Monthly Archives: April 2016

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Friday 29th April 2016.

A deal now reached to pave way for a Republic of Ireland minority government

Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny will be the agreed Taoiseach


A deal has been struck to pave the way for the formation of a minority government in the Republic of Ireland after two months of post-election stalemate.

After weeks of negotiations, a draft agreement was finally reached between the largest party Fine Gael and arch rivals Fianna Fail on Friday evening.

The parties have established the framework of a pact to enable a Fine Gael administration to govern for the period covering the next three budgets in the Irish parliament.

Fine Gael leader and acting Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin will now seek the backing of party colleagues.

A statement from both parties said: “Both Fine Gael and Fianna Fail have reached a political agreement to facilitate a Fine Gael led minority government.

“Both party leaders are now being briefed, extensive drafting has to be done and then both Fianna Fail and Fine Gael will hold separate parliamentary party meetings to outline the details of the confidence and supply arrangement.”

The agreement was eventually finalised after marathon exchanges between the parties’ negotiating teams at Trinity College in Dublin.

Fine Gael and Labour, its junior coalition partners in the last government, suffered major losses at the election in February after five years in power administering an austerity programme.

While Fine Gael retained its position as the largest party, it did not have the strength to form a workable majority coalition government.

With a so-called “grand coalition” with Fianna Fail proving a step too far for rivals whose enmities were forged in the Irish Civil War, a minority Fine Gael led administration, with the support of a number of independents, has been the only realistic option for a number of weeks.

But such an arrangement depended on a guarantee from main opposition party Fianna Fail not to oppose the government on key votes.

If Fine Gael manage to conclude negotiations with the independents in a short time frame, a new Taoiseach could be elected as early as next week.

Three previous attempts in the Dail to elect a Taoiseach in the wake of the election ended in failure.

The future of the last government’s controversial water company Irish Water was a key factor in negotiations between Fine Gael and Fianna Fail.

The deal, the full contents of which have not been made public, now requires the endorsement of the respective parties’ parliamentary rank and file.

And even with that backing, Fine Gael will need to strike separate agreements with a range of independents before a workable government can be formed.

With a pact hammered out between the two bitter foes, focus will now turn to Mr Kenny’s attempts to woo potential coalition bedfellows from a disparate band of smaller parties and independents.

Fine Gael have previously held talks with the Green Party, the Social Democrats and a range of independent members of the Dail in a bid to find allies. It is expected some will have ambitions on ministerial office in return for propping up the administration.

Labour ruled out going back into power, opting instead to repair the damage suffered at the election on the opposition benches.

Speculation is already turning to how long any new minority government will last, with some observers predicting an early return to the polls.

Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams accused Fianna Fail of campaigning in the election to put Mr Kenny out of office but striking a deal to keep him there. The Louth TD claimed Fianna Fail had forfeited its right to lead the opposition.

“Whatever deal has been reached will I have no doubt fallen well short of delivering the change and investment required to tackle the housing and homelessness crises and fix our health service, and will not bring about a fairer, more equal society, as Fianna Fail claimed to want to deliver in their manifesto,” he said.

“It will also not deliver what citizens demanded on water – which is the outright abolition of water charges and the dismantling of Irish Water. .

“Sinn Fein are very clear in stating that we will hold Fianna Fail equally accountable for every decision taken, and those not taken, by an incoming government.

Another six months to wait for 300,000 rural Irish homes for the start of rural roll-out broadband?

What’s new?


EU research has found that just 8% of rural Ireland is covered by fast broadband, a fraction of the European average of 25%

The National Broadband Plan will be delayed by six months, according to the outgoing Minister of Communications, Alex White.

Speaking today on News At One, Mr White said that 60% of the 750,000 rural homes and business targeted under the state-subsidised plan would be connected to broadband by 2019.

He said that the remaining 300,000 rural homes would gain from a broadband connection by 2022 “at the outside”.

“Most of that work would be done in the first two years,” said Mr White. “You can appreciate that the remaining homes will take a little longer because it’s more remote.”

Mr White described the six month delay in the project as a “minor adjustment”.

“This short delay is to avoid a much longer delay,” he said. “If we don’t carefully follow state intervention rules, we could risk putting this back for years.”

“The delay we’re looking at can be measured in months, maybe six months. We should be able to sign a contract around the middle of the next year.”

The contract to build the network out to 750,000 rural homes and businesses could be worth upwards of €500m of state funding, with the government seeking an unspecified amount of matching investment from winning contract bidders.

Mr White said that the government was currently considering bid proposals from five companies. These are understood to include pitches from Eir and Siro, the joint venture between Vodafone and the ESB.

Independent TDs and rural lobby groups have heavily criticised the delayed process, arguing that their communities are losing out badly in investment and economic opportunity.

Early retirement could be the kiss of your demise?  A study now finds

Or is it just that people who retire early do so because of pre-existing health conditions?


A Study has shown that people who retire early tend to die sooner which is included in this latest study from Oregon State University. But oh, we have so many questions!

To start, doesn’t it make sense that people near retirement age who have existing health issues would be among the first to jump the job ship? After all, they don’t feel well, work is a stressor and if their illness is serious, they want to spend whatever time they have left with family and friends. Getting medical treatments is also a big time-suck, so chances are there is added stress even when — especially when your boss is being a nuisance about your absences. So what do these people do? They retire early, that’s what.

And then, because they were sick, they die. But doesn’t logic tell us that it was their illness — not their retirement — that was the cause of their death? Can early retirement really be a risk factor for early death?

The OSU study tries to address that head-on.

The OSU researchers found that healthy adults who retired one year past age 65 had an 11 percent lower risk of death from all causes, even when taking into account demographic, lifestyle and health issues. Even people who described themselves as unhealthy were found likely to live longer if they kept working, the study said.

“It may not apply to everybody, but we think work brings people a lot of economic and social benefits that could impact the length of their lives,” said Chenkai Wu, the lead author of the study. The findings have been published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.

Wu and his team reviewed data collected from 1992 through 2010 through the Healthy Retirement Study, a long-term study of U.S. adults led by the University of Michigan and funded by the National Institute on Aging. Since being in poor health is one reason people retire early and also can lead to earlier death, the researchers aimed to mitigate it as a factor.

They divided the group into unhealthy retirees (those who indicated that health was a factor in their decision to retire) — and healthy retirees, who indicated health was not a factor.

During the study period, about 12 percent of the healthy and 25.6 percent of the unhealthy retirees died, according to the study. Healthy retirees who worked a year longer had an 11 percent lower risk of mortality, while unhealthy retirees who worked a year longer had a 9 percent lower mortality risk. Working a year longer had a positive impact on the study participants’ mortality rate regardless of their health status.

The findings seem to indicate that people who remain active and engaged draw a benefit from that, the study concluded. So what would happen if we retired early and took up tennis instead?

Nurse Katie is selected as the Sligo 2016 Rose

Local nurse Katie Higgins (22) has been selected as the Sligo Rose 2016.


 The selected Sligo rose of Tralee Katie Higgins pic. above with other students of St Angela’s College (right photo).

Originally from Moylough in county Galway Katie moved to Sligo in 2011 to study nursing at St Angela’s college. She qualified last September and is now working in Sligo University Hospital.

She was chosen from among 17 stylish contenders at the Selection night at a glamorous event in the Clarion Hotel last Saturday.

“I feel like I haven’t woken up from a dream – this has always been a dream of mine,” she told The Sligo Champion. “It would be a big thing for us to all get together and watch the Rose of Tralee. There’s great excitement in the Higgins household now,” she said. “I’m back at work now in Sligo University Hospital but I’m still in shock,” she said.

MC-ed by her fellow countyman Ollie Turner of Galway Bay FM, the event attracted over 500 guests to watch the 17 girls from all over the county vying for a chance to represent Sligo in this years International Rose of Tralee Testival in Kerry next August.

The festival is expanding and instead of a regional festival, for the first time ever, every rose will go to Tralee and experience all of the festival.

Outside of her busy work schedule, Katie enjoys singing, dancing, acting and playing football and actually once won footballer of the year.

Katie was sponsored by the Italian Quarter – A Casa Mia & Bistro Bianconi. “I can’t wait for Tralee now. I’m so excited,” she added.

This pot harnesses photosynthesis and a USB port could charge your phone?


Plants’ leaves are nature’s way of building solar panels. These use a process called photosynthesis to convert sunlight, water and nutrients into sugars (energy). A team of engineers piggy-backed photosynthesis using a nifty pot called the Bioo Lite. Just place almost any plant inside, add water and plenty of sunlight and you’ll be able to charge your phone via the provided USB port up to three times a day. Or so they claim.

To generate energy, the pot doesn’t use the plant themselves. Harnessing direct photosynthesis would have been sweet, but the developers found an elegant workaround.

At the bottom of the pot, there’s a chamber which hosts microorganisms. These germs produce electrons when they consume water and substances generated through photosynthesis and found at the plant’s roots.

Almost any plant works, though some work better than others. The cactus is the worst, according to the Bioo Lite team.

As long as you keep the plant watered and happy, you virtually have a renewable battery at your disposal — enough for three full charges for your smartphone or tablet in a 24-hour window. The same system could theoretically be scaled to be the size of a house. I could see a scaled version in my backyard, beneath flowers or even vegetables, powering some lights.

The Bioo Lite was launched on Indiegogo where it already met its goal. It reportedly costs $135 and starts shipping start December.

Here is the reason why we forget when we walk into a room?


We probably do it several times a week. You get up to go somewhere and when you get to your destination, you have no idea what you’re there for.

Sometimes, it might come back to you. A lot of the time it doesn’t, and you just have to accept whatever great idea you had will be lost in the mists of time forever.

There’s nothing researchers can do about that, but they have retraced our steps and worked out what causes it.

It turns out, maybe it’s the door’s fault. It is also known as the ‘boundary effect’.

The doorway acts as an ‘event boundary’, signalling to our brain that one memory episode is finished and another can begin. Sort of like stopping and starting the tape.

Researchers at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana came up with the theory after getting volunteers to play a not-so-fun video game.

In the game, which had 55 ‘virtual’ rooms, volunteers had to pick up objects from one table and put them down on another.

As soon as they picked the object up, it would disappear.

They were then told they either had to walk to another table in the room to put the imaginary object down, or they had to walk into the next room.

As they went through the game, researchers would give them pop quizzes, asking them to name whatever object they had just picked up.

And, lo and behold, their responses were more unsure and slower when they’d had to move rooms to get to the next object.

The study was also repeated in real life, and the results were the same.

An additional test found that walking back into the original room didn’t spark the memory to return either. So, retracing your steps doesn’t actually help memory recall.

It’s pretty clever when you think about it.

Our brain can’t keep all the information we absorb immediately to hand, so it uses these memory episodes. When you move from one environment to the next, it purges itself and starts recording new information.

Which is great? except when you really want to remember what the hell you walked up the stairs to get is lost.


News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Wednesday 27th April 2016.

Central Bank of Ireland says it will not lower its mortgage rates

Prof Philip Lane says any legislation to curtail rates could deter potential market entrants?


Central Bank governor Philip Lane dismisses notion of statutory limits on mortgage interest rates despite Michael Noonan statement last year that he would introduce legislation to give the Central Bank control of variable mortgage interest rates. 

Central Bank governor Philip Lane dismissed the notion of statutory limits on mortgage interest rates as he said a “high evidence threshold” will be set to justify any move to loosen mortgage loan caps.

Asked about high home-loan rates, Prof Lane said any legislation to curtail interest rates could deter potential market entrants and change the nature of the market as banks would focus on “super-safe” customers .

“It’s a very crude instrument which has many downsides, and is really treating the symptom rather than the underlying cause,” he told reporters in Dame Street at the publication of the bank’s 2015 annual report.

A Bank surplus.

The bank reported a €2.24 billion profit or surplus for the year, €1.79 billion of which was transferred as a dividend to the exchequer.

The “overwhelming contributory factor” was income from sovereign bonds held after the 2013 deal to scrap the Anglo Irish Bank promissory note scheme, said Prof Lane.

Much of this money originated with the State via interest payments on retained bonds and capital gains realised on €2 billion in bonds sold to the National Treasury Management Agency.

The bank is selling the bonds at a faster rate than the minimum schedule agreed with the European Central Bank, but Prof Lane would not be drawn on the speed of future disposals, saying that depended on market conditions.

The bank has already indicated that the first review of mortgage caps will be published in November, but Prof Lane said that the general framework of the regime was intended to be permanent.

Mortgage caps?

He was asked whether housing supply constraints could be attributed in part to the mortgage caps.

Prof Lane said multiple, often conflicting forces, were at work in respect of supply and demand. “Anything that boosts housing demand – where the supply response is not forthcoming – is going to not be helpful.”

He called for “discipline” in addressing remaining vulnerabilities from the crash, saying this embraced fiscal discipline as well as discipline at the level of individual and corporate borrowers. “Yes, we have very good expected growth numbers this year and next year. But there are a lot of downside risks out there.”

Irish Revenue vows to pursue offshore account holders that are avoiding tax payments?

Annual report says Revenue collected some €60m from offshore investigations


Revenue has promised to step up its focus on the use of offshore locations by those seeking to avoid tax from Ireland.

Those who attempt to avoid tax with offshore accounts have been warned by the Revenue Commissioners that greater cross-border co-operation, along with better access to international financial data, will put them under an increasingly harsh spotlight over the next two years.

In its annual report, Revenue has promised to step up its focus on the use of offshore locations by those seeking to avoid tax. It said it had raised more than €60 million from such investigations in 2015.

All told, Revenue collected as much as €45.79 billion for the exchequer in 2015, up 10.6% on the previous year.

The increase was the fifth successive jump in exchequer returns and the second highest figure for net receipts in the history of the State. Only 2007 was higher at €47.5 billion.

Almost all taxes and duties recorded increases, with corporation tax up 49%, capital gains tax up 28% and Vat up 7%.

According to the report, total tax receipts were 7.8% ahead of target as exchequer returns were boosted by a strong trading performance and increased domestic consumption and investment.

Referring to white collar tax evasion, Revenue said the next two years would see developments in the automatic exchange of information with tax authorities abroad, such as the US Internal Revenue Service.

Off shore structures?

Revenue said it would be “carefully considering” how to make the maximum use of information sources to “identify possible cases of tax evasion using offshore structures”.

“If I had an offshore account and I had not declared it, I’d be thinking about it now,” said Revenue chairman Niall Cody. “We are much nicer when you knock on our door than when we knock on yours.”

Revenue conducted more than 460,000 compliance interventions in 2015, yielding more €640 million in tax, interest and penalties, Mr Cody said.

He referred to the success of Revenue’s compliance projects targeted at specific business sectors, including construction and hospital consultants.

Revenue carried out 6,612 audits, which yielded €327.9 million for the exchequer last year, as the overall return from audits and compliance interventions rose by 5.3 per cent to €642.5 million.

Revenue said it collected €63.6 million from 68 cases associated with major legacy investigations last year, including action against holders of offshore accounts.

Mr Cody referred to recent media coverage of the Panama Papers and said Revenue was “examining the implications of the developments in Automatic Exchange of Offshore Financial Information for the Audit Code of Practice.

“While we have had major successes in investigating tax evasion, the new information sources that are coming on stream will shine a light on individuals and businesses that have used offshore facilities.

Real activity?

On corporation tax, Revenue said it would continue to work to ensure that “the profits of multinational corporations are taxed where the real business activity taxes place.”

While attention was placed on the taxes paid in this jurisdiction by multinationals, Mr Cody said the corporation tax base was considerably broader than just large multinationals.

According to the annual report, 97 per cent of property owners paid the local property tax last year. There were 324,000 reminder letters to late payers and mandatory reductions taken from the salaries and pensions of 65,000 people.

Is this for real? Did only 10 TDs really show up to debate mental health issues last night?

A Fact Check does a double take on some claims that went viral last night.


The Dail heard statements from TDs on the issue of mental health last night, amid increasing anger at the government’s decision to divert part of this year’s budget for mental health to other areas. Throughout the evening, there was a negative reaction to the turnout for the debate, with many tweeting screenshots of an apparently close-to-empty Dáil chamber.

Some placed the number of TDs who showed up at 10, others at 40, while mental health awareness activists and artists the Rubberbandits posted a screenshot on Facebook which featured just seven deputies in the chamber, accompanied by the caption:

Above is a photo of how many politicians turned up to speak about mental health in the Dáil today?

Is that accurate, though?

Béibhinn O’Connor in Dublin emailed us to ask whether it was actually the case that only 10 TDs showed up, so we consulted the official record of the Dáil, and combed through video of the debate to find out the truth.

Remember, if you see a claim you want tested, email

Claim: Only 10 TDs showed up for a Dáil debate on mental health

Verdict: FALSE by a very wide margin.

66 TDs took part in some way. 33 spoke, 30 were present, and four presided over the debate. One TD presided and listened (Marcella Corcoran-Kennedy), and one TD presided, spoke and listened (Bernard Durkan).

The Facts?

A quick note to start. The purpose of this article is just to present the facts. It’s entirely up to you whether the turnout for Tuesday’s debate was acceptable or not.

The debate lasted three hours and 16 minutes, starting at around 3.19 pm, and ending at 6.35 pm.

There were 33 speakers. Here they are, grouped by party with the figures in brackets showing the number who spoke and that party’s total number of TDs:

• Fine Gael (9/50): Leo Varadkar, Helen McEntee, Peter Fitzpatrick, Tom Neville, Pat Deering, Peter Burke, Mary Mitchell-O’Connor, Bernard Durkan, Andrew Doyle

• Fianna Fáil (5/43): Billy Kelleher, Lisa Chambers, Micheál Martin, Robert Troy, Jack Chambers

• Sinn Féin (6/23): Caoimhghín Ó’Caoláin, Louise O’Reilly, Pat Buckley, Brian Stanley, Carol Nolan, Maurice Quinlivan

• Independents (5/19): Thomas Pringle, Seamus Healy, Danny Healy-Rae, Mattie McGrath, Michael Healy-Rae

• Independents 4 Change (1/4): Tommy Broughan

• AAA/PBP (3/6): Gino Kenny, Mick Barry, Richard Boyd-Barrett

• Social Democrats (2/3): Róisín Shortall, Catherine Murphy

• Green Party (1/2): Catherine Martin

• Labour (1/7): Brendan Ryan

Four TDs acted as chairperson over the course of the debate. They were:

• Ceann Comhairle Seán Ó’Fearghaíl (FF), Alan Farrell (FG), Marcella Corcoran-Kennedy (FG), Bernard Durkan (FG)

In addition to the speakers, 30 TDs were present for at least some portion of the debate, based on our close analysis of the videos.

It is possible, of course, that other deputies may have entered and exited quickly enough that their presence wasn’t caught by cameras in the chamber. In which case, we will expand this list.

The TDs who attended, but didn’t speak, were (grouped by party as above):

• Fine Gael (7/50): Hildegarde Naughton, Maria Bailey, Simon Harris, Kate O’Connell, Noel Rock, Richard Bruton, John Paul Phelan

• Fianna Fáil (9/43): Anne Rabbitte, Fiona O’Loughlin, John Lahart, John McGuinness, Frank O’Rourke, Aindrias Moynihan, Declan Breathnach, Eugene Murphy, Pat Casey

• Sinn Féin (6/23): Imelda Munster, Peadar Tóibín, Donnchadh Ó’Laoighaire, Kathleen Funchion, Denise Mitchell, Jonathan O’Brien

• Independents (4/19): Catherine Connolly, Katherine Zappone, Noel Grealish, Dr Michael Harty

• Independents 4 Change (2/4): Mick Wallace, Joan Collins

• Green Party (1/2): Eamon Ryan

• AAA/PBP (1/6): Bríd Smith

• Marcella Corcoran-Kennedy and Bernard Durkan were also at their seats for speeches, as well as presiding over parts of the debate from the chair.

So between speaking, presiding and listening to speeches, this is the breakdown of each party and grouping’s participation in the debate on mental health.

• Fine Gael: 18 out of 50 TDs (36%)

• Fianna Fáil: 15 out of 44 TDs (34%)

• Sinn Féin: 12 out of 23 TDs (52.2%)

• Independents: 9 out of 19 TDs (47.4%)

• Independents 4 Change: 3 out of 4 TDs (75%)

• AAA/PBP: 4 out of 6 TDs (66.7%)

• Social Democrats: 2 out of 3 TDs (66.7%)

• Green Party: 2 out of 2 TDs (100%)

• Labour: 1 out of 7 TDs (14.3%)

That’s 66 out of 158 TDs (41.7%)

A conclusion?

It is quite rare for a large number of TDs to remain in the Dáil chamber over the full duration of a long debate without a vote, such as last night’s.

Typically, deputies drift in and out, delivering their remarks, supporting colleagues and opposing those on the other side of the house, and then leaving again.

The actual number of TDs in the house ebbs and flows over the course of a long debate.

This screenshot, taken during Minister Varadkar’s opening speech on mental health last night, shows at least 29 TDs in the chamber:

This one, taken at a similar stage of a similar debate – Minister Alan Kelly’s opening speech during “Statements on Housing” two weeks ago, shows only 12.

This is not to endorse standard Dáil practices, or make any claim about the relative importance of two different issues.

It is simply to point out that the distribution of attendance seen last night is far from unprecedented in Dáil Éireann.

For better or for worse, debates culminating in a vote, and formal set pieces such as leaders’ questions are often more densely packed than “statements” on a particular issue, however important.

Whatever your view on the importance of mental health, and the appropriate level of attendance and participation in last night’s debate, the facts are clear.

The claim that only seven, or 10, or even only 40 TDs showed up to debate mental health last night, is FALSE.

Some 40% of women ‘don’t feel fit enough’ to go to the gym


Most of us will have put off going to the gym at some point in our lives (let’s be honest, probably on more than one occasion).

But a poll has found two in five British women postpone their gym workout because they do not feel fit enough.

A new survey also found that 33% of women do not want to go to the gym because they feel intimidated by other fitter or more competitive people.

The survey found women feel intimidated and embarrassed at the gym which puts them off going.

A third are embarrassed what people will think of them when they exercise and 27% said they felt put off because they do not know how to use gym machines, according to the British Heart Foundation survey.

The charity polled 2,000 adults from across the UK as part of its new MyMarathon challenge. Over the month of May, people are being encouraged to run 26.2 miles – yep, that’s what London Marathon runners did in a day – while helping to raise money for heart research.

The My Marathon challenge involves running the same distance over a month that these lot ran in a day.

Lucy Wilkinson, senior cardiac nurse at the British Heart Foundation, said: “Keeping active is vital to help improve your heart health, so it is concerning that what’s putting so many women off exercise is a fear of being judged about how they look and their level of fitness, and feeling self-conscious around others when exercising. Women should feel proud to exercise knowing they are helping to keep their hearts strong.

“And now with the MyMarathon challenge you don’t have to be a slave to the gym. You decide the pace and you decide the place, so it’s a great way to get active without feeling intimidated, and help us beat heart disease.”

Scientists may have just learned how to read your mind

The University of California Berkeley team maps out how our brain responds to individual words


An image (left) showing a view of one person’s right brain hemisphere. The overlaid words, when heard in context, are predicted to evoke strong responses near the corresponding location in the brain. The colour of each word indicates its semantic category.

For example, green words are mostly visual and tactile concepts, while red words are mostly social concepts. White lines show the outlines of known functional brain regions. 

Scientists in the US have raised the possibility of reading a person’s mind aftermapping where the brain responds to individual words.

A team at the University of California Berkeley have built a “semantic atlas” that shows how the human brain organises language.

Brain experts have already defined areas that process information about the meanings of words, known as the semantic system.

This work goes far beyond that however, showing in remarkable detail exactly where in the brain the meaning of individual words is processed.

Prof Jack Gallant and colleagues from Berkeley had seven people listen to hours of stories from a radio programme.

During this time, the scientists used functional MRI scanners to “watch” what was happening in their brains and what areas responded to particular words.

This allowed them to make the connections between a given word and its meaning and where in the brain this connection took place.

They published their findings on Wednesday in the journal Nature.

Brain triggers

Words often have more than one meaning and the map shows this in beautiful detail. The word “top” triggers several parts of the brain, one associated with clothing, another with shapes and measurements and a third with buildings.

In the same way they found that associated words can group together into a single region depending on meaning.

One area dealt with the meaning of words such as wife, mother, pregnant and family, the researchers said. An adjacent area also responded to wife and family but also house and owner.

Each person has a unique semantic map but the researchers were surprised at the similarity between subjects in terms of the areas of the brain involved.

The research was not about developing a mind-reading device, yet being able to localise where a word is interpreted may open the way to such a development.

It could help patients who have difficulty communicating express what they want to say without speaking, the researchers said.

The research also serves efforts to understand how the brain organises language.

The team produced a video that helps explain how the brain responds to words.

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Tuesday 26th April 2016

Water deal to pave way for a new Fine Gael minority Irish government

Enda Kenny tells Ministers they have held their final Cabinet meeting


Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin said the party has indicated it is willing to consider the principle of charging for water at some stage in the future if water charges are suspended for a number of years.

A deal between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil on the contentious issue of water charges may be finally in the offing, paving the way for a Fine Gael led minority government.

As the negotiating teams of both parties continued to meet on Tuesday night, acting Taoiseach Enda Kenny and senior Fine Gael Ministers were preparing their TDs to accept a possible compromise on issue water charges.

It is understood they informed backbenchers that the only prospect of saving Irish Water as an entity is to reach a compromise with Fianna Fáil on the charging regime.

In another indication of progress in the talks some 61 days after the general election – Mr Kenny told the outgoing Fine Gael-Labour Minister that Tuesday’s Cabinet meeting was their last, and thanked them for their work.

While Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin told the Dáil he is not afraid to go to the country in an election over water charges, senior figures in his party said a deal will be done within 48 hours because both sides were losing credibility.

On Wednesday, the Dáil will hear statements on water, but there will be no vote on the issue. Sources suggested the water deal will centre on the suspension of charges for a period of time. This period has yet to be finally agreed between Mr Kenny and Mr Martin but it will not be linked to the length of time of any arrangement Fianna Fáil will enter into to support a Fine Gael led minority government.

While initially hostile to a compromise that involved a lengthy suspension of charges, Fine Gael backbenchers have softened their positions as many realised a failure to reach a deal would cause an election.

Fears among TDs of an immediate election reached their height on Monday night, when talks between the two parties ended badly.

The emerging deal will see a commission of experts established to examine issues surrounding water charges, such as alternative charging systems. Irish Water, as an entity, will not be referred to the commission. It was estimated last night that the work of the commission could take a year.

The outcome of the commission would then be referred to an Oireachtas committee. The committee’s findings would then be voted on by the Dáil, as had been proposed by Fianna Fáil, meaning the future of charges will have to be decided on the floor of the House.

Mr Martin has argued that the majority of TDs in the current Dáil favour the abolition or suspension of water charges.

Fianna Fáil has indicated it is willing to consider the principle of charging for water at the end of that process if water charges are suspended for a number of years. But no firm commitment has been given to support re-introducing water charges, as had been sought by Fine Gael.

“We have said we could take part in a committee as constructively as possible,” said a Fianna Fáil source. “With Labour, the Social Democrats, the Greens and Independent Alliance all pro charges, it’s not impossible, once consensus is built.”

How to deal with those who have already paid water charges, and those who haven’t, has also been identified as a key issue by Fine Gael. Party sources said that if water charges are re-introduced, those who have already paid will have to be given future credits, with refunds in the event of charges being abolished entirely.

Group schemes

It is understood another outstanding issue is how to deal with those who are on group water schemes and those whom use wells. Fine Gael sources said a final position on charges would have decided by Budget 2018, due to be delivered in October 2017. Fianna Fáil will want to push it out for longer.

Fine Gael had offered the suspension of water charges for a period of six to nine months, with an expert commission to examine a new charging regime. The party had said that if new charges are not accepted, then the existing regime would remain in place – which was rejected by Fianna Fáil.

Fianna Fáil sources said this position from Fine Gael forced the pace of negotiations, while maintaining the existing charging regime had been rejected by voters at the least election and must not continue.

Ireland’s National Broadband Plan will not be completed until year 2022

Some ten years after its launch?


The setback means that completion of the roll-out plan may not happen until 2022 or later

The government has confirmed that the National Broadband Plan, which promised subsidised modern internet to 750,000 non-urban homes and businesses by 2020, will not start this year as planned.

The setback means that completion of the rollout plan may not happen until 2022 or later, 10 years after the scheme was first launched.

A spokesman for the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources said today that the rollout has been put off due to the postponement of negotiations with shortlisted bidders for the process.

The news will be greeted with dismay by over a million people living outside cities and large towns in Ireland. With the process expected to take up to five years, the setback means that many rural homes may be left without adequate broadband until 2022, two years after the government’s promised delivery date and a decade after the government first launched the plan.

The contract to build the network out to 750,000 rural homes and businesses could be worth upwards of €500m of state funding, with the government seeking an unspecified amount of matching investment from winning contract bidders.

10 telecoms companies had expressed an interest in discussing the National Broadband Plan rollout with the government. Eir and Siro, the joint fibre venture betweenVodafone and the ESB, are considered to be front runners to contend for the state contract. Enet, the company that manages metropolitan area networks in 94 towns around the country, has also indicated that it intends to compete for the state broadband tender.

Other companies to have expressed an interest include French-based Bouyges subsidiary Axione and Gigabit Fibre, which is fronted by the former O2 Ireland boss Danuta Gray.

Virgin Media, formerly UPC, will not compete for the National Broadband Plan tender according to its chief executive, Tony Hanway.

The number of homes and businesses under the tender could shrink, according to officials in the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources. The officials say that if Eir proceeds with plans to build out fibre infrastructure to 300,000 of the identified 750,000 rural premises, those 300,000 premises will be withdrawn from the National Broadband Plan. Under EU competition rules, state bodies cannot intervene with services where there are viable commercial alternatives.

A spokesman for Eir said that the company regretted the postponement of the plan’s rollout.

“Eir notes the confirmation today by the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources that it will not now be in a position to commence negotiations with shortlisted bidders as planned this year or to award the NBP contract to the winning bidder or bidders until 2017, several months later than originally planned,” said the spokesman.

“Eir confirms that it will continue to rollout high speed broadband at pace. Today, 1.4 million homes and businesses across Ireland, can access high speed broadband. This will rise to 1.6 million, or 70pc of the country by June of this year, and will reach 1.9 million premises as soon as possible thereafter.”

Ability to pay can be difference between life and death, cancer charity says


The Irish Cancer Society said early diagnosis is often crucial to the patient’s chances of survival, Cancer sufferers in Ireland can live or die depending on how much money they have, the country’s leading cancer charity has warned.

In a bleak rebuke of the “two-tier” health system, a new study by the Irish Cancer Society reveals the less wealthy can be forced to wait up to 20 times longer for potentially life-saving tests.

The charity said early diagnosis of cancer is often crucial to the patient’s chances of survival.

Donal Buggy, head of services with the Irish Cancer Society, said the majority of Irish people do not have private healthcare and are denied early tests for the disease.

“The grim reality of our healthcare system is that the difference between life and death can come down to your ability to pay for healthcare,” he said.

“This situation is striking in its unjustness but has been the modus operandi which has defined our health services for decades.”

The Irish College of General Practitioners carried out a survey of GPs around the country to gauge access to testing for suspected cancers.

The findings confirm a “stark divide” between those who can afford private health insurance and those who cannot, says the Irish Cancer Society.

Public patients are forced to wait up to 480 days – or 96 working weeks – for critical tests such as abdominal cancer diagnosis. Private patients have to wait just five days on average.

Waiting-times for brain scans are 20 times higher in the public health system than for those who can afford private care.

Nine out of every ten GPs surveyed for the study agreed that a patient’s ability to pay played a role in their treatment.

They complained about “unacceptable delays” in getting several cancer tests and warned diagnosis for gynaecological, neurological, urological and head and neck cancers was “particularly problematic”.

About 46% of the population has private health insurance?

“We know from the many cancer patients and survivors who have shared their stories with us that our two-tier system of healthcare leads to huge differences in outcomes based on whether you can afford to pay for private health insurance or not,” said Mr Buggy.

“This report makes clear that GPs working right across the country and in all socioeconomic areas face a struggle in securing timely tests to diagnose public patients”.

One in three people in Ireland will develop cancer at some stage, with an average 30,000 new cases diagnosed every year. That number is expected to rise to 40,000 within the next four years.

The Irish Cancer Society has demanded public access to cancer tests within 28 days around the country.

“Early diagnosis often means a cancer is more likely to be treated successfully, intervention will be less complicated and chances of survival may be higher,” said Mr Buggy.

“However, for the majority of the population without access to the private system, they may have to face lengthy waits that deprive them of early access to either a diagnosis or peace of mind.”

Sinn Fein’s health spokesman Caoimhghin O Caolain said the findings expose an “immoral” lack of fairness in health care.

“This is not acceptable,” he said. “Inability to pay should not deny anyone the opportunity to lead a full, long, healthy life.

“The extreme depth of inequality in our health services is immoral and cries out for urgent address.”

Loneliness linked to heightened stroke risk


Loneliness and social isolation are linked to around a 30% increased risk of having a stroke or developing coronary artery disease (CAD) — the two leading causes of illness and death in high-income countries.

The size of the effect is comparable to that of other recognised risk factors, such as anxiety and a stressful job, the findings of an analysis of the available evidence, published online in the journal Heart, indicate.

Loneliness has already been linked to a compromised immune system, high blood pressure, and ultimately, premature death, but it’s not clear what impact it might have on heart disease and stroke risk.

The researchers trawled 16 research databases for relevant studies, published up to May 2015, and found 23 that were eligible. These studies, which involved more than 181,000 adults, included 4,628 coronary heart disease ‘events’ (heart attacks, angina attacks, death) and 3,002 strokes recorded during monitoring periods, ranging from three to 21 years.

Analysis of the pooled data showed that loneliness/social isolation was associated with a 29 per cent increased risk of a heart or angina attack and a 32% heightened risk of having a stroke.

The effect size was comparable to that of other recognised psychosocial risk factors, such as anxiety and job strain, the analysis indicated.

This is an observational study, so no firm conclusions can be drawn about cause and effect, added to which the researchers point out that it wasn’t possible to exclude the potential impact of other unmeasured factors or reverse causation — whereby those with undiagnosed disease were less sociable, so inflating the findings.

Nevertheless, the findings back public health concerns about the importance of social contacts for health and well-being, say the researchers.

“Our work suggests that addressing loneliness and social isolation may have an important role in the prevention of two of the leading causes of morbidity in high income countries,” they write.

In a linked editorial, Drs Julianne Holt-Lunstad and Timothy Smith of Brigham Young University, Utah, agree, pointing out that social factors should be included in medical education, individual risk assessment, and in guidelines and policies applied to populations and the delivery of health services.

However, one of the greatest challenges will be how to design effective interventions to boost social connections, taking account of technology, they say. “Does interacting socially via technology reduce or replace face to face social interaction and/or alter social skills?” they ask.

As much as a 20% rise in 18-month surgery waiting lists in Irish hospitals


Pressures on hospitals are reflected in longer waiting times, with today’s cancelled operations potentially tomorrow’s emergency medical presentations.

At Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital Drogheda there were 74 inpatient/ day cases waiting for longer than a year and a half last month, down from 126 in February, while at Letterkenny General the figure was 13, compared to just six people waiting for over 18 months in February.

At Sligo Regional there were seven patients waiting over a year and a half, while at Cork University Hospital the total was 28 compared to 26 in February, and at the Mercy University Hospital it was 25, compared to 32 the previous month.

It is important to balance both planned and emergency care needs to prevent delays in diagnosing or treating illness, which could result in greater need in future for emergency interventions.

The total number of inpatient/ day cases waiting longer than 18 months in March totalled 1,214 — nearly a 20% rise compared to February’s figure of 1,015, new NTPF data reveals.

Firstly demographic pressures are responsible for this rise, as the growing and ageing population is causing a small but relentless increase in demand year-on-year, the HSE has said.

Emergency Department (ED) admission rates vary widely from hospital to hospital. At some hospitals, patients are twice as like to be admitted as in others. This can be cultural or it can be down to the fact that a particular doctor will admit more patients than is necessary.

Less experienced doctors and locums may be more likely to admit than experienced and more senior physicians, the HSE’s National Director for Acute Care Liam Woods has said.

There is also the issue of elective admissions — involving patients being brought straight in for surgery, or from a clinic, into a hospital bed rather than through ED. Some hospitals manage this better than others by taking more people in when trolleys are low and restricting them when trolleys are high. Others manage things less effectively, the Minister for Health, Dr Leo Varadkar, has said.

In all, there were 399,086 people on the outpatients waiting list in March, a further 72,881 on the inpatients/day case waiting list, and 18,579 on the GI endoscopy waiting list. This makes a total of 490,546 waiting. The numbers of day cases waiting rose from 47,294 at the start of the year to 50,802 at the start of March. The number of inpatient waiters grew from 20,792 to 22,579 in the same period.

Average length of stay is also an issue. Some hospitals can deal with the average patient in four days, while others might take a week, thereby using twice as many beds to do the same work. This is often linked to delays in getting tests and scans carried out or skeletal services at weekends, or slow decision-making due to infrequent senior clinician-led ward rounds. Beaumont had the highest number of long waiters in March at 402, compared to 361 the previous month, followed by Galway University Hospital, which recorded a total of 351, up from 253 the previous month.


Regarding care provided on an outpatient basis and the operation of acute medical assessment units, some hospitals are able to complete tests in a single day, so the patient does not need to be admitted. Others have to admit a patient, which then requires a bed to be allocated. Then there is simple bed capacity, with some hospitals just not having enough beds, Minister Varadkar has said.

Another area where capacity could be a problem was in the delayed discharge of patients from hospitals. Some areas don’t have enough nursing home capacity or home care packages, which means that patients are delayed leaving hospital, while some hospitals are more active than others in getting patients to go home or on to step-down facilities.

At the South Infirmary there was just one very long waiter in March (over 18 months), yet Waterford clocked up a total of 20 waiting for over 18 months.

While the Children’s University Hospital Temple Street had zero patients waiting for longer than 18 months, the figure at Our Lady’s Children’s Hospital Crumlin was 28, a rise from 15 in February. Tallaght Children’s Hospital also recorded a zero figure. However, at Tallaght Hospital long waiters totalled 114, a rise from 98 a month earlier.

Other major academic teaching hospitals had the following totals waiting longer than 18 months: St Vincent’s (49), St James’s (20), Connolly (7), the Mater (26), and UHL (3).

The National Waiting List Management Policy is a standardised approach to managing scheduled care treatment for inpatient, day case and planned procedures and has been developed to ensure that all administrative, managerial and clinical staff follow an agreed national minimum standard for the management and administration of waiting lists for scheduled care. This policy, which has been adopted by the HSE, sets out the processes that hospitals are to implement to manage waiting lists.

Hours can be lost getting a patient’s discharge paperwork done, prescriptions written and the bed cleaned for the next patient. This could be done in an hour. But sometimes it can take as long as five hours.

Another cause is bed closures, which can occur for a number of reasons — staff shortages, renovations, or infection control.

The number of outpatients waiting more than 18 months at the end of March totalled 6,114 nationally. The number waiting at Beaumont was 1,349, compared to 1,130 in April. At Galway, there were 1,044 compared to 980 a month earlier and at Letterkenny there were 669, compared to 527 in February.

At Tallaght, meanwhile, there were 597 (588 in February) at CUH 391 (457 Feb), at the Mercy 385 (108), at Connolly there were 382 (317), and at St James’s there were 19 (12). There was just one outpatient at both the Mater and St Vincent’s waiting longer than 18 months.

The Beagle 2’s most detailed images yet of lost Mars lander revealed

New pictures are most detailed images of Mars ever achieved from an orbiting spacecraft and seem to add weight to theory on Beagle 2’s final resting place


An artist’s impression of the Beagle 2 lander, which landed on Mars in 2003 but failed to fully unfurl its solar panels, causing it to lose contact with Earth.

Astronomers have revealed the most detailed images yet of what is thought to be the landing site of the ill-fated Mars lander, Beagle 2, offering further evidence that the British spacecraft failed to phone-home because of problems following touchdown.

Showing a bright blip in dusty terrain, the new picture is four times the resolution of previous images. The image adds weight to the theory that the diminutive spacecraft – just under a metre in diameter – landed as planned on Mars in 2003, but failed to fully unfurl its solar panels. “Given the size of Beagle 2, even with super-resolution images you are not likely to see more than a series of blobs because it is so small,” said Mark Sims, of the University of Leicester and former mission manager for Beagle 2. “What it does show is that it is on the surface and it is at least partially deployed.”

Launched on board the European Space Agency’s Mars Express Orbiter, the Beagle 2 spacecraft was due to touchdown on Mars on Christmas Day in 2003. But after leaving the mother craft it failed to make contact with Earth, leading to speculation that the lander had crashed.

But a series of clues have since indicated that the hitch likely occurred after it landed correctly on the planet’s surface. Last year Sims and colleagues including John Bridges, also at Leicester University, revealed an image from Nasa’s High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) on board the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, that showed a trio of specks on the planet’s surface, thought to be Beagle 2, its parachute and rear cover.

The top image is one of the original HiRISE images. Below is the newly-created SRR image. The bright dot at approximately 91º47’28.5”, 11º 31’ 37” is thought to be the Beagle 2 lander. Photograph: Nasa/UCL/University of Leicester

Now researchers at University College, London, have improved the resolution of the HiRISE images, to produce the most detailed pictures of Mars ever achieved from an orbiting spacecraft. The technique, known as Super-Resolution Restoration (SRR), involved stacking and matching up to eight HiRISE images of the same area – the first results of which were revealed by the team in February. “Each of the images are taken from a slightly different angle,” said Muller.

While each HiRISE image has a resolution of around 25cm, the technique allowed the team to produce images of the Martian landscape with a resolution of just 5cm, allowing much finer detail to be observed than ever before. In the case of the Beagle-2 landing site, five images were compiled resulting in a four-fold improvement in resolution. But it’s a lengthy process. “It takes three days on our fastest computers to do a small scene of 2,000 by 1,000 pixels,” said Jan-Peter Muller, from University College, London who led the work. “We can’t yet do an entire scene.”

When researchers zoomed in on the ‘bright dot’ seen in the picture above, and then applied the new SRR system, the outline of what seems to be Beagle 2 became clearer.

The results, they say, confirm the idea that Beagle 2 did indeed make it to the red planet. “Intriguingly it isn’t a single white blob which is how it was represented last time around,” said Muller,. “We can now actually see a y-shape on the left hand side and some distortions as well on the right.”

But understanding what happened to Beagle 2, says Sims, isn’t just about unpicking the past – it could also help with future missions. “It’s important to tease the mystery apart because you want to know why it didn’t fully deploy,” he said. “You need to have some idea of how far you got, what might have been the good parts of your design, what might have been the parts which you would improve at a later date.”

While the new shot of the Beagle 2 site appears, to the untrained eye, to show little more than a y-shaped blob, Muller believes the technique has the potential to yield even greater detail. “We have provided the highest ever resolution pictures of the surface and we are going to keep going – the more pictures we get the better the resolution,” he said. “There is no theoretical limit at this point in time to what we can achieve.”

The Beagle 2 site isn’t the only super-resolution image to be released by the team. Among the pictures produced with the SRR technique are views of the planet’s ancient lake beds, showing their craggy forms in breathtaking detail. Also visible are the erratic tracks of Nasa’s Spirit rover which roamed Mars from 2004, sending its last communication in 2010.

Two of the original HiRISE images are shown on the top line. Below, the new SRR images reveal a rock filed (left) and the tracks of Nasa’s Spirit rover (right). Photograph: Nasa/UCL/University of Leicester

Scientists believe such high-res images could be a boon when it comes to choosing the landing site of future missions including the European Space Agency’s ExoMars mission which will see a lander touch down in October this year, followed by a rover in 2018 that will search for life on the planet.

The SRR technique, Muller adds, could also shed light on a number of mysteries in the Martian landscape, including the suggestion that there is flowing water onthe planet. “We are creating images which allow us to see the same features what we would in a rover from 5 metres away,” he said, adding that it isn’t just Mars, but bodies as distant as the moons of Jupiter that could be revealed in stunning details. “We could do this for the Moon and we can do this in the future for Europa and Ganymede,” he said. “It opens up a new way of being able to see features that we would see if we were walking on the surface.”

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Monday 25th April 2016

Garda finds nearly third of people it deals with unhappy with police Irish force


Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan.

Almost a third of people who deal with the Garda are not happy with the force, its own research has found.

A survey, not yet published, ordered by Garda headquarters also revealed younger people and men are more likely to be dissatisfied with their experience of policing.

The findings were mentioned during the new Policing Authority’s first ever public questioning of Garda Commissioner Noirin O’Sullivan on how the force is being run.

The Garda chief asked Gurchand Singh, her head of analysis services, to tell the watchdog about how the public perceive policing.

Mr Singh said a recent study carried out for the force found “about an 85% trust level, a medium to high trust level” in the Garda.

“In terms of our satisfaction, we have a very good satisfaction measure of around 70%,” he added.

Pressed further about the breakdown in the figures, Mr Singh revealed higher satisfaction levels among women who had dealt with gardai compared with men.

“Satisfaction increases with age, younger groups had the lowest levels of satisfaction,” he told the Policing Authority meeting at Royal Hospital Kilmainham in Dublin.

He later disclosed that 64% of people aged between 18 and 24 said they were happy with the Garda.

Judith Gillespie, former deputy chief constable of the PSNI who is a member of the Policing Authority, pointed out “that’s more than third [who are] not satisfied.”

Residents in rural areas are also more likely than those who live in cities to be pleased with their experience of the gardai, according to the study.

Policing Authority chairwoman Josephine Feehily has urged Garda chiefs to publish the findings.

Researchers are also asking the public about their fear of crime and how that impacts upon them.

Furthermore, a “booster survey” has been ordered to find out the feelings of minority communities in particular, who traditionally have had higher levels of fear of crime.

Referring to recent gangland murders in Dublin, Ms O’Sullivan said investigations were progressing well and that organised crime remains a priority.

Since last March, when the new merged Garda Drugs and Organised Crime Bureau was set up, there have been 200 arrests by the specialist unit, she said.

More than 36 million euro worth of drugs were taken off the streets and 36 firearms were seized, along with explosives and ammunition, over the same period, she added.

Quizzed about Garda station closures, Garda Deputy Commissioner Donall O’Cualain said there had been a “fairly trouble free transmission” in those areas.

Beefed-up patrols and Garda “clinics” were put into neighbourhoods where stations shut down over recent years, he said.

Ms O’Sullivan also told the meeting that the Garda was in the final stages of its revamped diversity strategy.

Asked if she was happy that just a quarter of her rank and file are women, she said a recent recruitment campaign was focused particularly on women as well as others under-represented such as gay, bisexual and transgender people.

Some 17,000 applicants are from “all walks of life” and there are early indications that a lot of them are from diverse backgrounds, she added.


Final report into Garda whistleblower allegations of misconduct handed into Justice Minister


Garda whistle-blower Maurice McCabe

The Commission of Investigation into garda whistleblower Maurice McCabe’s allegations of misconduct in the force has submitted its final report to Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald today.

The report by Justice Kevin O’Higgins was handed into the Department of Justice shortly after 5pm this evening.

The Commission examined allegations made by Garda Sgt McCabe surrounding the conduct of gardai in the Cavan/Monaghan district.

The complaints ranged from the mishandling of murder, assault and abduction investigations by gardai, along with allegations that files were manipulated and altered by members of the force.

Judge O’Higgins also looked at the handling of Sgt McCabe’s complaints by former Justice Minister Alan Shatter and former Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan.

Mr Shatter and Mr Callinan were forced from office in the wake of these allegations and other controversies which engulfed the justice system two years ago.

Mr Shatter has always maintained he acted appropriately throughout the Garda scandals, including his handling of Sgt McCabe’s allegations of malpractice in the Cavan/Monaghan district.

The O’Higgins Commission was established following a recommendation by barrister Sean Guerin who first reviewed Sgt McCabe’s allegations.

Mr Guerin was commission to review Sgt McCabe’s claims by Taoiseach Enda Kenny following political pressure from Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin and other Opposition TDs.

Scientists have now solved a major diabetes mystery

We finally understand how the immune system helps cause Type 1 diabetes.


A type 1 person giving themselves an injection of insulin.

Scientists have taken a big step in better understanding how Type 1 diabetes wreaks havoc on the body, which could lead to novel ways to both treat and prevent the disease.

It was previously known that the chronic autoimmune disease involves the immune system attacking four molecules, called autoantigens, in the pancreas. However, diabetes experts have long speculated that a fifth molecule must also be under attack — but they hadn’t been able to identify it until now.

Researchers in the U.K. and Italy have discovered the fifth and final molecule, called tetraspanin-7. Their work could improve diabetes prediction and treatment, said Dr. Michael Christie, the reader in biomedical sciences at the University of Lincoln in England who led the research.

“The discovery that tetraspanin-7 is a major target of immunity in diabetes now provides us with a complete picture of what the immune system recognizes in individual patients, will assist in identifying individuals at risk through detection of antibodies to the protein and will allow the development of procedures to block the tetraspanin-7 immune response as part of a strategy to prevent the disease,” Christie told The Huffington Post on Monday.

Diabetes is characterized by high levels of sugar in the blood. For people with Type 1 diabetes — about 1.25 million children and adults in the U.S., according to the American Diabetes Association — this is because the body fails to produce any or enough insulin, a hormone that helps to take sugar from the blood to other parts of the body.

The disease is currently treated with insulin injections. Children who develop Type 1 diabetes must inject insulin several times a day for the rest of their lives and constantly monitor their blood glucose. Yet they’re still at risk of experiencing complications affecting their eyes, feet, circulation or nervous system, Christie said.

People with Type 1 diabetes tend to have antibodies in their blood that are specifically linked to each of the molecules that are attacked by the immune system. Tests that identify who might be at risk of developing Type 1 diabetes detect these antibodies — the greater the number of different antibodies found, the higher the risk may be.

The discovery that tetraspanin-7 is a major target of immunity in diabetes now provides us with a complete picture of what the immune system recognizes in individual patients…”Research leader Dr. Michael Christie

For the research, published last month in the journal Diabetes, scientists analyzed blood samples from patients with Type 1 diabetes, and used the antibodies linked to tetraspanin-7 to identify the molecule. They also collected some previous data on the properties of the molecule.

When the researchers were able to bind patients’ antibodies to tetraspanin-7, they knew they had made a groundbreaking discovery.

“We were surprised that we were finally able to discover the identity of the target of antibodies in Type 1 diabetes after such a long period, with many groups worldwide on the hunt for it during this time,” Christie said. “We almost gave up at one stage — our initial test for binding of patients’ antibodies to tetraspanin-7 was negative! — but we then realized that perhaps the test we were using was flawed, so we tried a different approach which worked nicely.”

The researchers concluded that the five major targets of the immune system’s response in Type 1 diabetes are insulin, an enzyme called Glutamate decarboxylase, the proteins IA-2 and Zinc transporter-8, and of course tetraspanin-7.

The more technically named molecules are largely involved in the secreting or storing of insulin, BBC News reported.

The research can be used to better identify people at risk of Type 1 diabetes and later inform the crucial development of therapies, Dr. Emily Burns of Diabetes UK, the charity that co-funded the study with the Society for Endocrinology, said in a statement.

“In order to prevent Type 1 diabetes, we need to fully understand how the immune response that damages insulin-producing cells develops in the first place,” she said. “Dr. Christie’s impressive research is helping us to do just that.”

NUI Galway scientists make breast cancer breakthrough


Researchers from NUI Galway have made a breakthrough in their studies into breast cancer treatment, which could affect a significant segment of sufferers of the disease.

Led by Drs Sanjeev and Ananya Gupta in NUI Galway, the paper published in Nature hones in on a single protein that plays a pivotal role for certain sufferers of breast cancer, those who are ‘oestrogen receptor positive’.

XBP1 is the protein in question, with Sanjeev and his team establishing that it increases the production of NCOA3, which helps the cancer cells avoid anti-oestrogen treatment. Using this information, the suggestion is treatment that uses an XBP1 inhibitor could help oestrogen treatment get the job done.

Oestrogen (and progesterone) are in abundance in women’s bodies, potentially serving as fuel for cancerous cells. Hormone therapy, also called endocrine therapy, adds, blocks, or removes those chemicals to treat the disease.

The NUI Galway team claims one-third of breast cancer patients treated with hormonal therapy suffer a relapse within 15 years, which has proved difficult to understand for scientists. Cancer cells’ reliance on XBP1 as a shield could, therefore, be used against them by allowing tailored inhibitors to pull down the cancer’s defences.

Ananya Gupta said: “The next step is to identify a suitable therapeutic target in the XBP1-NCOA3 pathway. XBP1 is a transcription factor, and transcription factors have been very difficult to target with small molecules. We look forward to developing new ways to target this molecule in breast cancer.”

The project was supported by Breast Cancer Now, with the organisation’s Dr Richard Berks hopeful of potential improvements to anti-hormone treatments.

“We look forward to further research to find out whether blocking this protein could reduce the risk of a patient’s breast cancer spreading or returning, ultimately helping to stop women dying from the disease. It’s crucial that we continue to find ways to make breast cancer therapies even more effective, and match individual patients with the treatments most likely to work for them.”

Dublin Tech Summit aims to attract 10,000 attendees

Organiser wants to ensure capital remains focal point following Web Summit departure


Dublin Technology Summit organiser Ben English: “We want to build a positive international message out of the Tech. summit next February.”

The Web Summit may have departed for Lisbon, but another technology conference wants to ensure Dublin remains a focal point on the global conference map.

The Dublin Tech Summit is aiming to attract more than 10,000 attendees to the Convention Centre next February, reaffirming the capital’s reputation as a strong place for enterprise, technology and innovation.

“We want to build a positive international message out of the tech summit,” conference organiser Ben English said.

Uber’s lead engineer Rafi Krikorian, MongoDB chief marketing officer Meagen Eisenberg and Adblock chief executive Till Faida are among the speakers for the event, which will take place on February 15th and 16th.

Other speakers will include PayPal vice-president of global operations Louise Phelan, Kantar chief executive Eric Salama, co-founder Jules Coleman, Startupboat founder Paula Schwarz, and Kathleen Mitchell, vice-president of Stella & Dot.

The conference will focus on seven themes: business, fintech, the internet of things, medtech, big data, social enterprise and creativity. Organisers are expecting more than 200 speakers and investors.

Mr English said the event would be a more intimate affair than Web Summit. “We’re focused on bridging the gap between start-ups, scale-ups and established companies . . . Attendees are saying they want to build relationships in a more intimate conference venue.”

The summit will invite start-ups, companies, investors and entrepreneurs to a number of events over the course of the next year, with the first on May 27th, when conference organisers will open the London Stock Market.

Mr English said negotiations had begun with Dublin City Council, Enterprise Ireland and the Irish Hotels Federation to avoid problems with wifi and increasing hotel prices, which became contentious issues for Web Summit organisers.

Earth getting greener due to rising carbon dioxide levels, global snapshot shows


Rising carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere have increased plant growth across the planet over the past three decades, a new study has now found.

Some key points?

  • A few areas on Earth have browned but the vast majority have greened
  • Plant coverage has grown by 18 million square kilometres in a few decades
  • The main cause is increase in atmospheric CO2
  • Nitrogen from agricultural fertilisers has also contributed

The most comprehensive modelling of remote sensing data so far shows the area on Earth covered by plants in this time has increased by 18 million square kilometres — about 2.5 times the size of the Australian continent — largely due to the fertilising effect of carbon dioxide (CO2).

“[The greening] has the ability to fundamentally change the cycling of water and carbon in the climate system,” said Dr Zaichun Zhu, from Peking University in China and lead author of the new study, which appears today in the journal Nature Climate Change.

“This is a snapshot of humans’ global influence on the functioning of the entire global biosphere,” said co-author CSIRO’s Dr Pep Canadell of the Global Carbon Project.

The new findings come from analysis of data from the past 33 years taken by three different satellite missions that measured the green light reflected by photosynthesising leaves.

Dr Canadell said the remote sensing data was run through 10 global environmental change models to identify the cause of the greening.

About 85% of Earth’s ice-free land is covered by plants, and each year photosynthesis soaks up about one quarter of the nearly 10 billion tonnes of carbon emitted by humans.

Drs Zhu, Canadell and colleagues found that the 46 parts per million increase in atmospheric CO2 between 1982 and 2009 was responsible for 50 to 70 per cent of the observed greening.

“Carbon fertilisation is the dominant process for greening across the globe, particularly in the tropics because there’s so much leaf area there,” Dr Canadell said.

Scientists have long established humans as a key source of atmospheric CO2 through the use of chemical signatures that distinguishes carbon from different sources.

“The growth of CO2 in the atmosphere is almost exclusively due to fossil fuel burning and deforestation,” said Dr Canadell.

The new study found other causes of the greening, including nitrogen from agricultural fertilisers.

‘Surprising’ finding given increase in droughts?

Dr Canadell said the greening has surprised scientists who expected to see more browning, given the increase in droughts associated with global warming.

While the researchers found between 25 to 50% of all vegetated areas of the land have become greener, only 4 per cent have become browner.

These included Mongolia, Argentina and areas of North America close to Alaska.

While south-eastern Australia also showed browning, overall the Australian continent was greening, said Dr Canadell.

While a greener Earth might seem like a positive from CO2-induced global warming, along with milder winters and longer growing seasons, he said there were many more negative impacts — including rising sea levels and severe weather.

“These will eventually outweigh by far any benefit from the greening,” he said.

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Sunday 24th April 2016

Fine Gael willing to offer Fianna Fáil suspension of water charges

Enda Kenny said to have offered a temporary halt to charges to end deadlock


The two parties have agreed in principle to establish an independent commission to examine the future of Irish Water.

Fine Gael is willing to offer Fianna Fáil a temporary suspension of water charges in a bid to end the political deadlock.

Acting Taoiseach Enda Kenny is understood to have told the Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin he will pause the levies while an independent commission explores a new charging regime.

In return Mr Kenny is seeking a firm commitment to re-introduce the charges after the commission reports. The Fine Gael leader is believed to have made the offer to Mr Martin at a meeting on Saturday and sought reassurances in return.

However, Mr Martin said he could not promise their return during the 32nd Dáil due to the huge opposition.

Instead, Fianna Fail wants the commission’s conclusions to be presented to an Oireachtas committee which will debate the findings and decide the way forward.

Mr Martin and Mr Kenny had a brief discussion yesterday at the Arbour Hill 1916 commemorations. They were due to hold further talks last night ahead of a meeting of the Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil negotiating teams today.


A Fine Gael source said: “There is agreement on both sides that this cannot continue and we are willing to go that bit further to ensure this impasse ends. This is a temporary suspension and we would need a commitment from Fianna Fáil that the charges would be brought back after the commission reports and a written agreement alongside that.”

The two parties have agreed in principle to establish an independent commission to examine the future of Irish Water. Any agreement would see the terms of reference stretch to a new charging regime and Fine Gael would be eager to ensure it reported back within a certain date.

Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil both have their parliamentary parties on standby for a meeting tonight in the event an agreement is reached today.

Both sides’ positions seemed to harden in public yesterday as Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan insisted the charges and the utility cannot be abolished.


Fianna Fáil TDs Marc MacSharry and Timmy Dooley said no agreement could be reached without the suspension of charges. However, a Fianna Fáil source insisted there was a resolve to bring the talks to a conclusion and avoid a second election.

The issue of Irish Water is still the biggest policy issue dividing the parties but there are still some concerns surrounding childcare, health and housing.

The two parties are at odds over provision of career guidance counsellors, an extension of the mortgage interest relief scheme, funding for deprived areas and rural crime.

Minister for Health Leo Varadkar is to meet members of the Independent Alliance today in a bid to secure their support for a Fine Gael-minority government. He has offered Waterford TD John Halligan a clinical review of the 24-hour care at the regional hospital and an extension of hours.

Fine Gael is hopeful it can win the support of the six members of the Alliance, two of the five rural TDs Denis Naughten and Michael Harty as well as Michael Healy-Rae and Maureen O’Sullivan. Noel Grealish, of the rural alliance, is also said to be strongly considering supporting the party.

90% of Irish motorists say rising insurance costs are ‘biggest issue’

AA survey finds facilities for cyclists important to just a third of motorists


The AA director of consumer affairs Conor Faughnan said the rising cost of insurance was “major frustration” for motorists.

More than nine out of ten motorists believe the cost of car insurance will be the biggest motoring issue they’ll face this year, according to a survey by the AA.

The survey of 8,800 motorists by AA Motor Insurance found that road safety ranks as the second most common concern for motorists (87 per cent), while the need to repair damaged roads came in third (77 per cent).

Another area of concern for motorists was the rate of motor tax with 72 per cent believing the charge to be “very important” in 2016.

Other issues important to motorists were the cost of petrol and diesel (68 per cent), the provision of improved public transport resources (49 per cent) and vehicle registration tax (40 per cent).

The survey also found traffic congestion to be a major issue for 46 per cent of motorists.

Providing and improving facilities for cyclists was an important issue for just 32 per cent of respondents.

Only 35 percent identified Irish Rail and Luas expansions as “very important” while a third were of the same opinion in relation to building new roads.

AA director of consumer affairs Conor Faughnan said the rising cost of car insurance was a “major frustration” for Irish motorists.

“We have seen an increase of almost 40 per cent in under as little as 24 months which the AA regards as an unacceptable burden on motorists,” he said.

“Prominent, visible traffic policing is every bit as important though and is critical to road safety.

“The AA believes the gardaí remain committed to this task, but the Government needs to ensure that gardaí have the necessary resources to carry out their jobs.

“It’s also worth remembering that more gardaí on the roads would see the cost of car premiums gradually decrease owing to a reduction in collisions, and subsequent claims.”

He added it was a “sad state of affairs” when the safety of road users was a secondary issue for motorists.

“This is exactly why we need leadership to be provided from the top level of Government to help stabilise the cost of car insurance,” he said.

“In the meantime, we must continue to promote road safety and responsible driving amongst all road users.”

An open letter to Minister Leo Varadkar


UCC Welfare Officer Katie Quinlan has written a stirring open letter to Minister for Health Leo Varadkar over proposed cuts to the mental health budget in 2016.

Earlier this week it was announced that €12m is to be taken from the budget this year, money that had been previously ringfenced to cover an issue that effects thousands and thousands of Irish people, both directly and indirectly.

Varadkar explained that the money had been earmarked for 1,550 new mental health staff across the country this year, a figure that became unrealistic.

Katie’s letter, however, simply asks why the money wasn’t directed into other areas around the treatment of mental health problems rather than removed entirely to cover other areas of the health spectrum.

This is a very strong message, and we’re happy to support it.

The letter begins…  Dear Mr. Varadkar,

This week I have watched you disregard a significant portion of this country’s population in one swift cruel move.

This week I watched you, a Government official, blatantly do a 180 on a promise you made to various mental health charities and advocates in the past few months.

This week I have watched mental health issues develop a small hint of that stigma we’ve fought so hard to remove.

Counselling has saved my life.

That’s not an easy thing to say and that’s probably the first time I have ever admitted it. Medication has saved many of my friends. Talk therapy has saved members of my family. I don’t buy this whole “one in five suffer with mental health issues” statistic, I think everyone is fighting their own fight. Some of us just need more help.

Your decision to cut mental health funding tells those that need more help that they can’t have it. Those that get the courage and conviction to reach out are now at more of a risk of having their plea for help fall on deaf ears.

We’re a country that bows its heads and gets on with things. We’re Irish, we’re stubborn and we’re incessantly polite.

Now is the time we need to fight.

This fight isn’t to remove an extra charge on our weekly bills or to increase the money we receive each week, this fight is to save our siblings, parents and friends’ lives.

This fight is to tell the pathetic substitute we have for government that we will not allow them alienate the people we need to help most.

For long enough this country has behaved as if mental health issues do not exist. We’ve brushed it all under the carpet, sedated the conversation and hoped it would all go away.

Now that we’re having the open and frank conversation on mental health you want to rip the funding from services that do their utmost for those who need it.

Have you ever listened to someone plead with you to let them take their own life? Have you ever spent hours wishing you could just make it all go away, just make all the thoughts stop? Have you ever watched someone spend hours trying to figure out why they feel so desolate? Have you ever woken up to the news that your friend just couldn’t take it any more and decided to end it all?

I have. Both in my work and in my personal life.

I can’t and I won’t sit back while you take money from services are saving lives every single day.

I plead with you, Mr. Varadkar, don’t allow the message that “help isn’t available” spread to the people who need us most.

I don’t want to sit at another funeral because my government took money from the service that could have saved this person.

I don’t want to have to worry when I advise someone to present at their local emergency room when everything becomes too much.

Don’t bring us back 50 years to a place where mental health is a taboo and we all just bow our heads and get on with it.

‘Anti-ageing’ gin claims to drive away wrinkles with each sip


The alcoholic drink named ‘Anti-AGin’, was developed by the UK-based Bompas and Parr, that creates food art using gelatin desserts.

The newly launched drink that costs about £35 a bottle may provide a novel way to consume collagen.

A UK-based company claims to have developed the world’s first anti-ageing gin, an alcoholic drink infused with collagen that may make you look younger.

The newly launched drink that costs about £35 a bottle may provide a novel way to consume collagen aside from the usual capsules available in the market. The beauty and cosmetic industry markets collagen because as people get older, they lose this valuable component, resulting in lack of firmness and wrinkles.

The alcoholic drink named ‘Anti-AGin’, was developed by the UK-based Bompas and Parr, that creates food art using gelatin desserts.

The 40 per cent spirit is a combination of chamomile and tea tree scents. Other ingredients include witch-hazel, nettle, juniper, coriander and angelica root, the ‘Tech Times’ reported.

“The ingredients were specifically chosen due to their revitalising qualities, including healing sun-damage, being rich in minerals, inhibiting scar formation and to help smooth cellulite,” Warner Leisure Hotels, which commissioned the drink, wrote in its website.

Collagen is naturally produced by the body, but as people age, its production diminishes. Taking in products with collagen or using beauty products with it, could help reduce wrinkles and other signs of premature ageing on the skin.

Massive coral reef discovered in the Amazon River


The University of Georgia’s Patricia Yager, oversees ocean sampling equipment before it’s lowered into the Amazon River plume.

The Amazon River, known for its array of wildlife from pink dolphins to flesh-eating piranhas, has revealed a new treasure — a massive coral reef that stretches for some 600 miles, scientists say.

A team of scientists from Brazil and the United States discovered the reef in the muddy waters at the mouth of the Amazon, according to a report published in the journal Science on Friday.

The reef system spans 3,600-square miles along the ocean floor, stretching from French Guiana to Brazil’s Maranhao state along the edge of South America’s continental shelf.

The finding is surprising because large rivers normally create gaps in reef distribution due to unfavorable conditions such as salinity, pH and light penetration. However, this coral reef system seems to be healthy, according to the report.

American and Brazilian researchers collected this sample of coral.

The carbonate structure, which functions as a waterway passage for fish and other marine life, is home to a big colony of sponges and other creatures that thrive in low-light waters. The study recorded 73 reef fish species, many of them carnivorous.

An international team of scientists from the University of Georgia and the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro was on an expedition to learn more about Amazon River plumes when it made the discovery. Plumes are where the river’s freshwater mixes with the ocean’s saltwater.

“Our expedition into the Brazil Exclusive Economic Zone was primarily focused on sampling the mouth of the Amazon,” Patricia Yager, an associate professor with the University of Georgia and principal investigator of the project, said in a statement.

The Amazon River meets the Atlantic Ocean, creating a plume where freshwater and salt water mix.

However, Yager also wanted to explore the premise of a scientific article from the 1970s that mentioned a scientist capturing reef fish along the continental shelf, which suggested a coral reef may be somewhere in the area.

The search proved fruitful. “We brought up the most amazing and colorful animals I had ever seen on an expedition,” Yager said.

The paper details the reef and the variations in its fish, sponges and other marine life along the shelf due to the amount of light in the area and the plume’s movement. The southern part of the reef, which gets more light, has a wide spectrum of reef critters. Further north, as the light diminishes, the wildlife transitions to creatures like sponges.

Along with the discovery of the reef, researchers also found evidence suggesting this Amazonian jewel may already be threatened.

“From ocean acidification and ocean warming to plans for offshore oil exploration right on top of these new discoveries, the whole system is at risk from human impacts,” Yager said.

News of the extensive reef structure comes as various coral reef systems continue to suffer around the world because of warmer water temperatures and other factors, according to NOAA.

A photo taken on September 22, 2014, shows bleached coral on the Reef, a key Australian tourist attraction.

Tourism on the Great Barrier Reef generates an annual income of A$5 billion ($3.9 billion) and employs nearly 70,000 people.

Of the reefs surveyed in the northern third of the Reef, 81% are characterized as “severely bleached.”

Driven by ocean temperatures that have been 1-2 degrees Celsius (1.8-3.6° F) above average, the bleaching event has left large sections of coral drained of all color and fighting for survival.

The Reef has suffered two mass bleaching events, in 1998 and 2002, but the extent of the bleaching in these years was less severe than in 2016.

Dramatic coral bleaching, seen in Australia’s Great Barrier Reef from March 2016.

Some of the bleaching of reefs in the northern section has been described as “extreme.”

Bleaching occurs when the marine algae that live inside corals die. Of the reefs surveyed in the northern third of the Great Barrier Reef, 81% are characterized as “severely bleached.”

“At some reefs, the final death toll is likely to exceed 90%,” Andrew Baird, of the ARC Center of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, says.

A photo taken on September 22, 2014, shows bleached coral on the Reef, a key Australian tourist attraction.

Tourism on the Great Barrier Reef generates an annual income of A$5 billion ($3.9 billion) and employs nearly 70,000 people.

Of the reefs surveyed in the northern third of the Reef, 81% are characterized as “severely bleached.”

Driven by ocean temperatures that have been 1-2 degrees Celsius (1.8-3.6° F) above average, the bleaching event has left large sections of coral drained of all color and fighting for survival.

The Reef has suffered two mass bleaching events, in 1998 and 2002, but the extent of the bleaching in these years was less severe than in 2016.

Dramatic coral bleaching, seen in Australia’s Great Barrier Reef from March 2016.

Some of the bleaching of reefs in the northern section has been described as “extreme.”

9 photos: Australia’s Great Barrier Reef suffers ‘extreme’ coral bleaching

Bleaching occurs when the marine algae that live inside corals die. Of the reefs surveyed in the northern third of the Great Barrier Reef, 81% are characterized as “severely bleached.”

“At some reefs, the final death toll is likely to exceed 90%,” Andrew Baird, of the ARC Center of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, says.

A photo taken on September 22, 2014, shows bleached coral on the Reef, a key Australian tourist attraction.

A recent report from ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies showed that 90% of the Great Barrier Reef off the coast of Australia is suffering from coral bleaching, which is caused by changes in ocean conditions such as temperature, light or nutrition.

This bleaching happens as algae and other organisms living on the structure leave, depriving the coral of its major food source and causing it to turn white.

Coral bleaching is considered “the most widespread and conspicuous impact of climate change,” according to the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Friday 22nd April 2016.

Some 39 Dail TD’s back motion to scrap water charges and hold a referendum.


As many as 39 TDs have backed a Dáil motion to immediately scrap water charges and hold a referendum to prevent water services from privatisation, placing direct pressure on Fianna Fáil not refuse any Fine Gael deal that ignores their pre-election promises, 

Sinn Féin, AAA-PBP, Social Democrats, the four-strong Independents for Change and unaligned Independents Catherine Connolly, Seamus Healy and Thomas Pringle confirmed the motion will be placed before the Dáil at the next available opportunity as the future of the utility continues to dominate government formation talks.

Speaking at a joint press briefing outside Leinster House, the groups said regardless of any Fine Gael-Fianna Fáil deal Micheal Martin’s party has an obligation to ensure water charges are scrapped as it promised voters before the election.

Social Democrats co-leader Catherine Murphy said the need to scrap water charges is “a test of democracy”, while AAA-PBP TD Richard Boyd Barrett said if Fianna Fáil back tracks “people are going to hit the streets in the next few weeks”.

The move by the 39 opposition TDs is being seen as an attempt to place increasing pressure on Fianna Fáil regardless of any deal with Fine Gael.

Should Fianna Fáil’s 43 TDs support the motion, the charges scrappage and referendum plans would receive the backing of 82 TDs and would be automatically passed into law.

However, if the party rejects the plan or abstains, opposition groups are likely to claim Micheál Martin’s party is allowing Irish Water to continue despite campaigning before the election to remove it – an issue the TDs backing the motion have been increasingly vocal on in recent days.

Speaking at a separate event in support of Luas drivers who are taking industrial action on Thursday, left-wing TDs hit out at any deal that will see the continuation of water charges – insisting it would ignore what people voted for.

The claim was made by the AAA-PBP, Sinn Féin and left-leaning Independents, including AAA-PBP TD Ruth Coppinger, who said the mooted Fine Gael-Fianna Fáil plan is a “ploy” as “waivers and allowances can be taken away at any time”.

Calling for a Right2Water national protest to underline the position, she said “70%” of TDs elected to the Dáil in February ran on anti-water charge platforms and that if the fees are not now cancelled the public will have a “legal right” to ignore the fees.

Party colleague Mr Boyd Barrett said: “Fianna Fáil are beginning to get slippery on this issue” and that “if we’re supposed to be doing politics in a new way, if we’re supposed to have reform, those who said they would end water charges need to follow through on that”.

The opposition parties have also been highly critical of the fact Irish Water’s latest quarterly payment/cancellation figures for January to March have yet to be published, despite the fact they have been due for a number of days.

In previous quarterly periods the figures have been published on July 15, October 22 and January 14 respectively, leading to claims the ongoing failure to publish the latest details is a deliberate attempt to suppress the information while government talks continue.

However, an Irish Water spokesperson has insisted the delay is simply because the utility is “currently collating the information from the cycle” and that “once all information has been collated we will publish the details”.

A new Irish government must prioritise AIB, says Michael Noonan

Decision must be made on whether to have AIB share sale by end of year, says Minister Noonan?


The Minister for Finance Michael Noonan says: “No irretrievable decision has been taken yet to go ahead [with an AIB share sale] in the final quarter in the year, but we’ll have to take a decision in the early days of the government to meet the timelines.’’ 

One of the first tasks facing a new government is deciding whether to push ahead with a share sale in Allied Irish Banks by the end of this year, Minister for Finance Michael Noonan said yesterday.

Mr Noonan, who had previously indicated his preference to sell a 25% stake 99.8 percent state-owned AIB in the second half of 2016, commented on AIB as he said that a Fine Gael-led government could be formed within weeks, with talks with Fianna Fail “moving in the right directon”.

“No irretrievable decision has been taken yet to go ahead [with an AIB share sale] in the final quarter in the year, but we’ll have to take a decision in the early days of the government to meet the timelines,’’ he told reporters yesterday on his way to address an Ireland Strategic Investment Fund conference.

“Obviously markets haven’t been as strong as they were last year. We’ll only sell in a strong market as we want to get full value for the Irish taxpayers,’’ he said.

AIB made the first €1.6 billion instalment in December on repaying its almost €21 billion taxpayer bailout during the financial crisis.

Mr Noonan said that the next government would take financial advice on a possible sale of the state’s remaining 14% stake in Bank of Ireland after completing an initial share sale in AIB. He doesn’t envisage a further share sale in Permanent TSB, where the government retains a 75% stake, “in the short term.’’

Meanwhile, the minister said that political uncertainty since the general election in February and concerns over the UK exiting the European Unionhaven’t impacted market sentiment towards Ireland, or its ability to attract foreign direct investment.

“”There is no perceived change in market sentiment towards Ireland either from the election results, the lack of a government or Brexit,’’ said Mr Noonan. “But we have been watching it on all fronts and it is not delaying foreign direct investment. The pipeline is strong.”


Irish Central Bank set to pay Government 


The Central Bank is selling down its holdings of bonds linked to the liquidation of the former Anglo Irish Bank, underpinning its profits

The Central Bank is selling down its holdings of bonds linked to the liquidation of the former Anglo Irish Bank, underpinning its profits

The Central Bank has earmarked around €1.7bn for a payment to the government, according to people familiar with the situation.

Bloomberg is reporting that the payment – which is in line with last year’s – stems from the bank’s profit in 2015, according to two people familiar with the situation, who asked not to be named as the organisation’s annual report has yet to go to Government.

The details could be announced as early as next week.

The Central Bank is selling down its holdings of bonds linked to the liquidation of the former Anglo Irish Bank, underpinning its profits.

Minister for Finance Michael Noonan has said that Central Bank sales of the securities are ahead of the minimum schedule laid out when Anglo closed.

The Central Bank’s holdings of floating rate bonds related to the bank’s liquidation amount to €22bn, according to Mr Noonan.

In 2014, holdings of the notes declined to €24.5bn, the Central Bank said its annual report.

Dying people are not getting enough help to eat or drink while dying & in pain

Says a survey


More than 20,000 relatives and friends of people who died last year shared their views of end of life care for an Office for National Statistics (ONS) survey.

Some people in their final days of life are not getting enough help to eat or drink and are dying in pain, a major survey suggests.

One in five people who saw their relative or friend die last year also felt decisions were taken about their care that the person would not have wanted.

Furthermore, hospital doctors and nurses showed less dignity and respect for loved ones than those working in other places, such as care homes and hospices.

More than 20,000 relatives and friends of people who died last year shared their views of end of life care for an Office for National Statistics (ONS) survey.

Of the deaths, 27% were from cardiovascular disease, 27% were from cancer and 46% were from other causes.

Overall, 69% of those whose loved one died in hospital rated the care as outstanding, excellent or good – significantly lower than the results for care homes (82%), hospices (79%) or care in the person’s own home (79%).

Asked if the person had adequate support to relieve thirst, hunger, pain and other problems, around three-quarters of relatives and friends agreed this was the case.

But one in eight (13%) disagreed or strongly disagreed that the patient’s need for food or nutrition was met in their last two days of life.

And 12% disagreed that there was adequate support for the patient to receive fluids while 12% disagreed other problems were looked after.

One in 10 people disagreed that pain relief was sufficient for their loved one in the last two days of life.

Hospital staff received the lowest ratings of always showing dignity and respect (60% for hospital doctors and 54% for hospital nurses) of all staff, although this has improved compared with previous surveys.

For individual conditions, cancer patients received less dignity and respect at all times (52%) from hospital nurses than those suffering heart disease (57%) or other causes (53%).

However, cancer patients received the most dignity and respect from district and community nurses, and in care homes and from hospice doctors and nurses.

For patients where pain had been an issue, 64% of relatives and friends felt it had been relieved “completely, all of the time” for those treated in hospices (64%) and least frequently for those who died at home (19%).

Almost one in 13 (8%) people cared for at home did not have their pain relieved at all, the survey found.

Macmillan Cancer Support said the findings showed that relatives and friends felt one in 10 cancer patients had died without sufficient pain relief, 12% disagreed the person with cancer had support to eat or receive nutrition if he or she wanted and 11% had not received support to drink or receive fluid.

Dr Fran Woodard, executive director of policy and impact at Macmillan Cancer Support, said the findings made “for very sobering reading”.

She added: “This survey shows really basic failings in how people with cancer are spending their final days – at least one in 10 people with cancer are being left hungry, thirsty or in pain.

“Shockingly, almost one in eight people with cancer are not given enough help with personal needs, such as washing or going to the toilet. Dying people and their families should never be left in such terrible distress in this day and age.

“Looking after someone at the end of life can be incredibly stressful and all-consuming for families and carers. No family should be left alone to care for someone at the end of life without the right advice and support.

“Most people dying of cancer would prefer to be at home, but too often badly needed help is simply unavailable, and people have to go to hospital against their wishes.”

Simon Chapman, director of policy and external affairs for the National Council for Palliative Care, said: “There is a lot to learn from this data, but one thing that leaps out is that very little is changing.

“What’s good remains good, and what’s poor remains poor. We need to see improvements in the areas that are lagging.”

Dr Ros Taylor, clinical director at Hospice UK, said: “We urge the NHS to harness the expertise of hospices, especially on pain relief, good communication and support for families, so that high quality care is available to people at the end of life across all settings.”

Scott Sinclair, head of policy and public affairs at Marie Curie, said it was vital variations in care were addressed “so that people have the highest quality of care wherever they are when they die”.

He added: “This is why we need an urgent response from the Government to the Independent Review on Choice in End of Life Care, which was published over a year ago. Only through improving funding to palliative care services can the Government ensure high quality pain relief for people who choose to die at home, and better access to specialist palliative care in hospital.”

Alcohol and meat ‘strongly’ linked to stomach cancer

New research also claims being overweight increases the risk of the disease


Drinking alcohol, eating processed meat and being overweight have been ‘strongly’ linked to stomach cancer for the first time.

Drinking alcohol, eating processed meat and being overweight have been “strongly” linked to stomach cancer for the first time.

A new study from the World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) found an increased risk of stomach cancer for people who drink three or more alcoholic drinks a day (equivalent to more than 45g of alcohol per day).

Eating the equivalent of 50g per day of processed meat – two pieces of bacon – was also linked to stomach cancer, while being overweight or obese also increased the risk.

However, eating citrus fruits may decrease the risk, experts said.

Just in excess of 7,000 people are diagnosed with stomach cancer every year in the UK and it leads to about 5,000 deaths.

Most people are diagnosed when their cancer has started to spread across the body.

According to Cancer Research UK, doctors generally think a patient is doing very well if they are still alive two years after being diagnosed with advanced stomach cancer.

Men are twice as likely as women to develop stomach cancer, and it is more common in older adults.

‘WCRE report strong evidence’

In the new report, WCRF scientists said there was “strong evidence” that drinking about three or more alcoholic drinks per day increased the risk of stomach cancer, as did being overweight or obese.

They also pointed to “strong evidence” that consuming foods preserved by salting increased the risk, and “strong evidence” that consuming processed meat increased the risk.

The report said: “Processed meat is meat that has been preserved by smoking, curing or salting, or by the addition of preservatives.

“Examples include ham, bacon, pastrami and salami, as well as hot dogs and some sausages.”

Processed meat is already linked to bowel cancer, while being overweight or obese is linked to 10 different cancers.

Dr Rachel Thompson, head of research interpretation at the WCRF, said: “This new evidence gives us a clearer picture.

“We can now say, for the first time, that drinking alcohol, eating processed meat and being overweight or obese can all increase the risk of developing stomach cancers.

“These findings will hopefully help people better understand what increases their risk of cancer so that they can make informed decisions about their lifestyles choices.”

In the UK, the lifetime risk of stomach cancer stands at one in 67 for men and one in 135 for women.

WCRF experts believe more than 1,200 cases of stomach cancer in the UK could be prevented each year if people did not drink three alcoholic drinks per day, cut out processed meat and were a healthy weight.

World leaders of 170 countries sign historic UN climate agreement


Above left a photo of the leaders of 170 countries. 

Ban Ki-moon speaks at the signing ceremony for the Paris Agreement at UN headquarters in New York.

Dozens of world leaders have signed the Paris Agreement on climate change as the landmark deal takes a key step towards coming into force years ahead of schedule.

Some brought a personal touch to the historic occasion. US Secretary of State John Kerry held his young granddaughter, and gave her a kiss, as he signed.

The signing ceremony – at which more than 170 countries were taking part – is expected to set a record for international diplomacy: Never have so many countries signed an agreement on the first available day. States that do not sign on Friday have a year to do so.

“The era of consumption without consequences is over,” UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon told the New York gathering.

French President Francois Hollande was the first to sign the agreement which will enter into force once 55 countries representing at least 55% of global emissions have formally joined it.

The United States and China, which together account for nearly 40% of global emissions, have said they intend to join this year.

US President Barack Obama welcomed the signing saying he hopes it will allow “all of our children to inherit a cleaner, healthier, and safer planet”.

As the world’s second-largest source of carbon emissions, the United States has a responsibility to act, he said.

Mr Kerry said signing the agreement was a moment for world leaders to recommit to actually win the “war” against carbon emissions that are making the planet hotter every year.

“The urgency of this challenge is only becoming more pronounced,” he said, “and this is why our gathering today is, in fact, historic.”

He said the power of last December’s climate agreement “is the message that it sends to the marketplace”.

It is going “to unleash the private sector” to define the new energy of the future and set the global economy on a new path to development that preserves the environment, he said.

Many expect the climate agreement to come into force long before the original deadline of 2020. Some say it could happen this year.

After signing, countries must formally approve the agreement through their domestic procedures. The United Nations says 15 countries, several of them small island states under threat from rising seas, are set to do that on Friday by depositing their instruments of ratification.

China’s climate envoy Xie Zhenhua said China would “finalise domestic procedures” to ratify the Paris Agreement before it hosts the G-20 summit in September.

Maros Sefcovic, the energy chief for another top emitter, the 28-nation European Union, said the EU wants to be in the “first wave” of ratifying countries.

Countries that had not yet indicated they would sign the agreement on Friday include some of the world’s largest oil producers, including Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Nigeria and Kazakhstan, the World Resources Institute said.

Before leaders started signing, Hollywood star Leonardo DiCaprio urged them to leave fossil fuels “in the ground where they belong” telling them they are the “last best hope” for saving the planet from the disastrous effects of global warming.

The actor, who is a UN Messenger of Peace with a special focus on climate change, added: “We can congratulate each other today, but it will mean absolutely nothing” if you return to your countries and don’t take action to implement the deal.”

The Paris Agreement, the world’s response to hotter temperatures, rising seas and other impacts of climate change, was reached in December as a major breakthrough in UN climate negotiations, which for years were slowed by disputes between rich and poor countries over who should do what.

Under the agreement, countries set their own targets for reducing emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. The targets are not legally binding, but countries must update them every five years.

Already, states face pressure to do more. Scientific analyses show the initial set of targets that countries pledged before Paris do not match the agreement’s long-term goal to keep global warming below 2C, compared with pre-industrial times. Global average temperatures have already climbed by almost 1C. Last year was the hottest on record.

The latest analysis by the Climate Interactive research group shows the Paris pledges put the world on track for 3.5C of warming. A separate analysis by Climate Action Tracker, a European group, projected warming of 2.7C.

Either way, scientists say the consequences could be catastrophic in some places, wiping out crops, flooding coastal areas and melting Arctic sea ice.

News Ireland daily BLOG update

Thursday 21st April 2016.

Eir ebitdata seen as stable in ‘competitive telecoms market’

Fitch says consumers have not benefited from lower prices since Three acquired O2


Fitch said retail fixed-line competition is “remarkably similar” to the UK with the incumbent Eir facing stiff competition from bundled services provided by rivals.

Ireland’s telecoms market is “vibrant, crowded and competitive,” according to a new report that finds the sector generated about €3.7 billion in revenues last year.

The latest Irish Telecoms Dashboard from ratings agency Fitch forecasts that investment in the sector will remain high in the coming years, primarily due to spending by Eir on its fibre network.

The report also says that consumers have not benefited from lower prices in the almost two years since Three acquired O2. It adds that with increased operator consolidation, competitive emphasis is increasing focused on network quality, rather than on costs.

“Domestic average revenue per user (ARPU) trends remain under pressure and Ireland has some of the lowest ARPUs among advanced western European mobile markets,” Fitch said.

The agency said retail fixed-line competition is “remarkably similar” to the UK with the incumbent Eir facing stiff competition from bundled services provided by rivals such as Virgin Media and Sky. It said customer losses to Eir from fixed line operators were less dilutive than losses to Virgin, its only last mile retail access competitor.

“Eir’s retail broadband position has been eroded but its revenue share of the Irish fixed market appears to be stabilising at around 49% with the success of Sky and Vodafone’s broadband offers generating sizeable and growing wholesale revenues for the incumbent,” Fitch said.

It added that with improving APRU trends at both the retail and wholesale levels, along with sizeable cost-cutting, Eir has managed to stabilise its fixed earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation (ebitda).

Publication of the report comes a week after Fitch revised Eir’s outlook grade to positive from stable and affirmed its long-term issuer default rating at ‘B’.

New Sligo IT science discovery could stem spread of deadly super-bugs,

In a game changing breakthrough?

Main Image      

Professor Suresh Pillai with John Browne (above middle pic), of Kastus Technologies, in the Nanotechnology Research Laboratory at Sligo IT.

A new discovery by a team of scientists in Sligo Ireland could stem the spread of deadly superbugs predicted to kill millions of people worldwide over the coming decades.

The researchers found an agent that can be baked into everyday items like smart-phones and door handles to combat the likes of MRSA and E. coli.

The nanotechnology has a 99.9 % kill rate of potentially lethal and drug-resistant bacteria, they say.

Lead scientist Professor Suresh C Pillai, of Sligo Institute of Technology’s Nanotechnology Research Group, says the discovery is the culmination of 12 years’ work.

“This is a new game changer,” he said.

“It’s absolutely wonderful to finally be at this stage. “This breakthrough will change the whole fight against superbugs. It can effectively control the spread of bacteria.”

The findings were published on Thursday in the international journal Scientific Reports.

Last week British Chancellor George Osborne warned superbugs could become deadlier than cancer and are on course to kill 10 million people globally by 2050.

Speaking at the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in Washington, he warned drug-resistant bugs could escalate into a global crisis costing £70 trillion.

Scientists have been in a race to find a way of preventing the spread of the bacteria which causes the superbugs.

The new discovery works by building or baking a water-based antimicrobial solution that kills micro-organisms or inhibits their growth into everyday products as they are being manufactured.

These could include anything made from glass, metallics and ceramics including computer or tablet screens, smartphones, ATMs, door handles, TVs, handrails, lifts, urinals, toilet seats, fridges, microwaves and ceramic floor or wall tiles.

Professor Pillai says the innovation will be of particular use in hospitals and medical facilities which are losing the battle against the spread of the killer superbugs.

“Every single person has a sea of bacteria on their hands,” he said.

“The mobile phone is the most contaminated personal item that we can have. Bacteria grows on the phone and can live there for up to five months.

“As it is contaminated with proteins from saliva and from the hand, it’s fertile land for bacteria and has been shown to carry 30 times more bacteria than a toilet seat.”

The research has been funded for the past eight years by John Browne, founder of Kastus Technologies, who will now work to bring the product to a global market.

The team says the nanotechnology is non-toxic and has no harmful by-products.

They are already working on how to adapt it for use in plastics and paint, allowing even wider use.

Sugar tax will not solve Irish nation’s dental crisis?

Greater focus on education is needed?


Many Irish children have high levels of tooth decay, but introducing a sugar tax to tackle this ‘will not provide a miraculous quick fix solution’, dentists have warned.

According to the Irish Dental Association (IDA), studies show that around half of all Irish 12-year-olds and three-quarters of all 15-year-olds already have some decay in their permanent teeth.

A significant amount of this this decay is thought to be due to the consumption of sugary drinks and recently, the British Chancellor, George Osborne, announced a plan to introduce a sugar tax on the producers of sugar-added soft drinks, with the revenue raised being spent on school sports programmes.

However commenting on this issue, outgoing IDA president, Anne Twomey, said that the focus should not be on how much people are paying for these products. Instead, it should be on encouraging people to reduce their consumption.

“There is overwhelming evidence that sugars in food and beverages are the main dietary causes of tooth decay and erosion in children and adults. In addition to decay, people who consume excess sugar suffer higher rates of heart disease and diabetes.

“We believe the best approach to this issue is through a coordinated programme of education and promotion, in tandem with an effective school screening programme at junior infant level, or even via free dental care for the under sixes,” she said.

While no studies have been carried out on lost school time in Ireland, international research suggests that children with poor oral health are three times more likely to miss school as a result of dental pain.

The IDA said it would support public health warning labels being placed on carbonated soft drinks. However it also said that if a sugar tax was introduced, all money raised should go towards oral healthcare programmes.

The association questioned whether companies hit with a sugar tax would reformulate their products, or simply increase their prices to compensate.

“Have any studies been carried out to test the effectiveness of sugar taxes where they have been introduced? What about the 60% of the population here who do not consume sugar-sweetened beverages?

“As well as fizzy drinks would the tax also cover fruit juices? What happens if consumers switch to alternative untaxed sugary drinks? What about the disproportionate effect such a tax will have on lower income households? These are important questions and we really haven’t heard convincing answers to any of them,” Ms Twomey commented.

She also highlighted the fact Irish children are among the highest per capita consumers of soft drinks in the western world. However, rather than trying to tackle this issue, ‘the HSE made severe cuts to its dental service catering for children’.

“There has been a 20% net reduction in dentists employed by the HSE to care for children and now those children and their dentists are dealing with the consequences of that decision. Studies show it is children from more deprived backgrounds who have a higher risk of decay and unfortunately, these are the very people who have been hardest hit by the HSE’s cutbacks in the public dental service,” Dr Twomey added.

Stunning photo of surfer in Mullaghmore Co Sligo up for major award


Surfer Tom Butler rides a big wave in Mullaghmore, Co. Sligo in a a photo last October 2015 of which is now up for the US$ 14,000 top prize in the Best Barrel Category at the 2016 XXL Big Wave Awards.

This stunning photograph of Tom Butler deep in the tube at Mullaghmore in Co Sligo is in the running for a major surf award.

Taken by South African Ian Mitchinson last October, it is among the final five photographs vying for the $14,000 top prize in the Pure Scot Barrel of the Year category at the 2016 WSL Big Wave Awards, the winners of which will be announced on April 23rd in Los Angeles.

Fellow South African Frank Solomon has been nominated in the Billabong Ride of the Year category, which carries a top prize of $93,000 for the surfer and $9,000 for the videographer, for a wave the same day at Mullaghmore. Captured on video by Irish man Peter Clyne, it was his first ever ride at the world-renowned big wave spot.

Mr Mitchinson and Mr Butler are part of a tight-knit crew of surfers and photographers chasing huge swells off the Irish coast. “We live on the fringes of society in Donegal chasing waves without really making any money doing it, but we go to the extremes to be amongst the most insane waves in the world that come to Irish shores each winter,” Mr Mitchinson said.

NFU calls for better store layouts that encourage more Fruit and Veg consumption

For our health’s sake?


The UK’s National Farmers Union (NFU) has said that retailers have a responsibility to ensure store layouts and labelling are conducive to getting consumers to eat more fruit and vegetables.

The group has outlined 34 ‘Options for Action’ in its recently published Fit for the Future report, including multi-siting fruit and vegetables in more places in stores, redesigning food service areas to offer more prominence to them, and developing fun-shaped fruit and veg options for kids.

The recommendations, based on a wide range of international studies and initiatives, have been proposed to help reverse the obesity crisis currently facing the UK, as well as increase the consumption of fruit and vegetables.

The report highlights that the ‘food swamping’ of healthy produce – or crowding them out with less healthy foods – and increasing consumer ‘decision fatigue’ are two of the major stumbling blocks in increasing fruit and veg consumption.

The NFU therefore, recommends making fruit and vegetables available in multipacks, snack packs, with lunchtime meal deals, alongside ready meals and even at the checkout – in other words, throughout the store and in various different formats.

NFU President Meurig Raymond commented, “At the moment, although most people understand the reasons why they should eat more fruit and veg, consumption simply isn’t increasing and this has to change.

“We are calling on all parts of the industry and government to work with us and to implement initiatives that will drive consumer purchases.”

ALL GOVERNMENTS should Put fruit and veg consumption at the heart of the forthcoming Childhood Obesity Strategy to deliver positive, engaging messages around food and nutrition. And ensure its objectives are followed through, regardless of the EU referendum result.

• Develop a cohesive strategy for enabling fruit and veg consumption with a view to promoting the need for increased fibre and micronutrient consumption to ensure the nation’s health, in addition to existing initiatives.

• Provide more information on the nutritional benefits of potatoes and the essential micronutrients they contain within the messaging around the Eatwell Guide.

• Revisit planning regulations with regard to enabling choice architecture at community level and ensuring that healthy foods are not simply ‘swamped out’ by energy-dense food alternatives.

• Redesign the layout of food service areas and positioning of food products in schools, hospitals and government workplaces in order to have increased fruit and veg availability at the start of the buffet setting, plus the use of convenient options for fruit and veg products in vending machines.

• Promote increased visibility of fruit and veg within the School Food Plan with an associated choice architecture strategy in the serving setting as outlined above. And ensure delivery of the plan is consistently applied across local authorities. Going forward, as all schools move towards Academy status, ensure that fruit and veg consumption remains a priority in any new school food initiatives.

• Undertake a feasibility study to determine applicability within the UK policy environment for the development of an equivalent Community Food Projects Competitive Grants Programme (CFPCGP) in order to implement a nutrition incentive based approach (e.g. fruit and veg prescriptions) as has been developed in the US where it currently involves 110 community based partners, 730 community health care centres, hospitals and food hubs.

• Extend the Healthy Start programme to include all families with children under 16. • Provide additional advice on juice and juicing of fruit and veg so consumers understand the balances required to benefit from their nutritional values.

• Provide an enabling environment for food reformulation for example through the Public Health Responsibility Deal.

The smallest full Moon of 2016: see the Slooh webcast tonight


The full moon of March 23, 2016, shines brightly in this image taken in Chapmanville, West Virginia, 

The smallest full moon of 2016 will light up the night sky this weekend, and you can get a sneak preview of the lunar event in a free webcast from the Slooh community observatory tonight (April 21).

The full moon of April, which is traditionally known as the Full Pink Moon or Pink Full Moon, actually occurs on Friday night (April 22). This year, April’s full moon will be the smallest of the year because the moon will be at the farthest point from Earth in its elliptical orbit. Slooh representatives have dubbed the event a “mini-moon” and will showcase live views of the full moon on beginning at 8 p.m. EDT (0000 GMT) tonight.

“As the Earth and moon move to their furthest points from each other, we’ll all get a unique chance to see the full moon as it appears smallest to us here on Earth … a ‘mini’ moon, and a Pink Full Moon at that,” Slooh representatives said in a webcast announcement. You can also watch the April full moon webcast on here , courtesy of Slooh. [The Full Moon Explained: Why It Happens (Video)]

During tonight’s webcast, Slooh astronomer Bob Berman and host Paul Cox will be joined by Janice Stillman, editor of The Old Farmer’s Almanac, to discuss the upcoming full moon, why it’s known as a Pink Moon and why it is the smallest of its kind this year. Live images of the moon will be provided by Slooh’s flagship observatory at the Institute of Astrophysics in the Canary Islands.

 Viewers will be able to ask questions about the moon via Twitter by sending messages to @Slooh or by joining the webcast’s live chat, Slooh representatives said.

You can find tips on how to observe the moon in our infographic. If you need some photography tips, check out’s photo guide for moon observers by veteran night sky photographers Imelda Joson and Edwin Aguirre


News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Wednesday 20th April 2016.

Ireland’s budget deficit higher than the Government’s official forecast

Eurostat ruling means State recorded deficit of 2.3% of GDP


The Government was obliged to comply with a 2010 European recommendation to bring the deficit to a maximum of 2.9% by the end of 2015. 

Ireland’s year end budget deficit came in higher than the outgoing Government’s official forecast due to an unexpected ruling by Eurostat, the EU statistical agency.

The 2015 figure was still low enough to ensure Dublin will no longer be subjected to stringent fiscal oversight from Brussels for running an excessive deficit.

However, Eurostat’s ruling led to the State recording a general government deficit of 2.3% of GDP. The figure was almost 1 percentage point higher than foreseen by the Government, which was proceeding on the basis that the surge a surge in tax receipts and GDP growth last year would bring the deficit to 1.3%.

At issue in Eurostat’s ruling was its formal classification of a one-off share transaction in the nationalised Allied Irish Banks.

Contrary to expectations in Dublin, the Luxembourg-based organisation designated the conversion last year of AIB preference shares to ordinary shares as a general government expenditure. The redemption of the preference shares by AIB yielded €1.6 billion for the State.

The year-end debt-to-GDP ratio came in lower than anticipated at 94%, down from 107.5% in 2014.

“The outturn data and future forecasts demonstrate that the excessive deficit has been corrected in a durable manner,” said the Department of Finance.

“ This performance together with the forecast reduction in the deficit in 2016 to 1.1% of GDP means that Ireland should exit the Excessive Deficit Procedure as expected.”

The Government was obliged to comply with a 2010 European recommendation no bring the deficit to a maximum of 2.9% by the end of 2015. The 2.4% of deficit means this condition was met on time, clearing the way for Ireland to exit Europe’s “excessive deficit procedure” in coming weeks.

Member state which are subject to procedure face a tougher form of fiscal scrutiny by the authorities in Brussels, so one particular set of oversight rules will no longer apply to Ireland. Still, the strengthening of the euro zone rulebook during the sovereign debt crisis means Dublin will be obliged to comply with another set of onerous targets.

“The underlying general government deficit of 1.3% of GDP and the reduction in the debt to GDP ratio to under 94% demonstrates strongly the continued improvement in Ireland‘s public finances,” said Minister for Finance Michael Noonan.

“Indeed, the strength of the performance is such that impact of the treatment of the AIB preference share transaction by Eurostat leaves the headline deficit at 2.3%,” he added.

“This is still well within the excessive deficit procedure limit of 2.9% that Ireland had to achieve last year. The one-off nature of the transaction affecting the 2015 figures has no further implications and my Department is forecasting a deficit of 1.1% of GDP for 2016.”

The Department said the end-2015 debt figure was in line with the euro zone average, adding that the forecast for 2016 was a “further reduction” in the ratio to just under 89% of GDP.

This figures and the projection of 1.1% deficit reflects a “provisional forecast” by the Department. The forecast will be updated in the “stability programme update”, which is a formal submission the State must make to Brussels by the end of this month.

The document typically embraces an update on the fiscal situation six months since the budget, as well a new economic forecast for the current year and an initial forecast for the following year. However, the filing is likely to be delayed due to prolonged political wrangling over the formation of the next government.

‘I know Irish people are frustrated with Government talks’  Say’s Varadkar


Leo Varadkar left photo.

Health Minister Leo Varadkar said he understood people were “frustrated” as his party’s talks with Fianna Fail ended without agreement tonight.

Negotiations to facilitate a minority Fine Gael Government will continue tomorrow again in Trinity College – a neutral venue for both sides.

“The process is slow and we have to refer back to our party leaders. But I think it is fair to say we have made progress today,” Mr Varadkar said.

“It’s almost two months since the election and I know members of the public as well as politicians are frustrated but I think it’s moving in the right direction.”

Discussions finished yesterday on Irish Water – an issue both sides disagreed on.

However, Fianna Fail’s Michael McGrath said progress had been made on the issue this evening after an hour and half in discussion.

“(Negotiations) continued across a range of areas and we continued to make progress across the main policy areas such as housing, homelessness,” said Mr McGrath.

“We’re very focused on supporting families, people with cost of living issues and of course Irish Water.”

Cut sitting time in office by 71 minutes to live longer


Office goers should take note! Reducing sitting time at workplace by 71 minutes per day may lower the risk of heart diseases, diabetes and all-cause mortality, a new study has claimed.

Researchers conducted a multi-component work-based intervention to reduce sitting time and prolonged sitting periods.

The results, which were followed up at one month and three months, showed a reduction of 0.61 percentage points in body fat percentage. This was as a result of 71 minutes shorter sitting time during working hours after one month.

“A reduction in sitting time by 71 minutes per day and increases in interruptions could have positive effects and, in the long run, could be associated with reduced risk of heart diseases, diabetes and all-cause mortality, especially among those who are inactive in their leisure time,” said Janne Tolstrup from University of Southern Denmark.

As many as 317 office workers in 19 offices across Denmark and Greenland were randomly put into the intervention or control groups. The intervention included environmental office changes and a lecture and workshop, where workers were encouraged to use their sit-stand desks.

By wearing an accelerometer device, researchers were able to measure results across a five day working week.

After one month, participants in the intervention group sat down for 71 minutes less in an 8 hour work day than the control group. This reduced to 48 minutes after three months.

The number of steps per workday hour was seven per cent higher at one month and eight per cent higher at three months, researchers said.

Relatively few people complained of any pain as a result of standing more, with less than six per cent of people reporting negative consequences, they said.

The findings were published in the journal International Journal of Epidemiology.

With Parkinson’s disease ‘Many patients hide their symptom’s


More than a third of people in the UK with Parkinson’s disease feel the need to hide their symptoms or lie about having the condition, a survey for a charity suggests.

They feel the symptoms are not socially acceptable and may embarrass those close to them, Parkinson’s UK said.

It added it was concerned that too many people were struggling alone with their diagnosis, affecting emotional health.

The disease affects 127,000 people in the UK – about one in 500 people.

The main symptoms are tremor, slowness of movement and rigidity.

The charity surveyed 1,868 people with the disease to find out how they dealt with their diagnosis.

The fear of stigma?

One in three with the condition said they had delayed telling friends and family about their diagnosis with some of the main reasons including the fear of being stigmatised.

The charity said the findings also revealed a worrying level of emotional repercussions for people diagnosed with Parkinson’s.

Younger people reported being hardest hit by the diagnosis to the extent that many said they felt “like their world had ended” and said “they didn’t know who to turn to”.

Steve Ford, chief executive at Parkinson’s UK, said not getting help for the degenerative neurological condition was having a devastating impact on people’s emotional health.

“We are determined that each and every person with Parkinson’s is aware of the support available so they can feel equipped to have these difficult conversations.

“We know that the right support, whether through family, friends or Parkinson’s UK, is vital for those with the condition, to help them come to terms with their diagnosis and know that they’re not alone.”

He added: “We are here to help people find the support they need, when they need it.”

800,000 get drinking water from inadequate plants Says EPA

Cork city and south county Dublin among places on agency’s remedial list


Water supplies to 800,000 people were affected by issues such as inadequate treatment for cryptosporidium, inadequate disinfection, and poor control of trihalomethanes.

The number of people getting their drinking water from inadequate water treatment plants has grown to 800,000, according to the latest report from the Environmental Protection Agency published on Wednesday afternoon.

Water supplies to 800,000 people were affected by issues such as inadequate treatment for cryptosporidium, inadequate disinfection, and poor control of trihalomethanes – the chemical compounds which have been linked to cancers.

The figure applies to the first three months of 2016, up 21,000 from the last three months of 2015.

On the remedial action list are large scale supplies such as that serving a population of 106,000 people in Cork city and a supply serving more than 21,000 people in central Kerry. In Dublin the Ballyboden reservoir which serves south county Dublin is on the list, requiring the reservoir to be covered by 2017.

The remedial action list is used by the EPA to prioritise the most serious deficiencies in public water supplies. It is compiled form audits and audits and investigations of drinking water quality failures.

Inclusion on the list does not necessarily mean the drinking water is unfit for consumption, but that the infrastructure is not adequate to prevent such an occurrence.

The primary issues identified by the EPA include: effective disinfection, ineffective barriers to cryptosporidium, and inadequate control of trihalomethanes.

A spokesman for the EPA said the “continuing high numbers of people getting their drinking water from schemes listed on the EPA remedial action list highlights the need for a sustained increase in investment in our water services. Without this investment the risk of new water restrictions and boil water notices continues”.

Scientists say 93% of the Great Barrier Reef is now bleached


Footage taken at Australia’s Great Barrier Reef shows what authorities are calling the worst coral bleaching in 15 years.

The conclusions are in from a series of scientific surveys of the Great Barrier Reef bleaching event — an environmental assault on the largest coral ecosystem on Earth — and scientists aren’t holding back about how devastating they find them.

Australia’s National Coral Bleaching Task Force has surveyed 911 coral reefs by air, and found at least some bleaching on 93 percent of them. The amount of damage varies from severe to light, but the bleaching was the worst in the reef’s remote northern sector — where virtually no reefs escaped it.

“Between 60 and 100% of corals are severely bleached on 316 reefs, nearly all in the northern half of the Reef,” Prof. Terry Hughes, head of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at James Cook University, said in a statement to the news media. He led the research.

Severe bleaching means that corals could die, depending on how long they are subject to these conditions. The scientists also reported that based on diving surveys of the northern reef, they already are seeing nearly 50 percent coral death.

“The fact that the most severely affected regions are those that are remote and hence otherwise in good shape, means that a lot of prime reef is being devastated,” said Nancy Knowlton, Sant Chair for Marine Science at the Smithsonian Institution, in an email in response to the bleaching announcement. “One has to hope that these protected reefs are more resilient and better able to [recover], but it will be a lengthy process even so.”

Knowlton added that Hughes, who led the research, is “NOT an alarmist.”

  Here’s a map that the group released when announcing the results, showing clearly that bleaching hit the northern parts of the reef the worst:

Hughes tweeted about the map, writing, “I showed the results of aerial surveys of #bleaching on the #GreatBarrierReef to my students, And then we wept.”

“This is, by far, the worst bleaching they’ve seen on the Great Barrier Reef,” said Mark Eakin, head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Coral Reef Watch, which partners with the Australian National Coral Bleaching Taskforce. “Our climate model-based Four Month Bleaching Outlook was predicting that severe bleaching was likely for the [Great Barrier Reef] back in December. Unfortunately, we were right and much of the reef has bleached, especially in the north.”

Responding to the news Wednesday, the Australian government’s Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority put out a statement from its chairman Russell Reichelt. “While the data is incomplete, it is clear there will be an impact on coral abundance because of bleaching-induced mortality, mainly in the far north,” the statement said in part.

Coral bleaching occurs when corals are stressed by unusually high water temperatures, or from other causes. When this happens, symbiotic algae, called zooxanthellae, leave the corals’ bodies. This changes their color to white and can also in effect starve them of nutrients. If bleaching continues for too long, corals die.

There already have been reports of mass coral death around the Pacific atoll of Kiribati this year — and widespread coral bleaching worldwide, a phenomenon that scientists attribute to a strong El Niño event surfing atop a general climate warming trend.

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Sunday 17th April 2016.

Fianna Fáil now open to supporting a minority Fine Gael/Labour government?

Micheál Martin says he wants his party to embrace change emerging in Irish politics.


Micheál Martin at the Easter Rising commemoration at Arbour Hill (left pic.) The challenges faced today are “nothing compared to the challenges faced and overcome by the heroes of 1916”.

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin has said his party could support a Fine Gael-Labour minority government.

“We are prepared to facilitate a Fine Gael-led minority government which would be led by Fine Gael, plus others,” he told reporters yesterday after Fianna Fáil’s annual 1916 commemoration at Arbour Hill in Dublin.

He confirmed his party could also support a minority government which would include the Labour Party: “Yes, I have said that is a reality,” he said.

Asked if it would be putting back in power the government Fianna Fáil had argued should be put out of office, Mr Martin said: “We cannot get the composition we sought as a government, because others have a higher number.

Making progress?

“We are very clear about that. There is a change emerging in Irish politics and we want to embrace that change and in terms of a new way Dáil Éireann is working .”

Earlier, speaking at the commemoration, he said the mistakes of the past, including the “Irish Water fiasco” could be blamed on the arrogance of a majority government.

Crises in health, housing “and many other areas” had developed because of the “policies of the strongest and most stable majority government in recent times”.

“It represents real progress to move to a system with a less arrogant and dominating government – and where all TDs have a right and obligation to contribute,” he said.

Addressing ongoing attempts to form a government, Mr Martin said: “We have been and we will continue to be flexible. We are willing to allow a new form of government to develop. It will end the old and discredited approach and it will certainly be more complex – however simply carrying on as in the past is not an option.”

He said the challenges faced today were “nothing compared to the challenges faced and overcome by the heroes of 1916. They inspired a national awakening and invigorated a republican spirit which still represents our country at its best”.

“We come here not simply to remember the past but to once again renew our allegiance to the republicanism of 1916.

“Since then our party has come to this place every year to honour those who did not live to see what their patriotism and their bravery achieved for our country.”

An outrage?

Mr Martin said it was “an outrage” that the Provisional Republican Movement had “sought to rewrite history and claim direct continuity from 1916”.

“In the middle of what has been a great national commemoration, there continues to be one deeply cynical and dangerous attempt to exploit the heroes of 1916.

“Provisional Sinn Féin was founded in 1970 to support a campaign rejected constantly by the mass of the Irish people in vote after vote for quarter of a century. The manner in which they have sought to rewrite history and claim direct continuity from 1916 is an outrage.

“Unable to achieve the electoral breakthrough they long claimed was inevitable, they are now using more underhand methods to legitimise themselves. In the very room where the Irish Volunteers first met they are today running an exhibition which claims to be about 1916, but it is solely about twisting history.

“Even though a Sinn Féin officer is running it out of Sinn Féin HQ, they pretend to the public that it is an independent exhibition. They claim that to honour Pearse, Clarke and Plunkett you must honour a sinister organisation which tried to destroy this State and continues to refuse to subject its members to the laws enacted by the Irish people.”

41,000 patient wait list for treatment in Galway University Hospital


It’s now official that Galway University Hospitals are the worst in the country for waiting lists.

The National Treatment Purchase Fund (NTPF) figures reveal that more than 41,000 patients are waiting for treatment in GUH, which includes University Hospital Galway and Merlin Park University Hospital.

That represents ten per cent of the total 400,000 outpatients and inpatients waiting for treatment nationally.

“It is worrying . . . Galway is emerging as the poorest overall performer,” said Galway West Fine Gael TD, Hildegarde Naughton.

“Galway has both the highest number waiting for inpatient treatment, at 10,605, and outpatient treatment, with a staggering 30,464 waiting,” she said.

Deputy Naughton said the local waiting list crisis has existed for some time, since GUH was designated as a centre of excellence for several specialities. The hospitals serve the entire west and north west seaboard, she said, and so cannot cope.

The newly elected TD said in order to tackle the problem more consultants are needed – Ireland has fewer consultants than other developed countries. And she said Ireland needs more hospital beds – the number has fallen from 25,000 in 1995 to under 12,700 now.

Locally, she reiterated her solution of moving services from UHG to Merlin Park.

Deputy Naughton pointed out that GUH is presently building an extension and planning for a new Accident and Emergency Department at UHG.

This development, she said, is “on a site that is only 42 acres, landlocked and has severe traffic issues, whereas Merlin Park Hospital is vastly underutilised, sitting on a site of approximately 150 acres and with immediate access to the dual carriageway system.”

Deputy Naughton added: “I am increasingly frustrated with the inability of medical service management in this country to see that the campus in GUH is overcrowded and no longer suitable. It is high time Merlin Park was considered as the site of a new state of the art acute hospital for the West. I intend to make this point forcibly to the incoming Government.”

The reason why us humans mate is not for love (maybe it’s STI’s)

  Gonorrhoea, syphilis and chlamydia have been around for a long time   

Love may not necessarily conquer all. Humans being monogamous may have a practical reason to it and that it ain’t for love. Or so does this study claim?

This may sound less romantic but according to the new research published in the journal Nature Communications, monogamous relationships developed on the need to avoid sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

A research duo from Canada and Germany said that germs are the answer which prompted our ancestors that it is better to mate for life.  The germs that caused by sexually transmitted diseases (STIs) previously created havoc which resulted to socially imposing monogamy.

The researchers developed a mathematical model of hunter-gatherer demographics and how likely STI spread among them. They used it “to show how growing STI disease burden in larger residential group sizes can foster the emergence of socially imposed monogamy in human mating.”

The study, published in Nature Communications, further revealed that the society imposing human monogamy has long been considered an “evolutionary puzzle.”  Results said that it requires societies to put in place checks and structures like a police and court system to uphold societal mores.

Development in the community by large residential groups and the advent of agriculture led the study with the findings that the occurrence of STIs would have increased among continued multiple sexual partners.

Having no access to modern medicines, the number of infertility from syphilis, Chlamydia and gonorrhoea would have increased.  It then led to the transition in the mating behaviour from polygyny to monogamy.

Chris Bauch, a professor of applied mathematics at Waterloo University in Canada and an author of the study paper, said: “This research shows how the spread of contagious diseases can strongly influence the development of social norms.

“Our social norms did not develop in complete isolation from what was happening in our natural environment. On the contrary, we can’t understand social norms without understanding their origins in our natural environment.

“Our social norms were shaped by our natural environment. In turn, the environment is shaped by our social norms, as we are increasingly recognising.”

And in the time where open relationship is recognized, Bauch said that “Modern societies are more complicated…and there is probably more than one reason that explains socially imposed monogamy.”

He also adds, “I think it is premature to speculate that marriage will disappear or that polygyny will return, if we solve the problem of STIs.” Chances are, love may have conquered all? And so say all of us.

Chris Evans says Gerry Ryan changed his life


Chris Evans has recalled a “life changing” visit to Ireland which involved him becoming so inspired by Gerry Ryan that he bought Virgin Radio in 1997.

The new Top Gear presenter travelled around Kerry over the weekend with his co-presenter Matt LeBlanc as they begin filming for the new BBC series. Evans revealed that a previous trip to The Kingdom changed his life.

“I’ve been around the Ring of Kerry before and it changed my life. I listened to Irish radio in the car and [it inspired me] to get on a plane and go back to England because I missed the radio so much!” Evans stated.

“It was because I was listening to Gerry Ryan, he was amazing, and when I returned to England I bought a radio station because of him. So Kerry has so many fond and happy memories for me. Gerry was the best of the best, he’s sadly missed.”

In 1997 Evans and his Ginger Media Group bought Virgin Radio, reportedly paying Richard Branson $125 million for the station.

Gerry Ryan presented The Gerry Ryan Show on RTÉ 2fm until his tragic death in 2010. It was one of the highest rated shows on the station, described by the BBC as “a de facto forum for the nation”.

Ireland’s motorists will be hit harder for driving with bald tyres from Monday?

Fixed charged fines of €80 and penalty points will now be dished out for the offence.


From today Ireland’s motorists caught with bald tyres will face a tougher regulation regime.

While it is already illegal to drive with defective or worn tyres, those caught will now face a fixed charge of €80 and points on their licence.

This move was announced on Friday by acting minister for transport Paschal Donohoe who said that it is “intended to promote greater awareness among motorists of the hazards of driving with tyres that are not in roadworthy condition”.

“The penalty points system has played an important role in reducing fatalities and improving road safety,” he said.

We need to keep up the pressure to reduce road deaths, and I am confident that the measure I am introducing today will make an important contribution to achieving that.

The Road Safety Authority reported earlier this month that vehicle factors contributed to one in eight road fatal collisions between 2008 and 2012, with defective tyres being the most significant factor.

The introduction of this change to legislation follows consultation between the Department of Transport, the gardaí and the Road Safety Authority.

Scientists crack the mystery of migrating monarch butterflies navigation

   Monarch butterflies are seen at the El Roasario Butterfly Sanctuary outside Angangueo, Mexico.   

Monarch butterflies are seen here (middle photo) at the El Roasario Butterfly Sanctuary outside Angangueo, in Mexico. 

The uncanny mechanisms that monarch butterflies use to navigate thousands of miles each year, back and forth from their wintering grounds in Mexico has long baffled scientists. A new study suggests how they may process information to determine which way to go.

Monarch butterflies migrate thousands of miles from the northern United States and southern Canada to spend the winter in more temperate climates in southern Mexico. The insects may not have a GPS to navigate their way south, but they do have a compass of sorts. 

Previous research found that the insects use the position of the sun in the sky combined with an internal clock to determine which way is south, in what’s called a time-compensated sun compass.

But scientists puzzled over how this information was integrated and turned into action inside the butterfly’s brain. So a team of researchers set out to create a model that might explain the neurological mechanism. That modelis described in a paper published Thursday in the journal Cell Reports.

  The monarch brain uses its large, complex eyes to track the Sun’s position in the sky. 

The reason behind the slashing of the population of monarch butterflies is a reduction in the larval food source – milkweed. “Their numbers are decreasing, so we want to keep this insect – the only one that migrates these huge distances – with us for many years”.

“We have the pieces. They have to connect someplace,” one of the researchers, Steven Reppert, a neurobiologist at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, tells The Christian Science Monitor in a phone interview. Now, “we have an idea of how those connections should potentially occur.”

As a monarch butterfly flies along on a sunny day, its eyes are constantly registering where the sun is in relation to the horizon. Although the sun travels east to west, the butterfly needs to be able to determine which is which at a given moment. That’s where the circadian clock comes in.

Embedded within the insect’s antennae are these biological clocks. They help the butterfly determine what time it is. So if the sun is close to the horizon, these clocks indicate whether it is rising or setting and therefore if it is in the east or west.

Then, if the sun is in the east, for example, the butterfly flies with the sun on its left to go south.

But how those two sets of data work together to create a directional adjustment in the butterflies has been unclear, and that’s where this new research comes in.

“This work provides a big step forward in thinking about how these different pieces of information that we knew had to talk to each other are likely to do that,” Marcus Kronforst, an ecologist at the University of Chicago who was not part of this study, tells the Monitor in a phone interview.

These two senses feed into the center of the butterfly’s brain, into a sort ofcompass. But what are the signals that enter the brain and how do they interact?

The researchers fed the data they already knew about how this whole navigation system works into their computational model. Using those parameters, they developed what might be the neural mechanism.

As the receptive fields in the eyes detect the sun’s position, an oscillating neuronal signal is sent through to the brain. Meanwhile, the circadian clock is also sending oscillations.

The rate and combination of these neuronal signals tell the brain what signal to send to the body to adjust course. It dictates how much of an angle to change and whether it should turn left or right.

And if a butterfly is blown too far away from the necessary southerly direction, they adjust in a more dramatic way.

The researchers found that if the butterflies are pushed off course past a certain angle (which changes throughout the day), they will actually rotate their bodies around in a full circle as a sort of resetting method. Interestingly, that angle is tighter to the southerly track during the morning and evening, so the researchers suggest these rotational corrections likely occur more frequently then.

This phenomenon didn’t just appear in the model, the first author of the study, Eli Shlizerman, an applied mathematics researcher at the University of Washington, tells the Monitor in a phone interview. When they tested the actual butterflies, they would see them perform similar rotations to adjust.

But that’s not all. What happens when the butterflies need to return north for the summer?

When the researchers were investigating what different arrangements of neuronal wiring might fit the data to explain how the butterflies navigate, they found just two viable options. One helps the monarchs fly southwest, and the other helps it return northeast.

And, as Dr. Kronforst explains, the butterflies don’t fly around aimlessly to find their initial direction when it is time to migrate. Instead, they set off in the right direction right away. So these two wirings likely appear somehow in the neurobiology of the monarch butterflies.

This model doesn’t explain all the mechanisms likely involved in monarch migration navigation, admits Dr. Reppert. This model just looks at the mechanism for when the sun is in clear view in the sky. But the butterflies are known to be able to use polarized light on partly cloudy days to calculate the position of the sun. And they still fly in the right direction on completely overcast days. This is likely thanks to a sort of magnetic compass also in the insect’s brain, Reppert says.

It’s still unclear how these different mechanisms work together, Reppert says, but the sun compass is likely the primary cue that the butterflies use to determine direction.

To confirm their model, the researchers will next need to dig into the biology of butterflies and see if the model matches the structures actually in their brains.

“It is really an incredible feat that these little butterflies are able to make that amazing long-distance migration,” Kronforst says. “That’s why it’s important for people to try and understand how this happens.”

This research won’t just help scientists understand monarch migrations, he adds. It also could yield clues into the navigational tools of other migratory animals too.

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Friday 15th April 2016.

What role could M D Higgins play in resolving the current political stagnation?

The President can refuse a dissolution request when the Taoiseach does not have the support of the majority of the Dáil


The odds on a second election have shortened after Fianna Fáil has rejected a Fine Gael proposal to enter a partnership.

Should that happen, acting Taoiseach Enda Kenny would have to travel to Áras an Uachtaráin seek a dissolution of the 32nd Dáil from the President.

Michael D Higgins would have powers to refuse the dissolution request – but would that influence the outcome of the political stalemate?

Conor O’Mahony is a constitutional law lecturer in UCC, and spoke to Newstalk Breakfast about the situation.

“It’s really quite straightforward, and pretty limited,” Conor explained. “The Constitution grants [the President] the absolute discretion – where the Taoiseach does not have the support of the majority of the Dáil – to refuse a dissolution.

“Sometimes you will hear media commentary which suggests it goes further than that, and people describe the idea of the president reaching out… but that’s not what the Constitution envisages.  The President has the power to refuse a dissolution, and the purpose of that would be to really try and suggest to the various parties that they need to spend a bit longer at it.

“There’s no power beyond that for the President to chair those negotiations, or try to bang heads together,” he added. “It’s really very much a question of the President trying to create the conditions whereby attention might focus a little bit more”.

The President’s constitutional power has never been exercised, so there is no clear precedent. However, previous presidents have come close.

In 1994, Labour walked out of government, and it is believed that Mary Robinson implied to Albert Reynolds that she would not dissolve the Dáil – a move that may have helped lead to the formation of the Rainbow Coalition.

Conor also explained how in 1987 “there were some back channel discussions between Patrick Hillery and Garret FitzGerald, in which Paddy Hillery suggested he would exercise that power”.

However, in both cases the power was not ultimately exercised – if Michael D Higgins does choose to do so, it will be a first.

“In the event that the Taoiseach has a majority, then the President has no choice but to grant a dissolution – that’s what we see before every election is called,” Conor explained. “It’s where the Taoiseach no longer has a majority, as is currently the case, that this discretion arises for the President.

“Really it’s a question of him making an assessment as to whether he thinks this might bring about a better chance of government formation. If there’s no realistic prospect of that, there’s no real point – all it does is prolong the agony,” he added.

“What I’m saying is that he may refuse a dissolution – I think it is quite plausible he would refuse a dissolution. Other suggestions – around addressing the Oireachtas or chairing negotiations – I think those things are not going to happen,” Conor observed.

Ireland (NTMA) raises a 10-year debt sale at record low rate of 0.817%

Agency could reach its target of €6bn for fund-raising this year by May auction


The Treasury Building, home to the NTMA. 

Ireland’s debt agency sold €750 million of bonds yesterday at a record low interest rate as investors shrugged off political uncertainty to focus on the European Central Bank’s ongoing support for government debt markets.

The National Treasury Management Agency sold the 10-year notes at a yield, or interest rate, of 0.817% in its first such auction since February’s inconclusive general election. This compares with a 1% rate attached to similar bonds in mid-February.

While some analysts had feared that demand for the bonds would be muted as the country remains without a government, the NTMA received bids from investors for 2.4 times the amount of debt on offer. Still, this is below the median ratio of 2.7 times for the previous seven auctions.

“Ireland’s supportive economic fundamentals and ECB interventions have more than cancelled out any concerns around the domestic political situation,’’ said Philip O’Sullivan, an economist with Investec in Dublin.

The NTMA has now sold €4.75 billion of bonds so far this year against its target of between €6 billion and €10 billion.

The agency managed to sell the bonds just before euro area bond yields began to rise after the European Union’s statistics office revealed that a dip in consumer prices in February proved short lived. Inflation was revised to zero for March from an initial estimate of a 0.1% decline and a 0.2% drop in February.

This takes some pressure off the ECB, which last month cut its main interest rate to zero and upped its government bond-buying spree to €80 billion a month to boost the euro area’s flagging economy and inflation. Still, inflation remains well off the ECB’s target of close to 2%.

The yield on Ireland’s 10-year bonds nudged up to almost 0.85% from a low of just over 0.80% during the course of the session. Yields on similar bonds from Germany to Italy also rose.

“The strength of the auction continues to underline the confidence international investors have in the Irish recovery,” said Colm Ryan, head of the fixed-income desk at Goodbody Stockbrokers.

The European Commission estimates Ireland’s economy, as measured by gross domestic product, will grow by 4.5% this year – almost three times the rate of the broader euro zone. In addition, the ECB is set, under its bond-buying programme, to buy more of the country’s debt than the NTMA intends to issue this year.

Still, concerns over the hiatus in forming a government and the prospect of the country’s biggest trading partner, the UK, exiting the EU following a referendum in June may return to the fore in investors’ minds at any time, according to analysts.

“The lack of government, while not a factor in the result seen today, may begin to erode investor confidence over the longer term, as we begin to formulate thoughts around the budget, and the ability of any budget to get passed in parliament,” said Mr Ryan.

CSO figures show 91 of same sex marriages since Irish referendum

Brides and grooms waiting almost a decade longer to get married than in the 1970s


Crowds in Dublin celebrate the result of the Marriage Equality referendum last year.

There were 91 same sex marriages in the last six weeks of 2015 after they were legalised for the first time, figures from the Central Statistics Office show.

The Marriage Equality referendum was passed in May last year and came into effect with legislation on November 16th. The figures show that up until the end of December 47 male couples and 44 female couples tied the knot.

Kieran Rose of the Gay and Lesbian Equality Network (Glen) said the weddings were “ a tribute to the generosity of the Irish people in giving full equality to their lesbian or gay family members, friends and neighbours” .

Figures also show brides and grooms are waiting almost a decade longer to get married than they did in the 1970s.

The latest data on marriages and civil partnership show the average age of those getting married was at its highest last year since records began.

The average age of a groom in 2015 was 35.3 years which is 0.3 years older than in 2014, while brides averaged 33.2 years of age.

These compare with 1977 when grooms were on average 26.2 years old and and brides were 24 years. The ages had been falling from 1965, when grooms had been 29.4 years old on average and brides 26, to their 1977 low-point. Wedding-day ages have been creeping up since.

The CSO statistical bulletin gives a wealth of information about ages, socio-economic class, religious ceremonies, regional variations, the most popular days and months for marriage and, for the first time, some basic data on same sex marriages.

The rate of marriage has remained steady, with 22,025 marriages last year, just 20 fewer than the 22,045 in 2014 . This is an unchanged marriage rate of 4.8 per 1,000 populations.

Two thirds of marriages were religious ceremonies last year, with Roman Catholic the most popular, accounting for 56.7%.

However civil ceremonies were the second most popular after Catholic, accounting for 28% of weddings, followed by Humanist ceremonies (5.7%), Spiritualist Union of Ireland (3.7%) Church of Ireland (1.8%), Presbyterian (0.3%) and other religious ceremonies accounted for 3.8%.

Couples taking part in civil ceremonies were the oldest on average, with grooms averaging 37.8 years and brides 35.2 years, while Roman Catholic couples were the youngest, with grooms averaging 33.7 years and brides 31.9.

Grooms were older than the brides in just over 63% of marriages last year, while 88% marriages were first-time weddings for both bride and groom. There were 2,442 marriages involving at least one divorced person.

The most popular month to marry was August- for the fourth consecutive year – when there were 2,927 (26.5%) weddings, with January the least popular, with 767 ceremonies (3.5%).

Friday and Saturday were the most popular days of the week, with Sunday the least.

The two busiest days of last year for weddings were Friday July 31st and Saturday August 1st, when there were 276 on each day. These were followed by Friday 4th September, when there were 248 .

There appears to have been a significant level of individuals marrying individuals outside their socio-economic group, with just 22.8% of couples being comprised of two individuals from the same socio-economic group.

The ‘professional occupations’ were most likely to marry within their socio-economic group – 55.6% of grooms and 41% of brides here marrying an individual from the same group. In the ‘unemployed, retired, student, occupation unknown’ group 41.6% of grooms and 16.4% of brides married with their group.

In the ‘skilled trades’ category, 2.5% of grooms and 39% of brides married within their group.

There were 376 civil partnerships last year, 250 male and 126 female. Over three quarters of these (294) were of couples living in Leinster, with over half (248) living in Dublin. There were no civil partnerships in Carlow, North Tipperary, Leitrim, Roscommon, Cavan or Monaghan

Comparing rates across the EU, in 2013 (the year with the most recent data for EU) Ireland ranked 13th in the EU, with a marriage rates of 4.5 per thousand. Lithuania had the highest rate with 6.9% and Slovenia the lowest at 3 per 1,000 people.

Defective tyres new Irish law? Now means an €80 fine and two penalty points

Bad tyres have proven a significant contributory factor in road deaths, says Pascal Donohoe.


The Minister for Transport Paschal Donohoe (above pic.) said defective tyres had proven to be a significant contributory factor in Irish road deaths.

Drivers found with defective or worn tyres on vehicles will now face penalty points.

Minister for Transport Paschal Donohoe, announcing the latest motoring offence to incur points, said defective tyres had proven to be a significant contributory factor in road deaths.

Earlier this month the Road Safety Authority (RSA) said “vehicle factors” played a role in one in eight fatal collisions between 2008 and 2012.

It is already an offence to drive with defective or worn tyres, but now a fixed charge of €80 will apply with two penalty points, rising to four following a conviction in court.

A Sunday introduction?

The new regulations take effect from next Sunday the 17th April.

Defective tyres were “the most significant factor” in vehicle-related fatalities, Mr Donohoe said, linked to the deaths of 71 people in the past five years.

“None of us can predict what will happen on our roads – we may encounter other drivers behaving poorly or adverse weather conditions,” he said.

“However, we can take personal responsibility for ensuring that our vehicle is properly maintained and be confident that our tyres can reliably respond to whatever conditions we may encounter.”

Major outbreak of vomiting bug hits Sligo University Hospital

Management appeals to public to stay away unless it’s absolutely necessary?


The management at Sligo University Hospital are encouraging the public to contact their GP and not to attend the emergency department.

Sixty patients and staff are believed to be experiencing symptoms of the vomiting bug in Sligo University Hospital.

Eight beds are closed and there are 20 patients with a confirmed diagnosis in what has been described as an unprecedented outbreak of the norovirus in the experience of Sligo University Hospital.

Management is appealing to people not to come to the hospital unless absolutely necessary saying that people with family members in critical situations will be facilitated but otherwise ward restrictions are in place, with no children allowed because they would be particularly susceptible to the illness.

Management is also encouraging the public to contact their GP or GP out-of-hours service in the first instance and not to attend the emergency department unless absolutely necessary.

Patients with pre-planned hospital appointments such as outpatients who have not had any symptoms of vomiting or diarrhoea should attend their appointment as normal, unless otherwise advised by the hospital.

Sligo University Hospital emergency medicine consultant Dr Fergal Hickeywas speaking on Shannonside’s Let’s Talk programme.

The 3 most environmentally damaging habits you might want to change?

It’s not easy going green. That doesn’t mean we can’t cut back on the amount of meat we consume and more.


Homo sapiens means “wise person.” But considering our behaviors that are putting the Earth’s ecosystems at risk, we haven’t been very wise at all. Every single day, many of our personal choices and individual actions negatively impact the environment in myriad ways. From turning on a light switch to throwing away a plastic bottle to having a hamburger, even the most mundane actions have a cumulative negative effect on the Big Blue Marble—the home we share with countless other Earthlings.

Think about that brand-new plastic bag you took home today from the store. That bag can take up to 1,000 years to fully decompose. And if it doesn’t end up in a landfill, it could end up in the ocean and in the stomach of a fish, bird or dolphin—a fatal occurence that happens all the time. In China, a staggering 3 billion new plastic bags enter into circulation every single day. The Pacific Garbage Patch, a massive swirling collection of plastic trash in the North Pacific Ocean, is estimated to be anywhere from 270,000 square miles (about the size of Texas) to more than 5,800,000 square miles (up to 8 percent the size of the entire Pacific Ocean).

With all the ways we affect the health of the planet, it’s hard to know exactly what changes might have the greatest impact. Plus, every person is different. Some people drive every day, while others are rarely behind the wheel. Some of us love to buy stuff; others tend to be minimalist.

Taking into account these variations, here are three of the most environmentally damaging things you probably do that you might be able to change. If you’re truly interested in reducing your impact on the environment—and helping future generations of Earthlings have a better chance of surviving with the planet’s rapidly dwindling resources—these recommendations should be high on your to-do (or rather, not-do) list.

  1.  Eat less meat or stop eating meat.

It’s difficult to overstate the massive negative impact the meat industry has on the environment. According to a staggering report published by the Worldwatch Institute, more than half of global greenhouse-gas emissions are caused by animal agriculture. It’s no coincidence that the carbon footprint of the average meat eater is larger than that of a vegetarian by around 1.5 tons of CO2.

Beef produces a total of 30kg of greenhouse gas (GHG) per kg of food, while carrots, potatoes and rice produce 0.42, 0.45 and 1.3 kg GHG per kg of food, respectively. No wonder the United Nations said a global shift toward eating less meat is necessary to prevent the worst effects of climate change.

Keeping an animal alive is also resource intensive. Approximately 1,850 gallons of water are needed to produce a single pound of beef. Conversely, only 39 gallons are required to produce a pound of vegetables.

The meat industry also maintains society’s dependence on fossil fuels. Approximately25 kilocalories of fossil fuel energy is required to produce 1 kilocalorie of all meat-based protein. But only 2.2 kilocalories of fossil fuel input is needed to produce 1 kilocalorie of grain-based protein.

The vast majority of us are meat-eaters. In the United States, only 3.2 percent of adults, or a little over 7 million people, follow a vegetarian-based diet. That leaves the rest—more than 97 percent—of Americans who include meat as a regular part of their diet.

So is it crazy to think that people would ever stop eating meat? One of the arguments meat-eaters commonly make is that humans need meat, that it’s a necessary part of a healthy diet. But that’s simply not true. Nutritionist Julieanna Hever sets the record straight:

A popular misconception is that animal products are the best source of protein. One important reason this myth has been perpetuated is because the amino acids—the building blocks of protein—are assembled in a way in animal foods that more closely resembles what humans actually utilize. However, we now know that this is inconsequential. When you consume any protein, it is broken down via digestion into its separate amino acid constituents and is pooled in the blood for further use. When the body needs to construct a protein for an enzyme or to repair muscles tissue, it collects the necessary amino acids and strings them back together in the sequence appropriate for what it is currently creating. This occurs regardless whether you consume animal or plant protein.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Recommended Daily Allowance of proteinfor adult men and women is 0.7 grams for every kilogram (about 2 pounds) of body weight. So an average 130-pound female should be consuming 46 grams of protein per day. A 170-pound male needs 62 grams.

Hever also points out that though we only need 10 percent of our caloric intake to be protein, we’re also generally eating too much protein, which is bad for our health:

Many people are consuming approximately 20 to 30 percent of their calories from protein, which equals 90 to 135 grams of protein on an 1,800-calorie diet (typical female intake) and 125 to 188 grams of protein on a 2,500-calorie diet (average male intake). This is equivalent to two to three times more than the USDA recommendations. Much of this excess protein comes from animal sources, which may be particularly damaging. Excess protein taxes the kidneys, contributes to gout, and is associated with an increased risk for many chronic diseases.

The U.S. addiction to meat is intense: Americans eat nearly four times as much meat as the global average. It may be tasty, but from a health standpoint, every last bloody morsel is unnecessary. “Whole plant foods, as provided in nature,” Hever says, “offer the ideal amount of protein necessary for growth, maintenance and functioning of metabolic processes.”

Many of today’s top performing athletes would agree with her assessment. Take mixed martial artist Nick Diaz, one of the top UFC fighters, an elite class of athletes. Diaz is a raw vegan, and he recently upset featherweight champion Conor McGregor—a meat eater. In fact, the list of so-called ultimate fighters who are switching to a vegan diet strictly for performance reasons is growing.

Eating vegetables over meat is healthier, leads to higher physical performance, is good for the planet and it’s also more ethical, as it avoids the killing of intelligent animals. In many ways, moving away from carnivorism toward veganism is a more evolved, more enlightened state of being.

Cutting out meat one day a week could be a good way to start. “Going meatless once a week may reduce your risk of chronic preventable conditions like cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and obesity,” notes the Meatless Mondaywebsite. “And going meatless once a week can also help reduce our carbon footprint and save precious resources like fossil fuels and fresh water.”

If you’re still not convinced that taking meat off your menu—or at least reducing your consumption of it—is one of the most important things you can do for the planet’s health, maybe the man whose name is synonymous with genius might push you over the edge. Albert Einstein once said, “Nothing will benefit human health and increase chances of survival for life on earth as much as the evolution to a vegetarian diet.”

  1. Have fewer kids or no kids at all?

This one is a no-brainer. Pretty much all of the anthropogenic, or human-caused environmental maladies the Earth is undergoing would be less intense if there were fewer people—in the end, it’s a numbers game. Climate change, species extinction, deforestation, ocean acidification, air pollution, spread of disease, destructive farming practices, pesticide overuse, resource depletion—the intensity of all these crises is directly tied to human overpopulation. Martin Luther King Jr., was aware of how problematic our species’ rapid multiplication is, calling overpopulation “the modern plague.”

The United Nations warns: “Rapidly increasing population exacerbates existing problems, such as transnational crime, economic interdependency, climate change, the spread of diseases such as HIV/AIDS and various other pandemics, and such social issues as gender equality, reproductive health, safe motherhood, human rights, emergency situations, and so much more.”

Take water, the most important resource for carbon-based life after air. Though three-fourths of the planet is covered in water, less than 1 percent of it is readily accessible freshwater that is available for human use. But by 2025, when the population reaches 8.1 billion, more than half the world’s people will face water-based vulnerability as demand for available freshwater reaches 70 percent. And while it may feel like rain just appears out of the blue, the Earth is a closed-loop system. Thus water, at least for the foreseeable future, is a finite resource.

Keeping the human population to an acceptable rate of growth isn’t just about helping the environment, it’s about helping humans survive. As Roger Bengston, a founding board member of World Population Balance, puts it, “The point of population stabilization is to reduce or minimize misery.”

In 1992, 1,700 of the world’s leading scientists, spanning 70 countries and including the majority of Nobel laureates in the sciences, issued a global appeal to limit population growth. In their “World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity,” they write:

Pressures resulting from unrestrained population growth put demands on the natural world that can overwhelm any efforts to achieve a sustainable future. If we are to halt the destruction of our environment, we must accept limits to that growth.

The warning was spearheaded by Nobel laureate Henry W. Kendall, former chairman of the Union of Concerned Scientists. He described our precarious situation bluntly: “If we don’t halt population growth with justice and compassion, it will be done for us by nature, brutally and without pity, and will leave a ravaged world.”

Getting the population growth rate to stop skyrocketing into an increasingly overcrowded future is no small task. Doing it through official governmental channels, as China did in the late ’70s when it launched its one-child policy (which it recently upped to two children), opens up a Pandora’s box.

Robert Engelman, president of the Worldwatch Institute, has a better idea: Put the decision in the hands of women. In his book State of the World 2012: Moving Toward Sustainable Prosperity, he lays out a series of initiatives, including access to contraception, guaranteed secondary school education and the eradication of gender bias “from law, economic opportunity, health and culture,” which he argues will ensure a decline in the birthrate (with a goal of stopping short of 9 billion), solely based on a woman’s intention to have smaller families or even no children.

“Unsustainable population growth can only be effectively and ethically addressed by empowering women to become pregnant only when they themselves choose to do so,” Engelman writes.

Philip Njuguna, a pastor in Nairobi, Kenya, puts it more plainly: “When the family is small, whatever little they have they are able to share. There is peace.”

That’s good advice, particularly in impoverished and populous countries where the sheer number of people puts an unrelenting pressure on limited resources. But that advice also applies to rich countries, whose citizens have much bigger carbon footprints. According to a 2009 Oregon State University study, “an extra child born to a woman in the United States ultimately increases her carbon legacy by an amount (9,441 metric tons) that is nearly seven times the analogous quantity for a woman in China (1,384 tons).”

The study found that having one less child would yield a long-term environmental benefit. “The carbon legacy and greenhouse gas impact of an extra child is almost 20 times more important than some of the other environmentally sensitive practices people might employ their entire lives—things like driving a high mileage car, recycling, or using energy-efficient appliances and light bulbs,” writes OSU science writer David Stauth about his colleagues’ study.

  1. Fly less or don’t fly at all?

In 2013, New York Times reporter Elisabeth Rosenthal wrote an article whose title neatly summed up one of our worst environmental behaviors: “Your Biggest Carbon Sin May Be Air Travel.” She writes:

For many people reading this, air travel is their most serious environmental sin. One round-trip flight from New York to Europe or to San Francisco creates a warming effect equivalent to 2 or 3 tons of carbon dioxide per person. The average American generates about 19 tons of carbon dioxide a year; the average European, 10. So if you take five long flights a year, they may well account for three-quarters of the emissions you create.

If you you live in an urban center like New York City, where driving is minimal and the housing of choice is small apartments, flying is most likely the biggest contributor to your carbon footprint.

In the large scheme of things, aviation is a fairly small industry, but it has a disproportionately big impact on the Earth’s climate, accounting for somewhere between five and nine percent of the total impact human activity has on climate change. And its impact is going to grow, with air travel volume steadily increasing—and faster than fuel efficiency gains can compensate.

Canadian environmental activist David Suzuki points out that, compared to other modes of transport like driving a car or taking a train, flying has a much greater climate impact per unit of distance traveled. He writes:

Since 1990, CO2 emissions from international aviation have increased 83 percent. The aviation industry is expanding rapidly in part due to regulatory and taxing policies that do not reflect the true environmental costs of flying. “Cheap” fares may turn out to be costly in terms of climate change. …

A special characteristic of aircraft emissions is that most of them are produced at cruising altitudes high in the atmosphere. Scientific studies have shown that these high-altitude emissions have a more harmful climate impact because they trigger a series of chemical reactions and atmospheric effects that have a net warming effect. The IPCC, for example, has estimated that the climate impact of aircraft is two to four times greater than the effect of their carbon dioxide emissions alone.

Nearly a decade ago, New York Times writer John Tierney put the impact of flying in terms of recycling plastic bottles. “To offset the greenhouse impact of one passenger roundtrip flight between New York and London, you’d have to recycle roughly 40,000 plastic bottles” in coach (or up to 100,000 for business or first-class seats, adjusting for the additional space pricier seats take up). So if you’ve simply got to board a plane, sitting in coach is a much better environmental option. You can also purchase carbon offsets to reduce your air travel carbon footprint.

What else can you do?

Of course, there are many other things you can do, from not buying plastic water bottles to using cloth shopping bags to simply reducing the amount of stuff you buy. When it comes to consumption, the old adage “reduce, reuse, recycle” isn’t just a list—it’s a hierarchy. The most important thing you can do is reduce your consumption. If you have to consume, try to reuse something rather than buying it new. And if you have to buy it new, recycle it when you’re done.

We can’t all be a part of vegetarian, one-child families who never fly. But if we can all try to get a little closer to that ideal, it’ll be better for everybody—for all Earthlings, not just Homo sapiens. Maybe then we can finally start living up to our name.