News Ireland daily BLOG byonie

Sunday 12th February 2017

The Northern Ireland peace status is at risk because of Brexit,

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The Irish leader who helped secure the Good Friday agreement says he fears the consequences of a border dividing north and south.

Bertie Ahern at a press conference in Dublin in 2008, announcing his resignation as taoiseach.

Theresa May has been accused of putting Northern Ireland’s peace process in jeopardy by the Irish leader who helped to secure the Good Friday agreement.

In a sign of growing fears about May’s vision for Brexit, Bertie Ahern took aim at the prime minister over her recent white paper, in an interview with the Observer. Ahern, who served three terms as taoiseach between 1997 and 2008 and helped to deliver power-sharing in Belfast, said that the British government appeared to have resigned itself to the establishment of a border between the north and south once the UK leaves the EU in 2019, with potentially devastating results.

“[May] seems to be switching her language,” he said. “She’s saying not that there’ll be no border, but that the border won’t be as difficult as to create problems. I worry far more about what’s going to happen with that. It will take away the calming effects [of an open border]. Any attempt to try to start putting down border posts, or to man [it] in a physical sense as used to be the case, would be very hard to maintain, and would create a lot of bad feeling.”

In its Brexit white paper published last month, the government stated its aim to have “as seamless and frictionless a border as possible between Northern Ireland and Ireland”.

The secretary of state for exiting the EU, David Davis, has suggested that the arrangements between Norway and Sweden could be a model to copy, where CCTV cameras equipped for automatic number-plate recognition are in place. However, in an interview with the Guardian on Saturday, the European parliament’s Brexit negotiator Guy Verhofstadt appeared to scorn such a model, given that there would need to be customs checks and restrictions on the free movement of people.

Ahern said he, too, was unconvinced that the current technology could do the job. There are 200 crossing points on the border between the Republic and Northern Ireland, with 177,000 crossings by lorries a month, 208,000 by vans and 1.85m by cars.

“I haven’t found anyone who can tell me what technology can actually manage this,” Ahern said, adding that he feared the furious reaction of the unionist communities in the mid-1980s when the Republic was given an advisory role in the government of Northern Ireland could be repeated on the nationalist side if controls were reinstated. “Any kind of physical border, in any shape, is bad for the peace process,” he said.

“It psychologically feeds badly into the nationalist communities. People have said that this could have the same impact on the nationalist community as the seismic shock of the 1985 Anglo-Irish agreement on unionists, and I agree with that.

“For the nationalist community in Northern Ireland, the Good Friday agreement was about removing barriers, integrating across the island, working democratically in the absence of violence and intimidation – and if you take that away, as the Brexit vote does, that has a destabilising effect.

“With so many other issues, there is a real concern … the only way [of] doing this will be a hard border. When people talk about hard borders, they’re talking about the borders of the past – but now any kind of border with checkpoints and security constitutes a hard border.”

Ahern’s comments were made as an EU document leaked to the Observer appeared to dash May’s hopes that the two states can come to a bilateral agreement. The British prime minister has repeatedly suggested that the 1923 Common Travel Area deal can be the basis for the future, although it was signed before either state joined the EU.

However, a memo from the European parliament’s legal affairs committee, which is helping shape the negotiating position of the European commission and the red lines of the European parliament, rebuffs that suggestion: “The [Good Friday] agreement makes it abundantly clear that the fact that both parts of Ireland and the UK are within the EU is a basis for the agreement. Moreover, the fact that Brexit could result in the reintroduction of border controls and controls on the free movement of persons between Ireland and Northern Ireland means this is a question for the EU, and not only Ireland the UK.”

Boom in new Irish construction jobs as figures soar to near record levels?

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The PMI noted that activity in the Irish construction sector continued to rise sharply in January – prompted by an increase in new orders.

A surge in new construction jobs reached near record levels in Ireland last month, new figures indicate.

The number of firms reporting workforce expansions (27%) in the latest Ulster Bank Construction Purchasing Managers’ Index was second highest recorded since the monthly survey was first run over 16 years ago.

The PMI noted that activity in the Irish construction sector continued to rise sharply in January.

This was prompted by an increase in new orders.

On the price front, the rate of input cost inflation quickened to the sharpest since February 2007.

The PMI provides a seasonally adjusted index that tracks changes in total construction activity.

Simon Barry, Chief Economist Republic of Ireland at Ulster Bank, said: “Irish construction activity continues to grow at a healthy pace according to the latest results of the Ulster Bank Construction PMI.

“The headline PMI index remained comfortably in expansion territory in January, albeit that the pace of growth eased for the third month running consistent with a modest loss of momentum early in 2017 after a robust end to last year.

“Very encouragingly, residential activity remains a particular bright spot with housing activity continuing to rise at a rapid pace, while commercial activity also very much remains in expansion mode, though the pace of growth has eased in recent months.

“Civil engineering continues to lag behind the other sectors, with respondents reporting a third consecutive monthly decline in activity.

“Respondents continue to judge the Irish construction outlook to be very favourable. Confidence about future activity prospects remained strongly positive in January amid further solid gains in new orders, despite some easing in the rate of increase.

“Indeed, buoyed by the ongoing increase in work volumes, last month saw a substantial and accelerated rise in staffing levels with the rate of job creation picking up to its second-fastest in the survey’s 16-and-a-half year history.

“One note of caution stems from further evidence of building cost pressures with the rate of input cost inflation picking up to its quickest in almost 10 years.

“Respondents reported higher prices for oil-related products and for items sourced from UK suppliers, the latter effect consistent with growing signs of Brexit-related price and costs increases in the UK economy.”

A motorway to Dublin should not be the only priority project for Sligo

Northwest gateway town also needs better infrastructure and regional connectivity

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Knock airport: needs more regular flights and quicker connections to Sligo City.

A Sligo-Dublin motorway would support Sligo city as a hub for the growth of the wider region around it, stretching into Donegal, but there are greater priorities.

Economic development in Ireland over the past 20 years has been unbalanced. Economic activity and population growth has increasingly been concentrated in a select number of city regions.

The northwest, on the other hand, has experienced slower growth and rural decline. Regional and rural development requires a sizeable urban centre, and the northwest currently lacks such a centre.

The recently abolished National Spatial Strategy 2002-2020 recognised this. It selected Sligo as one of eight regional “gateways”, envisaging that it would be developed to such a scale that it would have the critical mass necessary to sustain strong levels of job growth in the region.

Critical mass is needed. In the new “informational economy”, the absence of a centre with sufficient scale is important. Otherwise, some businesses will not come and some workers will not stay.

One criticism repeatedly levelled at the National Spatial Strategy is that it picked too many gateways. Consequently, Sligo might lose its status in the new National Planning Framework now in gestation.

Given its strategic location, however, Sligo is likely to be accorded an important role in supporting local development. But the gateway concept is more sophisticated than the idea of a traditional growth centre.

The operative word today is “connectivity” between urban centres. A gateway requires strong connectivity not just to major centres at home and abroad, but also to smaller destinations closer to home.

A necessary element.

A motorway to Dublin is one necessary element. However, other key pieces of infrastructure are needed first. It currently takes two and a half hours to drive from Dublin to Sligo, which is not bad compared with the times to other regional centres.

However, one needs to be able to get into Sligo when one gets there. Traffic congestion there is already too heavy for a relatively small town, so other forms of connectivity might require more attention.

Rail services must be upgraded, since they are at least as important as a motorway to Dublin, both for the town, its hinterland and international visitors. Commuters, for example,must be able to get into Sligo to work.

Quality bus services to Sligo’s hinterland are crucial. Internationally, so are better flight services. Knock airport helps greatly, but it is an hour away. That connecting journey needs to be cut, and quickly.

Meanwhile, Knock airport should have regular services to London and Brussels, not just the ones that it has at present. It is important for international connectivity that Sligo must also have high-capacity broadband.

All of this, if combined with a strengthened third-level institute and a stronger Industrial Development Authority presence, will bring important investment to Sligo. If properly backed, Sligo could be the spark to set the northwest alight.

Experts warn of safety fear as patients are given the right to use medicinal cannabis

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Experts have now stressed there are many “unknown truth’s” around the safety of medicinal cannabis despite the fact patients with specified conditions will be able to access it later this year.

The Health Minister Simon Harris is to proceed with the legislation and regulations which would allow a “compassionate access” programme. Experts have stressed, however, there are still questions around the safety, quality and effectiveness of the products.

The specified medical conditions are:

  1. Spasticity associated with multiple sclerosis;
  2. Intractable nausea and vomiting associated with chemotherapy;
  3. Epilepsy which is resistant to treatments.

The breakthrough emerged following a report from the Health Products Regulatory Authority (HPRA) .

It was asked to carry out a scientific assessment of its therapeutic use by the minister.

It followed pressure from patients and personal testimonies of gaining relief from symptoms including pain and seizures.

“I understand this is a matter of great concern to many patients, to many colleagues in the Oireachtas and to members of the general public who have contacted me,” Mr Harris said.

“I believe this report marks a significant milestone in developing policy in this area. This is something I am eager to progress but I am also obligated to proceed on the basis of the best clinical advice.”

Prof Tony O’Brien, a consultant in palliative medicine who chaired the group, said that making it available for a limited number of conditions would be a significant first step that recognised patient need.

It would also provide patient protection with oversight from consultants. The legislation should also allow for a registry to be set up to collect medical information and provide insight into the future use of cannabis products for medical purposes.

Cannabis has potential therapeutic benefits, but there is a need for robust evidence to be generated through clinical research in patients.

The group looked at the relevant scientific reviews and publications available worldwide, as well as the international approaches to cannabis for medical use.

There is limited scientific data available, the report has added.

“The safety of cannabis as a medical treatment is also not well characterised. For these reasons, and because most cannabis products available under international access schemes do not meet pharmaceutical quality standards, it is not possible to authorise such products as medicines,” it said.

NASA picks three potential drill sites for Mars 2020

All three could have supported life in ancient Mars.

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When the Mars 2020 rover reaches the red planet, it will quickly begin drilling for samples from its surface. NASA hasn’t picked the exact drill site yet, but it has narrowed its choices down to three during a workshop with scientists in Monrovia, California.

The group consulted images and data sent by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter before voting for easily accessible locations they believe could have supported life. Jezero crater, which got the most votes, was once an ancient lake comparable to Lake Tahoe. It was connected to a large river that fed it water and sediments, making it an ideal site for the rover’s search for signs of life.

Northeast Syrtis, which got the second highest number of votes, used to have hot water circulating under its crust. Finally, there’s Columbia Hills — the group’s third and most controversial choice where the Spirit rover used to roam. Spirit found silica rocks in the site resembling hydrothermal mineral deposits on Earth. Some of the people who attended the workshop didn’t think Mars 2020 would be able to shed light on whether the rocks could truly be linked to life.

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