News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Saturday 26th November 2016

RTÉ is a ‘failed monopoly’ and the Dáil is full of ‘half-wits’, says Michael O’Leary

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Ryanair chief Michael O’Leary  (left).

Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary has claimed RTÉ is a union-controlled “failed monopoly” which should be privatised.

Speaking following a business breakfast in Mullingar, Co Westmeath, yesterday, Mr O’Leary expressed his belief that “RTÉ should have been privatised years ago”.

His comments came after the national broadcaster announced that it would be outsourcing its young persons’ programming. “I think the best thing that could happen to RTÉ would be to privatise it. Break it up and sell it and allow it to compete openly and fairly with Newstalk and the private sector media,” Mr O’Leary said at the Business in the Midlands event.

“It has been a failed monopoly for many years. It has not served the country well and the sooner it is broken up and sold…the better.”

Speaking to a crowd of around 600 in Mullingar Park Hotel, the Ryanair boss also took issue with the coverage of industrial relations matters by the broadcaster. “It is always unions, unions, unions because they control RTÉ,” he said. “Can we continue to afford to have this publicly subsidised TV monopoly that just panders to the trade union agenda all the time?”

Mr O’Leary expressed his belief that no organisations should be subsidised. Singling out Radió na Gaeltachta and the Irish Chamber Orchestra, he said if they can’t survive independently they should go. He suggested people should also spend less time worrying about the “minority voices” from the likes of the ‘Irish Times’ and RTÉ.

Mr O’Leary said he believed Irish Rail was “doomed”. He urged the transport company to cut its fares to encourage passenger numbers. “It needs to bring down rail fares to really low levels. If I can fly people for nine quid across Europe, why does Irish Rail charge them 30 and 40 quid to get from Dublin to Cork?” he said.

He also had some choice words for the current Dáil, which he said was the “worst assembly of half-wits and lunatics”, but said the electorate had to take responsibility.

“We, when given the opportunity, chose to vote in the worst assembly of half-wits and lunatics,” he said. “I am referring to the Anti-Austerity Alliance and the Independents in the Dáil, and then we wonder why we do not have decent or strong government.”

However, he ruled out any suggestion that he would ever run for political office.

“The answer is no. I am unelectable. Even I wouldn’t vote for me if I was running. On the other hand, if we decided we were going have a right-wing dictatorship for maybe six or seven years, I would be up for that. I would happily take on that job,” he remarked.

‘A Brexit deal is not possible in two years’ says Enda Kenny

Image result for 'A Brexit deal is not possible in two years' says Enda Kenny  Image result for 'A Brexit deal is not possible in two years' says Enda Kenny

Taoiseach Enda Kenny has said he believes it would be “impossible” for the UK to thrash out a Brexit deal with the EU within two years, in a move that put pressure on British Prime Minister Theresa May.

Mr Kenny said such a deal will take “longer than expected” and will not be signed within the two-year period that begins once Article 50 is triggered.

M/s May was criticised by both the North’s Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness and Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon for failing to turn up at the British Irish Council summit in Cardiff.

Secretary of State for Northern Ireland James Brokenshire represented Downing Street.

The issue of the Border was top of the agenda at the meeting – with Mr Kenny warning of serious difficulties if any change is made to the current structures. “Clearly the imposition of tariffs and border checks would be of enormous inconvenience – time-wasting, delays, lack of investment and costing jobs at the end,” he said in an interview with ‘Sky News’.

Meanwhile, tensions resurfaced between Mr Kenny and the North’s First Minister Arlene Foster. The DUP leader took a swipe at Mr Kenny following remarks he made about the issue of a United Ireland. The Fine Gael leader is said to have signalled the prospect of such a scenario unfolding.

At a press conference yesterday following the sitting of the council in Cardiff, Ms Foster described the issue as a “non-story”. Pointing towards Mr Kenny – who was sitting three seats away – M/s Foster remarked that “Enda loves it” when the issue is brought up.

Mr Kenny shook his head in disapproval and said: “I don’t”.

“Periodically this comes up and I’m sure Enda loves it coming up…The reality is the test has not been met and therefore a Border poll will not be called,” Ms Foster said.

The Taoiseach went on to rule out the prospect of a border poll in the near future. “There is no indication that a Border poll would succeed now. We have enough on our plates at the moment to deal with Brexit and the many challenges that arise from many other issues,” he said.

The invisible people of Ireland who live very public lives on our streets

Rough sleepers deal with death, illness, violence and humiliation day in, day out.

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There’s over 6,000 homeless people living in Ireland. Rough sleepers also face a long winter with temperatures already falling below zero.

Outside Eddie Rockets on Dublin’s Dame Street, a friendly 46-year-old called John describes how he keeps warm in shop doorways using newspapers when he doesn’t have a sleeping bag.

He’s sipping on a cup of tea which Simon Community volunteers have given him. He has been homeless for 10 years. He was in prison in England and, afterwards, nobody wanted to hire him or rent a flat to him.

Sometimes he has neither a sleeping bag nor newspapers. How does he stay warm then?

“I sing myself a song,” he says and laughs.

A man walks up and puts his hand on his shoulder as we are talking.

“John, we’ve been looking for you everywhere,” he says.

“You have?” says John.

“I have bad news for you,” says the man. “Your mother passed away.”

“My mother,” John says. He says her name, to make sure there’s no mistake.

The man repeats the name.

“I’m sorry to have to tell you like this,” he says. “They’re laying her out tomorrow.”

“My mother is dead,” John says, and he blinks away some tears.

He starts to spill his tea and one of the Simon volunteers gently takes the cup from his hand.

People have been out searching for John. The man works at the sheltered housing unit where John’s partner lives and tells him to go there this evening where he will help arrange transport home.

After the man leaves, John stands in the middle of the footpath crying softly. It’s unclear if he has a place to stay.

Martina Bergin, an outreach worker with the Simon Community, calls a number and explains his situation, but they don’t have a bed.

“I can’t believe she’s gone,” says John. He last saw her two years ago. “Life is one bad thing after another,” he says.

Bergin calls a colleague who says he will drive John to the unit where his partner is waiting but the soup run has to move on.

Tragedies

Homeless people have to live in public. Their profoundest tragedies unfold in front of strangers. Dublin city centre has around 162 rough sleepers (based on last Friday’s Simon Community count) who populate the city’s shop-fronts, alleys and 24-hour cafes as the night-time temperatures drop below zero.

At the Simon Community’s offices on Capel Street, volunteers pack bags with sandwiches, Kit Kats, Pot Noodles and warm clothes.

They fill flasks with soup, tea and coffee and then five teams set out in different directions.

I’m with a team on “route one” which goes along Capel Street, Dame Street, George’s Street, Stephen’s Green and Grafton Street. They offer food and warm clothes, but they can’t offer beds.

On December 9th, extra beds will become available, as part of the Cold Weather Initiative. In the meantime, there’s a free phone number people can ring to request emergency accommodation.

“You ring it early and then you ring back at 4.30pm and then you ring again at 10.30pm,” explains Jay, who is sitting outside a Spar on Parliament Street. “And then they tell you they have no places and to get a sleeping bag.”

He sighs and replies?

“When you’ve two sleeping bags, it’s not so bad.” and as we talk, an ambulance pulls up and a paramedic rushes into the Spar where another homeless man has been slumped.

Bergin, who says she has “sleeping bag radar”, recognises him and goes inside.

“He’s fine,” she says when she comes out. “He just hasn’t slept in days . . . I suppose it’s good they called an ambulance.”

Afterwards we pass by several places where Bergin knows homeless people sleep. Due to the cold weather, Bergin says, people move around more. Some walk through the night. Others sleep sitting up in 24-hour-internet cafes. The latter turn up at Simon’s mobile health clinic with circulation problems.

Many suffer from bronchitis and kidney infections.

“We’re seeing more people homeless due to financial difficulties,” says Bergin. “A lot more people sleeping in cars. A lot more people sleeping in tents. At this time of year you encounter a lot of anxious people hoping to get a place for the night or somewhere for Christmas.”

Abused & assaulted?

A day later, Bergin introduces me to 22-year-old Karl Fields whom she met and began helping after he had been assaulted.

“He filled out the forms with bloody tissues in his nose,” she says.

“Martina’s the only person I have to talk to,” he says.

Fields has the words “mam” and “dad” tattooed on his hands and “only the strong survive” on his shin. His late parents were drug addicts and he was put in care at 13 where he was abused by a female staff member.

“It f***ed me up a bit,” he says. He started staying out on the streets.

He prides himself on helping people worse off than himself, of avoiding hard drugs (“I’ve seen what they do to people”) and on being presentable and clean.

“You can shower in the Applegreen garage for two euros,” he says.

But he feels looked down upon and he is often frightened. He hates the shorter days, the constant cold and the ever present threat of violence.

“You never feel normal,” he says. “And time is meaningless. I don’t even have the time set on my phone.”

Where does he sleep?

“All over,” he says. He’ll find an alley or a doorway and set up a little hut made of cardboard, “wherever I feel safe”.

Sometimes acquaintances let him stay in their homes but the free phone number, he says, rarely leads to a bed. He’s on a council housing list but has been told he’ll be waiting eight years.

“It wrecks my head even talking about this. That’s why I like horses.”

He works for free,

Horses, he says, saved his life. He knows people who own ponies and he works with them for free.

“Three little ponies. I clean out the stables and feed them and look after them. I just love them. It takes your mind off being on the streets.”

He dreams of having a place in the country with his own horses.

“I mean, why not?” he says. “I’m just a human being. There’s nothing stopping me having a dream.”

Back at the top of Grafton Street, a woman called Mary says she has been homeless since breaking up with her husband.

“He took the house,” she says and now she sleeps in doorways, sometimes with a sleeping bag, she says, sometimes without. Sometimes she walks all night.

In the morning, she goes to McDonald’s – “if they let you in” – to wash in the bathroom and sit for an hour with a cup of tea.

She doesn’t like hostels, she says, because she doesn’t like being around drugs.

“My whole family died from drugs. And I’m trying to keep away from drugs,” she adds, “because I’m pregnant.”

Up the street, at TGI Fridays, a 26-year-old man named John Rohan gratefully accepts a cup of tea from Simon volunteer Veronica Cullen.

“Any [homeless person] who says they’re going hungry in Dublin is lying,” he says.

Three groups have come by with sandwiches just this evening, he says. The problem isn’t food, he says, it’s a lack of beds.

Embarrassing

Rohan’s father was a heroin addict and, six years ago, after his mother died, Rohan couldn’t afford the rent on their home and ended up homeless with her dog (“He died a few years later”).

Rohan has a bag of dry clothes stashed in Stephen’s Green and another across the river. He usually sleeps in a doorway on O’Connell Street where a “security guard is kind to me”.

Other people aren’t so kind, he says.

“I got pissed on last month. Another man kicked me in the face.”

He begs on the street which makes him feel ashamed.

“I was a plasterer once,” he says. “Today, you’d be lucky if you made €20 in a day. There are triple the amount of people tapping than there was.”

He has family members he can occasionally stay with and is hoping to stay with this Christmas – “I was out last Christmas night and it was so lonely” – and he goes to St Mark’s Church every Sunday.

“I believe in God,” he says and does it help?

He just laughs.

He tells me he had a stroke two years ago. His security guard friend found him and called an ambulance. He spent six months in hospital and he’s meant to get regular checkups, but he finds it embarrassing being in the hospital smelling so badly.

“So, I stopped going . . . You can still see it on the left side of my face a bit when I smile.”

Rohan had his stroke on the street. Mary is going through her pregnancy on the street. Karl tells me about violent attacks he has witnessed. John was told of his mother’s death in front of me and Simon Community volunteers and other random passers-by.

Rough sleepers live in public and yet, they remain invisible most of the time.

Michael Ward, a former builder with a sleeping bag over his shoulders and a paper cup of coins in his hand, lives in a tent and has given up on having a normal life.

“I wouldn’t know where to start,” he says. “I’m not on the housing list. I’ve no ID. I’ve no bank account. I’ve no PPS number. No one can find me. I don’t exist on paper. I don’t exist at all until someone gives me some money.”

Pimco accused of misleading Nama and the Public Accounts Committee

On the €1.6bn Project Eagle deal

Image result for Pimco accused of misleading Nama and the Public Accounts Committee  Image result for Pimco accused of misleading Nama

The National Asset Management Agency Treasury building in Dublin

The US law firm Brown Rudnick, which played a central role in the controversial €1.6bn Project Eagle deal, has accused original bidder Pimco of misleading Nama and the Public Accounts Committee about its knowledge of proposed “success fees” to be paid to fixer Frank Cushnahan.

In correspondence seen by the Irish Independent, Brown Rudnick chief executive Joseph R Ryan has written to the Public Accounts Committee disputing claims made by Pimco to the Dail watchdog as well as statements made by Tughans solicitor Ian Coulter.

In an 11-page letter, Ryan says that contrary to “repeated curious statements” by Pimco, senior bosses at the US fund were made aware five months before its withdrawal from the bidding process that a proposed success fee structure would have seen Nama’s former Northern Ireland Advisory Committee member Cushnahan sharing a €16m payment with Brown Rudnick and Tughans.

His account contradicts what Pimco legal officer Tom Rice said to the PAC in a letter dated November 8th last.

Pimco maintained the law firm first sought a fee in June 2013 and confirmed that this would be split between Mr Cushnahan, who was then a member of Nama’s Northern Ireland Advisory Committee, and Mr Coulter. Mr Rice said the company refused and asked if Nama was aware of its adviser’s involvement.

Mr Ryan, in his letter to the PAC states: “Pimco knew from the outset of the proposed transaction both that Mr Cushnahan would be involved in the deal and that it was contemplated he would split a proposed success fee with Brown Rudnick and Tughans (at least until a different structure was discussed in February 2014).”

“We are unable to reconcile Pimco’s statement that it “identified” Mr Cushnahan’s involvement and compensation in 2014 with the unassailable fact that it was aware of his involvement, and his proposed compensation, since the spring of 2013,” he adds.

“Notwithstanding the fact that no binding agreement was reached for the compensation of Mr Cushnahan, either on a success fee or asset management basis, it was always understood between Pimco and Brown Rudnick that Mr Cushnahan’s role and potential compensation would be disclosed to Nama at a time mutually agreed between Pimco and Brown Rudnick.”

Brown Rudnick’s account is consistent with Nama chairman Frank Daly’s account of his understanding of events.

In this letter to the Dail’s Public Accounts Committee, Ryan says that although the matter of Cushnahan’s success fee “remained unresolved”, on February 27, 2014, Brown Rudnick sent a ‘Letter of Offer’ for Pimco’s consideration “in response to a request from Pimco that the compensation structure for Mr Cushnahan no longer be based on a success fee, but rather take the form of an asset management agreement predicated on contributions post-closing to the management of the portfolio”. This ‘Letter of Offer’ proposed the “creation of a Special Purpose Vehicle and a put option along with certain management fees for assisting in the management and disposition of the Northern Ireland loan portfolio.”

Nama has insisted repeatedly that it was responsible for Pimco’s withdrawal from the  Project Eagle process after it became aware of the alleged success fee for Frank Cushnahan.

Pimco for its part has always insisted it withdrew from the deal only after it “discovered” the proposed success fee for Cushnahan.

Efforts to reach Pimco at the time of going to press were unsuccessful.

Low social status damages the immune system function

Image result for Low social status damages the immune system function  Image result for Monkeys show that Low social status damages the immune system  Image result for Low social status damages the immune system function  

Poverty and poor health are known to be linked

“Simply being at the bottom of the social heap directly alters the body,” BBC News reports. The headline is based on a study in which researchers used female monkeys to simulate social hierarchies.

Monkeys of low social status were found to have biomarkers indicating poor immune function and possible increased vulnerability to infection.

The researchers arranged the monkeys into social groups and observed behaviours for two years to determine the social hierarchy. They then “mixed-up” the groups so that some of the monkeys were introduced into other groups as the “new girl”. This effectively meant that the “newbie monkey” was stripped of all social status.

They then took blood samples to look at any effect this had on the immune system. The study found that social rankings in the monkey groups had an effect on white blood cells involved in fighting off disease. These findings suggested that the stress of a lower social ranking may increase inflammation and reduce resistance to infection and illness.

Although this study was specific to monkeys, the researchers argue that these findings are also applicable to humans. We do, after all, share much of our DNA with them.

Still, social status is a subjective concept not an objective fact. It only matters if you let it matter. As Eleanor Roosevelt famously said: “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent”.

Where did the story come from?

The study was carried out by researchers from a number of international institutions in the US, Canada and Kenya, including Duke University, Emory University, the Universite de Montreal, and the Institute of Primate Research in Nairobi.

It was funded by grants, including one from the Canada Research Chairs Program.

The study was published in the peer-reviewed scientific journal Science.

BBC News and the Mail Online’s reporting were fairly accurate. Although both outlets were quick to apply the findings to humans without highlighting the fact that social hierarchies, and their resulting influences in primates, may be different to those found in humans.

It could be the case that the primates in question – rhesus monkeys – were more sensitive to loss of social status than humans would be.

What kind of research was this?

This was an animal study which aimed to investigate how social status influences the immune system in captive adult female rhesus macaques.

Evidence has shown that social status is one of the strongest predictors of disease and death in humans. As rhesus macaques naturally form linear hierarchies (social groups where there is a clear pattern of rank), this study wanted to investigate the potential effects of social status by further exploring if and how it alters the immune system on a genetic level.

Animal studies are useful early stage research, especially in primates due to their biological similarity to humans. However, the social hierarchies observed in monkeys are not necessarily representative of those seen in humans.

What did the research involve?

The researchers conducted their investigation using 45 adult female rhesus macaques in captivity. In captivity, it’s possible to manipulate the social hierarchies formed in these monkeys by the order in which the monkeys are introduced to new social groups. The monkeys were all unrelated and had never met each other before.

Nine groups containing five monkeys each were formed and these groups were maintained and observed (phase one). The monkeys were ranked where a higher status corresponded to a higher value. Social status was determined by observing whether an individual female was groomed by other monkeys (seen as a sign of high status) or conversely, harassed by other monkeys (a sign of low status).

After a year, these groups were rearranged by introducing the females one-by-one from phase one from either same or adjacent ranks into new groups (phase two). These were again followed for a year.

Alongside this qualitative observation, blood samples from the monkeys were analysed before and after each phase. The blood samples were analysed for any changes in the composition of white blood cells.

What were the basic results?

This study found a positive association between a monkey’s rank and the activity of two specific types of white blood cell: T-helper cells and natural killer (NK) cells. T-helper cells play an overall role in regulating the immune system, while NK cells destroy infected or abnormal cells.

The researchers found that improvements in social status were reflected in the gene activity of these cells.

  • The gene activity of NK cells was the most responsive to social status. Researchers identified 1,676 genes that were responsive to rank. This was closely followed by the gene activity of T-helper cells (n=284 genes).
  • Weaker links were identified between monkey ranks and the activity of B-cells that produce antibodies (n=68 genes), and cytotoxic T-cells, another type of cell that targets and destroys abnormal cells (n=15 genes).
  • There was no detectable effect on the expression of purified monocytes – a type of white blood cell that develop into macrophages that “eat” or engulf dead and damaged cells.

Additionally, they found the rate of received harassment contributed a considerable proportion of the gene activity of T-helper and NK cells (17.3% and 7.8% respectively). Grooming rates (how often, or not, an individual monkey was groomed by other monkeys) had more influence on the activity of NK genes (33.4% of all rank-responsive genes).

How did the researchers interpret the results?

The researchers say their results suggest that most effects of social status are immune cell type–specific. They conclude: “Our findings provide insight into the direct biological effects of social inequality on immune function, thus improving our understanding of social gradients in health.”

A conclusion

The negative effect of social deprivation on health has long been recognised. This has often been attributed to an increase in unhealthy behaviours such as smoking, drinking too much alcohol, poor diet and being overweight.

However, this study looked at a slightly different aspect – observing the effects of social status through relationships with others – and suggesting this may have wider health effects than just influencing our lifestyle and health behaviours.

They found that a monkey’s rank changed the gene activity of specific types of white blood or immune cell, and altered their numbers. Therefore, social status or social deprivation could directly influence the body’s resistance to infection and disease.

One of the researchers, Dr. Noah Snyder-Mackler, told the BBC: “It suggests there’s something else, not just the behaviours of these individuals, that’s leading to poor health.

“Our message brings a positive counter to that – there are these other aspects of low status that are outside of the control of individuals that have negative effects on health.”

These findings are interesting, but even though primates are generally quite similar to humans in both genetic make-up and social interactions, they aren’t exactly the same.

Nevertheless, these results could help further our understanding of the effects of social factors on health in humans.

If social mobility does impact on human health by lowering feelings of self-esteem, there are other methods of increasing your self-esteem, that don’t involve money or status.

These include connecting with others, learning new skills and taking time to help the less fortunate.

Scientists uncover new evidence for life on Ancient Mars

The Spirit rover exploring Home Plate.   Image result for Scientists Uncover New Evidence for Life on Ancient Mars  Image result for Scientists Uncover New Evidence for Life on Ancient Mars

In 2007, NASA’s unmanned Spirit Rover wheeled across Mars, taking photographs and data, until it eventually got stuck in soft red soil two years later. Photographs of hot spring silica deposits were seen, but was thought to be just another geological structure. That is until quite recently when two geologists discovered similar deposits here on Earth, and found that these structures are made by tiny organisms—now suggesting existence of the organisms on the Red Planet.

Arizona State University geologists Steven Ruff and Jack Farmer’s research is detailed in Nature Communications. They contrasted the Spirit’s study on the Mars Home Plate with their findings in the El Tatio Chilean hot springs, a place known to be the best“Mars analog” because of its high elevation, extreme freeze-thaw temperatures, and high exposure ultraviolet rays. Ruff described the mineral outcrops found in El Tatio to be “the most Mars-like of any silica deposits on Earth.”

The finger-like silica deposits found in Home Plate were poorly misunderstood. Now, the geologists have determined that microbes play a major role in forming the silica deposits, suggesting that the same has been occurring on Mars.

FUTURE EXPLORATION?

The ASU researchers’ discovery prompts future explorations to search specifically for the possible biosignatures in the silica structures. NASA has announced plans to send a new rover to Mars in 2020, and this new mission, which is yet unnamed, could be specifically instrumented and prepared for the search for microbial life.

Today, continued study about Mars’ dynamic system is ever-imperative as plans to send humansthere loom closer to materialization. These discoveries could greatly alter preparations from SpaceX and NASA before we can finally set up camp on the Red Planet.

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