Monthly Archives: August 2016

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Monday 29th August 2016.

17% increase in claims involving uninsured drivers in Ireland

Warning of increased premiums as more claims recorded during first seven months

Image result for 17% increase in claims involving uninsured drivers in Ireland   Image result for 17% increase in claims involving uninsured drivers in Ireland

Overall, there were 688 claims recorded in Dublin, up 78 on the 610 claims seen during the first seven months of 2015

The number of motor insurance claims involving uninsured or untraced drivers jumped by 17% between January and July, according to new figures.

The data show there were 1,644 claims involving such drivers during the first seven months of 2016, up by 235 versus the 1,409 claims lodged during the same period a year earlier.

The Motor Insurers’ Bureau of Ireland (MIBI) figures show 42% of such claims were made in Dublin with the capital also showing a big spike in general claims made compared to last year.

Overall, there were 688 claims recorded in Dublin, up 78 on the 610 claims seen during the first seven months of 2015. The next highest number of claims were in Cork (129) and Galway (92).

Between January and July, claims increased in 20 counties, with the largest percentage change being in Roscommon, which recorded an increase of 500% as the number of claims rose from 2 to 12.

A decline in four counties.

Four counties experienced a decline in the number of claims, the largest drop being in Limerick which had 80 claims, down from 95 in 2015.

The number of claims in Clare and Kildare were the same across both years.

MIBI, which was established by the Government and the insurance industry in the 1950s, pays out approximately €60 million a year on claims involving uninsured or untraced drivers. David Fitzgerald, the body’s chief executive, warned that the jump in claims involving such drivers would likely impact on premiums in the future.

“An increase of 17% represents a significant jump in the number of claims being lodged. It showcases the increased pipeline of payments facing the MIBI. While no sums are yet attached to these claims, unfortunately more claims generally means higher levels of payments coming from the MIBI and ultimately, that will impact on motor insurance premiums,” he said.

Hiqa reports critical of HSE disability services

Peer abuse, failure to investigate complaints and mismanagement among findings

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Hiqa inspectors found that some staff felt they were being troublemakers if they raised concerns about the quality of disability services.

Major patient safety concerns have been raised in a series of critical reports into HSE-run disability services around the country.

Inspectors from the Health Information and Quality Authority (Hiqa) noted incidents of peer-to-peer abuse, misadministration of medications and failures to adequately report complaints of alleged mistreatment following visits to a number of large disability centres in Cork, Kilkenny and Donegal.

During an unannounced visit to the St Raphael’s Campus in Youghal, Co Cork, it was found that a resident had not been given adequate food and nutrition for a period of more than 18 hours.

Those working at the centre said there were not enough members of staff on duty on that particular day to get the resident out of bed and feed them appropriately.

The Youghal campus, which had court-applied restrictive conditions placed on its registration last year due to previous negative findings by Hiqa, also came in for criticism for incorrect use of seizure and antimicrobial medicines which could have “potentially catastrophic” or even fatal impacts on patients.

The facility is currently in the middle of a winding-down process and is due to close next year, but inspectors recorded an ongoing “lack of clarity for staff around the reporting of allegations of abuse”.

One resident alone had made 15 complaints of physical abuse by one of his peers over the space of less than a month, but none of these incidents were properly investigated, inspectors said.

Serious failings in governance and management were identified at an unnamed disability service in Donegal during another unannounced inspection in March.

Despite initially being told by the person in charge that there had been no “incidents, suspicions, allegations or investigations of abuse” there since 2013, Hiqa officials later found that such allegations had indeed been made and investigations were instigated.

Inspectors said the person in charge subsequently handed over documents relating to the alleged incidents of abuse, and they concluded that “there was a significant risk to the safety of residents as a consequence of seriously inadequate safeguarding arrangements in the centre”.

Speaking to inspectors, some members of staff felt they were being seen as “troublemakers” if they highlighted problems with safeguarding measures or instances of possible mistreatment.

Elsewhere, Hiqa was not satisfied that the requisite improvements had been made to service provision at St Patrick’s Centre in Kilkenny which was taken over by the HSE in October 2015 following “significant failings” by the previous care provider.

Incidents of peer-to-peer aggression had continued since the handover, and there were still “significant concerns regarding the lack of suitable governance and management arrangements to oversee the quality and safety of care provided to residents” which had “direct negative outcomes for residents”.

A smaller community-based facility for six residents in Westmeath failed to demonstrate compliance for any of the nine standards tested during a visit in March, and the two-story house had no overall evacuation plan in the event of a fire.

It was also found to be deficient as regards safeguarding measures, as the member of staff designated to deal with complaints told inspectors they were “not aware that they had been assigned this responsibility” and said they did not have time to carry out managerial roles alongside their frontline duties.

The findings came in a raft of 11 inspection reports released by Hiqa on Monday. Other centres visited managed to demonstrate more consistent compliance with regulations, and there was evidence of a good quality of life for residents within these services.

The State’s health watchdog also provided an update on two autism care centres which are operated by Gheel Autism Services on behalf of the HSE after it took over control from the Irish Autism Society following negative inspection outcomes published in July.

Inspectors found that significant improvements had been made in safety and quality of life of residents at both premises.

Ireland’s retail sales up by 12.6% for July 2016

Big jump in car sales accounts for the overall boost?

Image result for Ireland's retail sales up by 12.6% for July 2016    Image result for Ireland's retail sales up by 12.6% for July 2016

The volume of retail sales increased by 12.6% in July when compared with June and there was an increase of 6.3% in the annual figure.

If car sales are excluded, there was a decrease of 0.5% in the volume of retail sales in July when compared with June and there was an increase of 2.7% in the annual figure.

The sectors with the largest month on month volume increases were motors which were up 12.5%, furniture and lighting, up 5.3%, and books, newspapers and stationery, up 2%.

The sectors with the largest monthly decreases were clothing, footwear and textiles which were down 2.5 per cent.

Other retail sales are down 2.4% and food, beverages and tobacco are down 0.9%.

There was an increase of 4.5% in the value of retail sales in July when compared with June and there was an annual increase of 3.9% when compared with July 2015.

The genetics of Type 2 Diabetes is in a mess

A recent study shows why genetic advances in medicine are so challenging.

Image result for The genetics of Type 2 Diabetes is in a mess Image result for The Human Genome Project was both a spectacular success Image result for The Human Genome Project was both a spectacular success

The Human Genome Project was both a spectacular success and a frustrating disappointment. It has revolutionized the science of biology and spawned a multi-billion dollar industry. It has alsofailed to deliver on the ambitious promise that genome science will, as President Bill Clinton stated 16 years ago, “revolutionize the diagnosis, prevention and treatment of most, if not all human diseases.”

But hype springs eternal. The human genome is now old news; today scientists study tens or even hundreds of thousands of human genomes. We now hear promises about the imminent benefits of personalized medicine, medicine that is tailored to an individual’s unique genetic make-up. President Barack Obama hopes that “10 years from now we can look back and say we have revolutionized medicine,” from cancer to Alzheimer’s. To achieve this, the White House has launched another large research effort: the Precision Medicine Initiative, which will devote hundreds of millions of dollars to advance the use of genomics and other cutting-edge science in medical practice.

It’s an admirably ambitious vision, but in 10 years we shouldn’t expect to look back and see a revolution. Scientifically, this is the right direction — over the long-term, genomic discoveries will certainly drive major medical advances. But it’s going to be a long slog. The major challenges that lie ahead are laid bare in a recent genetic study of Type 2 diabetes. This study, published inNature earlier this month, shows that the genetics of diabetes is a mess — and it illustrates why the big promises of genetic medicine won’t be realized any time soon.

Known mutations account for only 10 percent of the estimated genetic contribution to the disease. After more than a decade of large, high-tech studies, the genetic basis of diabetes remains, for the most part, unexplained.

Type 2 diabetes is one of the major diseases that biomedical scientists hope to conquer with genomics. It’s one of our most common diseases — the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that nearly 10 percent of all Americans have it. Diabetes is also expensive: It accounts for an estimated $176 billion in medical costs each year. And while most of us have the impression that diabetes is something you prevent with a healthy diet and exercise, the disease also has a strong genetic component.

By understanding the genetics of diabetes, we hope to combat the disease in three big ways. First, we’ll be able to identify people with a high genetic risk, and make them the focus of prevention efforts. Second, we might recognize and specifically treat different molecular forms of the disease — different people likely have different underlying genetic mutations, which means that not all diabetics respond the same way to a one-size-fits-all therapy. And third, genetics will help us understand the disease’s molecular underpinnings, and guide us toward better treatments that directly target those molecules. If we achieved all three goals, we would indeed revolutionize the treatment of diabetes.

And so, for the past decade, researchers have conducted large genetic studies, involving at first thousands, and now tens of thousands of diabetics. The results have been somewhat disappointing: Though researchers have linked dozens of mutations with diabetes, we’re clearly still missing much of the picture. Known mutations account for only 10 percent of the estimated genetic contribution to the disease. After more than a decade of large, high-tech studies, the genetic basis of diabetes remains, for the most part, unexplained.

To find the missing mutations in diabetes, scientists of two large international research consortia performed a deeper DNA analysis of a large set of study subjects. Earlier studies used a lower-cost, coarse-grained scan of the subjects’ DNA. These scans only had the power to detect mutations that are relatively common in the population. In this most recent study, the researchers decided to survey the subjects’ genomes much more comprehensively.

The hypothesis behind this approach is that diabetes is a bit like Leo Tolstoy’sfamous claim about unhappy families: Each case of diabetes is affected by genetics in its own way. In other words, although diabetes is a common disease, its genetic component might not be caused by a set of relatively common mutations. Rather, each person’s genetic risk could be the result of distinctly different, and relatively rare, mutations.

If that were true, this new, more comprehensive study should have turned up many of these hypothetical rare mutations. But that’s not what the researchers found. After analyzing the DNA of over 100,000 diabetics and healthy volunteers, the researchers largely re-discovered the same set of common mutations that had been previously found. They discovered few rare mutations.

The hypothesis behind this approach is that diabetes is a bit like Tolstoy’s famous claim about unhappy families: Each case of diabetes is affected by genetics in its own way.

Why is this bad news? Because it means that finding the genetic risk factors for diabetes is going to be very hard. If rare mutations were important genetic drivers of diabetes, then the task of understanding diabetes genetics would likely be easier. Rare mutations are expected to have larger effects, and therefore a person’s individual genetic risk for the disease would come down to just one or a few mutations. If we knew what mutations to look for, we could easily test for them in a routine, clinical genetic test.

Mutations that are common in the population, on the other hand, tend to have smaller effects on disease. (Mutations with large effects tend not to become common, thanks to natural selection.) This latest study suggests that the genetic basis of diabetes involved the combined effects of many mutations, each one only making a small contribution. These small contributions are statistically challenging to detect in a scientific study, and much harder to evaluate in a clinical genetic test. This is why the study authors argue that “Genome sequencing in much larger numbers of individuals than included in the current study are needed.” As one scientist put it: “Once dubbed ‘a geneticist’s nightmare,’ diabetes seems to be living up to its reputation.”

Fortunately, with today’s technologies, very large genetic studies are becoming feasible. Obama’s Precision Medicine Initiative proposes to put together a study cohort of one million Americans over the next several years. And given the hundreds of billions of dollars that diabetes costs America each year, such large studies, if successful, are clearly worth the expense.

The challenging genetics of diabetes and other common diseases, however, means that the benefits of such studies will mostly arrive in the long term. We are laying an important foundation for the medicine of the future — but people also need care today. Fortunately, even without the genetics, we understand a lot about how to prevent diabetes though lifestyle changes. Investing in large efforts to help people change their diet and exercise habits may not sound as exciting as high-tech genetic medicine. But, just as we shouldn’t overhype the near-term prospects of genetics, we shouldn’t undersell the value of the effective care we can provide today.

Putting lemon wedges in your drink is actually a bit gross

Bacteria is apparently rife there?

Image result for Putting lemon wedges in your drink is actually a bit gross  Image result for Bartender asks would you like a lemon slice with your cold drink  Image result for Putting lemon wedges in your drink is actually a bit gross

Bartender asks would you like a lemon slice with your cold alcoholic beverage? Your reply “That sounds bloody marvellous” – stick it right in. Thanks kind sir for supplying me with alcohol and a lovely bit of citrus fruit that perfectly compliments my beverage.

There’s nothing wrong with that Friday night (tad overly enthusiastic) exchange right? Wrong. According to a study published in the Journal of Environmental Health the lemons and limes given out at bars are actually rife with all kinds of bacteria. That’s just not what you want. Plus we just found out that water bottles can be pretty rank too. Can someone just cut us some slack.

The research team swabbed lemon slices that were on their drinks at 21 different restaurants, and they discovered that almost 70% of the samples had some sort of microbial growth, including 25 different microbial species. Ewwwww. But also I wonder if they got to expense all those drinks. Not a bad life despite the germs.

“The microbes found on the lemon samples in our investigation all have the potential to cause infectious diseases at various body sites, although the likelihood was not determined in this study. Restaurant patrons should be aware that lemon slices added to beverages may include potentially pathogenic microbes.”

Wow – way to ruin the humble lemon guys. Elle magazine spoke to Philip Tierno, PhD, a clinical professor of microbiology and pathology at New York University School of Medicine and author of The Secret Life of Germs who explained why they can be so gross.

“People are touching the lemon in your glass, handling it, cutting it, placing it in a container or a cup, or a glass; and then picking up those slices at a later point in time and dropping them into a drink and putting them on the rim of a glass. You can easily see how those lemon slices and lemon wedges can be contaminated.”

But here at Cosmopolitan we deal with solutions, not problems. What you’re gonna need to do is eyeball your bartender as he prepares your drink, and then send it back if you see the bartender put their fingers all over the rim of the glass or use a dirty rag to clean the glass. Thanks for the tips Tierno.

“Weather bomb” could shed new light on mysteries of the Earth’s interior

Image result for “Weather bomb” could shed new light on mysteries of the Earth’s interior Image result for “Weather bomb” could shed new light on mysteries of the Earth’s interior Image result for “Weather bomb” could shed light on mysteries of Earth’s interior

The rarely-detected S-waves from a “weather bomb” storm may help scientists uncover the Earth’s hidden structure

Researchers from the University of Tokyo have uncovered a rarely detected type of seismic wave deep inside of the Earth stemming from a “weather bomb,” an extratropical storm that is small, fast-developing and possesses central pressure that rapidly increases in intensity. The findings could help scientists map out the hidden, deeper structure of the Earth.

Despite their rapidly intensifying central pressure – typically more than one millibar per hour for the course of 24 hours – weather bombs are fairly small storms. However, their fast-moving nature creates steep pressure gradients, leading to the formation of strong winds.

In the current study, the weather bomb occurred between Greenland and Iceland in 2014, creating a pressure pulse that spread to the seafloor and transformed into microseismic waves – tremors deep inside of the Earth that stem from natural phenomena – that rippled through both the surface and interior of the Earth.

Microseismic waves are detectable as both surface and body waves. Although it is typically not possible for surface waves to be observed past the coast, body waves make their way deep into the Earth’s interior and can be detected by land-based seismic stations, making them ideal for deconstructing the internal structure of the Earth.

Body waves can be split into two categories: P-waves and S-waves. P-waves contain particles that move parallel to the direction of the waves’ motion, whereas the particles in S-waves move perpendicular to the direction of the waves’ motion. While seismologists frequently detect P-waves, the detection of S-waves by seismic stations is not a common occurrence.

Thanks to the Atlantic weather bomb, the current study is one of the first ever to detect S-waves, a feat that was accomplished through the use of 202 wave-detection stations. These stations were able to trace the movement and direction of the microseismic waves created by the weather bomb using “Hi-net arrays.”

Hi-net arrays work by taking the information gathered by seismometers that pick up the “noise” created by microseismic waves as they move through the various layers of the Earth and transforming it into electronic data that can be charted and analyzed in the lab.

The successful detection of rare S-waves provides seismologists with a novel method of uncovering the Earth’s deeper structure. S-waves are of particular use due to the fact that they are more sensitive to liquids than other waveforms, meaning scientists can use them to determine areas of the Earth’s interior where solids turn into liquids.

“This [study] demonstrates the connection of the solid Earth to the atmosphere and ocean climate system,” said Peter Bromirski, a geophysical oceanographer who co-authored a perspective on the current study. “New discoveries of any kind are always exciting, particularly when multiple fields of study are involved.”


News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Friday 26th August 2016

Áras Attracta’s services criticised in a draft HSE report

The care home was the controversial subject of an RTÉ Prime Time Investigates programme.

Image result for Áras Attracta’s services criticised in a draft HSE report   Image result for Áras Attracta’s services criticised in a draft HSE report

A draft Health Service Executive (HSE) report on the Áras Attracta care home in Co Mayo is believed to have identified numerous issues including low morale and fraught relations between management and staff.

The home was the controversial subject of an RTÉ Prime Time Investigatesprogramme in 2014, which examined care practices for adults with intellectual disabilities.

According to the broadcaster, a draft report of a review of services, which has been two years in the making and which is due to be published next month, has found failures throughout its management system.

In particular it found low staff morale, ineffective use of staff resources and weak governance, particularly in respect of “bungalow three” which featured in the documentary.

“Staff in Áras Attracta…describe bungalow three as the ‘forgotten bungalow’ where there was a culture of bad practices,” Prime Time Investigates reporter Barry O’Kelly said.

“Management are criticised under a number of different headings. It notes as well there were fraught relations between management and staff in Áras Attracta.

“However it also states that even today there are many relatives of people who are living in Áras Attracta, people with intellectual disabilities, who are happy with the services provided there. It also notes that the HSE has introduced quite sweeping changes since our programme almost two years ago.”

A spokesman for the HSE declined to comment other than to say the completed report would be published in the first week of September.

Minister Flanagan clarifies consular care policy in relation to Pat Hickey in Brazil


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The Minister for Foreign Affairs, Charlie Flanagan has responded to calls from the family of Pat Hickey for the Minister and Government to intervene in issues surrounding his detention in Rio de Janeiro.

In a statement issued this afternoon, the Hickey family called on Minister Flanagan and Minister for Sport, Shane Ross to intervene urgently in addressing “extremely worrying” issues surrounding his arrest and detention and the effect it is having on his health.”

The family said they were “gravely concerned about the effect this degrading and humiliating ordeal has had on their father and grandfather and how it continues to affect his physical and mental health.”

Minister Flanagan responded by saying:-

“The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade provides consular care to Irish citizens who have been arrested or detained overseas.

“We are currently assisting two Irish citizens detained in Rio de Janeiro.

“In general it is Department policy not to comment in detail publicly on individual consular cases, of which there have been almost 1,500 already this year.

“Any Irish citizen who requests or avails of consular assistance is entitled to privacy and confidentiality.

“However, I wish to make certain points in response to today’s statement from the Hickey family.

“The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade is providing ongoing consular assistance to Mr. Hickey through the Irish Embassy and Consulate in Brazil.

“My officials are in ongoing contact with the family of this citizen and with legal representative acting on his behalf.

“Senior officials of the Department met with Mr Hickey’s Dublin-based solicitors on Wednesday, 24 August, and discussed the family’s concerns in detail, and explained the Department’s approach to this consular case.

“In general terms, the Department’s focus in cases of arrest or detention of Irish citizens overseas is on a number of specific issues including ensuring that the citizen has access to legal representation, that the citizen is not being discriminated against on the grounds of nationality, and that the host authorities are fulfilling their responsibilities in ensuring the welfare and wellbeing of our detained citizen.

“In this context my officials are in ongoing contact with the Brazilian authorities.

“The Department cannot however provide legal advice or interfere in any way in the judicial processes in another country.

“I have agreed to meet with the Hickey family and arrangements will be made for this meeting to take place in the coming days.

“ In the meantime, my Department is continuing to monitor developments in this consular case closely and is continuing to provide all appropriate consular advice and assistance to Mr. Hickey and his family.”

What are the highest paid jobs in Ireland in 2016?

Image result for What are the highest paid jobs in Ireland in 2016?  Image result for The best paid sector to be in is Information and Communications   NEWS-weekly-wages1.png

The average annual salary rose to just over €37,000 in the first three months of this year, before dipping slightly by the summer, figures now show.

Official data shows that the average weekly wage at the start of the year rose 1.5% on the same period in 2015, to €713.41.

But it dipped fractionally in the three months to the end of June to €703.83, according to the Central Statistics Office.

There were wide variations across sectors.

The best paid sector to be in is Information and Communications, which includes IT companies, publishing houses and telecommunications.

It recorded an average weekly wage of €1,063.39, which means, in theory, these type of firms had an annual average salary of around €55,296.

In close second was the financial, insurance and real estate sector, which had average weekly pay of €1,014.66.

At the bottom of the pack were the accommodation and food services sector, and the arts, entertainment and recreation and other services sector, with average weekly earnings of €331.81 and €467.77 respectively.

Average weekly earnings in the private sector showed an increase of 1.5pc from €635.52 to €644.98 in the year to the end of June.

Average earnings are falling in the public sector, but at €905.97, they’re still healthier than the private sector.

Average weekly earnings increased in nine of the 13 sectors in the economy up to the end of June.

The largest percentage increase was 5% in the professional, scientific and technical activities sector, which includes legal and accounting businesses, management consultants, architectural and engineering firms, and advertising – where average weekly earnings rose from €800.41 to €840.39.

The construction sector saw a near 4% hike in average wages to €734.49, while there was an increase of 2.5% in the financial, insurance and real estate sector.

The public administration and defence sector experienced the largest percentage sectoral decrease, falling from €933.00 to €900.88, a drop of 3.4%. The CSO said this was due to the recruitment of temporary Census field staff, who were on lower-than-average weekly earnings and weekly paid hours.

If you strip those workers out, the sector had average weekly earnings of €928.90, a fall of 0.4%.

In the five years up to June, average weekly earnings rose by 2.1pc, from €689.32 in June 2011 to €708.83 five years later.

Across the public sector, average weekly earnings fell 1.2pc to €905.97, but if you exclude the temporary census staff, the fall is just 0.3%.

Three of the seven public sector sub-sectors had annual increases in average weekly earnings, with Gardaí recording the largest rise of 4.7% from €1,245.30 to €1,304.11 in the year to June. That means, according to the CSO, the average annual Garda pay in June was €67,813.

The CSO said the education sector recorded the highest average hourly earnings in the year of €37.89, while also showing the lowest hours worked of 23.9 hours.

The Gardaí had the next highest earnings, with average hourly earnings of €30.52. But they worked the longest, at 42.7 hours.

First official estimates put overall 2016 Irish cereal harvest down by 15%

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Harvest is approximately 30-50% complete, depending on the area of the country, according to Teagasc’s latest crop report.

It says significant areas are still to be harvested in the midlands, north east and north of the country.

According to Teagasc, larger growers are now being forced into harvesting at higher moistures to reduce the amount to be harvested.

It says yields of winter barley and oilseed rape have been largely disappointing, whereas winter wheat and spring barley harvested so far are reporting good yields and quality.

Overall the tonnes harvested this year is predicted to be 15% lower than last year in its first provisional estimate of harvest 2016.

The decrease is a combination of reduced areas (-7%) and lower yields. The main trends are that yields are mixed with winter barley and winter oilseed rape generally disappointing whereas winter wheat and earlier sown spring barley yields are holding well.

Grain quality has been mixed with low hectolitre weights in many winter barleys and skinning (loss of some of the grain hull) reported in malting barleys.

Prices remain depressed due to supply exceeding demand and high worldwide stocks of small grains and maize.

Teagasc says the poor yield combined with lower prices is resulting in negative margins for many crops this year with poor prospects for an increase in grain price due to an expected very large world harvest.

Faces of murderers could be recreated from DNA left at crime scenes after science breakthrough

Image result for Faces of murderers could be created from DNA left at crime scenes after science breakthrough  Image result for Faces of murderers could be created from DNA left at crime scenes after science breakthrough

Scientists have identified the genes that shape facial features including nose size and face width, according to a new report

New findings may also help researchers to learn how facial birth defects arise

The faces of murderers or rapists could be ‘recreated’ from DNA left at the scene of the crime, according to new research.

Scientists have identified the genes that shape the extraordinary variation in the human face.

Many features, such as nose size and face width, stem from specific mutations, say researchers.

Previous studies have suggested they are controlled by genes , but this is the first to shed light on how variants contribute to the range of different forms we see.

The findings published in PLOS Genetics may also help researchers to learn how facial birth defects arise.

And they could even have applications in forensics, helping police construct more accurate faces of dangerous criminals being hunted for murders, rapes and robberies.

The discovery of the genes that determine human facial shape could provide valuable information about a person’s appearance using just DNA left behind at the scene of a crime.

They are based on a DNA analysis of 20 facial characteristics measured from 3D images of 3,118 healthy volunteers of European ancestry and almost a million mutations, or SNPs (single base pair) variations.

Dr John Shaffer, of the University of Pittsburgh , said: “There is a great deal of evidence genes influence facial appearance.

“This is perhaps most apparent when we look at our own families, since we are more likely to share facial features in common with our close relatives than with unrelated individuals.

“Nevertheless, little is known about how variation in specific regions of the genome relates to the kinds of distinguishing facial characteristics that give us our unique identities, e.g., the size and shape of our nose or how far apart our eyes are spaced.

“In this paper, we investigate this question by examining the association between genetic variants across the whole genome and a set of measurements designed to capture key aspects of facial form.

“We found evidence of genetic associations involving measures of eye, nose, and facial breadth.

“In several cases, implicated regions contained genes known to play roles in embryonic face formation or in syndromes in which the face is affected.

“Our ability to connect specific genetic variants to ubiquitous facial traits can inform our understanding of normal and abnormal craniofacial development, provide potential predictive models of evolutionary changes in human facial features, and improve our ability to create forensic facial reconstructions from DNA.”

Facial width, the distance between the eyes, the size of the nose and the distance between the lips and eyes all had statistically significant associations with certain SNPs.

The researchers also considered results from two similar studies and confirmed certain previous findings.

Until recently, virtually nothing was known about the genes responsible for facial shape in humans.

Added co author Dr Seth Weinberg: “Our analysis identified several genetic associations with facial features not previously described in earlier genome wide studies.

“What is exciting is many of these associations involve chromosomal regions harbouring genes with known craniofacial function.

“Such findings can provide insights into the role genes play in the formation of the face and improve our understanding of the causal factors leading to certain craniofacial birth defects.”

Several of the genetic regions contributing to face shape detected contain genes known to play a role in facial development and abnormalities.

In the future, the scientists hope to identify genetic risk factors that lead to anomalies such as cleft lip and palate.

But they warned it is important to keep in mind these findings likely represent only a small fraction of the genes influencing the size and shape of the human face.

Many of the genes influencing facial features are likely to have small effects, so successfully mapping a large number of these genes will require much greater sample sizes and a more comprehensive approach to quantifying those of interest.

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Thursday 25th August 2016

Universal Social Charge the best we can hope for is a very long goodbye

Replacing universal social charge would require big tax hikes elsewhere

Image result for Universal Social Charge the best we can hope for is a very long goodbye  Image result for universal social charge budget 2016

Minister for Finance Michael Noonan has acted to freeze property tax bills until 2019.

The Department of Finance quite likes the universal social charge – or so you might conclude from various communications from senior officials to the Minister. The latest, released in a freedom-of-information request to Sinn Fein’s Pearse Doherty, outlines what would be needed to replace the €4 billion revenue if the USC was abolished.

Needless to say, all the options are horrific. The USC accounts for not far off €1 in every €10 raised in tax each year (9.1%), to be precise). And so, were it to be abolished in one fell swoop, replacing it would require big tax hikes elsewhere – for example, a sixfold increase in the property tax combined with a range of other hikes in capital taxes, or a rise in the two main income tax rates by five points each to 25% and 45%.

Everyone knows that this is not going to happen. We are never going to be able to afford to abolish the USC in a year or two, even if the tone of the general election debate might have suggested otherwise. The documents, drawn up as briefing notes for a new Minister for Finance – in the event,Michael Noonan was reappointed – look designed to drive home the point that progress in cutting the USC was going to have to be slow.

Gradual phasing out process? 

The department said the notes predate the programme for government and the plan was for the “gradual phasing out” of the USC to continue. The plan was never to abolish it in one go.

  • Property tax may need to be increased by 600% if USC scrapped
  • Department says USC advice predates Programme for Government

The statement added: “While scope is limited in this year’s budget there will be a further move to curb USC, especially for mid- to low-income earners”. The statement also noted that there was “absolutely no intention” to increase property tax in the forthcoming budget. In fact, Noonan has acted to freeze property tax bills until 2019, a move which will introduce so many anomalies that the tax could yet be wide open to legal challenge.

What we will see in the budget is some limited further relief for USC. It would be a surprise if the main rate – cut from 7% to 5.5% in the last budget – was not cut again. But the room for manoeuvre on budget day will be limited – about €330 million will be available to reduce taxes, compared with €750 million last year. A bit more may be available in subsequent years, but that depends on the ability of the economy to continue to grow at 3% plus a year, post-Brexit.

The plan of the Government – if it lasts – is to continue to use the spare resources in the budget to cut the USC year by year. This is because the alternative route to phasing out the USC – raising significant money elsewhere – is seen as unpalatable. Cash will be raised from a new tax on sugary drinks in the next few years. And it is likely that income tax credits and the standard-rate band will not be adjusted for wage inflation – effectively a sneaky tax increase on people getting wage rises, which will offset some of the gains of USC cuts. But there is no way the Government will take the potential political hit of raising a large sum elsewhere after the water charges debacle.

But there will be no big move to , say, hike property taxes or indirect taxes. And the scale of the revenue raised by the charge mean we will all be living with it for years yet. We are talking, at best, about a decade-long phase-out of the charge, if that is the route successive governments chose to take.

Political capital

Sinn Féin, whose plans were more modest in terms of USC reduction than those of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, will seek to make some political capital out of this in the run-up to the budget. Fine Gael, meanwhile, by refusing to give way on its plans to phase out the charge, will struggle to make the case that this is achievable in a reasonable time frame.

Calculations presented by the department in prebudget tax documents set out a programme which could see the USC roughtly halved by 2020. It would require all the estimated room for tax cuts to be allocated to USC reductions – and in fact for new revenue to come on stream to meet some of the cost after 2018. And remember that for the room to manoeuvre to emerge we need economic growth to continue.

So the painful USC charge on our payslips is here to stay for quite some time yet. The best we can hope for is a very long goodbye.

The number of complaints against doctors in Ireland has increased “with many blamed for poor communication”

Image result for complaints against doctors in Ireland has increased Image result for complaints against doctors in Ireland has increased Image result for complaints against doctors in Ireland has increased

The number of complaints against doctors rose last year with many patients accusing medics of poor communication.

The annual report of the Medical Council, the regulatory body for doctors, said it received 369 complaints about the profession in 2015, compared to 308 in 2014.

The number of complaints about poor communication rose by 40%..

The majority of grievances came from the public, but 25 were lodged by other health professionals and two by the HSE.

Other causes of allegations related to misdiagnosis, clinical investigations and examinations, professional skills, lack of dignity when treating patients and poor follow-up care.

There were 35 fitness to practise inquiries into serious allegations against doctors during the year, half of which were held in public.

Chief executive Bill Prasifka said the number of doctors registered here topped a record 20,473.

There were 1,200 doctors exiting the register during the year.

He said: ”I found it particularly interesting that although males continue to dominate the medical profession as a whole, since we began collating this data, there have been more Irish female graduates entering the medical profession than their male counterparts.

“The majority of those on the register between the ages of 30 – 44 are female; however from 44 years and on the number of females on the register begins to decrease.

“Data from our Your Training Counts report also found that 40% of female trainees – or tomorrow’s specialists – want to work less than full-time and this  definitely poses some questions for the health sector and all of those involved in the future planning of Ireland’s healthcare service.”

Medical Council President, Prof Freddie Wood said: “It is great to see that the number of specialists on the register has increased significantly this year as we are all too aware of the doctor shortages we have experienced in recent months and years and with this valuable data we have the power to share workforce intelligence with our stakeholders involved in healthcare planning in order to address these issues and deficiencies that have hindered our health system for too long”

The findings show:

• Exit rates of doctors have increased slightly on last year – from 5.6% in 2014 to 6.4% in 2015;

• The number of specialists on the register in 2015 increased by almost 7%;

• Reliance on international medical graduates is among the highest in the OECD with almost 38% of the workforce an international medical graduate

Excess body fat now linked to 13 different types of cancer

Excess body fat now linked to 13 different types of cancer      Image result for Excess body fat now linked to 13 different types of cancer   

Excess fat increases the risk of cell abnormalities.

“Experts have linked eight more cancers to being overweight or obese, nearly tripling the list from five to 13,

This is the latest finding of the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), a group of cancer experts from around the world that look at risk factors for cancer.

What is the basis for these reports?

The headlines are based on a report published in the peer-reviewed New England Journal of Medicine.

The report is not exactly new research, but a review of previously published studies that looked at the link between weight and cancers.

It is the result of a working group of international cancer researchers who met to review the evidence in April this year.

What’s the link between fat and cancer?

The IARC looked at research into the reasons why being overweight may cause cancer.

They found strong evidence that sex hormones and inflammation – both of which are affected by weight – are involved in cancer formation.

They also reviewed evidence from experiments on rats, which found animals fed a calorie-restricted diet were less likely to develop a range of cancers, and obese animals were more likely to get cancer.

They reviewed studies in humans, animals and basic science to see whether the group’s previous conclusions, published in 2002, needed to be updated.

The group’s new report concludes that, “the absence of excess body fatness lowers the risk of most cancers”, also saying that losing weight intentionally may help prevent cancer.

They list 13 cancers where they say there is “sufficient” evidence to conclude that being a healthy weight reduces the risk of cancer, three where there is “limited” evidence, and eight where the evidence is “inadequate”.

The cancers they identify as having sufficient evidence to link them to weight are:

  • oesophageal cancer
  • gastric cardia – a type ofstomach cancer
  • bowel cancer
  • liver cancer
  • gallbladder cancer
  • pancreatic cancer
  • breast cancer in postmenopausal women
  • womb cancer
  • ovarian cancer
  • kidney cancer
  • meningioma – a type of brain tumour
  • thyroid cancer
  • multiple myeloma – cancer of the white blood cells

The degree of increased risk ranged from an almost fivefold increase for oesophageal cancer in the highest BMI category compared with people with a normal weight (relative risk [RR] 4.8; 95% confidence interval [CI] 3.0 to 7.7), to a 10% increased risk of postmenopausal breast cancer (RR 1.1, 95% CI 1.1 to 1.2).

What is the link between cancer and weight?

Scientists have known for some time that people who are overweight have an increased risk of certain cancers compared with people of a healthy weight.

A healthy weight is usually defined as having a body mass index (BMI) of 18.5 to 24.9. People are classed as overweight if their BMI is 25 to 29.9 and obese if their BMI is 30 or over. BMI is calculated from weight and height.

Almost all of the evidence linking being overweight and cancer is from epidemiological studies, which look at large groups of people and then calculate how likely people of different weights are to have been diagnosed with cancer, compared with people of a healthy weight.

Many of these studies also try to take account of other factors that can affect cancer risk, such as whether people smoke, whether they exercise, and how healthy their diet is.

But it’s hard to account for all other factors, so individual studies can’t really show whether being overweight causes cancer.

When reviewed together, however, and when studies show that the more overweight someone is, the more likely they are to get cancer, the chances are higher that the research is showing that weight has a causal effect.

A report by the IARC in 2002 said there was enough evidence to say being overweight increased the risk of eight cancers, all of which are included in the new list of 13.

Since then other studies have strengthened the evidence, so the IARC now feels it has enough evidence to list these 13 cancers.

How does weight and cancer affect you?

Carrying excess body weight has a number of health risks, including a greater chance of having a heart attack or stroke, as well as being linked to a raised risk of the cancers listed above.

The easiest way to keep to a healthy weight is to avoid putting weight on, but if you already weigh more than you like, diet and exercise can help you achieve a healthier weight.

Talk to your GP or see our 12-week plan to lose weight through healthy eating and physical activity.

Weight is not the only factor that affects the risk of cancer. Although there’s no proven way to avoid cancer altogether?

You can lower your risk of getting cancer if you:-

  • eat a healthy, balanced diet
  • maintain a healthy weight
  • stay physically active
  • drink less alcohol
  • stop smoking
  • protect your skin from sun damage

Your daily coffee habit could be part of your genetics?

A new study now suggests

Image result for Your daily coffee habit could be part of your genetics?   Image result for Your daily coffee habit could be part of your genetics?  Image result for Your daily coffee habit could be part of your genetics?

Scientists have found a gene that appears to have an influence over the amount of coffee people drink, and how the body processes caffeine

The gene variant appears slowing the breakdown of caffeine in the body, meaning the stimulant lingers in the blood for longer and gives people a more enduring “hit” for every cup.

A gene that appears to wield influence over the amount of coffee people drink has been found by scientists who believe the section of DNA alters how caffeine is broken down in the body.

Italians villagers who carry a specific variant of the PDSS2 gene consume about one less cup of coffee per day compared with non-carriers, according to researchers at Edinburgh University.

The gene variant appears to affect people’s coffee intake by slowing the metabolism of caffeine in the body. When caffeine is broken down more slowly, the stimulant lingers in the blood for longer and gives people a more enduring “hit” for every cup.

Why drinking coffee can give you jet lag – and help you get over it.

Nicola Pirastu, a geneticist who led the study, said the discovery reinforces the idea that caffeine is one of the main drivers for drinking coffee. But he added that larger studies are needed to confirm the biological mechanism that links the PDSS2 gene to coffee drinking.

Previous searches for genes linked to coffee consumption have already thrown up more than half a dozen variants that hold sway over the metabolism and rewarding effects of caffeine. In teasing out the genetics of coffee drinking, scientists hope to learn more about the unexplained effects of the drink. “Coffee is protective against some types of cancers, cardiovascular diseases and Parkinson’s,” said Pirastu. “Understanding what is driving its consumption may help us understand what the effects on these diseases are, and so open new lines of research.”

In the study, researchers analysed the genetic makeup of 370 people living Puglia in southern Italy and a further 843 from six villages in the Friuli Venezia region in the north east. All were asked to complete a survey, which included a question about how many cups of coffee they drank each day.

The researchers found that people with a specific variant of the PDSS2 gene tended to drink fewer cups of coffee than those who carried other variations of the gene. To check the result, the researchers went to 1731 people in the Netherlands and found a similar effect, though the gene’s apparent influence over coffee consumption was weaker there.

Can drinking too much coffee kill you?

 One explanation could be that national preferences for coffee differ in Italy and the Netherlands. While moka and espresso are popular in Italy, the Dutch favour more filter coffee. And even though the concentrations of caffeine in the drinks are much the same, the difference in cup sizes means the Dutch imbibe nearly three times as much caffeine per cup as the Italians.

Published in the journal Scientific Reports, the study drew on researchers from Edinburgh, Trieste and the Netherlands. The Italian coffee company Illy participated in the project, but did not fund the work.

Many of the genes that have a role in the breakdown of caffeine also metabolise certain medicines. So unravelling the genes could help scientists understand why some patients respond differently to their drugs than others, and so help doctors to personalise their treatments, Pirastu said.

Kitten size extinct ‘lion’ named after Sir David Attenborough

Image result for Kitten size extinct 'lion' named after Sir David Attenborough Sir David Attenborough Image result for Kitten size extinct 'lion' named after Sir David Attenborough

Microleo attenboroughi was small enough to fit inside a handbag, according to Australian scientists

A miniature marsupial lion, extinct for at least 18 million year, has been named after Sir David Attenborough after its fossilised remains were found in a remote part of Australia.

Teeth and bone fragments from the kitten-sized predator, named Microleo attenboroughi, were found in limestone deposits at the Riversleigh World Heritage Fossil site in north-western Queensland.

The researchers named the new species after the British broadcasting legend because of his work promoting the famous fossil site, which provides a record of nearly 25 million years of Australia’s natural history.

When Microleo was still prowling around, in the early Miocene era (roughly 19 million years ago), the arid, outback ecosystem was a lush rainforest.

“It likely ran through the treetops, gobbling up birds, frogs, lizards and insects,” says Dr Anna Gillespie, a palaeontologist at the University of New South Wales (UNSW).

Ms Gillespie, who has been working at Riversleigh and preparing fossils for 20 years, helped recover fragments of the animal’s skull and several teeth.

The relatively tiny tooth row of Microleo attenboroughi (top), compared with the tooth row of its Pleistocene relative, the lion-sized Thylacoleo carnifex

It’s far from a complete skeleton, but it’s an important part of the puzzle.”Crucially, we have got the third premolar, which is an elongated tooth that looks like a blade,” she told the BBC.

The razor-sharp tooth, used to tear up prey, is a common feature found in all known members of the family.

“It immediately tells us it’s a marsupial lion,” she says.

A pocket-sized predator? But the tooth is by far the smallest of its kind ever recovered.

It’s about one-tenth the size of the 3cm-long “bolt-crunching” teeth belonging to the largest and last surviving marsupial lion, Thylacoleo carnifex, which went extinct about 100,000 years ago.

Thylacoleo weighed about 130kg (286lbs) and was Australia’s largest carnivorous mammal. It was a fearsome predator about the size of an African lion, with the bite strength to match, and hunted megafauna such as giant kangaroo and diprotodon.

In sharp contrast, Ms Gillespie and her team estimate that their “little guy” weighed only 600g, and was about the size of a kitten.

“We weren’t expecting to find a marsupial lion of this small size,” she says. “It might have been a bit too big to fit in your pocket, but it would have fit quite comfortably in a handbag. It would have been very cute.”

Image result for Kitten size extinct 'lion' named after Sir David Attenborough The Neville’s Garden site is renowned for the rich diversity of fossils that have been discovered there over many years

The team has ruled out the possibility that the fossils belonged to a juvenile, or a malformed member of a related species. This is due to their distinctive shape, the fact that all the molars have erupted and the presence of “very clear wear patterns”.

“This animal has been running around hunting things for quite a while. So it’s definitely an adult,” says Dr Gillespie.

The team from UNSW has described the new species in the journal Palaeontologia Electronica.

Unmatched diversity?

With this find, the researchers have determined that at least three different marsupial lions were co-existing in the ancient Riversleigh rainforest.

“This level of diversity is unmatched for the family at any other time in their evolutionary history,” the researchers note.

Sir David Attenborough has long promoted Australia’s Riversleigh World Heritage Fossil site

One marsupial lion (Priscileo) weighed about 1.8kg, and was about the size of a cat. Another yet-to-be described species (Wakaleo) weighed around 30kg, about the size of a small Labrador dog, says Ms Gillespie.

She says it indicates that they may have been co-operating, dividing up the food resources to reduce competition between themselves.

The fossil was found in a location at Riversleigh known as Neville’s Garden, which has become renowned for its rich diversity of animals.

Caption Microleo was tiny compared to other members of the marsupial lion family, which included the enormous and fierce Thylacoleo

It’s yielded bandicoots, possums, kangaroos, toothed platypuses, small koalas, thousands of bats, fish, turtles, lizards, pythons and a range of rainforest birds.

“My colleagues have been working at Riversleigh for 40 years,” says Ms Gillespie.

“In that time we have processed tonnes of limestone, and got thousands and thousands of fossils back, but this is the only specimen from this animal.

“So it’s rather enigmatic in this way,” she says. “It might have been a rare species in that ecosystem, but we still have to hunt for more.”

‘Freakishly productive’

Stephen Wroe, an associate professor of zoology and palaeontology at the University of New England in NSW, who was not involved in the study, says the discovery raises new questions about the origin of the marsupial lion family.

“Until quite recently there were only a few marsupial lion species known. Over the last decade or two evidence from Riversleigh has seen this jump to 11 subspecies,” he says.

“This most recent find doesn’t just increase the known diversity in terms of species numbers – it greatly expands the diversity of known morphologies.”

Mr Wroe says the team has done a good job estimating the body size: “No matter how you wash it, this little guy was tiny relative to other members of the family.”

He says its diminutive size may explain why only a single specimen has been found.

“In general Australia’s fossil record is very poor over this time period,” he says. “Riversleigh is a freakishly productive area in this respect.”

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Wednesday 24th August 2016

Number of emigrants returning home to Ireland soars

Are you one of the thousands of Irish people that have returned home in the last two years?

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More people are now coming into Ireland to live than are leaving, while the number of returning Irish emigrants has surged, latest figures show.

It is the first time since 2009 that Ireland has recorded net inward migration.

The number of returning Irish emigrants has surged in the year to the end of April.

At least 21,100 people with Irish nationality came into the country in this period – up 74pc on last year, when 12,100 arrived. Overall, 79,300 people came to live in Ireland over the year to the end of April – up 15pc – while 76,200 left.

Business groups welcomed the migration data, but warned that a growing workforce and population means extra pressure on state resources, and the need to improve infrastructure.

“Net inward migration along with an increasing population will place further demand on State resources in the future, highlighting further the need for government to prioritise investment in infrastructure as a matter of urgency,” said Ian Talbot, Chambers Ireland chief executive.

With housing and high rents an issue at present, business groups have also repeatedly stressed Ireland’s high marginal rate of income tax needs to be addressed. And the Small Firms Association this week again noted the level the rate kicks in also needs to be increased.

The CSO data shows the bulk of the people who came into Ireland in the year to April have done so for work. That has consistently been the case since 2012. Students were the next biggest category.

Work was the main reason for individuals leaving the country, but studying was a close second. The majority of those emigrating were either at work or a student in the period prior to departing, with one in 10 listed as unemployed.

A breakdown of immigration by education attainment shows more than half of those aged 15 and over who were emigrating had a third level degree or above. In April, the CSO said there was net inward migration of 3,100, compared with net outward migration of 11,600 in the previous year. Of the 76,200 people who left Ireland over the period, almost 42pc were estimated to be Irish.

This is down 3,500 on the year to April 2015, when 35,300 Irish nationals left. Non-Irish nationals from outside the EU accounted for around 40pc of total immigrants into Ireland.

The National Youth Council of Ireland (NYCI), however, said the number of young people aged between 15 and 24 leaving the country was still rising.

It noted that within this age group, 31,700 left in the year to the end of April, compared with 30,400 the previous year. There were about 12,000 more young people who left the country over the period than came in.

Marie-Claire McAleer, head of research and policy at NYCI, said there remain many impediments to returning to Ireland.

“We are encouraged by the steps that have been taken by the Government to address some of these barriers but substantial work remains to be done to stem the tide of young people having to leave Ireland at present and to provide the opportunities for them to return in the future,” she said.

The source of data for the migration statistics is the Quarterly National Household Survey, which gives details on employment and unemployment, and also provides a basis for the classification of flows by sex, age group, origin/destination, and nationality.

The CSO said the migration data is also compiled with reference to movements in other migration indicators, such as the number of PPS numbers allocated to foreigners, and the number of visas issued to Irish people travelling to destinations including Australia, the US and Canada.

Maynooth seminary to review social media policies

College’s board acknowledges ‘unhealthy atmosphere’ after dating app allegations

Image result for Maynooth seminary to review social media policies   Image result for Maynooth seminary to review social media policies

The Archbishop of Dublin Dr Diarmuid Martin has said he intends to send seminarians from his archdiocese to the Pontifical Irish College in Rome instead of the national seminary at Maynooth because of concerns about ‘strange goings-on’ in St Patrick’s.

There will be a review of social media policies and procedures for handling whistleblowers at St Patrick’s seminary in Maynooth following allegations of trainee priests using dating apps, the college’s board of trustees has announced.

During a meeting in Maynooth on Tuesday, the board also asked the Irish Bishops’ Conference which is based in St Patrick’s College to commission an independent audit and report into the governance of Irish seminaries.

Those who oversee the management of St Patrick’s came in for criticism earlier this month when media reports surfaced of trainee priests using the Tinder dating app as well as its gay equivalent, Grindr.

Following those reports, a number of ex-seminarians came forward with accounts of alleged bullying and sexual harassment they had suffered during their time at the Maynooth college, and in a statement released on Wednesday the trustees say they “share the concerns about the unhealthy atmosphere” there.

Archbishop of Dublin Dr Diarmuid Martin has said he intends to send seminarians from his archdiocese to the Pontifical Irish College in Rome instead of the national seminary at Maynooth because of concerns about “strange goings-on” in St Patrick’s.

In subsequent interviews he described a “poisonous” atmosphere at the Maynooth seminary and urged its board of trustees, which comprises Ireland’s four archbishops and 13 other senior bishops, to meet as soon as possible to address the issues which had arisen.

As part of the suite of measures, the Irish Bishops’ Conference has been asked to conduct a triennial review of St Patrick’s College and the Irish Pontifical College in Rome next spring.

The St Patrick’s board of trustees has also requested that the conference “progress urgently a uniform national policy for admissions to Irish seminaries” and to establish a subcommittee to examine “the pastoral needs of priestly training in Ireland”.

A statement issued by the Irish Bishops’ Conference read: “There is no place in a seminary community for any sort of behaviour or attitude which contradicts the teaching and example of Jesus Christ.

“The trustees share the concerns about the unhealthy atmosphere created by anonymous accusations together with some social media comments which can be speculative or even malicious. Persons with specific concerns are encouraged to report them appropriately as soon as possible.”

The announcement of a series of reviews and audits coincides with 14 new seminarians beginning their training at St Patrick’s this week, which will swell the number of resident seminarians to 41 for the coming academic year.

Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin acknowledged the need for institutional reform in a homily Wednesday at the final Mass in the Mater Dei Institute chapel as it becomes part of DCU’s new multi-denominational teacher training college.

He said most of the institutions set up to train priests and faith-based teachers “are slowly vanishing from or are being transformed” in Dublin. Catholicshould not be alarmed but see rather new opportunities, citing “possible new forms of the preparation of future priests”

Drink driving in Ireland creeping up as alcohol is involved in a third of fatal accidents

Image result for Drink driving in Ireland creeping up as alcohol is involved in a third of fatal accidents   Image result for Drink driving in Ireland creeping up as alcohol is involved in a third of fatal accidents   Image result for Drink driving cause a third of fatal accidents in Ireland

The Road Safety Authority chief executive, Moyagh Murdock, has said there is evidence that drink driving is “creeping up” again as latest figures show alcohol was involved in a third of fatal collisions.

A report published by the Road Safety Authority in June for 2008-2012 shows a record of alcohol consumption before the collision in 29% of cases analysed.

Ms Murdock said that latest vehicle collision figures for 2013 showed alcohol was involved in 33% of cases.

“That is very worrying,” she said.

One in 10 fatal collisions happened the day after a night spent consuming alcohol so it was still in the person’s system, even if it was not over the legal limit.

Research showed that 30% of the people killed in collisions where alcohol was involved were under the legal limit.

“So people are fatigued after a big night out, even though the alcohol may have cleared from their system 24 hours later.

“They are tired because they have not had a proper night’s sleep, and that is where driver fatigue can be a factor.”

The RSA wants to push the message that even one drink can impact a person’s ability but there were people killed on Irish road who were four or five times over the legal limit.

Ms Murtagh said drink driving was a bigger problem in younger drivers — those under 24 years.

In a bid to get the drink driving message to younger drivers the learner driver theory test is being changed this autumn to include a new module.

The questions have been drafted, and the updated examination, together with an explanatory booklet, will be launched in in October or November.

“We will have between 20 and 25 new possible questions on drink driving. The test itself will have an additional three questions.”

Ms Murtagh said the questions would be about the impact of alcohol on a person’s ability to control a vehicle.

While older people had got the message about drink driving, younger people never really tuned into it.

“We have to target the younger generation on drink driving. We will start with the updated theory test but there will be a number of other interventions and they will be introduced shortly.”

The RSA’s Back to School campaign, sponsored by ESB Networks, will distribute free high visibility vests to every child starting school next month. Four children aged 14 and under died on Irish roads during the first eight months of the year.

The average commuter adds 800 calories a week to their diet, a new report has found

Research from the Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH) suggests that people who commute for long periods of time are potentially “shortening their lives”.

Image result for The average commuter adds 800 calories a week to their diet, a new report has found  Image result for average calorie-intake was 767 kcal  Image result for average calorie-intake was 767 kcal

The average commuter adds extra 800 calories to their diets every week as a result of their journey to and from work, a new report has found.

Research from the Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH) suggests that people who commute for long periods of time are potentially “shortening their lives”.

The median average calorie-intake was 767 kcal, based on self-reporting of additional food consumption by a sample of 1,547 commuters in the UK.

The report links long commutes with increased stress, higher blood pressure and BMI, and reduced time available for health-promoting activities such as cooking, exercising and sleeping.

The average commute in the UK stands at roughly an almost an hour a day, while Celtic Tiger-era commutes are on the way back here, too.

According to the RSPH survey, people who commute in London have an average journey of 79 minutes – compared to just under 45 minutes for people living in Wales.

The report also found:

  • More than half (55%) reported increased stress levels.
  • Around two in five (41%) said they didn’t exercise as much as they used to.
  • More than a third said they slept less.
  • Two in five (38%) said they spent less time preparing healthy meals.
  • A third of people reported increased snacking (33%) while over a quarter reported fast food consumption (29%).
  • Almost half (44%) said their commute meant they spent less time with family and friends.

To combat the health issues associated with long commutes, the RSPH has called for employers to increase flexible and home working.

“Not only does it add to our stress levels, but travelling by bus, car, and train eats into the time we could be using to incorporate physical activity into our daily routine,” said Dr Justin Varney of Public Health England.

Employers can support staff wellbeing by offering facilities which promote cycling and walking to work, such as showers and bike spaces, and taking up opportunities like the Cycle2Work scheme.

“For some of us the daily commute can be a pleasurable experience, giving time for reflection or an opportunity to relax,” Shirley Cramer CBE, the head of the RSPH added.

“But for an increasing number of us it is having a damaging effect on our health and wellbeing.”

Closest potentially habitable planet to our solar system now found called Proxima b

Image result for Closest potentially habitable planet to our solar system now found called Proxima b   Image result for Closest potentially habitable planet to our solar system now found called Proxima b   Image result for Closest potentially habitable planet to our solar system now found called Proxima b

  • Scientists have found the closest exoplanet to Earth

  • Liquid water could exist on the surface of Proxima b

In a discovery that has been years in the making, researchers have now confirmed the existence of a rocky planet named Proxima b orbiting Proxima Centauri, the closest star to our sun, according to a new study. It is the closest exoplanet to us in the universe.

Given the fact that Proxima b is within the habitable zone of its star, meaning liquid water could exist on the surface, it may also be the closest possible home for life outside of our solar system, the researchers said.

Because of its location, the researchers hope it provides an opportunity for possible “robotic exploration in the coming centuries.”

“The good news is that it is so close,” study author Ansgar Reiners said. “It is not only nice for having it in our neighborhood, but it’s a dream come true for astronomers if we think about follow-up observation.”

Proxima Centauri coexists with a binary star in Alpha Centauri, a well-studied star system that serves as a neighbor to our sun.

Proxima b is a mere 4.2 light-years away from our solar system, or 266,000 times the distance between the Earth and the sun, which are 92.96 million miles apart. Previous rocky exoplanet discoveries, like those orbiting ultracool red dwarf star TRAPPIST-1, were previously described as “close” at 40 light-years away.

“It’s not only the closest terrestrial planet found, it’s probably the closest planet outside our solar system that will ever be found because there is no star closer to the solar system than this one,” said lead study author Guillem Anglada-Escudé.

“The only thing you can hope to find between that is Planet Nine, but that would a solar system object or a brown dwarf that hasn’t been discovered,” researcher Pedro Amado added.

Here is what we know about the planet, as well as the questions that researchers hope to be able to answer.

This Jupiter-like planet in the HD-188753 system, 149 light-years from Earth, has three suns. The main star is similar in mass to our own Sun. The system has been compared to Luke Skywalker’s home planet Tatooine in “Star Wars.”

Kepler-421b is a Uranus-sized transiting exoplanet with the longest known year, as it circles its star once every 704 days. The planet orbits an orange, K-type star that is cooler and dimmer than our Sun and is located about 1,000 light-years from Earth in the constellation Lyra.

Astronomers discovered two planets less than three times the size of Earth orbiting sun-like stars in a crowded stellar cluster approximately 3,000 light-years from Earth in the constellation Cygnus.

This artist’s conception shows a hypothetical planet with two moons orbiting in the habitable zone of a red dwarf star. The majority of the sun’s closest stellar neighbors are red dwarfs.

Kepler-186f was the first validated Earth-sized planet to be found orbiting a distant star in the habitable zone. This zone a range of distance from a star where liquid water might pool on the planet’s surface.

Kepler-69c is a super-Earth-size planet similar to Venus. The planet is found in the habitable zone of a star like our sun, approximately 2,700 light years from Earth in the constellation Cygnus.

The Kepler-444 system formed when the Milky Way was just 2 billion years old. The tightly packed system is home to five planets that range in size, the smallest is comparable to the size of Mercury and the largest to Venus, orbiting their sun in less than 10 days.

This artistic concept image compares Earth, left, with Kepler-452b, which is about 60% larger. Both planets orbit a G2-type star of about the same temperature; however, the star hosting Kepler-452b is 6 billion years old — 1.5 billion years older than our sun.

This artist’s impression shows the planet Proxima b orbiting the red dwarf star Proxima Centauri, the closest star to our solar system.

 Image result for This artist's impression shows a view of the surface of the planet Proxima b.  This artist’s impression shows a view of the surface of the planet Proxima b.

An artist’s rendering shows Earth-sized exoplanets TRAPPIST-1b and 1c in a rare double transit event as they pass in front of their ultracool red dwarf star, which allowed Hubble to take a peek at at their atmospheres.

Out of a new discovery of 104 exoplanets, astronomers found four similar in size to Earth that are orbiting a dwarf star. Two of them have the potential to support life. The craft depicted in this illustration is the NASA Kepler Space Telescope, which has helped confirm the existence of thousands of exoplanets.

This artist’s impression shows a view of the triple-star system HD 131399 from close to the giant planet orbiting in the system. Located about 320 light-years from Earth, the planet is about 16 million years old, making it also one of the youngest exoplanets discovered to date.

An artistic impression of the planet Kepler-1647b, which is nearly identical to Jupiter in both size and mass. The planet is expected to be roughly similar in appearance. But it is much warmer: Kepler-1647b is in the habitable zone.

HD-106906b is a gaseous planet 11 times more massive than Jupiter. The planet is believed to have formed in the center of its solar system, before being sent flying out to the edges of the region by a violent gravitational event.

Kepler-10b orbits at a distance more than 20 times closer to its star than Mercury is to our own sun. Daytime temperatures exceed 1,300 degrees Celsius (2,500 degrees Fahrenheit), which is hotter than lava flows on Earth.

This Jupiter-like planet in the HD-188753 system, 149 light-years from Earth, has three suns. The main star is similar in mass to our own Sun. The system has been compared to Luke Skywalker’s home planet Tatooine in “Star Wars.”

Kepler-421b is a Uranus-sized transiting exoplanet with the longest known year, as it circles its star once every 704 days. The planet orbits an orange, K-type star that is cooler and dimmer than our Sun and is located about 1,000 light-years from Earth in the constellation Lyra.

Astronomers discovered two planets less than three times the size of Earth orbiting sun-like stars in a crowded stellar cluster approximately 3,000 light-years from Earth in the constellation Cygnus.

This artist’s conception shows a hypothetical planet with two moons orbiting in the habitable zone of a red dwarf star. The majority of the sun’s closest stellar neighbors are red dwarfs.

Kepler-186f was the first validated Earth-sized planet to be found orbiting a distant star in the habitable zone. This zone a range of distance from a star where liquid water might pool on the planet’s surface.

Kepler-69c is a super-Earth-size planet similar to Venus. The planet is found in the habitable zone of a star like our sun, approximately 2,700 light years from Earth in the constellation Cygnus.

The Kepler-444 system formed when the Milky Way was just 2 billion years old. The tightly packed system is home to five planets that range in size, the smallest is comparable to the size of Mercury and the largest to Venus, orbiting their sun in less than 10 days.

This artistic concept image compares Earth, left, with Kepler-452b, which is about 60% larger. Both planets orbit a G2-type star of about the same temperature; however, the star hosting Kepler-452b is 6 billion years old — 1.5 billion years older than our sun.

This artist’s impression shows the planet Proxima b orbiting the red dwarf star Proxima Centauri, the closest star to our solar system.


Meet Proxima b

Proxima b is a rocky, terrestrial planet with a surface — unlike a gas giant, such as Jupiter — that is 1.3 times the size of Earth and orbits its star every 11.2 days. It is in a close orbit of Proxima Centauri: only 5% of the distance between the Earth and the sun. They are even closer together than Mercury and the sun. But because its star is much cooler and fainter than our sun, Proxima b has a temperature that is suitable for liquid water to exist on the surface without evaporating.

Researchers estimate that if the planet has an atmosphere, which could be assumed but isn’t known, it may be between 86 to 104 degrees Fahrenheit on the surface. Without an atmosphere, it could be -22 to -40 degrees Fahrenheit. To put that in perspective, Earth would be -4 degrees if it didn’t have an atmosphere, Reiners said.

Given the proximity to its star, Proxima b is also subject to less pleasant factors like ultraviolet and X-ray flares that are 100 times the intensity of what Earth receives from the sun. In the paper, researchers estimated it to be 400 times the intensity, but recent research has caused them to create a new estimate, they said. If there is life on the planet, it would be affected by this radiation, but it is pure speculation as to what kind of effect.

This infographic compares the orbit of the planet around Proxima Centauri (Proxima b) with the same region of the Solar System.

What took so long?

If the Alpha Centauri system is well-studied and Proxima Centauri is our sun’s cozy star neighbor in the universe, why did it take so long to find Proxima b?

It comes down to an understanding of the star this planet orbits, as well as how data collection has evolved during the last 16 years.

Proxima Centauri is a low-mass red dwarf star, known as an M-class dwarf, that happens to be close to the bright binary star Alpha Centauri AB, which outshines its cool stepbrother, so to speak. All of these stars are within the faint Centaurus constellation, which can’t be seen with the unaided eye.

Taking a closer look at new Earth-like planets for the first time

M-class dwarves are not well understood in comparison with other types of stars, Reiners said. Because of that, researchers don’t know much about the history of these stars or their radiation in the early days.

“But within the field of exoplants, [researchers] have recently realized that looking for planets around M dwarves is what is going to be the most spectacular, because you can find these plants in the liquid water zone more easily than other stars,” Reiners said.

NASA’s K2 mission finds more than 100 new planets

Because it’s an active star, Proxima Centauri can behave in varied ways that mimic the presence of a planet, according to the study. Researchers wanted to observe it for a long period of time, so for the first half of this year, telescopes around the world were pointed at Proxima Centauri. The researchers looked for a “Doppler wobble,” or back and forth wobble of Proxima Centauri that would be caused by the gravitational pull of a planet in orbit.

This was combined with research, data and published studies of Proxima Centauri dating to 2000.

“The significance of the detection went sky high,” Anglada-Escudé said. “Statistically, there was no doubt. We have found a planet around Proxima Centauri.”

The research around Proxima b will continue, and the researchers have more questions they want to answer. They don’t know whether there is water on the surface or if the planet has an atmosphere, although both are likely. They also don’t know whether, like Earth, the planet has a protective magnetic field to help with some of the radiation it receives.

Perhaps one of the biggest questions includes the history of the star and the planet. How did they form?

“What happened during the formation?” Reiners asked. “Was the star more active than the sun is today, and where during that phase was Proxima b located?”

This would indicate whether the plant was rich with water in its early days or started out dry, as well as whether there was any high-energy radiation that could have blasted away an atmosphere during formation of the planet.

A view of the southern skies over the ESO 3.6-meter telescope at La Silla Observatory in Chile with images of the stars Proxima Centauri (lower right) and the double star Alpha Centauri AB (lower left).

There is also some debate over whether this planet is Earth-like, which comes with some connotations. Depending on its formation, perhaps it could be like Venus.

Learning the answers to these questions about formation are possible with research. The habitability of a planet like Proxima b is also “a matter of intense debate,” according to the study, due to arguments against it: tidal locking, strong stellar magnetic fields, strong flares, and high ultraviolet and X-ray fluxes. But, as they point out, none of those has been proved definitive, either.

A growing excitement?

Researchers have long looked to Alpha Centauri for study. Now, they want us to go there.

Programs like Mission Centaur intend to design and build a space mission with a small telescope to point at the star system. It would look for exoplanets by imaging or other techniques that could find more of them around these three stars. Given how long it took us to confirm Proxima b and the fact that the researchers encountered a puzzling extra signal in some of their data and models, it’s entirely possible that there are more planets to be found.

It is also the target of the Starshot project, which aims to create and send ultra-fast light-driven nanocraft that would reach the system 20 years after launch and beam home images. This is on the list of Breakthrough initiatives, an effort whose board includes Stephen Hawking and Mark Zuckerberg.

Join in the conversation?

See the latest news and share your comments with CNN Health on Facebook andTwitter.

Because Proxima b exists outside our solar system, it doesn’t change our well-known roster of planets (and we know some of you are still rather upset over Pluto). But it does add to the field of exoplanet research that’s underway, some of which hopes to identify Earth-like planets that future telescopes, such as the James Webb Space Telescope and the European Extremely Large Telescope, can use for observation.

Many researchers hope that we can actually image these planets in the future, getting an idea of their atmospheric makeup and surface composition, and strive to answer the question of “Are we alone in the universe?”

“We know that there are terrestrial planets around stars. The excitement is because it’s the nearest one, and we expect to characterize it and maybe visit in a couple of centuries,” Anglada-Escudé said.

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Sunday 21st August 2016

Ireland needs long-term vision but not higher taxes

Minister says he shares Taoiseach’s vision for a united Ireland


The Minister for Social Protection Leo Varadkar speaking at the Collins Griffith commemoration at Glasnavin Cemetery,

The Government needs to focus on building a social recovery and politicians should develop a long-term vision for the country, Minister for Social Protection Leo Varadkar has said.

Delivering the oration at the Collins/Griffith Commemoration in Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin on Sunday, Mr Varadkar said increasing taxation would not be the solution to all of the country’s social deficits.

He said a “functioning tax system should both encourage business and reward individuals as well as providing for those who need protection.

“Increasing general taxation is not the solution to all of our social and problems and infrastructural deficits and increasing it too much creates a problem in itself,” he added.

“Collins recognised that ‘the essence of our struggle was to secure freedom to order our own life’. And that is the vision that should be at the heart of our thinking in the 21st century.

“We need to advance and expand the recovering economy so that more people are free to order their own life; they are free to achieve their ambitions and their dreams.”

The Minister said it is the role of the Government to make that happen and to “provide freedom and opportunity”. Mr Varadkar added: “Without economic freedom and prosperity we cannot have real independence.

“ And without freedom to order our own lives, any improvements in the economy will be meaningless.

“It is a difficult challenge. But it is achievable if we recognise that we need sound economic policies to achieve better living conditions for all our citizens and that social justice and inclusion, in turn, help to build a stronger more sustainable economy.

“A virtuous circle of sorts. Economic gains on their own, without a vision for society to accompany them, will result in a squandered prosperity that will ultimately be unsustainable. We had that during the boom years.

We must ensure that we do not have it again in the recovery years.”

In what is being perceived as a significant speech Mr Varadkar said the Government must build a true enterprise economy, where people are “rewarded for hard-work, innovation and excellence, and are supported, not hindered, by the state in providing for themselves and their families”.

He said a united Ireland can be achieved at some point in the future but not through a border poll. He said he shared “the vision of An Taoiseach that foresees a united Ireland at some point in the future, and I share his belief in how it should be achieved.

“Through respect and consent, by accepting the identity of the minority tradition and honouring their values by finding a special place for them to thrive, not through assimilation or the crude majoritarianism in a border poll,” Mr Varadkar said.

The issue of a border poll, a referendum on the future of Northern Ireland’s place in the United Kingdom, emerged following the United Kingdom’s vote in June to leave the EU. Speaking at the MacGill summer school in Glenties Co Donegal in July, Mr Kenny departed from his prepared script to raise the prospect of a border poll at some point in the future. However he stressed that the conditions for such a vote did not exist at present, and he did not favour a vote at present.

In Glasnevin on Sunday, Mr Varadkar said: “The only way we will achieve real unity is by respecting the different traditions, identities and values on this island, not by trying to obliterate them.

“It was easy for some to jump on the Brexit result, and use it to make a land-grab for Northern Ireland. And it was counterproductive. Often the people who speak loudest about republican values, are the least when it comes to honouring them. The inclusive vision of Griffith is better than the opportunistic rhetoric of assimilation, and it is the only chance we have of securing lasting peace and achieving genuine unity on this island,” Mr Varadkar added.

The 94th annual commemoration remembered both Michael Collins andArthur Griffith. Collins, who served as minister for finance in the first Dáil in 1919 and who was a member of the Irish negotiating team and a signatory of the Anglo Irish Treaty, was shot dead in an ambush at Béal na mBláth in Cork on August 22nd, 1922. Griffith, founder of Sinn Féin and president of the Dáil from January to August 1922, died 10 days before Collins’s assassination and was buried at Glasnevin.

Bank of Ireland blames Europe for the new charges

Trend for charging firms for large deposits stems from low interest rates since the crash


Richie Boucher, chief executive of Bank of Ireland: the bank said its decision to charge large corporate and institutional customers for deposits is due to the European Central Bank’s decision to levy a negative interest rate of 0.4% on overnight deposits.

Richie Boucher has never been afraid to stand out from the crowd, which might explain Bank of Ireland’s decision to begin charging large corporate and institutional customers for holding deposits with the institution.

From October 10th, a rate of 0.1% will be charged to customers who hold deposits of €10 million or more with the bank or have multiple deposit accounts with it, regardless of the sums involved. It is thought to affect only a small number of customers.

Bank of Ireland has told customers that this is the result of the European Central Bank’s decision earlier this year to levy a negative interest rate of 0.4% on overnight deposits.

It turns out that Ulster Bank has been quietly charging large corporates in the Republic for holding deposits with the bank for some time now. This might have been its parent, Royal Bank of Scotland, testing the waters as it emerged on Friday that the institution plans to charge large corporates in the UK for their deposits from Monday.

And we know that some banks in Germany and other European countries have begun introducing negative interest rates.

This all stems from the ultra-low interest rate environment that we’ve been living with since the global financial crash in late 2008. Many central banks around the world are now charging negative interest rates in the hope of persuading investors and companies to put their money to other uses that might generate them a return and also stimulate economic activity.

It’s also a factor of the banks having ample access to liquidity at a time when lending in Ireland is sluggish. They arguably have too much money in their vaults at a time of muted lending demand.

Nonetheless, Bank of Ireland is setting itself out from AIB, its biggest rival in the Irish market. AIB, which is 99 per cent State owned, is not charging a negative interest rate on its deposits and says it has no plans to do so.

Will those corporates affected by the Bank of Ireland charge switch to AIB? Possibly but a lot will depend on the nature of the business relationship between the bank and the customer. It will certainly encourage them to interrogate their banking arrangements in some detail and possibly rationalise their accounts.

The fear among the business community is that this might be a slippery slope to the banks eventually charging us all for the privilege of housing our deposits with them. This seems unlikely in the case of personal customers, given the political storm that would most likely erupt given that taxpayers bailed out the sector to the tune of €64 billion.

But SMEs might yet find themselves in the firing line if the ECB’s effort to stimulate European economies continues to yield meagre results.

Galway leading the way on recycling


Galway has embraced electronic and electrical waste recycling and leads the way in Ireland.

Galway city and county is embracing the world of recycling by almost doubling the targets set by the EU for electrical and battery waste.

In all, over 1,850 tonnes of electrical waste was collected throughout the county for recycling – adding to Ireland’s growing reputation as a recycling champion.

An average of more than eight electrical items were collected for recycling from every household in the city and county in 2015 – that’s a 17% increase on the previous year.

That 1,850 tonnes works out at an average of 7kg of electrical waste being recycled per person in Galway in 2015, almost double the original EU target of 4kg per head, according to the latest figures from WEEE Ireland released this week.

And approximately 75% of Galway householders are now actively recycling their electrical and battery waste.

Irish consumers are now recycling 15% more than they did four years ago – putting the country on top of the EU table.

Over 250 tonnes of electrical waste came from WEEE Ireland collections days that were held throughout the whole county.

WEEE Ireland collected approximately thirteen million household appliances for recycling in 2015 alone.

Irish retailers account for over half of the waste collected showing a significant increase documented in the twelve-month period from 2014 to 2015.  This means that Ireland has the highest percentage take-back through retailers in the EU.

WEEE Ireland’s report also shows that an equivalent to 28 million AA batteries and three million lamps were collected for recycling during 2015.

“These results are hugely encouraging and show that Irish householders and retailers alike are well ahead of other European countries when it comes to recycling. Ireland can proudly say that more than any other EU country we have taken a lead in this area,” said WEEE Ireland CEO Leo Donovan.

WEEE Ireland also noted a number of recycling challenges. These included the fact that only 25% of small electrical and electronic waste items are being recycled.

Toys, tools, small appliances, energy saving light bulbs and portable batteries are being either hoarded or sent to the landfill, and this is where householders can make a real difference keeping recyclables out of refuse.

New study casts doubt on concept of ‘healthy obesity’


New research has indicated that previous assumptions that it is possible to be obese while remaining otherwise healthy may not be accurate.

The Karolinska Institutet study provided evidence that white fat tissue samples from obese individuals classified as either metabolically healthy or unhealthy showed nearly identical abnormal changes in gene expression in response to insulin stimulation.

Recent estimates suggest that up to 30% of obese individuals are metabolically healthy and therefore may need less vigorous interventions to prevent obesity-related complications. High sensitivity to insulin which promotes the uptake of blood glucose into cells to be used for energy, is considered a hallmark of metabolically healthy obesity.

However, this new research casts fresh doubt on whether any such thing exists, indicating that insulin-sensitive obese people may not be as metabolically healthy as previously believed.

Mikael Ryden of the Karolinska Institutet said: “The findings suggest that vigorous health interventions may be necessary for all obese individuals, even those previously considered to be metabolically healthy.”

Researchers will now examine the outcomes of these patients following bariatric surgery to determine whether weight loss normalises their responses to insulin.

This Bosnian pine tree in Greece is Europe’s oldest known living tree

An ancient Bosnian pine, nicknamed Adonis by researchers, has been dated to about 1,075 years old, making it the oldest known tree living in Europe. 


European history has had one continuous observer for more than a thousand years: a pine tree in Greece.

Dendrochronologists have calculated the tree’s age to be at least 1,075 years old, making it the oldest tree in Europe. This little pine, nicknamed “Adonis,” has seen world wars, a century of revolutions, the Protestant Reformation, the Crusades, and a good chunk of the Dark Ages.

“The tree we have stumbled across is a unique individual,” said Stockholm University graduate student Paul J. Krusic, according to the Washington Post. “It cannot rely on a mother plant, or the ability to split or clone itself, to survive.”

He’s referring to trees that repeatedly clone themselves, so a tree living now is genetically identical to one living more than 10,000 years ago. Tree systems like those have been called the oldest trees in the world, but the individual trees live only a few hundred years before asexually spawning a replacement clone.

This tree has, itself, lived through more than a thousand years of history.

“Cloning is a very effective evolutionary survival strategy,” said Mr. Krusic. “It’s cool, but it’s not the same. It’s not the same as you or I being left alone to our own devices and living for 1,000 years, like this tree.”

Some other trees have been estimated to be a lot older than Adonis, but therein lies the rub. Estimation does not make an ancient tree, at least in the eyes of scientists. This tiny tree creates one new trunk ring each year, making it comparatively easy for scientists to determine its age.

According to Mr. Krusic, who was part of the team that counted tree rings for the study, Adonis is actually more than 1,075 years old. The scientists who took the pencil-sized core samples from Adonis’ tree trunk didn’t reach the center of the tree, so it has more rings that they couldn’t count.

“I am impressed, in the context of western civilization, all the human history that has surrounded this tree; all the empires, the Byzantine, the Ottoman, all the people living in this region,” Krusic said, according to “So many things could have led to its demise. Fortunately, this forest has been basically untouched for over a thousand years.”

Elderly trees are rare in Europe, although they are relatively common in other parts of the world, including the United States. The reason has a lot to do with humans – the more human traffic there is in a region, the more likely a tree is to be chopped down for a human purpose, whether firewood or construction or to make room for development.

In Greece, Adonis and its neighbors are just a few miles from civilization, making their survival all the more unusual. Their proximity is very interesting to researchers, who plan to study fallen trees nearby to determine the what fingerprints humans have left on the region.

“That has a story in it. A story about climate change, about human influences,” said Krusic, according to the Washington Post. “That’s the real story we’re working on. This is just something we stumbled upon.”

Scientists say that many of the trees in the ancient Greek forest where Adonis was discovered are remniscent of elderly trees they have seen in the United States. And, as it happens, Adonis lives in nature’s version of a retirement home – several of Adonis’ neighbors are also around 1,000 years old.

Elsewhere, scientists are using trees to push back against human influence. In 2009, The Christian Science Monitor’s Andy Nelson reported on dendrochronologists in Vietnam, who use wood dating in ancient Vietnamese forests to monitor how forests have responded to monsoon seasons and precipitation.

“It’s not simply that we want to understand the rules of the climate system…. We want to understand how those rules interact,” said tree researcher Kevin Anchukaitis in 2009. “In chess, each move that a player makes in the game is going to influence the subsequent move, so there are long-term consequences of each individual move.”

More recently, in California, researchers seeking to understand how trees can combat drought and climate change have looked to the state’s famed sequoia trees, which have withstood extreme conditions while performing essential services to the environment, providing homes for countless animals and converting carbon dioxide into oxygen.

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Friday 19th August 2016

CSO had intensive talks with EU officials on Ireland’s GDP surge

Eurostat accepts how Ireland calculates GDP, CSO says Irish visit a ‘final verification’


The forthcoming Eurostat visit is ‘routine’, according to the CSO.

The Central Statistics Office said it has held “intensive discussions” with the EU’s statistics agency on the recent sharp revision of Ireland’s economic growth last year to 26%.

“Eurostat has held intensive discussions with the CSO on the changes to our National Accounts and Balance of Payments statistics, driven by the location of capital assets in Ireland and accepts the recent [gross domestic product] revisions,” Jennifer Banim, assistant director general with the CSO, said.

A planned mission by Eurostat staff to Ireland next month reported last Thursday on receipt of records released under the Freedom of Information Act, amounts to “final verification” of the data.

Eurostat said in the internal document, circulated to Irish officials last month, that the initial explanations provided by Ireland for the surprising data “look plausible”.

‘A routine process’

“The forthcoming Eurostat visit is part of an ongoing routine process of verification of GDP and GNI (gross national income) figures for all states,” Ms Banim said.

  • ‘Leprechaun economics’: EU mission to audit 26% GDP rise

The GDP revision on July 12th has prompted widespread criticism among economists about the relevance of the data, which has skewed various widely-followed gauges, including Government debt relative to the economy’s size. Moody’s, one of the world’s main credit ratings agencies, said at the time that the country’s highly volatile economic performance is one of its main concerns about the country’s creditworthiness.

The surge, including the impact of US companies merging with Irish firms to gain a tax benefit, contract manufacturing and aircraft leasing activity, served to push Ireland’s debt level below 80% of GDP compared to previous estimates of 94%.

While the CSO calculated GDP along Eurostat criteria, Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman famously said last month the Irish figures were best summed up as “leprechaun economics”.

The GDP statistics “accurately reflect the complex and highly globalised nature of the Irish economy,” Ms Banin said. “In this context, the figures are highly relevant and plan an important role in understanding the complexity of our economy.”

Vat cut in 2011 drives increase in Irish hospitality jobs


The Restaurants Association of Ireland is claiming the creation of 45,260 new jobs in the hospitality and food sector since 2011 is largely due to a reduced Vat rate for the sector.

A report by economist Jim Power, which the association commissioned, looked at direct and indirect jobs created and an estimate of the social welfare savings, as well as the increase in revenue for the exchequer.

Using statistics from the Central Statistics Office, it concluded the number of people directly employed in the accommodation and food services sector was 145,900 in the first quarter of this year which was 31,000 more than in the second quarter of 2011.

The report argued if the “multiplier effect” was applied to the total number of employees, the number of indirect jobs increased by 14,260.

The association said the total contribution to the exchequer through payroll taxes from the sector is €695m.

“The total contribution to the exchequer is €147.6m,” it said. “The reduction in social welfare payments, assuming the extra employment took people off the live register, is estimated at €620m.”

Adrian Cummins, the association’s chief executive, said: “Our report highlights that the introduction of the low Vat rate in July 2011 has been a major driver of local employment growth.

He added: “45,260 new jobs have been created in the food and accommodation sector across the whole country since this initiative has been introduced.

“Our figures show that 31,000 direct jobs and 14,260 indirect jobs have been developed in this sector since July 2011. It is a substantial number of new jobs to result from just one government action. The 9% Vat rate has benefited regions greatly across the country and we would like to see that maintained.”

The association also pointed out that on a national scale, tourism has also increased every year since the new Vat rate was introduced, with overall visits to Ireland rising by almost 30% since July 2011.

“There is further good news for Ireland’s tourism sector regarding Ireland’s Value for Money (VFM) rating as the number of visitors rating Ireland ‘good’ or ‘very good’ VFM has increased from 28% to 58% from 2009 to 2015 and the number of visitors rating Ireland ‘very poor’ or ‘poor’ for VFM has fallen sharply from 40% in 2009 to 8% in 2015,” it said.

Last year, Siptu criticised the failure of Minister for Finance Michael Noonan, in Budget 2016, to end the 9% Vat rate for the hotel and restaurant sector.

It said retention of the Vat break came at a time when the tourism and hospitality sector was experiencing steady growth and increased revenues, but said employers in the hospitality sector were continuing to veto the Joint Labour Committee (JLC) process for agreeing statutory minimum wages and conditions for workers in the sector.

Promoting the West of Ireland in Britain good initiative


Tourism Ireland has teamed up with Flybe and Ireland West Airport Knock to promote flights to Knock from Manchester, Birmingham and Edinburgh and grow tourist numbers to the West of Ireland this autumn. The joint campaign will run in Britain during August and September.

Working with airlines and airports to build demand for flights is a key priority for Tourism Ireland and this campaign includes an online article in the Daily Record in Scotland, and an online article in the Birmingham Mail and the Manchester Evening News.

Julie, Tourism Ireland’s Deputy Head of Great Britain, said: “We are delighted to partner with Flybe and Ireland West Airport Knock once again, to maximise the promotion of flights from Birmingham, Edinburgh and Manchester and help grow tourist numbers to the West of Ireland this autumn.”

Ireland’s Filipino adoption deal gets the go ahead


A welcome and positive development in the best interest of children: that’s the Children’s Rights Alliance response to Ireland’s agreement on inter-country adoption with the Philippines.

Chief executive Tanya Ward said the importance of adoption agreements, such as the process signed in Dublin yesterday between Ireland and the Philippines, could not be overstated.

“Given the sums of money involved, inter-country adoption can encourage malpractice and corruption, with children and prospective adoptive parents at risk of being exploited for financial gain,” she said.

“Children have been denied the right to grow up with their parents and families because of child trafficking, abduction, and through the deception of birth parents.”

The Children’s Rights Alliance represents a group of organisations working to ensure the rights of all children and young people in Ireland are respected.

Ms Ward said Ireland and the Philippines had ratified the 1993 Hague Convention on Protection of Children and Co-operation in Respect of Inter-country Adoption and it clearly outlined how the adoption process would operate between the countries.

Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Dr Katherine Zappone said the convention provided an assurance for children, their families and the state that appropriate procedures had been followed and that the adoption was in the best interests of the child.

“My aim is to have safe and secure adoptions. It is against this background that my department is working to create the appropriate legislation, policy and administrative frameworks which will ensure a well-regulated regime of adoption,” said Ms Zappone.

She believed the agreement between the Adoption Authority of Ireland and the Philippines Inter-country Adoption Board would provide a clear road map on how the inter-country adoption process would operate between Ireland and the Philippines.

The agreement on administrative arrangements between the two countries was drafted by the chair of the Adoption Authority of Ireland, Dr Geoffrey Shannon, who said it reflected the legal diversity and common goals of the contracting states.

There have been 10 children adopted from the Philippines since the establishment of the Adoption Authority in 2010.

The administrative agreement between Ireland and the Philippines is the third to be concluded by the authority. In 2012, an administrative arrangement was reached between Ireland and Vietnam and that was followed by one between Ireland and the US in 2013.

Speaking on RTÉ radio, Dr Shannon, said the central authority in the sending country, in this case the Philippines, would consider what set of parents best met the needs of the child being adopted. “So you have the professional matching of a child with suitable adoptive parents,” he said.

There were 82 inter-country adoptions to Ireland last year. Families here have adopted children from Bulgaria, China, Thailand, India, Poland, and Lithuania. Inter-country adoptions can take place between countries that have ratified the Hague Convention or with which Ireland has a bilateral agreement.

Otzi the 5,300-Year-Old  Iceman was wearing clothing from five separate Animal Species

   Researchers believe they have discovered the origin of his garments and quiver – a bag for holding arrows. From top left clockwise in this image is a shoe with grass interior (left) and leather exterior (right), the sheepskin coat, leggings made from goat hide, a hat made from bear fur, a grass coat and a leather loincloth  

Otzi the Iceman, a mummy found in 1991 on a glacier in the Tyrolean Alps, was clothed in a bearskin cap, goatskin leggings, sheepskin coat, cow skin shoes and a deerskin quiver when he was killed in an attack about 5,300 years ago, new research shows.

Researchers had previously thought that at least the leggings or pants consisted of some type of fox, dog or wolf. New DNA analysis shows that instead they were made of goatskin from a species of goat that still inhabits the Alps today, according to an article on National Geographic. The researchers in the new study also examined his quiver.

An article on says the Iceman’s shoes were fashioned from the leather of cattle, possibly because it is tough material. His coat, which had white and black stripes, was made with sheepskin for warmth. His quiver was made of deerskin and his hat of bearskin.

Researchers discovered that Ötzi’s leather hide coat and loincloth were made of sheepskin, which has been known from previous studies. New analysis shows that instead of being one wild sheep, the coat and cloth were crafted from four individual wild sheep.

A similar pair of goat leather leggings may indicate that the skin of goats was used in clothing for some specific quality, National Geographic says. That pair of leggings is about 4,500 years old and was discovered in Switzerland.

The researchers, who published their findings in Scientific Reports, based their analysis on ancient DNA markers in nine leather pieces from among Ötzi’s attire.

The Tyrolean Iceman, a 5,300-year-old (Copper Age) natural mummy, discovered in the Italian Ötztal Alps in 1991 provides a direct archaeological link to prehistoric Europe. Two decades of analysis concerning this individual have provided insights into ancestry, diet, tools, lifestyle, health and attire. Despite multiple studies and their relatively good preservation, ambiguity still persists as to the species of origin for the majority of the Iceman’s clothes. A more complete characterisation of his garments is therefore required, if we are to maximise the information provided by these artefacts and gain further insights into the choice of raw material from which Copper Age populations manufactured their clothes.

The article states that ancient, preserved leathers give valuable information about how people used secondary products of animals. It says until recently, the material of Ötzi’s clothing was so decomposed that biomolecular research on it has been thwarted in part because structural features of the leather and fur needed to identify them with a microscope are missing or damaged.

So the researchers used genetic and DNA analysis to better ascertain what animal skins comprised the clothing.

The researchers wrote that “The Iceman’s garments and quiver are from an assemblage of at least five different species of animal. The coat alone was a combination of at least four hides and two species: goat and sheep. This result may indicate a haphazard stitching together of clothing based upon materials that were available to the Iceman, as ancient rudimentary leather is posited to rapidly deteriorate after manufacture.”

Research has shown Ötzi was what the authors call an agro-pastoralist (farmer-livestock herder), but his quiver and hat show that he also may have been a trapper and hunter of wild animals.

In May 2015, Ancient Origins reported Ötzi was a victim of homicide. Researchers say he suffered a quick, violent death that was over quickly but may not have been painless, National Geographic reports . He had an arrow wound, but his death probably came from a blow to the back of his head.

The new study on the DNA of the animals his clothes were made from is the latest of many years of post-mortem studies on Ötzi’s body and artifacts. Scientists in June 2014 decoded Ötzi’s genome from a hip bone sample. However the tiny sample weighing no more than 0.1 g provides so much more information. A team of scientists from EURAC in Bolzano/Bozen together with colleagues from the University of Vienna successfully analyzed the DNA of unicellular organisms in the sample. They found evidence for the presence of Treponema denticola , an opportunistic pathogen involved in the development of periodontal disease. Thus, by just looking at the DNA, the researchers could support a CT-based diagnosis made last year which indicated that the Iceman suffered from periodontitis.

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Thursday 18th August 2016

Irish household debt decreases by €1.1bn in first quarter of 2016

Irish households fall to fourth most indebted in the European Union


New figures from the Central Bank Show Irish household debt stood at €31,216 per Capita in the first three months of the year, the lowest level since the first quarter of 2006.

Irish households fell from being the third most indebted in the European Union to the fourth during the first quarter of this year, according to new figures from the Central Bank.

The figures show Irish household debt fell by €1.1 billion to €148.5 billion in the first three months of the year.

This represented a household debt per capita of €31,216, which is the lowest level since the first quarter of 2006.

Household net lending fell to a level of €2.4 billion during the first quarter.

The net worth of households increased by 0.3% to €628.7 billion, mainly driven by a rise in house values, and a decline in household liabilities.

Household net worth has regained two-thirds of the drop that followed the Celtic Tiger’s high-water mark of €718 billion in the second quarter of 2007.

The Central Bank said household debt as a proportion of disposable income now stands at 149.4%, its lowest level since the end of 2004.

Investec said the stock of household liabilities now stands at €148.5 billion, 27% below the all-time high of €203.7 billion reached in the third quarter of 2008. It noted household net worth has increased for 12 successive quarters.

“Notwithstanding external pressures, we expect the Irish economy to continue to turn in some of the strongest growth in the EU both this year and the next, facilitating further improvements in the aggregate balance sheet of Irish households,” said Investec chief economist Philip O’Sullivan.

Irish Parents spend some €450 a month ‘supporting’ students

Irish League of Credit Unions data shows 87% will back children financially while in college


Just over two-thirds of students work throughout the academic year to fund third-level education, working on average 17 hours weekly for €12 an hour.

The vast majority of students attending third level institutions will be financially supported by their parents over the next year with the average parent spending €447 each month, a survey has found.

According to a piece of research published by the Irish League of Credit Unions this morning 87 per cent of parents will financially support their children through the academic year with 60 per cent getting into debt to do so.

The research asked both parents and students about how they meet the costs of third level education and the financial challenges facing families. The results highlight the impact of sending children to college (in financial terms) has on spending and budgets as well as the challenges and concerns parents have in relation to finance, debt, accommodation, course choice and job prospects.

All told just under three quarters of parents polled said they would struggle to cover the cost of their child’s third level education. The average amount of debt parents will accrue is put at €4,300 down from €4,670 in 2015.

The piece of research also found that parents save for an average of eight years to cover third level costs for their children and manage to accumulate on average €8,150 over that period.

A worry?

The survey also asked parents what they worried about as their children headed off to college. Employment prospects after graduation was the biggest concern for parents with 32 per cent saying it was the thing which worried them the most. Passing exams was in second place with 17 per cent highlight that while concerns over the misuse of drink and drugs has jumped sharply to 17 per cent up from 10 per cent last year.

It is not only parents who have worries ahead of the new term. The poll suggests that just over two thirds of students who need to live away from their family home are “extremely worried” about finding suitable accommodation for the academic year.

Concerns about the availability and affordability of accommodation could be behind a slight increase in the number of students who say they will live at home over the course of the next academic year. The survey says that 65 per cent of students will be living at home compared to 62 per cent in 2015.

The cost of living away from home is laid bare in the study with students living outside the home saying they will spend €1,048 euro per month while those living at home will spend €530 per month

Just over two thirds of students work throughout the academic year to fund third level education working an average of 17 hours per week getting paid an average of €12 per hour.

The survey by iReach was carried out in July using 1,000 responses from over-18s across Ireland.

Nutrition business progress drives Glanbia earnings growth


Exceptionally strong growth in Glanbia’s performance nutrition business helped the Irish company to earnings of €176.5m in the opening half of the year.

Glanbia’s H1 earnings increased by close to 11% compared with the same period last year in what company chief executive Siobhán Talbot described as a “strong set of results”.

That firm’s earnings growth was driven primarily by its performance nutrition (GPN) business which accounted for almost half the company’s earnings.

The performance nutrition business segment’s earnings before interest tax and amortisation (EBITA) totalled €81.7m a 35% increase on H1 2015 on a constant currency basis.

Ms Talbot said she was pleased with the progress of GPN which develops products aimed at the sport and fitness markets, including protein shakes.

Growth would moderate to more modest and sustainable levels over time, she accepted.

“Sales of performance nutrition brands and value-added nutritional ingredients showed good growth in the first half of 2016 delivering on our vision to be a leading nutrition business.

“Our overarching strategy is to continue to get growth across the group. Various dynamics in various periods of the year and indeed full years can accelerate that and we’re very pleased with the 35% that we had in the first half [of 2016].

“We very much look to that long-term sustainable growth rate and we’re obviously not saying that that level of growth will be sustainable but if you take our overall guidance for the year that we’ve reiterated of 8%-10%, growing performance nutrition is an important factor within that,” Ms Talbot said.

GPN’s growth will be increasingly driven by new product innovations rather than breaking into new markets.

Ms Talbot said she expected continued “pull” on pricing in its Irish dairy division after a 4.9% decline in prices in the first half of the year.

Glanbia described Dairy Ireland’s performance as “satisfactory” despite a 3.3% decline in revenue to €356.9m which reflected the continued price drop as well as a 1.1% increase in volumes.

Ms Talbot said conditions for “anybody in the dairy space are a bit challenging” but noted that Dairy Ireland delivered a modest profit increase in the first six months of the year.

The company is dealing with currency headwinds arising from both the relative strength of the dollar and the uncertainty created by the UK’s decision to leave the European Union.

Ms Talbot said the UK is not a particularly big market for Glanbia but like all other corporates, the Irish firm doesn’t like uncertainty and currency volatility caused by the Brexit vote would need to be monitored.

Similarly, Glanbia is “always watching” the dollar-euro exchange rate and is used to managing the associated risk.

The relative strength of the dollar against other currencies can have a marked effect on demand in other markets, such as Brazil, however.

Ms Talbot said the dollar’s strength was actually more of an issue last year than it has been in the opening half of 2016 though.

The company remains on the lookout for potential acquisitions and has a good pipeline of deals.

Ms Talbot said, however, that it is difficult to be prescriptive about how many deals would be completed or when.

Viruses are more dangerous in the morning and so maybe we should all sleep in


Early morning commuters on packed trains can finally feel justified in their aversion to their fellow passengers, after a new study found viruses are more dangerous in the morning.

A science paper (rivetingly) entitled “Cell autonomous regulation of herpes and influenza virus infection by the circadian clock” found viruses were 10 times more successful at breaking down their host if the infection began in the morning.

The study, by the University of Cambridge, involved infecting mice with either the influenza (the cause of flu) or the herpes virus. Tests showed mice infected in the morning had a viral level 10 times higher than those infected in the evening.

Professor Akhilesh Reddy told the BBC: “It’s a big difference. The virus needs all the apparatus available at the right time, otherwise it might not ever get off the ground, but a tiny infection in the morning might perpetuate faster and take over the body.”

Viruses hijack living cells in order to replicate and proliferate around the body. It is thought the body clock, or circadian clock as per the paper title, is what makes cells more susceptible to viruses at different times.

Bmal1 is the body clock gene scientists in this study identified as the key to this susceptibility and it peaks in the afternoon, increasing resistance to infection. Bmal1 activity is low in the morning however, so we have increased vulnerability.

So should we all be locking ourselves in quarantine in the mornings for fear of microscopic germ warfare? Well no, but the findings could be helpful in preventing the spread of disease during a viral pandemic.

“In a pandemic, staying in during the daytime could be quite important and save people’s lives – it could have a big impact if trials bear it out,” said Professor Reddy.

One thing is clear – we’ve all been given one more reason to hit that snooze button tomorrow…

Zebra finches sing to eggs to prepare babies for global warming ahead

This could be one way birds learn to survive the heat


Zebra finches program their offspring to prepare for global warming by singing to eggs before they hatch. In especially hot areas, finch parents make a special call to incubating eggs, basically telling them it’s really hot outside and they better not grow too big. The hatchlings listen and this mechanism might explain how birds learn to adapt, and survive climate change.

Many bird species sing to their eggs. These calls have been shown to do everything from improving learning to synchronizing hatching times. When it comes to the Australian zebra finch, we already know that they make a specific call when it’s unusually hot outside, which in this case means over 79 degrees Fahrenheit no matter what season it is.

Finch parents start making these calls about five days before the eggs are supposed to hatch and the calls become more frequent the closer it gets to hatch time. This suggests the calls are a way to tell the soon-to-be-born finches about the world outside, and not just the parents complaining about the heat.

But how do we know if it’s just a coincidence? Mylene Mariette and Katherine Buchanan at Australia’s Deakin University figured out a way to test this. For a study published today in Science, they put a bunch of zebra finch eggs in an incubator that created a temperature around 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Mariette and Buchanan then played the “global warming” call for some of the eggs and not others.

Next, the scientists waited to see if there were significant differences between the two groups. If there were, it was probably because of the difference in the calls they heard.

After the eggs hatched, the baby finches were raised in an environment where the temperature varied naturally. By day 13 after hatching, nestlings that heard the “heat” calls were smaller than the ones who didn’t. This seems to confirm that the embryos in the eggs really do listen to the calls and then change how they grow.

All this makes sense because other research tells us that animals end up smaller when it gets hotter because the smaller size makes it easier to cope with high temperatures. Mariette and Buchanan also found that birds who were smaller in hot conditions produced more fledglings during their first breeding season, showing that this is a good evolutionary strategy after all.

News Ireland daily BLOG by donie

Tuesday 16th August 2016

Simon Coveney is the most impressive Government Minister so far

A rundown of how Ministers performed over Government’s first 100 days in office


M. D. Higgins and Enday Kenny with Simon Coveney.

  Minster for Health Simon Harris:  The Department of Health has put an end to many a political ambition.

How many new ministers have started full of ideas, ambition and reform, and have been stretchered off, desperately staunching the damage?

Who has emerged from there stronger than when they went in? Michael Noonan? Brian Cowen? Micheál Martin? Mary Harney? James Reilly? Even Leo Varadkar?

Step forward Simon Harris. At 29 he is the youngest Minister for Health in the history of the State.

Yet there is no evidence of youthful callowness here. Harris has been a star performer for Fine Gael since 2014. He is hard working, street smart, always well-briefed, practical and has a bucket-load of ideas. And he is brimful with confidence too.

It is hard to keep up with his energetic start. He scored an extra €500 million for a winter initiative, and this week published a “five-point” plan, with a €50 million lure, to reduce record waiting lists. He has reactivated the National Treatment Purchase Fund, and has been active on the legislation front.

He waffled a bit this week when Cathal Mac Coille pressed him on public hospital resources, resorting to political vagueness and inexactitude.

A good start. But too many of his predecessors have stumbled after a promising start. The real test will inevitably come next year when we will see if he has made meaningful inroads.

Marks: 7.5


  The Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan

If “trucking away” does not offend the ears of the mandarins in Iveagh House, that’s what Flanagan has been doing. And we don’t mean it in a pejorative sense.

His year has been dominated by Brexit, both before and after the June referendum.

Once it became clear the referendum could be lost, he threw himself into the campaign, speaking to as many Irish groups in Britain as he could.

Since the defeat he has been equally busy. Last week he completed his last of 27 one-on-one session with foreign ministers, arguing Ireland’s unique position.

Its concerns: the Border, trade between Britain and ourselves and the Common Travel Area.

There was some criticism of the lack of a contingency plan. But, in fairness, some scenarios had been set out by the ESRI and others, and it is hard to set out a full plan or strategy ahead of negotiations starting.

Marks: 6


 The Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation Mary Mitchell O’Connor

Her appointment was the biggest surprise of Kenny’s Fine Gael picks. Not only did she leap-frog from the backbenches, she was handed the plum job of Jobs and Enterprise. Some of her colleagues scratched their heads as to why she had gained preferment over others. She has been careful since being appointed, and has fulfilled all the duties if not really laying out her views on on the way forward for enterprise and jobs policies. As such she has inherited Richard Bruton’s annual “Action Plan for Jobs”. She has done little yet to show divergence from her predecessor. The judgment on that will have to be made in time.

Marks: 4


  The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform Frances Fitzgerald

Frances Fitzgerald should be mentioned more as a possible successor to Kenny. She is the Tánaiste, and in a powerful position in Government, close to Kenny and in charge of a key ministry.

As Minister for Justice she is everything that Alan Shatter was not. After his very dramatic tenure, she provided a safe pair of hands.

The down side is that she does not have his reforming zeal and it is unlikely we will see far-reaching initiatives during her time in Justice.

Fitzgerald made her name as an equality campaigner, but most of her record in Justice has been as a traditional Fine Gael law-and-order minister.

In the first week she had to weather a controversy as to whether Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan’s instructions during the O’Higgins’ commission were to challenge the integrity of whistleblower Maurice McCabe. Her response was not wholly convincing.

Her tenure has been party governed by “events”, notably the appalling violence of the feud between the Kinahan and Hutch gangs.

Tougher bail legislation, an electronic tagging Bill and a new armed support unit for Dublin have all featured.

She has shown signs she will be more amenable to a more open approach to asylum seekers in the State, including recently supporting their right to cook in their accommodation. Solid, safe if not spectacular.

Marks: 5


The Minister for Children Katherine Zappone

An Independent TD, she said part of the reason she entered Government was to ensure women’s rights and inequalities were tackled.

She also specifically said her presence would ensure the requisite ambition to pursue a referendum on the Eighth Amendment.

Moving into Government with a party you opposed for four years is a tough proposition and involves compromise and also invites claims of betrayal.

Zappone was nominated to the Seanad by Labour yet opposed many of the government’s measures. Even the act of joining Government would have alienated some supporters.

She did not help her cause by tweeting in the morning she was abstaining in the vote for Kenny as Taoiseach, and then voting for him in the afternoon.

Mick Wallace’s Private Member’s motion on the Eighth Amendment presented her with a quandary. How she fared depends on what side of the fence you were.

Shane Ross and John Halligan defied collective Cabinet responsibility to support the motion. She would not go there.

In one sense it was brave because she knew she would get flak for it.

Her comment that a referendum would not succeed at this moment infuriated some campaigners.

An academic, she will be a good technocratic Minister. She has established a forum on childcare, and launched a pilot programme in Dublin’s inner city aimed at giving children a voice.

Marks: 4


  The Minister for Communications, the Environment and Climate Change Denis Naughten

He has been the most effective Independent Minister. Despite that status, he is really a Fine Gael Minister, comfortable in this environment, though not wearing the official badge.

He has not put a foot wrong since realising there might be a way back for him to take a ministry he rightly felt should have been his in 2011. He and Kenny have returned to civil terms, and Naughten has focused on what he is best at: policy.

He has an impressive list of ticks in the first three months, including a mobile reception and broadband taskforce, steering an Energy Bill through theOireachtas, and has big plans for a domestic energy efficiency scheme with the same funding idea as the Bike-to-Work scheme.

Makes the right noises on climate change but has yet to be tested on it. Wind farms (opposed fiercely in the midlands) might pose a problem near his own backyard.

Marks: 7.


The Minister for Social Protection Leo Varadkar

Varadkar is the most intriguing, compelling, enigmatic, frustrating and infuriating Minister of them all. There is no doubt that if the public were to decide who the next taoiseach might be, he would win hands down.

But there have been a few moments that have given some colleagues pause for thought. His time in Health in particular will be seen, at best, as a plateau for him.

Varadkar brings a dispassionate bearing and his analysis is always good. He thinks broadly, imaginatively at times.

His public thoughts often stray into the areas of his colleagues – not always appreciated by them.

Implementation has been a bit of a problem for him. He did not endear himself to non-Fine Gaelers during Government negotiations – seen as a bit distant and detached.

There is no doubt Varadkar is talented and he has certainly hit the ground running at Social Protection. He has already got paternity benefit through, set up a survey on PRSI for the self-employed, and started tackling the scary pensions shortfall coming down the tracks.

The first Fine Gael Minister for decades in a traditional Labour portfolio, his big thoughts on welfare, social protection and job-activation will be interesting when fully propounded. But will he translate them in to action?

Marks: 5


  The Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government Simon Coveney

Seen as Varadkar’s main rival in the succession stakes, Coveney has been by far the busiest Minister since taking on Housing and Local Government.

He has had to deal almost simultaneously with three of the knottiest political problems that loomed during the election – water charges, a waste dispute, and housing and homelessness.

Early in the Government he put through legislation to suspend water charges for nine months.

His choice of Joe O’Toole as chair of the expert group backfired a little, though.

He also had to sort out the mess over changes to domestic waste charges, managing to put it all off for a year.

His third big ask was the Action Plan on Housing, to be published within 100 days of Government.

The €5 billion plan is ambitious but so was Alan Kelly’s plan in late 2014.

The big problem for Coveney is that housing takes forever to deliver, with planning and ossified processes in councils.

Coveney is now pressurising local authorities to deliver and fast-track social housing. It will be next year before we know if he is going anywhere with his plans.

For the moment he has been the most impressive.

Marks: 8. 


  The Minister of State for Disability Issues Finian McGrath

The TD for Dublin Bay North, along with Seán Canney, has been the most impressive of the Independent Alliance members in Cabinet.

McGrath has a happy-go-lucky kind of personality and there were some who were sceptical about him cutting the mustard when responsibility came knocking.

What has helped his cause tremendously is his portfolio. It is in an area he cares passionately about. He has an adult daughter with Down syndrome and has been campaigning in this area and on behalf of those with cystic fibrosis for many years.

His approach has been simple. He is not going to expound any big philosophy or set out new thinking.

He has a list of things he wants to do, and he says he is intent on getting them done.

McGrath has set about it in a simple way, with direct approaches to the two Ministers who matter, Michael Noonan and Paschal Donohoe. His demands are seldom extravagant.

He has secured an extra €28 million to give emergency support to adults with intellectual disabilities who are middle-aged and whose parents are very elderly or who have died.

He also announced a further €3 million to help school-leavers with disabilities to bridge the gap to find employment.

Next on the list is ratification of the UN Convention on Persons with Disabilities, a Bill to help disabled people meet their high transport costs, and a cystic fibrosis unit for north Dublin.

Marks: 7. 


Sterling drops to a three-year low against the Euro

Downward pressure weighs on pound ahead of key data being released


Sterling symbols on the Bank of England floor: the currency fell below $1.29 on Monday, the lowest level since July 11th and down 0.2% on the day.

Sterling has hit a three-year low against the euro, with the UK currency trading above 87p against the euro on Monday. A string of key UK economic data – including July inflation figures due on Tuesday – are expected to determine the short-term direction of the currency.

The sterling weakness will put further pressure on Irish exporters to the UK. Ibec warned earlier this month that if the euro approached 90p sterling, some 7,500 jobs and €700 million in exports from the agri-food sector would be at risk. The organisation has called for Government intervention to support affected companies.

Sterling lost some 0.7 per cent against the euro on Monday, trading at about 87p against the euro in New York on Monday night. Market data showed that significant speculative positions had been taken against the UK currency, though many analysts also expect the euro to remain weak in the months ahead.

Sterling dropped before reports this week on July UK inflation, retail sales and jobless claims, which are forecast to show the British economy is struggling in the wake of the June 23rd referendum. The pound dropped to a 31-year low against the US dollar after the Brexit vote, and resumed its decline following the Bank of England’s decision this month to cut interest rates and boost monetary stimulus.

The currency fell below $1.29 on Monday, the lowest since July 11th and down 0.2% on the day. It has dropped more than 13% against the US currency since the Brexit vote.

“[There is] no point over-thinking. Sterling is prone to short-covering but is also trending lower over time,” Société Générale strategist Kit Juckes said.

Further sterling weakness would put pressure on forecasters to reduce their Irish growth forecasts for 2017. Ibec calculates that every 1% drop in the value of sterling against the euro translates to a 0.7% decline in exports to the UK. Slower UK economic growth will also affect Irish exporters by slowing demand

Manufacturing contractions

While surveys have already signalled contractions in manufacturing, construction and services since the EU referendum, this week’s data will provide more concrete evidence of the state of the economy.

The Bank of England cut interest rates to a record low and restarted its quantitative-easing programme on August 4th in an attempt to shield Britain from the effects of its decision to quit the world’s biggest single market.The reports will provide “the first real numbers” on the nation’s economy since the vote, said Richard Falkenhall, a strategist at SEB in Stockholm.

Market forecasters expect Tuesday’s July inflation data to show a 0.5% annual rise. The inflation figures will have an influence on Bank of England policy. The central bank acted to boost the economy following the Brexit vote, but if inflation rises too quickly, then it may be limited in what further measures it takes.

For the moment, investors expect central bank stimulus to continue in the UK, US and the euro zone, which helped to drive equity markets to new highs yesterday.

Better-than-estimated corporate earnings have also helped lift stocks in the past month, boosting valuations.While the S&P500’s price relative to future earnings has climbed to the highest since 2002, volatility with American shares remained near all-time lows. “Stocks have retained a hot pitch and there’s a lot of demand for equities,” said Andrew Brenner, the head of international fixed income for National Alliance Capital Markets.

The good, the bad and the ugly of Vincent Browne

“And maybe now retired host of “Tonight with Vincent Browne”


Rumours that Vincent Browne had retired may have been premature, but maybe it’s time he did?

Vincent Browne will be back on his eponymous late-night TV3 show in the autumn

There will no doubt be relief among TV3 viewers at the news that the eponymous host will be returning to his chair on Tonight With Vincent Browne in the autumn, because, let’s face it, Tonight Without Vincent Browne can be a rather dull affair.

For better and worse, it’s Browne’s personality that pulls the late-night political chatshow together.

Better means it’s watchable. There’s no one more formidable than Browne when he has a mood on him. In the right frame of mind, the irascible curmudgeon is as likely to flay someone who shares his unwaveringly orthodox left-wing views of the world as he is to attack a Government minister on the centre right.

It can be deliciously excruciating to watch as his victims stumble and falter under his rhetorical assault.

His greatest moment was probably when he confronted Klaus Masuch of the European Central Bank at a press conference in Dublin as the Troika flew in to survey the ruins of their own monetary policy. If Klaus had expected gratitude from a fawning Irish peasantry, delighted that someone clever and European had arrived to save us from ourselves, he was quickly disabused of the notion, as Browne demanded to know why we had to pay unguaranteed bondholders billions of euro that we didn’t even owe. It was a reasonable question, but Masuch had no answer.

In that moment, Browne was what his breathless admirers, steeped in fantasies of what the news business should be all about ever since they first saw All The President’s Men at an impressionable age, always imagined him to be – a journalistic white knight speaking truth to power.

At its worst, however, this side of Browne does have the tendency to turn into… well, the word “bullying” has been used in the past by those who fell foul of his temper. Former Tanaiste Joan Burton said as much, as did Irish Independent editor Fionnan Sheahan when he had a legendary row with the broadcaster over his long-standing hostility to Independent News and Media.

The charge of bullying may be unfair, but he does have what former Labour leader Eamon Gilmore called a “macho style” of confrontation that lays him open to the charge of bulldozing guests rather than giving them a chance to explain themselves in an atmosphere of reasonable debate. There are times, watching Tonight, when one does get the uncomfortable impression that the whole edifice is a sort of temple to the presenter, and that none may challenge him there.

He also unashamedly uses that platform to advance a very narrow political and economic agenda, one reinforced in his newspaper columns, which can be fearsomely tedious as they pile statistics on statistics to prove the world has gone to hell in a handcart and that his way alone can save us from perdition.

For years now, Browne has pushed the idea that Ireland, far from being broken by the recession, remains a fabulously rich country that could easily afford a socialist paradise if only we stopped being silly and took the money needed to build it off the rich.

It’s such an enticing idea that it almost seems like bad manners to suggest that it might not be quite as simple as that – and anyone foolish enough to try is buried under another avalanche of Browne’s minutiae. He’s great at tangling up guests in their own contradictions, and he invariably “wins” the argument, without ever quite convincing those who don’t share his assumptions that he’s right.

It’s a very lawyerly skill; he is, after all, a trained barrister. But this approach is more impressive than persuasive. Those who tussle with him may give up, but they don’t go away with a belief that he is right, just that there’s no point fighting with him.

This is a common fault among those on the left. They often come out top in debates, but the audience remains stubbornly unconvinced that what they heard actually makes any sense.

The epitome of Browne’s approach was the long series of People’s Debates, which he ran on TV3 in the run-up to the election. Browne travelled the country, visiting every constituency, inviting TDs and other candidates to answer questions from an audience of voters. These often descended into ugly and undignified scenes, with politicians being harangued from the floor. It felt some nights like a circus, with Browne as the ringmaster, and it highlighted his increasing populism.

He reflects a widespread hostility to politicians, which is an understandable mood, but where does that lead, ultimately? Someone has to run the country, and it often seems that none of them would be good enough for him.

It’s not surprising that many decide a visit to the TV3 studios isn’t worth the bother, because they’d just be playing second fiddle to another grandstanding performance. It’s his gaffe, his rules, they’d only come out second best.

His own prickliness doesn’t reflect well on him either. A man who makes a living from putting others on the spot shouldn’t himself be over-sensitive, and Browne does often give off the impression, as Sheehan put it after that row a few years ago, that “he can give it, but he can’t take it”.

The news that he will play a part in TV3’s autumn schedule, despite persistent rumours of retirement, could be a sign Browne still needs to work, either because he’s been at the centre of Irish media and political life for decades and is not ready to give it up, or simply because he needs the money – he’s been refreshingly honest about his finances.

But one can’t help wondering whether it’s a good idea. His once-terrifying technique has been reduced to a series of trademark rhetorical tics and tricks, with ever-diminishing returns. Jeremy Paxman hung up his own arsenal of frowns and sighs two years ago and he’s younger than Browne. Maybe it’s time Vincent did the same. There’s only so long you can flog a dead horse before the viewers start feeling sorry for the nag.

Tetley brewing up future trends in tea drinking

Tetley has looked into the tea leaves and predicted future trends for the country’s favourite brew


A brand of “super” tea will be among new versions of the beverage launched in future years, including some pledging to reduce tiredness or improve concentration and one for hangovers, says a report.

Tetley has looked into the tea leaves and predicted future trends for the country’s favourite brew, with help from the Future Foundation.

Ideas included “remedy” teas – enriched with medicines, from painkillers to antibiotics – tea tablets and personalised blends.

Laurent Sagarra of Tetley said: “Britain’s love affair with tea is enduring. The way we consume tea has gradually evolved since the 17th century, but now we are entering a period of rapid change.

“Significant advances are being made to meet consumer demand and our Super Tea range of functional blends with clinical health benefits already represents the biggest innovation in tea since the tea bag.

“We’re constantly innovating, grading, blending and tasting and now’s the time to see what’s next for the iconic British cuppa.”

Nick Chiarelli, director of the Future Foundation, said: “We’ve blended the consumer trends we are predicting for 2026, with input from Tetley experts and elsewhere to develop a very compelling vision of tea in the future.

“Our report predicts that exciting and satisfying new tea formats will develop, and that tea will evolve to deliver personalised health benefits.”

Schizophrenia patients may benefit from exercise


Research shows that nearly 12 weeks of aerobic exercise training can significantly improve Schizophrenic patients’ ability to understand social situations.

The study presents the first large-scale evidence supporting the use of physical exercise to treat the neurocognitive deficits associated with schizophrenia. (Representational image)

Aerobic exercise can significantly help individuals improve the ‘cognitive deficits,’ especially loss of working memory linked with schizophrenia, finds a study. Schizophrenia is a long-term mental health condition and its acute phase is typified by hallucinations and delusions, which are usually treatable with medication. However, current medications for schizophrenia do not treat the cognitive deficits including poor memory, impaired information processing and loss of concentration linked with schizophrenia.

“Cognitive deficits are one aspect of schizophrenia which is particularly problematic. They hinder recovery and impact negatively upon people’s ability to function in work and social situations,” said Joseph Firth from the University of Manchester in Britain. The findings showed that nearly 12 weeks of aerobic exercise training can significantly improve patients’ ability to understand social situations, their attention spans and their ‘working memory’ – or how much information they can hold in mind at one time.

Patients who are treated with aerobic exercise programmes, such as treadmills and exercise bikes, in combination with their medication, will improve their overall brain functioning more than those treated with medications alone. Further, the study also found evidence that programmes which used greater amount of exercise, and those which were most successful for improving fitness, had the greatest effects on cognitive functioning, the researchers said.

“The study presents the first large-scale evidence supporting the use of physical exercise to treat the neurocognitive deficits associated with schizophrenia,” Firth added. “Using exercise from the earliest stages of the illness could reduce the likelihood of long-term disability, and facilitate full, functional recovery for patients,” Firth said. For the study, published in Schizophrenia Bulletin, the team combined data from 10 independent clinical trials with a total of 385 patients with schizophrenia.

Scientists identify brain’s ‘generosity centre’

Holding hands.      Photo credit: biologycorner/Flickr

The area of the brain appears to control pro-social, generous behaviour, the study said

Whether you are a saint or a sinner may depend on a specific part of the brain, new research suggests.

Scientists have identified a region of the cerebral cortex they have dubbed the brain’s “generosity centre”.

Brain scans show that it is especially active in people with a more generous or “pro-social” mindset. These individuals also appear to have higher levels of empathy – the ability to understand and share the feelings of others.

Participants who are naturally more selfish and less empathic show a lower degree of activity in the “generosity centre”.

Lead scientist Dr Patricia Lockwood, from Oxford University, said: “This the first time anyone has shown a particular brain process for learning pro-social behaviours – and a possible link from empathy to learning to help others.

“By understanding what the brain does when we do things for other people, and individual differences in this ability, we are better placed to understand what is going wrong in those whose psychological conditions are characterised by anti-social disregard for others.”

Pro-social, “generous”, behaviour is a fundamental part of being human and essential to community living.

But while most people show a natural inclination to be pro-social, some individuals are more giving than others. Why this should be so is still not fully understood, although empathy is thought to play a central role.

To investigate links between empathy and generosity the Oxford team set up an experiment in which 31 male volunteers played a computer game that involved learning to associate abstract symbols with money rewards.

Participants, who were all aged between 19 and 32, were given opportunities either to win cash for themselves or for another player.

The study, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, showed that while people readily learned to make choices that benefited others, they were quicker at identifying symbols that rewarded themselves.

The MRI scans revealed one particular brain area that seemed to be involved in thinking generously by prioritising a good result for someone else.

Dr Lockwood said: “A specific part of the brain called the subgenual anterior cingulate cortex (sgACC) was the only part of the brain that was activated when learning to help other people. Put another way, the subgenual anterior cingulate seems to be especially tuned to benefiting other people.”

However, the scans showed that the sgACC was not equally active in every volunteer.

“People who rated themselves as having higher levels of empathy learned to benefit others faster than those who reported having lower levels of empathy,” Dr Lockwood added.

“They also showed increased signalling in their subgenual anterior cingulate cortex when benefiting others.”

The research may have implications for understanding what drives psychopaths and anti-social or criminal behaviour.

The scientists wrote: “Taken together, our findings reveal a computational link between pro-social learning and empathy in humans and therefore pave the way to characterise atypical pro-social interactions in those with disorders of social cognition and behaviour.”

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Sunday 14th August 2016

Ireland’s mortgage rates still the highest in Europe


Irish homeowners continue to pay the highest costs in Europe for their loans, while savers here get some of the worst rates, according to official figures.

The latest Central Bank survey showed the average rate Irish banks charge new customers for all types of floating rate mortgages stood at 3.22% in June.

The rate rises to 3.56% when the large amount of so-called renegotiated or restructured home loans are excluded.

The mortgage rate in the Republic compares with an average 1.81% banks charge new business customers across the Eurozone.

In Ireland, mortgage rates for new customers, including renegotiated loans, has fallen by a meagre 9 basis points in the past 12 months. The decline stands at 30 basis points once renegotiated loans are excluded.

Rates for variable rate mortgages fell 53 basis points to an average of 3.60%. Fixed rates for one to three years fell here by 26 basis points.

On deposits, the rates banks pay customers for their savings have shrunk in Ireland and the eurozone. However, banks here pay savers 0.13%, compared with an average rate of 0.58% across the whole of the eurozone.

Most Irish lenders this year have encouraged borrowers to switch to fixed rate mortgages from standard variable rates.

Irish banks also say that around half of all mortgage borrowers here pay tacker mortgage rates of around 1% or less.

Critics, however, say some banks persist in charging existing borrowers higher rates than those offered to new customers.

“The reductions in the ECB rates have been passed onto depositors, but mortgage holders have not benefited to any significant degree,” said Brendan Burgess of the Fair Mortgage Rates Campaign.

Rachel McGovern, chief operations officer at the industry group Professional Insurance Brokers Association, urged banks to offer “good” long-term rates of up to 20 years.

The figures show “two thirds of all new mortgages issued in the year to June were standard variable rate arrangements points to a lack of proper long-term fixed rates in the market and shows how out-of-step Ireland is with its European counterparts, she said.

The Central Bank said that banks sold new mortgage agreements of €417m in June and €4.5bn over the past year.

The new business excludes renegotiated mortgage arrangements struck between customers and banks.

There was €300m worth of home loans renegotiated in June.

The average rate paid by homeowners for their renegotiated mortgages stands at 3.03%, the figures show.

Crimes against small businesses in Ireland cost €1.8bn annually

A wide ranging survey reveals shops most affected, through theft and vandalism


Isme is calling for greater CCTV surveillance and more Gardaí.

A survey of small and medium-sized businesses has estimated that crimes against business cost them €1.83 billion annually.

The study by the Irish Small and Medium Enterprises Association (Isme), found that 31% of Ireland’s 245,000 SMEs were affected by crime in the last year, with an average direct cost of €6,570, a total of €499 million.

Each of the 245,000 businesses, it found, spends an average of €5,428 on crime prevention measures, a total of €1.33 billion.

The number of businesses directly affected by crime is down 5% when compared with the previous year’s survey, Isme said. Almost half of businesses in Dublin city reported crime, with 36% in Dublin county and 19% in Munster. Of those affected, 45% experienced more than two crimes.

Retail businesses were most affected, followed by construction and distribution businesses. Almost a third of incidents were theft by outsiders, with 27% of incidents related to vandalism. About 62% of respondents were not covered by insurance, with about a fifth of businesses electing not to report incidents to An Garda Síochána.

The survey indicated a low take-up of services provided by the Crime Prevention Office, with Dublin businesses most likely to use it.

National forum on crime?

Isme has made 11 recommendations for reducing the level of crimes against businesses, including measures to properly categorise and define incidents, so trends can be better measured and analysed. The group also suggested a national forum on crime to propose solutions and share information, comprising members from the Garda, politicians and the business community. The association also called for greater closed circuit television (CCTV) surveillance and increased numbers of Gardaí. It also called for changes to data protection rules to allow businesses share CCTV.

“The reduction of business crime is fundamental to business prosperity and is not being prioritised by government,” said Mark Fielding, the chief executive of Isme. He also claimed businesses have a “total lack of faith” in the criminal justice system.

“Crime against business is often seen as victimless but it has a very real impact on SMEs and their employees. SMEs are particularly vulnerable to business crime as they lack scale and therefore they experience greater difficulty in absorbing the direct and indirect costs of crime,” he said.

Allianz Insurer makes premium Advt ‘Dare To’ take a positive step? 


A scene from the Allianz ‘dare to’ campaign

With the rising cost of insurance making headlines all this year, Allianz – one of the largest multi-line insurers in the Irish market – has launched its latest brand campaign called ‘Dare To’.

Allianz Ireland has a turnover in excess of €450m and employs 1,450 people and is owned by the German-headquartered Allianz SE Group.

Created by Rapport Marketing Communications and produced by production company Hot Sauce, the campaign aims to convey the positivity of the Irish economy and the people and businesses that ‘dare to’ make it tick over while at the same time demonstrating the peace of mind the company’s customers enjoy, allowing them to live life to the full.

Second Garda denies a Mary Boyle cover-up?

Retired sergeant alleges his comments in a documentary were taken out of context


Mary Boyle went missing in 1977.

A second Garda officer who contributed to a documentary about the disappearance of Mary Boyle has denied claims of political interference in the investigation of the case.

Retired detective sergeant Aidan Murray, who featured in Mary Boyle: The Untold Story, has claimed the programme was “selective” and “misleading” in how it presented his interview.

The documentary includes allegations of political interference and a cover-up in the original Garda investigation into the disappearance of the six-year-old child near her grandparents’ home in Ballyshannon in 1977.

In a sworn statement to a solicitor, Mr Murray said that at no stage during his investigation into the disappearance of the little girl in Donegal was he subjected to “interference” or “pressure”.

He said his two senior officers, a superintendent and an inspector, were “honourable and professional men” and “at no point attempted to influence” him in the conduct of the investigation. He alleged that the documentary had “taken a number of my comments out of context and creates the wrong impression”.

Mr Murray’s comments echo those of his former colleague, retired sergeant Martin Collins, who also featured in the documentary, Mary Boyle: The Untold Story.

Speaking to his local newspaper in Donegal, Mr Collins also denied any political interference.

Both retired gardai investigated the disappearance of Mary, who was last seen walking across fields near her grandparents’ home. Both Gardai were interviewed for the documentary on Mary’s disappearance, made by the journalist, Gemma O’Doherty, who campaigned for an inquest and independent inquiry into the child’s disappearance.

Read more: Sean McEniff says he is not politician at the centre of Mary Boyle documentary

In their interviews, both retired gardai referred to a phone call allegedly made to Ballyshannon Garda Station.

Mr Murray told the documentary: “The result of that phone call is that certain people weren’t allowed to be interviewed and it was all hands off. The sting went out of the whole investigation after that.”

He also said he got a “nudge” from the inspector at the time to “ease off” when he was interviewing the chief suspect.

In his interview for the documentary, Mr Collins said: “The gist of it [the phone call] was that none of a particular family should be made suspect for Mary’s disappearance.”

In the statement, which he made last week, Mr Murray said: “I was not aware of any alleged phone call at the time and I subsequently heard the rumour many months later at a garda conference.”

He said: “The reason Inspector Daly asked me to pause the interview was because of his genuine concern for the mental health of the person being interviewed. It was not for any other reason.”

Mr Murray alleged that the Mary Boyle documentary was “selectively edited to suggest that this was because of political interference. This is absolutely incorrect.”

The Mary Boyle documentary has had more than 140,000 views since it was broadcast on YouTube last month.

Two politicians have publicly denied making the phone call to Ballyshannon Garda Station. The Garda Commissioner has now asked the Serious Crime Review Team to re-examine the child’s disappearance.

Documentary-maker Gemma O’Doherty did not provide a comment for publication, when contacted. She has assisted Mary’s twin sister, Ann Doherty, and country singer Margo O’Donnell, who is a distant relative of the family, in their campaign for justice for Mary Boyle. Ann Doherty wants an inquest and is preparing a legal action to take to the European Convention on Human Rights, alleging malpractice by An Garda Siochana and the Government.

The issue of alleged political interference in the case was raised in the European Parliament by Sinn Fein MEP Lynn Boylan and has been the subject of a number of statements by the party in recent months.

Cancer overtakes heart disease as the main cause of death in 12 European countries


Although diseases of the heart and blood vessels (cardiovascular disease, CVD) kill more people worldwide than anything else, with 17.3 million deaths globally, cancer has now overtaken CVD as the main cause of death in 12 European countries.

New data on the burden of CVD in Europe for 2016, which are published today (Monday) in the European Heart Journal [1], show that in the European region (defined as the 53 member states of the World Health Organisation) CVD caused more than four million deaths each year, 45% of all deaths. However, success in preventing and treating the disease has led to large decreases in CVD in a number of countries.

Despite cancer accounting for less than half the number of deaths than CVD in Europe as a whole, in nine of the 15 countries which were members of the European Union before 2004 (EU-15) and in another country that was among those that joined the EU afterwards (EU-28), more men now die from cancer than CVD. These countries are: Belgium, Denmark, France, Italy, Luxembourg, The Netherlands, Portugal, Slovenia, Spain and the UK. This was also the case in Norway and Israel (which are not members of the EU). Among women, more die from cancer than CVD in Denmark and Israel.

Dr Nick Townsend, senior researcher at the BHF Centre on Population Approaches for Non-Communicable Disease Prevention at the University of Oxford (UK), who led the research, said: “These figures highlight the wide inequalities between European countries in deaths from CVD. The 12 countries in which cancer has overtaken CVD as the main cause of death are all found in Western Europe, with nine of them having been members of the EU before 2004. The highest numbers of deaths from CVD tend to be seen in Eastern European countries.”

In France, where cancer was first seen to overtake CVD as the main cause of death in men, figures from the most recent year available (2011) show that 92,375 men died from cancer and 64,659 died from CVD. In Spain, the next country in which cancer overtook CVD, 67,711 men died from cancer and 53,487 died from CVD in 2013 (the year with the most recent data). In the UK in 2013, 87,511 men died from cancer and 79,935 from CVD.

“Although we have seen progress across Europe in the prevention and treatment of CVD, leading to decreases in mortality from it, it is clear that such progress is not consistent across the continent. With higher mortality from CVD still found in Eastern Europe and non-EU countries, it is clear that the progress that has been made in Western Europe and most EU countries is yet to be achieved equally throughout the region,” said Dr Townsend.

Inequalities between European countries can be seen in the percentage of deaths from CVD and age standardised death rates (ASDR) – where the death rates per 100,000 of the population have been adjusted according to the proportions of people in different age groups in the population. Out of a total of 3.8 million deaths in the EU-15 countries, 33% of these were caused by CVD (1.3 million), compared to 38% of deaths in the EU-28 countries (1.9 million) and 54% of deaths in non-EU member countries (2.1 million).

ASDRs from CVD ranged from 275 per 100,000 men and 174 per 100,000 women in France, to 1,444 per 100,000 men and 1,087 per 100,000 women in Kyrgyzstan. In the UK, the figures were 334 men and 228 women per 100,000.

Similar inequalities exist for premature deaths (deaths in people younger than 75). In the EU-15 countries, 21.4% of premature deaths were from CVD (0.25 million); in the EU-28 countries, 26% were from CVD (0.45 million); and in non-EU countries, 35.8% were from CVD (1.3 million).

For the first time, the researchers also report the number of years of life lost to deaths from CVD or years lived with disability due to the condition, a measurement known as disability-adjusted life years (DALYS). One DALY is equivalent to one year of healthy life lost. These also underlined the inequalities between different parts of Europe.

The number of DALYS lost to CVD in 2012 were highest in Ukraine (194 per 1000 of the population), Russian Federation (181 per 1000), Bulgaria (167 per 1000), Belarus (163 per 1000), and Latvia (153 per 1000). They were lowest in Luxembourg (39 per 1000), Cyprus (37 per 1000), Ireland (35 per 1000), Iceland (32 per 1000), and Israel (26 per 1000).

Dr Townsend said: “There were higher rates of years lost to death or disability due to CVD in Eastern Europe, although some differences may be due to different population distributions between countries as these rates were not standardised for age or sex.”

The authors of the study call for monitoring and surveillance of CVD in order to help countries in Europe work towards reducing the inequalities seen across the continent.

“We need more research into why some countries are showing improved outcomes, while others are not,” said Dr Townsend. “Improved data need to be collected in all countries in order to make comparisons on deaths and suffering from CVD between countries so that health professionals and national governments can target interventions more effectively to reduce inequalities.

“In particular, we need better figures on the numbers of new cases and the numbers of people living with CVD across Europe, as well as better data on the hidden burden of CVD – CVD that has not been identified by health services or included in national statistics. This would be invaluable to people working in public health, to help us identify problem areas and design better prevention and treatment strategies.”

The authors of the study point out that their research cannot explain the reasons for the patterns in CVD seen in Europe, because it is a description of the data on CVD in order to provide an overview of the burden of the disease in Europe.

This study is the authors’ fourth consecutive report on CVD in Europe. Any comparisons with death rates in the reports prior to the one in 2015 should be made with caution as, for the 2015 and 2016 reports, the authors used the new European Standard Population (ESP) based on 2013 population data, which reflect the increase in the elderly population. Previous reports were based on the 1976 ESP.

The most expensive fighter jet in the world was grounded by honey bees


Fighter Wing Aircraft Maintainers were bemused when they found a swarm of honey bees hanging from the exhaust nozzle of an F-22 Raptor engine following flight operations at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia on June 11, 2016.

Initially, everyone’s reaction was to run and find someone who could “get rid” of the bees, but Tech. Sgt. Jeffrey Baskin, 192nd Maintenance Squadron crew chief, knew that these honey bees were too important to exterminate.

“I was shocked like everyone else because it looked like a cloud of thousands of bees, but I knew they wouldn’t sting anyone and were just looking for a new place to live,” said Baskin. “My neighbour maintains two colonies of honey bees and I knew they were at risk for extinction, I figured we might want to get a honey bee expert out to collect them.”

Maintainers notified Capt. Katie Chiarantona, 192nd Aircraft Maintenance Officer about the honey bee swarm. Since this had never happened on the flight line before, Chiarantona initially called the on-base entomologist to assess the situation. The entomologist immediately knew that he did not have the means to relocate the bees, so he referred Chiarantona to a local honey beekeeper in Hampton, Virginia.

Andy Westrich, U.S. Navy retired and local bee keeper, arrived on base with the needed materials and supplies. According to Chiarantona, Westrich said the swarm was one of the largest he had ever seen. He was escorted to the aircraft and used vacuum hoses to safely corral the honey bees off of the aircraft into large buckets. He then took the bee’s home and found that, as a hive, they weighed eight pounds which calculates to almost 20,000 bees!

“The honey bees most likely came from a much larger bee hive somewhere else on base,” said Chief Master Sergeant Gregg Allen, 192nd Maintenance Group Quality Assurance chief, who also happens to be a beekeeper. “Bee hives are constantly growing and they eventually become overcrowded. Around springtime, the bees will make a new queen, scout for a new location and take half of the hive with them to that location.”

Westrich suspected that the swarm of bees were on their way to a new location to build a hive for their queen. Queen bees typically fly with eggs to lay at the new hive and do not eat for up to 10 days before leaving to start a new colony. As a result, the queen is often malnourished for the journey. Westrich believes she landed on the F-22 to rest. Honey bees do not leave the queen, so they swarmed around the F-22 and eventually landed there.

According to Chiarantona, “[Westrich] said that one out of two things could have happened, the queen would have rested and gained energy and the swarm would’ve left in the morning, or they would have decided that the jet engine would be a great place to build a hive.”

Westrich was able to safely relocate the colony to a local beer producer where they will maintain the honey bee colony and use the honey for their production facility.

“Every bee is important to our food source; lots of things would die without bees,” said Baskin. “Most of our crops depend on bees, and our bees need to pollinate. This is why I knew we needed to save them instead of [exterminate] them.”

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Thursday 11th August 2016

Gerry Adams says it is time for a united Ireland

Gerry Adams says all parties should come together to talk about Irish unity.


The issue of Irish unity has been absent from official Ireland’s centenary celebrations to mark 1916.

Parades and TV specials were seen, books were written, and reams of newspaper articles published. Songs of the period have been sung and debates held. But the fracture of the island by partition, the abandonment of the 1916 Proclamation as a declaration of freedom and justice for all of Ireland, has been ignored.

The Republic envisaged by the leaders of 1916 and by the Proclamation was to be a rejection of all that was bad, divisive and elitist in British imperialism and colonisation. It was to be an Ireland of equal citizens. A republic for all.

Today those of us who desire that outcome are told by some that we are being divisive. We are told that there will be a united Ireland at some undefined time in the future. But it will not happen through wishful thinking or sitting in a bar singing songs – not that there is anything wrong with singing songs of freedom – or simply talking about it.

It needs a political strategy with clear objectives and actions.

Failure to honour commitments

Those who advocate the wishful thinking approach to Irish unity point to the enhanced relationships between London and Dublin. They praise the ‘special’ relationship between the Irish and British governments as evidence of change. And while it is true that much progress has been made, the reality is that the British government has failed to honour key commitments within the Good Friday and other agreements.

It has unilaterally set aside elements of the various agreements, with barely a whimper of protest, especially from the Irish establishment. It has failed to deliver on a range of important issues, including:

  • A Civic Forum in the north
  • An All-Ireland Civic Forum
  • A Bill of Rights for the North
  • A joint north/south committee of the two Human Rights Commissions
  • An All-Ireland Charter of Rights
  • Honouring its obligations in compliance with the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages
  • The introduction of Acht na Gaeilge

The British have also obstructed efforts to resolve the legacy of the past by refusing to honour its commitments under the Haass agreement, failing to provide information on the Dublin/Monaghan and Dundalk bombs, and reneging on its Weston Park commitment to hold an inquiry into the murder of human rights lawyer Pat Finucane.


The real value of the special relationship between the Irish and British governments was demonstrated in the recent Brexit campaign. It is clear the economic interests of the island of Ireland are collateral damage in a fight between factions of the right wing of British politics.

The implications of Brexit are becoming increasingly apparent. It is a real threat to the economy, imposing barriers to trade and a possible EU frontier across Ireland, creating a fundamental crisis in North-South co-operation.

At no time in the Brexit debate was the impact on Ireland, North or South, considered. Our national concerns were dismissed.

The people of the North voted against Brexit. Just as they did in the Good Friday Agreement referendum, all sections of the community, republican and unionist, voted in the best interest of all. They voted to remain in the EU. Yet the British Government say they will impose Brexit on the North against the expressed will of the majority.

The economies north and south are interlinked and interdependent. It has been estimated that 200,000 jobs depend on all-Ireland trade. A recent report on economic modelling of Irish unity demonstrated a dividend and growth in a united Ireland.

The aftermath of the Brexit vote is a clear demonstration of the injustice of partition. It is fundamentally undemocratic and economically wrong. Partition makes no sense. Yet it continues.


A mechanism exists to end partition and bring about Irish unity, through a border poll.

The vast majority of people across Ireland voted for the Good Friday Agreement. It is worth remembering that 94% of people in the south and 74% of people in the North voted for the agreement.

It included a peaceful and democratic pathway to Irish unity that provided for concurrent referendums north and south. It obliged the two governments to legislate on the basis of referendums for Irish unity.

National unity is in the national interest. Wishful thinking will not bring about unity. We have a mechanism to achieve unity. We need all of those in favour of unity to act together to bring it about.

This is the time to plan and to build the maximum support for unity. The leadership of those parties which support Irish unity, acting together, could be the leadership which delivers it.

Eighteen years after the signing of the Good Friday Agreement, we should not need to convince the leaders of Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael to become persuaders for Irish unity.

The Irish government should have a plan for unity. A first step in the next term of the Oireachtas would be the development of an all-party group to bring forward a green paper for unity.

In addition, we need to develop plans for an all island health service; for public services in a united Ireland, through a united Ireland investment and prosperity plan.

Now is the time

The New Ireland Forum in its time created a space for discussion on constitutional options of change and developed a comprehensive economic options paper on the cost of partition.

It failed because it excluded Sinn Féín and operated at a time of a British veto on change – given voice by Margaret Thatcher with her “out, out, out” rejection. Thatcher is gone and so is the British veto.

Constitutional change is in the hands of the people of Ireland, North and South. The politics of exclusion failed, and Sinn Féin is jointly leading the government in the North.

We have the opportunity to end partition and build support for a new and united Ireland. A new Ireland that is built on equality and which is citizen centred and inclusive. The shape of that new Ireland remains to be drawn.

Now is the time for all parties who support Irish unity to come together to design the pathway to a new and united Ireland.

Big concern over €300,000 reduction in Mental Health services


The news that the HSE are looking to cut funding and find savings in Mental Health Services in Sligo Leitrim has caused anger and upset locally.

According to minutes from the May meeting of the HSE’s Sligo Leitrim Mental Health Area, privatisation of a residential service in Mohill is being considered.

The meeting revealed that savings of €30million had to be generated across all services in the Community Health Organisation which covers Cavan, Donegal, Leitrim, Monaghan and Sligo. As a result of this, €300,000 will need to be saved from Sligo Leitrim Mental Health services before the end of 2016.

As well as cost reductions there were proposals to cut down spending. One of the proposals is looking at the future of Ard na Drise in Mohill as well as exploring possibilities for the Garden Centre and Dochas Clubhouse in Sligo.

Fenagh Councillor and HSE Regional Health Forum member Caillian Ellis said, details of these savings had not been mentioned at the June HSE Regional Forum meeting.

He commented “it is a total disgrace that there would be cuts from the most vulnerable people in society.” He said €300,000 is a “huge cutback” to find before the end of the year.

Cllr Ellis stated mental health services need “more funding, especially in rural Leitrim with many people living alone with financial pressures.”

Sinn Féin TD for Sligo-Leitrim Martin Kenny, speaking said that he was horrified to read in the minutes of a HSE meeting, that far from prioritising mental health, the Executive has plans to slash services in order to balance the books. Minutes of the meeting, which took place in May, of the Sligo Leitrim Mental Health Service Area Mental Health Management Team.

Deputy Kenny said, “When I call on behalf of the people I represent for restoration or even maintenance of services, I am told one thing and then I see this report of an internal meeting and find that the HSE’s plan B, is to slash services to the most vulnerable, those with mental health problems. This meeting discusses ways to knock €300,000 off the mental health budget in Sligo Leitrim between now and the end of the year.

“It is a shocking reflection on the HSE that its priorities are based on budgets and not on patients. The list of proposed cuts in horrifying and at a time when every community in Ireland is becoming more aware of the vulnerability of people to taking their lives by suicide, it is nothing short of outrageous.

““I have written to the Minister for Health, Simon Harris, for reassurance that this scenario will not be allowed to unfold here in this constituency or anywhere else.”

The Psychiatric Nurses Association in Sligo and Leitrim have since threatened to ballot its members over the prospect of cutbacks. The local spokesperson said the service is already under resourced.

A spokesperson for the HSE told the paper, “All services in Community Health Organisation Area 1 (Cavan, Donegal, Leitrim, Monaghan & Sligo) have been asked to consider potential cost savings and that is what the Sligo Leitrim Mental Health Management Team Minutes reflect.”

The spokesperson stressed, “None of the proposals have been actioned and Sligo Leitrim Mental Health Services is well within budget, year to date in 2016.”

The HSE explained, “Ard na Drise was an Independent Living House, it was a private rental to clients of Sligo Leitrim Mental Health Services, who provided them with support while they waited for Leitrim County Council houses. This was not a HSE facility and is no longer in use. It was a private rental.

“The clients who lived there have now successfully moved to their own council homes.”

The HSE stated, “There has been no change to the clinical care and treatment that the clients are receiving from the HSE. These clients are still being cared for and supported on a daily basis by their clinical team.”

The minutes for the meeting earlier this Summer reported there “was discussion about reducing service capacity to meet potentially more stringent cutbacks in 2017.”

615 points leaving cert Trinity College asylum student wins right to remain in Ireland


Tatiana Prochukhan with her daughter Nadezda Nadia and St Mary’s School Principle John Michael Porter, said she loves Ireland

An asylum seeker who received anonymous donations amounting to €20,000 to pay for her first year at Trinity College Dublin has been granted a right to remain in Ireland.

Nadezda (Nadia) Prochukhan, 20, shot to national acclaim in 2014 when she achieved 615 points in her Leaving Certificate.

Anonymous donors enabled her to fulfil her dream of studying chemistry at Trinity College Dublin.

Her case was one of two which helped lead to a change in Irish law last year when ex-education minister Jan O’Sullivan announced that third-level student grants would be available to asylum seekers.

Nadia thanked everyone for their support: “People I never met donated money for me to attend my first year of college and that is why I’ve been able to get where I am today. I am so grateful to everyone.”

Nadia, her mother Tatiana, and her younger sister Maria were sent a letter recently informing them their application for asylum, submitted in September 2011, was finally approved.

Tatiana said the family spent the past five years living with no income due to their asylum-seeker status.

The mother had led a campaign for her daughter to be treated like her Irish peers.

Tatiana said being approved to stay in Ireland was one of the greatest moments in her life. She had feared the family would have to survive indefinitely through donations and support from locals in New Ross and her 78-year-old mother in Russia.

“The letter said we have permission to stay in Ireland for three years so we are entitled to everything an Irish citizen is entitled to, apart from being able to vote.

“We can become Irish citizens in five years which would be amazing. We love New Ross and Ireland and I can’t imagine living in anywhere else. The people are so good here.”

She said her family endured five years of suffering from a constant threat of deportation.

“I have been fighting for my children’s lives. Often there was no bread on the table. All our money was stolen before we arrived here. We had to wait for the decision because the Government changed the law twice. We were another cog in the wheel.

“When we got the letter and saw the words we were overjoyed. We were hugging each other.”

She added: “We have been through hell. We had no work permits and no means to make money.

“Someone stole a lot of money from us but we are strong and we remained positive and the people of New Ross and Ireland were amazing to us.’”

Her daughter Nadia is one of the top performers in her class at Trinity College Dublin, where she completed 10 exams in May in her second year of a four-year course.

The Prochukhans are hopeful Nadia will be awarded a grant for her third and fourth years, as the fees come to €8,000 per year at Trinity.

“We have completed all the forms and we are waiting word from the social welfare office.

“My mother Nina has been paying our rent. She is 78 and works three jobs.”

She said the most difficult thing to witness over recent years was her daughters never felt equal to their Irish peers.

Tatiana moved to Ireland with her daughters Nadia and Maria in 2006, living here until 2009 when they had to return to Russia as her father was very ill.

“They returned in 2011 and several business people and townspeople have been helping them since as they have no income.

“They do now. As a mother all you want to see is your children happy.

“Nadia is an example to everyone. Even though she didn’t have the native language and even through she went through a lot of hardship with no money in her family, she was able to achieve her dream.

“She showed what you get when you fight for your rights. We are really proud of her.”

Younger daughter Maria, meanwhile, completed her Leaving Certificate in June and is hoping to study art at the National University of Galway, where she has been offered free tuition and assistance once she achieves more than 450 points.

Tatiana thanked the people of New Ross for their support.

“Without the kindness of the people of New Ross and the New Ross Standard we would never have won these rights.

“People were so good. One lady put €600 through our door. Nobody forced her to do this, it was her good heart. We also got so many kind words on the street and still do and that keeps you going.

Refilling your drinking water bottle is just as gross as licking your dog’s toy


Drinking out of a plastic water bottle that has continuously been refilled can be “many times worse than licking your dog’s toy” when it comes to bacteria exposure, new research has found.

A new study involved the analysis of 12 plastic water bottles, which were each used by an athlete for one week without being washed. The bottles varied in type, from screw-tops, slide-tops, squeeze-tops and straw tops.

Drinking out of a plastic water bottle that has continuously been refilled can be “many times worse than licking your dog’s toy” when it comes to bacteria exposure

The result of the lab tests commissioned by Treadmill Reviews, a US website, found that the top of the water-bottles were crawling in potentially harmful bacteria by the week’s end. More than 300,000 colony-forming units were found on each square centimetre of the bottles on average. The average pet toy has 2,937 CFU.

Gram-positive cocci was found on many of the bottles, which can lead to skin infections, pneumonia and blood poisoning.

The study revealed that drinking from reusable bottles without washing them exposes you to more bacteria than if you ate dinner from your dog’s bowl.

Researchers said: “Drinking from these bottles can still be worse than eating a meal from your pet’s dish.

“Based on the 12 water bottles we tested, we found that reusable drinking containers may be crawling with an alarming number of viable bacteria cells: more than 300,000 colony-forming units per square centimeter (CFU/sq cm).”

The study found that bottles which you have to slide open with your fingers are the worst offenders, followed by squeeze tops.

The researchers suggested investing in a water bottle that can be placed in the dish washer every evening, and to keep an eye out for stainless steel options.

“We know that when it comes to water bottles and bacteria, stainless steel is a better choice than plastic. Additionally, water bottles without crevices and tough-to-clean spots are less likely to host germs.”

A 400 year old Greenland shark is the oldest vertebrate animal


Shark, which would have reached sexual maturity at around 150 years, sets new record for longevity as biologists finally develop method to determine age

The oldest Greenland shark found by researchers was most likely around 392 years old, although the range of possible ages stretches from 272 to 512 years.

She was born during the reign of James I, was a youngster when René Descartes set out his rules of thought and the great fire of London raged, saw out her adolescent years as George II ascended the throne, reached adulthood around the time that the American revolution kicked off, and lived through two world wars. Living to an estimated age of nearly 400 years, a female Greenland shark has set a new record for longevity, scientists have revealed.

The discovery places the lifespan of the Greenland shark far ahead of even the oldest elephant in captivity, Lin Wang, who died aged 86. It is also far longer than the official record for humans, held by 122-year-old Frenchwoman Jeanne Louise Calment.

“It kicks off the bowhead whale as the oldest vertebrate animal,” said Julius Nielsen, lead author of the research from the University of Copenhagen, pointing out that bowhead whales have been known to live for 211 years.

But the Greenland shark doesn’t scoop all the gongs – the title of the world’s longest-lived animal is held by Ming, an Icelandic clam known as an ocean quahog, that made it to 507 years before scientists bumped it off.

Grey, plump and growing to lengths of around five metres, the Greenland shark is one of the world’s largest carnivores. With a reported growth rate of less than one centimetre a year, they were already thought to be long-lived creatures, but just how long they lived for was something of a mystery.

“Fish biologists have tried to determine the age and longevity of Greenland sharks for decades, but without success.” said Steven Campana, a shark expert from the University of Iceland. “Given that this shark is the apex predator (king of the food chain) in Arctic waters, it is almost unbelievable that we didn’t know whether the shark lives for 20 years, or for 1000 years.”

The new research, he says, is the first hard evidence of just how long these creatures can live.

“It definitely tells us that this creature is extraordinary and it should be considered among the absolute oldest animals in the world,” said Nielsen.

Writing in the journal Science, Nielsen and an international team of researchers describe how they set about determining the age of 28 female Greenland sharks, collected as by-catch during scientific surveys between 2010 and 2013.

While the ages of many fish can be determined by counting the growth layers of calcium carbonate “stones” found in their ears – in a manner somewhat similar to counting tree rings – sharks do not have such earstones. What’s more, the Greenland shark lacks other calcium-rich tissues suitable for this type of analysis.

Instead the team had to rely on a different approach: scrutiny of the lenses in their eyes.

The lens of the eye is made of proteins that build up over time, with the proteins at the very centre of the lens laid down while the shark is developing in its mother’s womb. Work out the date of these proteins, the scientists say, and it is possible to achieve an estimate of the shark’s age.

In order to determine when the proteins were laid down, the scientists turned to radiocarbon dating – a method that relies on determining within a material the levels of a type of carbon, known as carbon-14, that undergoes radioactive decay over time.

By applying this technique to the proteins at the centre of each lens, the scientists deduced a broad range of ages for each shark.

The scientists then made use of a side-effect of atomic bomb tests which took place in the 1950s: when the bombs were detonated, they increased the levels of carbon-14 in the atmosphere. The spike, or pulse, in carbon-14 entered the marine food web across the North Atlantic no later than the early 1960s.

That provides a useful time-stamp, says Nielsen. “I want to know when I see the bomb-pulse in my sharks, what time does that mean,” he said. “Does it mean they are 50 years old, or 10 years old?”

Nielsen and the team found that the eye lens proteins of the two smallest of their 28 Greenland sharks had the highest levels of carbon-14, suggesting that they were born after the early 1960s. The third smallest shark, however, had carbon-14 levels only slightly above those of the 25 larger sharks, hinting that it was actually born in the early 1960s, just as bomb-related carbon-14 began to be incorporated in marine food webs.

A Greenland shark returning to the deep and cold waters of the Uummannaq Fjord in northwestern Greenland. The sharks were part of a tag-and- release program in Norway and Greenland. Photograph: Julius Nielsen/Science

“That indicates that most of our analysed sharks were actually older than the time mark, meaning that they were older than 50 years,” said Nielsen.

The scientists then combined the carbon dating results with estimations of how Greenland sharks grow, to create a model that allowed them to probe the age of the 25 sharks born before the 1960s.

Their findings revealed that the largest shark of the group, a female measuring just over five metres in length, was most likely around 392 years old, although, as Nielsen points out, the range of possible ages stretches from 272 to 512 years.

“The Greenland shark is now the best candidate for the longest living vertebrate animal,” he said.

What’s more, with adult female Greenland sharks known hit sexual maturity only once they reach more than four metres in length, the scientists found that females have to clock up an age of around 150 years before they can produce young.

But not everyone is convinced that Greenland sharks can live for four centuries. “I am convinced by the idea of there being long lifespans for these kinds of sharks, [but] I take the absolute numbers with a pinch of salt,” said Clive Trueman, associate professor in marine ecology at the University of Southampton.

Trueman agrees that it is possible to get a record of the early life of a vertebrate from eye lens proteins. However, the fact that the proteins in the centre of the eye lenses, and hence the carbon-14 within them, came from nutrients taken in by the shark’s mother adds a number of uncertainties to the calculations, he says.

Campana says while the approach taken by the researchers is sound, he remains unconvinced that Greenland sharks live for almost 400 years. But, he adds, “future research should be able to nail the age down with greater certainty.”

Nielsen is also looking forward to further research, saying that he hopes the Greenland shark’s new found fame will boost awareness of the animal, as well as conservation efforts and attempts to unravel other aspects of its physiology. “There are other aspects of their biology which are super-interesting to know more about and to shed light upon,” he said.