Monthly Archives: September 2016

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Tuesday 27th September 2016

Michael Noonan outlines Budget tax cuts to Cabinet

USC reductions and inheritance tax changes planned

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Minister for Finance Michael Noonan: The Government has about €1 billion to spend in the Budget, split on a 2:1 basis between spending increases and tax cuts.

A range of tax cuts – including reductions in the USC and changes to inheritance tax – have been outlined to Cabinet by Minister for Finance Michael Noonan.

With Budget 2017 two weeks away, Mr Noonan outlined a rough outline of the plans to his ministerial colleagues at Cabinet on Tuesday.

The Government has about €1 billion to spend in the Budget, split on a 2:1 basis between spending increases and tax cuts.

Mr Noonan told Ministers that he is likely to reduce the lowest two USC rates by half a point each – from 1 per cent and 3 per cent to 0.5 per cent and 2.5 per cent respectively.

He will also raise the threshold at which people enter the lowest USC rate, effectively taking more people out of the USC net. The USC entry point is currently set at €13,000.

The Minister will also further increase the threshold at which inheritance tax for gifts between parents and children will be levied.

In his last budget, Mr Noonan began a process of gradually increasing the inheritance tax thresholds – by raising it from €225,000 to €280,000.

It is understood that Budget 2017, which will be presented on October 11th, will raise it again by as much as €40,000, as part of a multi-year process to eventually raise it to €500,000.

However, while the Government is planning to raise the threshold, it is not proposing to cut the 33 per cent tax rate applied to bequests over the threshold. This rate increased in 2009 from 20 per cent.

A tax credit for self-employed people announced in last year’s budget will also be extended.

The “earned income tax credit” worth up €550 was announced last year and it is likely to be doubled in a fortnight’s time.

Mr Noonan also told his colleagues he intended to help first time house buyers, but did not give any specifics, and said he will provide further support for start up companies.

Children’s Minister Zappone and Fine Gael at odds over childcare proposals

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Party members unhappy Minister for Children’s scheme neglects ‘squeezed middle’

Minister for Children Katherine Zappone had put forward a plan for a subsidised childcare scheme initially aimed at lower income families.

The Minister tasked with drafting the Government’s childcare plan was kept in the dark as alternatives to her proposed scheme, which was criticised for neglecting middle-income earners, were mooted in budget talks.

Minister for Children Katherine Zappone had put forward a plan for a subsidised childcare scheme initially aimed at lower income families.

However, a number of Fine Gael members were unhappy as the proposal did not help the ‘squeezed middle’ – those earning between €32,800 and €70,000 – and wanted the subsidies to be given to parents across all income groups.

Alternative options to the Minister’s proposals were discussed elsewhere in Government – unbeknown to her – as recently as late last week, when concerns about the plan were being raised.

The Minister’s scheme, as outlined to a Cabinet sub-committee, suggested the initial steps would focus on families with a combined parental income of €47,000 or less, with the income thresholds rising over a number of years.

One of the alternative options discussed was rolling out subsidised childcare over a number of years based on the age of the child. For example, in the first year it would cover children aged up to one before being broadened over time to cover those aged up to three, when they can begin to avail of free pre-school care.

Sources said such a proposal would have income limits, meaning it would not apply to the State’s wealthiest people.

Such a proposal is likely to be more favourable to Fine Gael backbenchers but a spokesman for Ms Zappone last night stressed it had not been discussed with her or the Department of Children.

The spokesman also said Ms Zappone fully intended to stick to her plan.

A spokesman for Ms Zappone said: “These anonymous sources in no way reflect the content of the ongoing budget negotiations.”

While Taoiseach Enda Kenny last week said Ms Zappone had been asked to restructure elements of the scheme, he yesterday indicated it would focus on low incomes and “expand as the economy improves and more money becomes available”.

Meanwhile, Minister for Finance Michael Noonan outlined a range of likely tax cuts at yesterday’s Cabinet meeting. The Government has around €1 billion to spend in the budget, which Ministers have said will be split on a 2:1 basis between spending increases and tax cuts.

Mr Noonan told his colleagues he was likely to reduce the lowest two USC rates by half a point each – from 1 per cent and 3 per cent to 0.5 per cent and 2.5 per cent respectively.


He will also raise the €13,000 threshold at which people enter the lowest USC rate, effectively taking more out of the USC net.

The threshold for inheritance tax on gifts between parents and children is also expected to be raised from €280,000 to €320,000.

A tax credit for self-employed people will also be extended. An “earned income tax credit” worth up to €550 was announced last year and it is likely to be doubled in a fortnight’s time. Mr Noonan also told his colleagues he intended to help first-time house buyers but did not give any specifics, and said he would give further support to start-up firms.

World’s first baby born with new 3 parent technique.  “It’s revolutionary.”

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It’s a boy! A five-month-old boy (middle picture) is the first baby to be born using a new technique that incorporates DNA from three people, New Scientist can reveal. “This is great news and a huge deal,” says Dusko Ilic at King’s College London, who wasn’t involved in the work. “It’s revolutionary.”

The controversial technique, which allows parents with rare genetic mutations to have healthy babies, has only been legally approved in the UK. But the birth of the child, whose Jordanian parents were treated by a US-based team in Mexico, should fast-forward progress around the world, say embryologists.

The boy’s mother carries genes for Leigh syndrome, a fatal disorder that affects the developing nervous system. Genes for the disease reside in DNA in the mitochondria, which provide energy for our cells and carry just 37 genes that are passed down to us from our mothers. This is separate from the majority of our DNA, which is housed in each cell’s nucleus.

Around a quarter of her mitochondria have the disease-causing mutation. While she is healthy, Leigh syndrome was responsible for the deaths of her first two children. The couple sought out the help of John Zhang and his team at theNew Hope Fertility Center in New York City.

Zhang has been working on a way to avoid mitochondrial disease using a so-called “three-parent” technique. In theory, there are a few ways of doing this. The method approved in the UK is called pronuclear transfer and involves fertilising both the mother’s egg and a donor egg with the father’s sperm. Before the fertilised eggs start dividing into early-stage embryos, each nucleus is removed. The nucleus from the donor’s fertilised egg is discarded and replaced by that from the mother’s fertilised egg.

But this technique wasn’t appropriate for the couple – as Muslims, they were opposed to the destruction of two embryos. So Zhang took a different approach, called spindle nuclear transfer. He removed the nucleus from one of the mother’s eggs and inserted it into a donor egg that had had its own nucleus removed. The resulting egg – with nuclear DNA from the mother and mitochondrial DNA from a donor – was then fertilised with the father’s sperm.

Zhang’s team used this approach to create five embryos, only one of which developed normally. This embryo was implanted in the mother and the child was born nine months later. “It’s exciting news,” says Bert Smeets at Maastricht University in the Netherlands. The team will describe the findings at the American Society for Reproductive Medicine’s Scientific Congress in Salt Lake City in October.

Neither method has been approved in the US, so Zhang went to Mexico instead, where he says “there are no rules”. He is adamant that he made the right choice. “To save lives is the ethical thing to do,” he says.

The team seems to have taken an ethical approach with their technique, says Sian Harding, who reviewed the ethics of the UK procedure. The team avoided destroying embryos, and used a male embryo, so that the resulting child wouldn’t pass on any inherited mitochondrial DNA. “It’s as good as or better than what we’ll do in the UK,” says Harding.

A remaining concern is safety. Last time embryologists tried to create a baby using DNA from three people was in the 1990s, when they injected mitochondrial DNA from a donor into another woman’s egg, along with sperm from her partner. Some of the babies went on to develop genetic disorders, and the technique was banned. The problem may have arisen from the babies having mitochondria from two sources.

When Zhang and his colleagues tested the boy’s mitochondria, they found that less than 1 per cent carry the mutation. Hopefully, this is too low to cause any problems; generally it is thought to take around 18 per cent of mitochondria to be affected before problems start. “It’s very good,” says Ilic.

Smeets agrees, but cautions that the team should monitor the child to make sure the levels stay low. There’s a chance that faulty mitochondria could be better at replicating, and gradually increase in number, he says. “We need to wait for more births, and to carefully judge them,” says Smeets.

Two women, one man and a baby

A Jordanian couple has been trying to start a family for almost 20 years. Ten years after they married, she became pregnant, but it ended in the first of four miscarriages.

In 2005, the couple gave birth to a baby girl. It was then that they discovered the probable cause of their fertility problems: a genetic mutation in the mother’s mitochondria. Their daughter was born with Leigh syndrome, which affects the brain, muscles and nerves of developing infants. Sadly, she died aged six. The couple’s second child had the same disorder, and lived for 8 months.

Using a controversial “three-parent baby” technique (see main story), the boy was born on 6 April 2016. He is showing no signs of disease.

JUROR’S excused for a fortnight as judge considers legal issue in FitzPatrick trial

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The former Anglo Irish Bank director Sean FitzPatrick.

JURORS in the trial of former Anglo Irish Bank chairman Sean FitzPatrick have been told they will not be required again until Monday week.

Judge John Aylmer told the jury there was a legal issue which he had to deal with before the trial can proceed.

“That is not unusual,” he said.

Mr FitzPatrick (68), of Whitshed Road, Greystones, Co Wicklow, is facing 27 separate charges of misleading Anglo’s auditors Ernst & Young.

Before they retired all of the charges were read to them.

Judge Aylmer said when they return counsel for the prosecution Dominic McGinn would open the case.

“That lengthy and daunting indictment will be made clear to you,” he said.

The judge said it was “an awful lot to digest” but it would be explained.

Judge Aylmer reminded the jury not to seek information about the case outside the courtroom.

“For God’s sake don’t be tempted to publish your own views on the matter on social media,” he added.

The trial is expected to last 12 weeks. Mr FitzPatrick has denied the charges.

These include 21 counts of making misleading, false or deceptive statements to the auditors of Anglo Irish Bank, contrary to section 197 of the Companies Act 1990.

The offences allegedly occurred on dates between 2002 and 2007 and carry a maximum five year jail term.

They include five counts alleging Mr FitzPatrick did not disclose to auditors Ernst & Young arrangements temporarily reducing the balance of loans to him or persons connected to him at the end of the financial year. The reductions cited ranged in size from €4.3m to €88.9m.

He also faces six charges of giving false information contrary to section 242 of the Companies Act 1990 on dates between 2002 and 2008.

The offences carry a maximum jail term of three years. All counts relate to Mr FitzPatrick allegedly producing financial statements giving a false figure for the aggregate value of loans to directors of Anglo.

Half of Pluto’s heart contains liquid water; NASA finds miracle on the dwarf planet

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NASA made an interesting discovery about Pluto and announced it hours before the press brief about Jupiter’s Europa. Even so far from the sun, the dwarf planet has liquid water.

Early last year, Pluto’s “heart” was discovered and it made the world coo at the dwarf planet. Though removed under the classification of what counts as a “real” planet, the dwarf planet continues to astound as scientists find that even so far away from the heat of the sun, Pluto actually has liquid water.

Due to the distance of Pluto from the sun, it should only contain layers upon layers of ice. But last year, when the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA) New Horizon spacecraft flew past it, scientists began to suspect that there might be a subsurface ocean.

Since the discovery of Pluto’s heart, a team led by Brandon Johnson, an assistant professor in Brown University, focused on getting to know the Sputnik Planum or the western lobe of the heart. The team believed that the love was caused by an asteroid impact. But the interesting and more pressing question arose when the Planum demonstrated positive mass instead of the opposite.

“An impact crater is basically a hole in the ground. You’re taking a bunch of material and blasting it out, so you expect it to have negative mass anomaly, but that’s not what we see with Sputnik Planum,” said Johnson, as reported by Express.

Pluto once again defies expectations and instead shows that the crate has positive mass as a result of the meteor which in turn caused the subsurface ocean to even out across the dwarf planet. Because it was so astounding, natural curiosity took over and the scientists wanted to “run computer models of the impact to see if this is something that would actually happen.”

The results of their tests yielded and stated that the production of a positive mass anomaly is sensitive to how thick, how salty, and how dense the water is. Thus, the ocean layer of at least 100 kilometers “has to be there.”

Though the thermal models of Pluto’s structure do suggest the existence of a liquid ocean, scientists are still on the lookout of important information that can explain how it is possible in the first place. Once again, Pluto astounds the scientific community, and we wouldn’t have it any other way.


News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Sunday 25th September 2016

Irish Central Bank signals resistance to changing mortgage lending rules

‘Stable rules are valuable in eliminating avoidable uncertainty’, says deputy governor

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The Irish Central Bank deputy governor Sharon Donnery said the short- and medium-term impact of Brexit was likely to be negative.

The Central Bank has given its clearest indication yet of a reluctance to change its strict rules on mortgage lending and warned that adopting a “fine tuning” approach could lead to financial instability.

Speaking at the annual economic policy conference of the Dublin Economic Workshop, the deputy governor of the Central Bank of Ireland, Sharon Donnery, said the benefit of adjusting the rules would have to be significant as a “stable regulatory regime was key to eliminating uncertainty”.

She also warned that uncertainty would remain a central feature of the economic backdrop against which policymakers would have to make decisions in the years ahead.

Under the Central Bank rules as they stand, first-time buyers need a 10 per cent deposit for the first €220,000 of a house price and 20 per cent for the balance while all other buyers must have a 20 per cent deposit in place. In addition, the Central Bank requires that lending limits of 3.5 times income are applied by the banks before approving mortgages.

A recent consultation process, which will inform the bank’s review, yielded 50 submissions, several of which called for the threshold below which first-time buyers have to pay only a 10 per cent deposit to be raised from the current level of €220,000.

Ms Donnery said “the evidence threshold to justify a material loosening or tightening of the rules is significant for two reasons. First, stable rules are valuable for both households and mortgage lenders in eliminating avoidable uncertainty about the regulatory regime. Second, the noisy and volatile nature of macro-financial data means that it would be unwise to seek to adjust the rules in response to minor and temporary fluctuations in the state of the financial cycle: such a fine-tuning approach could actually aggravate financial instability if revisions proved to be unwarranted or badly timed.”

She said that while the costs of the measures could be “immediately felt and is quantifiable to the banks or borrowers to which they apply, the benefits are often unobservable”.

Precise impact uncertain?

Addressing Brexit, Ms Donnery said the precise impact on the Irish economy was uncertain but warned that the “short- and medium-term impact is likely to be negative”.

She said the Republic was the most exposed European economy to the potential effects of Brexit because the UK accounts for a large percentage of Irish imports and exports and because labour flows and cross-Border investment linkages are considerable.

“There is considerable uncertainty regarding the specific political and institutional construct which may emerge once the UK decides to trigger article 50 of the treaty. This makes it challenging to estimate the impact on the Irish economy.”

Taoiseach Kenny urges the US to allow low-cost flights from Cork to Boston?

Enda Kenny says he has raised the matter twice with President Barack Obama

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President Barack Obama: “You can’t get any higher than the American president,” says Enda Kenny.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny has renewed his appeal to United States authorities to approve a licence for Norwegian Air International’s plan for low-cost transatlantic flights from Cork to Boston.

Mr Kenny said he was doing all he could to lobby for approval for the new service which is being opposed by aviation unions in the US and Ireland.

Some observers believe it will not be adjudicated on by the US department of transportation until after the US presidential election.

“What I have done is that I have raised this with the president of the United States on two occasions. We have had discussions at a European level and at an American level. You can’t get any higher than the American president,” said Mr Kenny on a visit to Cork.

“The issues raised by the American airlines have been referred to and dealt with comprehensively but it is a matter for common sense to prevail here for a situation that is in compliance with the Open Skies agreement.

Capacity is there.

“The opportunity for Norwegian Air International (NAI) to fly from Ireland to the States will have the capacity to do for long haul what Ryanair did for short haul with enormous opportunities for both sides.

“It’s not politics that’s holding this back. This is not a political obstruction, and obviously now there is a claim for this to go to arbitration. If the matter becomes approved in the meantime, there will be no need for arbitration.”

Mr Kenny made his comments as European commissioner for transportVioleta Bulc prepares to meet US secretary of transportation Anthony Foxx at the International Civil Aviation Organization assembly in Montreal on Tuesday.

Mr Kenny said the matter was going to be raised in a European context and he stressed that the NAI proposal to fly from Cork to Boston was in compliance and met all the requirements of the Open Skies deal between the US andEurope.

Last April, the US department of transportation indicated issued what is known as “a show cause order” concerning NAI, the Irish-flag subsidiary of Norwegian Air Shuttle and following detailed examinations on submissions of NAI’s application for a permit.

Labour-related concerns.

In the show cause order, the department acknowledged that the labour-related concerns raised by the NAI’s opponents warranted proceeding with caution and it consulted with its own legal advisor, the department’s office of the general counsel.

The department also took the unprecedented step of formally consulting two agencies with special expertise on international law, the department of justice’s office of legal counsel (OLC) and the department of state (DOS), to solicit their views.

According to the department of transportation, it found that “the provision in the US-EU agreement that addresses labour does not afford a basis for rejecting an applicant that is otherwise qualified to receive a permit”.

“In this regard, the order states that Norwegian Air International appears to meet DOT’s normal standards for award of a permit and that there appears to be no legal basis to deny Norwegian Air International’s application,” it stated.

US and Irish trade unions have objected to the new proposed service, claiming that the NAI would employ crew on “Asian contracts” that were not governed by the labour laws of either the US or the EU but this has been strongly denied by the company.

Seanad leader Fine Gael Senator Jerry Buttimer, from Cork, said he plans to raise the issue with Minister for Transport Shane Ross and Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan this week to ensure diplomatic pressure is maintained to secure the permit.

Blind entrepreneur man wins national award for successful health food business

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When an unemployed Donegal man sought a quick recovery from knee surgery, he found a solution that’s now earning him a living as well as accolades and awards.

Derek Walker (28) from Letterkenny was advised to take wheat-grass as part of his recovery because the natural food product is rich in protein, vitamins and minerals and helps with healing. Wheat-grass is even said to help cure cancer.

However, it isn’t the easiest item to digest, so Derek began growing and producing convenient 30ml shots of fast-frozen wheatgrass juice for his own consumption and for sale.

He felt he had to try to make a living somehow. Derek is registered blind and had been unable to find normal paid work, partly he believes because of discrimination.

With support from Donegal Local Development Company’s (DLDC) self-employment support unit, he was able to move production from a spare room in his house to custom-designed facilities. Today, his wheatgrass juice shots are sold in dozens of Tesco, Supervalu and other stores.

When he discovered that Letterkenny had no market for local food, craft and art producers, he and his fiancé Anna McQuade simply set one up. Letterkenny Artisan Market at Carrygally Business Park now caters for 40 exhibitors.

For his entrepreneurship, Derek won a regional award during the summer and last week was chosen as national winner of the inaugural Irish Local Development Network award for unemployed people who set up their own businesses.

Derek’s disability is not obvious at first, but his sight has been diminishing since he was 12 years old due to a rare condition.

He applied for many jobs but could not get past the interview stage. He recalled dropping his magnifier and it rolling across the floor during one job interview: “That was me done for,” he said.

“I’m glad it happened now,” he said of the discrimination, as it prompted him to go it alone.

On scooping the national award, Derek said, “I feel nothing but gratitude. With losing my eyesight, this is very special to me. I made the job myself and I want a future to work towards, where as at one point I felt I was going to have nothing.”

He praised the staff in DLDC and the Back to Work Enterprise Allowance (BTWEA) scheme.

“They restored some inner belief in me that others had taken away from me. I learned that I am a person of value. Don’t set limits. Just because you can’t do one or two things, with help you can do as many things as you want to.”

“And the BTWEA was a big help because it enabled me to create a network of contacts. I was on a blind pension – a disability allowance – and the scheme gave me two years to try out my idea.”

The scheme allows participants to retain their social welfare payment, plus secondary benefits, on a reducing basis over a two-year period.

Derek’s success and the achievements of 17 other finalists were hailed as an example to 11,500 people currently availing of the BTWEA scheme.

“It shows what you can do with the right ideas, support and determination,” said Kathleen Stack, Assistant Secretary General at the Department of Social Protection, speaking at the awards event, in Dublin, on September 15th.

Meanwhile, Derek had advice for people who can’t find work because of lack of jobs, because of the recession, or because of discrimination over disabilities:

“You can do it for yourselves, with support. I wouldn’t have had the courage on my own to do it. The scheme gave me security and now the world is my oyster.”

He intends to invest his €2,000 prize money into the business and to begin employing people shortly. Busy times beckon as Derek and Anna also became parents recently.

Organ donors can give the gift of life after death

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(Above centre pic) Members of the Heart and Lung Transplant Association during a visit to the Circle of Life Garden in Salthill on Saturday. Sean O’Gorman from Tipperary, a heart recipient of nine years; Rosaleen Clasby from East Galway who received a double lung transplant earlier this year; Sally Whelan from Co Laois, a double-lung transplant of three and half years, and David Crosby from Cavan who also received a double lung transplant earlier this year.

The garden commemorates the donor community and their families in Ireland and across the globe.

When it comes to donating organs, Ireland has a pretty good track record. We’re ranked ahead of countries such as Germany and France, but there’s always room for improvement, as places such as Spain and Croatia show.

In Ireland, the number of organ donors per million people is 18. In Spain, it’s 36, making it a leader in the EU.

Specialists from Spanish hospitals were among a group of European visitors to Ireland last week, sharing their knowledge and expertise with some 40 colleagues involved in organ donation here.

The group visited UHG and Salthill’s Circle of Life Commemorative garden before returning to Dublin for a two-day conference.

It’s part of a campaign to increase the number of organ donors in Ireland to 25 per million people

That’s on foot of a 2010 EU directive which was introduced mainly because of Europe’s ageing population, explains Emer Curran, a Consultant in Anaesthesia and Intensive Care Medicine who has been appointed as Clinical Lead in Organ Donation for the Galway University Hospital Saolta Group,

Emer is one of two new appointments made locally by the HSE to educate staff and the public about the importance of organ donation and to liaise with staff at Organ Donation and Transplant Ireland (ODTI).

That’s the body that co-ordinates organ transplantation in Ireland. Based in Dublin, it’s the first contact point between Intensive Care Units countrywide and transplant surgeons in Ireland’s three transplant hospitals. Kidney transplants are carried out in Beaumont, hearts and lungs at the Mater and liver and pancreas transplants are done in St Vincent’s.

The other appointee in the Saolta region is Pauline May who took up the role of Organ Donor Nurse Manager last year, bringing extensive experience as an Intensive Care Nurse and Clinical Nurse Manager.

Donor Nurses have been in place across the HSE since 2015. This year, in addition to Emer’s appointment in the West, three Lead Clinicians were appointed in Dublin, and one in the Mid-West area – there will be an appointment in Cork next year.

It’s part of a campaign to create a version of the Spanish model although we can’t replicate everything they do as we don’t have the resources, Emer explains.

She and Pauline cover an area from Galway to Donegal, so the remit is large, especially since Emer’s role is part-time, but you have to work with the resources that are available to you, she says. There are seven hospitals in the area, five with ICU departments, which is where most donors come from.

“We’re not doing too badly, but we want to do better,” she says about organ donation in Ireland.

That’s where she and Pauline come in?

“It’s about educating everybody to make sure we are on the same page,” she says of people on the frontline of patient care.

Organ Donation and Transplant Ireland was established in 2014 by the HSE, and given responsibility for organ procurement.

The aim of the body, headed up by Galway man and NUIG graduate, Professor Jim Egan, a consultant in Respiratory Medicine at the Mater, is to increase the number of organ donors while ensuring care of patients, recipients and organs.

There are many reasons why it’s important to increase the number of organ donors, Emer says. Ireland has the highest rate of Cystic Fibrosis in the world and diabetes – a leading cause of kidney disease – is becoming more common. Ageing is a big factor. Also, our population has increased and that means increased need for organs.

How to talk to a horse the Norwegian way

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Norwegian horses have been taught to communicate in a “horse code,” allowing them to talk with human caretakers.

Researchers have devised a way that could allow you to talk to horses.

A horse is a horse of course of course, and no one can talk to a horse of course.

Or can they?

It’s not quite the equivalent of Mister Ed, but it’s the next best thing. Researchers have taught a group of Norwegian horses to use a series of symbols to talk to their human caretakers, and the equines used their newfound verbosity to communicate their blanket preferences.

Horses were trained to use their noses to select one of three boards with different symbols on them. The board with a horizontal line means “put my blanket on,” while the board with a vertical line means “take it off.” A third board, blank, allows the horses to indicate that they are perfectly happy as is. It took less than two weeks to train all 23 horses in the study to properly use the symbols. The research was detailed in the journal Applied Animal Behaviour Science.

The training process involved placing the horses in either a very warm environment with a blanket on or a very cold environment without a blanket. The animals were cued about the meaning of the symbols by being fed carrots whenever they made the appropriate choice. When wrong choices were made, the horses were given nothing. It took just 10-15 minutes of training a day for the horses to figure out the symbol system.

Once everything clicked for the horses, they became increasingly eager to communicate with humans, even going out of their way to get the attention of their caretakers so that they could discuss their preferences. They seemed enthusiastic at the opportunity to take more control over their own temperature regulation, to convey whether they were hot or cold. In fact, once the horses grasped the symbol system they no longer required carrots as reward, which indicated to researchers that they truly understood what the boards meant.

Researchers also confirmed that the animals were either sweating or shivering when they would indicate their blanket preferences. By the end of the study, the horses were using the symbols with 100 percent accuracy. Over the following months, they would continue to use the communication system to indicate their changing preferences as weather conditions changed.

It’s a remarkable result, one which could revolutionize how horses are kept and cared for. The next step will be to see what other concepts the horses might be able to communicate, and to test just how big their vocabulary can become.

Stephen Hawking is still wary of making contact with aliens

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Especially if some of our own Earth films are anything to go by.

It’s no secret that we as a society have developed a fascination with contact from alien civilizations over the years. The concept of meeting intelligent life from somewhere else, either from our galaxy or another, has been the basis of much of our recent research–including the work of the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) Institute, which we’ve been avidly following.

It’s also been the inspiration for some of the most popular science-fiction franchises out there, from Star Trek to Close Encounters of the Third Kind to the Independence Day films. In much of our fiction, however, meeting alien life for the first time can either go well… or not so well.

With that in mind, it’s no wonder that renowned astrophysicist Stephen Hawking is personally pretty nervous when it comes to the concept of first contact with an alien civilization. Back in 2010, Hawking posited the theory that if intelligent life exists outside our universe, they may not be as friendly as we would like to believe.

Six years later, he still holds that same belief–and he’s discussing it in a documentary called Stephen Hawking’s Favorite Places, which is available on CuriosityStream:

One day, we might receive a signal from a planet like [Gliese 832c]. But we should be wary of answering back. Meeting an advanced civilization could be like Native Americans encountering Columbus. That didn’t turn out so well.

It’s easy to understand Hawking’s hesitancy–even though other scientists aren’t so sure we need to be erring on the side of caution when it comes to welcoming first contact. Their argument stands behind the fact that any aliens who reach out to us would have likely already learned a lot about us due to the fact that our planet has been sending out satellite signals for hundreds of years already. So maybe it wouldn’t necessarily turn out likeIndependence Day. Maybe it would actually be closer to this scene in Final Contact that gives me emotions every single time. We could definitely introduce our equivalent of Vulcans to some rocking’ tunes:

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Saturday 24th September 2016

Enda Kenny vows no change to Ireland’s 12.5% corporate tax rate

Image result for Enda Kenny vows no change to Ireland’s 12.5% corporate tax rate  Image result for “The American Chamber believes that competitiveness and certainty of tax policy are necessary to Ireland’s foreign direct investment   Image result for “The American Chamber believes that competitiveness and certainty of tax policy are necessary to Ireland’s foreign direct investment

There will be no change to Ireland’s 12.5% corporate tax rate, the Taoiseach told US business leaders in Ireland yesterday.

Enda Kenny gave the reassurance after his first post-Brexit meeting with the American Chamber of Commerce at a business lunch in Cork.

Chamber president, Bob Savage, said the need for certainty in policy and administration to secure current and future inward investment had come into sharp focus in recent weeks in the wake of the UK’s shock Brexit vote.

“The American Chamber believes that competitiveness and certainty of tax policy are necessary to Ireland’s foreign direct investment (FDI) offering,” he said.

And in their pre-budget submission, the chamber, which represents US companies in Ireland employing some 140,000 people, said competitiveness and certainty of tax policy are vital parts of Ireland’s foreign direct investment offering.

After meeting members of the chamber’s board yesterday, Mr Kenny ruled out any question of Ireland’s corporate tax rate being up for negotiation post-Brexit, or following the EU’s tax ruling on US tech giant Apple, which is the subject of an appeal.

“This is the first meeting I have had with the (American Chamber (of Commerce) since the decision on Brexit,” Mr Kenny said.

“I have to say that the American Chamber has given a very strong indication of their continued support for investment in Ireland.

“I have made it perfectly clear, from a tax certainty point of view, that Ireland is absolutely committed to its 12.5% corporation tax rate.

“That will not be changing and that is an important element for consideration with American investors coming here to Ireland.

“From my discussions with the IDA the (foreign direct investment) pipeline is busy up ahead.

“There are matters that we need to attend to in the future in terms of infrastructure, housing and provision of adequate facilities for major companies to do their jobs here.

“There are 175,000 people directly employed in both companies that are both associated with and members of the American Chamber and Irish companies who have invested here.”

Mr Savage welcomed the Taoiseach’s clear statement on corporate tax.

“We appreciate the Taoiseach’s unambiguous declaration that the Government will steadfastly defend our hard-earned reputation as a pro-business country that is defined by fairness and certainty of treatment,” he said.

“We have never seen the competition for US business investment from other regions of the world as intense as it is today. It is essential that we constantly benchmark our competitiveness against the countries that compete with us.”

Thousands of protesters take part in pro-choice rally in Dublin

London, Paris, Brussels and New York among cities hosting demonstrations

Image result for Thousands of protesters take part in pro-choice rally in Dublin  Image result for Thousands of protesters take part in pro-choice rally in Dublin

Bad weather and bus strikes did not deter thousands turning out for the fifth annual March for Choice rally in Dublin.

Tens of thousands of people have taken part in a Dublin rally calling for he repeal of the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution in one of the biggest pro-choice demonstrations seen in Ireland.

The march set off from Garden of Rembrance on Parnell Square shortly after 2pm, travelling down O’Connell Street.

The mainly young crowd shouted chants of “Not the church, not the state, women must decide their fate”, “Get your rosaries off my ovaries”, and “Pro-life, that’s a lie, you don’t care if women die” before reaching Merrion Square where speeches were made.

Incessant heavy rain and the ongoing Dublin Bus strike failed to deter large crowd. ,

Organised by the Abortion Rights Campaign, the March for Choice event was the fifth annual protest by the group and the biggest.

Several observers put the attendance at about 20,000, although some participants calculated a higher figure.

Pro-choice campaigners among the Irish diaspora are holding parallel demonstrations in a number of cities including London, Paris, Berlin, Brussels, New York, San Francisco, Toronto and Melbourne.

Linda Kavanagh of the Abortion Rights Campaign said: “In 1916 people dreamed of a better Ireland, one of self-determination and the right to choose their own destiny. A hundred years later, we’re still fighting for that right; there can be no freedom without bodily autonomy.

“We cannot wait for another woman to die, for another woman to be kept alive artificially, for another woman to be force-fed and cut open against her will.

“Enough blood has been spilled, enough women have died. No more shame, no more silence, no more stigma. This is our Rising.”

Singer Mary Coughlan told the crowd: “I have been involved in many campaigns, and this is surely the most joyous of all to see so many of you here today.

“I’m a mother of five children, three daughters and two sons. I’m a grandmother of three children and another one on the way.

Sligo man and restaurant boss wants to see the county helped out more by the Government

Image result for Sligo native Anthony Gray was elected President of the Restaurants Association of Ireland  Image result for Sligo native Anthony Gray was elected President of the Restaurants Association of Ireland

The President of the Restaurants Association of Ireland, Sligoman, Anthony Gray (right of picture above) has urged the Government to help Sligo and rural Ireland in its recovery and growth before it becomes a ‘desert wasteland’.

“It’s quite amazing to see other small towns and counties like Mayo thriving while the rest of rural Ireland is forgotten about. For example, Mayo has five dedicated tourist officers and Galway, eight. Sligo has a big fat zero, the same as many other rural towns like Roscommon. I wonder why you continually hear of job announcements in these areas. Maybe, it’s due to the fact they have fibre broadband, motorways and good healthcare?

Mr Gray continued, “I drive to Dublin regularly and from the Collooney roundabout until Castlebaldwin it’s quite eerie just to count the number of crosses where far too many people have been killed. What a picture for potential tourists, visitors and investors. We are to get a motorway, but when?

“We in Sligo, only have tourism to hang our hat on. We have zero job investments but fantastic hard working people in IDA who keep trying to bring more to Sligo but the government only allows them a 19% growth outside of Dublin. If it wasn’t for some talented like-minded people who believe in and drive Sligo forward, who brought the Fleadh here and tirelessly promote Sligo for its food culture and beauty, you might as well forget this part of the most beautiful countryside actually exists.

“At present, the only major contributor to Sligo for me is Failte Ireland, they realise its wealth as a tourist destination and believe it will work. It is the only organisation that are investing in Sligo,” he said.

With the success of events like the Fleadh, the continuing hard work by the Tidy Towns, Sligo food trail and other groups who consistently promote Sligo for its rich heritage in music and beauty, it really shows that there is a passion and it clearly outlines our ability to succeed but when there is absolutely no Government support its very frustrating.

I sit on many boards trying to promote Sligo and, pardon the pun, there’s one major ingredient missing from all rural towns in Ireland and Sligo and that is government investment and money. Sometimes, you can’t even get enough money for a sign to bring with you to say that you’re from Sligo.”

A frustrated Mr Gray noted Sligo’s most recent loss. “Sligo has most recently lost its library due to the county council being handed a financial plan that’s totally unrealistic. The fact of the matter is the council has no money and it is being asked to reduce its staff by 42%. Something has to give and what can you do if you don’t have the staff? Let’s call it as it is, Sligo has no money, fact. None whatsoever from the government and more than likely, it won’t get any in a hurry, the same as every other rural town in Ireland. This is why we will never reach our full potential unless changes are made. No one can work in the direction they want because of this. It’s down to the current government to make changes and no one else.

It’s about time that Sligo and rural Ireland stood up and got angry. At present, our TDs in rural Ireland and Sligo are not strong enough nor do they possess the political clout. Do you think a library in Kerry would have closed under the eyes of the Healy Rae brothers? Not a hope.

This Government’s blind indifference to Sligo and rural Ireland is destroying its potential. The litany of broken promises from the last general election measured against outcomes since represents the greatest act of political skulduggery by this government. It is true the greatest failure is the two tier recovery, it will be the ruination of rural Ireland and Sligo if not addressed.

Strategic thinking and the right resource application can transform our local economy. A balancing of the books by government can give Sligo a budget it can work with to embrace its true potential, all that’s required is a life line. We in Sligo and other towns can do this and the rest of the country will start to prosper but only then. The government must look at this matter clearly instead of with the blinkered vision. Right now there is a two-tier economy and this is widening between urban and rural Ireland.

If the government wants to redeem themselves they must understand that Ireland, especially rural Ireland, is still in a very fragile state. With now having to contend with Brexit and fluctuations in sterling, it really is about time the people in power remember the rest of Ireland and the border counties. It’s time somebody cared and did something about rural Ireland. After all, it’s not a desert wasteland but it will be if the government fails to repay rural Ireland for what it suffered in austerity by not investing in job creation and boosting tourism. For now, a Sligo budget will be detrimental to the Restaurant Industry in rural Ireland and Sligo and SMEs across this nation.”

A “Healthy Weight for Ireland” new action plan to tackle obesity

 Image result for A "Healthy Weight for Ireland" new action plan to tackle obesity   Image result for A "Healthy Weight for Ireland" new action plan to tackle obesity                                                                                                                Sugar Tax

60% of Ireland’s adults now overweight or obese

A new action plan to target Ireland’s growing obesity problem has been launched by the Department of Health.

Currently in Ireland, six in 10 adults and one in four children are overweight or obese and this costs the country around €1 billion per year. Carrying excess weight significantly increases a person’s risk of developing a number of serious conditions, including heart disease and type 2 diabetes.

A Healthy Weight for Ireland – Obesity Policy and Action Plan 2016- 2025 contains 60 specific actions which aim to reduce the burden of obesity and improve the overall health of Irish people.

Actions which will be taken over the coming years include:

  1. -New national healthy eating guidelines
  2. -The development of a nutrition policy
  3. -Calorie posting legislation
  4. -The prioritisation of obesity services in the HSE service plans for 2017 and beyond
  5. -Support for the introduction of a sugar levy to discourage the consumption of sugar-sweetened drinks
  6. -The appointment of a new clinical lead for obesity by the HSE.

Speaking at the launch of the plan in Dublin, the Minister for Health, Simon Harris, said that while lifestyle choices are made by individuals and families, ‘Government can and must help to empower people to make these healthy choices’.

“We have a responsibility to influence the environment and conditions which help people to have their desired quality of life and enjoy physical and mental health and wellbeing to their full potential,” he commented.

The plan recognises that when it comes to obesity rates in Ireland, there are socio-economic inequalities, with people in poorer areas much more likely to be obese.

To this end, the HSE aims to develop community-based health promotion programmes with a special focus on disadvantaged areas.

Meanwhile also at the launch of the plan, the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Dr Katherine Zappone, launched Healthy Lifestyles – Have Your Say, a report based on consultations with children and young people on this issue.

“Body image and media influences were identified as the main barriers to a healthy lifestyle among teenagers, including the pressure to conform to a particular body image. Exam stress and heavy study workloads were identified as contributing to sedentary and unhealthy lifestyles.

“Other school-related issues identified by young people include their criticisms of the teaching of social, personal and health education (SPHE) and the lack of choice in physical education (PE), with the few alternatives to team sports it offers and its failure to cater for different interests,” Minister Zappone explained.

She said that it is important to give young people a voice in decisions that affect their lives and this also leads to ‘more effective policies and services’.

The obesity plan was welcomed by the Food Safety Authority of Ireland, which said that it offered ‘an unprecedented opportunity to create a healthier nation’.

The plan was also welcomed by the Irish Heart Foundation, but it warned about the risk of ‘implementation paralysis’.

“We need to ensure that the implementation paralysis that has accompanied previous policies is not repeated. It’s a worrying sign that there is currently no dedicated funding for the strategy, whilst we already know that one of its key measures, the imposition of a sugar-sweetened drinks tax, has been postponed until 2018 at least, despite overwhelming public and political support,” commented the IHF’s head of advocacy, Chris Macey.

He added that the longer it takes to address this issue, ‘the more children will be condemned to lives dominated by ill health, chronic disease and the prospect of an early grave’.

Scandinavian type baby care boxes aim to reduce cot deaths in Ireland

Image result for Scandinavian baby care boxes aim to reduce cot deaths in Ireland   Image result for baby care boxes aim to reduce cot deaths in Ireland

A Scandinavian baby care concept which has dramatically reduced infant mortalities such as cot deaths in Finland was introduced to Irish mothers-to-be yesterday.

The baby box programme launched at University Maternity Hospital Limerick (UMHL) will provide free baby boxes for infants to sleep in.

Made from durable cardboard, the box can be used as a baby’s bed for the first eight months of life. The box prevents babies from rolling onto their tummies, which experts say can contribute to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).

The baby boxes come with a foam mattress, waterproof mattress cover and cotton sheet.

Education material with advice from healthcare professionals on reducing risks to babies, is also included in the baby box pack.

The use of baby boxes has been credited with helping reduce infant mortality rates in Finland from 65 infant deaths per 1,000 births in 1938 to 2.26 per 1,000 births in 2015.

Ireland’s infant mortality rate is 3.7 per 1,000 births.

The concept already adapted in Britain, Canada and the US was introduced to this country yesterday at UMHL, the first Irish maternity hospital to embrace the idea.

As well as the baby boxes, new mothers will be presented with clothing and educational materials.

Dr Mendinaro Imcha, consultant gynaecologist/obstetrician UMHL, said: “The baby box programme is a proactive approach to improving the health and safety of the newborn child and parents. We are combining tradition with current technology and supporting the newborn child’s family with online education material covering a broad range of essential topics and postnatal care.”

Margaret Gleeson, chief director of nursing and midwifery at the UL hospitals group, said up to 5,000 baby boxes will be distributed to new mothers who give birth at UMHL over the coming year.

Ms Gleeson said: “The baby boxes are a thing of beauty and there is the invaluable education element of this initiative which makes this truly patient-centre.”

Tipperary-based tattoo artist, and expectant mother, Karen Smith did the artistic designs which decorate the UMHL baby boxes.

She said: “The whole meaning behind my design is rebirth. I thought the butterfly was the perfect symbol for the baby box. It is a symbolic creature in many cultures and lends itself to all manner of colourful and fanciful adaptations, in this case our beautiful baby box.”

Jennifer Clery, chief executive of the US-based The Baby Box Co, said: “We are delighted to expand our baby box programme to Ireland and look forward to this new collaboration here in Limerick at the University Maternity Hospital. The baby box is an innovative integrated programme to support parents and improve maternal and infant healthcare outcomes globally.”

UMHL is the second largest maternity hospital in the country, outside Dublin and cares from women from Limerick, Clare, Tipperary, North Kerry, North Cork and areas of Offaly.

Priscilla Chan and Mark Zuckerberg aim to ‘cure, prevent and manage’ all diseases

The couple plans to invest $3bn over next decade to help scientists develop and utilise tools such as artificial intelligence and blood monitors to treat illnesses

Image result for Priscilla Chan and Mark Zuckerberg aim to 'cure, prevent and manage' all diseases  Image result for Priscilla Chan and Mark Zuckerberg aim to 'cure, prevent and manage' all diseases   Image result for Priscilla Chan and Mark Zuckerberg aim to 'cure, prevent and manage' all diseases

Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan pledge $3bn to end all disease

Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, have laid out plans to invest $3bn over the next 10 years with the not insignificant goal of tackling all diseases.

“Can we cure, prevent or manage all disease by the end of this century?” asked Zuckerberg, speaking in front of a packed lecture theatre at the University of California, San Francisco’s (UCSF) William J Rutter Center.

The Chan/Zuckerberg Initiative will focus on some of the world’s biggest killers, including heart disease, cancer, infectious diseases and neurological diseases.

One of its biggest investments is to be a $600m “Biohub” at UCSF, which will bring together scientists and engineers from Stanford, Berkeley and UCSF – who haven’t collaborated in this way before – to develop tools to treat diseases.

Cure all diseases? The Chan Zuckerberg plan is brilliantly bold

The second focus will be transformative technology, all of which will be made available to all scientists everywhere.

“Throughout the history of science, most of the major scientific breakthroughs have been preceded by some new tool and technology that allows you to see in new ways,” explained Zuckerberg. “The telescope helped us understand astronomy and the universe, the microscope helped us understand cells and bacteria to help us develop treatments for infectious diseases, while DNA sequencing and editing helps us fight cancer and genetic disorders.”

Zuckerberg suggested that artificial intelligence could help with brain imaging to treat neurological diseases, machine learning could be used to analyse cancer genomes, and chips and blood monitors could identify diseases quickly. “These are the kinds of tools we want to focus on building at the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative,” he said.

The acclaimed American neurobiologist Cornelia Bargmann, who will lead the initiative, gave the example of a “cell atlas”, a comprehensive resource that maps the locations, types and molecular properties of all of the cells in the human body.

“We need this to develop new understanding and cures for diseases in all areas of medicine,” she said.

The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative is a limited liability company that the couple uses to make donations and investments to advance their philanthropic causes. It was launched at the birth of the couple’s first daughter, Max, in December 2015. The couple has committed 99% of their Facebook stock, valued at $45bn, to the initiative, which makes charitable donations and for-profit investments.

The organisation initially focused on education, funding the Indian company BYJU’s, which helps students learn maths and science, and the Nigerian company Andela, which trains African software developers. It has now turned its attention to science.

The organisation will achieve its objective by focusing on building tools and technology, bringing scientists from across the world together and growing a movement to fund more scientific research.

Will Zuckerberg and Chan’s $45bn pledge change philanthropy?

Wiping back tears in an emotional opening talk, Chan described her work as a paediatrician.

“I have worked with families at their most difficult moments in their lives, from making the devastation diagnosis of leukaemia to sharing with them that we were unable to resuscitate their child,” she said. “By investing in science today, we hope to build a future in which all of our children can live long and rewarding lives.”

Zuckerberg and Chan acknowledged it was an ambitious undertaking. “It’s a big goal,” said Zuckerberg. However, he said that he and Chan had spent two years talking to Nobel Prize-winning scientists and researchers and believed it was not unrealistic.

“Can we all together work to cure, prevent or manage all disease within our children’s lifetime? We think it’s possible and so do scientists,” Chan added. “It’s not that we won’t ever get sick, but that our children and their children will get sick a lot less.”

The plan won the approval of one surprise guest – Microsoft founder-turned-philanthropist Bill Gates. He was welcomed to the stage by Zuckerberg, who described him as a “role model and mentor”.

“The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative is already doing some very promising work in improving the education of all students. It’s amazing they are taking on another bold challenge,” said Gates, who has flexed his philanthropic muscles by funding projects to tackle malaria and HIV through the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation for the last 15 years.

“We cannot end these diseases with the tools we have today. Only through science can we get an HIV vaccine, a malaria vaccine,” he said.

“I am so impressed with the team that’s been pulled together here. I have no doubt that we’ll make great progress on these diseases and literally save millions of lives and make the world a better place.”

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Thursday 22nd September 2016

Cash buyers In Ireland pay less for properties than those who need a mortgage?

Image result for Cash buyers In Ireland pay less for properties than those who need a mortgage?   Image result for Cash buyers In Ireland pay less for properties than those who need a mortgage?

Cash buyers are paying less for properties than those who need to get a mortgage and first-time buyers are being squeezed out of the market.

The findings are contained in the newly revamped property price index from the Central Statistics Office (CSO) which is now based on stamp duty returns and includes cash buyers for the first time.

The CSO data now shows that the collapse in property prices was more pronounced than previously thought, while the recovery has been slightly stronger.

For example, the peak-to-trough fall in residential property prices was 54.4%, not 50.9% as recorded previously.

Similarly, the price increase from the trough to July of this year is 43.2% using the new index, whereas it was previously estimated as 37.4%.

The CSO confirmed that cash buyers — who are estimated to make up around 50% of the market — pay less for property than those who must buy their house by securing a mortgage between 2010 and 2016 and that the differential was most pronounced when the market was at its lowest and outside of Dublin.

Throughout the period 2010 to 2015, former-owner-occupiers have consistently paid the most on average for housing, followed by first-time buyers. Non-occupier households have consistently paid the least.

The CSO also found that first-time buyers have gradually been pushed out of the market between 2010 to 2015.

In 2010, they represented 53.1% of all household market transactions filed. By 2015, first-time buyers’ share fell to just 24.4% of the market. In the first seven months of 2016, first-time buyers accounted for 24.6% of household market purchases.

Across the country, residential property prices rose by 6.7% in the year to July. This compares with an increase of 4.9% in June and a rise of 6.1% recorded in the year to July 2015.

Residential prices increased by 2.5% in the month of July compared with an increase of 1% in June and an increase of 0.8% in July of last year.

Residential property prices are currently 34.7% lower than at their highest level in April 2007.

Prices declined steadily over the years 2010 to 2011, followed by a bottoming-out in 2012 to 2013.

“Since then, prices have risen again. However, the rise in prices has been uneven, with noticeable fluctuations up to the present point in time,” noted the CSO.

In the Dublin residential property market, prices increased by 3.8% in the 12 months to July. This compares with an increase of 2.5% in the year to June and an increase of 4.5% in the year to July 2015.

Dublin residential property prices increased by 1.6% in the month of July compared with an increase of 0.4% in June and an increase of 0.4% in July of last year.

Residential prices in the capital are now 58.2% higher than their lowest level but remain 35.3% below their peak price level in 2006.

The Labour Party made mistakes in office, Brendan Howlin admits

Labour Party think-in told economic implosion would have happened without party

Image result for The Labour Party made mistakes in office, Brendan Howlin admits   Image result for The Labour Party made mistakes in office, Brendan Howlin admits

Labour Party leader Brendan Howlin with Andrew Montague, Rebecca Moynihan, Ged Nash and Kevin Humphreys: “We are rightly proud of the many things we did in office. But we’re also honest enough to recognise that we didn’t get everything right.”

Labour Party leader Brendan Howlin has conceded the party made mistakes in office, but said the current Government was interested in power and nothing else.

Speaking to the Parliamentary Labour Party at its think-in yesterday, Mr Howlin said the Government was leading “a do-nothing Dáil”.

“If [it] survives at all, these will be known as the lost years,” said Mr Howlin.

“Politics is about the resolution of differences in a peaceful and civilised manner – not pretending they don’t exist.”

In the 1990s and again in 2011, Labour entered government when the country was in chaos, but twice it left office when the country had returned to economic growth.

“Had Sinn Féin or the anarchists entered government in 2011 Ireland would now have no economy to speak of. We wouldn’t have been talking about health and housing at the election just gone.

“We’d have been talking about our economic implosion, the collapse in foreign direct investment, soaring joblessness and unimaginable hardship. There would have been no debate about the scale of the recovery because things would still be getting worse.”

The liberal society

For 40 years Labour has been the parliamentary vanguard of change which has seen Ireland transformed from a narrow intolerant society to a more pluralist and liberal society.

“There are many in Ireland who only see problems as opportunities for political gain. They will always have a certain advantage over those of us that seek to solve such problems.”

Labour’s election manifesto was principled and progressive and would have helped to build a fair society: “But, frankly, I think many Irish people had stopped listening to Labour.

“Let’s be honest enough to recognise why. By the time the election came around, we faced an enormous challenge in having any of our messages heard.

“I’ve said this before – and I will continue to say it – we recognise that we made plenty of mistakes along the way; that there is a gap between what people heard us say and what they saw us do.” Mr Howlin said this was partly because governing during a crisis was messy and distracting and stopped the party from being clear about some of the things it had achieved.

“But partly also because we made some particularly high-profile promises in areas such as third-level fees. And we didn’t always deliver.

“We are rightly proud of the many things we did in office. But we’re also honest enough to recognise that we didn’t get everything right.”

Yahoo admits information from 200m accounts stolen by hackers

Hacked data may include birth dates, user names and passwords going back to 2012

Image result for Yahoo admits information from 200m accounts stolen by hackers  Image result for Yahoo admits information from 200m accounts stolen by hackers  Image result for Yahoo admits information from 200m accounts stolen by hackers

Data breach revelation would confirm reports same hacker who stole data from LinkedIn was now selling information from 200 million Yahoo accounts.

Yahoo announced on Thursday that the account information of at least 500 million users was stolen by hackers two years ago.

In a statement, Yahoo said user information – including names, email addresses, telephone numbers, birth dates, passwords, and in some cases security questions – was compromised in 2014 by what it believed was a “state-sponsored actor.”

It did not name the country involved. The company said it was working with law enforcement officials. It encouraged users to review their online accounts for suspicious activity and to watch out for suspicious emails.

The announcement comes as Verizon Communications moves forward with its $4.8 billion acquisition of Yahoo. It is unclear what effect the breach, if any, will have on Yahoo’s sale price.

That will most likely depend on what Verizon learns about Yahoo’s security controls. But security experts say the incident could have far-reaching consequences for users beyond Yahoo’s services.

“The stolen Yahoo data is critical because it not only leads to a single system but to users’ connections to their banks, social media profiles, other financial services and users’ friends and family,” said Alex Holden, the founder of Hold Security, which has been tracking the flow of stolen Yahoo credentials on the underground web.

“This is one of the biggest breaches of people’s privacy and very far reaching.”

The revelation would confirm earlier reports that the same hacker who stole data from LinkedIn was now selling information from Yahoo! accounts on a dark web marketplace.

Hacker named Peace

The data for sale includes user names, scrambled passwords and birth dates and probably dates from 2012, Motherboard reported in August, citing the cyber-attacker, who went by the name Peace.

Yahoo! said at the time it was investigating the claim. Many of the stolen accounts in a sample of data obtained by Motherboard were no longer in use and had been cancelled.

The sale of all of the data for just under $2,000 (€1,781) also suggested that the information itself was of little value, either because most of it was obsolete, made up, or useless because the hackers had already attacked legitimate accounts and exhausted their need for the data.

Whatever the scale of the alleged breach, the incident shows the danger of large datasets spilling into the hacker underground and being used for criminal purposes for years without the breached companies knowing or taking minimal action based on whatever data hackers tell them was taken.

LinkedIn said in May it was investigating whether a breach of more than six million user passwords in 2012 was bigger than originally thought, following a hacker’s attempt to sell what was purported to be login codes for 117 million accounts.

Reset passwords?

The company said it appeared more data was taken in the initial compromise and that the company was just learning about the larger amount through the hacker’s posting. Like many internet companies that have been breached, LinkedIn only reset passwords of everyone it believed was part of the breach at the earlier time, which amounted to 6.5 million users.

It is unclear what steps, if any, Yahoo has taken since learning about the alleged compromise.

Reports of the security breach come just as chief executive Marissa Mayer is about to close a deal that ends the once-dominant internet firm’s independence.

Verizon is acquiring its internet assets for $4.8 billion, bringing the web portal together with long-time rival AOL. The telecommunications company will pick up services that still draw a billion monthly users, including mail, news and sports content and financial tools.

Volkswagen investors seek compensation in emissions cheating scandal,

A court rules

Image result for Volkswagen investors seek compensation in emissions cheating scandal  
VW Making Slow Progress On Fixing Rigged Diesels In Europe
  Image result for Volkswagen investors seek compensation in emissions cheating scandal

Vera Jourova, European Union Commissioner for Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality, presents the results of the 2016 Consumer Markets Scoreboard in Brussels, Belgium on September 5. Questions mainly focused on Dieselgate and Volkswagen, due to a scandal involving the manipulated data of emission tests.

Volkswagen (VW) faces 8.2 billion euros ($9.1 billion) in damages claims from investors over its emissions scandal in the legal district where the carmaker is based, a German court said on Wednesday.

About 1,400 lawsuits have been lodged at the regional court in Braunschweig near Volkswagen’s Wolfsburg headquarters, the court said.

The Braunschweig court said it received some 750 lawsuits on Monday alone, which marked the first business day after the anniversary of VW’s diesel emissions test-rigging scandal.

It said it brought in extra staff to process suits submitted by shareholders concerned September 18 – the day VW’s manipulations were disclosed a year ago – could be the deadline to file.

Plaintiffs say the German carmaker didn’t inform shareholders quickly enough over its cheating software, which was installed in up to around 11 million vehicles worldwide.

VW, which faces lawsuits and investigations across the world, has consistently said it did not break capital markets regulations in the disclosure of its cheating.

The biggest claim at the Braunschweig court, totaling 3.3 billion euros, was filed by lawyer Andreas Tulip on behalf of institutional investors around half a year ago.

The court detailed additional complaints on Wednesday, saying they included a filing by institutional investors for 30 million euros in damages, two investor groups demanding 1.5 billion and 550 million euros respectively and an investment company that sued the carmaker for 45 million euros.

It would take about four weeks to fully process the additional claims, the court said.

Complaints have also been filed by German state pension funds.

VW has so far set aside about $18 billion to cover the cost of vehicle refits and a settlement with US authorities, but analysts think the bill could rise much further as a result of lawsuits and regulatory penalties.

VW pledged to fix all cars equipped with illicit engine software in Europe by autumn 2017, the European Commission said on Wednesday after talks with the carmaker to ensure it is doing enough for affected customers.

At a meeting with consumer Commissioner Vera Jourova, VW board member Francisco Javier Garcia Sanz committed to a plan to inform customers by year’s end of the need for a technical fix to bring diesel cars into line with EU caps on toxic nitrogen oxide emissions, Jourova’s spokesman said.

The German carmaker also committed “to have all cars repaired by autumn 2017,” spokesman Christian Wigand said, adding the carmarker would offer clients “proof of conformity.”

VW has admitted that it installed improper software that deactivated pollution controls on more than 11 million diesel vehicles that had been sold around the world.

EU officials have called on the German carmaker to do more to compensate European clients since its $15 billion settlement in the US for using the cheat software, saying it is unfair for them to be treated differently.

“Volkswagen committed to an EU-wide action plan today, which is an important step toward a fair treatment of consumers,” Jourova said in a statement.

Volkswagen has rejected suggestions it may have breached EU consumer rules and said that it does not see the need to compensate affected car owners.

Europe’s largest automaker is making slow progress on fixing cars in Europe, having repaired less than 10 percent of the 8.5 million affected models in Europe.

It said the majority of the cars in Europe can be repaired by the end of this year, but an unspecified number will have to wait.

VW group models with 1.2 liter and 2.0 liter engines require only a software update on pollution control systems, but about 3 million 1.6 liter models also require a mesh to be installed near the air filter.

Native (aboriginal) Australian DNA reveals ancient inter-breeding

Image result for Native (aboriginal) Australian DNA reveals ancient inter-breeding  Image result for Native (aboriginal) Australian DNA reveals ancient inter-breeding  Image result for Native (aboriginal) Australian DNA reveals ancient inter-breeding

DNA from native Australians has revealed evidence of ancient interbreeding with an unknown branch of humanity their ancestors encountered as they migrated out of Africa.

Genetic traces of the mysterious early humans, whose fossil remains have never been found, are still carried by Australian aboriginal people.

The same study suggests that indigenous tribes from Australia and Papua New Guinea have one of the oldest human pedigrees on the planet.

It also points to a single “exit” from Africa by early modern humans around 72,000 years ago.

Experts disagree on whether present-day non-African people are descended from explorers who left Africa in a single exodus or a series of distinct waves of travelling migrants.

The new research supports the single migration hypothesis. It indicates that Australian aboriginal and Papuan people both originated from the same out-of Africa migration event some 72,000 years ago, along with ancestors of all other non-African populations alive today.

Tracing the Papuan and Australian groups’ progress showed that around 50,000 years ago they reached “Sahul”. This was a prehistoric supercontinent that once united New Guinea, Australia and Tasmania – they were separated by rising sea levels.

Here in “Sahul”, they met and interbred with the unknown race of humans, who may have had links with Siberian Denisovans.

If you’re wondering exactly who the Denisovans were, they were a distinct sub-species of the human family that has been extinct for many thousands of years, like the Neanderthals.

Study leader Professor Eske Willerslev, from Cambridge University, said: “We don’t know who these people were, but they were a distant relative of Denisovans, and the Papuan/Australian ancestors probably encountered them close to Sahul.”

The research addressed “fundamental questions” about human evolution, he added.

“Technologically and politically, it has not really been possible to answer those questions until now,” said Prof Willerslev.

“We found evidence that there was only really one wave of humans who gave rise to all present-day non-Africans, including Australians.”

The findings have been published in the journal Nature. And they show that aboriginal Australians are descended directly from the first people to inhabit the continent.

Once in Australia, the ancestors of today’s aborigine communities remained almost completely isolated from the rest of the world’s population.

That was until a few thousand years ago, when they came into contact first with some Asian populations followed by European explorers in the 18th century.

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Tuesday 20th September 2016

Mortgage rules likely to curtail buying of new homes in Ireland,

Economic think tank says housing supply will be reduced by 5% over four years

Image result for Mortgage rules likely to curtail buying of new homes in Ireland,   Image result for Mortgage rules likely to curtail buying of new homes in Ireland,  Image result for Mortgage rules likely to curtail buying of new homes in Ireland,

Over the next three or four years house prices are likely to be on average 3.5% lower than where they would have been without the Central Bank mortgage rules, an ESRI report has found.

The Central Bank’s mortgage lending rules are likely to curtail the supply of new homes by up to 5% over the next four years, the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) has warned.

In a research paper published with its latest quarterly report, the institute found the impact of the restrictions had yet to fully play out because of the lag effect in construction, albeit there has been a sizeable dip in new mortgage lending.

However, it said this would change over the next three to four years with house prices likely to be on average 3.5% lower than where they would have been without the rules.

This decline will lead to reduced profitability in construction, which will lower the number of housing units completed in each quarter by about 5 per cent, and reduce the State’s overall housing stock by about 0.5%.

The finding comes as the Central Bank conducts its first review of the rules, which were introduced in February 2015 to prevent the housing market from overheating again.

They require first-time buyers to have a 10% deposit for the first €220,000 of a house price and 20% for the balance while all other buyers must have a 20% deposit in place.

In addition, the Central Bank requires that income limits of 3.5 times are applied by the banks before approving mortgages.

A recent consultation process, which will inform the bank’s review, yielded 50 submissions, several of which called for the threshold below which first-time buyers have to pay only a 10% deposit to be raised from the current level of €220,000.

Kieran McQuinn of the ESRI said the measures had had a contractionary impact on the housing market in terms of reducing prices, supply and mortgage lending below levels the would have otherwise pertained.

He said they had made it more difficult for potential buyers to raise downpayments and pushed more people into the rental market. This explained why rents were rising at an even greater rate than property prices.

Boom years

A recent report by property website Daft found that rents were now above what they were during the boom years, with annual inflation in Dublin, where the housing shortage is most acute, running at 11%.

Dr McQuinn said the ESRI fully supported the need for macroprudential measures but the rules needed to incorporate room for a “counter-cyclical dimension”to reflect the current supply shortages.

The institute does not expect housing completions to increase to 25,000, the level needed to meet demand, until after 2018. Property Industry Ireland, the Ibec group that represents the sector, predicts that completions this year will only amount to about 14,000.

In its latest quarterly commentary, the ESRI downgraded its growth forecasts amid concern over global demand linked to weakness in the Chinese economy and because of Brexit-related issues.

It predicted GDP, the standard measure of economic growth, would expand by 4.3% this year and by 3.8% in 2017.

On the 26% GDP growth recorded for last year, the think tank acknowledged nobody could take this rate seriously.

Michael Noonan agrees to now appear before the Public Accounts Committee

Image result for Michael Noonan agrees to now appear before the Public Accounts Committee  Image result for Nama's controversial sale of its Northern Ireland loan book

The Finance Minister Michael Noonan has tonight bowed to pressure and will now appear before the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) over Nama’s controversial sale of its Northern Ireland loan book, 

Mr Noonan was told by Independent Ministers including Finian McGrath and Shane Ross at Cabinet today that it would be better if he attended the committee and try and “kill off” the controversy.

While ministers agreed that it was Mr Noonan’s decision to make, he was left in no doubt as to the feelings of his colleagues, sources have said.

“I have today decided to accept the invitation of the Committee of Public Accounts to assist the Committee in its examination of the C&AG’s Special Report on the National Asset Management Agency’s sale of Project Eagle,” Mr Noonan said in a statement.

“I intend to reply by letter to the Committee of Public Accounts to confirm this and to request assurances from the Committee that the proceedings of the Committee will be conducted in line with its terms of reference,” he added.

Members of the PAC welcomed Mr Noonan’s announcement.

Sinn Féin Deputy Leader Mary Lou McDonald TD said his decision to face questions is in the public interest.

“After a weekend of stalling, Minister Noonan has reversed his decision and has agreed to come before the Public Accounts Committee to address concerns regarding the sale of NAMA’s northern loan-book. I welcome his decision as it is, without question, in the public interest that he explain why he failed to suspend to sale when he became aware of the operation of fixer fees,” she said.

“He must explain why he, as Minister for Finance, failed to protect the interests of the citizens of this state. Minister Noonan now needs to open the books, assist the PAC inquiry, and not engage in further prevarication,” she added.

Last week, Nama rejected a report which says that it could have sold loans based in Northern Ireland for more than £1.32 billion.

The long-awaited Comptroller and Auditor General’s (C&AG) report into the sale of Project Eagle was published today, saying that the agency could have made more than that.

The report found that the State lost around £190 million (€220 million).

The C&AG report found that Nama had over-discounted the loans, giving 10-15% discounts where 5.5% would be more applicable. It added that NAMA did not keep an “adequate record of key decisions and events even though the sales process deviated from standard”.

Micheál Martin claims the elimination of water charges would not erode our tax base

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Fianna Fáil Leader Micheál Martin TD addresses the media prior to the annual parliamentary party think-in at the Seven Oaks Hotel, Carlow.

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin has rejected a European Commission report that said the elimination of water charges would erode the tax base.

The Commission’s remarks came in its latest post-bailout report in the Irish economy.

Mr Martin said scrapping water charges is “not an erosion of the tax base because it’s made a very negligible contribution to the widening of the tax base in the last three years.”

He was speaking after his party’s Co Carlow think-in where he also responded to a study by the Irish Tax Institute that outlined how workers are paying the top rate of income tax before their salaries reached the average industrial wage.

The Fianna Fáil TD was asked if the party should rethink its policy of pushing for spending measures over tax cuts as a result of the study.

Mr Martin said he was committed to its position that there should be a 2:1 break-down of spending to tax cuts in the upcoming Budget.

“There’s absolutely no question but that we do have to invest in health, in education and housing and give people some decent quality of life in terms of access to those services,” he added.

He said there “is a case” for tax cuts but that a balance has to be struck.

“We need to be mindful of the risks to the Irish economy not least the Brexit risks and proceed in a cautious manner,” he added.

Meanwhile he said he doesn’t think it will be achievable or the right policy to abolish the USC in five years as Finance Minister Michael Noonan today told an Oireachtas committee he’d like to do.

Mr Martin responded to this saying: “I don’t believe it’s achievable”.

“We don’t believe its the right policy or the right approach,” he said adding that there needs to be a balance between investing in services and infrastructure and giving people a break in their taxes.

Irish teens are smoking and drinking less according to a new European survey says

New survey raises concerns over young people’s drug use and internet behaviour

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Smoking and drinking have declined among Irish secondary school students, according to a new European survey.

Smoking and drinking have declined among Irish secondary school students, but new concerns are emerging in relation to drugs and addictive behaviours associated with the internet, a new European survey has claimed.

Fewer Irish teenagers are drinking and smoking, according to the European School Survey Project on Alcohol and Other Drugs (ESPAD)’s 2015 report, which looked at the behaviour of 15- to 16-year-olds.

However, Irish respondents reported slightly higher than average rates in use of illicit drugs other than cannabis during their lifetime, lifetime use of inhalants and lifetime use of new psychoactive substances.

The ESPAD report also said more than one in 10 Irish teenagers gambled for money frequently.

Use of alcohol within the last 30 days and the rate of heavy episodic drinking were less common among Irish respondents, compared with the average in the survey.

Thirty-five per cent of Irish teenagers reported drinking alcohol during the past 30 days, compared with a European average of 48 per cent, while 28 per cent of Irish teenagers reported heavy episodic drinking during the past 30 days, compared with a 35 per cent average.

The same was true for cigarette use during the last 30 days, which stood at 13 per cent among Irish respondents, compared with the European average of 21 per cent.

The ESPAD’s findings are based on a survey undertaken in 2015 in 35 European countries, including 24 EU member states.

A total of 96,043 students, including 1,400 from Ireland, participated in the survey, responding in school to an anonymous questionnaire.

The ESPAD’s report highlighted overall “positive developments” in the area of cigarette-smoking.

“Today, the majority of adolescents have never smoked (54 per cent) and less than one-quarter (21 per cent) of the sample can be considered current smokers,” it said.

The survey identified “high rates of alcohol use” among European teenagers, but said trends over the past two decades point to positive developments.

It recorded a decrease in lifetime and last-30-day use of alcohol among teenagers between 1995 and 2015, from 89 per cent to 81 per cent and from 56 per cent to 47 per cent respectively

However, it said changes in heavy episodic drinking were less pronounced and only observed among boys, going from 36 per cent to 35 per cent in the past 20 years.

On internet use, survey respondents said they had used the internet an average of 5.8 days within the last seven days.

Welcomed reaction

Responding to the study, Alcohol Action Ireland said it welcomed some of the trends in alcohol consumption among Irish teenagers but said alcohol should not be a part of any 15- or 16-year-old’s life.

“One of the most disappointing aspects of this survey is that over three-quarters of Irish 15- and 16-year-olds still find it easy to obtain alcohol, which is reflective of both the massive increase of the availability of alcohol in outlets throughout Ireland in recent years and the ongoing failure of the current regulations.”

Ministers of State for Health Marcella Corcoran Kennedy and Catherine Byrne welcomed the survey results on alcohol and cigarettes.

Ms Byrne said a particular focus of the Government’s National Drugs Strategy consultation was “getting the views of young people on the measures required to tackle the issue into the future”.

The survival secret of the ‘earth’s hardiest animal’ is now revealed

Image result for The survival secret of the 'earth's hardiest animal' is now revealed  Image result for planet's hardiest animal it's the tardigrade

Meet the planet’s hardiest animal it’s the tardigrade and it has just revealed a genetic secret that could help protect human cells.

Researchers have discovered a genetic survival secret of Earth’s “hardiest animal”.

A gene that scientists identified in these strange, aquatic creatures – called tardigrades – helps them survive boiling, freezing and radiation.

In future, it could be used to protect human cells, the researchers say.

It was already known that tardigrades, also known as water bears, were able to survive by shrivelling up into desiccated balls.

But the University of Tokyo-led team found a protein that protects its DNA – wrapping around it like a blanket.

The scientists, who published their findings in the journal Nature Communications, went on to grow human cells that produced that same protein, and found that it protected those cells too.

This, the scientists suggest, means that genes from these “extremophiles”, might one day be used to protect living things from radiation – from X-rays, or as a treatment to prevent damage from the Sun’s harmful rays.

Tardigrades are more commonly – and cutely – known as water bears. Scientists had thought that they survived radiation exposure by repairing the damage done to their DNA. But Prof Takekazu Kunieda, of the University of Tokyo, and his colleagues, carried out an eight-year study of a tardigrade genome to pinpoint the source of its remarkable resilience.

Extreme genetics

To identify their secret weapon, researchers scrutinised the genome of one tardigrade species, looking for proteins that were attached to the DNA, and that therefore might have a protective mechanism. They found one that they have called “Dsup” (short for “damage suppressor”).

The team then inserted the Dsup gene into human cells’ DNA, and exposed those modified cells to X-rays; Dsup-treated cells suffered far less DNA damage.

Prof Mark Blaxter of the University of Edinburgh told BBC News that the study was “groundbreaking”.

“This is the first time an individual protein from a tardigrade has been shown to be active in radiation protection.

“[And] radiation is one of the things that’s guaranteed to kill you.”

By sequencing and examining the genome, this study also appears to resolve a strange genetic controversy about these creatures. Research published in 2015, involving a different tardigrade species, concluded that the creature had “acquired” a portion of its DNA from bacteria through a process called horizontal gene transfer.

That study suggested that some of these beasts’ notorious imperviousness had been snipped out of the bacterial genetic code.

This study found no evidence of this gene transfer.

The tardigrades themselves, though, were far more resistant to X-rays than the human cells that the researchers manipulated. “[So] tardigrades have other tricks up their sleeves, which we have yet to identify,” said Prof Matthew Cobb from the University of Manchester.

With further research, scientists think that genes like Dsup could make it safer and easier to store and transport human cells – protecting, for example, delicate human skin grafts from damage. Prof Kunieda and his co-author on the study, Takuma Hashimoto, applied to patent the Dsup gene in 2015.

Prof Cobb added that, in principle, “these genes could even help us bioengineer organisms to survive in extremely hostile environments, such as on the surface of Mars – [perhaps] as part of a terra-forming project to make the planet hospitable for humans”.

And scientists with a fascination for tardigrades think this discovery could be the tip of the iceberg.

Prof Blaxter said that tardigrade research could even explain how exactly “radiation damages DNA, and how we might prevent DNA damage from other sources”.

Prof Takekazu Kunieda told BBC News that he hoped more researchers would join the “tardigrade community”.

“We believe there [are] a lot of treasures there,”

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Monday 19th September 2016

The EU Commissioner Margrethe Vestager has no specific concern’s about the Irish tax system

Commissioner also says EU has no plans afoot to harmonise corporation tax

Image result for The EU Commissioner Margrethe Vestager has no specific concerns about the Irish tax system   Image result for The EU Commissioner Margrethe Vestager has no specific concerns about the Irish tax system

The EU commissioner Margrethe Vestager.

The European Commission has “no specific concern” about the Irish tax system and is not planning to harmonise corporate tax system, according to competition commissioner Margrethe Vestager.

The competition commissioner, who has ordered Apple to pay €13 billion in back taxes to the Republic, was speaking as she began a three-day visit to the United States.

“We don’t have a specific concern about Ireland,” she said.

“We do very specific case work. If there are reasons for concern, well then we may open investigations. But there can be obvious reasons why you want to place your business in Ireland [in particular because it] has an attractive corporate tax rate of 12.5 per cent.”

The European Union has no intention of trying to harmonise corporate tax rates, she said.

With many large US multinationals having European bases in Ireland, there have been fears that the Apple decision, which both Ireland and Apple are appealing, is a foretaste of things to come for the Irish economy.

However, Ms Vestager seemed keen to dispel the notion that she is on the cusp of launching a slew of similar investigations.

‘Very, very thorough’

“We are very, very thorough. We don’t just open a case in the spur of the moment. Because we need to write an opening decision where we state our concerns, and in order to do that of course we have been asking questions beforehand.”

The commission has been given some 1,000 examples of tax rulings by EU member state governments, she said.

Having reviewed these rulings, she said most of them were “very well done” with “no selective advantages” given to companies.

The Government has stressed that Ireland has not been fined in the Apple case, which involved a ruling that the company should repay tax. But the commissioner pointed out that enforcement of EU state rules does not work with punishments or fines.

“Where I was raised in the western part of Denmark, the most awkward thing you could ever do was to take back a gift” and this was effectively what was being requested here, she said. “You rely on the uncomfortable inconvenience of a member state having to take back a selective benefit or advantage that they wanted to give.”

The Government denies that its arrangement with Apple, which has had a base in the country since 1980 and employs nearly 6,000 in its Cork offices, constituted illegal state aid.

Ms Vestager is meeting officials in the US administration and Congress and speaking at academic conferences in Washington and New York. Asked if the Apple decision had created transatlantic tensions, she said: “Even though we may disagree on this decision, when it comes to global tax issues, we are very very much on the same page.”


This is especially the case in light of OECD and G20 initiatives to create rules which make it more difficult for companies to legally avoid tax, she added.

Ms Vestager said it was hearings on Apple’s tax arrangements held by the US Senate that led the commission to open its investigation.

“We do not have a national bias,” she said, adding that of the 150 EU decisions taken between 2000 and 2015 where member states were required to recover illegal state aid, only 2 per cent involved US companies.

She was equally adamant that the case did not represent an attempt by the EU to assume tax-raising powers. “We are not trying to become, and we are not now, a tax authority. We enforce competition rules.”

Ireland and Apple intend to appeal the commission’s decision at the EU Court of Justice.

Irish property study reveals an appetite to buy

But potential purchasers say there’s a lack of suitable properties on the market…


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Almost one-third of Ireland’s adult population have said that they are at least contemplating buying a residential property during the next year, according to the KBC Bank Ireland’s Home Buyer survey.

49% of respondents believe that it is a good time to buy a house, with 14% thinking that it’s a bad time, and 37% remaining undecided.

When asked if the Central Bank’s mortgage lending measures had affected their plans 44% said that they will not have an impact – while the remaining 56% said that it had either affected the kind of property that they would consider buying, prolonged the period that they will wait before they buy, or meant that they will need to rely on family supports or other loans to support a purchase.

The average period of time added to raise this money is between one and two years.

Of those looking for a home, 29% said that they had seen no properties which suited their needs. 60% saw between one to five properties on the markets which they considered suited to their needs – while the remaining 11% had seen a greater number.

Interestingly, 48% of respondents plan to buy a property on their own – while 52% want to find a property with someone else.

One-third stated that the Brexit result has affected their plans.

Diet is vital for the prevention of Alzheimer’s

Image result for Diet is vital for the prevention of Alzheimer’s   Image result for An estimated 55,000 Irish people currently have dementia, with about 60% of them having Alzheimer’s  Image result for broccoli slows the degeneration of acetylcholine while egg yolks help to make it; avocado boosts blood flow to the brain, and the antioxidants in kale make your brain ‘younger’

Each year, September 21st marks World Alzheimer’s Day. An estimated 55,000 Irish people currently have dementia, with about 60% of them having Alzheimer’s disease (AD). And due to our ageing population, figures are expected to rise exponentially.

AD is characterised by the formation of amyloid ‘tangles’ and ‘plaques’ in the shrinking brain. These clumps destroy brain cells and interfere with its chemical messaging functions, particularly of acetylcholine, which deals especially with memory. Age is of course the primary risk factor, but others are equally important – diabetes, cardiovascular issues, genetics, infections, stress and nutritional deficiencies. An overview of more than 300 studies last August found that the number one protective factor was a healthy diet.

One consideration is that cognitive health is directly linked to heart health, and that both are strongly determined by blood levels of a toxic compound called homocysteine. Reducing those levels, by taking high strength B vitamins, would therefore be the first plan of action. Research has shown between 30% and 90% less brain shrinkage in people with early signs of AD when given B6, B12 and folic acid, which boost the conversion of homocysteine into that vital acetylcholine in the same way as the drugs given to people with AD do.

Inflammation (partly as a result of poor gut bacterial balance) is a central feature, as is oxidative damage to the cells, so taking a good probiotic and eating plenty of antioxidants in brightly coloured plant foods is the second prong of attack, along with exercising regularly (in the sunshine for important vitamin D). Inactivity raises the risk of AD by 70%, while sex has been shown to light up the relevant areas of the brain. And be sure to visit your dentist regularly – a strong connection has been established between gum disease and amyloid clumping.

Eating plenty of anti-inflammatory omega 3 and vitamin D-rich oily fish, and the healthy oils in olive oil, avocadoes, nuts and seeds is of proven benefit to those most at risk, but avoid trans/hydrogenated fats altogether, as they markedly accelerate cognitive decline. While research shows that a diet high in healthy fats reduces risk by 44%, a diet high in sugar and refined (white) grains increases the risk by a staggering 89%. Another study showed accelerated shrinkage in the part of the brain involved in memory in those on a Western diet of processed and fried meats, crisps and soft drinks.

The latest research on diet includes: a moderate coffee intake can reduce risk by 18%, broccoli slows the degeneration of acetylcholine while egg yolks help to make it; avocado boosts blood flow to the brain, and the antioxidants in kale make your brain ‘younger’. A chemical called resveratrol, in red wine, raspberries and dark chocolate, can strengthen the barrier that blocks harmful molecules from accessing the brain.

An anti-inflammatory and antioxidant Indo/ Mediterranean diet, based on colourful vegetables and fruit, greens, oily fish, beans and lentils, nuts and seeds, olive oil, green tea and a little red wine, is widely accepted by as the very best model for the prevention and control of AD (figures are lower in Mediterranean countries). Olive oil contains compounds that can halt the build up of those plaques.

A connection has long been made between AD and exposure to aluminium. This is disputed, but it might be wise to eat foods rich in silicon, which counteracts aluminium. More recent research has pointed to high levels of copper in the blood of AD sufferers, and we know that copper makes it harder for the brain to get rid of amyloid proteins. It is, however, in a great variety of foods and necessary for health, so the answer is to take a supplement of zinc, which is antagonistic: the higher your zinc levels, the lower those of copper.

This January it was suggested that BMAA, a toxic compound produced by algae in Irish lakes and reservoirs and so present in some seafood and plants, is contributing to our Alzheimer’s ‘epidemic’, so this will doubtless be the focus of further research. As will the revelation that the brains of sufferers contain unusual yeasts and fungi. In more practical terms: while some studies show that being slightly overweight is far more protective than being underweight, it’s just been shown that the inflammation associated with obesity causes the brain to age ten years faster, so it really is a balancing act. Also in January, Canadian scientists found that chronic exposure to anxiety and stress hormones—also inflammatory–damage and shrink the relevant parts of the brain. And finally, a study out this April involving 5,000 people with insomnia found them to be 43% more likely to develop dementia in later life; there’s no doubt that lifestyle issues are key.

The future of Sex, Dating, and finding a Mate

Image result for Dating in the Internet Age.   Image result for The future of Sex, Dating, and finding a Mate  

Sex is one of the most powerful, fundamental human drives.

It’s caused wars… built and destroyed kingdoms and it occupies a significant percentage of most people’s thoughts.

As such, it’s worth a conversation about how exponential technologies will change our relationship with sex.

Dating in the Internet Age.

Dating in past generations was local and linear. You had access to a small number of potential mates based on where you lived, where you went to school and your social status.

In the 1960s, over 50% of marriages globally and 95% of marriages in India were arranged.

Today that number has dropped to less than 15% (globally).

In 1960, the median age at first marriage for the bride was 20 and the groom was 23 years old.

Today, the median age is closer to 29 for women and 30 for men.

A cultural shift is happening, and it’s changing the game.

Dating has gone digital. As such, it has gone from local and linear to global and exponential.

Today, 40 million Americans use online dating services (that’s about 40% of the single population in the U.S.), driving the creation of a $2.4 billion online dating industry. (Go here for a great online dating infographic.)

These services transcend geography and social strata. People are matched from around the world.

Between 1995 and 2005, there was exponential growth among heterosexual couples meeting online. (See the green line in the first chart here.) For same-sex couples, the online dating trend has been even more dramatic, with more than 60% of same-sex couples meeting online in 2008 and 2009. (See the green line in the second chart here).

The implications of this are staggering — besides moving the marriage age back, there are a number of sociological effects such as decision fatigue, gamification of dating, and the commoditization of people that will start to have population-level effects as mating behaviors change.

And this is just the beginning.

Dating and Exponential Tech

In the very near future, we will see machine learning / artificial intelligence-based matchmakers that will find the perfect match for you based upon everything from your genomics to your psychographics.

Once you’re on a date, your augmented reality glasses will give you real-time dating info, calling up any info you want to know, as you need to know it.

Perhaps you want to understand how she/he is feeling about you, and your AR camera is watching her pupillary dilation and capillary flushing.

Like all technology, these applications are double-edged swords. My hope is that this tech actually increases the number of successful, meaningful relationships in the world and, in turn, has a net positive impact.

But while dating is one side of the coin, sex is another… and the implications of exponential technology on sex can be shocking.

Sex and Exponential Tech

Today, sex has been digitized; as such, it has been dematerialized, demonetized and democratized.

Sex, in the form of pornography, is free, available to anyone with an Internet connection and pervasive across many platforms.

In 2015, just one pornography website reported that their users watched over 4.3 billion hours of porn (87 billion videos) that year.

The proliferation of Internet connectivity, online video players and streaming, mobile phones, and advertisement delivery networks have propelled pornography into a $97 billion industry.

This is causing a number of negative social phenomena.

More than half of boys and nearly a third of girls see their first pornographic images before they turn 13. In a survey of hundreds of college students, 93% of boys and 62% of girls said they were exposed to pornography before they turned 18.

“Pornography is influencing everything from how teens language and frame sexuality to how and why they pierce certain body parts to what they expect to give and receive in intimate relationships,” says Jill Manning, Ph.D, Witherspoon Institute.

In Japan, a growing population of men report that they *prefer* having “virtual girlfriends” over real ones (i.e., they believe they are “dating” virtual avatars that they largely control).

Forty-five percent of Japanese single women and 25 percent of Japanese single men aged 16 to 24 claim they aren’t even interested in sexual contact.

Given these trends, unless something happens to boost Japan’s birth rate, its population will shrink by a third between now and 2060. In other words, there is serious concern of significant UNDER population.

But again, this is only the beginning… as virtual reality (VR) becomes more widespread, one major application will inevitably be VR porn.

It will be much more intense, vivid, and addictive — and as AI comes online, I believe there will be a proliferation in AI-powered avatar and robotic relationships, similar to those characters depicted in the movies Her and Ex Machina.


VR porn promises to offer a virtual world filled with more sex, better sex, endless sex, and new varieties of sex.

The dark secret, however, is that the further a user goes into that fantasy world, the more likely their reality is to become just the opposite.

Many psychologists believe that VR porn may numb us to sexual desire and pleasure in the real world, leading to less and less satisfying sex.

For many, VR (as well as other exponential technologies such as robotics, sensors and AI) will act as a complete replacement for intimacy and human relationships, as it is more easily accessible, cheaper, on-demand, and, well, controllable.

As the father of two five-year-old boys, this is really concerning to me…That said, are there upsides too?

Perhaps a bit of intimacy (if even technological) for those who are infirmed, aged, crippled and thereby alone.

We shall see. One thing is for sure: as with every technology in history, from the printing press to VHS and the Internet, pornography will be on the front line funding the advance of technology.

Pigeons can now distinguish real words from gibberish????

Image result for Pigeons can distinguish real words from gibberish   A pigeon scrutinizes a word (gibberish) during training. (Credit:   Image result for A pigeon scrutinizes a word (gibberish) during training.

(Centre picture) A pigeon scrutinizes a word (gibberish) during training.

Birds are rapidly building their reputation as a brainy bunch, and the latest credit goes to four pigeons who can visually recognize written words.

These pigeons were living in a lab in New Zealand where, over a span of two years, they learned to distinguish four-letter English words from nonsense words. For their training, a computer screen would flash words like “DOWN” or “GAME”, and non-words like “TWOR” or “NELD”, along with a star symbol. Each time the pigeons made a correct identification — pecking the word if it was a real one, or pecking the star symbol beneath a non-word — they were rewarded with a portion of wheat.

Building ‘Vocabulary’

After the pigeons built up decent vocabularies (the star pupil acquired 58 words), the screen began flashing new words that they had never seen before. And even when faced with these novel words, the pigeons continued to pick out the real words from the non-words with impressive accuracy, according to a study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

So how did they do it? How does a pigeon distinguish words from gibberish, based solely on how the strings of letters look on a screen?

“It appears that the pigeons are paying attention to pairs of letters in the words,” explains study lead author Damian Scarf, a lecturer in psychology at the University of Otoga, New Zealand. Letters that appear side-by-side are known as bigrams, and some bigrams occur more frequently than others. For example, “TH” is a high-frequency bigram, whereas the “CB” combination is far less common.

Over time, the pigeons came to pick up on these statistical properties of words.

“We looked at whether the pigeons’ performances were related to how frequent the letter pairs were in their vocab,” says Scarf. “Basically we found what you find with people, which is that the more common the letter pairs, the better they do at recognizing the word.”

They Weren’t Reading

Now, before we raise our hopes of seeing a pigeon sitting on a park bench, poring over a newspaper, it’s important to note that these trainees could not read. Reading requires not only the ability to visually recognize words, but also to decode the letter-sound relationships. The pigeons were missing that second half of the equation.

But what these birds did manage to learn is remarkable, and it might even explain why humans have an entire brain region devoted to recognizing written words, despite the fact that writing was only invented around 5,400 years ago. As Scarf and his colleagues note, that’s far too short a period for a new specialized brain area to have evolved from scratch, but more than enough time for an old neural mechanism to get repurposed.

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

This process of “neuronal recycling” involves brain cells that were once devoted to spotting everyday objects, like rocks or trees, gradually learning to key in to new visuals, like the written word. Some scientists believe this is precisely how ancient people first developed reading skills, and a recent studyrevealed that monkey brains can be trained to visually process written words in much the same way.

But according to this latest study, visual word recognition is not limited to the realm of the primate brain. Indeed, bird brains, which are “neither genetically nor organizationally similar to [those of] humans,” are quite capable of taking an existing neural circuit and recycling it to process a visual word — or, as Scarf describes it, a “two-dimensional stimulus that’s not relevant in the real world.”

Though the capacity to recognize a series of printed strokes may be of little consequence to a pigeon, the research shows that a visual system separated from ours by more than 300 million years of evolution can be co-opted to perform a very human function.

So whether or not they care, for four pigeons in New Zealand, words are now jumping off the page.

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Saturday 17th September 2016

Why Nama is in such deep trouble over Project Eagle

State agency should have blown the whistle on Northern Ireland sale but chose not to

Image result for Why Nama is in such deep trouble over Project Eagle   Image result for Why Nama is in such deep trouble over Project Eagle   Image result for Why Nama is in such deep trouble over Project Eagle

What really matters is that Nama chose to ignore the big red flag raised by Pimco and proceeded to sell the Northern Ireland property loan book to Cerberus.

Here is a question that might help you understand why Nama is in such a lot of trouble.

Imagine you are selling your house and have agreed a deal with someone. They then come along to you and say they are pulling out of the sale because they don’t like the way their solicitor is behaving. They suspect that things are not being done properly. They tell you their conscience will not let them be a party to what is going on.

A week later another buyer comes along and offers you much the same price but crucially they are using the same solicitor as the previous bidder.

You have two options:

  1. Ask the solicitor if something dodgy is going on and when he tells you he is as pure as the driven snow, you proceed to sell your house, get your money and move on. Your behaviour is legal and commercially sound.

B . Decide that you too cannot be party to something potentially dodgy. You pull out of the sale. You ring the gardaí and end up being involved in a long investigation. Other buyers start to think you are messing and that something is wrong with your house. The price falls.

Which option would you take? A? If so, then you are Nama.

Only it is not your house you are selling, it is a portfolio of properties inNorthern Ireland that is worth €1.5 billion. It is Project Eagle.

The first buyer is the US investment fund Pimco and the second is one of their peers, Cerberus.

Replace the first buyer’s conscience with Pimco’s compliance department – the people that make sure they don’t inadvertently break the law.

Replace the anonymous solicitor with law firms Brown Rudnick and Tughan and a number of prominent Northern Irish figures.

Moral dilemma

Now. Change the question to: which option should you take? And you start to see Nama’s problem. It’s more than likely that you would say B. You know you have a duty as citizen to help uphold the law and all that even if it comes at a personal cost.

And this is the problem Nama now faces. It chose A when it should have chosen B.

An individual that takes option A has only to answer to their conscience. Nama, however, is answerable to us all.

It is a State agency. It may have a commercial mandate and a very, very difficult job to do but it is ultimately an arm of the State. And the Government must be held to the highest standard. It must aspire to do what it should do in any situation, not what makes commercial sense. It’s simplistic and it’s naive but it is true none the less.

When Nama chose to sell Project Eagle to Cerberus after Pimco pulled out it lost sight of this simple fact.

It chose to overlook the obvious possibility that something suspicious was going on in the background in Northern Ireland that it should really have blown the whistle on. Right now it probably wishes it had.

For the last week, we have been subjected to the unedifying sight of two State agencies having a public squabble.

Nama and the Comptroller and Auditor General have been arguing about what the Project Eagle portfolio was really worth.

It is essentially an argument about the length of a piece of string. The price is irrelevant.

What really matters is that Nama chose to ignore the big red flag raised by Pimco and proceeded to sell the portfolio to Cerberus.

We know that it shouldn’t have and we now need to know why it did.

Temporary blindness

Was it simply a case of Nama’s commercial imperative blinding it to the bigger picture?

Nama has succeeded on its own terms and will return a profit of €2 billion to the State that will offset some of the billions poured into the banks following the crash and bailout.

But it is easy to forget that this was not a certainty in 2013 and 2014.

It also has to be remembered that there was a great deal of political pressure on the agency to sell its assets and disappear.

And this raises perhaps the most interesting question of all.

To what extent did this pressure on Nama from the government of the day drive the agency on – directly or indirectly – to do something that no government could really stand over? Turning a blind eye to possible criminal activity.

Actually, that is not the most interesting question when you think about it.

The most interesting question is: to what extent was the Irish government influenced by Northern politicians whose links to the intermediaries advising Cerberus are the focus of several investigations?

Young teachers in ASTI are €6,000 a year worse off after new pay deal

Image result for Young teachers in ASTI are €6,000 a year worse off after new pay deal   Image result for Young teachers in ASTI are €6,000 a year worse off after new pay deal

Thousands of young teachers in the ASTI will be €6,000 a year worse off if the union continues its war with Government.

They are already on €796 a year less and, by January, the gap will rise to almost €1,800, and continue widening over 15 months.

By January 2018, the pay differential between young teachers will have grown to 20pc – depending on the union they are in.

An agreement announced yesterday gives newly-qualified teachers an increase of up to €2,000 a year, on top of pay restoration measures in the Lansdowne Road Agreement (LRA), which are being rolled out from this month.

But, only members of teacher unions that have signed up to the LRA – currently, the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation (INTO) and the Teachers’ Union of Ireland (TUI) – will receive the increases.

The 18,0000-member Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland (ASTI) has rejected the LRA, and as a result is also excluded from the new deal, which eliminates a key contributor to two-tier pay scales.

A teacher recruited this month, who is a member of the ASTI, is on a starting salary of €31,009, which remains frozen while they are outside the LRA.

Meanwhile, INTO and TUI members are on €31,805 – including restoration this month of €796, half an allowance for supervision and substitution duties – which will rise to €37,059 by January 2018,

There are corresponding increases for all new teachers recruited since 2012 – who suffered the most severe pay cuts – who are members of unions that have signed up to the LRA.

There is still an outstanding issue on pay equality for teachers and other pubic servants recruited in recent years, which is the general 10pc cut in pay scales implemented in 2011.

INTO general secretary Sheila Nunan said yesterday’s deal represented “significant progress” and that “for the first time, teachers who began since 2012 will have the same earnings path as all other teachers and will reach the same maximum point of salary scale.”

TUI president Joanne Irwin said it was a very significant step in the right direction in addressing the pay inequality suffered by teachers.

But the ASTI remains determined to continue its campaign on a number of pay-related fronts, which could close more than half the country’s second-level schools by end of October/early November.

The ASTI is conducting two ballots later this month, one seeking a mandate for strike action on the issue of pay for newly-qualified teachers.

The second ballot is seeking support for withdrawal from supervision and substitution duties, which would force schools to close because of lack of cover.

Powerful union.

The union’s powerful Standing Committee met yesterday and, in a statement afterwards, the ASTI said it was “campaigning for the full restoration of new teachers’ pay.”

The ASTI said that it was not party to the LRA and had received no offer on the restoration of new teachers’ pay.

“We will continue to pursue a resolution through talks. We want equal pay for equal work. ASTI members have rejected the LRA for a number of reasons, including its failure to deliver pay equalisation for new teachers,” said ASTI president Ed Byrne.

PTSB to raise mortgage extra cash in bond market for new Irish loans

Image result for PTSB to raise mortgage extra cash in bond market for new Irish loans    Image result for PTSB to raise mortgage extra cash in bond market for new Irish loans

The Permanent TSB is planning to borrow €690m in bond debt backed by Irish home loans.

The bank has mandated Morgan Stanley as sole arranger for the transaction with Citibank, and Deutsche Bank acting along side the US giant as joint lead managers.

A road show is being held to market the bonds to potential investors.

The new bonds will be backed by a bundle of performing Irish home loans, none of which is more than one month in arrears.

The home loans behind the bond are low risk, all are owner occupier loans and the average loan to value ratio is 60pc.

Mortgage securitisation deals allow banks to access extra cash for new loans, by borrowing against loans already made. Before the crash such deals were a mainstay of the market, but they have slowed to a trickle.

Permanent tsb has not issued a deal since 2013 and no Irish bank has placed residential mortgage backed bonds with investors since May 2015.

Eye-level signs make perfect sense for dangerous beach at Strandhill Sligo

Image result for dangerous beach for swimming at Strandhill Sligo   Image result for dangerous beach for swimming at Strandhill Sligo  Image result for dangerous beach for swimming at Strandhill Sligo

A mother who had allowed her four children to swim at Strandhill is one of the latest people to claim they didn’t see any prohibiting bathing signs on their way down to the beach.

That’s according to Councillor Rosaleen O’Grady who told the meeting that she had never seen as many people in bathing there as she had this year.

“I saw a woman whose four children, aged 5-9 years were in the water. When I told her about it being prohibited, she said she didn’t see signage,” said Cllr O’Grady.

Image result for children swimming at Strandhill Sligo  She added that the woman suggested that if the signs were at eye-level she might have seen them. “I suppose she might have had a point. Signage could be put at the slip-way. I have a huge concern, people don’t seem to be heeding,” she said.

Director of Services Tom Kilfeather told members that new signs had been installed at either end of the beach after consulting with the RNLI. He also said that Irish Water Safety were currently carrying out a risk assessment on Strandhill beach. “The appropriateness level of signage and their location will be considered in that review,” he said.

Cllr O’Grady said that a risk assessment was “the way forward”. “Whatever is wrong, people are using it for bathing more and more. As people enter the water via the slipway, if there was something there at eye-level it might help,” she said.

Cathaoirleach of the County Council Cllr Hubert Keaney said it was The Sligo Champion’s recent coverage of the issue that drew his attention to the matter.

“To see people swimming there the same week as five people drowned in the UK…I was horrified because there were young children in the photo,” he said.

Cllr Sean MacManus said that he also spoke to people who didn’t see the signs. “There’s a school of thought out there that there were too many signs. What Cllr O’Grady says about signs at eye-level makes a lot of sense,” he added.

The Pacific Ocean has hidden wonders revealed on dive to underwater volcano

The Pisces IV submersible sits on the summit of Cook seamount, as seen from the Pisces V craft, during a dive to the previously unexplored underwater volcano off the coast of Hawaii’s Big Island.  Researcher Sonia Rowley logs coral samples taken from the Cook seamount expedition.   Image result for The Pacific Ocean has hidden wonders revealed on dive to underwater volcano

US scientists find possible new coral species and rare Dumbo octopus on expedition to previously unexplored extinct volcano off Hawaii

Deep sea coral at the summit of the Cook seamount. ‘It won’t be any surprise to me [if this is] a new species,’ said researcher Sonia Rowley.

Image result for Scientists believe they have identified a new species of coral and found a rare Dumbo octopus Scientists believe they have identified a new species of coral and found a rare Dumbo octopus during an expedition 3,000ft (900m) down in the Pacific Ocean.

Diving in a submersible to the previously unexplored Cook seamount, an extinct volcano at the bottom of the sea 100 miles south-west of Hawaii’s Big Island, the three-person team was hoping to examine the rich variety of marine life that collects around the nutrient-rich volcanic waters.

Among other things, the researchers from the University of Hawaii and the nonprofit group Conservation International spotted such wonders as a rare type of octopus with big fins that look like Dumbo’s ears, and a potentially new species of violet-hued coral they dubbed Purple Haze.

Conservation International hopes to study 50 seamounts, or undersea volcanoes, over the next five years.

“We don’t know anything about the ocean floor,” said Peter Seligmann, chairman, CEO and co-founder of Conservation International. “What we know is that each one of those seamounts is a refuge for new species, but we don’t know what they are. We don’t know how they’ve evolved. We don’t know what lessons they have for us.”

“We don’t know what we’re going to find,” Conservation International’s Greg Stone told the Associated Press reporter on board the submersible. “There will always be the unexpected when you go into the deep ocean.”

Halfway down to the volcano, which rises 13,000ft-high (4,000m)from the ocean floor, no sunlight penetrated. The only light that could be seen from the submarine’s face-sized windows was the bluish glow of the vessel’s own bright lights. Occasionally, bioluminescent creatures drifted past in the darkness.

Stone and subpilot Terry Kerby, who helps run the Hawaii undersea research laboratory at the University of Hawaii, watched as the volcano and its rugged basalt walls came into view.

Seamounts are either active or dormant volcanoes that rise from the bottom of the ocean and never reach the surface. They are hotspots for marine life because they carry nutrient-rich water upward from the sea floor. Seamounts are believed to cover about 18 million square miles of the planet.

Cook seamount is part of a group of undersea volcanoes known as the Geologist Seamounts that are about 80 million years old and could hold many new animal species, as well as elements such as nickel and cobalt that mining companies could extract.

“My goal today is to … find out what’s living on them, find out how they support ocean life, what their effect is from ocean currents and essentially what drives the ocean, what makes the ocean what it is,” said Stone. “Seamounts are a key part of that, and something which humanity knows very little about.”

The Pisces IV submersible sits on the summit of Cook seamount, as seen from the Pisces V craft, during a dive to the previously unexplored underwater volcano off the coast of Hawaii’s Big Island.

Within minutes of the vessel’s arrival at the summit, life began to appear — a starfish clinging to a rock, joined shortly after by eels, sharks, chimaera (also known as “ghost sharks”), shrimp, crabs and two rare Dumbo octopuses. One of the octopuses changed color from white to pink to reddish brown as it swam by.

Several types of deep-sea corals were found along the seamount’s cliffs, including a vibrant purple one.

“I need to go home, look through the literature … and also go and run some genetic analyses,” said Sonia Rowley, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Hawaii who is taking part in the project. “But as this is a new seamount … that no one had dived on before, it won’t be any surprise to me whether this is going to be a new species.”

Two other seamounts were studied over three days of expeditions: McCall, home to a large number of small deep-sea sharks, and Lo’ihi, an active volcano.

Lo’Ihi has been extensively surveyed by manned submersibles over the past 30 years. The past few times Kerby was there, he saw a large Pacific sleeper shark lurking about the volcano’s crater.

As hot vents shot out volcanic gases around them, the team released bait in the water and the 7-foot shark appeared in front of the submarine. Kerby was delighted to see his “old friend.”

The team also saw 6-foot eels and a number of new geological formations around the crater. Scientists say Lo’ihi is likely to someday become the newest island in the Hawaii chain as volcanic activity pushes the summit upward.

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Wednesday 14th September 2016

EU ruling on Ireland’s Controversial Apple tax deal  backed by MEPs

Competition chief lauded for decision on firm’s €13bn liability due to illegal State aid

Image result for EU ruling on Ireland's Controversial Apple tax deal  backed by MEPs   Image result for EU ruling on Ireland's Controversial Apple tax deal  backed by MEPs

European Commissioner for Competition Margrethe Vestager was congratulated by MEPs for her decision against Ireland on Apple tax ruling..

Ireland’s political isolation over the Apple ruling was laid bare on Wednesday as MEPs overwhelmingly backed the EU’s finding that the State had offered illegal state aid to the US multinational.

In a highly-charged, though sparsely attended, debate at the European Parliament, MEPs from across the political spectrum lined up to congratulate EU competition commissioner Margrethe Vestager on her decision against Ireland.

“Citizens who have been asked for great sacrifices cannot understand that big multinationals do not participate in this collective effort,” said Spanish MEPPablo Zalba Bidgegain.

“We as European citizens have to thank for the commissioner for her effort and for remaining so strong on the Apple case. These kinds of actions undoubtedly contribute to European citizens seeing [the European Union] as part of a solution not as a problem.”

Green MEP Sven Gielgold, a long-time tax justice campaigner, said Ms Vestager “deserved a medal” for her actions, while his colleague Philippe Lamberts said he wanted to “clone” the Danish commissioner for taking on multinationals.

German centre-right MEP Markus Ferber congratulated Ms Vestager in finding the “right lever” for tackling unfair taxation through state aid law, “even though it rewards those who ought to be punished”, referring to Ireland’s decision not to accept the €13 billion in recovered taxes.

Other MEPs referred to the funds that were extended to Ireland during the bailout, while a French MEP recalled how she had raised concerns about tax competition with former commissioner Charlie McCreevy.

While the European Parliament has little power over EU competition policy, it has taken a leading role in efforts to clamp down on multitax avoidance by establishing special tax committees in the wake of the Luxembourg Leaks and Panama Papers scandals.

Fine Gael’s Seán Kelly and Brian Hayes were among the only MEPs to question the European Commission ruling. Mr Kelly referred to it as “profoundly wrong and extremely damaging to Ireland”, while Mr Hayes accused the commission of displaying a determination “to get Apple from the start of this investigation”

Sinn Féin’s Matt Carthy said that, while he supported the principle of tax sovereignty, the decision to appeal was “morally wrong and financially stupid”.

Irish food exporters must now deal with the Brexit fallout

Ornua boss issues warning at opening of new Kerrygold facility in Mitchelstown, Co Cork

Image result for Irish food exporters must now deal with Brexit fallout   Image result for Irish food exporters must now deal with Brexit fallout

(Left pic.) Ken Maguire, general manager of Kerrygold Park, at the official opening of the facility in Mitchelstown Co Cork.

Irish food and dairy exporters will have to deal with the fallout from Brexit, particularly if sterling continues to weaken, according to the head of Ornua,Kevin Lane.

Mr Lane was speaking as he attended the opening of the organisation’s new €38 million Kerrygold butter-making plant that will create 65 new jobs inMitchelstown, Co Cork.

Mr Lane said Brexit was not the result that Ornua had hoped for in the UK’s referendum in June on EU membership, but Irish food exporters will now have to deal with it.

“We are not pleased about [Brexit]. That is a hammer blow to us. We certainly didn’t want to see the vote that came in but we’ve got to deal with it.

“We supply a lot of cheese and butter in the UK and we have four manufacturing facilities in the UK, where we are employing 700 people.

“The last thing we wanted to see was sterling weaken so much after the Brexit vote, it’s a challenge for the Irish dairy industry to go into that market . . . we have got to deal with it to make sure that we can minimise the disruption to our business,” he said.

Mr Lane said the new facility in Mitchelstown will enable Ornua to achieve its target of producing 50,000 tonnes of butter per annum within four years, for export to some 31 countries, including the US, which is currently its largest market.

“We have currently €750 million of retail sales around the world and we hope to grow that to €1 billion by Year 4, when we hope to be producing 1,000 tonnes of butter a week for export,” said Mr Lane.

The new facility, named Kerrygold Park, will have the capability to produce new butter products and formats that are not currently available in Ireland, said Mr Lane.

“It greatly improves our innovation capability and our ability to deliver premium dairy products to consumers around the world.”

A vote of confidence?

Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Michael Creed said the new Kerrygold facility was a major vote of confidence in the future of the Irish dairy industry.

“Increasing global population, urbanisation and the westernisation of diet in developing countries offers Ireland’s dairy industry significant opportunity for expansion,” he said.

“By opening new markets and developing new products, Ornua is playing a key role in delivering the demand for Irish product to meet increased supply resulting from the abolition of milk quotas,” Mr Creed told the invited audience of around 300 people involved in the dairy sector.

Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation Mary Mitchell O’Connor also welcomed the new butter-making facility, saying it marked a logical development for Kerrygold.

“This expansion is important to our continued growth in export trade. Ornua’s strategy to develop Kerrygold as a global dairy brand will contribute to increase trade and employment in rural communities throughout Ireland,” she said.

Sligo Garda Sgt. cleared by GSOC before he took his life not knowing of the decision.

An inquest has heard.

Image result for Sligo Garda Sgt. cleared by GSOC before he took his life not knowing of the decision.   

The late Sgt Michael Galvin & Supreme Court Judge Mr Justice Frank Clarke.

A Garda sergeant who took his own life not knowing he had been cleared by a Garda Ombudsman investigation had spoken to his best friend just before his death and had arranged to talk with him again the next day, an inquest has heard.

Father-of-three Sgt Mick Galvin, (48), took his own life at Ballyshannon Garda Station in the early hours of May 28 last year.

Supreme Court Judge Mr Justice Frank Clarke later conducted an investigation into his death after the Irish Independent revealed within days of Sgt Galvin’s funeral that the officer had been cleared by GSOC prior to his death.

The GSOC criminal investigation was launched on January 1 last year when Sheena Stewart (33) died after being struck by a taxi in Ballyshannon, earlier that day.

Sgt Galvin and two other gardaí who had interaction with Ms Stewart before her death were interviewed by GSOC investigators.

Colleagues were furious that Sgt Galvin, a former senior footballer and hurler for Sligo and a father of three who lived in Manorhamilton, Co Leitrim, was unaware he had been cleared.

Judge Clarke concluded that GSOC investigating officer Daniel Gallagher had decided that Sgt Galvin should not face prosecution on May 21.

Donegal coroner Dr Denis McsCauley said at the inquest yesterday at Donegal Town Courthouse that he had agreed with the Galvin family not to examine the Ombudsman case.

Sgt Gavlin’s friend Gda Paddy Battle told the inquest that he had taken a phone call from him at 11.50pm on May 27.

“I asked ‘what the feck are you still there for?”, said Gda Battle, who said the pair had spoken briefly about a work file and had agreed to talk the next day at 11am. Sgt Galvin had said he was planning to go home.

“In my opinion it was a normal phone call, there was nothing at all unusual about it.”

The garda said his friend was a “bright, jolly, family man” who had balanced his life between work, family and his volunteering with the GAA.

Just after midnight Sgt Galvin went into the armoury at the station. His body was found slumped in a chair in the detectives’ office at 7am. An envelope with his wife Collette’s name was found on a desk.

Supt Colm Nevin told widow Colette and family members Sgt Galvin had been an excellent station sergeant, adding: “We miss him dearly.”

World increasing awareness with people about their health is driving the growth of Weight Loss Services Market

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Weight Loss Services Market: Overview

Overweight and obesity refer to excess body fat and it is related with increased weight-for-height. According to the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates more than 1.4 billion adults 20 years or older are overweight and obese. Obesity not only leads to loss of confidence among obese people, but is also a great concern from health standpoint.

Overweight eventually leads a person to several diseases such as cardiovascular diseases (CVD), type 2 diabetes, strokes and even carry a risk of cancer. Obesity and weight gain has become one of the biggest concerns in the developed countries such as the U.S. owing to increasing adoption of sedentary lifestyle among the youth.

Weight Loss Services Market: Trends

The global weight loss services market is poised to grow in the coming years, thanks to increasing awareness among people about their health and well being. The huge consumer base is a key market driver for the growth of global weight loss services market and will continue to remain due to increasing global population, particularly in the Asia Pacific and Rest of the World.

Other prominent market drivers include consumer’s increased weight and rising disposable income among people in the developing countries. However, large number of tall and false claims misleads general public about the effectiveness of particular services. Such unfounded loss claims and misleading endorsements restrain the market growth for genuine products and services.

Weight Loss Services Market: Segmentation

The global weight loss services market can be segmented into four major segments, namely, weight loss food and diet chains, weight management programs, health clubs, and other approaches for weight reduction such as liposuction and bariatric surgery. The market is highly competitive in the developed world with simultaneous presence of several multinational and local players.

The food and diet chain segment have been growing in incessantly even during the recession period and accounted for largest share in the global weight loss services market. NutriSystem, Inc. is one of the major players in this segment and is engaged in provided meal replacement and weight loss supplements.

Weight Loss Services Market: Region-wise Outlook

Geographically, the global weight loss services market can be segmented into four major geographical regions, namely, North America, Europe, Asia Pacific and Rest of the World. Historically, North America and Europe have been the largest play areas for the players in this market. The market for weigh loss services is getting a boost in the U.S. due to coverage provision of screening and counseling for obesity under the Affordable Care Act (ObamaCare).According to the Health & Social Care Information Centre, obesity levels in England have illustrated a sharp increase during the period 1993 to 2011.

The obesity and overweight population continues to grow in the OECD countries as well. A report – ‘Obesity and Economics of Prevention: Fit or Fat’ from OECD presents the scale of obesity epidemic and recommends that nations make policies to prevent the consequences of obesity on the health and economy of the nation. Therefore, the market for weight loss services is expected to grow continuously in the near future. However, as the economies in Asia Pacific are growing at a rapid pace, the changing lifestyle of people in this region is resulting in more people becoming obese. This presents lucrative opportunity for market players in this highly untapped regional market.

Weight Loss Services Market: Key Players

Some of the players in this market include Northcastle Partners, NutriSystem, Inc., Weight Watchers International, Inc., Jenny Craig, Inc., Medifast, Inc., BistroMD, Inc., and Rosemary Conley Diet & Fitness Clubs.

Every part of the Arctic now is becoming worse for the polar bear

A polar bear dries off after taking a 2014 swim in the Chukchi Sea in Alaska.

Image result for Every part of the Arctic now is becoming worse for the polar bear   Image result for Every part of the Arctic now is becoming worse for the polar bear  Image result for Every part of the Arctic now is becoming worse for the polar bear

As climate change continues to heat up the Arctic, there’s rarely good news these days for the polar bears who call it home. And now, a broad new study charting nearly four decades of changes in Arctic sea ice has again underscored the animal’s plight.

The study, just out in the journal The Cryosphere, finds that in every Arctic region where polar bears live, there’s been a decline in the total number of ice-covered days the bears have at their disposal. That’s a serious problem because polar bears use sea ice as their prime hunting grounds, waiting near the edge and snatching up seals as the marine mammals surface for air.

Previous research has already suggested that as less ice is available, polar bears are forced to spend more time on land, where they have to scavenge or hunt smaller prey to survive. As this behavior becomes more frequent, scientists worry the bears could become malnourished or even starve. Earlier this week, reports of polar bears stalking a Russian research outpost drove this point home again.

A group of hungry polar bears are circling Russian scientists at a remote weather outpost in the Arctic. (Jenny Starrs/The Washington Post)

While there’s great concern about the future of the species, there’s some debate about how the bears are faring now. Scientists estimate there are currently about 25,000 bears in all, divided into 19 subpopulations throughout the Arctic. For the new study, the researchers decided to investigate sea ice trends in each of these subpopulation regions.

The researchers relied on satellite data from 1979 through 2014. Every year, for each of the 19 regions, they calculated the date sea ice began to melt in the spring; the date it began to refreeze in the fall; the amount of sea ice present during the summer months (when the ice concentration is typically at its lowest); and the total number of ice-covered days per year.

They found that in 17 out of the 19 subpopulation regions, there are significant trends toward earlier sea ice retreat in the spring, generally by about three-to-nine days per decade. And in 16 of the regions, there were significant trends toward a later fall sea ice advance, again by about three-to-nine days per decade. These trends were slightly more pronounced in some regions, such as the Barents Sea off the northern coasts of Norway and Russia, and the central Arctic Basin.

An earlier spring melt was associated with a later fall freeze pretty much every time — and the researchers have attributed this pattern to a special kind of climate feedback system.

“Sunlight bounces off ice, but it’s absorbed by water,” explained Harry Stern, a mathematician and sea ice researcher at the University of Washington and one of the study’s two authors. So when sea ice melts, it opens up large swaths of water where sunlight can be absorbed and heat can be trapped. The earlier the ice melts, the more heat goes into the ocean. In the fall, when temperatures start to drop again, all of this heat has to be released before the sea ice can refreeze. But if there’s more heat stored in the water than usual, the process takes longer and the freeze is delayed.

Overall, the researchers found that the length of time between spring sea ice retreat and fall sea ice advance has increased by between three and nine weeks since 1979. The biggest single increase of any polar bear subpopulation region was in the Barents Sea, where the interval lengthened by a whopping 17 weeks.

Additionally, the researchers found the concentrations of summer sea ice is declining by anywhere from one to nine percent per decade in most regions. And the total number of ice-covered days per year has also significantly declined in every subpopulation region, generally by between seven and 19 days per decade. Again, these trends were slightly larger in the Barents Sea.

The study’s results are already being used by conservationists, said Kristin Laidre, a principal scientist and polar bear expert at the University of Washington’s Polar Science Center and the study’s other author. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has incorporated the sea ice data into its Red List assessment of polar bears (which is part of a global assessment of the endangered or threatened status of wildlife all over the world) and into its public status information on the 19 subpopulations.

As for the future of the bears’ habitat, most projections suggest things are looking pretty grim. Models have predicted that we could be seeing ice-free Arctic summers by mid-century.

The science and policy of environmental issues.

In that light, the new study “highlights the clear changes we’re seeing around the globe, especially in the Arctic,” Laidre said, adding that she hopes the results might influence high-level decision-making about climate policy and greenhouse gas emissions moving forward.

Assuming the sea ice trends are irreversible, though — at least in the short term — she said the results could also be used to “compare and contrast subpopulations of polar bears across the Arctic and identify areas where we might expect to see more negative changes occurring.”

In this way, increased knowledge of sea ice trends in each of the subpopulation regions could help inform management decisions and future conservation effort. As for the bears themselves, continued monitoring will be necessary to find out how they respond to the ongoing ice losses.

For the time being, nine of the populations don’t have enough data for scientists to make an assessment of how they’re doing, while three are known to be declining, six are considered stable and just one is growing. How these patterns change in the future remains to be seen. But given the bears’ dependence on the sea ice, the researchers have concluded in their paper that “climate warming poses the single more important threat to their persistence.”

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Sunday 11th September 2016

Hillary Clinton collapses & later is diagnosed with pneumonia

Image result for Hillary Clinton collapses & later is diagnosed with pneumonia  Image result for Hillary Clinton collapses & later is diagnosed with pneumonia  Clinton was filmed looking very unwell  

The US DEMOCRATIC candidate Hillary Clinton, diagnosed with pneumonia, became overheated and fell ill at a Sept. 11 memorial ceremony in an episode that renewed focus on her health less than two months before U.S. voters to elect their next president.

Clinton had a medical examination when she got back to her home in Chappaqua, New York, according to a campaign aide. Her doctor, Lisa Bardack, said in a statement that she has been experiencing a cough related to allergies and that an examination on Friday showed that she was suffering from pneumonia.

Hillary Clinton appears to faint at the 9/11 memorial

“She was put on antibiotics and advised to rest and modify her schedule. While at this morning’s event, she became overheated and dehydrated. I have just examined her and she is now re-hydrated and recovering nicely,” Bardack said.

The 68-year-old Clinton abruptly departed the high-profile, televised event in New York City earlier Sunday and a video on social media appears to show her swaying and her knees buckling before she is helped into a motorcade event.

She was taken to her daughter Chelsea’s home in Manhattan and emerged around two hours later on a warm and muggy morning, wearing sunglasses and telling reporters that she was “feeling great.”

The video came from an unverified Twitter account under the name Zdenek Gazda, who did not respond to a request for comment.

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton waves after leaving an apartment building Sunday, Sept. 11, 2016, in New York. Clinton’s campaign said the Democratic presidential nominee left the 9/11 anniversary ceremony in New York early after feeling “overheated.” (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

The Clinton campaign did not respond to repeated requests for comment about the authenticity of the video.

Political strategists said the campaign should confront the health issue head-on to tamp down any concerns, particularly as Republican rival Donald Trump and some of his high-profile supporters have repeatedly argued that she lacked the “stamina” to battle adversaries abroad.

“The bottom line is the Clinton campaign is going to have to be completely forthright about Clinton’s health,” said Bud Jackson, a Virginia-based Democratic strategist.

Jackson suggested that “it would not be a bad move” if the campaign released more information in a crucial time of the race in which conservatives have touted conspiracies about Clinton’s health.

They have implied in recent weeks that Clinton’s coughing spells on the campaign trail were a sign of deeper problems.


Past presidential candidates have released much more detailed information about their health than either Trump, 70, or Clinton.

For example, John McCain, the failed 2008 Republican presidential nominee, allowed reporters to see 1,173 pages of medical records after concerns were raised about a cancer scare.

Republican strategist Art Hackney of Alaska, who chaired former President George W. Bush’s campaigns there, doubted Sunday’s health scare will fade away quickly, saying that the Trump campaign “will milk it.”

“These things tend to be fanned; the flames fanned like crazy by those who will use it to make one story take attention away from other stories,” he said.

He added, however, “I just can’t for the life of me think this impacts any American who isn’t already on one side or the other” in the Clinton-Trump race for the White House.

Clinton had no more events on her schedule for Sunday and went, as previously planned, to her home in Chappaqua, 30 miles (50 km) north of New York City.

She is scheduled to begin a trip to California and Nevada on Monday.

As the solemn ceremony began at the site of the World Trade Center that was attacked by two hijacked airliners 15 years ago, there was patchy sunlight, with temperatures at about 80 degrees Fahrenheit (26.6 Celsius). But the high humidity early into the ceremony caused it to feel much hotter in the crowd at times.

Clinton wore a high-collared shirt and a dark pant suit and donned sunglasses for the morning event.

Democratic Representative Joe Crowley of New York, a Clinton supporter who attended the event, told Reuters that it was “incredibly, stiflingly hot” during the ceremony.

DIFFICULT DAYS of the past

Clinton has been in the news before for serious health issues.

In December 2012, she suffered a concussion and shortly afterwards developed a blood clot.

In a letter released by her doctor in July 2015, Clinton was described as being in “excellent health” and “fit to serve” in the White House. It noted that her current medical conditions include hyperthyroidism and seasonal pollen allergies.

However brief her illness was on Sunday, it comes in the wake of some tough days for Clinton, as national polls showed her lead over Trump diminishing. A Reuters/Ipsos poll of likely voters showed an 8-point lead for Clinton had vanished by the last week of August.

On Saturday, Clinton came under fire from Republicans and on social media for saying Friday night that “half” of Trump’s supporters belonged in a “basket of deplorables.” She later said she regretted using the word “half.”

Clinton’s speech at a campaign rally earlier this month in Cleveland was interrupted by a coughing spell. During the speech, she quipped, “Every time I think about Trump I get allergic.” She then resumed her speech.

That episode fueled speculation from conservative political quarters about her health. Trump supporters have been tweeting unsubstantiated theories regarding Clinton’s health under the hashtag #HillarysHealth.

Trump has also been under pressure to release detailed information on his health and medical history.

Instead, in December, Trump’s doctor wrote in a short letter that was made public that his blood pressure and laboratory results “were astonishingly excellent” and that he would be “the healthiest individual ever elected to the presidency.”

Watchdog report into NAMA’s Project Eagle sale to be published

Image result for Watchdog report into NAMA's Project Eagle sale to be published  Image result for Watchdog report into NAMA's Project Eagle sale to be published   Image result for Watchdog report into NAMA's Project Eagle sale to be published

The Treasury Building on Grand Canal Street Lower where NAMA is based.

The Government will this week publish its report on Nama’s €1.6bn sale of its Northern Ireland loan book.

Minister for Finance Michael Noonan said last Wednesday he had been in possession of the report since the middle of August.

Government Chief Whip Regina Doherty said that the report will be published late Wednesday evening or Thursday morning.

Speaking on RTE’s ‘The Week in Politics,’ she said if an inquiry was needed, the Cabinet would make a decision in a prudent manner.

Nama’s northern loans, more commonly known as Project Eagle, were sold to US Investment company Cerberus Capital Management in 2014.

The sale has been ensnared in controversy as it had a book value of £4.5bn. Nama did not disclose the purchase price at the time but maintained it was the biggest single transaction in the agency’s history.

The Comptroller and Auditor General report has allegedly found shortcomings and irregularities which could have resulted in hundreds of millions of euro being lost.

Labour deputy leader Alan Kelly, Public Accounts Committee vice-chairman, called for a cross-border inquiry.

Speaking on RTE Radio One’s This Week, he said he was contacted privately by a Nama executive to meet prior to the forthcoming publication of the report

Why I had no option but to leave the Social Democrats

As things stands, vulture funds could take €10bn to €20bn offshore over the next decade

Why Stephen Donnelly had no option but to leave the Social Democrats

As things stands, vulture funds could take €10bn to €20bn off shore over the next decade

Image result for Why Stephen Donnelly had no option but to leave the Social Democrats VImage result for Why Stephen Donnelly had no option but to leave the Social Democrats V Image result for Why Stephen Donnelly had no option but to leave the Social Democrats

What is really dangerous about this is that it would effectively legitimise the use of Section 110 to avoid Irish domestic corporate taxes.1

What is really dangerous about this is that it would effectively legitimise the use of Section 110 to avoid Irish domestic corporate taxes.

I’m writing today about what the State needs to do to secure in the region of €10bn to €20bn in potentially lost taxes from the so-called vulture funds. However, I would first like to comment briefly on my decision to resign from the Social Democrats.

Having vested so much in the party, and worked with so many amazing people on the project, Monday’s decision was a difficult one, and was considered and discussed at length. Many have been supportive of the decision, though some naturally feel let down, which was the hardest part of making the decision. To them I would say that if I thought there was a different option, I would have taken it.

The hard reality is that the leadership team wasn’t working. This had been flagged at a senior level in the party for some time, and in spite of the efforts of many involved, I concluded that the team would never work well enough to establish the party as a growing, outward-looking, mainstream, progressive social democratic political force, something Ireland needs in the coming years.

This was in evidence at the Budget Oversight Committee last week, where we heard from a range of experts that the tax base should not be eroded. It is evident in recent drops in our college rankings, highlighting the need for funding and operational changes in third-level education. The Apple ruling could be the start of a prolonged attack on our corporation tax offer, with a renewed call from the European Commission last week for the introduction of the Common Consolidated Corporate Tax Base (CCCTB) – something with the potential to damage our economy. The new national fibre network is set to be privatised, with the potential for years of under-investment and monopoly pricing.

Brexit is throwing challenges our way, Portugal is edging closer to a new bailout and Greece closer to another default. Global bond markets are doing worrying things; the world is over-leveraged, and global capital is running for the hills.

For all of these challenges, opportunities abound, too – in modern public service models, in advances in science and technology and in social policy. But to seize them, the country needs smart, long-term progressive thinking, a stable revenue base and serious investment in services and productive infrastructure. And one critical, shorter-term opportunity to help with this is to close down tax avoidance by the so-called vulture funds – something that has as much potential for the public purse as the Apple ruling.

As things stand, less than 20 so-called vulture funds could take offshore somewhere between €10bn and €20bn in potential taxes in the next decade. Last Wednesday, after months of political pressure and investigative journalism, Minister for Finance Michael Noonan agreed that vulture funds were using Section 110 vehicles to avoid taxes on Irish profits. He also agreed that the principle to apply is that profits generated by economic activity in Ireland should be taxed here. The proposed amendment is a welcome first step, but as it stands, has more holes in it than a Swiss cheese.

Less than 24 hours after his announcement, some of the big accounting firms were briefing their clients on the proposed amendment. The message was clear – it would involve a small tax leakage, at worst. It also seems clear they had had a significant role in designing the amendment. One source told me it was believed that between 90pc and 100pc of the taxes currently avoided would remain as such under the draft amendment. So what are the loopholes?

First, while not explicitly stated, the accounting firms confirmed the vulture funds would be allowed to mark their assets to current market prices at the 0pc Section 110 rate. This would allow them avoid capital gains taxes (CGT) on the increase in property prices in recent years – a massive and unnecessary concession. In contrast, when Government changes CGT rates, it doesn’t allow you mark your assets to market value at the old rate just before the change. You just have to suck it up. The loophole is easily closed by ignoring any mark-to-market and setting an earlier date for any actual asset realisations.

Second, the draft amendment also allows vulture funds preserve their ability to get tax relief on interest they pay on their loans. At face value, this should be fine – tax relief is available to all companies in Ireland on their bank loans. However, companies can’t avoid taxes by making loans to themselves at interest rates that reduce their taxable profits to near zero. Again on this, the accounting firms believe there are structures possible that would allow the vulture funds use “arm’s length interest rates” to relocate profits offshore. This loophole could be closed by explicitly only allowing genuine third-party bank-debt financing, and only up to a limit of a rate of say 5pc (most vulture bank debt is at less than 3.5%).

Third, the amendment only applies to property assets. This would allow the many billions in Irish personal unsecured loan portfolios be exempt, as well as all general corporate and SME loans.

What is really dangerous about this is that it would effectively legitimise the use of Section 110 to avoid Irish domestic corporate taxes. So if you want to buy a business, don’t do it the ‘old way’. Instead, get the business to set up a loan and use a Section 110 company to buy this loan. This would be your route to tax-free Irish profits. Again, this can be solved by prohibiting Section 110 status not just for Irish property assets, but any assets who derive their value or income from the domestic Irish economy. Given the scale of the tax avoidance here, it would be possible to list the circa 100 portfolios sold by Nama, IBRC and other private banks to vulture funds, which are prohibited. Problem solved.

The Government accepts that what is happening with vulture funds needs to change. Noonan has signalled he’s open to debate on the draft proposal. Given the scale of the monies involved, this amendment provides a real test for whether we are serious about shutting down tax avoidance, or still feel we need it to attract foreign capital and investment.

At the Budget Oversight Committee last week, Professor Alan Ahearne explained that pressures on the public purse in coming years mean the tax take is going to have to rise. In light of this, he argued, it made no sense to erode the tax base in the coming budget. I agree – sociodemographic changes, coupled with much-needed investment in public services and infrastructure, are essential to securing future prosperity. In the same vein, it makes no sense to let billions of euro in legitimate taxes on vulture fund profits drift out of the country. Profits generated on economic activity in Ireland should be taxed in Ireland – and for this to happen, it’s imperative the proposed amendment to Section 110 companies is made fit for purpose.

An investigation starts into child’s E.coli death

Image result for An investigation starts into child's E.coli death  Image result for E.coli death   Culprit: The analysis by a multi-agency team found those affected had consumed Dunsyre Blue (file picture), made by Lanarkshire-based Errington Cheese, before they became unwell

An investigation has begun after a three-year-old girl died during an E.coli outbreak linked to a brand of blue cheese.

The child, who died on September 2, was among 20 confirmed cases of infection with E.coli 0157.

Authorities looking into the outbreak found those affected had consumed Dunsyre Blue, made by Lanarkshire-based Errington Cheese, before they became unwell.

A Crown Office spokesman said: “The Procurator Fiscal has received a report in connection with the death of a three-year-old girl in Dunbartonshire on 2 September 2016.

“The investigation into the death, under the direction of Scottish Fatalities Investigation Unit (SFIU), is ongoing and the family will continue to be kept updated in relation to any significant developments.”

All confirmed cases became unwell before the end of July. Of the 20 cases identified, 11 required hospital treatment.

In July, two batches of Dunsyre Blue were voluntarily recalled and earlier this week a third was taken off the market as a “precautionary” measure.

Errington Cheese has maintained there is no conclusive evidence linking its products to the outbreak.

E.coli O157 infection can occur after eating food or drinking water that is contaminated with the faeces from infected animals, or from contact with animals or their environments.

Gene discovery could yield to new treatments of Diabetes

Image result for Gene discovery could yield to new treatments of Diabetes   Image result for TNFR5 gene destroys beta cells [A blood glucose test]

Researchers from the United Kingdom have discovered a gene that aids the destruction of insulin-producing cells in the pancreas, contributing to type 2 diabetes.

Researchers have uncovered a gene that plays a key role in type 2 diabetes, but blocking it could lead to new treatments.

Reporting their findings in the journal Cell Death and Disease, the researchers reveal how blocking the gene – called TNFR5 – halted the destruction process, a discovery that could lead to new treatments for type 2 diabetes.

According to the American Diabetes Association, around 29.1 million Americans are living with diabetes.

The majority of these cases are type 2 diabetes, where the beta cells in the pancreas either do not produce enough insulin or the body is unable the use the insulin that is produced. Insulin is the hormone that helps regulate blood sugar levels.

While regular blood glucose testing and medications can help people with type 2 diabetes manage their blood sugar levels, there is a need for more effective therapies.

Lead researcher Dr. Mark Turner, of the School of Science and Technology at Nottingham Trent University in the U.K., and colleagues believe their gene discovery may have the potential to meet this need.

TNFR5 gene destroys beta cells in response to high levels of sugar, fat

The team says it is well established that long-term exposure to a high-fat and high-sugar diet can exacerbate destruction of beta cells among people with type 2 diabetes, but the mechanisms behind this process have been unclear.

For their study, Dr. Turner and colleagues set out to determine whether there is a genetic explanation.

Using high-density microarray analysis, the researchers evaluated more than 31,000 genes associated with the pancreas, with the aim of pinpointing which ones were most sensitive to glucose and fatty acids – the products of diets high in fat and sugar.

The researchers found that the gene TNFR5 had the highest sensitivity to glucose and fatty acids, and overexpression of this gene in response to high levels of fat and sugar led to beta cell destruction.

The authors say these findings suggest that people with type 2 diabetes – particularly those with poor blood glucose management or who have not been diagnosed – are more likely to overexpress the TNFR5 gene, and, therefore, beta cell damage is exacerbated.

But there is some good news; in laboratory tests, the team found that blocking TNFR5 in beta cells exposed to glucose and fatty acids halted their destruction.

This suggests that inhibiting TNFR5 activity could be a promising treatment strategy for type 2 diabetes.

“We believe we have found one of the key early events that leads to the decline of insulin-producing pancreatic beta cells caused by high levels of sugar and fat.

As such the gene may represent an important target in the search for new drug intervention strategies, which if successful, could help preserve pancreatic function and help control blood sugar levels in patients with type 2 diabetes.”

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Friday 9th September 2016.

Various EU member states claim a share of Apple’s €13bn tax bill

Spain is expected to raise the issue as finance ministers gather for first time since ruling

Image result for Various EU states claim a share of Apple €13bn tax bill  Image result for Various EU states claim a share of Apple €13bn tax bill  Image result for Various EU states claim a share of Apple €13bn tax bill

Several EU member states are seeking a share of the €13bn which Apple has been ordered to repay the Irish Government.

Several European Union member states are seeking a share of the €13 billion which Apple has been ordered to pay the Irish Government.

Spain, which is under pressure to reach EU-imposed budget deficit targets, is expected to raise the issue today as European finance ministers gather for the first time since the European Commission’s competition ruling againstIreland.

“Tax rulings are having a budgetary impact in Spain,” said a senior Spanish finance ministry source.

“When your revenues are falling and you have public deficit problems every euro counts,” said the source, adding that the Spanish government was currently making a calculation about how much tax it may be owed.

Concerns from Madrid were echoed by Austria’s finance minister Hans Joerg Schelling yesterday, who said his country, along with Italy and France, would also examine whether they were entitled to a portion of the €13 billion.

Elections due?

The development could complicate Ireland’s forthcoming appeal of the competition ruling.

Announcing the record state-aid ruling against Ireland last week, EU competition commissioner Margrethe Vestager said that other EU countries – and the US – could be entitled to some of the unpaid taxes that it ruled were due to Ireland.

But competition officials say the question of how countries might access unpaid taxes is a matter for national tax authorities, and not the competition commissioner.

With elections due in a number of European countries next year, finance ministries are anxious to display their willingness to pursue unpaid taxes.

But experts say that any serious move to recoup the funds would have to wait until the full Apple ruling was published and possibly until the appeal by Apple and Ireland went through the European courts.

Ireland has fourth highest rate of teen suicide in Europe

Psychologists urge focus on fighting problem ahead of World Suicide Prevention Day

Image result for Ireland has fourth highest rate of teen suicide in Europe   Image result for Ireland has fourth highest rate of teen suicide in Europe

Ahead of World Suicide Prevention Day on September 10th, the Movember Foundation has released a powerful video encouraging men to speak about their mental health.

Psychologists have called for great focus on measures to tackle the high rates of suicide among teenagers in Ireland.

The Psychological Society of Ireland (PSI), which has about 3,000 members, made the call ahead of World Suicide Prevention Day on Saturday.

Ireland has the fourth highest rate of suicide among teens in the EU, with only Lithuania, Estonia and Finland experiencing higher rates.

The society’s chief executive Terri Morrissey said putting a focus on preventative measures for teenagers and adolescents was important.

Ms Morrissey said depression and suicidal thoughts among teenagers were major health problems in Ireland but early intervention and the promotion of well-being and resilence could prevent such issues.

“Far too often we hear about such issues when it is already too late and we have to deal with the consequences and aftermath. Intervening at an early stage would have been effective,” she said.

“There is a range of methods and therapies that have been demonstrated to have been effective and which can be used to prevent behavioural, psychological and emotional problems.”

Ms Morrissey said these should begin at an early age, however.

“Well-being and resilience can be promoted through sport, exercise, healthy eating, parental support and other forms of physical, emotional and mental development,” she said.

Dr Gary Diamond, a clinical psychologist and international expert on teenage depression and suicide, will give a public talk on the subject on behalf of the society later this month. He is a professor and chair of the Department of Psychology at Ben-Gurion University in Israel.

“The goal of this parenting approach according to the author reduce family conflict, open lines of communication within families, help the adolescent make better sense of his or her own world and to better position parents to understand, support and advocate for their child,” Dr Diamond said.

Services availability?

Separately, the founder of the Suicide or Survive charity Caroline McGuigan said everyone had the responsibility to create the change that will ensure that there is a broad range of services and supports for people struggling with mental health and suicide.

“We’ve come a long way as a country when it comes to mental health but there is so much more we can do. We all have mental health just like we have dental and physical health and this needs to be recognised and mental health needs to be prioritised if we are to reduce the number of people who die by suicide in Ireland every year,” she said.

Brian Higgins of Pieta House, the centre for the prevention of suicide and self-harm, will return to Dublin on Friday night following a rickshaw tour of Ireland to raise awareness of the issue.

The tour took him to Wexford, Waterford, Cork, Tralee, Listowel, Limerick, Ennis, Galway, Tuam and Athlone. As it marks its 10th year, Pieta House has just opened its 10th centre (in Waterford).

“Our vision is of a world where suicide, self-harm and stigma have been replaced by hope, self-care and acceptance,” he said.

Dr Diamond’s talk will take place on Thursday September 22nd at Chartered Accountants Ireland, Pearse Street, Dublin at 6.30pm.

New lease of life for Roger Gannon after losing ten stone in less than a year


Roger Gannon who was 25 stone and 3.5 pounds when he joined ‘Sarah’s Slimming World’ classes. His health was suffering as a result of his weight, and his confidence too was dented.

Fast forward 42 weeks, and Roger has shed an impressive 10 stone after 42 weeks at Slimming World.

Blogger Donie had the pleasure of meeting and talking with Roger in Sligo recently and when I said I was checking my blood sugar before entering a retail unit to purchase a large household item and hoping it would fit into my car? he replied oh I have diabetes as well?

Roger went on to explain the journey he had being on as below in red text, of losing over 10 stone in less than 18 months as a result of of joining ‘Sarah’s Slimming World’ classes in the Gillooly Hall, Temple street, Sligo.

I could see the pride and sense of achievement on his face as he talked about his life’s ambition of being a normal human being not looking at the obstacles that were ahead of him while he was that crucifying weight of 25 stone and 4 pounds.

I congratulated Roger on his outstanding  achievement and wished him the best of luck with his diabetes management and continued success with ‘Sarah’s Slimming World diet’. before purchasing my hard to fit item into my Ford Focus car.

The 50-year-old, who has lived in Tubbercurry his whole life, knew he needed to make changes to his lifestyle for the sake of his health, at the very least.

“Before joining Slimming World I was a size XXXXXL now I am a large and I am loving it,” said Roger.

“I’ve gone from someone who hated shopping and who had to travel to Dublin a lot for my clothes to being able to just pop into my local men’s wear store and pick right off the hanger in Gilespie’s.”

“I ‘had’ been overweight all my life to date. I can’t ever remember a time when I was slim. Looking back on old pictures it frightens me a little of how large I’d become.”

Roger’s weight had a huge effect on him as a person and his day to day life. Small things had to be taken into consideration, such as how long he would be walking for.

He explains: “I had to always think about where I was going and whether I’d be able to sit down as I knew I couldn’t be on my feet for long as the pressure on my knees was unbearable at times.

“I had seriously high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes. The doctor was constantly onto me about trying to lose weight. My hips were bad and my back was constantly giving me trouble, I was travelling the country for treatments and physiology.

“Now since I have lost the weight my blood pressure is completely normal, the doctor was thrilled. My diabetes is well in control and reducing dramatically.

“My knees don’t hurt anymore and I feel a thousand times healthier. I can live again. Slimming world has saved my life.”

Roger tried everything to shed weight. As soon as he joined ‘Sarah’s Slimming World’, he knew it was the right place for him.

“There were a number of reasons I joined Slimming World. I guess one that stands out the most would be I wanted to go somewhere where nobody knew me. I had heard great reports about Sarah’s group and that it was fantastic.

“On my first day I was shaking with nerves – I was outside for hours before I got the courage to walk in.

“I had tried so many things in the past, but from the second I walked in the door I new I’d come to the right place.

“The welcome I got was so warm and friendly, everyone was there for the same reason as me and I found that so reassuring.

“The first cup of coffee they made me at group really settled me and I was then relaxed. I went from wanting nobody to know me to being a big part of the group there. I have made so many new friends for life. I love Wednesdays, it’s the best day of the week for me now. For the first time in my life I can climb the stairs without getting breathless. My knees don’t hurt anymore I am always smiling.”

Roger’s weight loss has not only given him a new lease of life, but he has also inspired others to follow him in his journey, by starting their own.

“I can’t wait to head out of the house in the morning to meet people.

“I can’t go into my local shop without people stopping me and talking to me to congratulate me on how well I have done. It makes me so happy to know that I am inspiring people across the county to join slimming world. I am an inspiration, I not only changed my life but I’m helping others change theirs, it makes me so proud.”

He is now a brand new man. He’s loving life once again, and it’s all thanks to his new found health.

“The best thing that has happened to me as a result of my weight loss is that I am a whole new person.

“I am happy, friendly, and no longer sad on the inside and always smiling. People enjoy being around me again; they enjoy my company and treat with me respect for once in my life.

“I think the most important, best and most rewarding thing that has happened to me since this whole journey started is that

“Slimming World has taught me to love life again and that alone is the greatest gift anyone could ever have given me.”

‘Sarah’s Slimming World’ classes take place every Wednesday at Gillooly Hall, Temple street, Sligo at 9.30am, 11.30am and 1.30pm.

3D bone-scanning technique devised by Irish scientists

Image result for 3D bone-scanning technique devised by Irish scientists  Image result for 3D bone-scanning technique devised by Irish scientists  Image result for 3D bone-scanning technique devised by Irish scientists

Dr Esther Surender, Postdoctoral Researcher at Trinity College Dublin

Irish scientists have devised a revolutionary new scanning technique that produces extremely high-res 3D images of bones, sparing patients exposure to X-ray radiation.

The chemists in Trinity College and the Royal College of Surgeons (RCSI) said the technique could have major benefits for healthcare, allowing a patient’s bone strength to be assessed in detail. The elderly and athletes will be among those to benefit.

It works by forming agents that are attracted to calcium-rich surfaces, which appear when bones crack, even at a micro level.

X-rays give off radiation and have, in some cases, been associated with an increased risk of cancer. The red, gold-based agents used in this alternative technique are biologically safe.

The researchers point out that gold has been used safely by medics in a variety of ways in the body for some time.

A spokesman for Trinity College said these nanoagents target and highlight the cracks formed in bones, allowing researchers to produce a complete 3D image of the damage.

The spokesman pointed out that it could give a detailed blueprint of the extent and precise positioning of any weakness or injury in the bone.

“Additionally, this knowledge should help prevent the need for bone implants in many cases, and act as an early warning system for people at a high risk of degenerative bone diseases.”

The research is led by Trinity Professor of Chemistry Thorri Gunnlaugsson and Postdoctoral Researcher Esther Surender.


Prof Gunnlaugsson pointed out: “This work is the outcome of many years of successful collaboration between chemists from Trinity and medical and engineering experts from RCSI.

“We have demonstrated that we can achieve a three-dimensional map of bone damage, showing the so-called microcracks, using non-invasive luminescence imaging.

“The nanoagent we have developed allows us to visualise the nature and the extent of the damage in a manner that wasn’t previously possible.”

Diagnosing weak bones before they break should cut down on the need for operations and implants.

Dr Surender predicted it had great potential in a clinical setting.

The findings have been published in the leading journal ‘Chem’.

Glencar Sligo Ireland’s highest waterfall

The best time to visit is after or even during a good downpour on a wild Atlantic day

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It’s a ‘spate’ river, so it’s best to visit after (or even during) a downpour on a wild Atlantic day of south-westerly gales; the waterfall then can appear to ‘smoke’

Poetry and good descriptive prose can wonderfully enrich one’s perception of the natural beauty of a place – making it much more than just a visual experience. Indeed, a good poet or writer can bring the magic of a real or imagined place to his/her reader, without her/him ever having to put on the boots and get all muddy and cold.

And nowhere on our beautiful island is that more true than in Sligo andLeitrim. Here Yeats has impregnated a visually beautiful landscape with a spirit of magic, wonder and mystery.

Glencar is a case in point. It’s waterfall, “where the wandering water gushes from the hills above Glencar”, attracts visitors by the thousand; however, that beautiful verse of the poem The Stolen Child takes the reader/visitor high into the hills above the waterfall to meet mischievous fairies, tiny pools and stars, weeping ferns, trout and “unquiet” dreams; and, having carried the reader/visitor into this imaginative and magic space, Yeats (via the Fairies) seduces us (the “human child”) to come and stay.

And few of us can deny sometimes feeling that pull to escape into his “waters and the wild” – though perhaps not with a dodgy kidnapping fairy!

Glencar waterfall in Co Leitrim is more than worth a visit; but one’s imagination can be crowded out by coffee shops and neat lawns and paths and facilities. About a kilometre west, however, is another less well-known waterfall, called “the Devil’s Chimney” – despite the name more suited to quiet contemplation, though without the help of a caffeine injection.

Officially, it’s Ireland’s highest waterfall – in Irish, “Sruth in Agaidh an Aird” (the stream against the height). It is accessed via a new woodland path that climbs 120m up the talus slope above Glencar Lake. The walk is short but very rewarding. Its “feel” is of quiet deep woods and wide vistas, wild flowers, birdsong and glimpses of beautiful Glencar Lake.

It’s over private land, access being kindly granted by the landowner and has been put in place jointly by the counties of Sligo, Cavan, Leitrim and Fermanagh under the EU-funded Border Project. The roadside CP has an information panel which sets out clearly the geology, flora and fauna of the place while another warns you that this “is NOT Glencar Waterfall”.

I’ve been there in late spring and have loved it, despite the waterfall being in a quiet mood. It’s a “spate” river, so it’s best to visit after (or even during) a downpour on a wild Atlantic day of south-westerly gales; the waterfall then can appear to “smoke” – be blown back into the sky and recycled over and over again – and you’ll understand why perhaps it got its name!

There are seats to sit on and woods and space to shelter you, and give permission to the child in you, or with you, to be “stolen” for a while in this lovely place.

Wild areas of World shrinks by 10% in just 20 years

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A 10th of the world’s unspoiled wilderness areas have been lost since the 1990s, say experts calling for urgent action to preserve biodiversity on Earth.

A 10th of the world’s unspoiled wilderness areas have been lost since the 1990s, say experts calling for urgent action to preserve biodiversity on Earth.

New findings from a global ecosystem study show “staggering” declines affecting the last bastions of undisturbed nature, it is claimed.

In the last 20 years, wilderness regions amounting to an area twice the size of Alaska have vanished, the research reveals. The Amazon basin and central Africa have been hardest hit. ‘Wilderness’ is defined as a biologically and ecologically intact landscape free of any significant human disturbance.

Lead researcher Dr James Watson, from the University of Queensland in Australia, said: “Globally important wilderness areas, despite being strongholds for endangered biodiversity, for buffering and regulating local climates, and for supporting many of the world’s most politically and economically marginalised communities, are completely ignored in environmental policy.

International policies?

“International policy mechanisms must recognise the actions needed to maintain wilderness areas before it is too late. We probably have one to two decades to turn this around.”

The scientists mapped wilderness areas around the world and compared the results with a previous similar map produced in the 1990s. Their findings are reported in the journal Current Biology.

The updated map shows that a total of 30.1 million sq. km of the Earth – more than a fifth of the world’s land area – now remains as wilderness. Although that might sound like a large amount of land, the proportion of surviving wilderness in the world has fallen alarmingly in the last two decades, say the authors.

An estimated 3.3 million sq. km – almost 10% – of wilderness has disappeared since the 1990s, the research showed.

The most affected continents were South America, which had lost 30%c of its wilderness, and Africa, where 14% had gone.

The majority of wilderness areas today were located in North America, North Asia, North Africa, and Australia.

Dr Watson added: “The amount of wilderness loss in just two decades is staggering and very saddening.

“We need to recognise that wilderness is being dramatically lost and that without proactive global interventions we could lose the last jewels in nature’s crown. You cannot restore wilderness,” he said.

“If we don’t act soon, it will be all gone, and this is a disaster for conservation, for climate change, and for some of the most vulnerable human communities on the planet. We have a duty to act for our children and their children.”