Thursday 28th July 2016
IMF cuts Irish growth forecasts due to post-Brexit risks
International Monetary Fund warns Irish banks could be hit by UK’s withdrawal
IMF managing director Christine Lagarde: Washington-based fund forecasts Irish gross domestic product expanding 3.2% next year.
The International Monetary Fund cut its Irish economic forecasts following the UK’s decision to quit the European Union and warned banks would be hit as Brexit weighs on their UK operations and prospects for companies, employment and investment.
The Washington-based fund now sees Irish gross domestic product expanding 3.2% next year, having previously estimated 3.6% growth, according to its main annual review of the country, published on Thursday. It trimmed its forecast for this year marginally, to 4.9% from 5%.
“The rebound of the Irish economy has been exceptional,” the IMF said. “The positive economic performance is expected to continue, but the UK vote to leave the EU amplifies downside risks.”
The IMF has chosen to ignore the Central Statistics Office’s recent upward revision of Irish GDP for last year to 26 per cent in its analysis and policy recommendations, as the data “would distort the true representation of the underlying economic developments”.
Staff at the fund recommended that Irish officials develop additional gauges that better reflect the country’s underlying activity.
In a separate report on the country’s financial system, the IMF said the impact of Brexit “could be large, but should still be manageable”, adding the longer-term consequences will depend on the nature of the future relationship between the UK and the EU, especially regarding trade, financial flows and labour movement.
The report gave strong backing to the Central Bank’s introduction of mortgage lending limits last year, which the Irish regulator has insisted will remain a permanent feature of Irish banking even as it reviews the rules this year.
The caps are “well-justified, even though credit conditions have normalised and real estate prices are estimated to be close to equilibrium”, the IMF said.
The latest CSO data shows Irish house prices rose almost 7% in the year to May. However, values are still one-third off their 2007 peak. The country’s unemployment rate has fallen to 7.8% from a peak above 15.1% at the height of the financial crisis, in early 2012.
The IMF noted the Government has placed a “high priority” on boosting housing supply, having recently unveiled a plan aimed at delivering 25,000 new houses per year by the end of the decade.
The IMF said that households and companies have lowered their borrowings in recent years – they remain highly leveraged, with 100,000 home loans estimated to be in negative equity at the end of last year. While banks have lowered their non-performing assets as they restructure soured loans and the economy improves, the overall level of troubled loans remains a challenge, it said.
Minister for Finance Michael Noonan welcomed the publication of the reports on Ireland’s economy and financial services landscape.
“The IMF also recognises that the Government is fully committed to sound budgetary policy in the years ahead and that Ireland’s financial regulatory and supervisory frameworks have been significantly upgraded and the financial soundness of the banking sector has improved,” he said.
However, the fund noted that “increased fragmentation” in the new Dáil, “reform fatigue” and Brexit may complicate the Government’s job.
The IMF also urged the Government to proceed with further bank share sales, even though Mr Noonan has effectively ruled out an initial public offering of Allied Irish Banks, which received a €20.8 billion bailout during the crisis, until the first half of next year at least.
Ireland’s office workers must exercise for at least an hour a day to counter death risk
Around one in four adults globally and 80% of school-going teenagers are failing to meet the World Health Organisation recommendation of 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week.
Irish workers, who have sedentary jobs, may eliminate some of the harmful effects of sitting if they do one hour of physical activity daily, new research reveals.
The findings, in the ‘Lancet’, which are part of a series measuring global levels of physical activity since the last Olympics, also warn that lack of exercise is linked to one in 20 cases of dementia in Ireland.
Physical inactivity is associated with an increased risk of heart disease, diabetes and some cancers, leading to around five million deaths across the world annually.
Scientists said sedentary lifestyles were now posing as great a threat to public health as smoking, and were causing more deaths than obesity.
As more employees have no choice but to spend eight or more hours a day sitting down, the risks are on the rise.
However, the study from the University of Cambridge in the UK and the Norwegian School of Sports Sciences, which looked at over one million people, said one hour of exercise such as a brisk walk or cycling for pleasure may eliminate the increased risk of death associated with prolonged sitting.
Most of us will spend hours on the couch watching the world’s fittest athletes during TV coverage of the Olympics, which begin in Brazil next week.
But since the last Games four years ago there has been little progress in increasing levels of physical activity.
Around one in four adults globally and 80pc of school-going teenagers are failing to meet the World Health Organisation recommendation of 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week.
Physical activity is a valuable part of any overall body wellness plan and is associated with a lower risk of brain decline.
In order to reduce the risk of dementia, we should engage in cardiovascular exercise to elevate the heart rate.
This increases the blood flow to the brain and body.
It reduces potential dementia risk factors such as high blood pressure, diabetes and high cholesterol.
The researchers also looked at time spent watching television all day and found sitting for over three hours looking at the goggle-box was associated with increased risk of death, except in the most active.
The authors said: “For many people who commute to work and have office-based jobs there is no way to escape sitting for prolonged periods of time.
“For these people in particular, we cannot stress enough the importance of getting exercise, whether it is getting out for a walk at lunchtime, going for a run in the morning or cycling to work.
Ideal activity an hour a day?
“An hour of physical activity per day is the ideal, but if this is unmanageable, then at least doing some exercise each day can help reduce the risk.”
Overall, the ‘Lancet’ reported that while in the past four years more countries have been monitoring progress in physical activity, the evidence of improvements is scarce.
Earlier this year, Ireland launched its first National Physical Activity Plan, with the aim of increasing the number of people taking regular exercise by 50,000 a year over the next decade. Seven out of 10 adults are too inactive and fail to get the necessary 30 minutes a day of moderate activity five days a week, which is recommended for 18- to 64-year-olds.
The plan involves supporting more community walking groups, getting doctors to prescribe exercise for patients and encouraging employers to bring in standing desks to avoid staff having to sit all day.
The plan, which comes with €5.5m funding, also involves introducing a new school subject, Well-being, from September as part of the new Junior Cycle.
Dolly’s cloned sheep ‘twins’ alive and kicking well
Four genetically-identical copies of Dolly the famous cloned sheep, which suffered ill health and died prematurely in 2003, are going strong at the advanced age of nine, a study said Tuesday.
Debbie, Denise, Dianna and Daisy — identical sisters of Dolly, though born 11 years later — were “in pretty good health”, according to researchers who studied whether cloned animals can live long, healthy lives.
The quadruplets were made from the same mammary gland cell line that yielded Dolly — the first mammal cloned using a technique called somatic-cell nuclear transfer (SCNT).
Born 20 years ago on July 5, 1996, Dolly developed crippling knee arthritis aged five and died of lung disease at the age of six — about half the life expectancy of her breed of Finn-Dorset sheep.
Dolly’s ill health and early demise raised red flags that clones may be sickly and age prematurely compared to naturally-conceived peers.
Cloned lab mice, too, have shown a propensity for obesity, diabetes, and dying young.
Kevin Sinclair of the University of Nottingham and a team conducted thorough medical exams on the four “Dollies” born in July 2007, as well as nine other sheep clones from different cell cultures.
All 13 animals, aged seven to nine, were the product of lab studies seeking to improve the efficiency of SCNT.
Experts measured the sheep’s glucose tolerance, insulin sensitivity, blood pressure and muscle and bone strength, in what they said was the first comprehensive assessment of age-related disease in animal clones.
A few of the sheep had mild osteoarthritis, the team found, and one a “moderate” form of the ailment — though this was not unusual for their age. None of the sheep were lame, as Dolly was.
– Ageing ‘normally’ –
Despite their “advanced age”, none of the sheep were diabetic, and they had normal blood pressure.
The data, said the team, was “compelling, indicating no detrimental long-term adverse effects of SCNT on the health of aged adult offspring.”
SCNT involves removing the DNA-containing nucleus from a cell other than an egg or sperm — a skin cell, for example — and implanting it into an unfertilised egg from which the nucleus had been removed.
Once transferred, the egg reprogrammes the mature DNA back to an embryonic state with the aid of an electric jolt, and it starts dividing to form an embryo.
No human is known to ever have been created in this way.
In spite of recent improvements, the technique remains inefficient, and expensive, with a small percentage of cloned embryos surviving to birth.
“For those clones that survive… however, the emerging consensus, supported by the current data, is that they are healthy and seem to age normally,” said the study in the journal Nature Communications.
Animal cloning is used in agriculture, mainly to create breeding stock, as well as in the business of “bringing back” people’s dead pets.
Despite initial high expectations, it has not found a place in the field of medical therapy for humans.
Women with later start to periods, menopause more likely to reach age 90
Women with later menarche and later menopause are more likely to reach age 90 than those whose reproductive milestones come at earlier ages, suggests a new study.
“People have always wondered whether the timing of reproductive events affect longevity, but no study to date has evaluated that relationship,” said lead author Aladdin Shadyab, of the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine.
The research team used data collected from 16,251 participants in the Women’s Health Initiative, starting between 1993 and 1998 and continuing until August 2014.
All the women were born before September 1924; 8,892, or 55%, survived to age 90.
Women who were at least 12 years old at menarche were about 9% more likely to reach age 90 than those who were younger.
And women who were at least 50 when their periods stopped were about 20% more likely to reach age 90 than women who entered menopause before age 40. This was true whether menopause was natural or surgical.
A longer reproductive lifespan was also tied to longevity. Women who menstruated for more than 40 years were 13% more likely to reach age 90 than those who had less than 33 reproductive years, the authors reported in a paper released July 27 by the journal Menopause.
Shadyab and colleagues can’t say why later periods and later menopause are tied to longer life, but the link could be related to lifestyle factors and genetics.
“It is possible that those who begin menstruating later and those who experience menopause at older ages are in better health long term,” Shadyab told Reuters Health.
There could also be genes that affect both the start of periods and menopause and a woman’s length of life, he added.
“Further studies are needed to determine why reproductive factors predict living to age 90 in women,” he said.
Dr. JoAnn Pinkerton of the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, who is executive director of The North American Menopause Society, agrees that lifestyle factors and genetics are likely behind the link between later reproductive milestones and longevity.
Pinkerton, who was not involved in the study, said research suggests that hormones that may protect women’s hearts are lost during menopause.
Also, she said some behaviors, such as smoking, have an impact on overall health and on the timing of menopause.
Look at the size of this jellyfish that was washed up on Portmarnock beach Dublin
Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water.
Thanks to the warm weather we’ve been experiencing so far this summer, thousands of people who wouldn’t go near the water in the depths of winter have been dipping their toes in the sea off the Irish coast.
The need to stay safe in the water is paramount and those heading to the beach should be aware of the dangers before going in for a swim.
The Lion’s Mane jellyfish (giant jellyfish) is the largest known species of jellyfish and is commonly found in cold waters like the Irish Sea; certainly anyone walking along Portmarnock beach yesterday evening could hardly have missed the one that had washed up on the shore.
Karen Purdy spotted the jellyfish at approximately 9.30pm last night and told us it was still moving when she came across it.
If you ever happen to be stung by a jellyfish or are providing first aid for someone who has, check out the advice issued by Irish Water Safety here.
Meanwhile back in the UK.
Beach users urged to report jellyfish
The Lion’s Mane jellyfish is often found off the Northumberland coast.
Beach users are being urged to report jellyfish finds on beaches, including the Lion’s Mane which has the most painful sting in the UK and is rarely seen south of Northumberland.
The Marine Conservation Society (MCS), the UK’s leading marine charity, says the number of jellyfish blooms – when jellies mass together – in UK coastal waters is on the increase as our seas start to warm up.
Every summer hundreds of reports of jellyfish sightings are made to the MCS National Jellyfish Survey – now in its 14th year. The survey is providing valuable information about where and when jellyfish occur in UK seas amid global reports of a rise in jellyfish numbers.
Jellies to look out for in UK waters include the Lion’s Mane (Cyanea capillata), which has the most powerful and painful sting of the UK species. It blooms during the summer but is rarely seen south of the Irish Sea, or south of Northumberland, with most reports coming from Scottish waters.
According to the MCS, Lion’s Mane have been spotted in Northumberland in July, as well as in Aberdeenshire, Hebrides, Orkney, Angus and Ceredigion.
Up until July, it’s been a relatively quiet year for jellyfish reports, unlike the last two years when record numbers of barrel jellyfish were reported around UK seas through the spring and summer.
But jellies are starting to pick up as the waters around the UK warm up, with mass strandings of both species in South West England and Wales.
Dr Peter Richardson, Head of Biodiversity and Fisheries at the MCS, said “There’s evidence that jellyfish numbers are increasing in some parts of the world, including UK seas.
“Some scientists argue that jellyfish numbers increase and then decrease normally every 20 years or so, however, others believe and these increases are linked to factors such as pollution, over-fishing and possibly climate change. The MCS jellyfish survey helps provide some of the information we need to understand more about these ancient creatures.
“We still know relatively little about jellyfish and what drives changes in their numbers, so reporting even a single one can help. One thing we do know is that Leatherback turtles travel to UK waters to feed on jellyfish and are usually recorded along the west coast of the UK between May and October – this year we’ve already heard of sightings from the south west of England and the Irish Sea.”
MCS says that anyone who comes across a jellyfish at sea or on the beach should look but don’t touch, but report their sightings via the MCS website.
Jellies to look out for in UK waters:
Moon (very mild sting) – most widespread species, occurring all around the UK coast from May.
Blue (mild sting) – less common than the moon but can turn up anywhere.
Barrel (very mild sting) – can grow up to 1 metre in diameter and weigh up to 40kgs, totally harmless despite its size and is largely limited to the Irish Sea and adjacent waters to the north. Can be spotted all year round, even in winter, but blooms tend to start in March.
Lion’s Mane (powerful sting) – has the most powerful and painful sting of the UK species. It blooms during the summer but is rarely seen south of the Irish Sea (west coast), or south of Northumberland (east coast), with most reports coming from Scottish waters.
Compass (mild sting) – has bizarre compass-like markings and is found throughout the UK coast.
Mauve Stingers (powerful sting) – occasionally recorded from the southwest in early spring, but large numbers were reported off Britain’s west coast during November 2007, 2008 & 2009.
Portuguese Man-of-War (dangerous sting) – rare in UK waters but MCS received many reports from beaches in south-west England in the summers of 2007, 2008 and 2009.