are already being seen as a result of climate change.”

The animals, already classified as vulnerable by the IUCN, depend on seasonal sea ice, which they use as a platform to hunt ring seals and bearded seals after their summer fast.

But the extent of sea ice at its lowest point each year, in September, has shrunk at a rate of 14% per decade from 1979 to 2011, with the fourth-lowest extent recorded this year.

Annual ice-free periods of five months or more will spread hunger among polar bears, the IUCN said, pushing the species over a “tipping point”, with widespread reproductive failure and starvation in some areas.

Latest projections indicate that swaths of the Arctic could be ice-free for five months of the year or more by mid-century. Three of the 19 sub-population groups of polar bears studied are already in decline, in Baffin Bay, Kane Basin and the Southern Beaufort Sea.

But warming temperatures could also increase diseases among the polar bear’s traditional prey, further reinforcing the negative spiral. Pollution, human encroachment, and resource exploitation such as oil drilling only add to this dynamic.

In Canadian towns such as Churchill, polar bears have already come into conflict with humans, as the ice season in the western Hudson Bay has fallen by about one day per year over the last three decades.

Polar bears fight for survival as sea ice melts – video

“Human-bear conflict strategies are really coming into play in Churchill,” Cator said. “Polar bears are opportunists, like other bears. They look for what they can eat. When there is no sea ice, they will scavenge anything from whale carcasses to small animals or human rubbish.”

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Because the charismatic bears sit at the top of polar food chains, their decline could be devastating for local ecosystems, which could become unbalanced and chaotic.

It could also affect indigenous communities which have traditionally hunted the animals for food and fur. In some mythologies, where polar bears are revered as wise, powerful and almost human, the sense of loss is acute.

“In living memory, my people have never experienced the extinction of any animals in Greenland, so losing the polar bear would be very sad,” said Bjarne Lyberth, a biologist for KMAPK, the hunters and fishers’ association of Greenland.

Some communities in east Greenland still speak of mythical giant polar bears living on sea ice far from human civilisation, Lyberth said. But Greenland is poor – only 2% of the frozen country is arable – and KMPAK lobbies for an extension of polar bear hunting permits.

Bear skins are a status symbol in northern Greenland, and frequently used for clothing. In 2012, Greenland contributed 138 kills to the world’s annual cull of 700-800 polar bears.

An underwater view of a polar bear ( Ursus maritimus) swimming near Harbour Islands in Hudson Bay. Photograph: Paul Souders/Corbis

Lyberth was wary of the IUCN’s assessment – which he had not seen – even though it surveyed all 19 polar bear populations in the most comprehensive science-based assessment yet undertaken.

“No hunter that I know can see any decline in the polar bear populations,” he said. “They are observing more polar bears in east Greenland. Twenty years ago, hunters had to travel hundreds of kilometres to find polar bears. Now they come to the town of Ittoqqortoormiit.”

Charlotte Moshøj, a wildlife biologist who has studied the region attributed this to global warming already underway. “There aren’t more bears,” she told the Arctic Journal. “There is less habitat.”

Last September, the five polar bear range states – Greenland, Canada, the US, Russia and Norway – agreed a Polar action plan, which the IUCN describes as “the first global conservation strategy to strive for the long-term persistence of polar bears in the wild”.

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