News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Sunday 20th March 2016

Irish Water’s €316,000 spend on PR to deal with bad press?

     

Anti-water charges protesters make their way down Dublin’s O’Connell St last February. Embattled Irish Water is spending a fortune trying to improve its public image.

Ervia – the parent group of the under-pressure utility company – has admitted it spent more than €30,000 on external press and communications advisers in just four months.

Documents released recently through a Freedom of Information request have shown that the Ervia spent a total of €316,948 on hiring four Dublin-based public relations firms since January 2014.

However, the company – which employs an internal three-person, full-time press team – claims the high level of spending was necessary as it believed the media attention Irish Water received was “entirely unprecedented”.

And Ervia said the substantial spend is “directly related to the significant and continuing media attention focused on Irish Water”.

Since January 2014, the majority of the six-figure sum spent on external communications went to the Murray Consultants group, who have received €269,745.

A further €15,643 was given to Terry Prone’s Communications Clinic in a one-off payment in August 2014, while Fleishman Hillard received €29,560 for work over a nine-month period in 2014.

Pembroke, which is now part of the massive PSG firm, received a sum of €2,000 for work carried out in January 2014.

The biggest single sum paid out was €36,153 in March 2015. This was also the same month that tens of thousands of protesters converged on O’Connell Street for an anti- water charges rally.

Just over €29,000 was paid out in November 2014. This was the same month that environment minister Alan Kelly and Irish Water managing director John Tierney apologised for what they described as “major failings” in how the semi-state company was set up.

A spokesperson for the company said that since the company was established in 2013, it has addressed more than 7,200 individual media queries.

“Irish Water has featured more than 72,602 times across print, broadcast and online media articles up to the end of 2015.

“The scale of the response required from this company to deal with this media attention has been significant and has directly contributed to a need to source additional professional communications support to deal with these queries and to assist in the proactive planning of specific media campaigns,” a spokesperson added.

It is understood that both Fleishman and Murray groups provided “strategic proactive media planning support”.

“This kind of external strategic support is normal for any large company with a large customer base and wide group of stakeholders,” it said.

The internal press team comprises a head of media relations who joined the controversial company in March 2015, a senior press officer who was hired in June 2014 and a regional media specialist, who was taken on last December.

They work for Ervia and provide ‘media support’ across the group, which includes Irish Water.

The spokesperson said the companies competing to supply the ‘communication support services’ submitted tenders to Ervia and that the best value was sought.

“The process Ervia uses in acquiring goods and services at competitive prices meets best-practice standards as regards to public sector tendering.”

Last week it emerged that Irish Water planned a €300m upgrade of the country’s largest sewage plant in Ringsend, Dublin, which will increase its capacity by 50pc.

‘Five of (IMHO) own clients have taken their own lives’

Survey’s shock findings reveal anguish of families now driven to depression and drink

    

A WAKE-UP CALL says David Hall above.

Families dealing with crippling debt or living in imminent fear of losing their home have an increased risk of suffering from depression, drink problems and suicidal ideation, a shocking new survey reveals.

The Irish Mortgage Holders Association (IMHO) has been on the frontline of dealing with up to 20,000 homeowners from all across the country, who are in mortgage arrears, struggling to make repayments or have had their homes repossessed. It says five of its clients have taken their lives in just four years.

The IMHO has become “extremely concerned” about the detrimental impact of financial problems on its clients’ mental health and wellbeing.

In an effort to shed light on the “hidden crisis”, the non- profit organisation, which aims to facilitate independent debt resolution between lenders and mortgage holders, conducted a national survey on the psychological impact of debt in Ireland – the first ever detailed analysis focused on the personal turmoil that those in debt difficulty face on a daily basis.

The findings have been described as evidence of a “ticking time bomb” for individuals and their families.

Almost 500 men and women, aged 29-70, completed the Kessler Psychological Distress Scale – developed by Harvard Medical School in the United States.

Their overall debt ranged from less than €250,000 (an estimated 55% of respondents), between €250,000 and €500,000 (almost 30% of respondents), between €500,000 and €1m (more than 10% of respondents) to debt in excess of €1m (an estimated 8% of respondents).

Questions, based on their experience over a four-week period, included: How often did you feel nervous? How often did you feel tired for no good reason? How often did you feel hopeless? How often did you feel restless? How often did you feel tired for no good reason? How often did you feel depressed?

More than 40% of participants said they felt depressed either “all of the time” or “most of the time”.

Over 30% said they had had suicidal thoughts in the last four weeks. At least 22% admitted that they had “active plans” to kill themselves.

A total of 45% of people indicated harmful levels of alcohol use. Almost 40% said that they had felt bad or guilty over the amount of alcohol that they consumed.

Speaking recently, David Hall, CEO of IMHO, said the survey showed the stark reality facing almost 500 out of an estimated 150,000 who are in arrears between buy-to-let and family home mortgages.

“This situation is widespread. We’ve people from all walks of life but debt just paralyses everyone. No matter how dominant or strong or confident people are in their normal walks of life, debt cripples them,” he said.

“There are people running big companies, managing large numbers of staff in significantly dominant positions within the country, and their debt renders them powerless and puts them under immense psychological pressure.”

Mr Hall believes the hidden crisis is compounded by a lack of rapid access to help and relevant services to resolve the cause of stress, depression and suicidal feelings among those in financial difficulty.

The IMHO is calling for a “one-stop shop” of coherent services to provide support to people in debt – including resolutions, solutions, bankruptcy options and potential psychological support.

“We hope this survey and its results act as a wake-up call to a Government that has largely ignored this issue and made no attempt to provide proper resources to those affected,” said Mr Hall. He stressed that a very significant number of respondents specifically referred to their fear of being made homeless.

“As we face into a government formation, all parties need to show leadership in ensuring that the reforms required to deal with legacy unsustainable debt are coupled with a comprehensive strategy to make sure that citizens are not unnecessarily, scarred for life by the experience,” he said.

Commenting on the result, Dr Eddie Murphy, clinical psychologist and Independent Seanad candidate, said the findings confirmed the link between debt stress and suicide.

“Immediate action is needed to support those in debt stress as it impacts on individuals, families, communities and our society. This problem cannot be ignored,” said Dr Murphy who is running in the Seanad elections to address the mental health crisis.

Earlier this month, figures from the Central Bank revealed that there are still 88,29 owner-occupier homes, or almost 12pc of total mortgage holders, behind on repayments.

Despite a continued reduction in all categories of arrears in the final quarter of 2015,there are still 36,351 owner-occupier mortgages in arrears of two or more years.

Anybody that is affected by debt or stress can call The Aware Support Line, at 1800 80 48 48.

The Samaritans can be contacted 24 hours a day at 116 123.

The smell of alcohol makes it hard to resist

The study, published in the Psychopharmacology journal, shows that people can smell alcohol itself.

  

While most drinks get by on their taste alone, the smell of fermented alcohol can be enough to make it harder to resist, new research now says.

The study, published in the Psychopharmacology journal, shows that people can smell alcohol itself.

Researchers at Edge Hill University had participants wear face masks laced with either an alcoholic or non-alcoholic facemask. They were they asked to press a button every time the letter K or a bottle of beer flashed on the screen.

The researchers measured the number of times the participants incorrectly pressed the button causing a ‘false alarm’. These false alarms indicate a reduction in the participant’s power to inhibit their behaviour when they were expected to.

Dr Rebecca Monk, Senior Lecturer in Psychology at Edge Hill University said that she and her fellow researchers found that the number of these ‘false alarms’ were higher in participants who were wearing the alcohol treated mask.

We know that alcohol behaviours are shaped by our environment including who we’re with and the settings in which we drink.

“This research is a first attempt to explore other triggers, such as smell, that may interfere with people’s ability to refrain from a particular behaviour. For example, during the experiment it seemed that just the smell of alcohol was making it harder for participants to control their behaviour to stop pressing a button.”

Fellow researcher and Edge Hill Professor, Derek Heim elaborated, saying that studies of this nature could further our understanding of addiction and substance abuse.

Calls for emergency dredging at Mullaghmore Sligo harbour/moorings rejected

     

Mullaghmore harbor.

Mullaghmore Harbour, the scene of last year’s historic royal visit of Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall, will not be dredged this year despite repeated calls for action by local councillor Seamus Kilgannon.

Cllr. Kilgannon reminded this month’s meeting that Sligo Municipal District passed a motion last April calling on the Council to carry out urgent dredging there.

“We need a proper study of the harbour,” he said and asked if councillors could allocate some of their own funding to get a study done.

“We’re in the business of promoting tourism in Sligo and the boats can’t get in or out,” he said.

Director of Services Tom Kilfeather replied that for councillors to spend their own funds on a harbour study “would be a leap too far.”

“We have made applications for studies in the past and have been refused,” he told councillors.

He said the council had recently carried out emergency repairs to the brackets holding the pontoons to its ‘fixing’ piles. He was concerned that they were broken by the uneven sea bed beneath, “exacerbated by attempts to dredge there” in the past.

Bear bone discovery in Co Clare pushes back date of human existence in Ireland by 2,500 years

    

The new discovery by Dr Marion Dowd (above right pic) & Dr Ruth Carden pushes the date of human existence in Ireland back by some 2,500 years.

A bone fragment discovered 103 years ago in a Clare cave is about to re-write Irish history.

Scientists were astounded when tests showed the fragment, from a butchered brown bear, confirmed that humans were active in Ireland 2,500 years earlier than previously suspected.

The fragment was stored in a cardboard box in the National Museum for over 100 years but had only been subjected to detailed forensic tests over the past two years.

The incredible discovery by Dr Marion Dowd and Dr Ruth Carden will now re-write Ireland’s settlement history with the bone indicating that humans were hunting in Ireland in 10,500BC – some 2,500 years earlier that previously thought.

Amazingly, the bear bone was discovered in Clare back in 1903 but was left for over a century in a storage box in the National Museum without being forensically tested.

Dr Dowd of IT Sligo and Dr Carden of the National Museum decided to examine the bear bone and subject it to radiocarbon dating.

The results have astonished Ireland’s scientific community.

Tests revealed that the patella or knee bone of the brown bear (Ursus Arctos) – which displayed clear marks of the animal having been butchered – dated back to the Palaeolithic period around 10,500BC.

That is 8,000 years before the Egyptian pyramids were built and 7,500 years earlier than the first Stonehenge monuments.

Brown bears are believed to have become extinct in Ireland around 1,000BC,

Until now, the earliest known human activity in Ireland was dated to the Mesolithic period around 8,000BC at Mount Sandel by the River Bann in Derry, close to a famous Iron Age fort.

Both scientists admitted that the Clare discovery will now rewrite the history books.

“Archaeologists have been searching for the Irish Palaeolithic since the 19th Century, and now, finally, the first piece of the jigsaw has been revealed,” Dr Dowd said.

“This find adds a new chapter to the human history of Ireland.”

Dr Ruth Carden said the finding will provoke a new discussion on Ireland’s early human history.

“From a zoological point of view, this is very exciting, since up to now we have not factored in a possible ‘human-dimension’ when we are studying patterns of colonisation and local extinctions of species to Ireland,” she said.

“This should generate a lot of discussion within the zoological research world and it’s time to start thinking outside the box…or even dismantling it entirely!”

The research paper written by Dr Dowd and Dr Carden was published today in the prestigious international journal, ‘Quaternary Science Reviews’ (QSR).

Dr Dowd is a lecturer in Prehistoric Archaeology at IT Sligo’s School of Science and is a specialist in Irish cave archaeology.

The adult bear bone was one of thousands of artefacts originally discovered in Alice and Gwendoline Cave, Co Clare in 1903 by a team of early scientists.

They published a report on their investigations and noted that the bear bone had clear knife marks, indicating it had been butchered.

However, the bone was stored in a collection at the National Museum since the 1920s.

In 2010 and 2011, Dr Carden, a National Museum research associate and animal osteologist, decided to re-examine the large collection of animal bones in storage.

She studied the brown bear bone and documented it.

Dr Dowd noted Dr Carden’s study and became interested in the bone and the precise era it dated from.

The Royal Irish Academy agreed to provide funding for radiocarbon dating tests in Belfast – the only method of assigning the bone to a precise time period.

The results were astonishing.

“When a Palaeolithic date was returned, it came as quite a shock,” Dr Dowd said.

“Here we had evidence of someone butchering a brown bear carcass and cutting through the knee probably to extract the tendons. Yes, we expected a prehistoric date, but the Palaeolithic result took us completely by surprise,” she added.

A second round of radiocarbon tests confirmed that the bear died circa 10,500BC.

Further analysis was ordered on the visible cut marks on the bone – and experts from the British Museum, University of York and European

University in Hungary revealed the marks were made on fresh bone and dated to the same era.

“This made sense as the location of the marks spoke of someone trying to cut through the tough knee joint, perhaps someone who was inexperienced,” Dr Dowd said.

“In their repeated attempts, they left seven marks on the bone surface. The implement used would probably have been something like a long flint blade.”

“The bone was in fresh condition meaning that people were carrying out activities in the immediate vicinity – possibly butchering a bear inside the cave or at the cave entrance.”

The experts are now hoping for funding to conduct further tests on the Clare cave material found in 1903.

They also hope to conduct a detailed examination of the cave itself using modern forensic equipment.

The 1903 excavation team included notable scientists such as Robert F. Scharff, Thomas J. Westropp and Richard J. Ussher.

They named the Clare cave after two women who lived in Edenvale House, the demesne on which the cave was located – sisters Alice Jane and Gwendoline Stacpoole.

The discovery mirrors major breakthroughs in the UK which have pushed the evidence of human history back to earlier eras.

National Museum of Ireland natural history keeper, Nigel T. Monaghan, said they hold two million specimens in storage.

“We never know what may emerge (from research and tests),” he said.

In 2013, a cache of flint tools unearthed on the Isle of Islay in Scotland confirmed local human activity in the Palaeolithic era.

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