News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Tuesday 25th October 2016

‘Ireland provides the ideal new home for the European Banking Authority’

Says Michael Noonan

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* Spain, France, Poland, Italy are among the competing nations 

Ireland put itself forward as the latest candidate to lure the European Medicines Agency (EMA) and the European Banking Authority (EBA) should they uproot from London after Britain’s vote to leave the European Union.

Ireland’s economy is considered to have more to lose from Brexit than any other in the EU because of its close trade ties, but it could also benefit from the relocation of agencies such as the EMA or EBA as well as multinationals and banks.

The country’s low tax and business-friendly environment has made it a favoured destination of some banks and big international companies, and nine of the world’s top 10 pharmaceutical companies have operations in the country.

Dublin would face competition, however, from cities in Spain, France, Sweden, Poland, Italy and Austria, which are already vying to entice the two agencies.

“As a country with experience in providing links to banks and companies in the UK market, Ireland provides an ideal new home for the staff of the EBA,” Finance Minister Michael Noonan said in a statement.

Irish Health Minister Simon Harris, announcing Dublin as a candidate to house the EMA, said it appeared inevitable that the EMA would have to relocate from London to another EU member state. He stressed Ireland’s advantage as an English-speaking country and said the government would develop a detailed proposal by early 2017.

Housing the industry regulator helps a city attract more companies and investment in those sectors, as London has seen with financial services and life sciences.

“Pimco US bidder” denies it was forced out of Project Eagle by Nama

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A senior Nama official told the original bidder for the Northern Irish loan book, US firm Pimco, that some other way could be found to stay in the process, despite the emergence of controversial ‘fixer’ fees,

Nama executive Ronnie Hanna played a key role in forcing US company Pimco out of the Project Eagle bidding race – after details of a £15 million “success fee” emerged.

At a meeting of the Dail’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC), emails and board minutes relating to Pimco’s exit from the process were discussed by committee members.

The documents, seen by the Irish Examiner, show that in ‘Contemporaneous Minutes of a Nama Telephone Call with Pimco, 11 March 2014, discussions took place about how a fee could be paid in an alternative way which could see them remain in the process.

On the call for Pimco were Tom Rice, European Legal Counsel and Hugh Mildred, Legal Counsel

and for Nama were Ronnie Hanna and legal advisor Alan Stewart.

On the call Mr Rice who said Pimco was disappointed that disclosures were not made by the relevant parties to NAMA.

The Nama officials asked when Pimco had become aware of the issue.

Mr Rice said the [Project Eagle] process had been with NAMA for several months referenced April/May 2013.

He said this development went back to the origination of the deal with Pimco and the proposal for an acquisition fee, according to the documents.

Mr Rice added the proposed split for the fixer fee was mentioned some time ago and enquiries were made and it was looked at in more detail in the second half of 2013.

Reference was made to a draft letter of engagement. Once the amount was queried it became evident the payment was to be split 3 ways and clarification was sought from the firms afterwards, the documents show.

Mr Rice said they “did not want to continue in a process with any degree of impropriety for Pimco or NAMA and that Pimco was willing to withdraw completely”.

Mr Hanna asked whether Pimco considered other options. “TR asked what options and RH asked if it could be shaped differently for the arrangement fee to come out,” the minutes show.

Mr Rice said that if there was participation with any partners where there has been an issue [for NAMA] and Pimco just would not want to be looking at progressing.

Mr Hanna explained that the point was more to do with Frank Cushnahan, the Nama advisor at the heart of the controversy.

In the conversation referred to the current process as it stood and said Pimco was willing to withdraw.

Investment firm Pimco were not forced out of the sales process of Nama’s sale of its northern loan book, the agency has said.

The admission given at the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) appears to “be at odds” with previous testimony given at the committee by senior Nama executives.

Nama went to great lengths to tell us that they forced Pimco to withdraw from the process, but the new documents do not tally with that assessment, PAC member and Sinn Fein TD Mary Lou McDonald said.

Project Eagle was the name given to more than 900 loans secured on properties in Northern Ireland, the UK and Republic, that Nama sold in April 2014 to US firm Cerberus for £1.3 billion.

A report into the sale, by Comptroller and Auditor General (C&AG) Séamus McCarthy, shows that Mr Hanna, Nama’s head of asset recovery, initially alerted its board that another bidder, Pimco, had agreed to pay the £15 million fee to former Nama adviser Frank Cushnahan,Belfast solicitors Tughans and US lawyers Brown Rudnick, which they were to split equally.

Earlier, Nama has denied that some potential investors were discouraged from participating in the controversial £1.3bn (€1.6bn) sale of its Northern Ireland loan book, known as Project Eagle.

Appearing before the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), Nama officials said that following a board decision to market Project Eagle, in February 2014 six potential bidders signed Non-Disclosure Agreements permitting them access to portfolio information.

Nama is under fire over the sale of the Northern loan book to US firm Cerberus and the agency had already decided to sell to Cerberus before it learned of a potential conflict of interest involving the successful bidder and two law firms, a report found last month.

The report by Comptroller and Auditor General (C&AG) Séamus McCarthy criticised Nama’s sale of the Project Eagle loans to Cerberus in April 2014 for £1.3 billion on the grounds it could have earned £190 million extra for the State and for failing to recognise the impact that a conflict of interest could have had on the sale.

Nama strongly disagreed with the C&AG report.

At the Committee today, Nama officials were pressed at length as to the logistics as to how the process took place.

As is normal in loan sales, documents were uploaded to a data room throughout the process.

The committee heard that the six potential bidders admitted to the data room were PIMCO, Oaktree, Cerberus, Lone Star, Goldman Sachs and Fortress.

Dunnes Stores closing the gap on SuperValu in Irish grocery market

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Dunnes Stores has overtaken Tesco as the second largest player in the Irish grocery market, new figures show.

The latest set of quarterly market share and sales statistics from consumer insights agency Kantar Worldpanel — covering the 12 weeks to October 9 — show Musgrave-owned SuperValu has maintained its lead with a market share of 22.4%, but Dunnes has leap-frogged Tesco into second place with a 22% share of the market.

Tesco currently controls 21.6% of the Irish market; down by over 1% on an annualised basis and unmoved on the previous 12 weeks.

Dunnes had moved level with Tesco in the previous quarter and is now nearly 1% better off — in market share terms — than it was this time last year.

Dunnes is now just 0.4% behind SuperValu, in market share terms, having been nearly 1% adrift in the previous quarter.

For a second period running, Dunnes’ till sales were up by over 6% — well ahead of the market average growth of 3.9%.

SuperValu’s over-the-counter sales grew by 2.9%, in the latest period, and Tesco was the only one of the traditional players to see a drop, till sales falling by 1.3%.

“The biggest factor driving growth for Dunnes, over the past year, has been an increase in the size of the average shopping trip, which has grown by €3 to €38.10.

“The retailer with the next largest trip size is Aldi, where shoppers part with €25.10 on average — €13 less than at Dunnes,” said Kantar Worldpanel director, David Berry.

“Since its introduction Dunnes’ ‘Shop and Save’ [voucher scheme] initiative has gone from strength-to-strength.

The campaign has been very successful in persuading shoppers to spend more, and we’ve seen a whopping 18% increase in shopping trips where consumers spend over €100 since last year,” Mr. Berry added.

While Tesco sales remained in decline, the latest dip was its lowest level of sales decline here since May.

Aldi and Lidl, meanwhile, have maintained their market shares of around 11.5%, but both saw improved sales growth last quarter.

“In what looks like a shift to an increasing reliance on its own brand lines, branded items accounted for just 10% of Lidl’s sales during the past 12 weeks compared to over 20% in 2012,” said Mr Berry.

“Lidl has increased its share of the market to 11.6%, with sales growth of 5.1%: the average Lidl shopper visited the retailer 11 times over the past quarter,” he added.

Meanwhile, Kantar said Irish grocery market inflation stood at 1.3% in the 12 weeks under review, down from 2.2% last month.

Women drinking as much alcohol as men,  A study finds

Change partly the result of sweeter products aimed at young women, say campaigners

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Women’s bodies do not tolerate alcohol as well as men’s, because they have a higher fat to water ratio and smaller livers.

Women have caught up with men in the amount of alcohol they drink and are doing increasing amounts of damage to their health as a result, according to a global study that looked at the consumption habits of four million people over a period of over a century.

The change is partly the result of successful marketing campaigns and the creation of sweeter products aimed at young women or girls, as well as cuts in price, say health campaigners. Some studies have even suggested that younger women may be out-drinking men, according to the study’s authors.

The researchers from the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre of the University of New South Wales, Australia, say the conclusion is that public health efforts need to focus more on women.

“These results have implications for the framing and targeting of alcohol use prevention and intervention programmes. Alcohol use and alcohol-use disorders have historically been viewed as a male phenomenon. The present study calls this assumption into question and suggests that young women in particular should be the target of concerted efforts to reduce the impact of substance use and related harms,” they say.

Their analysis, published in the journal BMJ Open, looks at the convergence of drinking habits between men and women over time, from 1891 to 2014. It pools the results of 68 international studies, published since 1980, to look at the changing ratio of male to female drinking over the years.

Historically, far more men drank alcohol than women. Men born between 1891 and 1910 were twice as likely as their female peers to drink alcohol and more than three times as likely to be involved in problematic use or use leading to harms. But in all three respects, this had almost reached parity among those born between 1991 and 2000.

Women’s drinking has increased for a number of reasons. Those who have succeeded in obtaining jobs that were once the preserve of men have joined – or found it necessary to become part of – the after-work drinking culture. Office for National Statistics figures from 2011 show that women in management and professional jobs drink more than the average woman and drink more on weekdays.

But drops in the price, which have led to wine and beer becoming regular items in the supermarket shopping trolley and part of everyday life at home, have also been a factor, alongside deliberate marketing targeted at women.

Minimum unit pricing to prevent low-cost selling and restrictions on alcohol promotion are included in the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill.

Debate on committee stage of the Bill starts in the Seanad on Wednesday. The Bill provides for minimum unit pricing to prevent below-cost selling and compulsory labels on all alcoholic drinks stating calorie count, health warnings and alcohol levels. It also includes restrictions on alcohol promotion and strict structural separation of alcohol products from other items in shops.

The Bill is subject to lobbying from small businesses and craft breweries over advertising and rules to separate alcohol from other products in shops.

Commenting on the global survey, Emily Robinson, director of campaigns at UK charity Alcohol Concern, said: “Since the 1950s we’ve seen women’s drinking continue to rise.”

“Drinking at home has continued to increase and because alcohol is so cheap and easily available it’s become an everyday grocery item. We’ve also seen a concerted effort from the alcohol industry to market products and brands specifically to women.

“We know from our annual Dry January campaign that people often don’t realise that alcohol has become a habit rather than a pleasure, with women having ‘wine o’clock’ most nights of the week.

“Drinking too much, too often, can store up future health problems, both mental and physical, with people not realising just how easy it is to go over recommended limits,” Robinson added.

“This is why we need mandatory health warnings on alcohol products and a mass media campaign to make sure the chief medical officer’s guidelines are widely known and understood.”

Katherine Brown, director of the Institute of Alcohol Studies in the UK, said: “Historically women did not drink that much. There has definitely been a proactive effort to entice women to drink more.”

Some of the drinks now available have been targeted at young women who “pre-load” while getting together to dress and do their make-up before a night out. Three large glasses of wine can be the equivalent of nine units, she added.

Babycham was the first drink specifically designed with women in mind in post-war Britain. Today there are many others including Lambrini, which is aimed entirely at young women. “Sweet or fruity? Lively, smooth – or are you a classic kind of girl? With a Lambrini tailored to complement your own personal style and taste, you’re going to love our new collection!” says the advertising on its website.

Alcohol advertising and sponsorship is also noticeable in TV programmes aimed at women. For example, Baileys backed Desperate Housewives.

Women’s bodies do not tolerate alcohol as well as men’s, however, because they have a higher fat to water ratio. Because they have less water, the alcohol in their system remains more concentrated. They also have smaller livers than men, which makes it harder to process alcohol safely.

Have more sex, eat garlic and don’t sleep too much: The new rules for heart health

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As a study shows brushing your teeth can lower inflammation like statins, India Sturgis reports on the simple lifestyle steps we can all take to help the heart.

The simple lifestyle steps we can all take to help the heart

Heart disease remains Ireland’s biggest killer, but we’re learning more and more about how lifestyle can wreck – or protect – the health of the heart. Last week, American researchers reported that simply brushing your teeth thoroughly can dramatically reduce levels of inflammation in the body and help protect against heart attacks.

It’s never too early to start thinking about your heart and taking steps to care for it, says Johannes Hinrich von Borstel, prospective cardiologist and former paramedic, and author of a new book ‘Heart: The Inside Story of Our Body’s Most Important Organ’. After all, atherosclerosis – the build up of fatty deposits in the arteries that can lead to heart disease and stroke – starts at the age of 25.Drawing on the latest research, and his own experience treating patients with a host of heart conditions, von Borstel reveals some of the surprising ways to keep your heart beating healthily, whatever your age – from having more sex to ditching the weekend lie-ins.

Have sex (with someone you love)

According to von Borstel, exerting yourself between the sheets is one of the most beneficial exercises you can do for your heart. “As well as an entire cardiac workout, before and during intercourse there is a big release of hormones that have a protective effect on our cardiovascular system,” he explains.

An orgasm can release 50 different chemical messengers. One substance, oxytocin, the so-called cuddle hormone, triggered by affectionate physical contact, is proven to lower blood pressure, promote the healing of wounds and reduce stress.

Having sex with someone you love, rather than a stranger, is far better for hearts because genuine affection causes the release of higher levels of oxytocin, says von Borstel. This was borne out in a recent study of 2,200 people by Michigan State University, which found women over 50 who had regular sex tended to have lower blood pressure, and so a lower risk of heart problems – but the benefits were only seen in those who reported high levels of satisfaction and enjoyment from sex.

Is sex safe if you have a heart condition? People suffering with angina – chest pain from narrowed arteries – or who have recently had a heart attack or heart surgery often feel anxious about sexual activity. But experts advise that it can be safely resumed as soon as a patient feels well enough after their treatment – normally four to six weeks.

Last year, a study by Ulm University, which followed more than 500 heart attack survivors, found no relationship between how often they had sex and their risk of future heart problems. The authors said sex provided a good form of physical exercise for the heart, and patients should not give it up.

Eat raw garlic every day

While this might be seen to hinder the previous point due to its strong stench, eating raw garlic is great for your heart health.

“Vegetables and fruits have secondary phytochemicals that have the same effect as different [heart protective] medications but not in a dose that is dangerous for your body,” says von Borstel.

He cites ginger, onions and garlic as blood thinners which promote blood flow through vessels and improved blood supply to organ and tissues, and recommends grating a teaspoon of root ginger or two or three teaspoons of grated garlic into a glass of water a day to naturally reduce blood pressure.

“As long as you eat in a balanced way, it is no problem to eat these every day,” he says. Allicin, the key ingredient found in garlic and onions, is thought to act on the kidneys, changing levels of hormones and dilating the blood vessels. Research by the Institute of Food Research found that eating a 100g to 200g serving of onions (one to two onions) had the biggest impact on inflammation.

Sleep well (but not too much)

Sleepless nights are associated with an increased heart rate, high blood pressure and a spike in chemicals linked with inflammation – all of which can strain the heart.

Researchers from the University of Warwick recently reported that those who sleep for less than six hours a night and have disturbed sleep have a 48pc greater chance of heart disease and 15pc greater chance of stroke.

Insomnia is also a source of stress and stress triggers adrenalin, which makes our hearts beat faster and, over prolonged periods, can lead to angina or even heart failure. However, getting too much sleep can be dangerous too – researchers at the University of West Virginia in 2010 have found that those who regularly sleep for more than nine hours a night have an almost 50pc higher risk of suffering a heart attack or other cardiovascular disease.

Increasingly, evidence suggests that irregular sleep patterns – for example, lying in on the weekends – disrupts the delicate balance of our circadian rhythms, which may alter processes in the body such as the metabolism of sugar and raise the risk of conditions such as type 2 diabetes. Although research is ongoing, von Borstel’s conclusion is clear: “Sleeping too much and too little can be harmful to our health. Seven hours is the perfect number for most adults.”

The lifestyle changes that work like statins

Statins – cheap, cholesterol-lowering drugs – continue to be the subject of debate, with critics arguing they are being inappropriately prescribed to healthy people and cause side effects such as muscle aches.

This month, scientists from Florida Atlantic University made the startling claim that brushing teeth thoroughly with specialist toothpaste that shows plaque in the mouth could prevent heart attacks and strokes by reducing inflammation in the body close to levels achieved by statins.

Von Borstel says statins can be highly beneficial in patients with dangerously high cholesterol, or who have a history of heart disease, “but the risk of side effects should be balanced with the positive effects of this therapy. Even if the risk of side effects is quite low, it exists”.

He says following a healthy Mediterranean-style diet, low in saturated fat and rich in healthy fats such as olive oil, nuts and oily fish, can help to lower cholesterol naturally.

Why the Egyptians had heart disease

X-rays of mummies have revealed that the ancient Egyptians, whose lifestyles more than 3,000 years ago ensured they didn’t smoke, exercised regularly and had typically low-fat diets, suffered atherosclerosis.

One explanation put forward by experts for their diseased arteries is the fact their diet relied so heavily on bread made from white flour. White flour is a refined, simple carbohydrate that leads to a rapid rise in blood sugar and increases a person’s chances of weight gain, insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes – all of which puts you at a higher risk of coronary heart disease.

“Too much sugar is not good for your heart because it can cause weight gain and diabetes,” says von Borstel. “The biggest problem is that sugar sometimes hides in food and is not recognisable – for example in noodles, white bread and potatoes. One of the best ways to reduce sugar intake is to cut down on food made with white flour.” He advises switching from white carbohydrates to wholemeal varieties, to reduce the spike in blood sugar.

Mars lander crash complicates follow-up rover in 2020

Map of Mars  Image result for what went wrong with the Schiaparelli Mars lander

Engineers at the European Space Agency (ESA) are racing to figure out what went wrong with the Schiaparelli Mars lander. On 19 October, it seemed to drop out of the sky and crash to the surface less than a minute before its planned soft landing. A diagnosis is urgent, because many of the same pieces of technology will be used to get a much bigger ExoMars rover down to the surface in 2020.

More than engineering is at stake. If the ExoMars 2020 rover is to fly at all, ESA must persuade its 22 member states to chip in to cover a €300 million shortfall in the €1.5 billion cost of both the 2016 and 2020 phases of ExoMars. On 1–2 December, at a meeting of government ministers, ESA officials will make their case that they are not throwing good money after bad. After the Schiaparelli loss, securing funding for ExoMars 2020 “is really more important than ever, if Europe wants to be seen as part of exploring our solar system,” says David Southwood of Imperial College London, who was ESA’s director of science from 2001 until 2011.

At the ministerial meeting, ESA officials will emphasize the success of the Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO), the other part of the ExoMars 2016 mission. As Schiaparelli fell to its doom, the TGO entered a highly elongated 4.2-day orbit around Mars. Next month, it will begin to calibrate science instruments designed to sniff out methane and other trace gases in the atmosphere to pinpoint their origin—not just where they arise, but whether they emanate from geological or biological sources. In March 2017, TGO will begin dipping down into the martian atmosphere, generating friction that will slow and circularize its orbit so that it can begin science observations later in the year. “We have 100 kilograms of science instruments in orbit around Mars. Solving the mystery of methane is now in our future,” David Parker, ESA’s director of human spaceflight and robotic exploration, told reporters last week.

Compared with the expected science return of the TGO, the weather data that Schiaparelli would have collected with just a few days of battery power on the surface was an afterthought. But as students of ESA’s comet-orbiting Rosetta mission learned, the fate of plucky landers resounds in the public consciousness. In November 2014, Rosetta dropped the Philae lander to the surface of a comet, where it survived a couple days. Even though its few pictures and measurements were far surpassed by those of its mother ship, it captured the public’s fancy and was a public relations coup.

ESA engineers studying what happened to Schiaparelli are working with information from several sources: data the lander transmitted to the TGO during its descent and elements of the same signal that were picked up by ESA’s Mars Express orbiter and a radio telescope on Earth. All sources agree that the signal abruptly stopped around 50 seconds before the expected landing. Early analysis suggested that something went awry after the lander shed its parachute and heat shield and fired its thrusters to slow the final descent. That transition seemed to begin too soon, and the thrusters only fired for a few seconds before cutting out.

On 20 October, the day after the landing, NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) flew over the landing site and snapped images with its low-resolution camera. These showed a white dot, thought to be Schiaparelli’s parachute, and 1 kilometer away a fuzzy dark patch, 15 by 40 meters in size. ESA says this dark smudge is probably soil disturbed by the impact of Schiaparelli or even the scar of an explosion, since the lander’s propellant tanks would have been full on impact. ESA says the lander probably fell from a height of up to 4 kilometers (the parachute was meant to release it at 1.1 kilometers), and that it would have hit the ground at 300 kilometers per hour. MRO is expected to take more pictures of the site this week with its high-resolution camera.

The pressure is on Schiaparelli’s engineers because the ExoMars 2020 rover and its landing platform are already taking shape. Many components, which are being duplicated from Schiaparelli with little change, need to be shipped to Russia for integration into the spacecraft by next year, says Thierry Blancquaert, Schiaparelli’s mission manager. The aeroshell that will protect the 2020 rover during descent and slow it as it enters the atmosphere is the same shape but instead will be built by Russia, which has been partnering with ESA on the ExoMars program since NASA pulled out in 2012. The parachute in 2020 will be the same type but will deploy in two phases—a small one followed by a big one—and the main chute will be much larger: 35 meters across compared to Schiaparelli’s 12 meters.

The thrusters that will ease the 2020 rover onto the surface will be different, and are currently being developed by Russian space agency Roscosmos. But the radar Doppler altimeter—which senses the surface and allows the thrusters to bring the spacecraft down gently—as well as the guidance and navigation systems will be the same as Schiaparelli’s, so those parts of last week’s descent will be under special scrutiny.

Earlier this year, the planned launch date for the rover was delayed from 2018 to 2020 because of problems mating the ESA-built rover with the Russian aeroshell. Many see this as a blessing in disguise. “The industrial and instrument teams were following aggressive schedules, but the delay is a bit of relief,” says Andrew Coates of University College London, principal investigator of the rover’s PanCam imaging system. “Now there’s time to do something about it.”

It remains to be seen whether government ministers will decide that the 2020 mission is a good bet. Enthusiasts like Southwood say ESA needs to follow the example of NASA which, despite a series of Mars mission failures in the 1990s, kept doggedly at it. “Space exploration is tough. As long as we believe in its societal worth, Europe needs to show the same resolve as our American cousins.”

Even with seven successful landings under its belt, Mars still makes NASA engineers anxious, says Allen Chen, who heads the entry, descent, and landing team for NASA’s Mars 2020 mission at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. Mars’s thin and unpredictable atmosphere means much can go wrong.  Like ESA, NASA is also planning to drop a rover to the surface in 2020, as is China. “Every Mars landing attempt teaches us things,” Chen says. “The only true failure is to stop trying.”

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