News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Tuesday 19th January 2016

Ireland’s homelessness conditions not acceptable, says Howlin

Simon Coveney says homelessness will be a big challenge for next Government


An image from last October showing someone sleeping rough on Grafton Street in Dublin.

Minister for Public Expenditure Brendan Howlin has said the situations depicted in RTÉ’s My Homeless Family programme on Monday night were “not acceptable”.

But the real question is what have the outgoing coalition Government done about it seeing they have had five years to address this long lasting Irish problem?

Speaking on his way into Cabinet on Tuesday morning, he said the next government’s “absolute objective” would be to ensure such conditions are eradicated.

He said when the Coalition came to power the entire housing market had collapsed.

The first time the Government had any money, in 2014, it was the Coalition’s first social priority to allocate money to restart a social housing programme, he said.

“What we saw on the television last night is not acceptable. It’s not acceptable that the emergency accommodation provided is not fit for purpose and families should not be expected to live in those conditions,” Mr Howlin said.

“It will be an absolute objective, a social imperative of the next government, to ensure that those conditions are eradicated.”

He said the €4 billion this Government had allocated was beginning to make an impact.

Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney also said homelessness is a “huge issue” for Government.

“The real problem here is that we simply haven’t been building houses in the kind of numbers that we need to build them for the last five years because of an economic crash that happened under a previous government,” he said.

Mr Coveney said the Government wanted to build tens of thousands of social houses, “and we’ll do that if we get back into Government”.

Speaking on his way into Cabinet on Tuesday morning, Mr Coveney said homelessness was going to be one of the big challenges for the next administration, “whoever’s in charge”.

Referring to RTÉ’s My Homeless Family programme on Monday night, he said the situations depicted in the programme were “not good enough” and “not acceptable”.

There is no commitment by Sinn Fein to a pension increase in their election manifesto

Charter for older people outlines how party would support pensioners if elected


Sinn Féin deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald and Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams TD during the launch of the Citizens Charter for Older People outside the gates of Leinster House, Dublin, January 19th, 2015.

Sinn Féin will not commit to an increase in the pension payment in their general election manifesto.

The party today launched a charter for older people outlining how it would support pensioners if elected to government.

The charter includes no cuts to the State pension, and a reversal of the reductions to the telephone allowance and fuel allowance.

However, asked whether the party would increase the pension payment, deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald said the focus was to ensure all those entitled to it could access it.

Partial payment

She said: “The issue is that people in increasing numbers are not entitled to a full pension payment. We know in dealing with people right across the State that increasing numbers of people are getting partial payment.

“Our first priority is to make sure people are entitled to the full pension as it is and then we want, in the course of the next Dáil and the next government, we want an assessment of all social welfare payments including pensions with an eye to a decent standard of living.”

Ms McDonald said Sinn Féin has committed to abolishing the water charges and the property tax and that would offer a level of relief to older citizens.

A spokesman for the party confirmed it is not ruling out a pension increase in the future but it is not committed to an increase yet.

The Labour Party has proposed an increase to the weekly State pension of almost €5 if re-elected. A similar raise would be added each year.

This would see pensioners receive about €257 a week by the end of the next government’s five-year term in office.

The party is due to hold its ardfheis in Dublin’s Convention Centre on April 22nd-23rd, on the eve of the centenary of the 1916 Rising.

Defending the decision to hold the ardfheis on those dates, Ms McDonald said: “You might more properly say that having the ardfheiseanna run through January is a cynical attempt to grab a bit of attention ahead of an election if you were to address that question to the other parties.

“We will celebrate this centenary fully, inclusively; we celebrate it as Irish republicanism and the weekend of our ardfheis will mark to the day almost the centenary of the Rising and of Easter week,” she said.

Television coverage

The party decided against holding its ardfheis before the general election as they risked missing out on television coverage if Enda Kenny announced a date before that.

Ms McDonald added: “Those that accuse us of trying to wipe their eye or to take possession of the legacy of the Rising – it seems only a concern for them this year; we have celebrated and commemorated Easter and everything that the Proclamation means every single year.”

Dalata acquires landmark Clarion hotel in Sligo for €13.1m

Group is to invest up to €750,000 in a refurbishment programme on the hotel


The Clarion in Sligo is a four-star hotel which has 162 bedrooms, including 89 suites, bar, restaurant, extensive meeting and conference facilities, leisure centre and swimming pool.

Irish-listed hotels group Dalata has acquired the four-star Clarion in Sligo town for €13.1 million.

The Clarion is a four-star hotel which has 162 bedrooms, including 89 suites, bar, restaurant, extensive meeting and conference facilities, leisure centre and swimming pool.

A popular wedding venue, the hotel, which generated earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortisation (ebitda) of €930,000 last year, opened in 2005. The property was formerly home to a psychiatric hospital that accommodated up to 1,100 patients until its closure in 1992.

Property consultants Savills were agents on the deal, which went on the market with a guide price of €7 million in late October. The business was sold on the instructions of Aiden Murphy of receivers Crowe Howarth.

Dalata said it is to invest up to €750,000 in a refurbishment programme on the property, which will be rebranded as a Clayton hotel upon completion.

“We are very familiar with this hotel as we have been managing the property on behalf of the Receiver, Crowe Horwath since April 2013. The hotel is benefiting from the recovery of both the local and national economies,” said Dermot Crowley, deputy chief executive of business development and finance,Dalata Hotel Group.

“We believe that the introduction of the Clayton brand will further enhance the offering at the hotel and we are very excited about its addition to our portfolio of Clayton hotels in Ireland,” he added.

Davy said in a note to investors that it expected Dalata to make a good return on the property.

“The investment being made implies an initial yield of 6.7%. Given that management targets an initial return on capital in year one of 8.5%, this suggests that management sees good scope to improve the profitability of the hotel over time,” it said.

Why is there such a dearth of women at high-level jobs in the live-music sector?

A panel entitled ‘Male Agents, Female Assistants’ at this year’s Eurosonic festival in Groningen confronted the issue with admirable candour


Conference attendees gathering in Groningen last weekend above left pic.

There was much discussion last summer about the paucity of female or female-fronted acts on festival bills. Again and again, you’d find festival line-ups that would look sparse indeed if you removed the male and male-fronted acts. There were reasons cited, of course, but the issue has posed a lot of questions nonetheless about the live music industry’s problem with women.

The problem is not just confined to what happens onstage either. At last week’s Eurosonic conference in Groningen, a panel called Male Agents, Female Assistants drew a large audience for a discussion about the dearth of women at high-level positions in the live sector.

The panel was chaired by Julia Gudzent from the Melt festival in Germany. Participants included Norwegian agent Anita Halmøy Wisløff, Polish booker Anna Kopaniarz, UK agency partner Isla Angus, and the head of press for Danish festival Northside, John Fogde.

Experience v potential

Wisløff made the point that many believe women get hired because of experience and men get hired because of potential. The problem is in getting experience if you can’t get hired. She also talked about how she didn’t get promoted in one instance because the company involved thought it might be seen as being “too groupie”.

Often it comes down to a matter of presentation, said Angus. She gave an example of the differences between a male and female interviewee going for the same job. Both may be well capable of doing the job, Angus said, but the male will be far more confident and assertive.

While the obvious way around this might be to start your own business, this doesn’t always suit everyone. “Sometimes women are not brave enough to start something ourselves”, said Kopaniarz, “but this mindset is changing.”

The question about festival line-ups also came up. Fogde says it has much do with the age of festival bookers. “Most of the major festivals in Denmark were founded by men in the early 1970s,” he said, “and they’re still alive with the same mindset”.

In the case of the Northside festival, many of its departments are ran by women. “We were founded in 2010 and it’s different because it would be weird to be any other way,” he said.

Wisløff added that festivals are becoming more aware of the need to change. She talked about how the Øya festival in Oslo increased female acts on its bill from 10 per cent to 35 per cent in a year. Indeed, it was striking in Groningen that the festival itself had so many female and female-fronted acts.

Some solutions were offered, including quotas and accepting invitations to speak at conferences. All agreed that identifying the bias and raising the issue was often an important first step.

Of course, Angus said, gender is not the only area where the live music business needs work. Racial equality is something that also needs to be addressed.

Where do dogs come from?

The roots of man’s best friend

We know they evolved from wolves – but now scientists are trying to complete the picture


Some researchers question whether dogs experience feelings like love and loyalty, or whether their winning ways are just a matter of instincts that evolved because being a hanger-on is an easier way to make a living than running down elk.

Before humans milked cows, herded goats or raised hogs, before they invented agriculture, or written language, before they had permanent homes, and most certainly before they had cats, they had dogs. Or dogs had them, depending on how you view the human-canine arrangement.

But scientists are still debating exactly when and where the ancient bond originated. And a large new study being run out of the University of Oxford, with collaborators around the world, may soon provide some answers.

Scientists have come up with a broad picture of the origins of dogs. First off, researchers agree that they evolved from ancient wolves. Scientists once thought that some visionary hunter-gatherer nabbed a wolf puppy from its den one day and started raising tamer and tamer wolves, taking the first steps on the long road to leashes and flea collars. This is oversimplified, of course, but the essence of the idea is that people actively bred wolves to become dogs just the way they now breed dogs to be tiny or large, or to herd sheep.

The prevailing scientific opinion now, however, is that this origin story does not pass muster. Wolves are hard to tame, even as puppies, and many researchers find it much more plausible that dogs, in effect, invented themselves. Imagine that some ancient wolves were slightly less timid around nomadic hunters and scavenged regularly from their kills and camps, and gradually evolved to become tamer and tamer, producing lots of offspring because of the relatively easy pickings. At some point, they became the tail-wagging beggar now celebrated as man’s best friend.

Some researchers question whether dogs experience feelings like love and loyalty, or whether their winning ways are just a matter of instincts that evolved because being a hanger-on is an easier way to make a living than running down elk. Raymond Coppinger, a professor emeritus of biology at Hampshire College, noted in his landmark 2001 book Dogs that “best friend” is not an “ecological definition”. And he suggested that “the domestic house dog may have evolved into a parasite”.

Researchers also point out that of the estimated one billion dogs in the world, only a quarter of them are pets. The vast majority of dogs run free in villages, scavenge food at dumps, cadge the odd handout and cause tens of thousands of human deaths each year from rabies. They are sometimes friendly, but not really friends.

How dogs are very different?

Modern dogs are different from modern wolves in numerous ways. They eat comfortably in the presence of people, whereas wolves do not. Their skulls are wider and snouts shorter. They do not live in pack structures when they are on their own, and so some scientists scoff at dog-training approaches that require the human to act as pack leader.

Wolves mate for the long haul and wolf dads help with the young, while dogs are completely promiscuous and the males pay no attention to their offspring. Still, dogs and wolves interbreed easily and some scientists are not convinced that the two are even different species, a scepticism that reflects broader debates in science about how to define a species, and how much the category is a fact of nature as opposed to an arbitrary line drawn by humans.

If current divisions between species are murky, the past lies in deep darkness. Scientists generally agree that there is good evidence that dogs were domesticated about 15,000 years ago. By 14,000 years ago, people were burying dogs, sometimes along with humans. But some biologists argue, based on DNA evidence and the shape of ancient skulls, that dog domestication occurred well over 30,000 years ago.

And as to where the process occurred, researchers studying dog and wolf DNA – most of it modern but some from ancient sources – have argued in recent years that dogs originated in East Asia, Mongolia, Siberia, Europe and Africa. One reason for the conflicting theories, according to Greger Larson, a biologist in the archaeology department at the University of Oxford, is that dog genetics are a mess. In an interview at his office in November, he noted that most dog breeds were invented in the 19th century during a period of dog obsession that he called “the giant whirlwind blender of the European crazy Victorian dog-breeding frenzy”.

That blender, as well as random breeding by dogs themselves, and interbreeding with wolves at different times over at least the last 15,000 years, created a “tomato soup” of dog genetics, for which the ingredients are very hard to identify, Larson said.

Ancient DNA

The way to find the recipe, Larson is convinced, is to create a large database of ancient DNA to add to the soup of modern canine genetics. And with a colleague, Keith Dobney at the University of Aberdeen, he has persuaded the Who’s Who of dog researchers to join a broad project, with about $2.5 million (€2.3 million) in funding from the Natural Environment Research Council inEngland and the European Research Council, to analyse ancient bones and their DNA.

Robert Wayne, an evolutionary biologist at UCLA who studies the origin of dogs and is part of the research, said, “There’s hardly a person working in canine genetics that’s not working on that project.” That is something of a triumph, given the many competing theories in this field. “Almost every group has a different origination hypothesis,” he said.

But Larson has sold them all on the simple notion that the more data they have, the more cooperative the effort is, the better the answers are going to be. His personality has been crucial to promoting the team effort, said Wayne, who described Larson as “very outgoing, gregarious”. Also, Wayne added, “He has managed not to alienate anyone.”

Scientists at museums and universities who are part of the project are opening up their collections. So to gather data, Larson and his team at Oxford have travelled the world, collecting tiny samples of bone and measurements of teeth, jaws and occasionally nearly complete skulls from old and recent dogs, wolves and canids that could fall into either category. The collection phase is almost done, said Larson, who expects to end up with DNA from about 1,500 samples, and photographs and detailed measurements of several thousand.

Scientific papers will start to emerge this year from the work, some originating in Oxford, and some from other institutions, all the work of many collaborators. Larson is gambling that the project will be able to determine whether the domestication process occurred closer to 15,000 or 30,000 years ago, and in what region it took place. That’s not quite the date, GPS location and name of the ancient hunter that some dog lovers might hope for.

But it would be a major achievement in the world of canine science, and a landmark in the analysis of ancient DNA to show evolution, migrations and descent, much as studies of ancient hominid DNA have shown how ancient humans populated the globe and interbred with Neanderthals.

A watershed?

And why care about the domestication of dogs, beyond the obsessive interest so many people have in their pets? The emergence of dogs may have been a watershed. “Maybe dog domestication on some level kicks off this whole change in the way that humans are involved and responding to and interacting with their environment,” he added. “I don’t think that’s outlandish.”

Mietje Germonpré, a paleontologist at the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences, is one of the many scientists participating in the dog project. She was one of a number of authors on a 2013 paper in Science that identified a skull about 32,000 years old from a Belgian cave in Goyet as an early dog. Wayne at UCLA was the senior author on the paper and Olaf Thalmann from the University of Turku in Finland was the first author.

It is typical of Larson’s dog project that although he disagreed with the findings of the paper, arguing that the evidence just wasn’t there to call the Goyet skull a dog, all of the authors of the paper are working on the larger project with him.

In November in Brussels, holding the priceless fossil, Germonpré pointed out the wide skull, crowded teeth and short snout of the 32,000-year-old skull – all indicators to her that it was not a wolf. “To me, it’s a dog,” she said. Studies of mitochondrial DNA, passed down from females only, also indicated the skull was not a wolf, according to the 2013 paper.

Germonpré says she thinks dogs were domesticated some time before this animal died, and she leans toward the idea that humans intentionally bred them from wolves. She holds up another piece of evidence, a reconstruction of a 30,000-year-old canid skull found near Predmosté, in the Czech Republic, with a bone in its mouth. She reported in 2014 that this was a dog. And she says the bone is part of evidence the animal was buried with care. “We think it was deliberately put there,” she said.

But she recognises these claims are controversial and is willing, like the rest of the world of canine science, to risk damage to the fossils themselves to get more information on not just the mitochondrial DNA but also the nuclear DNA.

Dog-like shapes

Larson hopes that he and his collaborators will be able to identify a section of DNA in some ancient wolves that was passed on to more doglike descendants and eventually to modern dogs. And he hopes they will be able to identify changes in the skulls or jaws of those wolves that show shifts to more dog-like shapes, helping to narrow the origins of domestication.

The usual assumption about domestic animals is that the process of taming and breeding them happened once. But that’s not necessarily so. Larson and Dobney showed that pigs were domesticated twice, once in Anatolia and once in China. The same could be true of dogs.

Although the gathering of old bones is almost done, Larson is still negotiating with Chinese researchers for samples from that part of the world, which he says are necessary. But he hopes they will come. If all goes well, Larson said, the project will publish a flagship paper from all of the participants describing their general findings. And over the next couple of years, researchers, all using the common data, will continue to publish separate findings.

Other large collaborative efforts are brewing, as well. Wayne, at UCLA, said that a group in China was forming with the goal of sequencing 10,000 dog genomes. He and Larson are part of that group. Last autumn Larson was becoming more excited with each new bit of data, but not yet ready to tip his hand about what conclusions the data may warrant, or how significant it will be.

But he is growing increasingly confident that they will find what they want, and come close to settling the thorny question of when and where the tearing power of a wolf jaw first gave way to the persuasive force of a nudge from a dog’s cold nose.



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