News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Sunday 14th February 2016

Tánaiste Joan Burton has questions of accuracy on poll predicting she will lose her seat?


Tánaiste and Labour leader Joan Burton says she faces a “challenge” getting elected but questioned the accuracy of a poll predicting she could lose her Dublin West seat in the election.

Putting on a brave face after the Millwared Browne poll put her fighting for a Dáil place in the four-seat constituency, Ms Burton also said she was looking forward to tonight’s first televised leaders debate on TV3.

She said: “In relation to tonight’s debate, I’m actually looking forward to it. I think it is important that voters and the people of Ireland get to hear the vision of each of the party leaders over the next five years.”

Ms Burton though questioned the accuracy of the poll’s prediction for Dublin West, which says her vote will be halved compared to the 2011 election.

“It is a smaller size sample [of people], therefore the margin of error is over 4%. Secondly, it indicates a very high number of undecided votes.”

The Social Protection Minister said that she had said repeatedly that a lot of people would not make up their mind until very close to polling day, as had been evident in shock results in the US and British elections.

The poll found that outgoing Health Minister Leo Varadkar looks set to top the poll with 20%, holding the lead position jointly with Sinn Féin’s Paul Donnelly.

Fianna Fáil’s resurgent support also looks set to put their candidate, Jack Chambers, in the Dáil, who will finally take back the seat formerly held by the late finance minister Brian Lenihan. Chambers, the poll claims, is on 17%.

Ms Burton admitted that, just like Brian Lenihan in 2011, she now faces a similar challenge to hold her seat in Dublin West.

Ms Burton’s problem lies in the fact that voters polled put her fighting with an outside chance for the fourth and final seat with AAA-PBP candidate Ruth Coppinger in Dublin West.

However, it claims that Coppinger, boosted by the retirement of Joe Higgins here, is currently 5% ahead of the Tánaiste in the race for the fourth seat.

Burton, the Millward Browne poll says, is trailing at just 10%-half of what the popular TD had achieved during the 2011 general election.

Ms Burton lost her seat before in 1997 but has been a solid performer ever since in general elections.

A key to her retaining her seat will be transfers, which are likely to come from Mr Varadkar, as well as whether she can gain support on the Navan Road and Cabra, transferred under boundary changes into the constituency.

If the Labour leader were to lose her seat, the result could be one of the biggest political casualties of election 2016.

Voters have gone to the poll here on three occasions over the last five years.

Irish Water staff will lose jobs or be redeployed?

Says Gerry Adams:


Irish Water staff will either lose their jobs or be redeployed if Sinn Fein takes power, Gerry Adams has said.

The party president and Louth TD said the utility would be abolished based on whatever is cheapest for the taxpayer and pensions and redundancies would be worked out on an individual basis.

“The principle is very, very clear – scrap Irish Water, scrap water charges. It’s a punitive, unnecessary tax,” he said.

Pressed on Sinn Fein’s plans to abolish the utility while contracts are in place with four companies, including water metering by the Denis O’Brien-owned Siteserv, Mr Adams said a government led by his party would act on the best legal advice.

“We are lawmakers, if we get a mandate we will change the law to serve the common interest,” he said.

“Our objective is very, very clear and this is an absolute red line issue – this and the family home tax – we will scrap both of those.”

Mr Adams also said there would be no way to refund people who have already paid Irish Water bills.

The party leader was interviewed on RTE Radio 1’s This Week where he was also asked to detail other key manifesto pledges including introducing a living wage for low paid civil and public servants.

He said he did not know if this would have a knock-on effect for wage claims for people at higher levels.

Mr Adams also said he was committed to new laws which would force companies to recognise unions and negotiate with employees based on collective bargaining.

“We stand for the national interest in the common good. We stand by working people. We stand by those people who are disadvantaged and that means we may have to take on these people in the upper echelons,” he said.

Mr Adams said his party’s plans for a universal healthcare system, free at the point of entry, would take two terms in government to establish.

Standards watchdog gets a complaint over Lucinda Creighton legal fees

Renua leader says she’s a target of ‘politically motivated lies’ in midst of election

 The Standards in Public Office Commission has received an anonymous complaint in relation to Renua leader Lucinda Creighton       

The Standards in Public Office Commission (SIPO) has received an anonymous complaint in relation to Renua leader Lucinda Creighton. A claim in relation to the same matter – Ms Creighton’s alleged receipt of a ‘benefit in kind’ – had already been rejected by the commission last year.

The complaint, the detail of which Ms Creighton last night flatly denied, was submitted on Friday, February 5. It is understood that the board of SIPO will consider the matter at its next meeting, which is scheduled to take place next month.

The Renua leader said the claim that she had failed to declare a ‘benefit in kind’ during her time as a minister of state was “vexatious and frivolous” and had already been rejected by the commission when it was the subject of a complaint from the same anonymous individual last September.

Ms Creighton said it was a matter of grave concern to her that in the midst of a general election, SIPO, “a body set up to protect ethics in politics is being used for dirty tricks”.

Enda Kenny and Micheal Martin will take the gloves off this week in an all-out battle to win the support of former Fianna Fail voters

In their original complaint to SIPO, the individual in question claimed that the Renua leader had received what they believed to be a ‘benefit in kind’ through the alleged receipt of either a partial settlement, discount or forbearance on the payment of legal fees she had incurred with Simon McAleese Solicitors in the course of defending an action for defamation brought against her in 2012 by property developer Michael O’Flynn.

The case was settled after two days of hearings in the High Court with Ms Creighton issuing an apology to Mr O’Flynn for remarks she made at the MacGill Summer School in July 2010, in which she expressed her disquiet over the developer’s participation in a Fine Gael golf fundraiser at the K Club.

Apologising for those comments, Ms Creighton described Mr O’Flynn as “an upstanding developer” and said he had “not done any wrong”.

As part of the settlement, Ms Creighton also agreed to make a contribution towards the payment of Mr O’Flynn’s legal fees.

The bill for her own legal representation – the subject of the complaint to SIPO – is understood to have been substantial.

Having already considered the claims being made against Ms Creighton last September, SIPO decided the complainant had not provided any evidence to sustain it, and that there were no grounds on which to pursue the matter further.

Contacted by the Sunday Independent for comment, Ms Creighton bluntly dismissed the complaint, describing it as a “tissue of politically motivated lies”, which she noted had now been resubmitted to SIPO, having already been rejected and dismissed by the commission.

The Renua leader said there were “reasons” for SIPO’s rejection of the claim that she had received a ‘benefit in kind’ which should have been declared.

She said: “Costs accruing from a personal legal action do not fall under political expenditure or political donations legislation.”

While members of the Oireachtas are not obliged to declare items which fall outside the areas of political expenditure or political donations legislation, Ms Creighton made it clear that she had paid the legal fees she had incurred in the O’Flynn case in full.

“The case also fell on the simple grounds that all bills were paid in full and can be proven to have been paid in full. There was no discount. Any attempt to portray an alternative story is deceitful and duplicitous,” she said.

“It is a matter of even graver concern that SIPO could be politicised by this or that someone or some party is attempting to politicise SIPO.

“A body set up to protect ethics in politics is being used for dirty tricks. The party or individual involved in such actions do not possess a conscience. Questions have to be asked as to whether this individual can be allowed retain the veneer of anonymity.”

A new saliva test could diagnose cancer in just 10 minutes

Early results show ‘liquid biopsy’ has ‘a near perfect’ accuracy, scientists now claim?


A 10-minute saliva test for cancer that scientists claim could revolutionary diagnosis of the disease has now been unveiled. 

A 10-minute saliva test for cancer that scientists claim could revolutionise diagnosis of the disease has been unveiled.

The “liquid biopsy” test looks for fragments of genetic material in a tiny drop of saliva.

Early results from lung cancer patients suggest it has “a near-perfect” accuracy, according to the scientist whose team developed the system.

Prof David Wong, of the University of California at Los Angeles, said: “We need less than one drop of saliva and we can turn the test around in 10 minutes. It can be done in a doctor’s office while you wait.

“Early detection is crucial. Any time you gain in finding out that someone has a life-threatening cancer, the sooner the better.

“With this capability, it can be implemented by the patient themselves in a home check, or dentist or pharmacy.”

The availability?

He said he hoped the test, due to be tested in trials with lung cancer patients in China later this year, could be available in the UK by the end of the decade.

Prof Wong said that eventually it could be used to diagnose a range of different cancers.

He was speaking at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in Washington DC.

The team came up with the test after discovering that saliva contained fragments of the genetic messenger molecule RNA, which is linked to cancer.

“Down the road it might be possible to test for multiple cancers at the same time,” said Prof Wong.

Here is why the discovery of gravitational waves is such a big deal for us all


On the right is a a computer simulation showing gravitational waves during a black-hole collision. The discovery has major implications for science.

Scientists working at the LIGO experiment in the US have for the first time detected elusive ripples in the fabric of space and time known as gravitational waves. There is no doubt that the finding is one of the most ground breaking physics discoveries of the past 100 years. But what does this mean?

To best understand the phenomenon, let’s go back in time a few hundred years. In 1687 when Isaac Newton published his Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica, he thought of the gravitational force as an attractive force between two masses – be it the Earth and the Moon or two peas on a table top. However the nature of how this force was transmitted was less well understood at the time. Indeed the law of gravitation itself was not tested until British scientistHenry Cavendish did so in 1798, while measuring the density of the Earth.

Fast forward to 1916, when Einstein presented physicists with a new way of thinking about space, time and gravity. Building on work published in 1905, the theory of general relativity tied together that what we commonly consider to be separate entities – space and time – into what is now called “space-time”.

Space-time can be considered to be the fabric of the universe. That means everything that moves, moves through it. In this model, anything with mass distorts the space-time fabric. The larger the mass, the larger the distortion. And since every moving object moves through space-time, it will also follow the distortions caused by objects with big mass.

One way of thinking about this is to consider two children, one heavier than the other, playing on a trampoline. If we treat the surface of the trampoline as the fabric then the more massive child distorts the fabric more than the other. If one child places a ball near the feet of the other then the ball will roll towards, or follow the distortion, towards their feet. Similarly, when the Earth goes around the sun, the huge mass of the sun distorts the space around it, leaving our comparatively tiny planet following as “straight” a path as it can, but in a curved space. This is why it ends up orbiting the sun.

If we accept this simple analogy, then we have the basics of gravity. Moving on to gravitational waves is a small, but very important, step. Let one of the children on the trampoline pull a heavy object across the surface. This creates a ripple on the surface that can be observed. Another way to visualise it is to consider moving your hand through water. The ripples or waves spread out from their origin but quickly decay.

Any object moving through the space-time fabric causes waves or ripples in that fabric. Unfortunately, these ripples also disappear fairly quickly and only the most violent events produce distortions big enough to be detected on Earth. To put this into perspective, two colliding black holes each with a mass of ten times that of our sun would result in a wave causing a distortion of 1% of the diameter of an atom when it reaches the Earth. On this scale, the distortion is of the order of a 0.0000000000001m change in the diameter of the Earthcompared to the 1m change due to a tidal bulge.

What can gravitational waves be used for?

Given that these ripples are so small and so difficult to detect, why have we made such an effort to find them – and why should we care about spotting them? Two immediate reasons come to mind (I’ll leave aside my own interest in simply wanting to know). One is that they were predicted by Einstein 100 years ago. Confirming the existence of gravitational waves therefore provides further strong observational support for his general theory of relativity.

In addition, the confirmation could open up new areas of physics such as gravitational-wave astronomy. By studying gravitational waves from the processes that emitted them – in this case two merging black holes – we could see intimate details of violent events in the cosmos.

However, to make the most of such astronomy, it is best to place the detector in space. The Earth-based LIGO managed to catch gravitational waves using laser interferometry. This technique works by splitting a laser beam in two perpendicular directions and sending each down a long vacuum tunnel. The two paths are then reflected back by mirrors to the point they started at, where a detector is placed. If the waves are disturbed by gravitational waves on their way, the recombined beams would be different from the original. However, space-based interferometers planned for the next decade will use laser arms spanning up to a million kilometres.

Now that we know that they exist, the hope is that gravitational waves could open up the door to answering some of the biggest mysteries in science, such as what the majority of the universe is made of. Only 5% of the universe is ordinary matter with 27% being dark matter and the remaining 68% being dark energy, with the latter two being called “dark” as we don’t understand what they are. Gravitational waves may now provide a tool with which to probe these mysteries in a similar way that X-rays and MRI have allowed us to probe the human body.


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