News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Friday 8th January 2016

Paris attacks fugitive’s print found in ‘bomb-making hideout’ in Brussels

     

People stand next to a banner reading Je suis Paris.

A Brussels apartment was probably used to make bombs for the Paris attacks and one of the plotters also hid out there after escaping a police dragnet, Belgian prosecutors have said.

The prosecutors said they found Salah Abdeslam’s fingerprint in a search of the apartment on December 10, but would not say why they waited a month to announce it.

The search also turned up three suspected suicide belts, traces of the same explosive used in the November 13 attacks that killed 130 people and other material that could be used to manufacture bombs, according to the Belgian Federal Prosecutor’s Office.

The third-floor apartment was probably used as a hideout after Abdeslam fled the attacks, federal prosecutor Eric Van der Sypt said.

Abdeslam, who is still at large, called for two friends to pick him up amid the bloodshed and chaos that night that left 130 people dead and hundreds injured.

“We found material to make explosives, we found traces of explosives and we found three belts. So you don’t have to be Sherlock Holmes to make the right deduction,” Mr Van der Sypt told the Associated Press.

Abdeslam is believed to have played a key logistical role in the Paris attacks. A French gendarme stopped him and his two friends in their car near the border but released them. The friends are among 10 people arrested in Belgium in connection with the attacks.

Authorities now believe Abdeslam returned to the apartment, was eventually picked up by someone else “and we lost trace”, Mr Van der Sypt said.

The apartment in the Schaerbeek neighbourhood of Brussels had been rented under a false identity that may have been used by one of those who are now under arrest.

The three handmade belts discovered in the search at Rue Berge in Schaerbeek “could have been intended for the transport of explosives”, the prosecutor’s office said. Traces of the highly volatile TATP, which was packed into the suicide vests in November, as well as other material that could be used to manufacture explosives were also detected.

The November 13 attacks marked the height of a violent year for France that began with a January 7 assault on the offices of the Charlie Hebdo newspaper.

Paris was again jolted on Thursday when a man wearing a fake explosives vest and wielding a butcher’s knife ran up to a police station and was shot dead by officers standing guard.

Paris prosecutor Francois Molins said investigators are unsure of the man’s true identity.

Mr Molins told France-Inter radio that the assailant carried a paper marked with the Muslim declaration of faith, an emblem of the Islamic State group and his name, and gave his nationality as Tunisian. Mr Molins said he also had a phone with a German SIM card.

Stopped for a minor theft in 2013 in France’s south, the man had identified himself as Ali Sallah and gave his nationality as Moroccan.

IS extremists have claimed responsibility for the January 2015 and November 13 attacks in Paris.

A free vote on abortion for Fine Gael ministers, A promise by Kenny

Stance contradicts director of elections who said ministers should resign if disagreeing on policy

  

Taoiseach Enda Kenny said Fine Gael ministers would be allowed to vote with their conscience on the eighth amendment, regardless of whether the party was in government after the election.

Government ministers will be allowed to vote for or against a repeal of the eighth amendment to the Constitution without fear of repercussion, Taoiseach Enda Kenny has indicated.

Mr Kenny said members of Fine Gael would be allowed to vote with their conscience on the issue regardless of whether they were in government or not. “If it comes to a point where there is an issue to be decided by vote I’ve already said that the members of my party would have a free vote and that applies whether they are in government or not in government as ministers,” he said.

The Taoiseach’s statement contradicts the party’s director of elections, Brian Hayes, who insisted ministers should resign if they disagreed with future government policy on abortion.

Speaking in Germany, while on a trade mission, Mr Kenny said this was a sensitive and personal decision for everybody and it required a rational and comprehensive discussion. He said he had committed to allowing a free vote to Fine Gael TDs and he wanted to see a citizen-led forum examine the issue.

  • Ministers opposing abortion policy should resign – Hayes
  • Abortion legislation should be repealed, says professor
  • Diarmuid Martin welcomes FG free vote on abortion amendment

Asked if ministers would be allowed to campaign in favour of or against a possible referendum, the Taoiseach said: “If you get to a point, and I can’t predict the outcome of any of the conclusions of the process, if we get to the point where there is a vote they will be voting in respect of what their conscience tells them.”

A Government spokesman later said it was premature to discuss campaigning when the process had not been determined.

Mr Kenny has committed to a constitutional review of the eighth amendment, which bans abortion, within six months of the general election if Fine Gael is returned to government. The Taoiseach has said a citizens’ forum to debate changes to the eighth amendment, which gives an equal right to life to the mother and the unborn, would be established to examine the issue. The Taoiseach had committed to a free Dáil vote for his TDs on whatever the outcome of the forum is.

However Fine Gael’s director of elections had said the next government would adopt whatever position was recommended by the forum and cabinet and junior ministers who went against that policy should be fired.

Mr Hayes said: “Now whether it should apply to members of the government is another matter. That is not the same as backbenchers. I have always held the view that if the government, per se, including all ministers of State, are arguing for something in terms of a legislative proposal, then it is incumbent on you as a member of the government to support or leave the government. This would be post the people’s convention that the Taoiseach is proposing.”

Fine Gael said the forum would be “a process of consideration by citizens, expert groups and politicians” of the issue but added that its proposed structure had not been finalised.

Labour and Sinn Féin have committed to a repeal of the amendment, whileFianna Fáil will allow a vote of conscience on the issue.

IFA whistle-blower claims he was blocked from entering election race

Derek Deane says potential backers were prevailed upon to withhold their support

   

The IFA’s Carlow chairman, Derek Deane, failed to get the required backing of at least six county executives ahead of Wednesday’s deadline for nominations, ruling him out of the race.

The Irish Farmers’ Association officer who exposed the pay issues which led to the resignation of its president and general secretary claims he has been “deliberately” blocked from contesting its presidential election.

The IFA’s Carlow chairman, Derek Deane, failed to get the required backing of at least six county executives ahead of Wednesday’s deadline for nominations, ruling him out of the race.

However, Mr Deane claimed potential backers were prevailed upon to withhold their support for him.

“A lot of the nominations were deliberately held up so I wouldn’t get to run on the day. They were deliberately held and distributed at the very end,” he told RTE Radio’s News at One programme.

Mr Deane also claimed the IFA’s deputy president Tim O’Leary, who also failed to get the required number of nominations, had blocked him.

“The critical question then for Tim O’Leary is this: did he deliberately shaft me by just sitting on the fence and not informing people he had withdrawn from the race,” he said.

Mr O’Leary, however, later told The Irish Times he never withdrew from the race and was canvasssing for support “right up until the deadline”.

He also said he had asked Mr Deane on Wednesday afternoon to step aside and support his campaign. “There was logic to this because two years ago he had nominated me for deputy president,” Mr O’Leary said.

Mr Deane has appealed to the IFA to be allowed to enter the race on foot of receiving the verbal backing of Monaghan chairman Brian Treanor late on Wednesday evening.

“Brian Treanor had stated on one of my voicemails that he was prepared to support me in the interests of democracy if Tim O’Leary was out of the race.”

Mr Deane claimed an email from Mr Treanor advising the IFA of his support for the Carlow chairman failed to get through because of a technology failure.

As a result, he is seeking a special meeting of the organisation’s executive council to consider the matter. “I am asking on the basis of democracy to be allowed to run,” he said.

The IFA again declined to comment on Mr Deane’s last-ditch efforts to contest the election but is understood to be adamant only three candidates secured the required nominations.

They were: Henry Burns from Laois, who is currently the IFA’s livestock chairman; Flor McCarthy from Kerry, the organisation’s rural development chief; and Joe Healy from Galway, an IFA farm business representative.

Asked if he had made a decision on possible legal action if he fails in his bid to be allowed to contest the election, Mr Deane said: “Absolutely not”.

The association’s returning officer Jer Bergin, meanwhile, announced nominations are now being sought for the positions of IFA deputy president and its four regional chairpersons.

He said the nominations were subject to the executive council adopting a rule change in February to allow the elections, scheduled for April, to go ahead.

‘Binge drinking left me in a coma’, says Nevada student who wants to warn others

   

A student from Reno, Nevada, wants to warn other people about binge drinking after she fell into a coma following a heavy night out.

One student, Hanna Lottritz, didn’t celebrate her 21st birthday this week with copious amounts of booze. She’s avoided bars and parties since she ended up in a critical condition in hospital, with respiratory failure and in a 24 hour coma.

“I didn’t realize the importance of drinking responsibly until I was waking up from a coma,” she wrote on her blog. Now she’s sharing the shocking photo in hospital and the story of how she ended up there.

On July 25 last year Hanna went to a gig with friends.

“I woke up, had breakfast and started what would end up being the worst 48 hours of my life,” she wrote. “At the concert I had two beers. Many of the people I was with had been drinking throughout the day and were already feeling good. I hadn’t started drinking until a little after dinner and I felt a little behind.”

After the concert she was began to feel “a bit of a buzz” and ended up at a campsite and began to play competitive drinking games with friends.

“Around 11:30pm, one of my guy friends and I were seeing who could take the longest chug from a bottle of Black Velvet whisky … Everything that happened from midnight on is information I gathered from friends because I have zero memory,” she wrote.

After she chugged from the bottle she downed her own cup full of the whisky. She told her friends she felt fine but five minutes later Hanna collapsed and wasn’t breathing. She was taken to a hospital in a critical condition, suffering from acute respiratory failure and acute alcohol intoxication. Her blood alcohol level was five times over the legal limit.

“Doctors thought I was brain dead because I was completely unresponsive. My pupils were sluggishly reactive, I had no corneal reflux and wasn’t responding to verbal or painful stimuli,” she wrote.

Hanna woke up 24 hours later with a tube down her throat and her hands restrained so she couldn’t pull it out. She had to pass a respiratory test to prove she could breathe on her own before they removed it, the first of which she failed.

“The doctors and nurses told me how lucky I was to be alive. They told me that they didn’t think I’d make it through the night. They asked me if I was trying to kill myself by drinking so much. This question hit me the hardest.

“From my hospital bed in the Intensive Care Unit, my eyes were opened to the seriousness of being irresponsible with alcohol. The next day when I was discharged from the hospital, I realised that the way I looked at alcohol would be changed forever.”

Hanna said that rumours were flying around about what happened to her, including that she’d overdosed on drugs, even died.

“The situation could have been so much worse. Fortunately for me, I had good people around when all of this took place,” she wrote. “I could have easily been taken advantage of when I passed out. I could’ve been left alone to ‘sleep it off’. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard the phrase, ‘Let them sleep it off, they’ll be fine in the morning’ but I’m alive today because my friends got me help. Don’t take a chance if you see a friend passed out from drinking too much.

“I’m very lucky to have made a full recovery, but I know there are others who won’t be as lucky. So please drink responsibly and make sure your friends do too.”

Balbriggan pair named Young Scientists of the Year

Maria Louise Fufezan and Diana Bura claim first place for research into soil fertility

   

Maria Louise Fufezan and Diana Bura of Loreto Secondary School have won the top prize at the BT Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition for their project looking at the damage being done to soil fertility by animal feeds.

Two students from Balbriggan have captured the top prize in the BT Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition at the RDS.

Maria Louise Fufezan and Diana Bura of Loreto Secondary School have been declared the BT Young Scientists 2016 for their project looking at the damage being done to soil fertility by animal feeds.

The best individual award went to Shane Curran of Terenure College for his development of a computer programme that controls a courier service.

The runner-up group prize went to Gabriel Barat and Adrian Wolniak of Synge Street CBS, Dublin, for their computer model that tracks a coffee plant disease.

Renuka Chintapalli also of Loreto Secondary School in Balbriggan claimed the runner-up individual prize for her discovery of a possible early warning of when an oesophageal cancer is about to spread.

This may be the first time that all four top prizes at the young scientist went to students attending schools in greater Dublin. It is also a rare thing for a single school to claim two of the top four prizes.

Maria Louise (16) and Diana (15) are transition-year students and both were entering the exhibition for the first time.

Diana’s Grandmother’s farm

The idea for the project arose when Diana visited her grandmother’s farm and noticed the chickens there were much smaller than commercial birds so the two girls decided to find out why.

They discovered the cause was a food additive included in commercial feed that enhances animal growth, but they also learned that the enzyme included as a growth additive had the capacity to damage tiny worms or nematodes that live in and help fertilise soils.

They embarked on a highly detailed and thorough examination of the impact of the food additive on the nematodes. They found the enzyme had a range of effects including taking away its escape response to noxious substances and reducing the worm’s ability to search for and find food.

These nematodes are tiny, with more than five million found in a cubic metre of soil, the girls explain. This makes them an important contributor to soil fertility and they suggest that feed producers should stop using the enzyme to avoid the risk of long-term damage to soils.

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