News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Monday 7th December 2015

Fianna Fáil councillor resigns from party over RTÉ programme

Joe Queenan filmed offering to act as an intermediary in return for an investment

   

Speaking on the Joe Finnegan show on Shannonside Radio, Councillor Hugh McElvaney spoke openly about asking for bribes and incriminating himself to ‘show RTÉ up’.

A Fianna Fáil councillor has resigned from the party after he was filmed offering to act as an intermediary for a company in return for an investment in an agricultural business he was planning.

Sligo-based councillor Joe Queenan featured on an RTÉ Investigates programme on Monday night which examined political lobbying.

As part of the programme, RTÉ reporters established a fake wind farm company and approached a number of councillors. Mr Queenan was recorded offering to act as an intermediary for a company in return for an investment in an agri-feed business he was planning.

While Mr Queenan did not return calls on Monday, Fianna Fáil announced he had resigned from the party. Only Mr Queenan can resign his actual council seat.

One party source said Mr Queenan had no choice following the broadcast.

Another councillor featured on the programme is alleged to have demanded £10,000 sterling for help with planning issues, but accused the national broadcaster of setting him up.

Monaghan councillor Hugh McElvaney, who was a Fine Gael member until he became an Independent this month, claimed yesterday he knew he was being set up by RTÉ.

Mr McElvaney was director of elections for local deputy Sean Conlan in the 2011 general election, and they both claimed to have resigned from Fine Gael in recent weeks over the issue of pylons in the county.

The RTÉ Investigates programme aired a recording of Mr McElvaney demanding £10,000 sterling from an undercover reporter acting for a fake wind farm company and seeking help with planning issues.

He is heard asking for “sterling on the table”.

“What’s in it for me?” Mr McElvaney is heard asking. “What are you putting on the table for me?”

When the reporters asked what he had in mind, he said “£10,000 would be a start, a nice little figure isn’t it?” He warned her that it had to be “utterly confidential. If you let me down there’ll be war.”

Speaking on the Joe Finnegan show on Shannonside Radio, Mr McElvaney said: “I knew I was being set up… I lured her [the reporter] into my trap.”

He said he knew the telephone call was from an undercover reporter the minute it began but said he let it continue to play along, otherwise there “would be no show”.

“I wouldn’t have the opportunity of showing RTÉ up, our State broadcaster, for what they are,” he said. “It was dirty tricks on behalf of somebody.”

A second councillor, Independent John O’Donnell from Donegal, accused RTÉ of “entrapping” him during an investigation in which they claim he asked for money for help with a wind farm development.

The Kilmacrennan politician is filmed being interviewed by a bogus wind farm company, Vinst Opportunities, which was set up by an RTÉ investigation team as part of the programme.

In a statement, Mr O’Donnell said the national broadcaster had sought to entrap him by offering him cash as part of what he described as a “gross deception”.

Mr O’Donnell said he was now seeking legal advice on the “sting operation” which took place in Letterkenny’s Radisson Hotel last month.

The Donegal politician revealed: “I was contacted on November 3rd, 2015, in my capacity as a businessman and a public representative by a lady who told me that her name was ‘Nina Carlsson’.”

“I understood from Ms Carlsson that I was being contacted, primarily, in my capacity as a businessman, and, secondly, in my capacity as a public representative.

“ I would like to state that I was shocked and disappointed to learn of the deception that had been visited upon me by the means of a person who turns out to be an undercover reporter for the RTÉ Investigations Unit, falsely signifying to me that she was a representative of a foreign investment vehicle that was considering investing millions in Co Donegal on behalf of several investors, when, in fact, the investment vehicle in question was a fiction conceived by the RTÉ Investigations Unit with the clear intent of tricking me as a businessman.

“Secondly, I take grave exception to [a] clear effort of RTÉ to mislead me into engaging in behaviour that they describe as being potentially inconsistent with the proper performance of my functions as a county councillor forDonegal County Council. ”

Mr O’Donnell said it was a shame RTÉ had chosen not to use its resources to focus on ways to generate economic interest in the region.

“I reserve all of my legal rights in relation to this matter, and in particular to seek damages from RTÉ for my financial losses.”

The programme also outlined how two TDs and two Senators did not disclose that they were company directors in their declaration of interests, while a further two TDs failed to disclose properties they owned.

Five county councillors investigated by the programme also failed in declaring all their interests.

The programme team investigated declarations by the State’s 949 councillors, 166 TDs, 60 Senators and 11 MEPs.

“We investigated every single politician in the country, regardless of political party,” said reporter Conor Ryan.

They found breaches of the declaration requirement were “widespread”.

Undercover reporter ‘Nina’, fronting for a fake wind farm company, approached councillors for help with planning, on a confidential basis.

RTÉ has issued a statement saying it stands over the programme and acted with integrity at all times in their investigations.

The statement said: “The RTÉ Investigations Unit was very careful to act with integrity at all times in the production of this programme.

“RTÉ’s legal affairs department has scrutinised the conversations carefully and, both legally and editorially, RTÉ is entirely satisfied that we acted appropriately and in the public interest.

“This programme performs an important public service to the people of Donegal and the people of Ireland in revealing the conflicts of interest that Councillor O’Donnell and others are willing to entertain in the performance of their public duties.”

Creighton accuses Pearce Doherty of ‘irresponsible politics’ on banking Inquiry

The Sinn Féin TD says he will not sign off on the final report of the banking inquiry?

    

Renua leader Lucinda Creighton has criticised Sinn Féin TD Pearse Doherty for not signing off on the final report of the banking inquiry.

Mr Doherty has confirmed he does not agree with the contents and will not be a signature on the report.

Ms Creighton said this was irresponsible politics by the Sinn Féin deputy.

She said: “We don’t believe Sinn Féin is ready or has any desire to be in a position of responsibility in the country.

“We have seen that at large yesterday with the performance with Pearse Doherty and Sinn Féin in relation to the banking inquiry.

“I have seen that before, Pearse Doherty did that exact same thing to previous reports on European Affairs in the past. It is designed to get attention in the media and it is irresponsible politics as far as I am concerned.”

In response to Ms Creighton’s criticism, Mr Doherty said: “ Renua’s Lucinda Creighton promotes herd mentality, attacks contrarian views. Have they learnt no lessons from the past?”

Mr Doherty caused anger amongst his committee colleagues when he informed them of his decision yesterday afternoon.

Fine Gael TD John Paul Phelan criticised Mr Doherty’s decision not to sign off on the report.

“I think its very regrettable that Pearse walked away before any consideration of findings had even begun.

“It has been a gruelling few days, however, I believe we have a duty to try and get a report published.”

Fine Gael TD Eoghan Murphy said he was disappointed and thanked Mr Doherty’s personal assistant for his efforts in rescuing the report.

One member said this was a purely political decision by the Sinn Féin TD who was “concerned at being upstaged by Joe (Higgins)”.

Another said the Sinn Féin TD had shafted the rest of the committee by making the announcement before work was complete.

“He made the decision after we agreed the chapters without any votes. His explanation was that he went home and thought about it. He had an epiphany.”

Eir moves into TV with Setanta Sports takeover

Acquisition of sports broadcaster will give Eir platform to compete with Virgin Media

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Setanta Sports co-founder Mickey O’Rourke. Eir said on Monday it will acquired the Irish based sports broadcaster.

Ireland’s biggest telecoms group Eir (formerly Eircom) confirmed on Monday that it is to expand its TV offering with the acquisition of international sports pay television broadcaster Setanta Sports for an undisclosed sum. The move will pit the company against rival cable TV and broadband provider Virgin Media.

The acquisition will allow Eir to “significantly expand” its TV offering and “further enhance the range of propositions on offer to customers”.

Eir would not comment on the sale price this morning, but industry sources have previously suggested that Setanta could be worth up to €20 million.

“Buying Setanta Sports Ireland is a game changer for eir and is our largest acquisition since we purchased Meteor in 2005,” said Richard Moat, chief executive of Eir.

Jon Florsheim, managing director of Eir Consumer, said that the deal will propel Eir into the content space.

“We are confident the eir brand together with our great value bundles will now appeal to even more households.”

Setanta Sports was launched in Ireland in 2004 and it operates two sports channels in Ireland and has hi-tech production facilities in Dublin’s city centre. It offers a range of exclusive sports content including Live Barclays Premier League Games, every UEFA Champions League game and exclusive Europa League games, and exclusive European Rugby Champions Cup games. BT Sport 1, BT Sport 2, BT Sport Europe and BT Sport ESPN are also available as part of the Setanta Sports Pack in the Republic of Ireland. Setanta’s annual revenues are about € 30 million and it told The Irish Times in March that it had “well over” 100,000 subscribers in Ireland, across various platforms.

The deal will require the approval of the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission together with the approval of the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources before completion. Those processes will commence with formal notifications in the coming weeks.

Calories to be put on Irish menus in 2016 despite objections

    

The government say they will press ahead with plans to make calorie information compulsory on food menus next year, despite objections from some food businesses and chefs.

Just only 7% of food businesses have volunteered to put calories on their menus. 

The Minister for Health Leo Varadkar believes that putting calories on menus is an important step in tackling Ireland’s obesity epidemic.

Over 60% of the Irish population are currently classed as obese, and recent statistics show that almost a quarter of the total calorie intake of Irish adults is consumed outside of the home.

“Scientific evidence shows that providing calorie posting on menus can be a powerful tool to improve the food choices of a large number of individuals at the same time,” said Minister Varadkar.

A recent independent study revealed that just 7% of food businesses are providing calorie information to their customers on a voluntary basis.

Responding to the findings, Minister Varadkar said the results were “very surprising” and added that they made him “even more determined” to make calorie information mandatory on menus.

“WE KNOW THAT OVER 95% OF CONSUMERS IN IRELAND WANT THE CALORIE COUNT OF MEALS DISPLAYED ON MENUS.”

“It is a proven way of changing consumer behaviour and independent evidence from the USA shows that calorie posting is very effective.

“I appreciate that it can be difficult for some businesses in particular which change their menus on a regular basis but when uptake is that low, it is clear that we need to take further action,” he said.

The Minister said that he has got government approval to draft a Bill to make it compulsory for food outlets to display the calorie content of meals. He hopes to have this passed and enacted in 2016.

The proposed law would require all restaurants, take-aways and food services to display the amount of calories alongside the price in the same font and colour.

However, the idea of compulsory calories on menus has come in for criticism from food businesses and chefs alike.

“I think that food outlets that are catering for someone’s regular dietary needs, like if you’re in an office block and you’re grabbing your daily lunch, that becomes part of your diet and I think there’s a place for them to possibly put in a calorie count so you can keep an eye on it.

“But I think when it comes to special nights out, the last thing you want to do when you come to the likes of our restaurant is be looking at the calories count, saying ‘I was going to have that starter but I’m not going to now because have you seen how many calories are in that? I can’t eat it’.

“They have got all dolled up and they are probably on a date and now they are looking at calories.”

“IF IT’S A FIRST DATE, ONE PERSON DOESN’T WANT THE OTHER PERSON THINKING, ‘OH MY GOD THEY’RE NOT EATING THAT ARE THEY? HAVE YOU SEEN HOW MANY CALORIES ARE IN IT?’”

Kevin believes that the government should take a different approach to tackling obesity.

“I just think that instead of the government putting their time and effort into getting the restaurants to educate the consumer maybe the government should educate kids in primary school from the start, and then we wouldn’t as adults have to try to educate other adults on how to eat,” he explained.

Meanwhile, the Restaurants Association of Ireland say the proposal would cost the average restaurant almost €5,000 to implement, with menus constantly changing.

Scientific talent in Ireland needs to be backed by investment

Global biopharma giant AbbVie (former Abbot’s) is backing two new multimillion projects here

   

Dr Jim Sullivan (above left pic), vice-president of pharmaceutical discovery at AbbVie: “It is important in basic research to have the talent working well together.”

Ireland’s got talent in scientific research, but we need to keep investing it to attract even more. That’s according to Dr Jim Sullivan of global biopharmaceutical company AbbVie, which is embarking on two new collaborations with Irish research groups.

The collaborations with Trinity Biomedical Sciences Institute in Dublin and the APC Microbiome Institute in Cork will see AbbVie work with researchers on disease markers and potential new drug targets for conditions such as Crohn’s disease and psoriasis.

“In certain areas of research like immunology and nanoscience, Ireland is right at the top in terms of the quality of research and the quality of researchers,” says Sullivan, who grew up in Meath and who studied to PhD level at Trinity College Dublin. “That is really important, because talent attracts talent.”

But to sustain that quality, it is important to keep up the investment in science, technology and innovation, he says. “Those investments can then have more impact, as one will see even more research opportunities move to Ireland with continued investment.”

Sullivan, who was at the recent Global Irish Economic Forum, is vice-president, of pharmaceutical discovery at AbbVie, a Chicago-headquartered global research-based biopharmaceutical company.

The company, which was formed in 2013 after its separation from Abbott, is focusing on several areas to develop new treatments, including immunology, virology, cancer and neurology and neuroscience, where Sullivan sees conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease as a “looming tsunami” for patients, caregivers and healthcare systems.

Its five sites in Ireland include two manufacturing plants in Sligo and one in Cork.

“Ireland is a very important component of AbbVie’s overall strategy,” says Sullivan. “Those manufacturing facilities play an absolutely critical role in the development of our pipeline as well as our commercial products, and we are continuing to invest substantially in those facilities here in Ireland.”

New collaborations

Sullivan commends Ireland’s investment in building skills to enable the pharmaceutical manufacturing industry and points to the nuances of the field.

“When you think about making complex chemicals at a size and scale that a patient can take in a pill that is a reasonable size, that is complex science [that needs] skills in chemistry and process engineering and scaling up that chemistry,” he says.

The new research collaborations announced last month represent a joint investment of €10 million by the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation through Science Foundation Ireland (SFI), and they will now link AbbVie into academic centres.

They focus on the biology of the immune system, which has a say in health and disease.

“The immune system plays a very important role in protecting our bodies from infection with viruses and bacteria. However, when the immune system is out of control then instead of protecting us it can start to attack organs and tissues of the body, so the joints, the gut, the skin,” Sullivan says.

“We are looking to come up with much more effective therapeutics and to do that you need to understand diseases like Crohn’s disease and the basic biology much better.”

One collaboration is with the APC Microbiome Institute in Cork, led by Prof Fergus Shanahan, which explores the biology of gut health and the trillions of microbes that call our intestines home. That will get investment to the tune of €7.5 million from SFI together with AbbVie over five years and will support 11 new research positions at the APC.

Effective therapeutics

The other collaboration is with researchers led by Prof Kingston Mills at the TBSI in Trinity and aims to find biomarkers and drug targets for autoimmune and other immune-mediated diseases. That research will get €2.5 million in funding from SFI and AbbVie over the next three years and will support four new research positions.

“There are particular pathways in the immune system that we are interested in understanding better, because we believe that basic biology understanding will lead to more effective therapeutics,” says Sullivan, though he notes that it will take time and involve several steps, including better understanding the disease and moving the findings to clinical testing and then ultimately to the marketplace.

Sullivan is keen on the idea of linking talented researchers around themes.

“It is important in basic research to have the talent working well together,” he says. “So as much as possible where you can bring immunology experts or cancer experts together to collaborate very closely then there is the force multiplier effect of having a really large group of experts and companies which will be very attracted to interacting with those.” What’s new in . . . Biotechnology and medicine What exciting new technologies are bubbling up in the general world of biology and medicine? We asked Dr Jim Sullivan, AbbVie’s vice-president of pharmaceutical discovery, what has caught his attention.

Cell-based therapies “Certainly the emergence of cell-based therapies and the application of cell-based therapies to diseases like cancer in particular has a very significant potential.”

Low-cost gene sequencing “If we look back 15 years the first human genome was sequenced at a cost of over $1 billion. Now we are starting to see the cost of sequencing a human genome approach $1,000, so our ability to contemplate sequencing of entire populations and understand the genetic defects that are contributing to or protecting from various diseases is tremendously exciting, and I think is something that will revolutionise the way we do drug-discovery.”

Gene-editing technologies “When you think about the power of being able to go in and correct molecular defects in genes that we know to be causing diseases, I think that is a tremendously exciting area.”

A camera that sees around corners using scattered laser light could aid rescue teams and motorists

(Professor Daniele Faccio)    Scientists are working on a camera that can see around corners

Rescue teams and motorists could have the ability to see moving objects around blind corners thanks to an experimental camera.

Scientists at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh have developed a camera that can scatter laser light around corners, and then detect its bounce-back at 20bn frames a second to track its movement like a sonar echo.

Genevieve Gariepy, a PhD researcher in Heriot-Watt University’s extreme light group, said: “The system works by sending light from the camera towards the hidden object or person, and getting it back again.

“A laser sends short pulses of light that last for one hundredth of a trillionth of a second onto the floor in front of the corner of the wall. The light hits the floor, scatters, and travels in every direction, like a growing sphere of light.

“The light then bounces off the object, like an echo, and is sent back to the camera.

“By measuring the time it takes to return to the camera, we know how far away the object is. By recording the shape of the laser ‘echo’, we know what direction it’s coming from. It takes only a second for the camera to record all of this: so if the object is moving, we can follow it.”

Professor Daniele Faccio, from Heriot-Watt University, said: “The ability to detect the 3D shape of static, hidden objects has been demonstrated before, but the long acquisition time required by existing methods meant locating and monitoring the objects was a major challenge.

“We can now track hidden objects in real time and we’re still making discoveries about how the light identifies the objects, and can picture them in considerable detail.

“We’ve already increased the distance from which the camera system will work, which is over several metres. We’re also focusing on how we could attempt 3D reconstruction of the objects captured by the camera.”

Installing the technology in cars would mean that drivers would be notified about moving objects hidden from view, when walls or lorries are obscuring visibility.

The technology also has applications in situations when rescue teams need to assess whether it’s safe to enter a room or building.

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