Monthly Archives: June 2016

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Tuesday 28th June 2016

FF can take ‘some credit’ for rent supplement increase, says Coveney

Proposals to give financial help to those at risk of homelessness welcomed by charities

     

Minister for Housing Simon Coveney and Minister for Social Protection Leo Varadkar announce higher rent supplement limits to help with rising rents.

Fianna Fáil can take “some credit” for increases in rent supplement and housing assistance payments, the Minister for Housing has said.

The Peter McVerry (above centre pic) Trust homeless charity said the new proposals would help keep more people in their homes and out of homelessness.

Simon Coveney denied Fine Gael had argued against such measures in the negotiations with Fianna Fail.

The Cabinet is expected to agree today to increase rent supplement and housing assistance payment with effect from next week.

Mr Coveney said: “That is politics. Fianna Fáil can take credit, they did input into this decision but I think both parties agreed this was the right decision.

“Fianna Fáil can take some credit but we are the Government who have to make sure the numbers add up in terms of the €55 million this will cost.”

The proposals to give extra financial assistance to people at risk of becoming homeless have been welcomed by charities.

Homeless and housing charity The Simon Communities of Ireland welcomed the move but said payment levels must be aligned with market rents.

“Rents have increased by 32.3% since April 2012 while rent limits have remained unchanged since June 2013. Rent supplement spend actually reduced by 40% between 2011 and 2015,” the charity said.

Spokeswoman Niamh Randall said the numbers of people becoming homeless had been growing at alarming levels.

There are currently 6,170 men, women and children in emergency homeless accommodation nationally – some 1,054 families with 2,177 children.

Trauma of homelessness

“Homelessness can and should be prevented; keeping people in their homes is critical to preventing the stress and trauma of homelessness for more people and families,” Ms Randall said.

A study by the Simon Communities suggested 95% of properties available to rent were priced beyond the reach of people, depending on state rent supports for their housing, Ms Randall said.

She expressed concern that the high number of buy-to-let properties in distress had the potential to drive more people into homelessness.

Measures must be put in place to ensure these tenants are protected and that a further reduction in the number of properties in the private rented sector was avoided.

“At the moment, the system is very dependent on the private sector to provide people with homes,” Ms Randall said.

She said it was vital that local authorities and approved housing bodies be given the resources to start to provide social housing.

“A total of over 13,000 social housing units were delivered in 2015 through a range of programmes and schemes with only 28 houses actually being built, meanwhile there are at least 100,000 households on the social housing waiting list. People must have access to decent, affordable housing.”

Chief executive Pat Doyle said the body’s recent submission to the Oireachtas Housing and Homeless Committee recommended an increase in rent supplement of between 28% and 35%.

“The new rates will see an average increase of 29% in Dublin, excluding Fingal, 21% increases in Cork city and Galway city and an increase of 19% in Kildare. Other areas will also see significant increases in the available rates.”

Mr Doyle said Tuesday’s planned announcement would help reduce the number of people who would have otherwise ended up in homeless services, right across the State.

“It will hopefully lessen the acute pressures faced by agencies trying to tackle the problem and will create a breathing space to allow them to respond in other ways.”

He called on the Government to immediately move to bring forward legislation on indexed linked rents.

The Irish Property Owners’ Association said it had been requesting increases for a number of years but said the rent supplement was “not fit for purpose”.

“The rental caps have frequently put landlords and tenants in an untenable position. Rent supplement and housing assistance payment need to be at market rate. The unfair tax treatment of the sector has put severe pressure on landlords and increased the cost of providing rental accommodation at the same time as Rent Supplement was decreased.”

Separately, property consultants Savills Ireland said Wednesday’s CSO figures were likely to see a further increase in Dublin house price inflation.

Director of research Dr John McCartney said that while it had gone largely unnoticed, the annual rate of house price growth had nearly doubled from 2.6% last December to 4.6% in April.

He said this pick-up would continue over the summer months.

“Firstly a strong base effect is about to kick-in. House price inflation slowed sharply last May and June. Therefore even modest increases this summer will see an uplift in the annual rate of inflation.

“Adding to this, strong demand for residential property has led to the return of genuine inflationary pressures in the market.”

“Giving people more money to compete for a fixed stock of rented properties will just drive rents up further. This will eventually flow into higher house prices as investors are attracted into the market.”

Gardaí and nurses to test Government pay policy

Loss of valued increments could be catalyst for alarming industrial relations difficulties

    

The Haddington Road deal formally expires on Thursday night, leaving employer unions and staff associations outside a collective agreement.

Gardaí and second-level teachers, like the bulk of public servants, receive regular incremental pay rises as they move along in their careers. And while public service wages were cut following the economic crash, increments continued to be paid, albeit with delays in some cases.

As things stand at present within the next week or so a garda is facing being told that his or her increment for this year is being withheld and that they will not get another one until 2018.

Increments for most teachers are generally not due to be paid until the autumn when the school year recommences.

The imposition of such financial penalties such as the forfeiture of increments will undoubtedly lead to conflict between the Government and the Garda Representative Association and the Association of Secondary Teachers inIreland (ASTI) – a development which could lead to school closures in September and some form of action by gardaí.

For teachers, increments are not the only potential penalty. They may also lose nearly €800 due in supervision and substitution payments in September as well as removal of protection against compulsory redundancy.

The heart of the issue is the rejection by rank-and-file gardaí and ASTImembers of the Lansdowne Road pay deal. The accord which came into effect last January provides for limited pay restoration for those affected by wage cuts during the financial crash. Unions representing about 288,000 civil and public servants have already backed the accord, which is the centrepiece of the Government’s public service pay and industrial relations policy.

The Government considers Lansdowne Road to be an extension of the previous Haddington Road public service agreement under which teachers and officers were obliged respectively to carry out 33 and 30 additional unpaid hours each year.

The Government, for its part under Haddington Road was supposed to arrange for a review of Garda pay to be put in pace. This was due to have been completed in 2014. However this process was delayed and last months its chairman resigned. Consequently, it is unclear when the matter will be finalised.

Rank-and-file gardaí last December ceased carrying out the 30 unpaid hours.

Last month ASTI members voted to withdraw from the 33 additional hours they were carrying out in schools.

Collective agreement

The former Fine Gael-Labour government last autumn introduced new financial emergency legislation which allowed ministers to impose financial penalties such as forfeiture of increments on groups deemed to have repudiated a public service collective agreement.

Gardaí and ASTI members backed the Haddington Road deal but it formally expires on Thursday night, leaving as things stand at present, both groups outside a collective agreement.

The Government in moving to take action against rank-and-file gardaí and ASTI members in schools would be seeking to shore up its central public service pay policy.

Minister for Public Expenditure Paschal Donohoe on Tuesday said that the decision of unions representing nearly 300,000 workers in the public service to back the Lansdowne Road accord also had to be respected by the Government.

In this the Government is conscious of one of the iron laws of public service industrial relations – that every group watches every other group like hawks to ensure they do not secure additional benefits denied to their members.

Unions which accepted unpalatable measures under Lansdowne Road and its predecessors would not be happy, to say the least, if the Government changed arrangements for gardaí and teachers who did not back the accord.

Any move by the Government which reduced or eliminated the requirement for gardaí and teachers to carry out additional unpaid hours would immediately lead to claims for similar arrangements to be put in place for other groups such as nurses and civil servants and could ultimately lead to the unravelling of the Lansdowne Road edifice.

Nearly 40,000 nurses working in the public health service have had to work 1½ additional unpaid hours a week over recent years – a requirement that is deeply resented. Already it is likely that nurses will campaign in the autumn for these to be dropped. Concessions to gardaí or teachers on hours would intensify such a development.

On the other hand any move by the Government to impose financial penalties on nearly 30,000 gardaí and teachers is very likely to lead to significant industrial relations difficulties in the weeks ahead.

Tourism Ireland welcomes 14% increase in overseas visitors

      

Tourism Ireland today (28 June) welcomed news of an almost 14% jump in overseas visitors in the period January to May 2016.

Commenting on today’s figures from the CSO for overseas visitors to Ireland in the first five months of the year, Niall Gibbons, CEO of Tourism Ireland, said: “Today’s figures represent an excellent performance for overseas tourism to date, with growth of almost +14% for January to May.

We have seen exceptional results from North America for the five-month period of January to May – up over +18% on the same five-month period in 2015. I also welcome the strong increase in British visitors (almost +16%). Mainland Europe has also turned in a superb performance (+11.5%), with important markets like Italy, Spain and the Benelux countries all showing really good growth.”

Gibbons added that the outcome of the recent EU referendum in the UK has given rise to economic uncertainty and currency movements, which have the capacity to hamper growth.

“Tourism Ireland is liaising with our key stakeholders and monitoring developments. We are determined to get the message out that it is business as usual. Britain remains an extremely important market for Irish tourism and Tourism Ireland is undertaking an extensive programme of promotions in Britain, and elsewhere around the world, to ensure this strong performance continues. Our aim is to ensure that 2016 is another record-breaking year for Irish tourism,” he said.

High levels of vitamin D linked to lower birth problems,

Cork college study finds.

     

Study by University College Cork calls for guidelines on nutrition for pregnant women.

High vitamin D status is associated with lower risk of complications such as pre-eclampsia and small-for-gestational age (SGA) birth

Expecting mothers with high levels of vitamin D are less likely to have serious pregnancy complications, new Irish research indicates.

High vitamin D status is associated with lower risk of complications such as pre-eclampsia and small-for-gestational age (SGA) birth, according to the study by scientists in University College Cork.

The research, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, found 17 per cent of pregnant women had a Vitamin D deficiency among almost 1,800 who were surveyed. This compared to 12 per cent among women who were not pregnant.

The researchers say their findings highlight the need for national guidelines on nutritional intake, include Vitamin D levels, or pregnant women.

“The data highlights the need to conduct nutrition research in vulnerable populations, such as pregnancy and breastfeeding women and children, in order to develop life-stage specific recommendations for nutrient intakes,” according to Prof Mairead Kiely.

“Currently in Ireland, there are no pregnancy-specific guidelines for vitamin D intake.”

The study surveyed 1,786 mothers who attended Cork University Maternity Hospital and was designed to explore whether there was a connection between vitamin D status in early pregnancy and any major pregnancy complications.

Vitamin D is produced in the body by exposure of the skin to sunlight. It is also found in oily fish, egg yolks and fortified foods such as milk, breakfast cereals and infant formula.

What can ancient amber-encased bird wings say about flight?

   

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: A compound microscope images shows interlocking barbs and barbules on the bird’s flight feathers. A view of a feather suspended in amber. A fossilized skin flap shows the follicles where feathers insert into the flesh. the leading edge of one wing, including the tiny claw at the wing-tip.

Two chunks of amber preserved the wings of baby birds 99 million years ago.

Dinosaurs were roaming the Earth and flowering plants were just beginning to flourish when two tiny baby birds lived their short lives.

These walnut-brown, toothed hatchlings hadn’t grown larger than today’s hummingbirds when they encountered wads of sticky, goopy tree resin. Perhaps the newborn enantiornithes were taking their first flights, stumbling out of a nest, clambering around the treetops, or maybe they fell into the sticky trap when a wing became ensnared in the resin and the little birds weren’t able to pull it loose.

Now, 99 million years later, that resin has hardened into amber around those tiny wings, preserving them, bones, tissue, feathers and all. And they’re offering scientists a glimpse back in time.

“Enantiornithines, these strange, toothed birds, had plumage that looked a lot like adult bird plumage, even when they were just hatchlings,” says Ryan McKellar, curator of invertebrate paleontology at the Royal Saskatchewan Museum who helped analyze the new fossils for a paper published Tuesdayin the journal Nature Communications.

Looking at the bones of these amber-encased wings, the scientists were able to tell that these birds were quite young. But their adult-like feathers suggested these tiny hatchlings may have been able to fly “right out of the egg, or right out of the nest,” Dr. McKellar tells The Christian Science Monitor in a phone interview.

“They were ready for action as soon as they hatched,” lead author Lida Xing, of China University of Geosciences in Beijing, said in a press release. “These birds did not hang about in the nest waiting to be fed, but set off looking for food, and sadly died perhaps because of their small size and lack of experience.”

When you think of fossils you might picture a compression fossil, in which an animal’s skeleton has been preserved in a layer of sedimentary rock. Occasionally the tissues, fur, or feathers of an animal leaves some sort of imprint in the rock around the bones.

“The problem we face there is that more often than not it’s a sort of tangled mess,” McKellar says. “It’s hard to pick out the finer details of the feathers within this mat, or carbon film.”

That’s where amber fossils come in. As tree resin turns into amber over time, it preserves an organism in place, tissue and all. The resin contains natural preservatives, entomologist George Poinar, known for studying amber fossils, previously explained to the Monitor.

“Amber can be a really valuable supplement to these compression fossils” because it can preserve animals in such lifelike detail, McKellar says.

In life, these little birds had walnut-brown coloring on the upper side of their wings, with a paler band running across their wings. The wings’ underside was very pale, perhaps even white. Two long, ribbon-like tail feathers trailed behind the tiny birds’ bodies. In their beaks, these young enantiornithines had teeth, hinting at their dinosaur ancestry.

“They’re thought to be some of the closest relatives to modern birds,” McKellar says. Today enantiornithines are extinct.

“The fact that well-preserved plumage is now being found in 100-million-year old amber is remarkable, and very cool, but the [new] information in these two specimens is limited,” Luis Chiappe, director of the Dinosaur Institute at the National History Museum of Los Angeles County who was not part of this study, tells the Monitor in an email.

“Fossils that are 25 million years older than these amber pieces (i.e., fossils from 125 million year old rocks in Spain and China) provide the same information about the plumage of enantiornithines: differentiation among the wing feathers (alula, secondaries, primaries, and coverts) as well as details of their color patterns.”

“The authors are correct to highlight the high degree of development of the feathers and how the presence of fully formed flight feathers in hatchlings suggest a high degree of precociality,” the extent to which a young organism shows mature features and behaviors, such as mobility. But “this has already been mentioned, many times, based on the presence of similar feathers in traditional fossils as well as osteological studies correlating bone formation (ossification) with precociality,” Dr. Chiappe says.

McKellar agrees that these fossils confirm previous descriptions of enantiornithines based on compression fossils. But he hopes that this study will encourage scientists to turn to amber fossils more readily to find new insights into ancient organisms.

These chunks of amber are about the size of ping-pong balls, McKellar says. And the wings embedded in this amber are just fragments, a few bones of the tip of the bird’s wing with feathers fanning across them.

“It can be really difficult working with these specimens because a lot of the feathers are overlapping each other,” he says. “In one of the specimens they’re nicely splayed out, but in the other, they’re actually piled on top of each other, so it’s hard to tease out details.”

McKellar, who used strong lighting and magnification to peer into the amber fossils at the Royal Saskatchewan Museum, says, “it’s just sort of a mass of brown in the specimens until you get the right light on them.”

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News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Monday 27th June 2016

‘There is no going back on water charges for Ireland’ says the EU

    

Micheal Martin, and Enda Kenny.

There is no going back on water charges, the EU Commission has said in its clearest statement on the controversy to date.

Ireland is breaking EU law if the Dáil seeks to abandon charging as is expected after a nine-month consultation period agreed in the Programme for Government.

In reply to a Parliamentary Question from MEP Marian Harkin, the European Commission said Ireland  “made a clear commitment to set up water charges” and there  is no provision “whereby it can revert to any previous practice”.

The statement is the clearest yet on water charges and suggests that Ireland could be left open to significant EU fines unless a billing system is implemented.

The Commission said that Ireland is signed up to Article 9(4) of the Framework Directive which sets down “strict conditions”.

It says that a member state wishing to avail for flexibility under this provision needed to take a decision on what constituted an “established practice”.

“On the contrary, in the said plans, Ireland made a clear commitment to set up water charges to comply with the provisions of Article 9(1).

“Ireland subsequently applied water charges and the Commission considers that the Directive does not provide for a situation whereby it can revert to any previous practice,” the Commission said.

The statement is likely to reignite the war of words over water charges.

Fianna Fáil has claimed that it has legal advice which says that Ireland can legally scrap water charges.

However, Fine Gael continues to say that water charges cannot be reversed and recently Taoiseach Enda Kenny said that despite all the protests people will eventually end up paying for domestic water.

Legislation that allows for the suspension of water charges for nine months is to be debated in the Dáil later this month.

It will allow for the setting up of a Commission which will make recommendations on the future of water charges.

European Union must reprise role of ‘social champion’

Says Tánaiste Fitzgerald

  

Frances Fitzgerald warns of setback if UK withdraws from European arrest warrant or Europol.

The Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald said membership of the EU “led to real changes for women through removal of the working ban for married women and the equal pay directive”.

The European Union must change its focus and be identified again with making people’s lives better, the Tánaiste has told the Dáil.

Frances Fitzgerald said the EU began as a peace project by promoting economic co-operation and it became a “social champion”.

Citing benefits to Ireland, she said membership of the EU “led to real changes for women through removal of the working ban for married women and the equal pay directive”.

During the day-long debate on the UK decision to leave, Ms Fitzgerald said in recent years the union “is seen by too many people as a restricting rather than an enabling force, focused on economic theory rather than social progression. That must change and now is the time to begin.”

She said “the European Union must again be identified with making people’s lives better”.

Echoing Taoiseach Enda Kenny’s view earlier in the debate that it was the Government’s priority to maintain the common travel area between the United Kingdom and Ireland, Ms Fitzgerald said it was also “clear that the UK share our view that it should be preserved”.

Security

The Tánaiste, who is Minister for Justice, said she had spoken on Monday to the UK minister of state for security and immigration. This was “a first step in this process and we agreed to have ongoing contact and further detailed discussions while maintaining our excellent relationship on security issues”.

She said a border normally had significant implications for the movement of people. But “ours will be geographically isolated from the rest of the European Union and in particular it will be outside the Schengen area so the integrity of the border controls of the Schengen area will not be affected in any way”.

Ms Fitzgerald also warned it would be a setback if the UK withdrew from the European Arrest Warrant process or from Europol, the body set up for co-operation among police services across Europe.

The Tánaiste said the arrest warrant system had replaced the traditional extradition process and had proved very successful. Europol had enhanced police co-operation between the member states and “now is a standard part of many investigations with several thousand queries a year going to and from the Garda Síochána and Europol”.

Controlling immune response ‘could ease dying’

     

Controlling the immune response of people dying from cancer might help save them from pain, fatigue and loss of appetite, according to researchers.

Experts hope by using existing drugs to control symptoms, people in their last few weeks of life can have a more comfortable time before they die.

Edinburgh University worked with the European Palliative Care Research Centre.

They studied the progression of cancer in more than 2,500 patients in Europe.

They used blood tests to assess inflammation levels in patients with many different types of cancer, including lung, breast, and bowel cancer.

Reduce inflammation

They found a person’s level of inflammation appeared to have a direct effect on the way they felt – causing pain, fatigue, loss of appetite and nausea.

The researchers believe this may be the first time such symptoms have been shown to develop as a result of the body’s immune response to cancer, and not simply as a consequence of tumours spreading.

Lead researcher Dr Barry Laird, of the Edinburgh Cancer Research Centre at Edinburgh University, said: “This study challenges the assumption that certain symptoms are an inevitable consequence of advanced cancer, and there is nothing doctors can do to make patients feel better.

“If we can understand what causes symptoms such as pain, fatigue and nausea, we can begin to tackle them.

“We already have drugs that target and reduce inflammation, so using these drugs specifically to treat symptoms may make a real difference to people living with cancer.”

He said clinical trials were now under way to test this.

The research was published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.

Almost a quarter of Irish men admit they’ve probably driven while over legal alcohol limit

  

Survey shows that drink driving experiences are more prevalent among men.

64% of Irish people say they know somebody who has knowingly driven a car when above the legal alcohol limit in the past five years, a new study has shown.

1,015 adults were interviewed during the Red C survey for Newstalk. It looked at attitudes towards drink driving here in Ireland, as well as personal experiences of drink driving.

More than one in four people stated that they may have been a passenger in a car driven by someone who was over the limit.

Meanwhile, 15% think they themselves may have driven while over the legal limit – a number that rises to 24% among men.

The study also shows that drink driving is perceived to be more of a problem in rural areas than urban ones – with 77% agreeing that people in rural areas are more likely to drive when over the limit.

Meanwhile, more than a quarter of respondents said they believed that the legal drink driving limit is too low.

Tune in to the Pat Kenny Show today and tomorrow for more about Irish attitudes towards drink driving.

Great news for children’s parties and doctors as new helium source discovered

   Ebony Taylor with Senior Radiographer Helen Browne demonstrate the new 3T MRI scanner at Sheffield Children's Hospital which was funded through donations to The Children's Hospital Charity.

Don’t panic party-goers because scientists won’t be restricting helium balloons just yet as a new discovery could solve a shortage of the gas.

Reserves of the gas have been running out and doctors a year ago were calling for a ban on its use in party balloons, branding it frivolous.

But scientists have found new helium sources in Tanzania, which could be critical to the role helium plays not only in fun, but in life-threatening medicine.

Helium does not just make voices go squeaky, it’s extremely low boiling point means it is used for super-cooling and is critical in MRI scanners, nuclear power and leak detection.

Until now helium has been found accidentally during drilling for oil and gas.

But a team from Oxford and Durham Universities, working with the Norwegian firm Helium One, applied the expertise used in oil and gas exploration to find how helium was generated underground and where it accumulated.

Their research showed that volcanic activity provides the intense heat necessary to release the gas from ancient, helium-bearing rocks.

Within the Tanzanian East African Rift Valley, volcanoes have released helium from deep rocks and trapped it in shallower gas fields.

Professor Chris Ballentine, of the department of earth sciences at the University of Oxford, said it was estimated there was probably 54 billion cubic feet (BCf) in just one part of the Rift Valley – enough to fill more than 1.2 million medical MRI scanners.

Global consumption was around 8 BCf a year and the US Federal Helium Reserve, the world’s largest supplier, currently held around 24 BCf.

Prof Ballentine said: “This is a game-changer for the future security of society’s helium needs and similar finds in the future may not be far away.”

Professor Jon Gluyas, of the department of earth sciences at Durham University, who collaborated on the project, said the price of helium had gone up 500% in 15 years.

The inert gas escapes gravity and leaks into outer space.

Prof Gluyas said: “We have to keep finding more, it’s not renewable or replaceable.”

Curiosity sees hint of Earth-like atmosphere on ancient Mars planet

    

NASA’s Curiosity took this selfie while conducting science at the “Windjana” site on Mars, in April and May of 2014. Its investigations turned up evidence of an oxygen-rich atmosphere in Mars’ distant past. 

Monday, June 27, 2016, 5:51 PM – Did Mars once have an atmosphere rich in oxygen, more akin to what we have here on Earth? That’s what the latest find from NASA’s Curiosity rover is pointing to, but if so, where did this oxygen come from?

As NASA’s 1-ton, nuclear-powered robotic rover trundles across the rocky Martian terrain, it pauses at times to conduct some science – scoop some sand, drill down into rocks or shoot things with a high-powered laser – which has yielded up some truly remarkable discoveries.

One of these discoveries found that Gale Crater, where Curiosity is roving, once held a large lake of fresh water, with just the right conditions that it would actually be drinkable for us.

Now, according to the latest news from NASA, scientists working with data from one of the rover’s science “pauses” have found manganese oxide minerals – a type of mineral that only forms in one of two ways:

1) In the presence of liquid water and high concentrations of oxygen, or

2) From microbial life.

“Now we’re seeing manganese oxides on Mars,” Nina Lanza, a planetary scientist at Los Alamos National Laboratory, said in a NASA statement. “And we’re wondering how the heck these could have formed?”

“These high manganese materials can’t form without lots of liquid water and strongly oxidizing conditions,” Dr. Lanza explained. “Here on Earth, we had lots of water but no widespread deposits of manganese oxides until after the oxygen levels in our atmosphere rose.”

According to NASA, here on Earth, manganese oxide minerals are used as a kind of historical marker, since they only appear in the geological record after the atmosphere became oxygen-rich due to organisms using photosynthesis.

This isn’t even the first time that manganese deposits have been located on Mars. In 2014, “the jelly donut” rock that the Opportunity rover accidentally dislodged turned out to have manganese in it, and more recently, a combination of Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and Mars Opportunity investigations found high concentrations of manganese on the ridge of Endeavor Crater, where Opportunity has been investigating.

Given that Endeavor Crater and Gale Crater are roughly on opposite sides of the planet from one another, this lends good support to the idea that these minerals are quite wide-spread.

Drill holes made by Curiosity on May 11, 2014. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

The fact that there was oxygen on Mars in the past isn’t the truly remarkable find here. Given the iron oxide dust that gives Mars the nickname The Red Planet, oxygen had to be there in the past. Studies prior to this have even shown that the planet could have had abundant oxygen in its atmosphere long before Earth did.

According to Dr. Lanza, though, manganese oxide minerals require much higher concentrations of oxygen to form than are needed to oxidize iron – higher levels than were ever thought to have existed on Mars.

So, what could be the source of such high concentrations of oxygen?

Although it’s fun to speculate that the high oxygen levels, or even the minerals themselves, may have been produced by ancient Martian microbes, there’s probably a safer and simpler explanation.

Since Mars lacks a strong magnetic field now, even if it was stronger in the past, as it weakened, it would expose Mars’ surface to an increasing bombardment by high energy particles from the Sun and from space. Now, this bombardment apparently sterilizes the surface to some depth, but back in the ancient past, these particles would have plunged into the oceans, splitting apart water molecules into their component atoms.

Mars’ gravity wouldn’t have been strong enough to keep the hydrogen around. Even Earth’s gravity – at 2.5 times stronger than Mars’ – is not particularly good at that, with hydrogen only found in the far upper reaches of our atmosphere. The free oxygen, on the other hand, was heavy enough to be bound to Mars longer, thus being around to produce both the iron oxide dust and these manganese oxide minerals.

One thing to note is an important point made by Dr. Lanza: “It’s hard to confirm whether this scenario for Martian atmospheric oxygen actually occurred. But it’s important to note that this idea represents a departure in our understanding for how planetary atmospheres might become oxygenated.”

This may be a new piece of the puzzle to add to our overall knowledge of how planets and their atmospheres form, or it may actually be a step towards the discovery that life actually existed on the Red Planet at some point in its past.

The next step, according to the Los Alamos National Laboratory, is for the researchers to see if there is any discernible difference between manganese oxides produced through biological processes and those that arise from simple geological processes.

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Sunday 26th June 2016

HSE paying out €70k each day on private taxis

Cab companies paid €73m in three years for transporting patients

    

The HSE spends over €70,000 a day on taxis – with one firm last year receiving almost €1m.

Latest figures show total spend in the past three years has reached some €73m.

Documents obtained by the Sunday Independent show that the agency – which is under unprecedented financial pressure – is now one of the highest users of taxis in western Europe.

The revelation comes just three weeks after an additional €500m was agreed as the latest “special payment” to keep the country’s health services afloat.

And earlier this year it emerged we proportionately spend more on health than any other OECD country – fuelling ongoing speculation the service is not delivering on a value-for-money basis.

Now these latest figures – arising from a Freedom of Information request – show that outlay on taxis continues to escalate. It will renew speculation that there should be more cost-effective methods of transporting patients – and items such as blood specimens – for example, by expanding the ambulance service.

The cost is for transferring patients by private taxi when they are too ill, frail, or unable to travel unaccompanied, to and from appointments.

Figures reveal two taxi companies in Dublin netted almost €1m each over a 12-month period as a result of payments by the HSE.

A third firm in the capital earned over €600,000 – while another taxi company was paid €550,000. A number of taxi firms around the country were also high earners.

Over the course of a year, a firm in Cork earned €755,000 from the health service – and six other taxi companies in the area had earnings ranging from €200,000 to €390,000.

A trawl through the records reveals the biggest earner in the Limerick region received just under €435,000.

Four other taxi, minibus, and hackney firms in the area earned amounts ranging from €150,000 to €214,000 in the space of a year.

Stephen McMahon, of the Irish Patients’ Association, said while transportation should be made available for vulnerable patients, the HSE must ensure they are getting “value for money”.

“Many patients struggle to get from their home to a hospital so we must provide a service for them to do that.

“We don’t know if we’re getting value for money. Are these patients being charged premium rates?

“Do the drivers have experience in basic first-aid? The HSE should think outside the box and consider having their own transportation system attached to the ambulance service.”

Fianna Fail health spokesman Billy Kelleher said it should be acknowledged that “tying up high-end emergency care vehicles and ambulances for transferring patients” is not an option.

“But equally there’s an obligation on the HSE to ensure that they are getting the best value for the taxpayer. Getting value for money should be a key priority. There should be regular audits carried out, and there should be very clear, efficient, and effective tendering, in place as well.”

In a statement, the HSE said the figures provided only include the cost of hiring taxis that comes strictly within its legal ambit. Further expenditure on taxis is incurred by other agencies linked to the overall health service.

Specific data which would show the cost of transporting patients to and from acute hospitals is not available, the statement added.

Mary Tierney of Patient Focus, said ideally all drivers should be capable of basic first aid, which they could use if needed in an emergency situation.

Ireland will resist EU pressure to cut milk output, says Minister Creed

‘Finger-pointing at Ireland’ unjustified, says Michael Creed ahead of EU meeting

   

Minister for Agriculture Michael Creed with Enda Kenny.

Minister for Agriculture Michael Creed said Ireland would resist mounting EU pressure to scale back its milk production at this week’s Farm Council meeting in Brussels. The Republic has been singled out as one of the chief drivers of overproduction in Europe, which is now blamed for the current turmoil in dairy markets.

However, Mr Creed said the “finger-pointing at Ireland” was entirely unjustified given the country accounted for 4 per cent of production in Europe and 1% globally.

The latest statistics show the industry here increased output by 18.5% to 6.5 billion litres in the first 12 months since the ending of milk quotas in April last year.

Germany and France, Europe’s two largest producers, recorded more modest output increases of 3.7% and 1.3%, but their production footprints, at 31 billion litres and 25 billion litres respectively, dwarf Ireland’s output.

Compulsory cuts

The Government has resisted restricting supply fearing Ireland, so long the under-achiever in the global milk market, would cede ground to rivals.

Mr Creed said that with the exception of the one dairy lobby group, the Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers’ Association (ICMSA), there was no appetite in Ireland to go down the route of voluntary or compulsory cuts in production. Germany, France and Poland are expected to propose new measures, including supply controls, at this week’s Farm Council meeting aimed at rebalancing the market, amid a near 40% drop in global milk prices since 2014.

The three countries agreed a joint position at a crisis meeting in Warsaw earlier this month and are likely to call on the European Commission to fund voluntary supply cuts at local and national levels.

Income support

Two recent Global Dairy Trade auctions posted modest price increases, prompting suggestions the market may be finally bottoming out, the latest auction in mid-June recorded no change in price. Despite the introduction of several income support measures, several large Irish processors have been accused of short-changing farmers on price.

A recent survey by the Dutch Dairy Board found Irish dairy processors,Glanbia, Dairygold and Kerry, were paying the lowest prices for milk in Europe.

Some 30,000 applicants scramble for €9 an hour Cival Service office jobs

    

Almost 30,000 people have applied for the most basic clerical job in the civil service where pay has plummeted to €9 an hour.

Almost 30,000 people – including thousands of third-level graduates – have applied for the most basic clerical job in the civil service where pay has plummeted to €9 an hour.

Many workers are still scrambling for “a permanent, pensionable state job with a family friendly working environment”, according to recruitment experts.

A clerical officer recruitment drive two years ago attracted 28,500 hopefuls.

The avalanche of applications to become part of the public service was the largest since 1993 when there was a recruitment drive at the tail-end of the last major downturn.

But this time round, when applications closed on June 17, an unprecedented 29,811 had applied.

Clerical officers perform administrative and clerical duties, and are expected to complete tasks such as typing, data input computer work and filing.

Despite the unprecedented number of applicants, it is understood the Public Appointments Service is looking to fill fewer than 1,000 positions countrywide. It is also believed the majority of the vacancies are based in Dublin.

During the Celtic Tiger years, similar front-line positions were difficult to fill, and the majority of successful candidates had left education right after they completed the Leaving Certificate.

Appointments were made without the requirement of a formal interview.

Given the high number of applications following this latest recruitment drive, it could be some months before the successful candidates begin employment.

Speaking today, Michael McDonagh, director of Hays Recruitment Agency in Dublin, says workers are still “hugely attracted” to a guaranteed income provided in the semi-state and state sector.

“All the pain endured since the economic crash has made many people really attracted by the idea of what is described as the permanent, pensionable job,” he added.

Talking therapy is on rise? but who are we talking to?

There is a bewildering choice of therapists and therapies out there – but little regulation

     

There is little regulation of the therapy market.

Talk therapy may be on the rise in Ireland, but clients still aren’t asking their therapists about their qualifications and accreditations.

While Irish people may euphemistically concede that they are “talking to someone”, they often don’t know who exactly that person is, or what the letters after their name mean.

There is a bewildering choice of therapists and therapies available in Ireland, coupled with a woeful lack of consumer information. Furthermore, psychotherapists and counsellors are not currently regulated under the Health and Social Care Professionals Act 2005.

“The persistent lack of regulation in psychotherapy is profoundly concerning,” says cognitive scientist and philosopher of medicine Dr Charlotte Blease.

“There is still no statutory regulation for therapists in Ireland (though there are moves in this direction with CORU). And unlike medicine, it is not possible to become a licensed psychotherapist.

“Anyone can stick a plaque on their door, set up an internet site, dub themselves a ‘therapist’ and start charging by the hour. I also imagine that many of these people are falsely calling themselves ‘Dr’ or even ‘Professor’,” she adds.

Counselling and psychotherapy are self-regulated industries in Ireland. Just as psychology is accredited by associations such as the Psychological Society of Ireland (PSI), counselling and psychotherapy are accredited by bodies such as the Irish Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (IACP); the Irish Association of Humanistic & Integrative Psychotherapy (IAHIP); and the Association of Psychoanalysis and Psychotherapy in Ireland (APPI).

These bodies have stringent standards of excellence and therapists are required to partake in a mandatory number of client contact-work hours (450 hours for prospective IACP members) after successful completion of core work.

“Psychotherapists who are members of bodies such as the IACP, and similar organisations, must adhere to strict ethical codes of conduct to respect patient autonomy, client confidentiality, and to conduct themselves in a professional manner,” says Dr Blease.

Non-membership doesn’t disqualify therapists from practicing though, as psychotherapist and Love Rewired author David Kavanagh explains.

“People can do a course that is accredited to a proper organisation but then not necessarily go off and get the proper registration hours that they need. If they don’t get the registration hours that they need, then they are not officially registered.”

Kavanagh’s clients often ask him to explain the difference between a counsellor and a psychotherapist.

“I always answer ‘about seven years’ training’. I have a degree, a diploma, three years post-grad and then two years to get registration. It was a nine-year educational process for me to become a psychotherapist with the Family Therapy Association of Ireland.

“Yet I could become a counsellor in six months after doing my Leaving Cert. Or I could do a six- week course in counselling online, get a certificate from America, put myself forward and nobody is legislating against me.”

Dublin-based psychotherapist Liam Plant, who is accredited with three bodies, both here and in the UK, believes that therapists are ethically obliged to tell clients if they are still in the process of becoming accredited. He also offers a list of ‘questions to ask your therapist’ on his website.

“There was a proliferation in the noughties of private colleges offering courses that maybe didn’t pay sufficient attention to the highest standards of practice,” says Plant. “I personally think the minimum level of education should be a Masters.”

Thankfully, the Irish industry is slowly moving in this direction. The IACP is increasing the minimum educational requirement for Counselling & Psychotherapy (for the purpose of accreditation) to Degree Level 8 on the National Framework of Qualifications from September 2018.

This will significantly up the ante of an already challenging programme, says copywriter Laura-Kelly Walsh, who is currently studying part-time for an IACP-recognised diploma in psychotherapy over two years. Her studies include 450 hours of training, 50 hours of personal therapy and 150 hours of supervised practice.

“I realised how important it is to do an IACP or IAHIP accredited course after researching the courses available in Ireland,” she explains. “Also, given the nature of the profession, an online course was out of the question.”

Psychotherapist Barbara Foley became IACP-accredited a year ago. She originally trained as a nurse before working in clinical research for 12 years. She started a degree in psychotherapy six years ago, practiced for two years before becoming fully accredited and is currently studying for a two-year post-grad in adolescent psychotherapy.

“My concern is the rise of online courses in things like CBT [cognitive behavioural therapy], NLP [Neuro-linguistic programming] and mindfulness,” she says. “I’m not aware of the accreditation around them and I just wonder how vigilant people are about researching the regulatory process.”

Dr Blease has similar reservations.

“A friend of mine suggested going to ‘mindfulness classes’. I went along with her twice, purely out of curiosity for the standard of care. I was appalled. I have no idea what kind of training he received and I witnessed this ‘therapist’ tell one patient (who had made it known that he was grieving) that, ‘cancer is caused by the food that we eat’.”

“The problem with Ireland is that people don’t ask enough,” adds Kavanagh. “They don’t say ‘tell me about your qualifications and expertise’. They don’t ask ‘where did you train, who did you register with, are you insured?'”

Foley agrees. She says that while GPs will only refer patients to registered psychotherapists, clients are considerably less ¬attentive about looking for ¬accreditations. One way to navigate this is to find a reputable centre. MyMind, a not-for-profit provider of mental health care services, requires all therapists to be practicing under a recognised accreditation body and to be undergoing regular supervision.

“Finding a therapist in your area can be done through consulting the directories of professional bodies,” explains MyMind communications officer Carmel Bryce. “It can also be helpful to have a recommendation from a trusted source, such as a GP or friend.”

Patients should also be educated about the therapeutic process and the possible risks, says Dr Blease.

“They deserve to be made known about evidence which shows that some versions of therapy will be more suitable for their problems than other kinds of therapy.

“They also deserve to be told that therapy may carry risks: around 10pc of patients experience worsening of symptoms as a result of long-term therapy. Honest and competent therapists – therapists who are working within the sphere of evidence-based practice – will make patients aware of these facts.

“Just because psychotherapy involves talking does not mean it is harmless.”

In vitro fertilisation may save coral reef decline

    

Marine biologists at the California Academy of Sciences have joined a new international effort to rescue endangered coral reefs from the consequences of widespread human destruction and a warming climate.

Teams of research divers from the academy will set off this summer on expeditions to the Caribbean and Mexico, where they will seed two of the region’s major reefs with millions of coral larvae born from the organisms’ sperm and egg cells.

As colorful as flower bouquets, corals are actually colonies of tiny animals that build their limestone homes from the sea, and derive their colors from the algae that live inside them. Their lives are increasingly threatened by global plagues like expanding human development, ocean pollution, and the twin signals of global climate change: rising temperatures and increasing ocean acidification.

A call to action from three Pacific island nations whose coral reefs are in the crosshairs of the largest and longest-lasting coral bleaching event in recorded history will be presented Friday at the conclusion of the International Coral Reef Symposium in Honolulu. Heads of state from Palau, Micronesia and the Marshall Islands attended the conference and provided a plan to help save their ailing coral reefs, which are major contributors to their local economies and the daily sustenance of their people. The call to action, signed by the three presidents, asked for better collaboration between the scientific community and local governments, saying there needs to be more funding and a strengthened commitment to protecting the reefs.

Recent record-shattering El Niños have raised Pacific Ocean temperatures and caused a new worldwide episode of coral bleaching that is turning the organisms dead white. The scourge began in 2014, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and is already the worst and longest bleaching episode in history.

Bart Shepherd, the director of the academy’s Steinhart Aquarium, and Luiz Rocha, the curator of ichthyology, will lead about 20 divers on a new experiment in coral reproduction.

“If it’s successful,” Shepherd said, “it opens the possibility for widespread application on coral reefs everywhere.”

Shepherd’s group has joined with leaders of an international research and conservation group called Secore International — Sexual Coral Reproduction — whose founder and president, Dirk Petersen, led the original research into a unique method of in vitro fertilization of coral organisms.

Five years ago, Petersen and researchers diving at the Caribbean Marine Biological Institute in Curacao, collected coral sperm and egg cells in the water while the corals were spawning, and reared the coral larvae in the laboratory. When they matured, the researchers transplanted the coral larvae onto small, fist-size tiles that the divers then transplanted to the degraded reef by the thousands.

The experiment was successful and within two years a high proportion of new corals were flourishing and growing, Petersen and his colleagues reported in the journal Global Ecology and Conservation.

“This is now actually a five-year plan, and eventually it could become a global restoration project for corals everywhere,” Petersen said during a recent visit to San Francisco, where he and Shepherd completed working on details of the academy team’s role this summer.

The expedition is scheduled for August because the corals spawn only about once a year, releasing their sex cells into the water by the millions, Shepherd explained. The event, he said, occurs only in August at night and only within a few days after a full moon.

It’s during those fleeting nights of spawning action that Shepherd and his colleagues from the academy will be diving to collect the coral gametes. Then, after they have become larvae in the Caribbean institute’s lab, the divers will return to seed the nearby reef with the fresh infant corals.

The researchers’ first two targets will be on the degraded reef at the institute’s field station in Curacao, and then on the Yucatan Peninsula, where the famed Great Maya Reef stretches more than 620 miles south to the coast of Belize.

The academy’s effort at coral midwifery is part of a $10 million commitment the institution has made specifically to research and restoration efforts on the world’s endangered reefs.

“We’re planning 20 new expeditions over the next five years to regions where coral reefs are threatened,” said Jonathan Foley, the academy’s executive director. “And our people will be putting boots on the ground for a rescue experiment that’s unique — not just for proving out a new technique to restore coral reefs, but for making the technique better.”

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Friday 25th June 2016

IDA set to negotiate with UK companies to relocate to Ireland after Brexit vote

The agency is to begin negotiations with companies located in UK that may want to relocate to Ireland.

   

Martin Shanahan, the chief executive of IDA Ireland, says the State agency will soon begin negotiations with banks and other companies located in the UK that may want to relocate to Ireland following the Brexit vote.

Martin Shanahan, the chief executive of IDA Ireland, says the State agency will soon begin negotiations with banks and other companies located in the UK that may want to relocate to Ireland following the Brexit vote.

Mr Shanahan stressed his first preference was for Britain to remain within the European Union (EU), but he said the IDA has “done its homework” on how to maximise foreign investment for Ireland now that the UK has voted to leave.

“We have been in discussion with potential clients [who may choose to relocate to Ireland from the UK] for months. They approached us,” said Mr Shanahan. “We have a good view on the potential for Ireland.

He said discussions with potential foreign investors could begin as soon as “next week, or the week after”.

IDA’s existing 1,200 client companies are “still digesting the news”, he said. Mr Shanahan yesterday wrote to the 1,200 to say Ireland remains committed to the EU and is effectively still open for business.

He said Ireland’s “stability” would be an attractive feature when attracting new investment in the midst of the uncertainty created for the UK by the vote. Mr Shanahan also agreed that financial services and technology were two sectors where Ireland would be particularly well placed to pick up fresh foreign investment that might otherwise locate in the UK.

“But we intend to push for investment right across the portfolio, including life sciences and engineering,” he said. “Our mandate prior to Brexit was to maximise investment for Ireland, and nothing has changed in that regard.”

Terms of exit?

Fergal O’Brien, chief economist at the employers’ lobby Ibec, said the UK is now likely to “become more aggressive” in securing foreign investment to protect its economy, which could increase competition faced by the IDA.

He said a lot depends on the terms of the exit deal given to the UK, including its level of access to the EU’s internal market: “It is in Ireland’s interests to get as much stability as possible for the UK.”

Mr O’Brien suggested that while other EU states might want to impose tough measures on the UK to discourage other countries from exiting, Ireland “needs to establish at EU level that we have skin in the game” and push for leniency.

Enterprise Ireland, meanwhile, warned against the effects of exchange rate volatility for Irish exporters into the UK. It said it would also support Irish exporters to devise medium-term diversification plans.

“In addition to our team in the UK, we have put in place a dedicated email address, phone-line and team for Enterprise Ireland clients to respond to their immediate concerns and issues,” said the agency.

Ryanair and Aer Lingus could be hit by fall in passengers

International Air Transport Association says weaker sterling may cut number of UK travellers

   

IAG said it no longer expects to generate an absolute operating profit increase similar to 2015.

Ryanair and Aer Lingus parent, International Airlines’ Group (IAG), could be hit by a fall in UK passenger numbers following the Brexit vote, according to a leading industry body.

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) predicts that a weakened sterling and shrinking economy could cut UK airline passenger numbers, which hit 250 million last year, by 3 to 5% by 2020.

A report the association published yesterday shows that Ryanair and IAG, owner of Aer Lingus, are amongst the airlines that are most exposed to a fall in air travel.

The UK is one of Ryanair’s biggest markets, accounting for more than 30 million of the 100-plus million passengers that it flies every year.

This gave it a large share of the 117 million people that flew between the UK and the rest of the EU last year. It also employs 4,000 people there.

IAG’s other airlines include British Airways, which carried more than 43 million people last year. The group warned in a statement following the vote that it does not expect this year’s growth in operating profits to match that of 2015.

Ryanair’s chief marketing officer, Kenny Jacobs, said that the Irish company would campaign to have the UK remains in the EU’s Open Skies regime, which allows airlines to fly freely between member states.

However, he indicated that Ryanair is more likely to spend money on countries within the EU, such as the Republic, Germany, Spain and Italy. “It’s going to mean that when we are looking at investing, we will look outside the UK,” he said.

The vote sent travel stocks tumbling. IAG fell 22.54% to 409 pence sterling in London. Ryanair shares were down 11.77% at €12.07 in Dublin.

Shaun Quinn, chief executive of State body, Fáilte Ireland, responsible for promoting tourism to the Republic, said it was too early to speculate on the likely impact of the vote on the industry.

“Fáilte Ireland will be monitoring any short term impacts of a devalued sterling on tourist numbers to Ireland and working with businesses in the sector to develop strategies to address any arising competitiveness challenges,” he said.

The Irish Hotels Federation warned that there was a risk a risk that economic uncertainty and a weaker sterling would hit visitor numbers from the UK.

Republic attracts three million tourists from Britain every year. The hospitality industry fears that this number could decline as the Brexit fallout continues.

Sligo seeking funding as European Volunteer Capital

Sligo, Ireland, Finds Working Capital in Its Couch Cushions     

Concern has been expressed that no funding has yet been arranged for Sligo’s designation as European Volunteering Capital 2017.

The manager of Sligo Volunteer Centre Ciara Herity told councillors last week that while the supports from the Municipality were in place, no concrete funding was secured.

“We are the first non-country capital winner. It’s very exciting, for Sligo and for Ireland. The uniqueness of Sligo winning is that we are a small rural county on the periphery of Europe. It’s a privilege to have it,” she said.

Cathaoirleach of the County Council Cllr Rosaleen O’Grady said she was “concerned that they’ve no funding” but added that they had “the right woman in Marian Harkin in Europe” to help them source funding.

The MEP is Patron of Sligo Volunteer Centre and attended the presentation in person last week.

Sligo beat seven other cities in the running for the 2017 designation and previous winners include London, Lisbon and Barcelona.

Sligo Volunteer Centre celebrates its 10 year anniversary in 2017 and the designation will give due recognition to that.

M/s Herity said the designation would bring more European visitors here along with an economic boost to the town and county.

It’s hoped Sligo will host some national events: Volunteer Ireland, Special Olympics, Foroige and the Irish Girl Guides have been approached about hosting events here next year.

Cllr Sean MacManus said it was “a fantastic achievement for a small county on the periphery of Europe”. He said it was going to be difficult to match London and Lisbon “especially in view of the fact that we’ve no funding.”

“Even given Sligo County Council’s straitened financial situation to include some forming of funding to back them up,” he said.

Cllr Sinead Maguire also congratulated Sligo Volunteer Centre and said “It does reflect the spirit of volunteering that we have here in Sligo. We’re worthy winners.”

Council Chief Executive Ciarán Hayes is now tasked with designing a programme of events, actively pursuing sponsorship and raising awareness.

Marked reduction in PSA testing

 Pictured left to right at the John Fitzpatrick Irish Prostate Cancer Conference in Dublin were: Mr Killian Walsh, Prof Michael Blute, Mr Peter Ryan and Mr Andrew Fitzpatrick   

A US Task Force recommendation against PSA-based screening had a major effect, Gary Culliton heard at the John Fitzpatrick Irish Prostate Cancer Conference. Since this policy decision was made, there has been a considerable impact on rates of detection

Policy decisions are rapidly influencing primary care practice in the US. There has been a decrease in prostate-specific antigen (PSA) screening, and the urology response has been an increase in the use of active surveillance in men with low-risk disease. Recent years have also seen the advent of surgical cohorts with more intermediate and high-risk disease.

A recommendation against PSA screening may be leading to later stage disease at diagnosis, a meeting in Dublin has heard.

There has been a shift toward more advanced disease at diagnosis, and decreased use of PSA-based screening may worsen this trend.

The rapid decrease in PSA use was concerning, said Prof Michael Blute, Chief of Urology at Boston’s Massachusetts General Hospital and Professor of Surgery at Harvard. This would continue until there was a change at policy level, he said, in a talk on policy decisions and the changing face of prostate cancer at the John Fitzpatrick Irish Prostate Cancer Conference in Dublin recently. His talk dealt in particular with diagnosis and management in the US.

More surgical patients are seen with advanced or adverse pathology. “My hope is that smarter prostate cancer screening methods will be introduced,” said Prof Blute. One of his concerns centres on “reaching primary care practices.”

In 2012, the US Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommended against PSA-based screening for prostate cancer. There was moderate or high certainty that the service had no net benefit or that the harms outweighed the benefits, said the Task Force, which discouraged use of the service.

Since this policy decision was made, there has been a major impact on rates of detection. Urologists order between 7 and 10 per cent of the PSA tests in the country. The vast majority of PSA tests are ordered by primary care practices.

Dramatic reduction

A dramatic reduction was seen in the utilisation of PSA testing in primary care practices (Ahmedin Jemal, 2015). There were then conflicting results from the PLCO and ERSPC trials and the case against screening appeared to strengthen.

Following the 2012 USPSTF recommendation, there has been a 20 per cent reduction in the use of PSA testing in the United States and rates would continue to fall, said Prof Blute. “The argument about PSA screening became an ‘all or none’ debate. The ‘none’ side won out. This is having a significant impact for men diagnosed with prostate cancer at our practice.”

Overall incidence among the cohort of men aged 50 and older in the US dropped off in 2012. However, the presentation stage — for localised disease or metastatic disease — has not changed; it lags behind. For the first time in two decades, the incidence of metastatic disease among men aged 75 years or older is starting to creep up.

“My fear is that primary care practices are not listening to American Urological Association (AUA) guidelines. They are not listening to National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN) guidelines. They are listening to the USPSTF,” Prof Blute said.

Since the 2012 USPSTF recommendation, there has been a 28 per cent reduction in the diagnosis of prostate cancer in the US (Barocas DA, J Urol, 2015). Equal reductions have been seen in the diagnosis of men with low-, intermediate- and high-risk cancers. “This is an extremely rapid change and it is a real concern for men with intermediate- or high-risk disease who will experience delay in diagnosis,” said Prof Blute. Delayed diagnoses would be a feature and an increase in the incidence of men with metastatic disease at diagnosis was sure to follow, he said.

The recommendation has been associated with decreased PSA screening in all age groups, decreased rates of prostate biopsies and decreased incidence of prostate cancer. There has been no change in the distribution of low-, intermediate- and high-grade disease. There have been no changes thus far among men aged between 50 and 74. Increases in men presenting with metastatic disease 75 years and older are now seen (Ahmedin Jemal, 2015). Men in the 50-to-70 years bracket would have a similar response if there was continued reduction in the utilisation of PSA, Prof Blute predicted. An increase in absolute and relative amounts of late stage prostate cancer would be seen, he predicted.

Increased number

A hugely increased number of men with low-risk disease were identified following the introduction of PSA testing.

Seventy-to-80 per cent of the diagnoses were low-risk. Now, almost 40 per cent of men with newly diagnosed prostate cancer are placed — appropriately — in active surveillance protocols (National Cancer Database, 2004 to 2013).

Between 2004 and 2012, intermediate- and high-risk men were increasingly seen among surgical cohorts. Low-risk men may not benefit from aggressive therapy, but because of progression or repeat sampling biopsies that reveal higher grade disease in 20 per cent of cases, men may be upstaged to intermediate risk disease.

Data covering private practice urology in the US showed a drastic reduction in use of ADT monotherapy for patients with the highest risk on Cancer of the Prostate Risk Assessment (CAPRA) score after 2004 (Cooperberg, JAMA, 2009). Use of radical prostatectomy more than doubled. There was a continued reduction in primary androgen deprivation therapy as monotherapy among men aged 75 and older. There was also an increase in the utilisation of more aggressive therapy for patients who had higher-risk disease.

Pathologically, there has been a reverse stage shift: operations have been performed on more men with higher-risk disease. From 2000 to 2010, the number of men who underwent radical prostatectomies for low-risk disease, dropped drastically — from 50 to 30 per cent (Silberstein, Cancer, 2011). By contrast, the number of men with high- and intermediate-risk disease increased. More and more men with adverse pathology results would be seen following radical prostatectomy, said Prof Blute.

The number of men operated on with organ-confined disease was falling, but more men with extra-prostatic disease were seen.

However, there was a reduction in operations on men with primary pathologic Gleason Score Six disease.

Low-risk tumours are more frequently treated with active surveillance in the US, while high-risk tumours are more frequently treated with surgery. The recommendation against PSA screening is leading to a reverse Stage migration.

Prof Blute spoke about the role of MRI in surgical management of prostate cancer. There would be an increased tendency to operate on more aggressive tumours. Some cancer cells may be left behind (increased positive surgical margin rates) and there would probably be less favourable cancer control outcomes locally — particularly where surgery was used as single-modality treatment. Use of adjuvant therapies and pelvic lymph node dissection would also increasingly be considered.

Men in the high-risk cate-gory are a heterogenous group. Those with high-risk disease who have a single adverse variable do better than men with multiple adverse variables. In terms of management, surgery is included in guidelines by the National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN) for cases of resectable disease, but unlike breast or colorectal cancer, algorithm surgery has not been tested in a multimodal fashion with radiation and hormone therapy.

Where surgery is used for initial management in high-risk disease, overall 10-year cancer-specific survival is 80-to-90 per cent (Stewart, 2015). Many men do well, where their high-risk disease is managed using surgery. Fifteen-year outcomes were published on a series of men with clinical T3 disease who had operations. The complication rate among these men — who underwent wide local excision of their cancers — was studied. They had good outcomes — equivalent to T2 disease. In terms of urinary control, 80 per cent of these men were completely dry (Ward, 2005, BJUI).

MRI is used to stage these patients prior to surgery. The same techniques used in low-risk men cannot be used to operate on men with high-risk disease. Extended pelvic lymph node dissections are recommended as the node positive rate for high risk disease will be 10 to 15 per cent. There would be risk associated with dividing the lateral pelvic fascia and releasing the neurovascular bundle and not achieving negative surgical margins. Therefore, an extrafascial approach is favoured for men with high-risk disease.

An objective was to elevate the rectoprostatic fascia so there was a wide surgical margin in the patient, said Prof Blute.

Using wide local excision surgery as an initial treatment among 1,800 men with high risk disease, 57 per cent of men ultimately had pathologically organ-confined disease and did well (Boorijian, J Urol, 2008). Ten-year local recurrence-free survival was 90 per cent. Local recurrence-free survival in these men (who often had at least T3 disease) was equivalent to that in men with T2 disease.

Profiling

Increasingly, a biomarker has been used. The Decipher test is a genomic classifier. Some 545 Mayo Clinic patients with high-risk disease were selected following radical prostatectomies (Erho, Crisan, PLOS One, 2013). These men had biochemical recurrence and a test was sought that would predict metastases.

Some 192 cases developed metastases. Transcriptome-wide expression profiling was carried out to identify signalling pathways associated with metastases.

If the Deci¬p¬her score indicated a low risk, only 2.4 per cent of men ultimately demonstr-ated metastases. The genomic classifier was judged to yield independent prognostic information in a multivariable analysis. The Decipher test was found to be the only significant variable for detecting rapid metastases and it performed well, compared to the CAPRA-S and Stephenson nomograms (Klein, Euro Urology 2015).

The Decipher test provided additional stratification in terms of risk (Ashley Ross, Johns Hopkins). Molecular stratification has been needed to classify men with high-risk disease better. There is a concern about additional toxicities in these men (who have undetectable PSA, are responding well to their surgery and have good quality of life).

Multivariable analysis demonstrated that genomic high-risk men, who received ART, had higher metastases-free survival, compared to salvage radiation treatment. An 80 per cent reduction in risk of metastases was demonstrated, among the Decipher high-risk group getting ART — rather than salvage — therapy.

Metastates

This would hopefully inform the debate about the timing of radiation treatment in the post-op setting, said Prof Blute. The genomic classifier would be very helpful in men who had high risk disease. Data showed that significant numbers of men with adverse pathologies did not develop clinical metastases. They do well and do not need adjuvant therapies.

Introducing a genomic classifier for this group of men would be very valuable in stratifying who needed the therapies and when. In patients with adverse pathology and a low-risk genomic classifier result, a careful eye should be kept on the PSA results, data indicate. More prospective studies were required, said Prof Blute.

In the current era, aggressive treatment of localised prostate cancer was increasingly being reserved for those men who needed it the most, and active surveillance for men with low-risk disease.

In the future, surgical cohorts would be increasingly intermediate- and high-risk patients, and focus must be on managing adverse pathology after surgery to achieve long-term local control of prostate cancer, added Prof Blute.

Crops grown on Mars soil are safe to eat

   

Ecologist Wieger Wamelink inspecting the plants grown on soil similar to that on Mars at the Wageningen University.

Results from trials using soil like that on Mars hold promise for future settlements on planet

Dutch scientists said crops of four vegetables and cereals grown on soil similar to that on Mars have been found safe to eat, amid plans for the first manned mission to the planet.

Abundant harvests of radishes, peas, rye and tomatoes all grown on the soil were found to contain “no dangerous levels” of heavy metals, said the team from Wageningen University on Thursday.

“These remarkable results are very promising,” said senior ecologist Wieger Wamelink. “We can actually eat the radishes, peas, rye and tomatoes, and I am very curious what they will taste like.”

Future Mars settlers will have to take food supplies with them and then plant crops in order to survive.

So using soil developed by Nasa to resemble that of the Red Planet, the university in the Netherlands has been experimenting since 2013 and has managed to raise 10 crops.

There is uncertainty still about their absorbing the high levels of heavy metals such as cadmium, copper and lead present in Mars soil. Further tests are needed on the other six crops, including potatoes, in research being backed by a crowd-funding campaign.

Nasa plans a manned trip to Mars within the next 10 to 15 years or so, and similar projects are being pursued by US billionaire Elon Musk and Dutch company Mars One, tentatively aiming to set up human colonies on the Red Planet.

The Mars One project has backed the Wageningen work and is deciding on the final 40 out of 100 candidates hoping to be its astronauts.

But unlike any Nasa mission, Mars One is a one-way trip: Whoever joins this journey to the foreign world is never, ever coming back to Earth, Fox 5 News reported.

Mars One CEO Bas Landsdorp estimates the project will cost US$7 billion (S$9.5 billion). He plans to pay for it in part by turning the mission into a reality show.

But space expert Neil deGrasse Tyson is sceptical.

“I try not to get in anybody’s way who is dreaming big,” he told Business Insider after Mars One announced the project in February last year. “But I’m sceptical it can be accomplished on the timescale” given.

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Monday 20th June 2016

Ireland’s pace of economic recovery shows no signs of slowing down

Ireland’s rapidly growing economy may require a touch on the brakes

   

If the recovery were to continue on course through next year and into 2018 the economy would then reach capacity.

In the pre-crisis period we took a benign future as a given. Over the past seven years we have become used to considering instead what might go wrong with the public finances and in the financial sector.

Therefore little attention has been given to the implications of things turning out better than expected. This helps explain the slow response to pressures in the housing market.

Undue concentration on the possibility of a shortfall in growth could result in a repeat of past mistakes if growth were to remain strong.

Since the middle of 2012 the Irish economy has seen a vigorous recovery, with employment growing each year by about 2.5% and gross national product growing by between 5% and 6%.

Initially the recovery was driven by demand from outside Ireland but more recently domestic demand has made an equal contribution. While output per head today exceeds the pre-crisis peak, employment is still well below the 2007 level, and unemployment is still high at 7.8%. Thus the economy is still below its potential and there are no signs to date of inflationary pressures.

The pace of recovery shows no signs of slowing. If it were to continue on course through next year and into 2018 the economy would then reach capacity.

The unemployment rate has been falling at 1.7 percentage points a year since 2012. If this were to continue for the next two years the economy would effectively be at full employment by the middle of 2018 (between 4% and 5%, recognising that in a dynamic economy there are always people between jobs).

However, the forecasts above assume that the objective of raising housing output to 25,000 or 30,000 units a year would not be achieved. If housing output reached this rate by 2018, using the Hermes macroeconomic model, my estimate is that this would add an extra 1.5% to the level of GNP and reduce the unemployment rate by a further 1.5% points.

Full employment by 2018?

If Ireland had already achieved full employment by 2018, this could pose an overheating problem.

In the period 2003-2006 a series of ESRI reports advised the then government that if it wanted to have a major investment programme, especially in housing, a lot of money needed to be taken out of the economy through increased taxation to make space for all the building.

Unfortunately this advice fell on deaf ears, and we know the consequences.

This time around if the Government succeeds in ramping up investment, especially in housing, the pressures on an economy that was already growing rapidly could be excessive.

To avoid a repeat of past mistakes this would require the budget for 2018 to implement a substantial rise in taxation to take the steam out of the economy, and run a surplus to make space for increased building.

Spending cuts effects?

While spending cuts would achieve the same effect that would seem unwise given the low level of public services after seven lean years.

This risk of possible future overheating was recognised by the Irish Fiscal Advisory Council (IFAC) in its report published this month.

As well as recommending a mildly contractionary budget for 2017, it recognise that monetary policy operated by the European Central Bank could be undesirably loose from an Irish point of view in 2018, necessitating further tightening of fiscal policy to avoid a repeat of the mistakes of the 2000s.

The IFAC report also repeatedly warns about the un-costed nature of many elements in the programme for government.

While the 2017 budget may take on board only some of these commitments, there could be a major political problem in preparing the 2018 budget if it had to take a lot of money out of the economy through a substantial increase in taxation. The Government would face a dilemma: ignore promises in the programme and protect the economy or implement the programme and risk another boom-bust cycle.

Because the scenario of an overheating economy was not widely canvassed until the recent IFAC report, it will need extensive discussion over the coming year.

It will be important that the wider public comes to understand that just when everything seems to be going very well the Government, in all of our interests, may need to tighten our belts.

We must not repeat the past mistake of throwing petrol on the flames of an overheating economy.

Of course if Brexit happens that could be enough to deflate the economy, but then many of the programme commitments might also be unaffordable.

Drivers who miss fines deadline to avoid court by paying on the double option

   

Ireland’s motorists are to be given the option of paying a ‘double fine’ in return for avoiding a court appearance under plans being brought to Cabinet tomorrow.

Tánaiste and Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald is moving to close a loophole in the law which has seen thousands of road traffic-related cases thrown out of court.

Under the current system, motorists who fail to pay a fine within 56 days of the offence are summoned to court.

Prior to their court appearance, they are given two options to pay their fines.

However, thousands of people escape convictions and penalty points by telling the judge they did not receive the original fixed-charge notice.

The Courts Service tentatively estimates that around 7,500 cases are dismissed every year on these grounds.

The Irish Independent understands that Ms Fitzgerald will bring a memo to Cabinet tomorrow, which proposes the introduction of a new payment option which will permit motorists to avoid appearing in court in return for paying double the fine.

The proposal, which has been agreed with Transport Minister Shane Ross and Public Expenditure Minister Paschal Donohoe, was recommended by the Criminal Justice Working Group.

Independents 4 Change TD Tommy Broughan has also called for the introduction of the new payment option.

“This bill will restore fairness to the system, while giving people another payment option and therefore another opportunity to avoid court,” a Government source said.

“The Tánaiste has been aware of the urgency of this legislation and has progressed it as quickly as possible. It will come before Cabinet tomorrow.”

Presently, a fixed-charge notice offence affords two payment options before a courts summons is issued – a first period of 28 days, during which the person may pay the fixed amount, followed by a second consecutive period of 28 days during which the person may pay the fixed amount plus 50pc.

The measures being introduced by Ms Fitzgerald introduce a “third option”.

Separately, Mr Donohoe and Finance Minister Michael Noonan will brief the Cabinet on the Government’s summer economic statement which will be announced on Thursday. Central to the statement will be plans for a new ‘rainy day fund’, according to one government source involved in drafting the statement.

The statement will also reflect the prospect of a ‘Brexit’ and the impact this could have on the Irish economy.

However, it is understood Mr Noonan will say that the €900m planned for tax cuts and spending increases is still possible in October’s Budget.

Last Friday, Labour Party leader Brendan Howlin questioned whether the Government has done enough preparation in the event of a ‘Brexit’.

Government sources have rejected the criticism and have claimed that Mr Howlin himself would have had an input into the contingency plan.

Less than 10% of mental health facilities compliant with Irish law

Mental Health Commission also concerned at rise in number of involuntary admissions

  

Left picture (From left) Patricia Gilheaney, chief executive, John Saunders chairman and Dr Susan Finnerty, Inspector Mental Health Services at the publication of the Mental Health Commission annual report.

Less than 10% of mental health facilities inspected last year were fully compliant with legal requirements, according to the Mental Health Commission.

Of 61 approved centres inspected, six were rated compliant and the remainder were non-compliant to varying degrees, the Commission said on Monday.

The lowest levels of compliance related to the admission of children, the handling of medicines and issues relating to premises.

Only one of the fully compliant centres was HSE-run. Almost half of the centres breached rules on seclusion, meaning patients were kept in seclusion contrary to the rules and in a way that could pose serious risk to their safety and well-being, according to Dr Susan Finnerty, inspector of mental health services.

The commission expressed concern at a 9% increase in the number of involuntary admissions, up from 2,162 in 2014 to 2,363 last year.

“We are particularly concerned at the proportion of involuntary admissions where the family and gardaí are the primary referrers (47% and 23%, respectively),”said Mr Saunders, who called at the launch of the commission’s 2015 annual report for a review of the scheme.

The commission called for a formal review of the Government’s policy on mental health – A Vision for Change – 10 years after it was published. It also wants independent monitoring of the policy to identify areas where it is and isn’t working effectively.

Last year, there were 95 admissions of children to adult units, in spite of official policy that this should not happen.

“This situation is unacceptable and needs to be addressed as a matter of urgency,” Mr Saunders said.

Commission chairman John Saunders said there has been a slow but welcome increase in compliance of mental health facilities with legislative requirements. However, there was considerable inconsistency across boundaries.

Further progress could be made in the move from institutional to community care, and the greater involvement of service users and their families, he said.

“There is still a significant absence of psychology, social work, occupational therapy and other multidisciplinary team members and we will not have a recovery-orientated service unless staff make-up reflects the move from a purely medical model to a more holistic bio-psychosocial one.”

Julian Cuddihy case highlights continued mental health stigma

We are all complicit in stigma that indirectly led to deaths of Kathleen and Jimmy Cuddihy

   Donegal man (43) who killed his parents with axe committed to psychiatric hospital by judge

James and Maureen, siblings of Julian Cuddihy, speak to reporter Eoin Reynolds as they leave the Central Criminal Court in Dublin and right pic the tragic parents, Kathleen and Jimmy.

The unbelievably tragic case of Julian Cuddihy, who has been found not guilty by reason of insanity of the death of his parents, Kathleen and Jimmy, at their home on the Inishowen Peninsula, reveals much about the stigma we still associate with mental health.

Giving evidence at his trial, consultant forensic psychiatrist Dr Damian Mohan said Kathleen and Jimmy Cuddihy had cancelled a mental health appointment for their son six days before their death. He told the court that they were concerned about the stigma associated with mental health.

Julian Cuddihy’s story is one of loving parents declining to have their son committed to a mental hospital in case it caused a rift between them. This was despite his siblings’ view in October 2014 that he needed urgent psychiatric treatment. His symptoms of paranoia had been building for several years: Julian was refusing to eat because he believed his mother was trying to poison him; he could not sleep because he was worried people were stealing his thoughts while he slept; and he believed he could prevent aliens from reading his mind if he joined the IRA.

Despite their son’s mounting paranoia, Dr Mohan said his parents “wanted to be protective of their son but also did not want him to be submitted to a mental health facility”. Significantly, he added that mental illness is treatable with early intervention.

Delayed treatment

It is clear from the terrible narrative that Julian could have been diagnosed with schizophrenia several years before he killed his parents. He likely would have responded to treatment, at least to the point where his paranoid delusions would have been blunted. And while he may have suffered relapses, good community- based psychological care would have recognised this and stepped in to help. Since his admission to the Central Mental Hospital, Julian has reportedly responded well to treatment.

Whether we like to admit it or not, we are all complicit in the stigma that indirectly led to the death of Kathleen and Jimmy Cuddihy. Stigma is a societal weapon, a sometimes subtle but destructive force. Historically it has featured prominently in Irish healthcare.

When TB was rampant here in the 1950s, it was a diagnosis that dared not speak its name. In my time as a doctor we have thankfully moved from not mentioning the stigmatising word cancer, to references to the big C, to now openly discussing the diagnosis with friends and family.

But mental health continues to be hamstruck by stigma. Back in 2006 aLundbeck Health Barometer survey found that 75 per cent of Irish people surveyed believed there is either a lot or some social stigma attached to schizophrenia while 60 per cent said the same about depression. Significantly, when the same people were asked about a range of medical illnesses such as heart disease, diabetes and arthritis, only a small percentage associated social stigma with these conditions. I wonder what the percentages would be if the survey was repeated now?

The media pay lip service to guidelines on reporting mental illness. Headlines such as “Schizophrenic’s family wanted help for him before axe killing,” which appeared over otherwise accurate coverage of the Cuddihy trial, give the false impression that people with schizophrenia are uniformly violent. There is also the subtle denigration in the use of the word schizophrenic, rather than a person with schizophrenia.

Our politicians and health service administrators are quick with honeyed words, but their embedded stigma is revealed by the ease with which they made a decision to strip this year’s mental health budget of €12 million to plug a gap elsewhere in the health budget.

And stigma exists within the health professions, too. Recent UK research showed psychiatry was the specialty that received the most disparaging comments when medical students voiced their career preferences.

Until we talk about psychological illness with the same ready acceptance as we do of physical disease, mental health stigma will not go away.

Hundreds of people are campaigning to save the grey squirrel in London

   

Hundreds of people are campaigning to save a grey squirrel which has taken up home with them in south east London.

Pest controllers were called to have the animal ‘removed’ after it began nibbling nuts at desks at the Royal Arsenal development in Woolwich.

A petition to save Cyril the squirrel has now been signed by nearly 500 people.

Pest controllers were apparently called in after it emerged that some people wanted the critter removed because he was allegedly ‘hiding nuts in people’s pot plants’.

Residents at the Royal Arsenal in Woolwich believe Cyril arrived after being trapped in a Tesco delivery truck. They say he has gone on to form part of the community.

Graphic designer Anthony Coyne, 44, who signed the petition, wrote that Cyril is often in his studio snacking on hazelnuts.

He wrote: “It appears some scoundrels in the apartments above have complained he’s been hiding nuts in their pot plants and want him killed.

Irish TCD research finds plant based weapons to tackle the antibiotic resistance

MRSA antibiotic resistance    Luke O'Neill, Trinity College Dublin

A new piece of research at TCD has revealed two plant-based candidates that could be pivotal in the fight against antibiotic resistance: broad beans and cowpeas may be the answer to humanity’s sickly prayers.

We’re consistently being told that the day will soon come when our bodies’ resistance to regular antibiotics will reach a crescendo, rendering basic treatments obsolete and ushering in a dramatic reversal of fortunes in humanity’s battle for health.

Previously manageable ailments could prove dramatically more dangerous, lifetimes will shorten, and all the while, we’ll rue science’s inability to outsmart nature.

However, nothing is that clean cut, with a new piece of research led by Trinity College Dublin’s Ursula Bond revealing a couple of weapons we can use to fight that grim version of the future.

Searching for peptides (strings of amino acids) that had antibiotic effects on bacteria, Bond and her colleagues isolated such from a broad bean and a cowpea.

They were discovered by mapping previously-known human peptides, with their structural blueprints almost identical.

The result was a new batch of peptides that, initially, can fight against spoiling food and resultant poisoning. Extracted beyond this, tough, they could aid our antibiotic battle.

Bond presumed that natural peptides would be worth investigating because plants have evolved to protect themselves against countless bacterial threats.

“There are two major advantages to these small peptides, in that no resistance mechanisms have emerged yet, and in that they can be inexpensively synthesised in the lab,” said Bond.

“Initially, our aim was to identify peptides that provide protection against food-spoiling bacteria, but these peptides may also be useful as antibiotics against bacteria that cause serious human diseases.”

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Friday 17th June 2016

Enda Kenny promises to extend voting rights to Irish living abroad

   

Taoiseach Enda Kenny has promised he will prioritise extending voting rights to Irish people living abroad.

Speaking at the Irish World Heritage Centre in Manchester this morning Mr Kenny again expressed condolences to the family of murdered British Labour MP Jo Cox.

“It’s appropriate to pay tribute to the life and times of Jo Cox who was murdered on the street in West Yorkshire, a mother of two young children going about her business as any councillor or MP or public representative would do and to be shot down and taken away from her family and children is an appalling crime,” Mr Kenny said.

He said he would not be campaigning on Brexit as a mark of respect.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny speaks to the media outside the Irish centre in Liverpool yesterday. Picture: PA

However, he told members of the Irish community in Manchester that the government is now looking at giving a vote in the presidential elections to Irish emigrants.

“One of the priorities that I have asked the minister to look at and hopefully to be able to implement is the situation as far as emigrant voting is concerned in presidential elections.

“This is an issue that has been around for a very long time but there have been quite sophisticated advances made in terms of voting from abroad and we need to set out a terms of reference as to the conditions that would apply in terms of who should be eligible to vote.

“That will be a priority for the Minister for the Diaspora,” Mr Kenny said adding that he would be seeking the input from Irish living abroad on the issue.

He said: “We will work towards assisting emigrant communities and situations abroad from Ireland in England, in America, in Australia and other areas.

“That means that we want to work in a closer way with the emigrant communities in Manchester, Birmingham, London, Liverpool, Scotland and so on.”

FF to reconsider Government support if housing plan inadequate

Barry Cowen says solutions to crisis crucial part of deal between his party and Fine Gael

   

Fianna Fáil TD Barry Cowen has insisted his party will reconsider its support for a Fine Gael minority Government if ‘adequate action’ is not taken on housing.

Fianna Fáil TD Barry Cowen has insisted his party will reconsider its support for the Fine Gael minority Government if “adequate action” is not taken on housing.

Mr Cowen said the report on housing by the Oireachtas committee must be accepted by Minister for Housing, Simon Coveney, and implemented without delay.

He said housing was the biggest crisis facing the State and the Government needed to move to address it.

“The housing committee was set the challenge of finding solutions to the housing crisis,” Mr Cowen said. “TDs from every party worked extremely hard to meet the deadline set. The challenge for Minister Coveney is to implement these recommendations without delay.”

Mr Cowen, who was part of the negotiations between his party and Fine Gael, said action on housing was crucial to the deal struck between the two sides.

“We facilitated a Fine Gael Government, so action could be taken on this issue, which is the biggest challenge,” he said. “Fianna Fail is adamant the housing situation has to be addressed. And if adequate action is not taken, our support cannot be guaranteed.”

Mr Coveney’s spokesman said the Minister would study the report in detail before deciding how to proceed.

It is understood the Department of Finance and the Minister for Finance,Michael Noonan, have already warned against the introduction of rent certainty measures.

Mr Coveney is expected not to accept the report’s proposals to link rent increases to the Consumer Price Index. He is currently compiling an action plan for housing, with a draft expected by the end of the month.

Sinn Féin TD Eoin Ó Broin said the Minister must now move to introduce the committee’s recommendations, calling them ambitious but necessary to tackle the crisis .

Sick of talk

Independent TD for Dublin Central Maureen O’Sullivan said she had been speaking about housing for seven years and was sick of talking about the problems. Action was now needed .

Anti-Austerity Alliance TD Ruth Coppinger declined to sign off on the committee’s housing report, saying it was not ambitious enough and that targets set on social housing were disappointing.

The TD for Dublin West, who has issued her own minority report, said the committee does not locate the cause of the crisis or identify how the measures can be funded.

“Neither does the report grapple with the major issue of the day – rocketing rents,” Ms Coppinger said. “While there were some welcome reforms, the report is missing most of what is needed to really solve the housing crisis.”

Artwork exhibition dedicated to WB Yeats unveiled in Sligo

Artwork exhibition dedicated to WB Yeats unveiled in Sligo    Artwork exhibition dedicated to WB Yeats unveiled in Sligo

The Yeats-themed gallery was opened by WB Yeats’s granddaughter Caitríona Yeats 

An open-air gallery of artwork dedicated to Irish poet WB Yeats has been unveiled in Sligo.

His granddaughter Caitríona Yeats unveiled the first of five pieces of art, which are being permanently installed on the outside of buildings linked to the Yeats family in Sligo town.

The poet, who born in Dublin but spent much of his childhood in Co Sligo and is buried there, was regarded as the driving force behind Ireland’s literary revival and was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1923.

The artwork will be securely fixed to the outside facade of five premises with protective glass and will be illuminated for night-time viewing.

The exhibition was launched over the weekend during celebrations to mark Yeats Day, which took place on Monday.

Each piece is a collaboration between an established artist and an internationally-noted appreciator of Yeats.

The poet’s granddaughter was a collaborator in the first piece of art installed along with artist Jane Murtagh.

Their artwork was unveiled on Sunday at Pollexfen House – the home of Yeats’s grandparents – and is based on the poem Aedh Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven.

“I am delighted to have been asked to be the first collaborator in this project which brings the work of my grandfather to the public in such an accessible manner,” said Ms Yeats.

“Pollexfen House is a fitting place to locate the work and for him to be remembered and celebrated.

“Jane was a pleasure to work with and I am delighted with the unique art piece she has produced from our discussions.”

The idea for the open-air gallery came from local business owners, Suzy McCanny, Keville Burns and Tom Ford.

“With the strong connection between Yeats and Wine Street, we felt it would be an appropriate location to honour the legacy of Yeats in some way,” said Mr Ford.

“We had the idea that it might be the world’s first free permanent open-air art gallery and it would bring the poetry of Yeats to the public in a unique way.”

Spending by British tourists in Ireland increases by 18% for first quarter of 2016

2015 marks record-breaking year for tourism with 8.6 million trips made to Ireland

    

Tourists browsing the Guinness Store house in Dublin (middle picture).

Spending by British tourists visiting Ireland rose by as much as 18% in the first three months of 2016 compared to the same period last year, according to the latest Central Statistics Office (CSO) figures.

The latest travel data shows that increasing numbers of European and non-EU tourists continue to visit Ireland, with spending on the rise among all nationalities.

Tourists visiting Ireland from Great Britain spent €33 million more between January and March 2016 than during the same period in 2015, marking a rise of 18.2%.

British tourists spent €214 million in the first three months of this year compared to €181 million during the same period last year. Visitors from Great Britain spent a total of €971 million last year.

Spending by tourists from France, Germany, Italy, the US, Canada, Australiaand New Zealand also rose between January and March of this year, with North Americans spending €144 million, a rise of of €19 million on the same period last year.

The overall number of overseas trips to Ireland by non-residents rose by more than 15%, with 1,785 million trips in the first three months of the year, up 254 million on last year.

Earnings

The duration of visitors’ stay in Ireland remained the same as last year, with people opting to spend an average of 6.5 nights.

Ireland’s total tourism and travel earnings during the first three months of 2016 rose by 18.7% on the same period last year, increasing from €780 million to €926 million.

Meanwhile, the number of Irish people travelling overseas increased by 13.1% from 1.306 million between January and March 2015 to 1.478 million during the first three months of this year. The CSO figures also reveal Irish people are spending more nights abroad than last year.

2015 marked a record-breaking year for tourism with 8.6 million trips made to Ireland.

The latest travel data follows news earlier this week that Dublin is facing a shortage in visitor accommodation options over the next two years, limiting the potential for tourism growth in the longer term.

A report commissioned by Fáilte Ireland found that while additional bedrooms are due to be created for visitors, most will not be available until after 2018 or later.

The report also warned that most of the new accommodation stock was not guaranteed and said the capital was facing “a capacity challenge” over the next two years.

Between 2010 and 2015, the number of tourists visiting Dublin rose by 33% while the availability of accommodation fell by 6%, according to Fáilte Ireland.

Antarctic observatories register 400 parts per million of carbon dioxide for the first time ever

   

An iceberg is pictured in the western Antarctic peninsula, on March 04, 2016.

One by one, the observatories sounded the alarm in the past few yearsfrom the peak of Mauna Loa in Hawaii, and the top of the Greenland ice sheet as the amount of carbon dioxide in the Earth’s atmosphere crept above 400 parts per million (ppm). 

The last alarm bells went off this week, when scientists announced that the Halley Research Station in Antarctica, as well as a monitoring post at the geographic South Pole, both located amid the most pristine air on the planet, have now passed the 400 ppm mark.

In other words, at every location on Earth where scientists routinely monitor carbon dioxide levels, we are now entering uncharted territory for humanity.

For reference, carbon dioxide levels were at about 280 ppm at the start of the industrial revolution, when humans began burning fossil fuels for energy. They have marched upward at increasing rates ever since.

According to Pieter Tans, the lead scientist for the Global Greenhouse Gas Reference Network, 400 ppm is the highest level that carbon dioxide levels have reached in at least 4 million years.

Carbon dioxide concentrations in the northern hemisphere have already eclipsed the 400 ppm milestone. These observatories are located closer to pollution sources, and this elevates the observed carbon dioxide levels.

However, it takes a while for carbon dioxide to reach Antarctica.

“This is the first time a sustained reading of 400 ppm, over the period of a day, has been recorded at a research station on the ice,” according to a press release from the British Antarctic Survey.

Keeling Curve of carbon dioxide concentrations at Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii.

“The remoteness of the Antarctic continent means it is one of the last places on Earth to see the effects of human activities, but the news that even here the milestone of carbon dioxide levels reaching 400 parts per million has been reached shows that no part of the planet is spared from the impacts of human activity,” said David Vaughan, director of science at the Antarctic Survey, in a press release.

Today at Halley Station, CO2 is rising faster than it was when we began measurements in the 1980s. We have changed our planet to the very poles.”

A separate press release from the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said the South Pole observation occurred on May 23, but was announced on June 15.

In 2015, the global average carbon dioxide level was 399 ppm, and it’s expected that each month in 2016 will likely see carbon dioxide levels remain above 400 ppm for the first time.

“We know from abundant and solid evidence that the CO2 increase is caused entirely by human activities,” Tans said. “Since emissions from fossil fuel burning have been at a record high during the last several years, the rate of CO2 increase has also been at a record high.”

“We have changed our planet to the very poles.”

While scientists have ice core samples of carbon dioxide levels and temperatures dating back to about 800,000 years ago, they also have evidence from seafloor sediment of what Earth’s conditions were like dating back to about 4 million years ago, Tans told Mashable via email.

However, those measurements are not as precise as the ice core records, Tans said.

Because of the long atmospheric lifetime of carbon dioxide, it is not likely to fall below this level again in most of our lifetimes, even if the most aggressive emissions reduction plans are pursued.

A single molecule of carbon dioxide can remain in the atmosphere for hundreds to thousands of years.

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Thursday 16th June 2016

Ireland most expensive EU country due to taxes and retail, says academic

New data shows Ireland most expensive country in Europe in which to buy alcohol

   

Ireland is the most expensive country in the EU in which to buy alcohol, according to recent data.

An Irish academic says higher taxes, a different retail structure and market factors are the reason why Ireland is one of the most expensive countries in Europe.

Damien O’Reilly, a lecturer in retail management in DIT, told Morning Ireland that market factors tend to drive up the cost of food. He was responding to new data from Eurostat which show that Ireland is the most expensive country in Europe in which to buy alcohol with prices at 175% of the EU average.

On average the cost of food and non-alcoholic drinks in Ireland is 119% of the EU average, the fourth highest in the EU.

The EU’s statistics agency also said Ireland is the second most expensive for tobacco at 189% of the EU average, with only the United Kingdom higher at 218%.

Only Denmark (145%), Sweden (124%), Austria (120%) are more expensive.

In Ireland, bread and cereals (111% of EU average), meat (106%) and milk, cheese and eggs (128%) all cost above the EU average.

The data is based on a 2015 price survey covering 440 products across Europe.

Donall O’Keefe of the Drinks Industry Group of Ireland (DIGI) said the high price of alcohol in Ireland is directly related to the unfair excise rate and that this is a direct tax on jobs, tourism and consumers.

“Excise is a tax on jobs, it is a tax on tourism and it is a tax on Irish consumers,” he said.

The Eurostat figures also show Ireland had the second highest per capita GDP in the EU in 2015 at 145% of the EU average.

Luxembourg had the highest per capita GDP in the EU at 271% of the average, while Bulgaria (46%) had the lowest.

However, when it comes to Actual Individual Consumption (AIC) – which measures the material welfare of households – Ireland was at 95% of the EU average.

Mr O’Reilly said that the reason Ireland’s dairy products cost so much even though there is a large dairy industry here is because 90 per cent of the milk produced in Ireland is for export.

“A lot of it is then re-imported as finished product which drives up the cost,” he said.

He also said supermarkets in Ireland have higher margins than elsewhere in Europe and that Irish shoppers are attracted to brands when they could buy cheaper own brands.

He said Irish shoppers tend to go for “higher quality foods”

EU may rule on Apple tax case next month

EU found against Ireland in initial findings on Apple in 2014

   

Minister for Finance Michael Noonan says there is speculation that the European Commission is to decide next month on whether Apple’s tax dealings in this country breached state-aid rules.

Minister for Finance Michael Noonan says there is speculation that the European Commission is to decide next month on whether Apple’s tax dealings in this country breached state-aid rules.

“The speculation now is that the Commission may make a decision sometime in July,” Mr Noonan said in an interview with Bloomberg in Luxembourg. “But we don’t know that with certainty. It’s the general feel around Brussels that they’re walking toward a July decision.”

Initial findings by the commission in 2014 said that Apple’s Irish tax arrangements were improperly designed to give the iPhone and iPad maker a financial advantage in exchange for jobs in the country. In a worst-case scenario, JP Morgan analysts estimate Apple could end up having to pay a $19 billion (€16.7 billion) in back taxes, though the expectation is that any negative ruling would end up with a much smaller bill.

The Government has repeatedly said that it will appeal any negative finding to the EU Court of Justice.

In the past, Apple has said it doesn’t use “tax gimmicks”, while the Government has repeatedly said that no State-aid rules were breached in this case.

Jobs lost shock as receivers shut McCormack Stores in the North West

     

Some 208 jobs have been lost and 15 business locations closed across the North West following a receivership order by Bank of Ireland against McCormack Oils.

The news that the stores at Leitrim Village, Drumshanbo and Manorhamilton had been closed down with immediate effect was met with shock and astonishment by staff and members of the public.

The receivers arrived at the 15 premises located across Leitrim, Cavan, Sligo and Meath on Monday morning after 10am.

It is understood the three stores in Leitrim were open as per normal when the receivers entered the premises and told staff to close the doors and proceeded to put up the closure notice and seize assets.

In the ensuing hours other staff members arrived at the doors to be informed they no longer had jobs and were handed letters of redundancy from the receivers.

A statement from Receivers to the Leitrim Observer said, “Grant Thornton can confirm that Aengus Burns and Michael McAteer have been appointed as receivers to Excol Oil Limited which operates ten filling stations across the North West, two oil distribution facilities (McCormack Fuels Limited, Sligo and Breffni Oil Distribution, Cavan) and McCormack’s car sales and garage businesses in Sligo.”

They told the paper, “Our first priority is to brief employees at all 15 locations and process their entitlements for redundancy. The receivers are making every effort to sell the various businesses.” It is understood they do not intend to re-open the businesses and are hoping to sell them as soon as possible.

The umbrella company operated filling stations in Drumshanbo, Leitrim Village and Manorhamilton as well as in Killeshandra, Belturbet and Virginia, Co Cavan, Athboy, Co Meath and more in Castlebaldwin, Carraroe and the Mail Coach Road, Sligo.

Staff who were not at work on Monday were called to the businesses and handed letters of redundancy. It is understood the offer is the statutory redundancy of two weeks pay for every year worked. The letter explained that Bank of Ireland has appointed receivers to the business and also outlined entitlements for social welfare payments.

The businesses employed many local people, including a number of couples and workers from the same family.

Staff told the Leitrim Observer they are “devastated” and that the news came as a “huge shock” as they felt local stores were performing well.

A spokesperson for Grant Thornton told the paper he was unaware if the owners had knowledge of the order for receivership before Monday morning, as sometimes they are not notified beforehand.

The McCormack Family were contacted for a comment but they declined to speak at this time. Security remains outside all stores this week.

Local people were shocked and annoyed at the closures with many calling it “sad news” on Monday.

On Facebook, locals poured out their sadness and disbelief. Kelly Hewitt Kelly said, “It’s bloody awful. My husband worked in Manor and they were just handed stupid letters and told they have no job at all – out, that was it terrible way to be treated – we have 4 young kids to think about.”

Noeleen Moffatt commented, “Terrible News for Leitrim Village and surrounding areas. Travel to Drumshanbo, Carrick-on-Shannon or Pauline Skeffington’s Shop in Drumboylan for essential items.”

Mar Kelly sympathised saying, “Terrible for the McCormack family and their loyal staff.”

About 15 minutes of exercise may lower death risk in elderly people

New study finds

   

Exercising is as important for the elderly as it is for the youth. A study has found that even as little as a 15-minute workout could do wonders for the elderly and decrease death risk.

The study, in fact, goes on to say that it may help them cheat death, by linking it to lower death risk among the elderly, which showed how exercising lesser than the recommended number of hours might help them.

The Tech Times, French researchers analyzed a group of 1,011 French individuals aged 65 in 2001 and were followed for 12 years. They also looked at a huge group of more than 122,000 people from an international cohort who were about 60 years old and were followed for about 10 years.

The team measured physical activity via Metabolic Equivalent of Task (MET) minutes every week, meaning calories spent per minute of physical activity. A MET minute every week equates to the amount of energy expended by sitting; recommended levels of exercise, for instance, are from 500 to 1,000 MET minutes a week.

It was observed that, during the study, as people exercised more, their potential death risk dropped considerably. Furthermore, those with low activity levels, recorded approximately 22% decreased death risk, while those with medium and high levels had 28% and 35% lower risks.

Tech Times interviewed study author and University Hospital of Saint-Etienne physician, Dr. David Hupin, who said that, “Age is not an excuse to do no exercise. It is well established that regular physical activity has a better overall effect on health than any medical treatment.”

Top professionals are twice as likely to marry as unskilled workers

A recent survey reveals ‘marriage chances’ by class which diminish right down the economic scale?

     

This is the first time such data looking at the gap in “marriage chances” by class has been brought together in Ireland.

Highly paid processionals are almost twice as likely to be married as unskilled workers, a report published this morning finds.

Some 65.7% of adults, aged 18-49 in the best off groups, were married at the end of last year, while 31.8% of the same age in the least well off group were married, notes the study, Mind the Gap, published by the Iona Institute Christian think tank.

The report also shows the likelihood of marrying diminishes right down the economic social scale, apart from in the second least well off group, which are described as “process, plant and machine operatives”.

Some 53.6% of adults in this class were married, according to the report which draws on data contained in the Central Statistics Office’s Quarterly National Household Survey from the end of 2015.

This is the first time such data looking at the gap in “marriage chances” by class has been brought together in Ireland. The findings reveal a phenomenon replicated in other western societies. It is an issue which receives much discussion and scrutiny in the United States.

This study maps likelihood of marriage by area, in Dublin, Cork and Galway cities, showing huge variations aligning by levels of prosperity or disadvantage.

In Dublin marriage rates range from highs of up to 59 per cent in Clontarf and Rathgar/Terenure to as low as 19% in north and south inner city.

Worst chances

In Cork, they range from 60% in Ballinlough, to 17% in Shandon, Gilabbey and South Gate, while Galway adults with the best prospects of marriage are those in Rockbarton, Knockacarragh and Taylor’s Hill where rates are up to 53%. Galwegians with the worst chances are in Nun’s Island and St Nicholas, with rates as low as 19%.

Prof Patricia Casey of the Iona Institute said the inequality in access to marriage were “deeply concerning”. She said those entering marriages had better social and economic prospects, while children in lone parents households were at the greatest risk of poverty.

The Institute said it was publishing the report in the hope of sparking a debate on why some groups were not marrying.

Marriage, she said, was one of the greatest bulwarks against poverty and yet those in poverty had far less access to it.

“Why is it that the better off a person is the more likely they are to be married? Social disadvantage clearly diminishes a person’s chances of marrying and not marrying in turn increases the odds of remaining socially disadvantaged, It’s a vicious circle and one which obviously affects children.”

Irish society had shown it believed the gay and lesbian community should have access to marriage. So too should the poor, said Prof Casey.

The increasing proliferation of low-paid, insecure jobs at the lower end of the economic scale undoubtedly had an impact on people’s sense of their financial ability to enter into marriage, she added.

“There are also disincentives to marry built into the social welfare system . . . It can be more financially advantageous for two people on social welfare to remain single than to marry.”

Gravitational waves detected for the second time

Scientists spot ripples in space-time caused by two colliding and merging black holes

   

An artist’s rendition shows two black holes 14 and 8 times the mass of the sun just moments before they collided and merged to form a new black hole 21 times the mass of the sun.

Gravitational waves, ripples in space-time predicted by Albert Einstein a century ago, have been detected for the second time, scientists have announced.

An international team spotted the phenomenon on St Stephen’s Day but has only now made the news public.

As with the earlier detection in September 2015, the source was found to be two colliding and merging black holes unleashing titanic forces.

The event, some 1.4 billion light years away, caused a quantity of energy roughly equivalent to the mass of the Sun to be converted into gravitational waves.

After travelling an unimaginable distance across space, the waves were “captured” by the twin Ligo (Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory) detectors located in Livingston, Louisiana, and Hanford, Washington, US.

Team member Dr Stephen Fairhurst, from Cardiff University, said: “This event heralds the true beginning of gravitational wave astronomy and the opening of a new window on the universe.

“The different masses and observable spins that we witnessed in the Boxing Day event show that we’re starting to collect vital information about the population of black holes that exist in the universe.

“Future gravitational wave observations will allow us to understand how black holes form from the death of massive stars, and test whether they are really as predicted by Einstein’s theory.”

The Theory of General Relativity?

Gravitational waves are predicted in Einstein’s Theory Of General Relativity, which shows how gravity arises from mass curving space and time.

They are ripples in space-time that propagate as waves. Anything in their path, from humans to whole planets, is made to stretch and compress slightly as the fabric of space-time is distorted.

Each of the Ligo detectors, consisting of an incredibly sensitive system of mirrors and lasers, is also made to “wobble”. But the effect is really tiny.

The amount of movement is thousands of times smaller than the width of the nucleus of an atom.

Scientists hope gravitational waves will offer a completely different view of the universe, allowing them to study events that might be hidden from traditional optical and radio telescopes.

An illustration of this was seen in results from the December 26th detection, presented at the annual meeting of the American Astronomical Society in San Diego, US.

By analysing the signal, the scientists were able to tell that the colliding black holes were 14 and eight times more massive than the Sun.

They orbited each other at least 27 times before merging into a more massive spinning black hole 21 times the Sun’s mass.

Using two detectors spotting the waves 1.1 milliseconds apart made it possible to determine the source’s rough position in the sky.

‘Key questions’

Prof Sheila Rowan, director of the University of Glasgow’s Institute for Gravitational Research, who took part in the discovery, said: “We know from this second detection that the properties being measured by Ligo will allow us to start to answer some key questions with gravitational astronomy.

“In future we will be able to study this and better understand cosmic history, aiming to fill in the ‘missing links’ in our knowledge.”

The findings have been accepted for publication in the journal Physical Review Letters.

Dr Chad Hanna, from Pennsylvania State University in the US, who co-led the detection team, said: “We now have far more confidence that mergers of two black holes are common in the nearby universe.

“Now that we are able to detect gravitational waves, they are going to be a phenomenal source of new information about our galaxy and an entirely new channel for discoveries about the universe.”

The Ligo Scientific Collaboration consists of more than 1,000 scientists from 17 countries.

Each Ligo site has two tubes, both 4km long, arranged in an L shape.

A laser is beamed down each tube to monitor very precisely the distance between mirrors at each end.

If a gravitational wave is present, it will alter the distance between the mirrors by a minute amount.

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Wednesday 15th June 2016

Mary McAleese warns against a Brexit leave vote result for Ireland

    

Mary McAleese has warned of the dangers of Brexit.

A Brexit vote result would cause turmoil and radically alter relations between Britain and Ireland, said the  former Irish president Mary McAleese.

Mary McAleese has also claimed Ireland’s peace and prosperity would be in danger if Britain votes to leave the European Union next week.

She said: “Reassurances that nothing will change are at best wishful thinking and bluffing most of us at worse.”

Mrs McAleese, who was president from 1997 until 2011, will throw her weight firmly behind the Remain campaign as she launches a new report from the British Influence think tank at Westminster later.

In her speech she will urge British voters to avoid a choice for “drift” and loss of influence in Europe. She will also call for the 600,000 Irish citizens resident in the UK to vote stay.

She will also say that the benefits in Anglo-Irish relations, now taken for granted, could be put in peril while the future of 400,000 jobs and the open road border between Northern Ireland and the Republic would also be uncertain.

“The concerns of Ireland are legitimate and well-founded,” she said.

“They involve the economy, trade, immigration controls, the hardening of the land border, security, the weakening over time of the excellent current relationship between Ireland and the United Kingdom, the impact on the peace process and the impact on European development of Britain’s voice being absent from the European Union table.”

Meanwhile, the British Influence paper, Brexit: The Irish Dimension, outlines the top seven problems that would upset Anglo-Irish relations in the event of Brexit:

They include the impact on Ireland’s economy; disruption of the free movement Common Travel Area and the re-introduction of border controls as well as the ending of current extradition arrangements with the Republic of Ireland.

Other potential difficulties would be disruption to the peace process and the ending of EU-funded programmes while the all-Ireland electricity market and the energy relationship with the UK could also be affected, the report claims.

Peter Wilding, director of British Influence, said: “Vote Leave’s ‘It’ll be all right on the night’ attitude is playing with fire when it comes to the future of our relations with Ireland.

“Our report demonstrates – and Mary McAleese together with the entire Irish Government knows – that Brexit means trouble ahead for jobs, investment and the peaceful stability of the island of Ireland.”

Meanwhile, Anthony Bailey, who sponsored the report, said he did not want to see the progress of the last two decades derailed.

Most minimum wage workers are in the ‘Irish middle income families group’ and just below the poverty line?

    

Increasing the minimum wage will not tackle poverty because the majority of workers earning it actually live in middle-income households, a new study claims.

The startling findings come as the Government is under pressure to increase the €9.15-an-hour statutory rate.

A new report by the ESRI, which is partly State-funded, warns that increases in the basic statutory pay rate will do little for households living below the breadline.

The report, to be published today, questions the impact increases in the statutory wage have on reducing poverty. It finds that recent hikes in the national minimum wage have mainly benefited people in ¬middle-income households.

The economic think tank found the proportion of low-wage employees rose from 20% in 2005 to 23% in 2014. But it added: “Results also confirm that very few low paid individuals are found in households with incomes below the most commonly used poverty line income cut-off.”

The report reveals that ‘Low Pay, Minimum Wages and Household Incomes: Evidence for Ireland’ – says 11 out of 12 low paid workers are living in households above the poverty line.

In most cases, low paid employees are not the sole earners. It finds that even where they are the sole earners, fewer than one-in-five are at risk of poverty.

The report notes that a young adult may be earning a low wage but living in the family home where the parents’ income is enough to keep the household above the poverty threshold. In addition, low wage earners with few dependants will be at lower risk of poverty.

In contrast, employees with an above average wage may be more at risk of poverty when they are the sole earners in the household or have many dependants.

But it notes a young adult may be in a poverty trap at home because they could not afford to buy or rent a home, while other workers may feel they are not earning enough to start a family.

Reducing poverty?

“This is not to say that a minimum wage policy is flawed if it fails to reduce poverty,” says the report. “Rather, it is important to understand the possibilities and limitations of targeted efforts to increase wages.”

It notes that government policy may, of course, be concerned with low individual incomes as well as with low household incomes.

“But it is important to be clear about what minimum wage policy can, and cannot, achieve. It is also important, as recent UK experience illustrates, that the design of tax and welfare policy changes should take such factors into account from the outset,” it says.

The Government has committed in the Programme for Government to a hike in the wage to €10.50-an-hour over the next five years in a bid to reduce “poverty levels” for the 124,000 workers on it.

Unions want the Low Pay Commission to recommend it boosts the rate beyond this when it reports next month due to the economic recovery and a hike in the minimum rate in the UK.

The leader of Mandate trade union said it would be “ill conceived” if the Government does not increase the minimum wage.

“It’s disappointing that a body that would have had a social agenda in the past would come out with a negative statement in relation to pay, particularly low pay,” said John Douglas. “The Low Pay Commission hasn’t come up with any proposal as yet to increase the minimum wage but an increase is vital.”

He said raising the minimum wage was not a “cure-all” to ¬poverty, but an essential part of tackling poverty.

IT Sligo students win Engineers Ireland Innovative Student Engineer of the Year Award

   Students Group Discussing March 2016

Their innovative design, titled ‘Automatically fed post driver’, allows tractor operators to drive posts without having to dismount their tractors, significantly improving the safety and efficiency of the process, and was deemed the best innovation by the Engineers Ireland judging panel.  Previously there had been no post drivers that are able to hold, feed and drive a post without the operator having to dismount the tractor.

A human-powered washing machine, an advanced limb prosthesis, a clean-energy inflatable tower, a flexible robotic arm and a safe-release building hook were other projects also short listed for the final, which was sponsored by Siemens.

The Engineers Ireland Innovative Student Engineer of the Year Award is an annual competition that focuses on showcasing innovation excellence amongst engineering third-level students across Ireland.

Dermot Byrne, Engineers Ireland President, said the innovative skills which engineers possess were becoming increasingly valuable in a world of rapid change.

“Engineering is transforming how people work, live and experience the world.  In energy, transport, health, water, the digital economy and more, engineers are at the heart of the endeavour to improve lives and living standards in complex environments.  It is imperative Ireland can bring new techniques, processes and skills to all sectors so that we can compete on a global stage with our competitors.

I believe the diversity and creativity of contemporary engineering is very much reflected in this year’s projects which span areas such as robotics, clean energy and mechanical engineering.  Congratulations to Colm, Shane, Caolan and Conor for winning the 2016 Engineers Ireland Innovative Student Engineer of the Year Award and praise to all of the participants in this year’s event who have acquitted themselves so well.”

Michael O’Connor, Corporate Communications Manager, Siemens Limited said: “All the projects on show today have taken a unique approach to a challenge through original thinking, technical excellence and hard-work. Developing close links with leading educational institutions and industry partners is a key part of Siemens’ innovation strategy.

“The Engineers Ireland Innovative Student Engineer of the Year Award is a valued initiative in this regard and challenges students to think conceptually and strategically.   Competitions such as this are invaluable to companies such as Siemens, helping us to reach tomorrow’s talent.

“Siemens is very pleased once again to support a competition that engages and encourages young people to develop their engineering expertise for commercial use and the good of society.  It is a fundamental element of our programme of engagement with young people around the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) agenda and of our relationship with Engineers Ireland.

“Congratulations to all of the finalists here today, particularly Colm, Shane, Caolan and Conor for winning the award outright, and based on the quality of submissions we have seen, I have every confidence they will enjoy great success in their respective careers ahead.”

The runners-up in the competition were:

  1. Aisling Lee (DIT) – ‘Actuation and Control of Transradial Upper Limb Prosthesis’
  2. Antara Barbara, Ahmed Kone, Sebastien Course (CIT) – ‘Haelios Solar Technologies™ – Solar Updraft Tower Development’
  3. Ben Frost (DIT) – ‘Design and build of a Human-Powered Washing Machine’
  4. Darren Kingston (CIT) – ‘Construction Sector Safety Hook Design and Development’
  5. Noel Frisby (Trinity College Dublin) – ‘The design and development of a under-actuated, compliant anthropomorphic hand capable of dexterous grasping for a Service Robot’

€10m sought by Minister for Jobs in small business

   

The Minister for Jobs, Enterprise, and Innovation, Mary Mitchell O’Connor (above), is hoping to secure a further €10m of exchequer funding to keep Microfinance Ireland afloat beyond 2017.

Microfinance Ireland is the State-backed project aimed at funding small businesses.

Ms Mitchell O’Connor also said the €11.7m lent by Microfinance Ireland has helped sustain some 2,000 jobs.

In a written Dáil reply to Fianna Fáil’s Niall Collins, she described the output by Microfinance Ireland as “a very satisfactory performance in a difficult market at a very difficult time”.

Ms Mitchell O’Connor said that, since its inception in October 2012, Microfinance Ireland has approved 867 loans out of 1,826 loan applications received.

Some 591 applications were declined with 317 being withdrawn.

Microfinance Ireland was established by the Department of Jobs, Enterprise, and Innovation under the Action Plan for Jobs.

Ms Mitchell O’Connor said: “To secure the future development of Microfinance Ireland my officials are in negotiations regarding securing a tranche of €10m additional exchequer funding required to keep the fund operating as a going concern beyond 2017 in line with company law requirements.

“This equity injection is combined with additional bank funding of €15m.”

Last year, the State-backed, not-for-profit lender had a record 50% rise in the number of loan applications.

Approvals for start-ups, sole traders and small businesses reached an all-time high in 2015 with the lender approving €5.4m in funding to 357 businesses across every county in Ireland, supporting the creation and maintenance of 930 jobs in the process.

A total of 752 businesses applied for loans in 2015, compared with 508 for 2014, an increase of 48%. The average loan size approved during 2015 was €15,190.

Figures provided by Ms Mitchell O’Connor, show the highest number of loan approvals to the end of March this year totalled 196 with the number of loan approvals in Cork at 70, Limerick and Meath at 42, Galway at 38, Tipperary at 33, Wexford at 33, Cavan at 32, Kildare at 34, Mayo at 33, Wicklow at 30, Waterford at 28, and Kerry at 23.

The fund offers business loans of €2,000 to €25,000 to companies with fewer than 10 employees, and with a turnover of less than €2m.

According Microfinance Ireland data on the gender breakdown of those making loan applications, 76% were from males and 24% from females.

Cats can understand the laws of physics, researchers now claim?

    

Using a plastic container, some magnets, three iron balls, two video cameras and 30 cats, researchers from Kyoto University have concluded that felines understand the laws of physics.

The research paper titled There’s no ball without noise: cats’ prediction of an object from noise was published in Animal Cognition.

Twenty-two cats from Japanese cat cafes and eight domestic cats were carried off to separate rooms to take part in an experiment which supposedly tested their abilities to understand gravity.

The researchers rattled a plastic container lined with an electromagnet. Inside was an object made from three iron balls. At the flick of a switch, the magnetic force of the magnets attracted the iron balls – restricting their movement – so the container made no noise when it was shaken.

When the researchers shook the container with the switch turned off, the iron balls rattled against the inside of the container. After the container was shaken, it was turned upside down to reveal the object inside.

The researchers proposed that the event where there was no sound and no object or a sound and an object “matched with physical laws.” They called that a congruent condition. But the events where there was no sound but the appearance of the object, or sound but no object, defied physical laws and was called the incongruent condition.

The cats were required to sit and watch each event and their reactions were filmed with video cameras.

After analyzing each video, the researchers found that the furry creatures stared longer at the container when it made a noise, as they could predict that there was an object inside. But, they also stared at the container even if the events did not make sense to them – the incongruent condition.

“Cats use a causal-logical understanding of noise or sounds to predict the appearance of invisible objects,” said Saho Takagi, lead author of the study.

In the paper, the researchers claimed: “This study may be viewed as evidence for cats having a rudimentary understanding of gravity.”

For those who remain unconvinced that cats can understand physics, since they held their gaze on the container in both the congruent and incongruent condition, the researchers said: “It is not appropriate to directly compare these two conditions because the main effect of object would overshadow the effect of the expectancy violation. Thus, the absence of a difference between these two conditions does not weaken our main conclusion.”

“Expectation violation” is a theory that analyzes how individuals respond when they are faced with unexpected events. The theory was proposed in the late seventies by Judee Burgoon, professor of Communication, Family Studies and Human Development at the University of Arizona.

Unfortunately, the conclusions of this study cannot be compared with other findings since there has been “no study specifically testing knowledge of this fundamental physical rule in cats.”

The ability for cats to predict where objects are fits in with their hunting style, Takagi explained. In the future, he hopes to devise another test to examine if cats can extract information such as the size or identity of an object from the sounds they hear.

News Ireland daily BLOG by donie

Tuesday 14th June 2016

€200m fund will help build 20,000 homes, says Coveney

But the building fund will not be available until 2017 and the scheme will apply over three years.

     

The Minister for Housing Simon Coveney claims the building fund would allow developers “bring forward their plans for timetabling” developments and bring about “real movement” in the construction industry.

A fund established by the Government to help to build small infrastructural projects will speed up the construction of some homes by two years, Minister for Housing Simon Coveney has said.

Mr Coveney and Minister for Public Expenditure Paschal Donohoe said the new €200 million “local infrastructure fund” would help build between 15,000 and 20,000 new houses or apartments.

Councils will be able to avail of the fund to build small infrastructural projects, such as access roads, bridges, amenities, and surface water management facilities. This would help speed up the development of sites for houses and apartments by removing the financial burden of such projects from developers.

Mr Coveney claimed it would allow developers “bring forward their plans for timetabling” developments and bring about “real movement” in the construction industry.

Not available until next year?

The move was welcomed by organisations including Engineers Ireland and the Construction Industry Federation.

The funding will not come into effect until next year, however, and the scheme will apply over three years. The Ministers said the money available, which will be awarded on a competitive basis, will be frontloaded.

“We are trying to ensure that projects that otherwise would be going ahead in 2019 or 2020, when local authorities find a way of affording infrastructure, that actually those projects can go ahead in 2017 or 2018,” Mr Coveney said.

“When Paschal talks about this fund being spread over three years, the vast majority of it will be spent over the first two years. Only €30 million of the €200 million is earmarked for the third year.”

Mr Donohoe said the fund could be used for infrastructure such as “a road . . . a connection to an ESB station, it could be a connection to a gas mains”.

It will help with urban housing shortages in Dublin and Cork in particular, Mr Coveney said. He said the average cost of building a house in Dublin is €330,000, with €57,000 linked to construction costs.

More than 7,000 Irish jobs could come from solar power “says a new report”

A new study shows huge potential for job creation from renewable energy?

     

Solar power could create up to 7,300 jobs while meeting 7% of electricity demand, according to report published by the industry on Tuesday.

The Irish Solar Energy Association is lobbying the Government for supports similar those given to wind and other renewables, which will cost consumers and businesses €181 million this year.

On Tuesday, the body said that a report it commissioned from accountants KPMG shows that solar has the potential to create 7,300 jobs in building and operating generating plants.

The association added that results from commercial rooftop solar panels installed in the south east over the first two weeks of June indicate that an established industry could meet 7 per cent of Irish electricity demand.

Chairman David Maguire said on Tuesday that solar is the only form of renewable energy that does not receive some form of subsidy to aid its development.

He explained that the group favours an auction system rather the system of guarranteed prices given to wind farms, which are funded through a levy on electricity bills known as the public service obligation.

Using the auction approach, the Single Electricity Market Operator could decide in advance that solar generators should supply a set amount of the country’s total electricity demand.

It would then invite the industry to bid for that and award contracts to the cheapest suppliers. “They would have to have land, planning permission and grid connections to qualify, and they would have to pay a deposit to take part,”Mr Magure said.

He added that any operator who fails to fulfill their contract could be sanctioned. “We believe that this would give the industry and consumers the best value ,” Mr Maguire said.

The Government is to decide on a replacement for the current round of supports, dubbed Renewable Energy Feed in Taruiff (Refit), this year. Householders and businesses pay for this through the public service charge on their bills.

Over the 12 months to next October, they will have paid €181 million to the renewable energy industry, which is largely made up wind generators.

The cash collected from consumers and businesses bridges the gap between the wholesale market price of electricity and prices guaranteed to the wind farm owners under the Refit scheme.

Despite the supports, Mr Maguire warned that the Republic is likely to fall short on renewable energy targets agreed with the EU, which require 40 per cent of all electricity to be generated from green sources by 2020.

This could result in the State paying fines of more than €300 million a-year to Brussels for failing to keep to this committment.

“It is clear the country is facing a real challenge to meet these targets and avoid significant fines,” Mr Maguire said.

“Despite the successful deployment of wind energy in Ireland, which enjoyed considerable state support, wind alone will not ensure that we reach that goal.”

He argued that solar, which contributes significantly to power generation in other European countries, but is still undeveloped here, could aid the Republic in meeting its targets with the right level of support.

He also pointed out that Germany, which is on a similar latitude to Ireland, gets 7% of its power from solar.

Mr Maguire’s association has more than 100 members, including his own company, BNRG.

Confused messages from Ireland’s banks on mortgage rates

Central Bank’s monthly mortgage figures confusingly based on a mix of loan types

     

Amid the persistent heightened attention in recent weeks on mortgage rates that Irish banks are charging their customers, there is one curious anomaly which continues to persist: the Central Bank’s publication of mortgage interest rates.

Last week, the bank indicated the rate on new variable rate mortgages was just 3.08% as of end-April. But how can this be when the lowest rate available to a property purchaser today is actually greater than this, at 3.1% from KBC Bank? And that rate is only available to people who have a deposit of at least 50% of the purchase price.

The reason apparently is that the 3.08% rate mentioned in the Central Bank’s report is drawn from the ECB’s Monetary Financial Institution Interest Rate (MIR) framework. So, despite the name of the data, “Interest Rates on new floating rate loan agreements to households for house purchase”, the figure published in the Central Bank’s monthly statistics is actually based on a mix of fixed and variable contracts – and in addition to mortgages also includes home improvement loans.

It’s a metric that allows the ECB to compare rates on a level footing in the euro zone, which is fair enough. But for those looking for a “fix” on Irish mortgage rates, the data can be confusing. Indeed in April the Central Bank itself published an article which acknowledged the MIR figure “is often mistaken to represent new mortgages with a standard variable rate”.

So why does the Central Bank persist in using this data in its monthly bulletins and not in conjunction with its own data on mortgage rates, which it publishes on a quarterly basis, and which it says itself, are “more suited to domestic analysis”?

The Central Bank says it is bound by an ECB regulation to continue publishing the MIR data, but to avoid confusion it would be useful if it could publish its new business rates each time it publishes the MIR data – or at least explain the difference between the two.

Experts now suggest a diet of whole-grains could be the secret to a longer life

     

A large bowl of porridge every day could protect against cancer and keep the doctor away?

A large bowl of porridge every day could protect against death from cancer, the biggest analysis of the benefits of whole grains has shown.

Oats have long been considered a superfood, staving off illnesses such as diabetes and heart disease.

But now a review by Harvard University has found that whole grains also appear to prevent early death and lower the chance of dying from cancer.

A meta-analysis of 12 studies involving nearly 800,000 people found that eating 70 grams of whole grains a day – the equivalent of a large bowl of porridge – lowers the risk of all-cause death by 22pc and death from cancer by 20%. It also reduces the risk of dying from cardiovascular disease by 20%.

Scientists believe that whole grains help lower cholesterol and help regulate blood sugar, as well as making people feel full for longer, preventing them from snacking on unhealthy foods. The same effect could be gained from eating bran, quinoa, whole-wheat pasta, or a mix of grains.

Whole grains, where the bran and germ remain, contain 25% more protein than refined grains, such as those used to make white flour, pasta and white rice.

Previous studies have shown that whole grains can boost bone mineral density, lower blood pressure, promote healthy gut bacteria and reduce the risk of diabetes.

One particular fibre found only in oats – called beta-glucan – has been found to lower cholesterol which can help to protect against heart disease.

Whole grains are recommended in many dietary guidelines because they contain high levels of nutrients such as zinc, copper, manganese, iron and thiamine. They are also believed to boost levels of antioxidants, which combat free-radicals linked to cancer.

Victoria Taylor, senior dietitian at the British Heart Foundation, said: “Eating more whole grains is a simple change we can make to improve our diet and help lower our risk of heart and circulatory disease. Choosing brown rice, whole-wheat pasta, wholemeal or granary bread instead of white and swapping to whole-grain breakfast cereals such as porridge are all simple ways to help us up our fibre and whole-grain intake.”

The researchers said a 16-gram serving of whole grains lowered the risk of total death by 7%, and cancer by 5%.

Jack Conway shows a 2000-year-old edible lump of butter pulled from Irish bog

   

A huge lump of ‘bog’ butter discovered by an Irish turf cutter.

Finding buried treasure is a dream as old as stories themselves. Treasure chests overflowing with gold doubloons, shiny lamps containing genies, gargantuan lumps of thousand-year-old butter.

OK, maybe most don’t dream of unearthing enormous chunks of butter, but that’s exactly what Jack Conway discovered in the Emlagh bog in County Meath, Ireland, at the beginning of June, Atlas Obscura reported.

Conway is a turf cutter, meaning he harvests “turf” or peat – it’s similar to moss – from a bog to later burn for warmth during the cold winter months. He was chopping turf at the bog when he came across a 9.97kg chunk of butter, The Irish Times reported.

Researchers at the Cavan Museum estimated it to be more than 2000 years old.

Bog butter is just that: butter made from cow’s milk that’s been buried in a bog, though, after thousands of years, it often has the consistency of cheese.

It’s actually not that uncommon of a find for turf cutters in Ireland, either. As Smithsonian magazine noted, a 3000-year-old, one-metre wide barrel stuffed with 35kg of bog butter was found in 2009. Even more shocking, turf cutters found a 5000-year-old wooden “keg” containing 45kg of the butter in 2013.

People have actually been stumbling upon bog butter for at least two centuries. In the 1892 edition of The Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland, Reverend James O’Laverty recounts finding a lump “which still retains the marks of the hand and fingers of the ancient dame who pressed it into its present shape,” and which he noted “tastes somewhat like cheese.”

In her article “Bog Butter: A Two Thousand Year History” in The Journal of Irish Archaeology, Caroline Earwood wrote, “It is usually found as a whitish, solid mass of fatty material with a distinctive, pungent and slightly offensive smell. It is found either as a lump, or in containers which are most often made of wood but include baskets and skins.”

The earliest discoveries of bog butter date back to the Iron Age, but she wrote that it may have existed earlier.

No one is sure exactly why the butter was buried in bogs – some think it was sometimes an offering to the gods – but evidence strongly suggests it was a method of preservation.

Most bog butter doesn’t contain salt, which was often used as a means of preserving food before modern refrigeration. The bogs, which are essentially cold-water swamps, and their native peat do a fine job keeping food fresh.

A University of Michigan researcher found that meat left in a bog for two years was just as preserved as meat kept in his freezer, the University Record reported in 1995.

Peat is compressed plant matter, which Nature reported is both cool and contains little oxygen while remaining highly acidic, allowing it can act as a sort of refrigerator. It seems to work – Savina Donohoe, Curator of Cavan County Museum who sent Conway’s butter lump to the National Museum of Ireland, said it smelled just like, well, butter.

“It did smell like butter, after I had held it in my hands, my hands really did smell of butter,” Mr Donohoe said recently. “There was even a smell of butter in the room it was in.”

In fact, peat bogs are such wonderful environments for preserving organic matter, they’ve been known to almost perfectly mummify corpses.

Hundreds of “bog bodies” have been found during the past two centuries, according to USA Today. The oldest one ever unearthed is a preserved skeleton that’s been named the Koelbjerg Woman, which dates back more than 10,000 years to around 8000 BC.

Other bodies, though, retain their skin and internal organs. The Tollund Man, for example, still had his leathery skin intact when he was found in the Bjaeldskovdal bog in Denmark and is considered by some to be the most well-preserved body ever found from prehistoric times. He was so well-persevered that the men who found him thought they had stumbled upon a modern murder scene, PBS reported. He was actually about 2400 years old.

Given that level of preservation, most of the butter is actually edible.

Irish celebrity chef Kevin Thornton, who owns the Michelin-starred Thornton’s Restaurant in Dublin, claimed to have tasted a 4000-year-old sample of bog butter.

“I was really excited about it. We tasted it,” he told the Irish Independent in 2014. “There’s fermentation but it’s not fermentation because it’s gone way beyond that. Then you get this taste coming down or right up through your nose.”

Andy Halpin, assistant keeper in the Cavan Museum’s Irish Antiquities Division, said one could probably eat the butter, though he’s not sure why one would.

“Theoretically the stuff is still edible, but we wouldn’t say it’s advisable,” Halpin told the Irish Times.

Curious what it might taste like, Ben Reade, head of Culinary Research and Development at Nordic Food Lab created his own bog butter, albeit one aged for a bit less time than the aforementioned.

Echoing the lines from James Farewell’s 1689 poem The Irish Hudibras – “butter to eat with their hog, was seven years buried in a bog” – they buried one large birch barrel of butter in the ground, where it will remain for seven years. The other only remained in the ground for three months, before it was tasted at the Nordic Food Lab in Copenhagen and the Oxford Symposium on Food and Cookery 2012 in Oxford, England.

He wrote of the flavours:

“In its time underground the butter did not go rancid, as one would expect butter of the same quality to do in a fridge over the same time. The organoleptic qualities of this product were too many surprising, causing disgust in some and enjoyment in others. The fat absorbs a considerable amount of flavour from its surroundings, gaining flavour notes which were described primarily as “animal” or “gamey,” “moss,” “funky,” “pungent,” and “salami.” These characteristics are certainly far-flung from the creamy acidity of a freshly made cultured butter, but have been found useful in the kitchen especially with strong and pungent dishes, in a similar manner to aged ghee.”

Even so, if you happen to find a lump of butter buried in the back yard, it might be best to forgo it for the store-bought variety.

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Saturday/Sunday 11th & 12th June 2016.

Why ‘Brexit’ really matters to the half a million Irish living in Britain

    

Irish people ‘have a good thing going’ in London and are ‘better off in a connected world’, according to a Dubliner who was recently voted Chef of The Year and runs four of the hottest restaurants in the British capital.

Chef Robin Gill and his wife Sarah – who works with him in their restaurants – believe a ‘Leave’ vote in Brexit could seriously affect their business.

‘Why we’re voting to remain’ – ‘Chef of The Year’ Irishman and owner of four London restaurants

“It looks like the economy could take a big hit if the vote is for leave. But more importantly for us, we employ over 60 people and a lot of them are from all over the EU,” Robin told Independent.ie.

“What happens if Britain votes to leave? Will they need work visas? Will they have to go home? London needs talented people to come here from all over the world, I really hope the vote is for staying in.

“We’ve lost really good people with the visa situation in Australia and Canada. I can’t imagine what it would do to our business,” he continued.

“We’re doing well, the economy is doing well, we’re better off in a connected, globalised world. We’re voting Remain”.

Brexit is the biggest political decision to face the UK in four decades – should they stay or should they go?

Upwards of half a million Irish citizens could have a big say on the referendum – on whether Britain should remain in the European Union – on June 23rd.

The Irish living in the UK are in a virtually unique position – they are the second biggest migrant group, standing at around 500,000 and only outnumbered by the 800,000 Poles.

And, due to the historical quirk which sees us still counted amongst former commonwealth or Empire dominions, only the Irish, Cypriots and Maltese get to vote in the referendum.

Irish economists, businessmen and politicians have already had their say, with Enda Kenny causing a bit of a stir when he arrived in London for a Mayo GAA game recently and took the chance to remind the Irish in the UK to vote ‘Remain’.

Bob Geldof and Michael O’Leary of Ryanair have also been loud pro-EU voices.

‘We don’t have a negative view of the EU like the Brits do’ – Irishman and owner of London pop-up bar Six Yard Box5

The Irish in London today are different from their parents and grandparents generation, those who came in the ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s, often with low skills and low expectations.

The New London Irish are typically young, very well-educated and making the most of the city’s booming, globalised economy.

For Irish entrepreneurs like Seb O’Driscoll, a 35-year-old Corkman who runs The Six Yard Box, a hip, pop-up sports bar in Elephant & Castle, there’s no doubt how most Irish will vote.

“The Irish are everywhere in London, and most love it for being a multi-cultural city with huge diversity and a real international feel,” says Seb.

“The sense I get, from guys coming into the bar here, from my friends and the Irish you meet, they’ll all be voting remain. We don’t have a negative view of the EU in the way a lot of Brits do. And we don’t know what’s going to the happen to the economy if we leave”.

UK Chef of The Year Robin reiterated Seb’s comments and said the opportunities for Irish in London are endless.

“I’ve tried to leave eight or nine times and then another opportunity comes across. From that point, it’s just uncontrollable,” he said.

Brexit: The issues Ireland faces if Britain leaves the EU

If Brexit is the result of the referendum, there will be many unknowns for Ireland both economic and geopolitical.

One of the big issues for Ireland will be how the Republic and North of the country interact with the re-establishment of borders a possibility that has already been highlighted by British chancellor George Osborne.

Not since the long-fought for peace process has this issue arisen and we don’t know what the outcome would be.

From an economic perspective, while Ireland’s dependence on the UK as a trade partner has waned in the most recent past, depending on what kind of trade deal Britain would establish with the EU then that could have repercussions here.

Currently the UK, like other member states, has access to 500m people through the single market.

However, the remain side argues that there’s no guarantees that any kind of free trade agreement between the UK and the EU would be an option if Brexit were the outcome.

One of the upsides of a Brexit, of course, would be a likely influx of foreign direct investment with our low 12.5pc corporation tax rate already attractive for multinationals.

On the flip side, the spotlight is on Ireland’s tax treatment of many of these firms and if, for example, Donald Trump was elected US president he has already warned that countries like Ireland are outsmarting the US and taking jobs by attracting American firms here and he has vowed to stop this.

Investigation under way into discovery of ‘angel dust’ in cattle

Department of Agriculture confirms positive test result for illegal growth hormone clenbuterol

    

The Department of Agriculture is investigating a case of alleged unauthorised use of the illegal growth-promoting drug clenbuterol, or angel dust, in cattle.

The Department of Agriculture is investigating a case of alleged unauthorised use of the illegal growth-promoting drug clenbuterol, or angel dust, in cattle.

It confirmed the investigation followed a positive test result for one animal in a random sample but would not identify the location of the farm from which it had come.

The Sunday Times reported that a farm in Monaghan was under investigation and that the animal had been slaughtered at a meat processing plant.

Investigators are understood to be attempting to identify and trace products in which meat from the animal had been used.

In a statement, the department said the random sample was taken as part of the National Residue Control Programme, which tests sheep, pigs, cattle and poultry across the State to ensure they have not been given drugs that may be dangerous if consumed.

The department said it had placed all animals on the farm under restriction pending the completion of the investigation.

“The Food Safety Authority of Ireland is fully aware of the case and has concluded that there is no risk to public health from meat that is on the market.”

Isolated

A single isolated incidence of the use of clenbuterol was uncovered during sampling in 2011 – the first time it had been found since 1999.

On that occasion, two beef cattle tested positive for the banned hormone during an investigation on a farm in Co Monaghan.

The farm was being investigated by customs officials looking into alleged diesel laundering when evidence of the substance was discovered.

The National Residue Control Programme is a component of the State’s food safety controls and is implemented under a service contract with the FSAI.

More than 19,000 samples were tested in 2014, across all eight food-producing species as well as milk, eggs and honey.

Just 42 (0.2%) out of 19,095 samples tested in 2014 were positive. The results were comparable to those returned in 2013, 2012 and 2011.

Last year the department said the “consistently low levels” of positive samples reflected the responsible approach adopted by the vast majority of farmers.

“The extensive testing under the NRCP indicates the absence of illegal administration of banned growth promoting hormones and other banned substances to food-producing animals in Ireland, ” it said publishing figures for the NRCP last year.

“Overall the small number of positives detected related mainly to residues of authorised medicines.”

Big upsurge in judgments and repossessions feared as ‘vulture funds’ close in on debtors

     

More than €4bn worth of court-ordered debts have been registered against 3,243 borrowers since 2010, with Danske Bank obtaining the largest value in judgments once non-bank entities such as Nama and the former Anglo Irish Bank are excluded.

Danske tops the league of banks pursuing Irish debtors in the courts.

Danske obtained almost €56m in registered judgments against 110 debtors in the first five months of the year alone according to credit agency Stubbs Gazette.

Danske was followed by Allied Irish Bank which obtained judgments valued at just over €38m against 34 debtors in the same period.

Since 2010, toxic loans agency Nama, which last week reported profits of €1.8bn in 2015, obtained just under €1bn judgments against 34 borrowers.

The agency’s annual report shows that it generated €9.1bn in cash during 2015, with €8.5bn coming from asset disposals.

It has registered judgments of almost €682m against 814 borrowers since 2010.

Bank of Ireland has pursued a larger number of borrowers (957) during that time, although the value of judgments is significantly less, at some €377.42m

State-owned AIB has pursued 523 borrowers since 2010, securing judgments valued at €422.43m, followed by Ulster Bank which secured judgments valued at some €344m against 211 debtors.

James Treacy, CEO of Stubbs Gazette, said that he anticipates a “huge upsurge” in judgments and repossessions over the coming years as vulture funds move on distressed borrowers whose loans it has bought.

The so-called “vulture funds” own over 40,000 principal homes and investment properties here in Ireland.

It is understood that a fifth of mortgages sold to ‘non-bank’entities are in arrears.

To date, only two judgments valued at 1.8m were secured by one such fund, Goldman Sachs, through Ennis Property Finance, one of its special purpose vehicles, according to Stubbs data.

However, this is expected to rise now that loans are being actively managed.

“The funds have a reputation for being very tough but pragmatic when it comes to doing deals,” said Mr Treacy.

“Presently it would appear that their preferred approach is to negotiate deals outside the courts but that is not to say that this will not change if they are not achieving their forecasted return on investment.

“If their pre-legal strategies are not profitable I would expect to see a huge upsurge in both judgments and repossessions over the coming years.”

David Hall, Director of the Irish Mortgage Holders Association, said that borrowers including professionals such as lawyers, doctors and accountants whose loans have been transferred to vulture funds have been operating under a “false sense of security” for the last 18 months.

“It will be carnage,” said Mr Hall, who said dealing with vulture funds will be a “nightmare” for many borrowers.

“It’s like fighting with Conor McGregor with your hands tied behind your back”.

As much as 4,500 diagnosed with diabetes every week, warns a charity

      

Every week 4,500 people are diagnosed with diabetes across the UK, the charity Diabetes UK has said.  it said that in the last year 235,000 people have been diagnosed with the condition.

The figures, released to mark Diabetes Week, highlight the scale of the “crisis” surrounding the illness, charity chief executive Chris Askew said.

He warned that many people are not aware of the seriousness of the condition.

“This Diabetes Week we are setting the record straight and focusing on the realities of living with the condition,” said Mr Askew.

“There is still a lack of understanding when it comes to people being aware of the seriousness of diabetes and this worries us at Diabetes UK.

“There are over four million people living with the condition in the UK. The fact that 4,500 people will discover they have diabetes over the next seven days is deeply concerning, and highlights the current scale of the crisis.

“Diabetes Week is a time to share our concerns about the scale and seriousness of diabetes, but it is also a fantastic opportunity to highlight that with the right healthcare, support and management, diabetes doesn’t have to hold anyone back.”

Diabetes is a condition where there is too much glucose in the blood because the body cannot use it properly. There are two forms of the condition – Type 1 diabetes occurs when the body cannot produce insulin. Around one in 10 people with diabetes have Type 1 and it usually affects children or young adults.

Type 2 diabetes occurs when the body does not produce enough insulin or the insulin produced does not work properly. Type 2 diabetes is linked to lifestyle factors such as being overweight.

If diabetes is not properly managed it can lead to serious consequences such as sight loss, limb amputation , kidney failure and stroke.

This is how Nasa thought we would be living in 2100

     

IF you believe that dreams of moving to another planet to escape to impending doom of our dying Earth is something knew, then you’re wrong.

Nasa thought we would be living in outer space by 2100

Recently resurfaced images shows how in 1975, space agency Nasa thought we would be living in 2100.

Illustrations commissioned by the US agency, and carried out by Don Davis and Rick Guidiceto, show several different concepts of how humans might live in the now-near future.

Following 10 weeks of research, led by Princeton professor Gerard O’Neill, the team came up with three possible scenarios as to how we might be living at the end of the century.

One idea is the Cylindrical Colony which would be similar to that shown in the 2014 Christopher Nolan movie Interstellar could be home for up to one million people.

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Another idea is the Bernal Sphere which would be a structure rotating around a large spacecraft and finally the Toroidal Colony.

All three of the designs had artificial gravity that was created from centrifugal force, and powered by solar energy.

Professor O’Neill had hoped that work on these structures would begin in the 1990s, but that time has passed without it happening, and he has since passed away.

  1. Artificial greenery was also a concept
  2. The colony might have looked cylindrical
  3. A circular tunnel may have revolved around Earth

However, Nasa contractor and space settlement expert Dr Al Globus said that it will be possible to do so in the future.

He said: “Whether it will happen or not is really hard to say. Whether it can happen, absolutely.

“If we as a people decide to do it, we can do it. We have the scientific capability, financial capability, there is simply no question we can do it.

“In two or three decades we might have a couple of small hotels [in orbit], and people moving in on a regular basis.

“All that is on a time scale measured in decades, or in the worst case centuries.”