News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Monday 1st August 2016

Irish Banks “AIB and BoI” move to reassure investors after poor stress tests

EU-wide analysis questions capacity of Irish duo to absorb losses

  

AIB and Band of Ireland will issue formal statements to the stock markets to reassure investors in the wake of the stress-test report.

Irish banks will move to calm stock market nerves on Monday after faring among the worst financial institutions in European stress tests.

Results of EU-wide stress tests by the European Banking Authority (EBA) posed a question mark over both AIB’s and Bank of Ireland’s ability to absorb losses in the event of a prolonged economic downturn.

Both institutions will issue formal statements to the stock markets this morning to reassure investors that their capital position is strong and that the tests do not actually reflect their financial performance.

Their statements are unlikely to differ from those issued at the weekend detailing their immediate reaction to the results.

The EBA found that in an “adverse scenario” AIB’s capital ratio, which measures a bank’s equity against possible risks, such as borrowers failing to repay loans, fell below the level generally required by regulators and markets. The authority found AIB would have a Common Equity Tier 1 (CET1) ratio of 4.3% at the end of 2018, below the 5.5% typically required.

Worst performers

In the same circumstance, the EBA found that Bank of Ireland’s ratio would be 6.1%. AIB was one of the worst performers of 51 lenders in Europe. The result prompted speculation the Government would be forced to delay the lender’s planned privatisation, which it took over in 2009 following the previous year’s financial crash.

However, the bank responded by saying that it was well capitalised and its actual CET1 ratio was 13.3 per cent at the end of June. It argued that the results were projections based on assumptions and should not be seen as an indication of the bank’s future performance.

AIB reported a €1 billion profit for the first six months of the year and last Thursday repaid €1.8 billion to the Government.

Bank of Ireland said the test assumed a severe economic downturn. The lender said its capital position was strong and its ratio was 10.7% at the end of June. It made €560 million profit in the first six months of the year.

Ireland wants the EU drug agency to move to Dublin because of Brexit move

London-based European Medicines Agency will be obliged to leave the UK as a result of Leave vote

   

The European Medicines Agency is currently based in London’s Canary Wharf.

The Minister for Health Simon Harris said moves were afoot to put together the case for a move to Ireland and there would be a meeting with officials in Brussels to press the case.

Minister for Health Simon Harris is to mount a bid to bring the European Medicines Agency (EMA) from London to Dublin.

The European Union agency will be obliged to leave the UK as a result of Brexit and Mr Harris intends to make the strongest possible case for it to move to Ireland.

The Minister said this weekend that moves were already afoot to put together the case for a move to Ireland and there would be a meeting with officials inBrussels to press the case.

“This is a huge opportunity for Ireland. There are close to 900 direct jobs involved and many indirect spin-off jobs as well,” said a spokeswoman for Mr Harris.

Last week the Irish Pharmaceutical Healthcare Association called for a relocation of the agency from London to Ireland after Brexit.

Responding to that call, the spokeswoman for the Minister said he had asked his officials to prepare for a bid to bring the EMA to Dublin.

“We will be making the case that Dublin offers significant advantages as a location, not least the advantage of the English language, a strong pharmaceutical and R&D sector presence, as well as a proactive and committed national medicines agency, the HPRA, which has built up close working relationships with the EMA.”

She added that the Department of Health recognised the importance of the EMA’s work and the need to keep any disruption of this work to a minimum.

“Dublin looks like the best fit to achieve this and comes with other key advantages such as excellent air connectivity with other EU capitals, and our educated and flexible workforce,” she said.

Departmental officials have already begun laying the ground work and in September the Minister will be proposing the formal establishment of an interdepartmental, interagency working group to flesh out the details of Ireland’s bid.

The Minister hopes that early meetings can be arranged with relevant officials in Brussels and other EU member states to present Ireland’s case for hosting the agency, which has an important role in the protection of public health across Europe.

The EMA is responsible for the protection of public and animal health across the EU through its scientific evaluation and supervision of medicines.

The agency, which employs 850 people, is currently based at Canary Wharf in London.

Authorities left in dark after toxic asbestos stone mineral exposed at quarry

Almost 3,000 tons of asbestos-containing rock delivered in Wicklow and south Dublin

   

Ballinclare Quarry in south Co Wicklow has been closed after testing revealed the presence of naturally occurring asbestos in the stone it produces.

Regulatory authorities were not informed for over a month after a cancer-causing mineral was exposed at a Co Wicklow quarry earlier this year, documents show.

Almost 3,000 tons of asbestos-containing rock was distributed to sites around north Wicklow and south Dublin before the presence of the hazardous mineral was notified to authorities, according to documents obtained under freedom of information legislation.

The asbestos was contained in more than 30,000 tons of rock exposed after blasting in Ballinclare quarry in April. Wicklow County Council was informed of the presence of the mineral in late May.

The Kilsaran group, which owns the quarry, said the rock was blasted on April 18th but processing of the material did not start for a time afterwards. During a routine quality control inspection, the company’s technical department discovered an unidentified material and quarantined the area pending test results.

“Once test results were identified, Wicklow County Council were notified and the quarry closed,” said a spokesman.

Since then, the quarry has remained closed and extensive testing for the presence of asbestos has been carried out. While most soil samples showed no or only tiny amounts of asbestos, 10 per cent were found to contain more than 1 per cent asbestos by weight. No asbestos fibres were detected in the air.

In June, Wicklow County Council formally issued Kilsaran with a notice under section 55 of the Waste Management Act 1996. This requires the company to deal with the health and environmental risk resulting from the delivery of the hazardous material to nine sites in the county by sending it back to its source in the quarry. The notice requires the work to be completed within 40 days.

The exact details of the sites have been excised from documents provided under freedom of information. However, there are mentions of new cycle paths in Greystones, the driveways and paths around houses, the service track of a driving range in Co Dublin and the forecourt of a new petrol station.

Crushed rock?

Kilsaran told the council it had identified 2,739 tons of the blasted and crushed rock which was delivered to about 18 sites in south Dublin and north Wicklow. The remainder of the blasted rock is still in the quarry.

In nine sites, seven of them in Co Wicklow, the material was loose and was not covered with either concrete or asphalt. These sites were covered with heavy plastic and soil as a temporary safety measure.

“This loose, potentially hazardous material poses a risk to public health and the environment,” wrote Michael Boland, executive scientist in the council’s waste management division in an internal memo dated May 31st.

The blasted asbestos-bearing rock in the quarry is not fit for future use, according to the council, which says it is industrial waste that needs to be licensed by the Environmental Protection Agency.

The thousands of tons of returned asbestos-containing rock will be stored in bags in a pit, and covered with dust, a “geo-textile layer”, 100m of stone material and 50cm of topsoil.

Three weeks after the section 55 notice was issued, remediation work had been completed at just four sites.

Decisions had still to be made about the 10 sites where asbestos-containing material was covered with concrete or asphalt before the discovery was made.

The Kilsaran spokesman said this week the remediation process was over 95 per cent complete and is due to end shortly.

The council’s files show that concerns about the issue were raised by a number of individuals. One Greystones resident living across from a building site where asbestos was discovered wanted to know whether this was a health hazard for the family. Another person, who was building a home using 100 tons of material found to be contaminated, said his family has been “left exposed” for a month and had not been told when the material would be removed.

Little hope for breeding a healthier English bulldogs

A Study Shows

   

The English bulldog’s flat face and adorable skin folds are just a couple of its distinctive traits. But these same features that make owners go gaga also cause a number of health problems, leading people to wonder whether these dogs could be bred to be healthier.

But a new study finds that boosting the dog breed’s health could be difficult, particularly if breeders don’t cross the English bulldog with another breed. The study found that there’s not much genetic diversity within the English bulldog population, which will make it hard to improve their health without going outside the breed to bring new genes into the mix.

“The English bulldog has reached the point where popularity can no longer excuse the health problems that the average bulldog endures,” study co-author Niels Pedersen, of the University of California, Davis’ School of Veterinary Medicine, said in a statement. “Improving health through genetic manipulations [breeding] presumes that enough diversity still exists to improve the breed from within,” Pedersen said. However, “We found that little genetic ‘wiggle room’ still exists in the breed to make additional genetic changes,” he added.

The features of today’s English bulldog arose from hundreds of years of breeding, but changes to the breed’s traits have become particularly rapid in recent decades, Pedersen said. The dogs have been bred for traits that are desirable to people: a flat face, a short nose, skin folds and a “child-like” appearance and personality, the researchers said.

But many of these same features also give rise to health problems. The dogs’ head structure makes it harder for the animal to pant, which can cause the dog to overheat easily in hot weather and make it difficult for the dog to exercise. The breed is also predisposed to skeletal problems that make it very difficult for English bulldogs to conceive and give birth naturally. In addition, the skin folds make the dogs susceptible todermatitis (skin inflammation) and certain eye conditions. The English bulldogs’ genetics also make them prone to autoimmune disorders and other immune system problems, the researchers said.

In the new study, the researchers wanted to determine whether there was enough genetic diversity within the English bulldog breed to make improvements to the dogs’ health from within the existing gene pool. Genetic diversity refers to the variety of genes within a population.

They analyzed the DNA of 102 English bulldogs, mostly from the United States. They also included 37 bulldogs that had recently visited the vet because of health problems, to determine whether the genes of “sick” bulldogs were significantly different from those of the other dogs.

The study confirmed that the English bulldog population has low genetic diversity, which is the result of breeding that was highly focused on certain traits, the researchers said.

The loss of genetic diversity was particularly severe in a region of the genome that regulates normal immune response, the researchers said. And ongoing attempts to breed English bulldogs so that they have new coat colors and a more compact body type could actually reduce genetic diversity even further, they said.

One way to reduce the health problems of English bulldogs might be to breed them with other dog breeds, the researchers said. Indeed, some breeders have started to cross the English bulldog with an American breed called the Olde English Bulldogge to create the Continental Bulldog, in hopes of reducing the breed’s health problems. However, many breeders feel that any significant changes from the current standard in the breed would mean that the resulting dogs would no longer be English bulldogs, the researchers said.

Birds may hold the key to more efficient drones

Researchers study avian flying techniques to learn how to minimise energy consumption.

    

Researchers have been copying avian aerial techniques to teach intelligent drones how to cover long distances without needing a lot of energy.

Researchers have been taking flying lessons from birds, copying their aerial techniques to teach intelligent drones how to cover long distances without needing a lot of energy.

Migratory birds can cover thousands of kilometres between summer and winter nesting locations, often saving energy by hitching a free ride on warm rising air currents.

While these currents can be very turbulent, the birds have developed methods for exploiting the rising air without being overcome by its choppiness.

Researchers from the Salk Institute for Biological Studies at La Jolla,California, the US, are teaching these two tricks – thermal soaring and surviving turbulence – to long-distance autonomous gliders.

The researchers’ goal is to develop a glider that can cover great distances while requiring very little energy.

New methods?

To this end, Dr Terrence Sejnowski and his colleagues developed numerical models of atmospheric flows in a rising thermal and combined them with reinforcement learning algorithms for a glider.

The glider then learned by repeated exposure how to move through the thermal, gaining altitude for easy sailing and reducing risks to itself if it got too rough or the thermal weakened.

It learned from two cues – how fast the thermal was rising and how much the turbulence twisted the aircraft.

The researchers showed the glider could stay within the thermal where the lift was strongest but still survive the rough conditions.

The glider also learned how to stay out of trouble by following “risk-averse strategies”, the researchers report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, published on Monday evening.

The authors say the results of the research could be used to develop autonomous gliders that can travel long distances with minimal energy consumption.

Nasa to launch probe to investigate ‘Armageddon’ asteroid

The asteroid will pass between Earth and the moon in 2135.

   Photo published for NASA spacecraft to map and return sample of Bennu asteroid  

Nasa is planning to launch a probe to collect rock samples from an asteroid it fears could one day hit the Earth.

The asteroid, named Bennu, can be seen from Earth as it crosses our orbit every six years.

Bennu, which is around 500 metres in diameter at its equator and travels around the sun at 63,000mph, will pass between Earth and the moon in 2135.

“That 2135 fly-by is going to tweak Bennu’s orbit, potentially putting it on course for the Earth later that century,” Dante Lauretta, professor of planetary science at Arizona University,

“It may be destined to cause immense suffering and death,” he added.

Mr Lauretta, Nasa’s principal investigator in charge of the Osiris-Rex probe mission to Bennu, launching in September, said the probe will map the asteroid, pick up some rock samples and then head back to Earth. He said information on the asteroid’s size, mass and composition could be vital data for future generations.

Osiris-Rex will arrive at Bennu in 2018 and will spend a year surveying the asteroid’s chemical makeup, mineralogy and geologic history. Information gathered during the observation will help scientists understand how its course is affected by absorbing and radiating sunlight as heat.

The probe will then take a sample from the asteroid before heading back to Earth for 2023.

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