News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Thursday 7th July 2016

Former Labour Court chair to lead water commission

Simon Coveney to appoint Kevin Duffy as chairman after Joe O’Toole’s resignation


Former Labour Court chairman Kevin Duffy is to lead the expert commission examining the future of water charges in the State.

Minister for Housing Simon Coveney is to appoint Mr Duffy to replace Joe O’Toole, who was forced to resign this week after a series of controversial interviews.

Mr O’Toole, a former senator, said he believed water must be paid for and that he supported the polluter pays principle. He blamed Fianna Fáil for his resignation, insisting he had retained the support of Mr Coveney despite his comments.

“That was until Minister Coveney informed me that the main Opposition party would not co-operate with Government on this and related issues for as long as I remained in the chair,” he said.

Mr Duffy, who is a former assistant general secretary of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, has been chosen to replace him. It is understood Mr Coveney informed Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Fianna Fáil of the decision on Thursday.

The seven member commission is examining the future of water charges and has five months to report back to an Oireachtas committee which will then vote on its recommendations.

Mr Coveney is to travel to Brussels on Friday to meet environment commissioner Karmenu Vella to explain the decision to suspend water charges for nine months.

The Minister and Mr Vella have been in contact but Mr Coveney is expected to stress the rationale behind the agreement reached with Fianna Fáil which underpinned the formation of a minority government.

The meeting follows an instruction issued by the European Commission that Ireland cannot revert to the position of not paying for water.

Tánaiste Fitzgerald agrees to accept more refugees into Ireland


A selection team will be sent to Lebanon to select an additional 260 refugees under the Refugee Resettlement Programme, Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality, Frances Fitzgerald confirmed today.

“I am pleased to confirm that the Refugee Resettlement Strand of the Programme has seen significant progress,” the Tánaiste said.

“Two hundred and seventy three refugees have already arrived from Lebanon and the remainder of the 520 refugees we committed to resettle in Ireland in 2016 will be here by the autumn.

“This is in advance of the EU deadline and clearly demonstrates Ireland’s continued proactive approach to resolving this unprecedented humanitarian crisis.

“Yesterday I informed the Government of my decision to send a further mission to Lebanon in the autumn to select an additional 260 refugees to be admitted in Spring 2017.”

The decision by the Tánaiste to increase the number of refugees to arrive in Ireland under the Resettlement Strand of the IRPP takes account of the slower than anticipated arrival of asylum seekers from Greece and Italy as a result of administrative issues in those countries.

“My decision reflects the Government’s commitment to welcome vulnerable refugees fleeing war and conflict and is another positive step towards delivering on Ireland’s overall commitment to accept 4,000 persons,” she said.

“Once in Ireland, these refugees will have access to vital health and education services. Our focus will be on helping them to rebuild their lives here in Ireland.”

She added: “A further 28 Syrians arrived in Ireland in the last couple of weeks under relocation from Greece.

“I am aware that progress regarding the relocation of persons from Italy and Greece has been slower than we would have wanted but this should not be taken as any diminution of our commitment to delivering on this part of the programme.

“The delay has been largely outside of our control and my officials have been working closely with their Greek and Italian counterparts on this issue.

“The Greek authorities have now agreed that they will double the numbers available for transfer to Ireland to 40 persons every four weeks with the prospect of this number increasing further later in the year. In effect this means that the relocation strand will now be fully operational.”

Troubled suicide charity Console is to be wound down and transferred to other support services? 


David Hall (left pic) who was installed last week to try to rescue the charity and Paul Kelly right.

The troubled suicide bereavement charity Console is to be wound down.

The charity’s services, which included counselling and a helpline, are expected to be transferred to other support organisations.

In a statement today the HSE said that on the request of Minister Simon Harris, a very constructive meeting took place this morning involving David Hall, the Charities Regulator, representatives from the Charities sector, the HSE and Department of Health officials.

The purpose of the meeting was to discuss the ongoing issues regarding Console and how services currently being provided by Console and funded by the HSE can be continued. These services are the 24/7 Suicide Helpline, the Suicide Bereavement Liaison Service, and the Suicide Bereavement Counselling Service.

All parties at the meeting reiterated that the over-riding priority is the continuation of services to clients who are currently availing of them.

The HSE has been considering arrangements for a transition of the three services in the past number of weeks. A major part of today’s meeting was to discuss with David Hall a specific proposal for the continuation of the three services.

These discussions will continue today. It would be inappropriate to the discussions and unhelpful to the vulnerable users of the three services to make any further comment at this time.

David Hall who was installed last week to try to rescue the charity outlined spending to the High Court. He had warned Console would have to close its doors shortly if it did not get additional funding by the HSE.

He said it was costing €100,000 a month to run Console and the HSE funding amounts to just €70,000 and some €70,000 is owed to the Revenue Commisioners and there are also unknown legacy debts.

He has found no secret stash of funds which would help bail out the charity.

Former chief executive Paul Kelly, who is in a psychiatric hospital, spent lavish amounts of donations and HSE funding on his salary, cars and travel.

Console enjoyed an income of over €5m in recent years. But much of the cash was squandered using credit cards. Around €53,000 which was deposited by the HSE is all that was left in the bank account.

Interim Console CEO says ‘significant and imminent challenges’ facing charity

Another £100,000 is in the Console account in the UK.

The government has pledged to ensure the continued delivery of Console’s services.

During Leaders’ Questions at the Dáil on Thursday, Fianna Fáil’s finance spokesperson Michael McGrath asked Education Minister Richard Bruton for a guarantee that Console’s staff and services would be protected.

“Minister, can you give a commitment that the essential services Console has been providing, and continues to provide under extraordinarily difficult circumstances, will be protected and will continue to be provided?” he said.

In response, Mr Bruton said that progress had been made to ensure the protection of those services.

“I can assure you that there has been a meeting with Console, the primary motivation behind that meeting is to protect those services as the deputy said and to make sure that the workers in this service continued to be treated properly and that the service continues to be delivered.”

He added that Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald had signed a commencement order for Part Four of the Charities Act (2009) to give the charity regulator additional investigative powers and the staffing necessary to carry out a thorough investigation.

When asked whether the troubled charity has a future, Mr Bruton said: “There isn’t a member of the house who hasn’t been touched by some family who has suffered a suicide and the dramatic impact that has on all around them.

“The support services of organisations like Console are absolutely central.

“As to whether the services will be protected within Console or within some other organisation, I think that is really the subject of discussion that I can’t give an authoritative answer on. But the core commitment and objective is to ensure that the services are protected.”

Gene test may one day predict Alzheimer’s risk in young adults


A gene test may one day be able to predict the risk for Alzheimer’s disease in young adults, a new study suggests.

People without any thinking impairments, but with a high number of gene mutations linked to Alzheimer’s, developed worse memory over time and had a smaller hippocampus — the part of the brain associated with memory and emotion, the researchers found.

“This implies that genetic risk of Alzheimer’s disease may exert an effect on the hippocampus very early in life, which may make those individuals more likely to get Alzheimer’s disease late in life,” said lead researcher Elizabeth Mormino. She is an instructor in neurology at Massachusetts General Hospital, in Charlestown, Mass.

Although the effects were small, they offer the possibility that genetic mutations may help spot people at risk of Alzheimer’s disease decades before symptoms start, she added.

But Dr. Sam Gandy, director of the Center for Cognitive Health at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, said people should not be rushing out to get tested to see if they have a high risk of Alzheimer’s.

“It’s only for research at this point,” he said. “It’s potentially very useful in designing super early interventions, but not clinically useful yet.”

For the study, Mormino and her colleagues calculated a genetic risk score based on whether a person had several high-risk gene mutations. The participants, average age 75, included 166 people with dementia and more than 1,000 people withoutdementia.

In addition, Mormino’s team looked for markers of Alzheimer’s, including memory and thinking decline, disease progression and the size of the hippocampus. They also looked at links between the risk score and hippocampus size in more than 1,300 healthy 18- to 35-year-olds.

The investigators found that among older people without dementia, a higher genetic risk score was associated with worse memory and a smaller hippocampus at the start of the study, accounting for 2 percent of the total variance in memory and 2 percent of the variance in hippocampus size.

Over a three-year follow-up period, a higher risk score was tied to greater memory and thinking decline and disease progression, the researchers reported.

Moreover, the risk score was linked with overall Alzheimer’s progression. Among the 194 participants who were healthy at the start of the study, 15 developed mild thinking impairment or Alzheimer’s disease. Of 332 patients with mild thinking impairment at the start of the study, 143 developed Alzheimer’s disease, the findings showed.

With each increase in the Alzheimer’s genetic risk score, the odds of the disease progression increased nearly two times, the study authors said.

Among the younger participants, a high risk score was linked to a smaller hippocampus. However, the risk score accounted for less than 1 percent of the difference in hippocampus size between those with high and low scores, the researchers noted.

The findings were published online July 6 in the journal Neurology.

“We are starting to put the pieces of the puzzle in place that look at what these genetic risk factors might mean,” said Heather Snyder, senior director for medical and scientific operations at the Alzheimer’s Association. “It’s a first step in that direction, but it’s not ready for prime time — we still have a ways to go.”

If you have a parent or a sibling that has Alzheimer’s disease, you are at an increased risk, and “there is nothing more that a genetic test will tell you about your risk,” she said.

In the future, genetic testing might predict risk and there may be ways to stop or slow the progression of the disease, Snyder said. “But we are not there yet.”

What Do Goats, Puppies and Horses Have in Common?

Goats communicate with humans using eye contact, according to a new study


Anyone who has owned a dog knows they can say a lot only using their eyes. Food dish empty? They’ll look up at their human in anticipation. Want to go outside? They’ll turn their head to make eye contact.

Researchers thought that along with our canine companions horses were the only other domesticated animal that communicated with humans using eye contact. But a new study published in the journal Biology Letters suggests we can add one more animal to the list: goats.

Researchers from Queen Mary University conducted their study at Buttercups Sanctuary for Goats in the U.K.—an ungulate’s paradise where the resident animals receive lots of human interaction, reports Jennifer Viegas for Discovery News. The team first trained the 34 male and female goats to lift the lid on a plastic box to get at a treat. Then they created an “unsolvable problem” for the animals by sealing the box shut.

The researchers stood by as the goats tried to open the box. When they failed, the animals looked to the human experimenters as if asking for help, similar to how puppies looked back and forth between the box and person. When the researchers turned their backs, the goats did not gaze up as many times or for as long, indicating that seeing a person’s face is important.

“Goats gaze at humans in the same way as dogs do when asking for a treat that is out of reach, for example,” co-author Christian Nawroth says in a press release. “Our results provide strong evidence for complex communication directed at humans in a species that was domesticated primarily for agricultural production, and show similarities with animals bred to become pets or working animals, such as dogs and horses.”

“These results are pretty surprising,” Laurie Santos of Yale’s Canine and Primate Laboratory tells Rachel Feltman at The Washington Post. She explains that the study shows domestication for non-social reasons—goats are primarily bred for meat, milk and hides—can still produce animals with the social skills to communicate with people. “This is exciting, as it shows how little we still understand about how the process of domestication can shape rich social understanding.”

Researchers already know goats are smart and have some sort of emotional life. Previous research by the study co-author Alan McElligott showed that goats change the position of their ears and their vocalizations when feeling negative emotions. McElligott also previously showed that goats are able to learn a complex task quickly and remember how to do the same task ten months later.

Understanding the domestication process and the inner-life of goats could lead to better treatment in the future, Jan Langbein of the Leibniz Institute for Farm Animal Biology tells Discovery News. “Public knowledge about cognition in, and emotions of, farm animals will change consumers’ attitudes towards them,” he says.

These studies could also help differentiate them from their long-time, petting-zoo frenemy, sheep. “Currently there are about a billion goats on the planet being used for agriculture, but still most of the welfare guidelines for keeping them come from sheep,” McElligott tells Feltman. “Anyone who’s worked with goats and sheep know they’re quite different.”


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