Category Archives: Emigration

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Thursday 11th August 2016

Gerry Adams says it is time for a united Ireland

Gerry Adams says all parties should come together to talk about Irish unity.


The issue of Irish unity has been absent from official Ireland’s centenary celebrations to mark 1916.

Parades and TV specials were seen, books were written, and reams of newspaper articles published. Songs of the period have been sung and debates held. But the fracture of the island by partition, the abandonment of the 1916 Proclamation as a declaration of freedom and justice for all of Ireland, has been ignored.

The Republic envisaged by the leaders of 1916 and by the Proclamation was to be a rejection of all that was bad, divisive and elitist in British imperialism and colonisation. It was to be an Ireland of equal citizens. A republic for all.

Today those of us who desire that outcome are told by some that we are being divisive. We are told that there will be a united Ireland at some undefined time in the future. But it will not happen through wishful thinking or sitting in a bar singing songs – not that there is anything wrong with singing songs of freedom – or simply talking about it.

It needs a political strategy with clear objectives and actions.

Failure to honour commitments

Those who advocate the wishful thinking approach to Irish unity point to the enhanced relationships between London and Dublin. They praise the ‘special’ relationship between the Irish and British governments as evidence of change. And while it is true that much progress has been made, the reality is that the British government has failed to honour key commitments within the Good Friday and other agreements.

It has unilaterally set aside elements of the various agreements, with barely a whimper of protest, especially from the Irish establishment. It has failed to deliver on a range of important issues, including:

  • A Civic Forum in the north
  • An All-Ireland Civic Forum
  • A Bill of Rights for the North
  • A joint north/south committee of the two Human Rights Commissions
  • An All-Ireland Charter of Rights
  • Honouring its obligations in compliance with the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages
  • The introduction of Acht na Gaeilge

The British have also obstructed efforts to resolve the legacy of the past by refusing to honour its commitments under the Haass agreement, failing to provide information on the Dublin/Monaghan and Dundalk bombs, and reneging on its Weston Park commitment to hold an inquiry into the murder of human rights lawyer Pat Finucane.


The real value of the special relationship between the Irish and British governments was demonstrated in the recent Brexit campaign. It is clear the economic interests of the island of Ireland are collateral damage in a fight between factions of the right wing of British politics.

The implications of Brexit are becoming increasingly apparent. It is a real threat to the economy, imposing barriers to trade and a possible EU frontier across Ireland, creating a fundamental crisis in North-South co-operation.

At no time in the Brexit debate was the impact on Ireland, North or South, considered. Our national concerns were dismissed.

The people of the North voted against Brexit. Just as they did in the Good Friday Agreement referendum, all sections of the community, republican and unionist, voted in the best interest of all. They voted to remain in the EU. Yet the British Government say they will impose Brexit on the North against the expressed will of the majority.

The economies north and south are interlinked and interdependent. It has been estimated that 200,000 jobs depend on all-Ireland trade. A recent report on economic modelling of Irish unity demonstrated a dividend and growth in a united Ireland.

The aftermath of the Brexit vote is a clear demonstration of the injustice of partition. It is fundamentally undemocratic and economically wrong. Partition makes no sense. Yet it continues.


A mechanism exists to end partition and bring about Irish unity, through a border poll.

The vast majority of people across Ireland voted for the Good Friday Agreement. It is worth remembering that 94% of people in the south and 74% of people in the North voted for the agreement.

It included a peaceful and democratic pathway to Irish unity that provided for concurrent referendums north and south. It obliged the two governments to legislate on the basis of referendums for Irish unity.

National unity is in the national interest. Wishful thinking will not bring about unity. We have a mechanism to achieve unity. We need all of those in favour of unity to act together to bring it about.

This is the time to plan and to build the maximum support for unity. The leadership of those parties which support Irish unity, acting together, could be the leadership which delivers it.

Eighteen years after the signing of the Good Friday Agreement, we should not need to convince the leaders of Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael to become persuaders for Irish unity.

The Irish government should have a plan for unity. A first step in the next term of the Oireachtas would be the development of an all-party group to bring forward a green paper for unity.

In addition, we need to develop plans for an all island health service; for public services in a united Ireland, through a united Ireland investment and prosperity plan.

Now is the time

The New Ireland Forum in its time created a space for discussion on constitutional options of change and developed a comprehensive economic options paper on the cost of partition.

It failed because it excluded Sinn Féín and operated at a time of a British veto on change – given voice by Margaret Thatcher with her “out, out, out” rejection. Thatcher is gone and so is the British veto.

Constitutional change is in the hands of the people of Ireland, North and South. The politics of exclusion failed, and Sinn Féin is jointly leading the government in the North.

We have the opportunity to end partition and build support for a new and united Ireland. A new Ireland that is built on equality and which is citizen centred and inclusive. The shape of that new Ireland remains to be drawn.

Now is the time for all parties who support Irish unity to come together to design the pathway to a new and united Ireland.

Big concern over €300,000 reduction in Mental Health services


The news that the HSE are looking to cut funding and find savings in Mental Health Services in Sligo Leitrim has caused anger and upset locally.

According to minutes from the May meeting of the HSE’s Sligo Leitrim Mental Health Area, privatisation of a residential service in Mohill is being considered.

The meeting revealed that savings of €30million had to be generated across all services in the Community Health Organisation which covers Cavan, Donegal, Leitrim, Monaghan and Sligo. As a result of this, €300,000 will need to be saved from Sligo Leitrim Mental Health services before the end of 2016.

As well as cost reductions there were proposals to cut down spending. One of the proposals is looking at the future of Ard na Drise in Mohill as well as exploring possibilities for the Garden Centre and Dochas Clubhouse in Sligo.

Fenagh Councillor and HSE Regional Health Forum member Caillian Ellis said, details of these savings had not been mentioned at the June HSE Regional Forum meeting.

He commented “it is a total disgrace that there would be cuts from the most vulnerable people in society.” He said €300,000 is a “huge cutback” to find before the end of the year.

Cllr Ellis stated mental health services need “more funding, especially in rural Leitrim with many people living alone with financial pressures.”

Sinn Féin TD for Sligo-Leitrim Martin Kenny, speaking said that he was horrified to read in the minutes of a HSE meeting, that far from prioritising mental health, the Executive has plans to slash services in order to balance the books. Minutes of the meeting, which took place in May, of the Sligo Leitrim Mental Health Service Area Mental Health Management Team.

Deputy Kenny said, “When I call on behalf of the people I represent for restoration or even maintenance of services, I am told one thing and then I see this report of an internal meeting and find that the HSE’s plan B, is to slash services to the most vulnerable, those with mental health problems. This meeting discusses ways to knock €300,000 off the mental health budget in Sligo Leitrim between now and the end of the year.

“It is a shocking reflection on the HSE that its priorities are based on budgets and not on patients. The list of proposed cuts in horrifying and at a time when every community in Ireland is becoming more aware of the vulnerability of people to taking their lives by suicide, it is nothing short of outrageous.

““I have written to the Minister for Health, Simon Harris, for reassurance that this scenario will not be allowed to unfold here in this constituency or anywhere else.”

The Psychiatric Nurses Association in Sligo and Leitrim have since threatened to ballot its members over the prospect of cutbacks. The local spokesperson said the service is already under resourced.

A spokesperson for the HSE told the paper, “All services in Community Health Organisation Area 1 (Cavan, Donegal, Leitrim, Monaghan & Sligo) have been asked to consider potential cost savings and that is what the Sligo Leitrim Mental Health Management Team Minutes reflect.”

The spokesperson stressed, “None of the proposals have been actioned and Sligo Leitrim Mental Health Services is well within budget, year to date in 2016.”

The HSE explained, “Ard na Drise was an Independent Living House, it was a private rental to clients of Sligo Leitrim Mental Health Services, who provided them with support while they waited for Leitrim County Council houses. This was not a HSE facility and is no longer in use. It was a private rental.

“The clients who lived there have now successfully moved to their own council homes.”

The HSE stated, “There has been no change to the clinical care and treatment that the clients are receiving from the HSE. These clients are still being cared for and supported on a daily basis by their clinical team.”

The minutes for the meeting earlier this Summer reported there “was discussion about reducing service capacity to meet potentially more stringent cutbacks in 2017.”

615 points leaving cert Trinity College asylum student wins right to remain in Ireland


Tatiana Prochukhan with her daughter Nadezda Nadia and St Mary’s School Principle John Michael Porter, said she loves Ireland

An asylum seeker who received anonymous donations amounting to €20,000 to pay for her first year at Trinity College Dublin has been granted a right to remain in Ireland.

Nadezda (Nadia) Prochukhan, 20, shot to national acclaim in 2014 when she achieved 615 points in her Leaving Certificate.

Anonymous donors enabled her to fulfil her dream of studying chemistry at Trinity College Dublin.

Her case was one of two which helped lead to a change in Irish law last year when ex-education minister Jan O’Sullivan announced that third-level student grants would be available to asylum seekers.

Nadia thanked everyone for their support: “People I never met donated money for me to attend my first year of college and that is why I’ve been able to get where I am today. I am so grateful to everyone.”

Nadia, her mother Tatiana, and her younger sister Maria were sent a letter recently informing them their application for asylum, submitted in September 2011, was finally approved.

Tatiana said the family spent the past five years living with no income due to their asylum-seeker status.

The mother had led a campaign for her daughter to be treated like her Irish peers.

Tatiana said being approved to stay in Ireland was one of the greatest moments in her life. She had feared the family would have to survive indefinitely through donations and support from locals in New Ross and her 78-year-old mother in Russia.

“The letter said we have permission to stay in Ireland for three years so we are entitled to everything an Irish citizen is entitled to, apart from being able to vote.

“We can become Irish citizens in five years which would be amazing. We love New Ross and Ireland and I can’t imagine living in anywhere else. The people are so good here.”

She said her family endured five years of suffering from a constant threat of deportation.

“I have been fighting for my children’s lives. Often there was no bread on the table. All our money was stolen before we arrived here. We had to wait for the decision because the Government changed the law twice. We were another cog in the wheel.

“When we got the letter and saw the words we were overjoyed. We were hugging each other.”

She added: “We have been through hell. We had no work permits and no means to make money.

“Someone stole a lot of money from us but we are strong and we remained positive and the people of New Ross and Ireland were amazing to us.’”

Her daughter Nadia is one of the top performers in her class at Trinity College Dublin, where she completed 10 exams in May in her second year of a four-year course.

The Prochukhans are hopeful Nadia will be awarded a grant for her third and fourth years, as the fees come to €8,000 per year at Trinity.

“We have completed all the forms and we are waiting word from the social welfare office.

“My mother Nina has been paying our rent. She is 78 and works three jobs.”

She said the most difficult thing to witness over recent years was her daughters never felt equal to their Irish peers.

Tatiana moved to Ireland with her daughters Nadia and Maria in 2006, living here until 2009 when they had to return to Russia as her father was very ill.

“They returned in 2011 and several business people and townspeople have been helping them since as they have no income.

“They do now. As a mother all you want to see is your children happy.

“Nadia is an example to everyone. Even though she didn’t have the native language and even through she went through a lot of hardship with no money in her family, she was able to achieve her dream.

“She showed what you get when you fight for your rights. We are really proud of her.”

Younger daughter Maria, meanwhile, completed her Leaving Certificate in June and is hoping to study art at the National University of Galway, where she has been offered free tuition and assistance once she achieves more than 450 points.

Tatiana thanked the people of New Ross for their support.

“Without the kindness of the people of New Ross and the New Ross Standard we would never have won these rights.

“People were so good. One lady put €600 through our door. Nobody forced her to do this, it was her good heart. We also got so many kind words on the street and still do and that keeps you going.

Refilling your drinking water bottle is just as gross as licking your dog’s toy


Drinking out of a plastic water bottle that has continuously been refilled can be “many times worse than licking your dog’s toy” when it comes to bacteria exposure, new research has found.

A new study involved the analysis of 12 plastic water bottles, which were each used by an athlete for one week without being washed. The bottles varied in type, from screw-tops, slide-tops, squeeze-tops and straw tops.

Drinking out of a plastic water bottle that has continuously been refilled can be “many times worse than licking your dog’s toy” when it comes to bacteria exposure

The result of the lab tests commissioned by Treadmill Reviews, a US website, found that the top of the water-bottles were crawling in potentially harmful bacteria by the week’s end. More than 300,000 colony-forming units were found on each square centimetre of the bottles on average. The average pet toy has 2,937 CFU.

Gram-positive cocci was found on many of the bottles, which can lead to skin infections, pneumonia and blood poisoning.

The study revealed that drinking from reusable bottles without washing them exposes you to more bacteria than if you ate dinner from your dog’s bowl.

Researchers said: “Drinking from these bottles can still be worse than eating a meal from your pet’s dish.

“Based on the 12 water bottles we tested, we found that reusable drinking containers may be crawling with an alarming number of viable bacteria cells: more than 300,000 colony-forming units per square centimeter (CFU/sq cm).”

The study found that bottles which you have to slide open with your fingers are the worst offenders, followed by squeeze tops.

The researchers suggested investing in a water bottle that can be placed in the dish washer every evening, and to keep an eye out for stainless steel options.

“We know that when it comes to water bottles and bacteria, stainless steel is a better choice than plastic. Additionally, water bottles without crevices and tough-to-clean spots are less likely to host germs.”

A 400 year old Greenland shark is the oldest vertebrate animal


Shark, which would have reached sexual maturity at around 150 years, sets new record for longevity as biologists finally develop method to determine age

The oldest Greenland shark found by researchers was most likely around 392 years old, although the range of possible ages stretches from 272 to 512 years.

She was born during the reign of James I, was a youngster when René Descartes set out his rules of thought and the great fire of London raged, saw out her adolescent years as George II ascended the throne, reached adulthood around the time that the American revolution kicked off, and lived through two world wars. Living to an estimated age of nearly 400 years, a female Greenland shark has set a new record for longevity, scientists have revealed.

The discovery places the lifespan of the Greenland shark far ahead of even the oldest elephant in captivity, Lin Wang, who died aged 86. It is also far longer than the official record for humans, held by 122-year-old Frenchwoman Jeanne Louise Calment.

“It kicks off the bowhead whale as the oldest vertebrate animal,” said Julius Nielsen, lead author of the research from the University of Copenhagen, pointing out that bowhead whales have been known to live for 211 years.

But the Greenland shark doesn’t scoop all the gongs – the title of the world’s longest-lived animal is held by Ming, an Icelandic clam known as an ocean quahog, that made it to 507 years before scientists bumped it off.

Grey, plump and growing to lengths of around five metres, the Greenland shark is one of the world’s largest carnivores. With a reported growth rate of less than one centimetre a year, they were already thought to be long-lived creatures, but just how long they lived for was something of a mystery.

“Fish biologists have tried to determine the age and longevity of Greenland sharks for decades, but without success.” said Steven Campana, a shark expert from the University of Iceland. “Given that this shark is the apex predator (king of the food chain) in Arctic waters, it is almost unbelievable that we didn’t know whether the shark lives for 20 years, or for 1000 years.”

The new research, he says, is the first hard evidence of just how long these creatures can live.

“It definitely tells us that this creature is extraordinary and it should be considered among the absolute oldest animals in the world,” said Nielsen.

Writing in the journal Science, Nielsen and an international team of researchers describe how they set about determining the age of 28 female Greenland sharks, collected as by-catch during scientific surveys between 2010 and 2013.

While the ages of many fish can be determined by counting the growth layers of calcium carbonate “stones” found in their ears – in a manner somewhat similar to counting tree rings – sharks do not have such earstones. What’s more, the Greenland shark lacks other calcium-rich tissues suitable for this type of analysis.

Instead the team had to rely on a different approach: scrutiny of the lenses in their eyes.

The lens of the eye is made of proteins that build up over time, with the proteins at the very centre of the lens laid down while the shark is developing in its mother’s womb. Work out the date of these proteins, the scientists say, and it is possible to achieve an estimate of the shark’s age.

In order to determine when the proteins were laid down, the scientists turned to radiocarbon dating – a method that relies on determining within a material the levels of a type of carbon, known as carbon-14, that undergoes radioactive decay over time.

By applying this technique to the proteins at the centre of each lens, the scientists deduced a broad range of ages for each shark.

The scientists then made use of a side-effect of atomic bomb tests which took place in the 1950s: when the bombs were detonated, they increased the levels of carbon-14 in the atmosphere. The spike, or pulse, in carbon-14 entered the marine food web across the North Atlantic no later than the early 1960s.

That provides a useful time-stamp, says Nielsen. “I want to know when I see the bomb-pulse in my sharks, what time does that mean,” he said. “Does it mean they are 50 years old, or 10 years old?”

Nielsen and the team found that the eye lens proteins of the two smallest of their 28 Greenland sharks had the highest levels of carbon-14, suggesting that they were born after the early 1960s. The third smallest shark, however, had carbon-14 levels only slightly above those of the 25 larger sharks, hinting that it was actually born in the early 1960s, just as bomb-related carbon-14 began to be incorporated in marine food webs.

A Greenland shark returning to the deep and cold waters of the Uummannaq Fjord in northwestern Greenland. The sharks were part of a tag-and- release program in Norway and Greenland. Photograph: Julius Nielsen/Science

“That indicates that most of our analysed sharks were actually older than the time mark, meaning that they were older than 50 years,” said Nielsen.

The scientists then combined the carbon dating results with estimations of how Greenland sharks grow, to create a model that allowed them to probe the age of the 25 sharks born before the 1960s.

Their findings revealed that the largest shark of the group, a female measuring just over five metres in length, was most likely around 392 years old, although, as Nielsen points out, the range of possible ages stretches from 272 to 512 years.

“The Greenland shark is now the best candidate for the longest living vertebrate animal,” he said.

What’s more, with adult female Greenland sharks known hit sexual maturity only once they reach more than four metres in length, the scientists found that females have to clock up an age of around 150 years before they can produce young.

But not everyone is convinced that Greenland sharks can live for four centuries. “I am convinced by the idea of there being long lifespans for these kinds of sharks, [but] I take the absolute numbers with a pinch of salt,” said Clive Trueman, associate professor in marine ecology at the University of Southampton.

Trueman agrees that it is possible to get a record of the early life of a vertebrate from eye lens proteins. However, the fact that the proteins in the centre of the eye lenses, and hence the carbon-14 within them, came from nutrients taken in by the shark’s mother adds a number of uncertainties to the calculations, he says.

Campana says while the approach taken by the researchers is sound, he remains unconvinced that Greenland sharks live for almost 400 years. But, he adds, “future research should be able to nail the age down with greater certainty.”

Nielsen is also looking forward to further research, saying that he hopes the Greenland shark’s new found fame will boost awareness of the animal, as well as conservation efforts and attempts to unravel other aspects of its physiology. “There are other aspects of their biology which are super-interesting to know more about and to shed light upon,” he said.


News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Friday 5th February 2016

The rating agency Fitch upgrades Ireland credit prospects from A- to A

Move follows a positive reassessment of the prospects for strong economic growth


Investors use ratings agency standings to guide decisions on where to put their money.

Ratings agency Fitch has given the Coalition parties a pre-election boost, upgrading its rating on Ireland’s national debt.

The agency said late on Friday it was changing Ireland’s rating from A- to A, with a stable outlook.

The move follows a positive reassessment by Fitch of the prospects for strong economic growth in Ireland and steady improvements in the public finances. At the end of a week in which the unemployment rate fell to 8.6%, the agency also cited a strong projection for further employment growth.

Investors use ratings agency standings to guide decisions on where to put their money, so an upgrade in Ireland’s rating should help to hold down the cost of raising new debt.

Although the assessments of Fitch and its rivals are crucial, Ireland’s borrowing costs have also been compressed by the European Central Bank’s bond-buying campaign.

Irish’s 10-year bond yields are trading at a low level, and the 2026 bond had an interest rate of just under 1 per cent on Friday, having traded around 0.85 per cent during the week.

However, some nervousness ahead of the general election has led to a small increase in the gap between Irish bonds and those of other EU countries such as France and Belgium over the past week or so. The NTMA is due to raise new funds next week, so the Fitch move will be welcome.

Fitch, in a statement, referred to the strong macroeconomic performance and an improving budget picture. It particularly noted the move to a so-called primary budget surplus – a measure of the national borrowing position before repayments on the national debt are included.

Fitch is forecasting a 4% rise in GDP this year and believes Ireland’s debt to GDP ratio is now on a firmly downward path.

The agency has been very positive in previous assessments of the Coalition’s performance, saying after the October budget that some fiscal easing ahead of the election was not a surprise.

Fitch said then the overall budget package was consistent with improving public finances, although it said the stimulus was “pro-cyclical and therefore likely to increase economic volatility”.

At the same time, it said this year’s budget did not change its expectation of further deficit narrowing.

“The sovereign’s fiscal credibility has been underlined by its meeting of the original excessive deficit procedure deadline set nearly five years ago, after reducing the headline deficit by nearly 10 [percentage points]\.”

The upgrade from Fitch came as US bond investor Michael Hasenstab of the Franklin Templeton fund, who bought 10 per cent of the Irish bond market after the State was bailed out, said he had exited his Irish position.

He added, however, that the bonds should continue to perform well. Mr Hasenstab said the recent underperformance of Irish bonds was “short-term noise”, praised the State’s “strong” economy and dismissed any lasting fallout from the “Brexit” debate.

“Irish yields deserve to be more in line with core European yields,” said Mr Hasenstab, who made big profits on his 2011 Irish bet, which he made when the State was locked out of financial markets and its 10-year bond yields peaked around 15%.

Renua Ireland will & could form part of the next government says Lucinda Creighton


Renua Ireland have claimed they will hold the balance of power after the Election.

Lucinda Creighton’s party are convinced they will enter coalition with Fine Gael despite remaining “wary” of the party, she said today.

Ms Creighton said her party is adamant it will form part of the next government, whatever that may be.

“It is important for us and indeed it is important for the Irish people that Renua Ireland will be a part of the next government,” she said.

“You have to look at the numbers and at the moment the likelihood is; it’s not a certainty, but the likelihood is that the next Government will be led by Enda Kenny as Taoiseach.”

However she added that there is “no difference” between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael who have played “Punch and Judy politics” over the past decade.

“Anything can happen. It’s going to be a long campaign. We will be mounting a serious challenge and we are just focusing at the moment on winning as many seats as we can,” she said.

She said the party was still wary of Fine Gael considering the length of time it took Mr Enda Kenny to rule out doing a deal with Tipperary Independent TD Michael Lowry.

Speaking on radio this morning, Mr Kenny said he would not consider doing business with Mr Lowry after the General Election.

Mr Creighton said: “I was delighted after 13 opportunities, the Taoiseach finally 10 days later ruled out Michael Lowry. I think it was important…But I think we have to be wary of that.”

Speaking outside Dublin Castle this afternoon, the party outlined their red-line issues which they claim will not be sacrificed in any negotiations for a new coalition after the General Election.

Renua want to establish a public commission on a flat tax which would report in nine months.

They would also introduce a Fiscal Responsibility Bill to prevent “the boom-and-bust politics that has plagued our economy”.

INMO calls off planned industrial action by the nurses


Nurses have called off planned industrial action at seven of the country’s emergency departments.

Members of the INMO have accepted revised proposals to tackle overcrowding and staffing at emergency departments in hospitals around the country.

They have voted 71% in favour of the revised proposals from the Workplace Relations Commission.

The INMO has said: “(We) will now insist that all of the hospital and group level structures, involving engagement between hospital management and INMO ED members continues on a weekly basis.

“This is necessary to ensure continuous implementation of the, now agreed, System Wide Escalation Policy which places the pressures on Emergency Departments at the centre of all health service activity.

“In accepting these revised proposals our members have reaffirmed that this dispute was always about patient care and ensuring a save working environment which must minimise overcrowding and maximise the ability of nurses to practice safely with manageable workloads.”

INMO General Secretary Liam Doran added: “Our members constantly stated, in all of the information meetings held recently, that this was never about pay and conditions but it was all about ensuring the unacceptable situation, in Emergency Departments, was prioritised, by management.”

Minister for Health Leo Varadkar has welcomed the outcome of the vote.

“I welcome this decisive ‘yes’ vote by Emergency Department INMO members who voted by a margin of 71% to accept the measures proposed by the Workplace Relations Commission,” said Minister Varadkar.

“I can assure staff of my personal commitment to seeing that the agreement is implemented in full.

“We are making progress in reducing ED overcrowding. The number of patients on trollies today is 20% lower than it was this day last year, in spite of the influenza outbreak.”

Lifetime bans proposed for horse doping in Ireland

Horse Racing Ireland welcomes Anti-Doping Task Force recommendations


Horse Racing Ireland chief executive Brian Kavanagh (centre pic)

A lifetime ban for any horse who has been illicitly administered prohibited substances and increased frequency of out of competition testing are two of the main recommendations from a report published on Thursday by Horse Racing Ireland.

The Irish Thoroughbred Industry Anti-Doping Task Force was set up following the disqualification of trainer Philip Fenton in 2014 after he was found to have banned animal substances, including anabolic steroids, in his possession.

In response the HRI board, in conjunction with the Turf Club, established a 16-member industry-wide Anti-Doping Task Force, chaired by HRI vice-chair and now senior steward of the Turf Club, Meta Osborne, to assess the issues.

The findings of the report have now been made public with the main recommendation being a lifetime ban from Irish racing for horses administered a banned drug at any time, anywhere in the world.

They also advocate no automatic therapeutic use exemption for anabolic steroids, while underlining the need for the Irish racing and breeding industries to have access to a laboratory which meets the best international standards, is based in Ireland and operates under either a permanent relationship with, or a long-term support from, the Irish racing authorities.

Augmented out of competition testing and a significant increase in the number of samples collected and analysed each year to achieve operational and cost efficiencies are two other key points.

A single national equine drug control laboratory should be considered, according to the report, with the need for the Turf Club to establish a dedicated Anti-Doping Unit also underlined.

Educational programmes and clear guidelines as well as ongoing research into the issue of doping are also recommended, with the Task Force reconvening in six months to review progress.

HRI has approved expenditure of over €1.8 million to purchase new laboratory equipment and ensure appropriate facilities while it will also support the cost of additional sampling, higher levels of out of competition testing and the creation of a new the anti-doping unit through its integrity budget.

Brian Kavanagh, HRI chief executive, said: “Setting up the Anti-Doping Task Force was vital in order to protect the reputation of our racing and breeding industry, and Horse Racing Ireland welcomes the consensus reached and the strong recommendations that have been set out.

“The industry is worth over €1 billion annually to the Irish economy, and our international position as a world leader must be maintained.

“HRI will support the recommendations of the Task Force through the significant and continuing investment that is being announced today.

“The issue of illegal performance-enhancing drugs is one that needs to be addressed worldwide and Ireland is now to the fore in tackling this problem head on. Our primary concern is to ensure that Ireland’s racing and breeding industries have drug testing systems that meet the best international standards.”

Osborne was pleased to see the recommendations being implemented so swiftly in the sport.

She said: “I am delighted that the Anti-Doping Task Force has produced an agreed consensus statement and report which the industry has been able to support and unite behind.

“The key objectives are to eliminate cheating and to ensure that horse welfare is paramount.

“The announcement of a lifetime ban for any horse found to have been illicitly administered any substance “prohibited at all times“ including anabolic steroids is an unequivocal statement that cheats will not be tolerated within Irish racing.

“The Turf Club will continue to work with Horse Racing Ireland in this vital area to ensure that we have the resources and structures in place to maintain the highest levels of integrity in our sport, and thereby to safe-guard the international reputation of the Irish thoroughbred industry.”

DNA evidence unearths major population shift at the last Ice Age-end

DNA evidence from the ancient bones and teeth of people who lived in Europe near the end of the last Ice Age shows a major shift in the population around 14,500 years ago during a period of severe climatic instability.


DNA evidence from the ancient bones and teeth of people who lived in Europe near the end of the last Ice Age shows a major shift in the population around 14,500 years ago during a period of severe climatic instability.

“We uncovered a completely unknown chapter of human history: a major population turnover in Europe at the end of the last Ice Age (Late Pleistocene to the early Holocene),” said lead author Johannes Krause of the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History in Germany.

The researchers pieced this missing history together by reconstructing the genomes of 35 hunter-gatherer individuals who lived in Italy, Germany, Belgium, France, the Czech Republic, and Romania from 35,000 to 7,000 years ago.

“There has been a real lack of genetic data from this time period, so consequently we knew very little about the population structure or dynamics of the first modern humans in Europe,” Krause added.

The new data show that the mitochondrial DNA of three individuals who lived in present-day Belgium and France before the coldest period in the last Ice Age belonged to haplogroup M.

This is remarkable because the M haplogroup is effectively absent in modern Europeans but is extremely common in modern Asian, Australasian and native American populations.

The absence of the M haplogroup and its presence in other parts of the world had previously led to the argument that non-African people dispersed on multiple occasions to spread across Eurasia and Australasia.

The researchers say the discovery of this maternal lineage in Europe in the ancient past now suggests instead that all non-Africans dispersed rapidly from a single population, at a time they place around 50,000 years ago.

Then, at some later stage, the M haplogroup was apparently lost from Europe.

The biggest surprise, however, was evidence of a major turnover of the population in Europe around 14,500 years ago, as the climate began to warm.

“Our model suggests that during this period of climatic upheaval, the descendants of the hunter-gatherers who survived through the Last Glacial Maximum were largely replaced by a population from another source,” explained Adam Powell, senior author at the Max Planck Institute in a paper published in the Cell Press journal Current Biology.

The next step is to construct a more comprehensive picture of the past by analysing the complete genomes of these ancient individuals along with additional specimens representing more times and places.

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Saturday 5th December 2015

The Garda should bring Irish officers home, An inspectorate says

Current system of finding staff is highly inefficient’ as many lose interest in the long process.


A Garda graduation ceremony at the Garda College in Templemore. The Garda Inspectorate report recommends that the force should, for the first time, put a concerted effort into recruiting police officers currently serving in other countries.Gardai

An Garda Síochána should, for the first time, put a concerted effort into recruiting police officers currently serving in other countries, the Garda Inspectorate report recommends.

Robert Olson, the author of the report, also says Garda management should begin to actively consult with Government ministers and departments about the force’s budget allocation, a process which it currently has no direct involvement in.

Following the HSE’s attempts to entice Irish nurses employed abroad to accept posts at home, the report advises the Garda to employ a similar strategy given the number of fully-trained Irish ex-pats serving in police forces around the world.

An Garda Síochána does not currently have a targeted programme for overseas recruitment, points out former Minneapolis chief of police Mr Olson, who also brands the current recruitment system as “highly inefficient” as many applicants lose interest or find employment elsewhere during the months or years-long selection process.

Skills deficits

The report also identifies “skills deficits” among gardaí due to a lack of training and continuous professional development afforded to members over recent years, and recommends that a programme of “ongoing continuous professional development” should be made available to all personnel.

The Garda College in Templemore should have its own ringfenced budget, and there should be a review of the 32-week residential training course for gardaí at the college “with a view to reducing the duration” of that programme in favour of more time in operational settings and on independent patrol for trainees.

“The majority of Garda training takes place at the college. This is expensive and inefficient,” says the report.

It adds that volunteers with the 1,000-member Garda Reserve could be put to better use, and divesting some time and labour-intensive duties currently carried out by rank and file gardaí such as custody services and healthcare for people in custody to other agencies could also free up additional operational capacity.

Members of the reserve were recently given more powers, meaning they could perform duties including foot patrol and road traffic checkpoints if accompanied by a full-time Garda.

Event policing

Elsewhere, the report says that in order to optimise cost recovery An Garda Síochána should consider addressing the situation whereby the full costs of policing public events are not met by promoters.

Regarding responses to false alarms, an increased call-out fee for the property owner in such circumstances would also lead to greater efficiencies in cost recovery and could free up “thousands of Garda operational hours” if the deterrent is successful.

There are currently no policies in place detailing how to deal with “high-risk” issues such as potential substance abuse and corruption among gardaí, and this should be addressed by developing clearer policies and providing training in those areas it says.

As opposed to the existing policy, Mr Olson suggests that all uniformed gardaí should be issued with a name badge so individual on-duty officers could be more easily identified by members of the public.

Fiasco as up to half of housing offers are rejected

Kelly to review high rate of housing refusals


Environment Minister Alan Kelly is now considering the introduction of new rules surrounding the provision of social housing.

Hundreds of families on council housing waiting lists are turning down homes because they don’t like the area.

In several parts of the country, well over a third of offers made by councils have been turned down in the last year.

The Department of the Environment is now closely monitoring rejection rates.

In Dublin City – where the homeless crisis is most severe – almost one in five families turned down offers of homes.

The refusal figure is as high as 49% in Cork county, 46%c in Waterford, 42% in counties Roscommon and Donegal and 40pc in Cork City.

Families turn down offers of homes for a wide variety of reasons, including poor access to facilities such as schools and other important services.

But councils are now telling the Department of the Environment of their frustration over so-called ‘serial refusers’.

Officials say offers are being turned down in many cases simply because people don’t like the area or the house.

Under the current system, those on the list give three preferred options for a new home – but often turn down an offer if it isn’t their first choice.

Environment Minister Alan Kelly is now considering the introduction of new rules surrounding the provision of social housing.

The housing offer rejection figures are contained in a Department of Environment survey of the country’s housing departments, which has been seen by the Irish Independent.

The figures relate to the 12-month period until the end of September.

In feedback to the department, officials have warned that in many cases, families are rejecting offers because they say they do not feel suited to the area.

“We do have to address the fact that people turn down homes because they don’t like the property being offered,” a senior Government source said.

At the moment, if a family fails to provide a legitimate reason for turning down an offer of a home, they become ‘blacklisted’ for a 12-month period. In cases where a council receives three refusals from the same applicant, they can be struck off the list entirely.

Mr Kelly will now consider new rules aimed at tackling the rate of refusals.

These include reducing the number of refusals families can make before being struck off the housing list.

The minister is also examining the introduction of a ‘choice-based letting’ system whereby applicants have greater say over the areas in which they are accommodated.

One of the country’s leading housing experts called for a overhaul of the waiting list system.

DIT lecturer in housing Dr Lorcan Sirr warned the issue is far more complex and said further studies are required into why families are refusing homes.

But Dr Sirr said the figures show councils, in some cases, are dealing with families who reject offers for non- housing related reasons.

He said that these include “tribal reasons” – families not wanting to live near each other – as well as a lack of suitability of the property being offered.

“In times of depleted resources, this is obviously very frustrating for local authorities dealing not alone with issues of allocation of resources, but also with the sociological side of dealing with families and their non-housing issues that relate to where they want to live,” he said.

Three hours of watching TV could destroy your brain


A new study showed that watching TV in just three hours a day with little to no physical activity can rot the brain.

The data was based on a analysis of three tests answered by the participants involved in the study. Researchers Hoang and Dr. Kristine Yaffe, professors at the University Of California School Of Medicine found that these volunteers are all inclined to watching a lot of TV.

Many people practice watching too much TV and oftentimes fail to do any physical activity. Doing both things for a long span of time leads to the impairment of the brain, as researchers found in their study performed at the Northern California Institute for Research and Education.

Initially, the researchers did not include the cognitive function of the participants for them to have a baseline for comparison of the progress. And on the 25th year of the study, they assessed the cognitive function of the participants with three different mental tests that focus on speed, verbal memory and executive function.

There were 107 volunteers involved in the study who exercised least and at the same time had the habit of watching TV for more than three hours a day. Results show that these people are twice as much likely to perform poorly on the cognitive tests,; given as compared to those who limit their TV use but exercised more.

The researchers said that it is still never too late for adults to change their habits that could lead them to illnesses like Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia that usually start with impaired brain and damaged brain cells. Other studies have categorized these diseases due to old age, but there are ways where people can avoid it.

Result show that TV addicts were found to be 64 percent more likely to have poor cognitive performance than others. Same results were obtained when the researchers accounted for several other factors such as age, gender, educational level and body mass index (BMI).

They took note of some possible limitations due to the way the data were gathered because answers were only self-reported by the participants through the questionnaires.

Adolescents who practice little exercise but watch TV frequently had the worst obvious cognitive function 25 years later in their life. In this part of the study, the participants were surveyed at the beginning of the study and every two to five years about their exercise routine, or if they do exercise at all.

Those who watch little TV with high physical activity routine had twice as better cognitive performance than those who did little exercise with too much TV during their midlife.

But the researchers found no link to the verbal memory of the participants with regards to TV use.

Guidelines for tattoo and piercing parlours to be drafted by Irish Government

Varadkar says no specific rules on hygiene and infection control in place in the sector


Official guidelines for tattoo and body piercing parlours are being drawn up for the first time..

Official guidelines for tattoo and body piercing parlours are being drawn up for the first time.

The Department of Health says the draft guidelines, to be published next week, will make recommendations on minimising the risk of infection, protecting the health and safety of tattoo artists and their customers and the operation of parlours within recognised rules and laws.

Hundreds of tattoo and piercing shops have opened across Ireland in the past decade as the popularity of body art soars. However, the sector is largely unregulated, with no registration requirements, operating standards or basic training requirements for staff.

The department says its guidelines will aim to ensure that high standards are “maintained” in the sector. A consultation process is planned before the draft guidelines are finalised.

“Tattooing and body piercing has become increasingly popular as a fashion statement and the number of premises offering these services has multiplied,” says Minister for Health Leo Varadkar.

“However there are currently no specific guidelines on hygiene and infection control for this particular sector, beyond the general guidelines that already exist. High standards of hygiene are vital when performing body piercing and tattooing in order to protect the health of clients, and the practitioners.”

Specific issues to be covered in the guidelines include good practice for infection control and the use of template consent forms and aftercare advice, as well as the need to provide training and supervision for staff and the avoidance of local anaesthetic injections of prescription only topical creams.

The department says the majority of tattoos and piercings occur without incident, but risks arise with the procedures involved and customers need to be briefed in advance.

As well as the dangers of infections and blood-borne viruses caused by poor hygiene, other problems include allergic reactions to ink or pigments, scarring and rejection of jewellery by the body.

Half of Irish people believe climate change is a serious issue

More than 50% say they have a role in tackling the issue ahead of businesses


Less than half of the Irish population believe climate change is a serious problem, a new survey shows.

Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI) carried out the poll asking 1,000 people for their views on climate issues facing Irish society as the UN Climate Change Conference (COP21) continues in Paris.

The figures showed 49 per cent of the people who responded thought climate change was a serious problem.

However, 53 per cent said they a role to play in tackling the problem ahead of businesses and environmental groups.

Dr Eimear Cotter, head of the low carbon technologies at the SEAI, said the scientific analysis was indisputable and urgent action was needed.

“However, we still have to convince half of the population of the seriousness of climate change,” she said.

“Increased awareness will mean we can have an informed debate about our options and choices that we need to make if we are to take fossil fuels and carbon out of our energy system.”

Dr Cotter said the research showed there had been a large increase in children’s perceived knowledge of saving energy and the influence they have on family attitudes.

“This knowledge and influence will hopefully in time translate into wider societal awareness,” she said.

The figures showed seven out of 10 said energy was an important consideration buying a car, while 60 per cent said power use was significant factor for kitchen appliances and lights .

John Gibbons, a spokesman for An Taisce said low public awareness of climate change risks could be explained by lack of coverage.

“Taken at face value, the SEAI finding that only one in two Irish people is aware of the profound environmental crisis that threatens all our futures is both a wake-up call for Ireland and also an indictment of a collective failure to grasp the scale and gravity of the threats posed by climate change to our way of life,” he production to reduce the carbon intensity of food production and to contribute to both food security.nd


Donie’s Ireland daily news BLOG

Saturday 25th July 2015

It’s time to jail reckless bankers say’s & urges Lucinda Creighton in new policy

Bankers who recklessly lend money to people should face jail, Renua Ireland leader Lucinda Creighton has said.


Renua Ireland founder & leader Lucinda Creighton

The leader of one of Ireland’s newest political parties was at Leinster House to publish her party’s plan on tackling white-collar crime.

Renua Ireland TD Billy Timmins said the Irish justice system does not take white-collar crime as seriously as so-called ordinary crime.

“If you steal an apple in Moore Street, odds are you will go through the process. But we know that many big criminals involved in company crime and fraud get away with it,” Mr Timmins said.

The plan

The party has published a 10-point plan aimed at increasing action against white-collar criminals, including making reckless lending a criminal offence – as recommended by the Central Bank governor Patrick Honohan.

“There is a really strong sense that notwithstanding the extraordinary collapse of the banking system and the massive destruction caused to the economy which has affected the lives of ordinary citizen, nothing has really changed,” Ms Creighton said.

The former Fine Gael junior minister said the policy would bring real accountability to actions and failures to act in the business world.

“We will introduce legislation which imposes criminal liability on a senior manager of a banking institution, fund or insurance undertaking who knowingly puts the viability of the institution at risk,” Ms Creighton said.

The other seven actions include:

1.       Criminal sanctions for company directors who conduct business recklessly, based on laws already in force in Australia.

2.      Curbing the use of limited company liability to escape punishment for breaking the law.

3.      Tightening provisions to ensure claiming ignorance of the law is not a defence.

4.      Reducing scope for sentence mitigation on grounds of previous good character or “good family”.

5.      Improving training for all company directors.

6.      Facilitating whistleblowers – including giving them a percentage of taxpayers’ money recouped from detecting wrong-doing.

7.      A special white-collar crime court with streamlined procedures and more training for judges and lawyers.

Asked generally about the new party, just launched in March, Ms Creighton said they are organised in all 40 constituencies nationwide in a very short space of time.

She conceded that she had said the party needed something like €1m to run a national election campaign but they had decided from day one not to take company donations.

“So the party in every constituency in the country is engaged in fundraising. It is amounts, big and small but mainly small, from individuals and not companies,” she said.

The Candidates?

Ms. Creighton said by the end of next week 14 candidates will have been selected.

“I think that is excellent for what is a party only launched weeks ago,” she added.

Wicklow TD Mr Timmins said the new party could not match the spending power of the big parties. He said unlike the big ones it got no taxpayer funding as this is decided at the start of each Dail term.

“But we have something special and that is the enthusiasm and commitment of our new members who want to change Irish politics for the better,” Mr Timmins said.

A number of candidates attended the launch, including Cllr Patrick McKee who stood in the recent Carlow-Kilkenny by-election.

Laya Healthcare hike up prices by a mighty 4%


Company blames rise on significant increase in volume and cost of claims

Dónal Clancy, managing director of Laya Healthcare, blamed a rise in the number and cost of claims for price rises that will apply to more an half the firm’s customers from September.

Most Laya Healthcare customers will face price increases averaging 4% from the beginning of September.

The company blamed the price increases on a significant increase in the volume and cost of claims over the past year.

The price increases will apply to around 55% of policies and will apply to policies renewed after September 1st. Laya says it has around 500,000 customers.

Laya managing director Dónal Clancy said the company was “acutely conscious of the impact” the increases would have and said it had “tried to minimise the impact across our schemes”.

“We have protected 49 of our schemes from a price increase, and minimised the impact on families with our free kids cover,” Mr Clancy said.

He said the price rises had been driven “by the significant increase we have experienced in the number and costs of medical claims in the past year”.

Mr Clancy said Laya had seen an 18% increase in the volume of claims while the cost of claims has climbed by 15% over the last 12 months.

“While better practices, high-spec technology and improved treatments are all translating into better patient outcomes, they are driving medical costs higher; which in turn has a negative impact on premiums,” Mr Clancy said.

He also pointed to a medical cost management programme implemented by the company which he suggested would deliver efficiencies of €100 million between 2012 and 2016 and had helped minimise the increases.

The Laya price increase sees it join GloHealth and Aviva in upping prices this year and attention now is likely to focus on what will happen and the State’s largest insurer, the VHI. While VHI has made no announcement on its pricing plans, an increase of some kind before 2016 seems likely.

Almost 100,000 new private health insurance policies were sold earlier this year as people rushed to enter the market to avoid age-related penalties introduced at the beginning of May.

Under the new Lifetime Community Rating (LCR) regime which started on May 1st, anyone aged over 34 without private health insurance has to pay higher prices when they take out a policy.

While the price increases will attract most attention, Laya healthcare also announced a range of new and extended benefits.

It has extended its “Free Kids” cover to its Essential Connect Health plan for a second child and every child up to the age of 18.

It will also reduce child rates on 18 schemes by between 3 and 6% and has promised to extend its 24 hour confidential GP Line.

Increases in Irish wine tax is totally against the spirit of the EU trade,

A group claims


The Support Your Local campaign said increases in the cost of a bottle of wine goes against the spirit of the European Project.

The group is calling on the Government to reduce excise duty on the beverage in the next budget.

It says a €1.50 increase since 2012 is having detrimental impact on farmers across the continent, while lowering the quality of wine being consumed here.

“€1.50 has been added in excise to a bottle of wine over three budgets,” said Evelyn Jones of the National Off-Licence Association, adding that the group is campaigning for a 50c reduction – one-third of the recent increase.

“That would go a long way towards improving the basic quality of wine tin he bottle.”

“The fact of the matter is that that Government is choking the quality out of an artisan product that’s produced by farmers across Europe.

“It’s seen as middle-class taxation- easy pickings – [but] would be contrary to the spirit of the EU treaty, as we don’t make wine here ourselves.”

There are a handful of wineries and vineyards in Ireland, but they are small in scale. The Lusca winery in Lusk, Co Dublin, produces only a few hundred bottles a year from vines next to their apple orchard.

Scientists stop aging process in earth worms, humans may be next


Human eternal life is just around the corner?

New research by molecular scientists at Northwestern University has led to the development of a procedure that allows them to switch off the aging process in worms.

As with most organisms, the worms initially showed that their adult cells began deteriorating when they reached reproductive maturity. The aging process — versus growing — begins because biological functions that protect cells within the body are shut down.

Since humans have the same genetic switch, the findings lend credence to the hope that humanity may one day be able to alleviate the aging process and certain degenerative diseases, according to the Daily Mail.

“Wouldn’t it be better for society if people could be healthy and productive for a longer period during their lifetime?” Richard I. Morimoto, senior author of the study, asked “I am very interested in keeping the [biological] quality control systems optimal as long as we can, and now we have a target. Our findings suggest there should be a way to turn this genetic switch back on and protect our aging cells by increasing their ability to resist stress.”

Morimoto is the Bill and Gayle Cook Professor of Molecular Biosciences and director of the Rice Institute for Biomedical Research in Northwestern’s Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences, where he has been building up to his latest findings for a decade. The study was published in the 23 issue of the journal Molecular Cell.

The transparent roundworm C. elegans has a biochemical environment similar to that of humans and are a popular research tool for the study of the biology of ageing and are used to model human diseases.

“C. elegans has told us that aging is not a continuum of various events, which a lot of people thought it was,” Morimoto said.

Harmful drinking is a middle-class phenomenon?


Wealthy over-50s are endangering their health by drinking far too much, experts have warned

Wealthy over-50s are endangering their health by drinking far too much, UK experts have warned.

Harmful drinking is a ‘middle-class phenomenon’ with older, successful people at most risk, AGE UK has warned.

Although affluent middle aged people often appear to look after themselves by eating well and exercising regularly, they are actually far more likely to drink too much than their less successful peers.

UK researchers warned it was a ‘hidden health and social problem’ because on the outside most wealthy middle class people appeared to be living well.

“Our analysis challenges popular perceptions of who is drinking too much,” said Age UK’s Chief Economist , Professor Jose Iparraguirre who carried out the research .

“It suggests public health messaging is not reaching high income groups who are most at risk.

“Because this group is typically healthier than other parts of the older population, they might not realise that what they are doing is putting their health in danger.”

The findings are based on responses from 9,000 over 50s who took part in the English Longitudinal Survey of Ageing. They were asked about income, educational attainment, health, physical activity levels, loneliness depression, marital status, and employment.

Current NHS guidelines advise that men drink no more than 21 units a week – roughly 10 pints of beer. Women are advised to stick to 14 units, around seven glasses of wine.

The researchers defined harmful drinking as between 22 and 50 units a week for men and 15 to 35 weekly units for women. Higher risk was quantified as 50 units for men and 35 for women. One unit represents

Analysis of the responses showed that the risk of harmful drinking peaked for men in their early 60s and then gradually tailed off.

Women on high salaries and those who had retired were more likely to drink heavily, while smoking, higher educational attainment, and good health were all linked to heightened risk in both sexes.

Although the researchers found that heavy drinking was no linked to feeling lonely or depressed, men who lived on their own were more likely to consume harmful amounts of alcohol.

A report by the think tank 2020Health found that around eight million British adults drink more than is considered safe my experts, many of whom are middle class people who regularly drink wine with their evening meal.

Women are at greater risk if they evenly share a bottle of wine with their partner because their alcohol tolerance is lower than men’s.

The rise of home shopping delivery services has also been blamed for encouraging more older women to drink.

Government figures published last October showed a 65 per cent increase in the number of women over pension age beginning treatment for drink related problems in the last five years in England.

“We can sketch the problem of harmful drinking among people aged 50 or over in England as a middle class phenomenon: people in better health, higher income, with higher educational attainment and socially more active are more likely to drink at harmful levels,” added Professor Jose Iparraguirre

“Our findings suggest that harmful drinking in later life is more prevalent among people who exhibit a lifestyle associated with affluence and with a ‘successful’ ageing process.

“Harmful drinking may then be a hidden health and social problem in otherwise successful older people.”

Charities said that many middle aged older people did not realise how much they were drinking because they often did it at home.,

“Harmful drinking is a real issue for middle-aged and older people, many of whom are regularly drinking above recommended limits, often in their own homes,”

“These are the people who, if they develop alcohol related illnesses, tend to require the most complex and expensive health care due to the mental and physical problems caused by drinking too much.

Drinking too much alcohol is directly linked to over 60 medical conditions including liver disease sevenfold, mouth cancer fivefold and stroke threefold. For women, breast cancer risk doubles.

A four-legged Brazilan snake discovered recently

Fossil discovered of four-legged snake from 113 million years ago


An four-legged snake, Tetrapodophis amplectus a salamander.

Scientists have discovered a 113 million-year-old fossil of a snake which has four legs with fingers and toes.

The Tetrapodophis amplectus – nicknamed ‘huggy snake’ – is the first evidence found of a four-legged snake.

The 20cm-long skeleton, which is thought to be from Brazil, has a tiny head the size of a human fingernail.

It has two very small front legs with wrists, elbows and hands and slightly longer back legs, which would have been used to grasp its prey.

A skeleton of a Tetrapodophis

The fossil, which is of a juvenile, also shows adaptations for burrowing, rather than swimming, strengthening the idea that snakes evolved on land.

Dr Dave Martill, who discovered the unseen fossil in a collection in a German museum, said it is “an incredibly significant specimen”.

The University of Portsmouth professor said: “It is generally accepted that snakes evolved from lizards at some point in the distant past.

“What scientists don’t know yet is when they evolved, why they evolved, and what type of lizard they evolved from.

“This fossil answers some very important questions, for example it now seems clear to us that snakes evolved from burrowing lizards, not from marine lizards.”

• Fossil with hips shows snakes’ lizard past

Dr Martill has been working with expert German palaeontologist Helmut Tischlinger and Dr Nick Longrich, of the University of Bath, who studied the evolutionary relationships of the snake.

Dr Longrich, who had previously worked on the origins of snakes, became intrigued when Dr Martill told him the story at the local pub in Bath.

He said he was initially sceptical, but when Dr Martill showed him photographs, he knew immediately that it was a fossil snake.

He said: “A four-legged snake seemed fantastic and as an evolutionary biologist, just too good to be true.

“It is a perfect little snake, except it has these little arms and legs, and they have these strange long fingers and toes.

• Scientists discover fossilised remains of world’s longest snake

“The hands and feet are very specialised for grasping. So when snakes stopped walking and started slithering, the legs didn’t just become useless little vestiges – they started using them for something else.

“We’re not entirely sure what that would be, but they may have been used for grasping prey, or perhaps mates.”

Interestingly, the fossilised snake also has the remains of its last meal in its intestine, including some fragments of bone.

The prey was probably a salamander, showing that snakes were carnivorous much earlier in evolutionary history than previously believed.

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Friday 24th July 2015

Enda Kenny aims to reduce taxes to encourage the return of Irish emigrants

Taoiseach greeted by anti-water charge protesters at MacGill summer school


Taoiseach Enda Kenny prior to his address at the MacGill Summer School.

Irish emigrants are not returning to the country because they fear they will get “screwed” for tax, Taoiseach Enda Kenny has claimed.

Speaking at the MacGill summer school, where he was greeted by several dozen anti-water charge protesters on Friday evening, Mr Kenny said the tax rate was “too high a rate and it kicks in too early”.

He reiterated the plan to cut the 7% rate of Universal Social Charge in the forthcoming Budget.

“In doing so, we will bring down the marginal rate of tax paid by people earning less than €70,000 to less than 50%.”

“You have to have a stepped approach to this. That makes it more difficult for our sons and daughters to come home if they want to because they’ll say ‘why should I? Why should I go back if I’m going to get screwed for tax here?’”

He wanted 2016 to be “our own year of family reunification, where our children come home at last from Melbourne or London or New York”.

Addressing the packed room, Mr. Kenny referred to the theme of this week’s summer school, ‘Ireland at the crossroads’, noting there was also a political crossroads.

He said people had two roads to choose from. They could choose the road to strengthened economic recovery, or decide to take another road “that’s maybe unmined or unmapped and certainly untested”, a road that “gambled the recovery”.

The Taoiseach also said he believed the next general election would be “like the Grand National” with “lot of runners and riders”.

“I hope we don’t end up with a Tower of Babel in respect of Independents and nobody can get anything done.”

Mr Kenny took several questions from the floor, including one from a local Fine Gael councillor and one from Michael Gallagher, whose son Aidan was killed in the Omagh bombing.

Mr Gallagher said he had “repeatedly asked” for an opportunity to meet the Taoiseach in relation to a report on the bombing that had been presented to him in 2012.

“I’ve actually had to pay €5 to come into the hall. Will you have a meeting with the Omagh families and listen to what they have to say?”

Mr Kenny said he would fix such a meeting “as soon as I can, but it will probably be September”.


There was a heavy Garda presence around the village on Friday as a group of protesters gathered outside the Highlands Hotel ahead of Mr Kenny’s address .

Crush barriers were brought in early in the morning and cones were used to restrict parking on the main street. The Garda helicopter also patrolled overhead.

During the afternoon’s session on rural Ireland, protesters could be heard shouting and chanting outside.

Chants from about 50 protesters carrying banners and placards included: “No way, we won’t pay” and “Labour, Blueshirts, Fianna Fáil; jail, jail, jail them all.”

Catherine Murphy TD told the event a “culture of excessive secrecy” pervaded our politics.

“It is only after the event that we get a glimpse of a decision or set of decisions that on too many occasions favour those in the know; those with connections and those with money. It is quite destructive and indeed highly offensive to the vast majority of people.

She said she got a glimpse of some of that when she pursued the issues surrounding Siteserv and IBRC.

Archbishop Diarmuid Martin told the summer school he was concerned that a poor policy on migration seemed to be “giving rise for the first time in Irish society to a political party focusing on the single issue of immigration”.

Hospitals to face unannounced inspections over patient nutrition

Costs associated with malnutrition add up to more than €1bn of healthcare spending


Older patients, cancer patients, surgical and gastrointestinal patients are more vulnerability to malnutrition and dehydration.

Hospitals will undergo unannounced inspections as the Health Information and Quality Authority (Hiqa) attempts to tackle patient malnutrition and dehydration.

Malnutrition affects more than a quarter of patients admitted to Irish hospitals. It affects their recovery and causes illness and death, said Hiqa chief executive Phelim Quinn.

“Evidence shows that malnutrition and dehydration often occur together. Dehydration occurs when more fluid is lost than taken in. It has been reported that patients already malnourished on admission are more likely to lose weight during their hospital stay, and their weight loss is proportionately higher,” Mr Quinn said.

Under the new review guidelines, all public acute hospitals, other than stand-alone maternity and paediatric hospitals, will be expected to complete a self-assessment questionnaire and submit it to the authority. Hiqa will then carry out unannounced inspections in about 13 hospitals to verify results and understand how nutrition and hydration care in the hospital is delivered.

Older patients, cancer patients, surgical and gastrointestinal patients are more vulnerability to malnutrition and dehydration.

Hiqa said in 2007 the annual costs associated with malnourished patients was estimated to be more than €1.4 billion, 10 per cent of the healthcare budget that year. About 140,000 adults are malnourished or at risk of malnutrition at any given time.

Hiqa said it wants to encourage hospitals to follow evidence-based best practice in nutrition and hydration care with a focus on screening and assessment, arrangements at mealtimes and the patient’s own experience.

“We want to ensure that patients are adequately assessed, managed and evaluated to effectively meet their individual nutrition and hydration needs. Initially, hospitals will self-assess their position. The information provided by hospitals in self-assessments will inform the programme of unannounced inspections, which is due to start later this year,” said Mr Quinn.

An overview of the authority’s findings will be published in 2016.

New York bar run by two Irish men named ‘The world’s best bar’

The Dead Rabbit in Manhattan is described as a unique take on the traditional Irish pub


The Dead Rabbit in Downtown Manhattan which has been named as the ‘world’s best bar’.

A New York bar founded and run by Belfast natives Jack McGarry and Sean Muldoon has been named the world’s best pub, winning a drinks industry competition.

The Dead Rabbit Grocery and Grog, in Downtown Manhattan, won the award from 2,000 entries in the annual Spirited Awards.

McGarry and Muldoon opened the tavern in February 2012 and described it as a unique take on the traditional Irish pub.

The pair, both originally from Belfast, previously worked together in Belfast’s Merchant Hotel cocktail bar.

It was there they met Conor Allen, an Irishman working in New York’s financial sector, who offered to support the two in setting up their own bar.

The Dead Rabbit, which features an extensive selection of Irish whiskeys and cocktails, takes its name from an Irish-American street gang run by the boxerJohn Morrissey in the 1850s.

Located in a 19th century redbrick building, the bar seeks to commemorate the history of the area in its name, vintage decor, and recreations of historic cocktails.

As well as taking the main award, the Dead Rabbit also won the ‘World’s Best Cocktail Menu’ award.

The Spirited Awards are held each year in New Orleans as part of Tales of the Cocktail, an event for global producers of spirits.

A judging panel of 50 industry experts decided the winners.

The seagull hysteria in Ireland shows ‘A complete lack of awareness of nature

Say’s Birdwatch Ireland.


Seagull numbers have declined considerably over past two decades

Enthusiasts cautioned against sensationalist media coverage about seagulls, including calls for protected birds to be culled.

Seagulls very rarely harm people, they don’t have claws and their numbers have fallen dramatically in the past 20 years, birdwatchers have pointed out.

Enthusiasts cautioned against sensationalist media coverage, including calls for protected birds to be culled, after a week where gulls have been accused of killing sheep, stealing phones and attacking motorcyclists.

“It’s no coincidence that this news story flares up at this time of year and does so every year,” said Birdwatch Ireland development officer Niall Hatch. Most of the year gulls are quite docile but they become protective in mid to late July when their chicks are about to leave the nest. “They tend to get a little more vocal and tend to swoop a bit more. People might perceive it as a threat”

But he said it’s extraordinarily rare for them to actually harm or hit anybody. “In all the media hysteria over the few days there’s actually been remarkably few reports of anyone being hurt by these gulls.”

He added that gull populations aren’t increasing, in fact the opposite is true with numbers of the smaller herring gull declining substantially in the past two decades.

“Just over 20 years ago there were 60,000 pairs of these nesting around Ireland and that population plummeted to around 6,000,” said Mr Hatch.“They’re now on the red list in Ireland as being endangered.”

Rónán McLaughlin, a birdwatcher and photographer based in Co Cork, said overfishing in Irish waters conrtibuted to the herring gull leaving coastal nesting sites in favour of landfills. When the landfills closed the birds had to find another food source, so they headed for urban areas. “They’re very adaptable and very intgelligent, they’re going to go where the food is.”

The scavenging birds eat discarded food in towns and in some cases keep rodent populations down by eating rats. “It’s not the loss of a habitat, it’s just that the birds have adapted in a different way to feeding and decided: ‘we can go to the beach, we can go to seaside resorts because it’s easy pickings’,” said Mr McLaughlin.

He added that recent headlines about giant gulls using their claws to kill sheep in Kerry amount to media scaremongering. “I mean, a seagull doesn’t have claws. It’s got webbed feet for starters.”

He said the last thing birdwatchers wanted was for someone to “go down to Dingle with a loaf of bread and just lace it with rat poison or something like that”.

An article by Calvin Jones on this week noted an online poll where more than half the respondents supported culling gulls. “I can’t help feeling that’s partly because people are reading and believing all of these horror stories in the media, without any balancing arguments, or a full understanding of the facts,” he wrote.

Niall Hatch from Birdwatch Ireland agrees. He said the coverage has been “extremely frustrating”. But it also highlights a disconnect between Irish people and nature. “There does seem to be a lack of awareness of nature and of wild animals and of how wild animals behave. That’s something we find a lot in Ireland and it’s not necessarily the same in other European countries,” he said.

Either way, the coverage is likely to die down shortly enough. Gulls don’t need to look after their young for too long, said Mr Hatch. “This aggression or what perceived aggression there is will cease in the next week or two. There are actually more gulls in our cities during the winter but we don’t hear any complaints like that, it’s just a late-July phenomenon.”

The end of the world is nigh! Maybe not quite yet?


A doom-laden US study in 1972 predicted that the earth would run out of food and resources, becoming uninhabitable by around 2050.

The end of the world has been put back by at least 50 years by a team of British scientists.

A doom-laden US study in 1972 predicted that the earth would run out of food and resources, becoming uninhabitable by around 2050.

Now scientists at Anglia Ruskin University’s Global Sustainability Institute have claimed we have a little more grace – until the end of this century, or the year 2100.

To come to their conclusion, the team updated the 1970s computer model used to predict how finite the Earth’s resources are. Aled Jones, co-author of the study in journal Sustainability, said: “They made a good attempt in the 1970s but it might have been too pessimistic.

“The limit is pushed back to the second half of this century.”

News Ireland Daily BLOG by Donie

Friday 17th July 2015

Ireland ranked as one of the best Countries in terms of reputation

New survey shows country’s standing has improved in recent years


Not such a bad spot: Ireland scored highly in terms of having friendly and welcoming people and a beautiful country

Charlie Taylor

Ireland has been ranked in 11th place out of 55 countries in a new survey ranking nations by their reputation.

The Republic was ranked ahead of the UK, Italy, Germany,Spain, Portugal and France and the US in the Country RepTrak study, which was compiled by the Reputation Institute and its Irish counterpart, the Reputations Agency,

Ireland moved up two spots in the latest study, having been ranked in 13th place last year. In addition, it improved its score by 5.2%, from 68.5 out of 100 in 2014 to 72 this year.

Canada regained top spot from Switzerlandin the 2015 survey with a score of 78.1.

It was followed by Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, Australia, Finland, New Zealand, Denmark, the Netherlands and Belgium. With a score of just 22.5, Iraq was ranked as the country with the worst reputation followed by Iran, Pakistan,Russia and Nigeria.

The Country RepTrak study measures the reputation of 55 countries based on a number of factors including trust, esteem, admiration and good feeling.

The survey of 48,000 consumers from across the G8 was carried out via an online poll.

Of the 17 attributes measured, the most important attribute in driving the reputation of a country is “friendly and welcoming people”, where Ireland was ranked in ninth position, unchanged from 2014.

Having a “beautiful country” comes second in importance and here Ireland was ranked in sixth position, compared to ninth place last year. In addition, the Republic was placed 10th in the list of countries that consumers would like to visit.

“An increasingly globalised world with intensified competition makes country reputation matter more than ever,” said Niamh Boyle, managing director of the Reputations Agency.

“Attracting tourists, FDI and high-skilled workforce, improving international diplomacy, and being able to sell Irish products abroad, are all facilitated by having a strong country reputation.

“The G8 countries are important trading partners and sources of revenue for Ireland, so improving our reputation scores amongst these nations is great news for Ireland’s economy.”

Ireland’s budget targets queried by EU commission

Government’s plans for expansionary budget implicitly criticised by EU body


The EU Commission says the outline plan to achieve a budget deficit of 1.7% of GDP in 2016 was predicated on €1.2bn in expansionary measures.

The EU Commission has questioned the Government’s targets for the 2016 budget, saying they do not take full advantage of strong economic growth.

The commission’s intervention came as it said in a separate study that Ireland’s bailout between 2010 and 2013 was an effective recovery programme and argued the decision not to impose losses on senior bank bondholders was the correct one.

The comments on the October budget came in its review of a post-bailout inspection carried out in the spring.

It said the outline plan to achieve a budget deficit of 1.7% of GDP in 2016 was predicated on €1.2 billion in expansionary measures. While this is at the bottom of the €1.2 billion-€1.5 billion range in the Government plan for the budget, the commission implicitly criticised moves to prepare an expansionary budget.

Buffers: “Reaping the full benefits of the strong growth momentum would avert the risk of pro-cyclical fiscal policy and create the necessary buffers to address future challenges,” said the commission.

“Budgetary windfalls in 2016 and beyond should be used to accelerate debt reduction and prepare for future challenges.

“The stronger than expected economic momentum offers a unique opportunity to make progress with fiscal consolidation and debt reduction and averts the need to support aggregate economic activity.”

It went on to say past experience in Ireland and other countries pointed to a tendency to overestimate economic slack and underestimate overheating in real time.

Demographic pressures

“Moreover, Ireland is also facing considerable expenditure pressures linked to demographics in the medium term and remains vulnerable to economic and interest rate shocks, given the still very high level of public debt. All these elements stress the importance of building fiscal buffers.”

Of the water charges regime, it said the capacity of the Government and Irish Water to explain further the rationale for the reform and demonstrate that the public utility model is best will be critical.

“In turn, payment compliance will be key for the Irish Water’s ability to raise revenue and deliver upon its investment programme. Late payment penalties will be put in place, but only in cases where households are in arrears for a full annual billing period.”

In its report on the bailout, the commission said the rescue package was effective in helping Ireland regain access to financial markets and repair its broken banks.

Of the contentious decision not to “burn” senior bank bondholders, it said there was no legal framework and noted the legal and economic risks were considered too great in light of the potential benefits.

“The risks of spill-overs to the Irish and EU financial systems were highly uncertain and perceived to be very high, especially given the absence of a proper EU bank resolution framework,” the report said.

“The alternative of a burden sharing that only applied to the senior creditors of the institutions that were to be resolved, Anglo and INBS, would have had fewer benefits to the Irish exchequer but would still have entailed considerable risks.

Some 2,500 citizens sworn in as Irish at Convention Centre

More than 85,000 people from 161 countries have become Irish in last four years


Heba Alsharbaty (mother), Khilood Jaddoa (grandmother), Yousif Hussein (10 months) and Fadhil Alsharbaty (grandfather), originally from Baghdad in Iraq and now living in Rathfarnham show their joy on becoming Irish citizens. 

Some 2,500 candidates from 112 countries gathered to receive Irish citizenship at three ceremonies in the Dublin Convention Centre on Friday, these were the first of three citizenship ceremonies held at the Convention Centre, July 17th, 2015.

Minister for Health Leo Varadkar, attending on behalf of the Government, described his own childhood growing up in west Dublin, the son of an Indian migrant father and an Irish mother, who had herself been a migrant worker in England where they met.

“Growing up in west Dublin, I was the only child in school with sallow skin and a funny surname,” he said.

Mr Varadkar said he was encouraged now to see the diverse mix of backgrounds of children in Dublin and nationally “going to our gaelscoileanna and togging out for GAA”.

‘More tolerant’

Irish society had become “more tolerant, more inclusive and more open today than the leaders of the 1916 Rising could ever have hoped”, he said.

Among those sworn in on Friday was Iranian Javad Hasani, who has been living in Ireland for nine years, although he never intended to come here in the first place.

“I was on my way to Toronto and there was a stopover in Cork, and I got on a train to Dublin. I’m from a big city, so I couldn’t get over how beautiful the countryside was. I decided to change my flight and spend a couple of weeks travelling around.”

A trip to Kerry where he met a man he knew from Turkey cemented his decision to stay. He now has an Irish wife, Tracy, and “three babies”.

Ninfa Chacon Bendeck, a lawyer from Honduras, came to Ireland for St Patrick’s day in 2005, where she met Tony Byrne from Donegal.

“I knew the capital of Honduras was Tegucigalpa, which is where Ninfa is from, so I was able to impress her with that,” he said.

Kept in touch

Ninfa went back to Honduras after her holiday, but the two kept in touch. “Then I lived in Belgium were I was working as a diplomat, and after that we went travelling for a while.”

They’re now married for four and a half years and live in Donegal, where Ninfa works to rehome rescued dogs.

The 15 most represented countries at the ceremony were Poland, India, Romania, Pakistan, Nigeria, Philippines, Latvia, South Africa, China, Ukraine, Brazil, Hungary, Thailand, United States Of America, and the Democratic Republic Of The Congo.

Particularly pleased

The presiding officer, retired Judge Bryan McMahon, said he was particularly pleased to see faces from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, who he hoped “have brought their cricket bats and wickets” to help improve the fortunes of the Irish cricket team.

Similarly, he hoped those from Brazil would bring their soccer skills to bear on the Irish football team.

“Would it not be wonderful if some of these genes were brought into the Irish athletic pool of the future?”

More than 85,000 people from 161 countries had become Irish citizens over the last four years, Judge McMahon said.

“I look forward to the day one of your children or your grandchildren lead the hurling, football or camogie teams onto the pitch at Croke Park on All-Ireland Sunday, and I look forward to the day one of your children or your grandchildren carry the Irish flag into an Olympic stadium.”

Irish teens are ‘unable to identify depression symptoms’


Suicide prevention in young Irish people is being hampered by misunderstood symptoms and the lack of treatment awareness, according to new research.

Many Irish teens are unable to identify symptoms or ways to help depression.

A study conducted by psychologists at Trinity College Dublin suggests that many Irish teenagers are unable to identify signs of depression or suicidal thoughts.

Out of a sample of 187 teenagers, aged between 15 and 19, only half could correctly identify depression in hypothetical cases.

Meanwhile, participants were also unable to identify appropriate treatment for peers.

At the same time, the report found that girls were more likely than boys to offer up ways to support a depressed friend.

According to Sadhbh Byrne, who carried out the research with Dr Lorraine Swords and Dr Elizabeth Nixon of the School of Psychology in Trinity College, the study paints a worrying picture of mental health awareness.

“While the majority of adolescents in our study showed great concern for a friend experiencing distress, their specific knowledge of the characteristics of mental disorders and potential suicidality was lacking,” she said.

She said identifying depression is critical in helping people receive appropriate help.

“Ireland has the fourth highest rate of suicide in Europe among 15 to 24 year olds. Our research points to the need to educate young people about the need to seek adult help for a friend experiencing emotional distress,” Ms. Byrne added.

2014 melted global records as hottest year yet recorded

2015 set to be in top 10 as overheated Pacific ocean releases rising amounts of energy


Climate change: 2015 may also push its way into the top 10 group because a strong El Nino – which climatologists refer to as the Southern Oscillation – seems to have formed.

The relentless rise in global temperatures continues with scientists declaring 2014 the hottest year yet recorded. And they believe that 2015 will also land in the top 10 hottest given an overheated Pacific ocean that is releasing rising amounts of energy.

Last year was amongst Ireland’s hottest years, ranking in shared fourth place with 1997 and 1949, said Met Éireann climatologists.

Climate information of all sorts from 413 scientists in 58 countries was used to set 2014 as an international record-breaker in the 25th annual State of the Climate report prepared by the American Meteorological Society.

The numbers show that global warming continues apace with international initiatives to curb greenhouse gas release all failing to halt the ongoing march towards an overheated world, said Prof Peter Thorne of Maynooth University.

“The driver for all of this is the energy imbalance caused by the continued accumulation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, carbon dioxide, methane and others,” said Prof Thorne in Maynooth’s department of geography and one of the report’s editors for the global figures.

“We are not on the great mitigation pathway. The accumulation is undoubtedly due to human activity,” he said.

Effectively the report is a “full annual health check of the Earth’s climate system”, he said. The scientist participants collected data from countries around the world, measuring everything from temperature and rainfall to the size of the glaciers and temperatures above and below the ocean surface.

Ireland is part of this effort, feeding data into regional reports for Europe. “The highlight of the regional chapter was 2014 was the warmest year on record for 25 European countries. By a long chalk in Europe, 2014 for some was the warmest experienced going back 200 years,” Prof Thorne said.

For Ireland it was fourth highest with the top three hottest in order being 2007, 2006 and 1945.

The report shows greenhouse gas concentrations continue to rise and for the 25th year in a row global glaciers have decreased in size, the report says.

There were record high sea levels, record ocean surface temperatures and more heat is building up in the deep oceans.

Three months of 2014 saw carbon dioxide levels surpassing 400 parts per million (400ppm), long considered a psychological threshold.

Levels in the first report 25 years ago stood at 354ppm and from the beginning of the Industrial Revolution in 1750 up until 1990 the average was just 270ppm, Prof Thorne said.

The trend towards a warming world is clear given the top 10 hottest years have all occurred since 1998.

In fact that year stands out in particular because of a very strong “El Nino”, a natural phenomenon which sees the release of excess heat from surface waters across the Pacific Ocean that in turn warms up the environment.

Separating 1998 means the top nine warmest years have all occurred since 2002.

The report expects that 2015 may also push its way into the top 10 group because a strong El Nino – which climatologists refer to as the Southern Oscillation – seems to have formed.

“When an El Nino is occurring it is burping out energy into the atmosphere, while a La Nina is absorbing energy into the ocean,” said Prof Thorne.

They alternate in an irregular pattern but when an El Nino appears we can expect difficult weather, Prof Thorne said.

The report describes the El Nino during 2014 as being in a “neutral state” but already data from the Pacific shows that the El Nino has taken hold.

“There are record temperatures, particularly near the sea surface. The El Nino tried to appear last year but it has begun and this year is very strong,” he said.

It may be that because it stalled during 2014, that may make it particularly strong this year, he suggested. “This could be stronger than 1998 (when a record-breaking El Nino appeared) but those are based on model predictions so we will have to wait to see what happens.”

Records are being set year after year, but there is a very weak response internationally. But it is not a matter that there is nothing we can do, Prof Thorne said. “We need a mixture of sensible global policy that sets us on a low carbon path and it is about technological innovation, carbon neutral transport, changed behaviour, the use of things like solar panels. We need to make clean energy.”

News Ireland daily news BLOG

Friday/Saturday 26th/27th February 2015

New Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan’s unveils the biggest reshuffle of Garda ever in the state


Forty officers assigned to new posts and a further 53 transferred to other positions? The changes represent Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan’s most significant change to the force.

Almost half of all Garda superintendents and chief superintendents have been assigned to new posts by Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan.

The extent of the change is unprecedented in the force’s 93-year history.

The management shake-up is designed to rebrand and reform the Garda after a period of sustained controversy and in the face of significant criticism.

Some 40 officers have been assigned to their new posts after promotion and a further 53 have been transferred to new positions, though they remain at their existing rank.

At chief superintendent level, there are six promotions into the rank and 12 transfers. The 18 officers moving represent 41 per cent of all chief superintendents in the force.

And the 34 promotions into the rank of superintendent combined with the 41 transfers at that level represents 45 per cent of all superintendents in the force.

The promotions were anticipated, but the scale of the transfers was a surprise and is the biggest reshuffle of the force in the history of the State.

The extent of the changes were last night being interpreted within the force as Commissioner O’Sullivan “putting her stamp on” the Garda and making clear she was determined to reform the force.

The management reshuffle represents her most significant action since being formally appointed in November. She had been in the post on an interim basis for nine months.

Under the latest changes, a number of the highest profile units in the force have new officers in control and a large number of geographic divisions are also under new management.

The units with new management include: Garda Bureau Fraud Investigation; Garda Professional Standards Unit; Garda National Traffic Bureau; Garda NationalImmigration Bureau; Garda National Drug Unit and Organised Crime Unit; National Bureau of Criminal Investigation; Child Protection and Human Exploitation Unit.

The divisions with new officers in charge include: Westmeath; Kilkenny-Carlow; Mayo; Kildare, Dublin Metropolitan Region (DMR) West; Wicklow; DMR South Central; DMR North.

“These allocations, and the resulting additional changes at these ranks, are a critical element of our transformation programme,” Commissioner O’Sullivan said.

“They will allow us to develop the new structures, units and approaches required to ensure we are providing the best possible service to the public.”

Tackling Organised crime?

Following on from the widespread criticisms of the Garda’s approach to investigating crime contained in a major review Garda Inspectorate, a number of structural changes for the force have also been unveiled.

A new “strategic transformation office” has been established to manage the reform programme that has arisen from the Inspectorate’s report and recent controversies, including those involving penalty points.

The Garda National Drugs Unit and Organised Crime Unit have been combined to target organised gangs.

“Risk compliance and continuous improvement” offices have been established in each region to standardise policing processes and monitor the implementation of new initiatives such as victim support services, which the inspectorate had strongly criticised.

Detective superintendents in the regions will take responsibility for crime investigation, crime prevention and pro-active policing in their areas. This is seen as a decentralisation of powers from mostly Dublin based specialist units.

A new chief superintendent’s post has been established to oversee the new Child Protection, Domestic Violence and Human Exploitation Unit.

The commissioner said the placement of new officers in these new roles meant they would develop the skills and capacity needed to bring about the planned reforms across the force.

“Along with other key elements of the transformation plan, these changes will help deliver a victim-centred, community-focused police service that seeks to prevent crime in the first instance and then, when it does occur, investigates it professionally and thoroughly,” she said.

Michael D Higgins says Irish job insecurity fears needs to be addressed

Irish president stresses need to help those in precarious employment during RCSI lecture


President Michael D Higgins said the fears and aspirations of those trapped in chronic job insecurity must be addressed during his Edward Phelan lecture at RCSI.

Large swathes of the active populations of European countries are trapped in chronic job insecurity and their fears and aspirations need to be addressed, PresidentMichael D Higgins has said.

Delivering the Edward Phelan lecture at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI), he said a new class of people with precarious employment, sometimes known as a “precariat”, had emerged from the most recent period of globalisation.

“Unlike the proletariat – the industrial working class on which social democracy was built – the precariat is defined by partial involvement in labour combined with extensive ‘work-for-labour’, that is, a growing array of unremunerated activities, often internships of various sorts, that are required to get access to remunerated jobs.”

Mr Higgins said the extension of the “precariat” had been accelerated by the recent financial crisis.

He also maintained that the shift towards precarious employment did not just affect those in low-skilled jobs. He argued that recent analysis of the education sector showed that a considerable volume of teaching and research work was carried out by “temporary lecturers”, “adjunct lecturers”, and so-called “teaching assistants”, who had no job security and must repeatedly resume their exhausting hunt for the next short-term contract.

‘Defining challenge’

Mr Higgins said that “responding to the needs, the fears and the aspirations of those citizens among us who do not enjoy security of employment is a defining challenge for our times”.

“It is a task not just for those who claim to represent the most vulnerable in society, but for all democrats, for trade unionists in all sectors, for workers’ representatives on permanent contracts, and for tenured staff in our universities.”

“Were no genuine alternative to be articulated and translated into a plurality of policy options, populist politicians and heinous religious preachers alike will find it easy to exploit the fears and insecurities of precarious workers. This issue lies at the heart of the crisis which confronts European democracy.”

Mr Higgins said we cannot afford to let social cohesion unravel under the combined effects of the commodification of labour and the depoliticisation of economic policy.

“Distinguishing between populist manipulation of the masses and genuine empowerment of the citizenry through the democratic appropriation of debates on economic issues, it is important to affirm forcefully that no single economic paradigm can ever be adequate to address the complexity of our world’s varying contexts and contingencies.

“Decisions in the economic and financial fields should always remain amenable to political debate; they should not be abandoned to the automaticity of rigid fiscal rules, even less so as economists disagree over the theoretical soundness of such rules.

“We need to foster widespread economic literacy, supported by a pluralist scholarship and accountable policy options in a deliberative democracy.”

Mr Higgins said he was calling for an examination of the assumptions associated with a brand of economics that recast the market as a general principle for regulating the economy, treating labour, land and money as if they were pure commodities.

“The recent economic crisis has shown, on the contrary, that markets do require an institutional framework within which transactions between economic agents can be conducted under the auspices of a third party that guarantees their fairness over the long-term of human existence.

“Without such overarching regulatory authority, contractual relationships would run the risk of reverting to arbitrary logics and the expression of the will of the strongest.”

‘The interview that saved John Connell life’

The listener credits Ryan Tubridy’s 2FM’s interview with preventing his suicide


Ryan Tubridy received an email from a listener who said his show had prevented him from taking his own life

A listener to Ryan Tubridy’s 2FM radio show has credited the broadcaster’s interview with John Connell about depression with saving his life.

Tubridy interviewed the author on Tuesday morning about his battles with depression as a young man.

The listener today emailed the show to thank Tubridy for the interview which prevented him from taking his own life as he had intended that morning.

Tubridy read out the email on air.

It said, “The other morning I packed myself into my car and to the whole world it would have seemed like I was heading out to work, although on this occasion my pockets were loaded iwth painkillers and antidepressants.

“You see, on this occasion I was on a mission of self-destruction borne out of the pain of living and yet quite by chance the radio was tuned to Tubridy and on comes John Connell, on a radio station renowned for pop music and, dare I say it, nonsense at times, but that interview saved my life.”

The listener went on to reveal that he had been a victim of abuse at the age of nine, which led to more issues later in life.

“As a young boy of nine I suffered abuse, something I hide from the world, something I couldn’t face, something that gave me so much guilt, something that changed my world forever,” he said.

“Later in life my guilt manifested itself in addiction – alcoholism and compulsive gambling.  Addiction always needs that pat on the back to say, ‘Well done son, you’re great’ but always that deep, dark self-loathing.

“Nine years ago I entered a treatment centre for the gambling and alcohol addictions and one day at a time I’m still clean and sober but that’s only half the battle.

“That dreadful black dog creeps and crawls its way into my world.  The blackness it brings is so horrendous, a scratch you can’t itch, a pain invisible to all but me, a living hell.  The desire to self-destruct far outweighs the need to keep going.”

The man described himself as “fifty-something year old” who sometimes “feels like that nine year old boy, afraid and alone at sea, running as fast as he can and not moving an inch”.

However, he said he gained some insight from the interview with John Connell.

“And yet the other morning I got hope, hope to face that fear, to realise that help is out there just like the help I got to face addiction,” he said.

“I just need to find the courage to ask for it, to not hide behind a smile, the one that blocks out people, the ones that truly care.”

He said he had attempted suicide by various means four times in the past four years but “something has always saved me”.

He said, “Today I’m looking at the world with just a tad of hope.”

He said he was going re-engage with a counselllor and added, “As John said, there is a future.  The most dangerous place I can go to is into my own head alone.

“I need to use the services available and count the blessings I have and in no uncertain terms ask the good Lord to help me.”

Tubridy responded to the email by simply saying, ‘Well I don’t need to say anything about that”.

Anyone affected by depression or issues in this article can contact the Samaritans for free in the Republic of Ireland on 116 123 or Northern Ireland on 08457 90 90

Coffee may protect against Multiple Sclerosis?


Case-control studies suggest coffee may protect against the risk of MS.

Filling up on coffee may protect against development of multiple sclerosis, according to findings from two cohort studies.

In both studies, patients with the highest levels of coffee consumption had significantly lower risks of developing MS over various time periods, Ellen Mowry, MD, of Johns Hopkins, and colleagues reported in an early-release abstract from this year’s American Academy of Neurology meeting.

The authors suspect that the caffeine in coffee is responsible for the relationship.

“Caffeine could be an attractive compound given its apparent benefit in protecting against Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases,” Mowry said in an email to MedPage Today. “The exact mechanism by which it does so in those diseases is unclear, and if caffeine is confirmed to be protective in MS, it may still be acting via a different mechanism.”

Although the balance of evidence linking coffee and Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s falls on the side of benefit, the literature on coffee and MS is far less clear.

“The literature is a bit limited with respect to coffee and MS risk,” Mowry said. “One study showed no apparent association between the two, although notably that study had fewer patients than ours.”

She noted that her study was limited because it “asked patients about prior coffee intake after the diagnosis of MS was made, such that it is possible that ‘recall bias’ played a role. For example, perhaps patients with MS subconsciously underestimated their previous coffee intake more than people without MS.”

She and colleagues conducted two population-based, case-control studies. One was a Swedish study that included 1,629 MS cases and 2,087 controls. The other was a Kaiser Permanente Northern California study of 584 cases and 581 controls.

In the Swedish cohort, they found that drinking coffee was associated with a reduced odds of developing MS compared with drinking no coffee at all.

The reduction in risk was greatest for those who drank the most coffee. Those who reported having at least six cups a day or more had a 33% reduction in risk of developing MS compared with not drinking any coffee (OR 0.67, 95% CI 0.47 to 0.95).

The researchers also found that those who had high coffee consumption for either 5 or 10 years before the index year had a lower likelihood of developing MS:

•           5 years: OR 0.70, 95% CI 0.50-0.99

•           10 years: OR 0.72, 95% CI 0.48-1.06

Similar results were seen in the northern California study. People who drank at least four cups of coffee per day prior to the index year also had a 33% reduction in risk of MS compared with those who drank no coffee, they found (OR 0.67, 95% CI 0.47-0.95).

A possible explanation for the association is that the caffeine in the coffee has neuroprotective properties and may suppress the production of proinflammatory cytokines, the researchers said.

Although the relationship requires further study, Mowry said coffee and caffeine should also be studied for potential effects relapses and long-term disability in MS.

A white-tailed eagle found dead in Lisnaskea


The Irish Wildlife Trust has revealed that a white-tailed eagle has been found dead. The discovery was made in Lisnaskea, Co Fermanagh.

A spokesperson for the trust said: “We are sorry to bring you the terrible news that another white-tailed eagle has been found dead. The male white-tailed eagle, Ingar, was almost four years old and had spent most of the last year on Upper & Lower Lough Erne.

“It had been hoped that he was going to set up a territory on the lake and take a mate but sadly this is not to be.

“With a long life span and small reproductive output, every eagle is important in the reintroduction scheme and every loss a heavy, heavy blow.

“People on this island, north and south, need to unite to stamp out the persecution of all our wildlife, especially birds of prey.”

Bumblebees form false memories as us humans,

Scientists now say


The early bumblebee (Bombus pratorum), is one of the smaller bumblebees.

When recalling memories, some individuals can remember items incorrectly. Tiny, buzzing little insects known as bumblebees can be unreliable witnesses too, according to a new study published in the journal Current Biology – the first to explore false memories in any non-human animals.

“We discovered that the memory traces for two stimuli can merge, such that features acquired in distinct bouts of training are combined in the animal’s mind. As a result, stimuli that have actually never been viewed before, but are a combination of the features presented in training, are chosen during memory recall,” said Dr Lars Chittka of Queen Mary University of London, who is a co-author on the study.

Dr Chittka and his colleague, Dr Kathryn Hunt, trained bumblebees to expect a reward when visiting a solid yellow artificial flower followed by one with black-and-white rings or vice versa.

During subsequent tests, bumblebees were given a choice between three types of flowers. Two were the yellow and the black-and-white types they’d seen before. The third type of flower had yellow-and-white rings, representing a mixed-up version of the other two. Minutes after the training, they showed a clear preference for the flower that most recently rewarded them. Their short-term memory for the flowers was good.

One or three days later, however, something very different happened when the bumblebees’ memory was put to the test.

At first, the bumblebees showed the same preference displayed in the earlier tests, but as the day wore on, they appeared to grow confused.

Half of the time, they began selecting the flower with yellow rings, even though they’d never actually seen that one in training before.

“The insects’ observed merging of long-term memories is similar to the memory conjunction errors humans sometimes make,” the scientists said.

“We don’t think those false memories in either bumblebees or humans are simply bugs in the system, but rather are side effects of an adaptive memory system that is working rather well.”

Dr Chittka added: “there is no question that the ability to extract patterns and commonalities between different events in our environment is adaptive.”

“Indeed, the ability to memorize the overarching principles of a number of different events might help us respond in new situations. But these abilities might come at the expense of remembering every detail correctly.”

In bumblebees, with their limited brain capacity, the pressure to economize by storing overarching features of a class of objects rather than each individual object might be even more intense.

“We are fascinated to learn how lifetime experiences accumulate and are integrated in making day-to-day foraging decisions,” Dr Chittka said.

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Monday 23rd February 2015

Where Irish Government ministers are going to drown the shamrock on St Patrick’s Day


The full list has just been confirmed.

The Government has confirmed where ministers are going for trade & tourism trips this St Patrick’s Day.

The Taoiseach Enda Kenny will be making his traditional trip to the States including a visit to the White House where he will meet President Barack Obama.

Tánaiste Joan Burton will be on US duty this year – with her tour taking in Boston, Pittsburgh and Philadelpia.

Also heading to North America are Foreign Affairs Minister Charlie Flanagan (Canada & New York), and ministers of state Paul Kehoe (Houston, Savannah), Jimmy Deenihan(Chicago & Milwaukee), Michael Ring (Phoenix, LA) and Paudie Coffey (St Louis, Indianapolis).

Only Michael Noonan, the Finance Minister, is staying in Ireland to mind the shop along with the Attorney General Máire Whelan.

Health Minister Leo Varadkar is heading to Mexico.

Speaking today, Foreign Affairs Minister Charlie Flanagan insisted that the tips abroad represent “very, very good value”.

“Last year for example, as an immediate consequence of our ministerial visits €5 million was gained at a cost of €300,000 for the entire event.”This year, each department pays for its own ministerial engagement. I am quite satisfied that this is money really, really well spent.

“Every minister and minister of state will report directly back to the Taoiseach on the number of meetings, type of meetings, who they met and follow-up engagements. No other country has an opportunity like St Patrick’s Day.”

Elsewhere – Alex White and junior minister Tom Hayes will be racking up the most air miles, with trips to New Zealand and Australia respectively.

On the European front – jobs minister Richard Bruton is heading to Paris, arts minister Heather Humphreys goes to London, and agriculture/defence minister Simon Coveney is Italy-bound.

Junior minister Ged Nash will be off to Sweden. His colleagues in the minister of state ranks,Joe McHugh, Simon Harris, Dara Murphy, Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, Kevin Humphreys, Ann Phelan and Damien English will  also be heading on relatively short-haul trips.

Elsewhere, junior health minister Kathleen Lynch will be off to Russia, minister of stateSean Sherlock will go to Ethiopia, Children’s Minister James Reilly will go to India, Environment Minister Alan Kelly to China, Education Minister Jan O’Sullivan to Brazil, and Brendan Howlin to South Korea and Japan.

Full details were disclosed at a press event at the headquarters of ding*, an international mobile phone top-up service, in Dublin this afternoon.

60% of Irish people still think the economy is in bad shape,

Eurobarometer survey finds

The survey also found that 53% of Irish people say they have a ‘positive’ image of the EU


60% of the Irish public think that the economy is still in bad shape.

That is according to a Eurobarometer survey carried out in November last year, which shows that women and the working class are much more likely to say the economy is heading in the wrong direction. Men and the upper class are more likely to say it is improving.

Professor Richard Sinnott helped to carry out the study. He says that despite almost two-thirds of the public saying the economy is yet to recover – with 20% saying it is in a ‘very bad’ state – that is much improved on the depths of the crisis.

The study also found that 53% of Irish people say they have a ‘positive’ image of the EU – the highest percentage since 2009, and an increase of 12 points since spring 2014.

16% of respondents said they had a negative view of the EU, with 29% have a neutral image.

However the study also found that 61% of Irish people say they have difficulty in paying their bills from ‘time to time’ or ‘most of the time’ – well above the EU average of 37%.

The survey did pick up some optimism about the future state of the economy. 51% said Ireland is going in the right direction – up almost 10% on the previous year, and the highest number of people making that statement since the Celtic Tiger days back in March of 2006.

33% of hotels in Ireland will not make a profit this year 2015, says IHF


Strong growth to €6.45bn masks regional differences, says Irish Hotels Federation

IHF president Stephen McNally and chief executive Tim Fenn: occupancy rates in Dublin rose by 3% in 2014 but hoteliers in other areas said they had not done so well.

Hotels and guesthouses generated €6.45 billion in 2014 and are expecting a third consecutive year of strong growth – but the positive figures mask huge regional differences.

One third of hoteliers will not make a profit in 2015, according to members of the Irish Hotels Federation, who claim overhanging debt, commercial rates and lack of incentives to entice tourists beyond traditional “hotspots” are still threatening profitability.

Speaking at the opening of their annual conference at the Slieve Russell Hotel in Ballyconnell, Co Cavan, a number of hoteliers said they had deals with suppliers and staff to cut costs following the economic collapse in 2008.

While occupancy rates in Dublin rose by 3% in 2014, and are set to grow by at least that much again this year, hoteliers in other areas said they had not done so well and were now facing calls for “pay back” from staff and suppliers.

But while occupancy rates in Dublin are in the order of 73%, occupancy rates in the northwest have remained static at just 54%.

A number of speakers at the conference said the recovery was fragile and the reduced 9% VAT rate continued to be vital to the industry.

Hotels Federation chief executive Tim Fenn said regional tourism required greater Government support as the slower pace of recovery in some areas is a “major challenge for many hotels and guesthouses”.

He said hoteliers continue to face a significant skills shortage in the sector, with 83% of those surveyed by the federation citing difficulties hiring trained workers to fill craft and entry-level positions.

The cost of doing business in Ireland was also identified by the survey as a major challenge, with hoteliers citing excessive local authority rates as the single most pressing issue stifling cost competitiveness within the sector.

But the survey, which was carried out earlier this month, found federation members were more optimistic about 2015 – as long as the economic recovery continues. Barring economic mishaps, some seven out of every 10 hotels said they plan to take on additional staff over the next 12 months.

Federation president Stephen McNally told delegates: “We’re seeing an upturn across most rural areas – which is very welcome. There is a long road ahead, however, particularly for regions such as the northwest, east and midlands, where occupancy levels continue to lag at only 54%, compared to a national average of 64%.”

Addressing the debt issue, Mr McNally said it remained “a serious challenge. This is weighing heavily on many hotels with some 34% saying they remain concerned about the viability of their business – notwithstanding the upturn in Irish tourism.”

In relation to the outlook for the coming year, compared to 2014, some 73% of respondents said they were seeing an increase in business from the island of Ireland in the first couple of months of 2015.

This contrasts with 20% who are experiencing static business levels and 7% who are seeing a decrease in business from the domestic market.

Some 55% of those who took the survey said they expected an increase in bednights from Britain, while 26% reported an increase in bookings from Germany and just 18% reporting an increase in bookings from France, so far this year.

In their own words: The delegates speak up

Colin Neville, managing director, Riverside Park Hotel, Enniscorthy, Co Wexford

Colin Neville discounted prices hugely in 2008 as the recession hit, but quickly realised it was the wrong way to go. The theory that more guests would lead to more business in the bar and restaurant – which worked for a number of hoteliers – did not work out for the Riverside. “People were eating pizza in their rooms and not patronising the bar. In six months we would have had to close down.”

Neville did a deal with his staff which saw the wage bill drop by 10%. It was, he says, vital to the business surviving. “I am only starting to plan repaying the staff some of the help they gave me, and I am at a significant disadvantage to surrounding venues.”

Philip Gavin, group managing director, Talbot Hotels

Talbot Hotels has operations in Wexford, Carlow, Waterford and Cork. Philip Gavin says the group rode out the recession by doing deals with suppliers and discounting on rates in a bid to get people in.

Rates dropped as low as €99 per person sharing for three nights and three dinners – an offer he says was put in place across all the hotels and which will be in effect until the end of this month.

His hotels in Wexford and Carlow are seeing growth in volume of 2.5 to 3% –but not in rates per room, he says.

Elaina Fitzgerald-Kane, general manager , Woodlands House Hotel, Adare, Co Limerick

Elaina Fitzgerald-Kane is convinced the recovery in the hotel industry is a two-speed thing. Dublin, she says, is a destination in itself, but Limerick is “just another small city” for tour operators. This year the hotel rate in January was the same as in January 2014, but occupancy was up “marginally”.

“We are not seeing what Dublin saw,” she says, but adds that being 10 minutes outside Limerick is a help.

In relation to visitors from North America, she regrets there is not a more focused marketing drive to point out the recent exchange rate benefits to US travellers.

Patrick Curran, managing director, Knightsbrook Hotel, Trim, Co Meath

Knightsbrook Hotel is operating with the blessing of the National Asset Management Agency. It is owned by the Cusack family who operate four hotels between Trim and Navan. While there is obviously overhanging debt, “the hotel is a very profitable business”, says Curran.

The business model of the four-star hotel was strictly weddings, conferences and golf, but in recent years they “say no to no one”.

Concerts are now a big part of the business, with Daniel O’Donnell, Christy Moore, and old-time dancing all featuring at the weekend.

Doctor under ‘considerable pressure’ prior to clipping patient’s Fallopian tubes,


A consultant Gynaecologist told a medical fitness to practice hearing that despite clipping a patient’s Fallopian tubes, this was not a sterilisation operation because “infection had blocked these tubes before I got to them.”

Dr Declan Egan told a Medical Council Fitness to Practise hearing that medical cutbacks meant that he was under considerable pressure on the day he operated patient Lorna McKeogh (36), clipping both of her fallopian tubes though he only had consent to clip one.

The consultant gynecologist, who recently retired from his practise at UHG and runs a private Galway Fertility Unit at Rahoon in the city, said day beds in the Hospital had been cut from ten to just four and this had a knock on effect on waiting lists.

He believed the consent form “covered” him to clip both tubes and claimed he carried out the procedure on patient Lorna McKeogh (36) in her “best interests”, in a bid to improve her chances of getting pregnant through IVF.

Finding a problem with both Fallopian tubes rather than just one as suspected, had left him with “a dilemma”, he told a Medical Council Fitness to Practise hearing today.

He believed she would not be able to get pregnant other than through IVF and explained that clipping the tubes improved her chances of becoming pregnant in this way.

He claimed that he believed a line in the consent form covered him to carry out an additional procedure if something else was found necessary.

Dr Egan is before the fitness to practise committee of the council, where he faces an allegation that he performed a clipping of both left and right hydrosalpinges (fluid-filled fallopian tubes) “in circumstances where this was not consistent with the consent form dated June 2nd, 2010”.

Arising from this, he is accused of failing to meet the standards of competence that could reasonably be expected of a consultant obstetrician/gynaecologist.

Ms McKeogh was 32 when she was referred by her GP for gynaecological treatment after suffering a number of miscarriages. She was first seen by a doctor, Dr Eithne Lowe at the Bon Secours hospital in Galway but it was unable to carry out a tubal ligation because of its Catholic ethos, the inquiry was told.

Ms McKeogh was referred to Dr Egan in UHG, who performed the bilateral tubal ligation under total anaesthetic.

Doctors had suspected hydrosalpinx or water filled sacs on the right hand Fallopian tube.

However Dr Egan told a Medical Council Fitness to Practise hearing today that when he examined the patient during surgery found hydrosalpinx also on the left hand side and so had taken the decision to clip both..

After the surgery, Dr Egan said he had told Mrs McKeogh that he had informed her what had happened in a four bedded gynaecology ward, with only a curtain screening them so it was not a setting for a detailed consultation.

Mrs McKeogh has told the hearing that she was upset by this conversation.

“I was the messenger and the message was not good,” he agreed today.

However he told the hearing that he had just come from another patient and had delivered her baby that had died at 33 weeks, so: “I might be been not as focused on her problem as I would otherwise have been.”

And Dr Egan said he would have assumed that the patients’ own doctor, Dr Lowe would have covered all the scenarios in clipping Fallopian tubes because “women will intuitively think hanging onto the tubes is the best answer” when in fact it is not, in the case of IVF, he claimed.

He told his counsel, Eileen Barrington SC that Ms McKeogh and her husband had both continued to smoke around 15-20 cigarettes a day, saying this was a very significant feature in her case as smoking caused miscarriage by damaging the DNA in sperm, can bring on the menopause up to four years early.

He also claimed there was “a lot of smoking and a lot of drinking” on both sides.

Coupled with Mr McKeogh’s low sperm count, Dr Egan said: “That combination screams IVF to me,” he said.

Dr Egan acknowledged his note of the operation was “rather rushed” but said this was due to pressure he was under on the day, with seven c-sections on the list. He was unable to consult with colleagues during the operation as none nearby had reproductive experience. He would have found it “odd” to consult with Mr McKeogh, who was in legal terms a third party.

He said consent forms for tubal ligation in Galway Hospital used to provide for the husband’s signature but this practise ceased in 2009.

When it was put to him that Ms McKeogh suffered distress when she received invitations to attend  IVF meetings at Dr Egan’s private clinic,  Dr Egan said was due to the “efficiency”of secretaries in noticing that she hadn’t attended an initial meeting on IVF.

Meanwhile Dr Egan claimed most of the stress Ms MsKeogh said she experienced over the IVF process arose from the fact she had “turned her back” on the local clinic to undertake treatment “miles away” in Dublin.

Questioned by the panel from the medical council, Dr Egan explained that he had clipped the tubes because “free oxygen radicals” within infected fluid can damage sperm and eggs and prevent a pregnancy.

He said his clinic had the best IVF success rate in the country and deals with approximately 1,000 patients a year, with around 350 in his public practise, from which he retired last month, and 670 between three consultants at the private clinic.

He said that in “99% of cases” tubal disease is bilateral, or on both side.

He also said the reason IVF was invented is because tubal surgery “isn’t that great.”

Dr Egan said his decision to clip both tubes had been “well thought out” to give her both options of subsequent tubal surgery as well as IVF but said “I think she was deeply upset by this and for that I am truly sorry.”

The case is due to resume at the end of March.

Curious pre-teenagers have greater brain connectivity in decision-making regions


Researchers have found that the brains of curious preteens show greater connectivity between regions associated with decision making and “state of the body” compared to their less daring peers.

The study is scheduled to be presented at the upcoming American Academy of Neurology annual meeting in April.

Adolescence is often associated with a period of seeking new experiences and exploratory behavior, but little research has explored the source of this increase in behavior. Previous studies have linked willingness to explore to the rostrolateral prefrontal cortex area of the brain that is responsible for high-level decision making.

After completing a reward-based task, researchers from the University of California San Francisco split a group of 62 girls aged 11 through 13 into two groups, explorers and non-explorers, and performed MRI scans. Those in the explorer group had a stronger connection between the rostrolateral prefrontal cortex and posterior insula and putamen regions compared to non-explorers. The posterior insula and putamen seemed to influence the rostrolateral prefrontal cortex.

The research may eventually help identify teens at risk of engaging in risky or unsafe behaviors.

Curious Pre-teenagers Have Greater Brain Connectivity in Decision-Making Regions

At the forthcoming American Academy of Neurology’s 67th Annual Meeting in Washington, DC, in April, researchers from the University of California-San Francisco will present results from a study that suggests different brain processes are at work in preteens who are open to experimenting and exploring new things, compared with their more reticent peers.

Study author Dr. Andrew Kayser, who is a member of the American Academy of Neurology, says that “the beginning of adolescence is associated with seeking new experiences and increasing exploratory behaviors,” but that little research has been conducted to measure that increase, or examine what processes are involved in this experience-seeking behavior.

“Studies with adults have begun to look at individual differences in willingness to seek new experiences,” says Kayser, “and some studies have tied willingness to explore with an area of the brain called the rostrolateral prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for higher level decision making.”

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Wednesday 14th January 2015

102 Coalition TDs have just one year to save their jobs


The Tanaiste and Labour party leader Joan Burton

Labour could come back with just five ‘guaranteed’ safe seats, the Tánaiste Joan Burton and three of her fellow senior Labour ministers look set to lose their seats at the next election, as the party is guaranteed to win just five seats.

A detailed analysis of newly redrawn Dáil constituencies based on Labour’s current poll rating of just 6pc, shows that just five TDs appear safe to return in the next Dáil. In 2011 the party won 37 seats and now holds 34.

Worse still for the party, just one Cabinet minister – Brendan Howlin – looks set to return to the next Dáil. Both Ms Burton and her deputy leader, Alan Kelly, are vulnerable to losing their seats.

The other TDs who appear safe are Brendan Ryan (Dublin North); Emmet Stagg (Kildare North); Willie Penrose (Longford Westmeath) and party chairman Jack Wall or his son Mark, who could run in his place in Kildare South.

Mr Howlin has successfully been returned to the Dáil in Wexford in every election since 1987. Despite his tough role as Public Expenditure Minister, he looks assured of keeping his seat.

Senior Labour Party figures have conceded that with the party’s slump in support, combined with a reduction in Dáil seats from 166 to 158, a large number of their TDs stand “little or no chance” of retaining their seats.

“If an election was called tomorrow, the five named are the only ones who look safe to return, and largely that is because all of them have strong personal votes in their areas. When the tide is out it is out,” said one senior figure.

In Ms Burton’s case, she shares the highly-competitive Dublin West constituency with Health Minister Leo Varadkar, which means that the two political heavyweights are locked in a “do-or-die” battle for the last seat.

“Joan is likely to be very squeezed, given the rise of the left across Dublin since 2011. But it is definitely a race between herself and Leo for the last seat,” said one party figure.

Ms Burton topped the poll in Dublin West at the last election, being the first person elected to the Dáil nationally. However, she previously lost her seat in 1997.

Mr Kelly, while coming from a Labour stronghold in Portroe in the constituency of Tipperary North, is now also vulnerable. It is not certain he will retain his seat.

Education Minister Jan O’Sullivan is seen as having very little chance of keeping her seat, despite her promotion to the senior Cabinet last summer. Communications Minister Alex White could also lose out as the Dublin South constituency has been reduced from a five-seater to a three-seater. There has been some speculation that he might move to the new five-seat Dublin South-West constituency, as it is expected that Pat Rabbitte will not run again.

The party looks set to be all but wiped out in Munster, which would see several junior ministers and other leading party figures lose out.

Junior ministers including Kathleen Lynch (Cork North Central), Seán Sherlock (Cork East), as well as Banking Inquiry chairman Ciarán Lynch look set to miss out, as do Clare TD Michael McNamara and Cork South-West TD Michael McCarthy.

Other junior ministers Ann Phelan (Carlow Kilkenny), Ged Nash (Louth), Kevin Humphreys (Dublin Bay South) and Aodhán Ó Ríordáin (Dublin Bay North) appear unlikely to retain their seats at the party’s current poll ratings.

Former party leader and Tánaiste Éamon Gilmore is also looking doubtful to return in the Dún Laoghaire constituency.

Mr Gilmore will be hoping that Ceann Comhairle Seán Barrett does not decide to stand again, as his automatic election to the Dáil would turn an already tough four-seater into a near impossible three-seat race.

Mr Gilmore has maintained a deliberate silence since stepping down as leader last May, but is said to be “fully concentrating” on his constituency and ensuring he at least has a chance of holding his seat.

Irish Government brings employment target forward to 2018


Government reduces timeline for restoring jobs lost during the recession by two years

Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Tánaiste Joan Burton at a press conference after Cabinet meeting on jobs.

The Government’s target for achieving full employment has been brought forward by two years from 2020 to 2018, Taoiseach Enda Kenny confirmed after today’s Cabinet meeting.

Having 2.1 million people at work was an “ambitious and realistic goal”, Mr Kenny said.

“Our goal is that all of the 250,000 jobs that were lost during the recession will be able to be restored and that’s why, at the suggestion of both myself and the Tánaiste, Cabinet agreed to bring forward plans from 2020 to be implemented by 2018 to achieve full employment.”

Mr Kenny said unemployment was still too high and was the main reason for unfairness and inequality in society.

The Taoiseach noted that the unemployment rate had dropped from 15 per cent to 10.6 per cent last December. He said that although that was a “substantial movement”, the unemployment rate was still too high and the Government wants to reduce the rate to below 10 per cent.

Mr Kenny confirmed the Low Pay Commission, under Minister of State for Business and Employment Ged Nash, would meet in the next few weeks.

Mr Kenny also said an “overall economic roadmap” would be published and debated as part of a forthcoming economic statement.

‘A year of opportunity’

Tánaiste Joan Burton said 2015 was a year of opportunity in terms of getting people back to work.

Ms Burton said that at the peak of the boom employment stood at 2.1 million but that figure fell at the height of the economic crisis to 1.8 million people.

“There is no sector of the Irish economy and there is no part of Ireland that should be left out of the move to get people back to work.”

Ms Burton said apprenticeships and traineeships for young people would be prioritised, saying they had been successful in countries like Germany and Austria.

Under the Back to Work Family Dividend, people could retain social welfare benefits of up to €30 per child a week.

Ms Burton said there would be increased funding for Jobs Plus, the scheme under which employers are paid by the Government to take on people who have been long-term unemployed. The scheme would also be extended to include young people.

Ms Burton also said many construction workers had been “sidelined” in the employment market but would be helped to upskill by the Government.

I want something ‘completely and utterly new’ for Irish politics says Sane Ross


Shane Ross has said that there is still a future for his alliance of independent TDs, despite Stephen Donnelly’s decision not to take part.

The Wicklow-based TD today said he would not be joining the alliance – but could yet join another group, if one emerges.

Deputy Ross has set up the group alongside fellow independent Michael Fitzmaurice.

He says he is disappointed that Stephen Donnelly will not be joining – but that he is happy with how big the alliance has become.

“I believe that the radical idea which we have is catching on, which is basically to have an alliance of TDs without taking a party whip,” he said.

“That’s something, I think, he doesn’t like, and he’s perfectly entitled to it.

“But I want to see something completely and utterly new, and a change in Irish politics.” He says but alas Stephen Donnelly has ruled himself out of the alliance of independent deputies being put together by Ross and Roscommon/South Leitrim’s Michael Fitzmaurice.

Mr Donnelly, a TD for Wicklow, had been linked with the grouping in the last week, after Ross and Fitzmaurice recently confirmed that they were teaming up.

“Recently, I have had conversations with TDs involved in the Independent Alliance to explore the possibilities for such a political movement,” Donnelly said in a statement.

“At this stage, I have concluded that it is not something I will be joining. I believe all challenge to the stale cartel that is Irish politics is welcome, and I wish those involved luck in their endeavours,” he added.

The development follows increasing speculation over who will and who won’t be joining the grouping.

Other Independent TDs, Michael Healy Rae, Maureen O’Sullivan and Catherine Murphy have poured cold water on the prospects of them joining the Ross Aliiance.

Tipperary North TD and former Fine Gael Minister Michael Lowry has ruled himself out of the group saying he has no plans to join.

Donegal TD Thomas Pringle said he expects to have conversations with Mr Ross and Mr Fitzmaurice this week now the Dail is back.

Previously, former Labour Minister Roisin Shortall had expressed an interest in joining an alliance but is known to be cool on the idea of linking up with members of the Reform Aliiance.

Most cancer deaths for all under 80’s could be ‘eliminated by 2050


Chemotherapy is administered to a cancer patient via intravenous drip at Duke Cancer Center in Durham, N.C., in September 2013.

“It is reasonable to expect that by 2050 nearly all cancer related deaths in children and adults aged up to (say) 80 years will have become preventable through life style changes and because of the availability of protective technologies and better pharmaceutical and other therapies.”

Scientists Dr. Jennifer Gill, Prof. Richard Sullivan and Prof. David Taylor released their report on Wednesday. Their work was funded by pharmacy chain Boots UK.

Age-standardized cancer deaths rates in Britain have fallen by more than 20 per cent since 1990, the researchers note. However, there are still 325,000 new cases diagnosed in the U.K. each year, and 150,000 deaths.

Just over half of deaths from cancer in Britain today are among people aged 75 and older, they say.

The researchers credit the decline in deaths to a number of factors, ranging from smoking cessation campaigns that have led to a drop in tobacco use and related cancers, effective early diagnostic strategies and more advanced surgical techniques and treatments.

They offer numerous recommendations for ensuring the downward trend continues, including:

  • continuing with widespread public health campaigns aimed at smoking cessation and weight loss.
  • enhancing access to screening and diagnostic services.
  • boosting vaccination rates for viruses linked to cancer, including HPV and hepatitis B.
  • increasing screening rates for early cancer indicators, such as bowel polyps.
  • improving awareness among patients with genetic risks for cancer and testing for the BRCA gene mutations that are linked to breast and ovarian cancers.

“In future decades combinations of innovative medicines coupled with enhanced radiological and surgical interventions will, provided research investment levels are maintained, mean that many more individuals with advanced cancers will be cured, or enabled to live with them in a fulfilling manner,” the researchers write.

The disease does pose numerous challenges, they warn. Cancers involve a wide variety of cell types and impact so many different organs in the body, and can be impacted by our genes in myriad ways.

“Such realities mean that there cannot ever be a single, low cost, ‘magic bullet’ technical solution to overcoming all the challenges that cancer presents,” they write.

Indeed, there remain some 14 million new cancer cases diagnosed around the world every year, and 8 million deaths. Some estimates suggest those figures could rise to 26 million new cases and 17 million deaths by 2030, the researchers write.

“Overcoming cancer in the 21st century will require a holistic and empathetic approach to understanding and meeting both individual and community needs,” they say.

Irish food and drink exports up 4% to €10.5 billion for 2014


Strongest performing sectors were dairy product and ingredients which topped €3bn

Irish food and drink exports rose by 4% to €10.5 billion last year – equating to a record €200 million per week.

Irish food and drink exports have grown by 45% or €3.2 billion since 2009, out-performing all other sectors of the economy.

To put this in context, Irish merchandise exports as a whole grew by just 5% during the period.

The strong performance, detailed in Bord Bia’s latest Export Performance and Prospects report, is all the more remarkable given it took place against a backdrop of global recession and several industry-wide food scandals, most notably the horse meat debacle of 2013.

The report, however, warned that 2015 will be a challenging year for the sector with the ending of milk quotas set to boost supply to a market already beset by falling prices and under pressure from weaker-than-expected global demand .

Bord Bia also noted that while a tightening of supply would stabilise beef prices, which fell sharply last year, consumer demand in the State’s main export markets remained weak.

However, it said the opening up of the US market to Irish beef imports, where prices are at an all-time high, provided an opportunity for Irish producers.

According to its report, food and drink exports rose by 4% to €10.5 billion last year, equating to a record €200 million per week.

The strongest performing division was dairy product and ingredients which rose 3% to exceed the €3 billion mark for the first time.

Prepared food exports increased by 8% to €1.8 billion and seafood exports also rose 8% to €540 million, despite the Russian ban on imports which displaced a significant portion of Irish exports.

Drinks exports also put in a positive performance, climbing 1% to €1.2 billion, driven in the main by strong whiskey sales which offset a fall-off in beer and cider sales.

Irish whiskey is now the fastest-growing spirit in the world with seven million nine-litre cases exported last year; this is projected to grow to 25 million by 2030.

Significantly, most of the growth in Irish food and drink exports occurred outside of Europe, including an almost 40 per cent increase in food exports to China which reached €520 million last year.

Bord Bia chief executive Aidan Cotter said there had been a “significant shift” in the destinations for Irish exports in 2014 with international markets showing renewed growth, reflected in a 15 per cent increase in international or non-EU trade, which stood at €3 billion last year, accounting for 29% of total food and drink exports.

Overall, the value of exports to Asia jumped 45 per cent to reach €850 million. There were also increases in exports to North America (€740 million, +18%), the Middle East (€330 million, +1%) and Africa (€610 million, +9%).

While it remains Ireland’s most significant export market, the share of exports destined for the UK eased slightly though the value showed little change at €4.2 billion, representing 40% of total food and drink exports.

Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Simon Coveney said over the past five years agri-food exports grew at a rate ten times that of normal merchandise exports, making it “the most important part of our economy.”

“Every parish in this country has a stake or a dividend in this growth,” he added.

The rise in sea levels is ‘faster than we had thought’


Melting ice is contributing to the rise in sea levels. 

Sea levels have been rising at almost double the estimate for the last two decades, scientists find

Sea levels have risen significantly faster in the last two decades than has been thought, according to new research.

Previous estimates had indicated that sea levels rose between 1.5 and 1.8 millimetres per year throughout the 20th century.

However, since 1990 sea levels had risen by about three millimetres annually.

US researcher Eric Morrow, from the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences (EPS) at Harvard University, said: ”What this paper shows is that sea-level acceleration over the past century has been greater than had been estimated by others.

”It’s a larger problem than we initially thought.”

Co-author Dr Carling Hay, also from Harvard University, said: ”Scientists now believe that most of the world’s ice sheets and mountain glaciers are melting in response to rising temperatures. Melting ice sheets cause global mean sea level to rise. Understanding this contribution is critical in a warming world.”

Scientists conceded that the increase in global sea level from 1900 to 1990 had been over-estimated by as much as 30%.

The new study, published in the journal Nature, suggests that from 1901 until 1990 the figure was closer to 1.2 millimetres per year.

But they confirmed that current estimates of sea levels were accurate, suggesting a rapid increase in the speed at which levels are rising.

To obtain their improved estimate of 20th century sea levels, the researchers looked at the task in a new way.

Typically estimates of sea level rise are produced by dividing the world’s oceans into sub-regions and gathering records from tide gauges – yard sticks used to measure ocean tides.

Rates of sea level for each region are then averaged together to create a global estimate.

The new technique involved taking account of sea level ”fingerprints” – patterns of change produced by on-going effects such as ice age signals, the melting of land ice, ocean circulation changes, and the heating and expansion of the oceans due to global warming.

Dr Hay said: ”We are looking at all the available sea-level records and trying to say that Greenland has been melting at this rate, the Arctic at this rate, the Antarctic at this rate, etc.

”We then sum these contributions and add in the rate that the oceans are changing due to thermal expansion to estimate a rate of global mean sea-level change.”

To the scientists’ surprise, it quickly became clear that previous estimates of sea-level rise over most of the 20th century were too high.

”We expected that we would estimate the individual contributions, and that their sum would get us back to the 1.5 to 1.8 millimetres per year that other people had predicted,” said Dr Hay.

”But the math doesn’t work out that way. Unfortunately, our new lower rate of sea-level rise prior to 1990 means that the sea-level acceleration that resulted in higher rates over the last 20 years is really much larger than anyone thought.”

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Monday 12th January 2015

Dear Ministers, here is a couple of ways to make Irish health better


Health doesn’t have to be an unsolvable crisis. There are small changes that can make a big difference.

There’s a huge amount of services provided by our hospitals at massive cost that could be provided by GPs at a fraction of that. For example, there’s no reason why minor surgical procedures should not be provided by the local doctor

It’s hard not to feel sick at the thoughts of our health service. Since the new year began, we’ve heard nothing except there’s almost 600 sick people on trolleys in A&E waiting for admission and do bear in mind you no longer get admitted to an Irish hospital unless you are extremely unwell. The INMO have called for all elective procedures to be cancelled for the first half of January, to ease the pressure, and nurses are serving strike notices at Beaumont hospital. Health is a mess.

On the other hand, the country is doing well, we’re told. We’re going to grow at the fastest rate of any economy in Europe this year. Unemployment is down and we took €1.2bn more into the coffers than was expected. Now, I may just be a simple GP, but Ministers Noonan and Varadkar, may I make two humble suggestions to you?

Firstly – we’ve approximately 800 elderly patients in hospital, waiting on long-term beds in the community. They don’t need to be in hospital but they can’t go home. Long-term beds aren’t cheap. They cost an average of €1,000 per week. But the reason those patients are in hospital isn’t because there are no long-term beds – it’s because there’s no funding for those beds.

They aren’t moved out of those hospitals because HSE managers know that the minute they are, those acute hospital beds will be refilled immediately, by those poor souls on trolleys in A&E. And then the HSE will be paying for two beds where they are currently only paying for one. It’s called bed blocking – are you still with me?

So here’s a radical thought. Do just that. Fund those long-term beds. Those 800 people at €1,000 per week will cost us about €40m per year. Do that and free up 800 acute beds for the seriously ill. In effect, it’s the equivalent of providing and running – in bed terms – a whole new hospital at a minimal cost to the State.

Also, do bear in mind, that because these long-term beds will be provided in the private nursing home sector, which – unlike the HSE – will put on additional staff to cope with additional patients, there will be an increased tax take, which will go some way to offset that €40m.

Secondly, there’s a huge amount of services provided by our hospitals at massive cost that could be provided by GPs at a fraction of that cost. I’m thinking minor surgery, chronic disease management, or mental health services.

Transfer funding from secondary care to primary care and get these services provided faster, cheaper and nearer to patients. This is actually already a stealth policy of the HSE, but they are hoping to transfer these services without any funding – which means the already over-stretched GP service is unable to actually provide them. Pointless. Transfer with funding and new GPs practice nurses and physios etc. can be hired – and the patients benefit hugely.

This could actually be budget neutral as the funding to secondary care could be cut (by no longer hiring hugely expensive agency staff) by the same amount as primary care is increased. To illustrate: if it costs €300 for a surgeon in St Vincent’s to remove your mole, your local GP could remove four people’s moles for that money – without waiting lists, and down the road from you. What a GP can’t do is remove them for free, Ministers. Incidentally, it also frees up the surgeon for proper surgery – we GPs can’t do everything.

So there’s a thought for the unsolvable problem that is health. For the princely sum of €40m (out of the €1.2bn perhaps?), free up 800 acute beds; put elderly patients back into their local communities where relatives can visit them more easily; and provide faster, cheaper, more efficient health services through primary care. Happy New Year, Ministers. You’re welcome.

95% compliance rate for Local Property Tax in 2014 says Revenue


The amount of money collected by Revenue last year was up in a number of categories, more than €450m was collected through the Local Property Tax last year, according to the Revenue Commissioners, with 95% of liable households paying the charge.

The LPT was introduced in the middle of 2013 and recorded a compliance rate of 91% during its first six months, with €242m raised during the period.

Revenue said the figures showed a “strong compliance culture among our customers”, adding that it had received €39m in payments for this year’s charge.

Revenue’s headline results for 2014 confirm the Exchequer’s receipt of almost €41.3bn over the course of the year.

There was a 4.5% increase in the number of PAYE employees during the year to 2.4m – though this includes people with multiple employments and those in receipt of occupational pensions.

Those registered for self-assessed tax returns was up 3.5% to 639,487, while the number of companies registered for corporation tax was 4.2% higher at 167,783.

The agency also collected €610.4m through audits and compliance checks, compared to €551.9m in 2013.

A further €222.7m was received through collections enforcement, up slightly on the previous year, while €88.5m was gained from settlements with tax defaulters.

There was a sharp rise in the value of seizures during 2014, which stood at €122.1m last year compared to €44.3m in 2013.

Seizures of cocaine and heroin accounted for the largest portion of this, representing €73.4m of the total amount, while cigarette and tobacco detections accounted for almost €30m.

Revenue said it received more than 2.2m calls to its telephone services during the year, with more than 660,000 relating to the Local Property Tax.

Customers made contact online more than 5.7m times, while 2.3m letters were received in the year.

In addition to a high compliance rate for the Local Property Tax, Revenue said compliance was also strong amongst most businesses.

In 2014, large companies with a tax liability above €500,000 had a compliance rate of 99%, while firms with a tax liability of €75,000 to €500,000 had a rate of 97%.

Other cases, which would include companies with smaller returns, had a lower rate of compliance, however, at 83%.

Enterprise Ireland creates record number of net jobs in 2014


Agency revealed its client companies recorded lowest level of job losses since 2000

Minister for Jobs Enterprise and Innovation Richard Bruton, and Enterprise Ireland chief executive Julie Sinnamon, pictured at the Enterprise Ireland end of year review.

Enterprise Ireland backed companies created almost 20,000 new jobs last year, resulting in the highest net jobs gain in the history of the state agency – a total of 8,476.

In its end of year statement, the agency said software and services sector accounted for the strongest net jobs growth, adding 2,092 jobs.

The agency said client companies last year recorded the lowest level of job losses since 2000, with more than 180,000 people (almost 10 per cent of the workforce) now employed in Enterprise Ireland supported companies.

Figures from the IDA Ireland, released last week, also revealed a record year for jobs growth in 2014, with multinationals creating 15,012 jobs and a net increase in employment of 7,131.

Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation Richard Bruton said the positive figures did not happen by accident, adding that they were the result of extra resources and trade missions.

“We have put in place a raft of measures to deliver on this, including doubling the number of trade missions, recruiting extra staff in overseas markets, and delivering new funding supports for Irish exporting companies,” he said.

Mr Bruton said the Government’s Action Plan for Jobs was creating a powerful engine of Irish enterprise, alongside the strong multinational sector, and that Ireland has the capacity to create full employment by the end of 2018.

Enterprise Ireland chief executive Julie Sinnamon said 69% of the net job gains were outside of Dublin, adding that the level of increased employment achieved is “remarkable”.

“We continue to relentlessly focus on ensuring the right supports are available for clients at every stage of growth.

“This focus — coupled with our priority to support entrepreneurship across the regions, and develop strong, export focussed, ambitious Irish companies that can win new business — will mean even more jobs for Ireland over the next 12 months”.

Primary School literacy and numeracy rise for first time since 1980


Despite progress no real reduction in gap between disadvantaged urban schools and others

A study on literacy and numeracy in primary schools has identified the first ’statistically significant’ rise in standards in over 30 years.

A study on literacy and numeracy in primary schools has identified the first “statistically significant” rise in standards in over 30 years.

The 2014 national assessments of English reading and mathematics showed a major improvement in students’ performance at second and sixth class, compared to the last study in 2009.

However the researchers found that despite an overall progress there has been “no real reduction in the gap” between pupils in disadvantaged urban schools and pupils in other school types.

The Educational Research Centre study cited particular concern over “the large proportion of very low achievers in reading” in the most disadvantaged schools, namely those falling into Deis (Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools) band 1.

The agency, which carries out the assessments for the Department of Education at five year intervals, said it was the first time since 1980 that increases in performance had been recorded.

While it cautioned against putting too much store in a single set of results, it pointed to the impact of improved teacher training and professional development, including the use of new methodology, as well as spending more time on literacy and numeracy in class.

Progress in vocabulary and comprehension was found to be well ahead of a target set in 2011 National Literacy and Numeracy Strategy. Progress in algebra and data analysis was also found to be ahead of target but to a lesser degree.

The study showed girls are still better readers than boys but the gap has narrowed since 2009, from 14 points to 7 points among second class pupils, on a 250-point baseline for the tests.

Reading skills among second class pupils in Deis band 1 schools rose by 14 points compared to 2009 but the improvement was greater (27 points) in Deis band 2 schools (these are schools deemed less disadvantaged than band 1). The latter also saw a significant increase in maths scores (up by 29 points) whereas there no significant change in band 1 schools.

The most disadvantaged schools also saw no significant increase in reading at sixth class whereas band 2 schools saw a 14 point increase in scores, deemed as “substantive important”.

In reading, the mean score for Deis band 1 sixth class pupils was 233. This compared to 246 for Deis band 2 schools and 263 for all schools. In maths, the mean score for Deis band 1 was 233 compared to 241 for Deis band 2 and 262 for all schools.

Minister for Education and Skills Jan O’Sullivan welcomed the upward trend overall, acknowledging the work of teachers, parents and students in improving standards.

Cautioning against complacency she said:“The results leave scope for improvements, especially in maths and in Deis schools”. She has asked for a review of the strategy to be brought forward to this year from 2016.

An additional €6 million had been provided for the implementation of the strategy in Budget 2015, bringing the annual budget to €13.8 million and further measures would be considered, she added.

One proposal mooted by her predecessor Ruairí Quinn was for Leaving Cert honours maths to be made a requirement for entry into teacher training. Asked whether or not she would support such a measure, Ms O’Sullivan said she was awaiting advice from the Teaching Council. “We can be generally fairly sure as of now that the qualifications of people going into teaching are very high,” she said.

The primary teachers’ union, the INTO, also welcomed the test results. General secretary Sheila Nunan said they were probably the result of several different factors including supports for disadvantaged schools, changes to teacher education, improvements in learning support allocations to schools and an increased focus on literacy and numeracy.

However she singled out the fact that only qualified teachers were now licensed to teach in primary schools. Research by the organisation a decade ago showed more than 1,400 primary classes were taught by people who had no teaching qualifications.

Easter Island demise revealed? New findings provide intriguing clues


What caused the demise of Easter Island’s population? Researchers may have solved the mystery behind what caused the extinction of the Rapa Nui people of Easter Island.

Recent findings suggest significant changes in land use and dynamics that occurred within the community before the European arrival may have been linked to the people’s demise, the University of Auckland reported.

“The results of our research were really quite surprising to me. Indeed, in the past, we’ve published articles about how there was little evidence for pre-European-contact societal collapse,” said study co-author Thegn Ladefoged of the School of Social Sciences in the Faculty of Arts.

To make their findings, the scientists looked at more than 400 obsidian artifacts from six sites around the island. Obsidian absorbs water after being exposed to air, allowing the team to measure the amount of water in the artifacts and determine how old they were.  These findings helped the researchers determine land use and population fluctuations based on the number of tools made during each time period.

Sites on the northwest coast of the island showed an increase in population that occurred between 1220 and 1650 followed by a significant decline. The second site on the northwest coast (which was wetter and less prone to drought but had low soil fertility) saw an increase in use from 1200 to 1480 that sustained itself before declining around 1705. The third site, which was both rainy and fertile, showed an increase in use starting at 1250 and remaining consistent until about 1850.

Europeans are believed to have arrived on the island around the year 1722, but these findings suggest the indigenous was already struggling before this occurred.

“It is clear that people were reacting to regional environmental variation on the island before they were devastated by the introduction of European diseases and other historic processes,” Professor Ladefoged concluded.

In the future the researchers plan to examine individual dwelling on the island in hopes of gaining further insight into the interaction between Easter Island’s aboriginal people and the natural environment.