News Ireland daily BLOG by DONIE

Thursday 19th May 2016

The numbers paying Irish water bills fall in wake of election pledge

Cash from January-February bills down by almost €10m on the previous billing cycle

   

Irish Water could not provide the exact percentage of customers who had paid their bills so far this year.

The amount of money collected by Irish Water in water charges has dropped substantially following recent political controversies and the impending suspension of charges.

Irish Water released details on Thursday of the amount of money it collected for its fourth billing cycle, which covered the last three months of 2015.

The bills were sent out in January and February and the amount of money collected dropped by almost €10 million on the previous billing cycle – down to €33.4 million from €42.3 million.

Irish Water could not provide the exact percentage of customers who had paid their bills so far this year, but sources said the drop in revenue effectively brought the level of money collected back to where it was when water charges began.

Balances due for customers

A statement from the semi-State said 64% of “of customers paid water charges in first year of billing”.

“Following the recent government announcement of a suspension of domestic water charges with effect from the end of March 2016, charges for services provided apply up to that time and Irish Water is currently issuing bills to customers for services provided in January, February and March of this year,” the statemend added.

“Irish Water customers remain liable for balances due on any bills issued and Irish Water continues to accept payment and to deal with any billing queries in relation to outstanding balances. Legislation suspending water charges is due before the Dáil in June. Once this legislation is passed, we will update our customers.”

Water charges are to be suspended as a result of the recent minority government deal struck between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael.

Right2Water reaction

Meanwhile, The Right2Water campaign said on Thursday said that Irish Water’s payment figures further illustrate the failure of the Government’s water policy. It called for a referendum to enshrine ownership of our water in public hands.

The group said that the utility’s figures reveal the level of non-payment for the first full year of its existence and show:

Brendan Ogle, Right2Water spokesperson said: “This meagre income should take account of the €80m spent on the so-called conservation grant, which was effectively a bribe to become a customer, leaving a net income of a mere €65 million in a full year.”

He added, “When the massive expenditure on the installation of water meters, consultants, advertising, legal costs and the billing process is considered, more than €1 billion has been spent on this failed project. This Government now needs to stop throwing good money after bad and scrap the whole project, saving taxpayers from more wastage.”

Pharmacy fees for medical card holders are costing the Irish State some €380 million

New figures seen by RTÉ show that pharmacy fees cost much more than the medicines themselves.

   

The cost to the State for pharmacies to dispense drugs to medical card holders was €380 million in 2014, according to new figures.

The new figures, seen by RTÉ Prime Time, show the cost of dispensing some drugs that are prescribed under the general medical services (GMS) scheme can be in some cases nearly five times higher than the actual costs of the drugs themselves.

In 2014, the State paid €3.3 million for Aspirin – the most commonly prescribed medicine under the GMS scheme.

On top of this cost, it paid pharmacists €14 million in dispensary fees to five out the drug – nearly four times the cost of the medication.

The second most commonly prescribed drug to medical card holders is the cholesterol medication Atorvastatin. In 2014, the total expenditure on the drug by the State was €22.3 million.

€11.3 million of this was the actual cost of the drug, while a further €11 million had to do with pharmacy fees.

The third most commonly prescribed drug, Eltroxin, cost the State €10.8 million in 2014 – with pharmacy fees making up €8.3 million of this amount.

In this case the pharmacy fees cost almost five times more than the actual medicine.

In 2014, 59 million drugs were dispensed under the GMS scheme. RTÉ found that pharmacists are paid a dispensing fee of €3.50 to €5.00 to give out a drug to a medical card patient.

This brings the total cost of dispensing the drugs to €380 million.

“We need to look at all aspects of pharmaceutical expenditure and pharmacy fees are no different,” said Prof Michael Barry Director of the Irish centre for Pharmaeconomics.

You may decide at the end of it all the fees we are paying are totally appropriate, however when you have such discrepancies where you have a drug price that is a fraction of what the HSE is paying then yes – it is legitimate to look at this.”

Frances Fitzgerald cannot open inquest into Mary Boyle case

Donegal schoolgirl’s relatives asked for case to be re-examined after 1977 disappearance

    

The Donegal schoolgirl Mary Boyle was six years old when she went missing in 1977 and also pictured above is Ann Doherty left with a picture of her twin sister Mary Boyle and centre former detective inspector Aidan Murray.

The Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald has said she cannot direct an inquest to be opened into Ireland’s oldest missing person case.

Commenting on the case of Mary Boyle, a Donegal schoolgirl who disappeared in March 1977, then aged six, Ms Fitzgerald said it is the role of the relevant coroner to schedule and conduct inquests.

She said her department has no role in this process.

The missing girl’s sister, Ann Doherty, has been meeting politicians and has given new statements to gardaí in an attempt to find out what happened to her twin sister nearly four decades ago.

Ms Doherty has alleged that her sister’s disappearance from her their grandparents’ home in Cashelard, Co Donegal has been subject of a cover-up, and that not all evidence was thoroughly reviewed by gardaí as part of the original investigation.

She has previously stated her belief that a prominent local politician was complicit in the alleged cover-up, and says she and her family know who kidnapped and murdered Mary Boyle, who is presumed dead.

In a response to a parliamentary question from Donegal TD Thomas Pringle, Ms Fitzgerald said the case is subject to an ongoing investigation and that she has asked gardaí to keep her updated on any further developments.

With the assistance of investigative journalist Gemma O’Doherty and cousin Margo O’Donnell, Ms Doherty has met Taoiseach Enda Kenny, Fianna Fáilleader Mícheál Martin and other politicians to raise concerns about how the case has been handled.

A 64-year-old man was arrested and questioned in Mullingar in October 2014 in relation to the investigation, but was later released without charge.

‘Sunscreen’ gene might help protect against skin cancer through tumour suppression

Researchers from the University of Southern California have discovered a “sunscreen” gene that might help protect damaged cells from developing into skin cancer.

     

Researchers from the University of Southern California have discovered a “sunscreen” gene that might help protect damaged cells from developing into skin cancer.

Just in time for Skin Cancer Detection and Prevention Month, a new University of Southern California (USC) study has discovered a “sunscreen” gene that might help protect against skin cancer, revealing that the unique gene acts as a tumor suppressor for skin cancer.

“If we understand how this UV-resistant gene functions and the processes by which cells repair themselves after ultraviolet damage, then we could find targets for drugs to revert a misguided mechanism back to normal conditions,” said Chengyu Liang of USC and senior author of the study.

Over 90 percent of melanoma skin cancers stem from cell damage caused by ultraviolet radiation. The American Cancer society reports that melanoma kills approximately 10,130 people each year.

“People who have the mutated UV-resistant gene or low levels of the UV-resistant gene may be at higher risk of melanoma or other skin cancers, especially if they go sunbathing or tanning frequently,” Liang said. “Our study suggests that the UV-resistant gene may serve as a biomarker for skin cancer prevention.”

The team used data from 340 melanoma patients from The Cancer Genome Atlas, as well as two experimental groups that possessed either reduced levels of the UV-resistant sunscreen gene or a mutant copy of it in melanoma cells and 50 fly eyes; melanoma cells or fly eyes with normal copies of the sunscreen gene acted as the control groups.

After administering a UV shot to cells with the normal sunscreen gene and those carrying defective copies, the team waited for 24 hours before further examination. Subsequent analysis revealed that cells carrying normal versions of the gene had repaired over 50 percent of the UV-induced damage, whereas defective samples repaired less than 20 percent of the UV-damaged cells.

“That means when people sunbathe or go tanning, those who have the normal UV-resistant gene can repair most UV-induced DNA burns in a timely manner, whereas those with the defective UV-resistant gene will have more damage left unrepaired,” Liang said. “After daily accumulation, if they sunbathe or go tanning often, these people will have increased risk for developing skin cancers such as melanoma.”

In addition, the USC team found a correlation with increased cancer risk, although there is not yet any definitive evidence that lower levels or mutant copies of the sunscreen gene are directly connected to skin cancer development.

The findings were published in the May 19 issue of the journal Molecular Cell.

Scientists now find which genes help to shape our nose

    

Scientists found genes which help determine whether you have a neat nose or one to shame Cyrano de Bergerac, portrayed here by Anthony Sher

Four genes help determine whether you are blessed with the neatest of noses or a schnozzle that would shame Cyrano de Bergerac, research has shown.

Scientists analysed the DNA of more than 6,000 people to discover why some of us possess narrow, pointy noses while others have hooters that are broad and hefty.

They identified four genes that affect the width and pointiness of the nose, known as DCHS2, RUNX2, GLI3, and PAX1.

A fifth gene, EDAR, was found to influence the jut of the chin.

The genes are among those that regulate the growth of bone and cartilage, and the shape of the face.

GLI3, which drives cartilage growth, had the strongest effect on the breadth of the nostrils. DCHS2 was linked to pointiness, while the bone-growth gene RUNX2 modified nose bridge width.

Senior researcher Dr Kaustubh Adhikari, from University College London, said: “Few studies have looked at how normal facial features develop and those that have only looked at European populations, which show less diversity than the group we studied.

“What we’ve found are specific genes which influence the shape and size of individual features, which hasn’t been seen before.

“Finding out the role each gene plays helps us to piece together the evolutionary path from Neanderthal to modern humans.

“It brings us closer to understanding how genes influence the way we look, which is important for forensics applications.”

All the study participants came from South American countries with mixed ethnic populations. Half the population had European, 45% Native American and 5% African ancestry.

Photos of the volunteers were first examined to establish 14 different attributes, including nose bridge width, nose protrusion and the shape of the nose tip. Facial features were also measured using 3D computer simulations.

Genetic data was compared with each characteristic trait to see if there was an association.

The findings are reported in the journal Nature Communications.

Study leader Professor Andres Ruiz-Linares, also from University College London, said: “It has long been speculated that the shape of the nose reflects the environment in which humans evolved.

“For example, the comparatively narrower nose of Europeans has been proposed to represent an adaptation to a cold, dry climate.

“Identifying genes affecting nose shape provides us with new tools to examine this question, as well as the evolution of the face in other species.

“It may also help us understand what goes wrong in genetic disorders involving facial abnormalities.”

Cyrano de Bergerac, a 19th century play written by Edmond Rostand, depicts the life of a dashing French duellist and poet whose shockingly large nose stands between him and the woman he loves.

Asian hornets that behead bees and can kill humans could be heading for Ireland?

  DEADLY Asian hornets ARRIVE in BRITAIN – with bites which kill within MINUTES: https://t.co/zlCHcJ4ZC9

An Asian hornet feasts on a honey bee

Killer hornets that can wipe out bee colonies and have caused the death of several people may be heading for Ireland.

Sightings of Asian hornets have been reported in the UK and are currently being investigated by the country’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

Firefighters battle giant hornets in China

Fears have now been raised that the invasive Vespa velutina, which is active between April and November, could arrive here this summer.

A small number of the vicious predators, which carry potent venom and are between 2.5cm and 3cm long, could wipe out entire bee colonies should they make their way to Ireland, according to Philip McCabe, president of the World Bee Keepers Federation.

“The Asian hornet is a very vicious wasp – around 60 of them could destroy whole colonies if they arrived here,” McCabe told independent.ie.

“It comes to the hive and identifies the larvae of bees…the queen uses this larvae to make a ‘stew’ for her young.

“Then she essentially goes into a killing frenzy and she simply beheads the bees.”

The terrifying insects are believed to have been inadvertently imported to France over two decades ago in a shipment of pottery from China.

At least six people have reportedly died in France from anaphylactic shock after being stung by the hornets.

The reported sightings of the hornet in the UK have yet to be confirmed and McCabe thinks “it’s unlikely a true Asian hornet came that far”.

However, bee keepers in the UK have now been put on high alert by the National Bee Unit (NBU) and members of the public have been asked to report nest sightings.

Unlike the European hornet, the Asian hornet is a day-flying species which ceases activity at dusk.

It nests in tall trees in urban and rural areas – but also in sheds, garages, under decking or in holes in the wall or ground.

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