Category Archives: Lifestyle

News Ireland daily BLOG as told by Donie

Monday 10th July 2017

Irish motorists fear they have been sold laundered fuel after the recent seizure in Wicklow

 Image result for Irish motorists may have been sold laundered fuel after recent seizure in Wicklow  Image result for Irish motorists may have been sold laundered fuel after recent seizure in Wicklow

15,000 litres of laundered fuel was seized in Wicklow earlier this year.

One in 12 Irish motorists suspect that they have been sold laundered fuel in the past, according to recent survey carried out by AA Ireland.

The AA Motor Insurance survey, which was carried out in April, also found that 55% of those who suspect that they were sold laundered fuel also believed that their car was damaged as a result.

3,000 motorists responded to the survey, which was carried out in the wake of the seizure of 15,000 litres of laundered fuel in Wicklow earlier this year.

Motorists in Ulster were found to be far more suspicious about the possibility of being sold laundered fuel (30.48% of motorists in Cavan and 28.57% of motorists in Monaghan believed they had been sold laundered fuel), while at the other end of the scale, there was barely any suspicion amongst motorists in Waterford (1.72%) and Mayo (2.78%) that they may have been affected.

Conor Faughnan, Director of Consumer Affairs at the AA said: “We have seen a number of reports recently of seizures of laundered fuel and while there have been significant improvements made in tackling this issue the problem hasn’t been wiped out as of yet.”

“While fuel prices have been dropping in the past months, average prices for petrol and diesel are still approximately 7c higher per litre than August 2016. As a result of the higher prices motorists are keen to save anywhere they can and because of this may be tempted by a dealer offering fuel at unrealistically low prices.

“While it is important to shop around when it comes to purchasing petrol or diesel to ensure you make savings where you can, it’s also important to use common sense when it comes to prices. If the deal seems too good to be true then it’s very likely that the fuel you’re purchasing is not up to scratch.”

Laundered fuel has the potential to cause serious damage to a vehicle’s engine and Conor Faughnan had the following advice for anyone who suspects that they may have been sold it.

“If you suspect that you may have been sold laundered fuel then you should report it to the service station”, Faughnan added.

“The AA offer Fuel Assist, which will have the fuel drained and refilled with regulated fuel, and the contaminated fuel is then recycled.”

TÁNAISTE FITGERALD WELCOMES THE NEW TRADE DEAL WITH JAPAN

Image result for TÁNAISTE FITZGERALD WELCOMES THE NEW TRADE DEAL WITH JAPAN  Image result for JAPANESE IRISH TRADE DEAL  Image result for Minister for Trade, Pat Breen today welcomed a new EU trade deal with Japan

The Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise and Innovation, Frances Fitzgerald along with Minister for Trade, Pat Breen today welcomed a new EU trade deal with Japan which they say will bring great benefits to Ireland. 

Japan is the third largest economy in the world and is Ireland’s biggest trade partner in Asia after China and the largest source of FDI into Ireland from Asia.

There are more than 50 Japanese companies with a presence in Ireland across a wide range of industrial sectors and it is estimated that Japanese companies employ close to 3,900 people in Ireland.

Furthermore, Japan is one of Ireland’s top 10 goods export markets. Ireland’s goods trade with Japan is now valued at over €4 bn a year, up from €2.2 billion in 2005. In 2016, the value of goods exports from Ireland to Japan was €2.9 bn and the value of goods imports was €1.2 bn.

Ireland’s principal goods exports were Medical & Pharmaceutical Products while principal imports were Road Vehicles and Industrial Machinery.

Speaking today, Minister Pat Breen said, “Japan is the third largest economy in the world and this important trade agreement will open up exciting opportunities for Irish exporters and companies across a wide range of sectors, helping them to tap into Japan’s large market. Agri-food, which is Ireland’s largest indigenous industry, will see particular benefits from the agreement, with new access for dairy products in particular beef and chedder cheese industries.”

Workers taxes to pay for Irish elderly care among the recommendations by Citizens’ Assembly

 Image result for Irish elderly care among recommendations by Citizens’ Assembly   Image result for Irish elderly care among recommendations by Citizens’ Assembly

The 70 members also called for a statutory footing on the care of older people accessing home care

A radical workers’ tax to pay for elderly care, the abolition of the mandatory retirement age, a minister for older people and full Government accountability, are just some of the recommendations the Citizens’ Assembly has voted for.

The 70 members also called for a statutory footing on the care of older people accessing home care and for a compulsory pension scheme to supplement the State pension.

The majority of the Assembly recommended a ‘compulsory social insurance payment or earmarked tax for all workers linked to ‘labour market participation’ – similar to PRSI, fund long-term/social care for older people,’

A total of 87% recommended that there should be an increase in public resources for the elderly and 99% called on the Government to “expedite the current commitment to place home care for older people on a statutory footing.” 87% recommended Government introduce a compulsory pension scheme to supplement the State pension.

On Sunday, Dr Micheal Collins, assistant professor of social policy at UCD, told the Assembly it was possible to introduce a Fair Deal type initiative top up pension scheme to “claw back” up to €200-a-week from elderly property owners with assets of around €200,000.

A further 86% voted against a mandatory retirement based on age – meaning an older person could work as long as possible and 87% recommended the Government backdate the Homemaker’s’ Scheme to 1973 – to allow those who’d spent years looking after children, the sick or disabled, in the home to claim a contributory pension.

The Assembly voted 100% that Government should “urgently prioritise and implement” existing policies and strategies on older people, including for example the National Positive Ageing Strategy published in 2013; the Carers’ Strategy, and the National Dementia Strategy.

Justin Moran, Head of Advocacy and Communications at Age Action, said: “When presented with the evidence and given the time to deliberate the citizens showed the overwhelming consensus for a fair State Pension system, the abolition of mandatory retirement and investment in homecare.

The votes came a day after members stated they were displeased the Government hadn’t implemented strategies and had instead left the issue with citizens to deal with. The recommendations, a combination of State and personal responsibility for the care, pensions, working life and retirement, of the elderly, will be brought to the Oireachtas for consideration.

The Assembly Chair Justice Mary Laffoy said: “I would hope that the Oireachtas pays close attention not just to the recommendations, but to the debate and the discussion that informed them. These deliberations were at times vigorous, at other times challenging but always interactive, inclusive and conducted in the spirit of collegiality.”

The Mandatory retirement age may be abolished? 

Image result for The Mandatory retirement age may be abolished?    Image result for The Mandatory retirement age may be abolished? 

The Citizens’ Assembly is to tell the Government to abolish mandatory retirement ages, eliminate the time gap between retirement and eligibility for the old age pension, and to link that pension to average earnings.

The recommendations follow a weekend of hearings at which the assembly discussed a wide range of issues to do with income, work, and pensions for older people.

Sixteen proposed recommendations were voted on and will form the basis for a detailed report to be sent to the Dáil and Seanad.

On the question of abolishing mandatory retirement ages, 86% of the assembly members present said this practice should be outlawed, while 96% said the anomaly whereby people who are forced to retire at 65 then cannot get the State pension until they are 66 or 67 should be removed.

A recommendation to seek the introduction of some form of mandatory pension scheme to supplement the state pension was backed by 87%, and 88% said the pension should be benchmarked to average earnings.

A large majority also voted to recommend the rationalisation of private pension schemes.

On general issues of care for older people, the majority voted to recommend the allocation of more resources, with the preference that funding be ringfenced and come from a compulsory social insurance payment.

They want that money spent primarily on improved home care services and supports, and want statutory regulation of the home care sector.

Assembly chairwoman Ms Justice Mary Laffoy said she aims to have the report written and ready for the Oireachtas by the end of September.

The recommendations were decided following presentations by experts in law, finance, social care, and human rights, but not all the ideas put forward made the final cut.

Earlier, the assembly heard from Micheal Collins, assistant professor of social policy at University College Dublin, who suggested a radical change in policy to end tax breaks for people who invest in private pensions.

He said State pensions were the most important source of income for retired people in Ireland, accounting for 53% of their income as compared to 32% from private and occupational pensions.

“The policy of supporting private pension provision through tax breaks is skewed towards those on higher incomes,” said Prof Collins.

“It is worth considering whether society should more efficiently use its resources to provide an improved basic living standard for all pensions, one well above the minimum income standard, and discontinue subsidising private pensions savings.”

Justin Moran of Age Action and Ita Mangan of Age and Opportunity argued strongly for the abolition of mandatory retirement ages, and UCD professor Liam Delaney warned that any move towards mandatory pension enrolment for workers should first examine the likely impact on wages, on administrative burdens for small businesses, and on other forms of financial provision that people made for their future such as investments. None of these impacts had “off-the-shelf answers”, he warned.

Gardaí in protective barrier around Sligo council staff carrying out works at car park

Gardaí with riot shields in Sligo stand-off at Travellers’ site

Image result for Gardaí in protective barrier around Sligo council staff carrying out works at car park   Image result for Gardaí in protective barrier around Sligo council staff carrying out works at car park

Gardaí armed with riot shields faced Travellers during a stand-off in a car park in Sligo town on Wednesday.

A number of young children chanted “we have rights” as up to 14 uniformed gardaí, some carrying riot shields, formed a protective barrier around Sligo county council staff who were carrying out works at the Connaughton road car park.

Throughout the operation, a Garda Armed Response Unit vehicle was parked outside the car park.

The car park was the scene of a confrontation two weeks ago when gardaí accompanied workers as they dismantled a fence and painted in parking spaces on behalf of the county council.

The car park has been home to the extended McGinley family for an estimated 30 years. Speculation is growing that the family will mount an “adverse possession” claim, also known as “squatters’ rights”, against the council over the property. The council says it has been working hard to find alternative accommodation for the family.

‘Heavy-handed’ claim

Sources close the McGinleys accused the council of being “heavy-handed” in its approach to the family in recent weeks, while the council has insisted the Garda presence was necessary to protect its staff. Council sources said it had always maintained this was a public car park and it had a duty to continue to ensure the public had access there.

In a statement, the council said Wednesday’s operation was to remove a tree which had been obstructing traffic signage and to restore a height control barrier which had been restored some time ago and typical of barriers at all public car parks.

The council said it was “maintaining contact with the McGinley family through their solicitor in relation to recent issues at the car park”.

Continuing to engage

A spokesman said the council was continuing to engage with the family with a view to finding a solution to their accommodation needs.

The family has turned down three sites suggested by the council, saying two of them had been rejected before as they were in commercial/industrial areas.

There were no arrests following the two-hour operation. A Garda spokesman said Gardaí were present “to prevent any breach of the peace”.

It is understood the family has sought the advice of senior counsel in relation to its claim for adverse possession. Sources pointed out the erection of the height control barrier means it will no longer be possible to move caravans in and out of the car park.

While the council said it was required to ensure protection for staff carrying out works on its behalf, sources close to the family have described the presence of members of the Garda Armed Response Unit and Gardaí in riot gear as “over the top”.

Sparkly Meteors and 7 more sky events you cannot miss in July

Image result for Sparkly Meteors and 7 more sky events you cannot miss in July  Image result for The Milky Way glows brightly as shooting stars streak across the sky during the peak of the 2016 Delta Aquarid meteor shower

Gas giants take center stage among the best sky shows this month.

The Milky Way glows brightly as shooting stars streak across the sky during the peak of the 2016 Delta Aquarid meteor shower.

The Southern Delta Aquarid meteor shower promises to add some glitter to the night sky in July, with as many as 25 meteors per hour during its peak.

The night skies will also showcase two of the largest planets in the solar system this month, while early mornings offers superb views of Earth’s neighboring planet, Venus, as it pairs up with the moon and a star that marks a cosmic bull’s eye.

Image result for JUPITER AND MOON — JULY 1  JUPITER AND MOON — JULY 1

Jupiter will form a trio with the moon and the star Spica on July 1.

Look for the waxing gibbous moon as it passes very close to the largest planet in the solar system, Jupiter, and the star Spica. The cosmic trio will form an eye-catching triangular formation, making for a dramatic display as they rise over the southeast horizon in the early evening.

VENUS PASSES PLEIADES — JULY 5

Early risers on July 5 can catch the “morning star” Venus passing near the star cluster Pleiades.

Very early morning, before any hint of daybreak, look for the bright “morning star” Venus in the east to guide you to the nearby Pleiades star cluster. The cosmic pair of planet and stars will be seven degrees apart—less than the width of your fist held at arm’s length. The 300 light-year distant stellar grouping is a staple of winter-evening stargazing, but now is an easy target for early risers with binoculars, thanks to Venus, the goddess of love, pointing the way.

Image result for SATURN AND MOON — JULY   SATURN AND MOON — JULY 

Saturn made it closest pass to Earth less than a month ago and is still near enough to appear large when viewed through a backyard telescope in July.

After darkness falls, look southeast for the waxing gibbous moon pairing up with the ringed world Saturn. To the naked eye the gas giant looks like a bright yellow-tinged star; however, through even the smallest of backyard telescopes, it shows off its famous rings easily.

Having just made its closest pass to Earth less than a month ago, Saturn will still appear impressively big and bright through the eyepiece. A telescope will also easily reveal the Cassini Division, a large 3,000-mile-wide dark gap in the rings, and a few of Saturn’s largest moons floating nearby.

Image result for VENUS AND ALDEBARAN — JULY 14  VENUS AND ALDEBARAN — JULY 14

Venus swings past the orange-colored star Aldebaran on July 14.

At dawn, the brightest celestial object visible rising in the east is the planet Venus. Commonly referred to as the “morning star,” the second planet from the sun is currently the brightest celestial object in the morning skies—other than the moon and sun.

Venus is even more eye-catching than usual this week as it makes a close swing past the orange-hued star Aldebaran. This giant star, which marks the eye of the mythical Taurus, the bull constellation, appears less than three degrees from Venus. This apparent proximity is only an optical illusion, however. While our sister planet is a mere 152 million kilometers (94.5 million miles) from Earth, Aldebaran is 65 light-years distant.

It’s interesting to note that the Pioneer 10 spacecraft, launched back in 1972, is currently 17.9 billion kilometers away and is making its way in the direction of Aldebaran. It should reach the star’s vicinity in about two million years.

Image result for VENUS AND MOON — JULY 20  VENUS AND MOON — JULY 20 

A crescent moon joins Venus and Aldebaran in the night sky on July 20.

The brilliant second planet from the sun, Venus, has the waning crescent moon as a companion in the dawn skies today. The cosmic duo should make for a stunning photo opportunity near the horizon.

Image result for VENUS AND CRAB NEBULA — JULY 26  VENUS AND CRAB NEBULA — JULY 26

On July 26, Venus will pass very close to the brightest supernova remnant in our skies, the Crab Nebula.

Venus passes just south of the brightest supernova remnant in our skies, the Crab Nebula (Messier 1) located 6,300 light-years away. The odd celestial pair will be separated by no more than one degree—equal to the width of two lunar disks side by side. You can spot this expanding cloud of debris left behind by an exploding star using binoculars under dark countryside skies—though it will be a challenge—or with a backyard telescope in suburban skies.

JUPITER AND MOON (ACT II) — JULY 28

For a second time this month, Earth’s moon glides by Jupiter in the evening sky. So if you missed it on July 1, this is your chance.

Image result for METEORS SPRINKLE — JULY 30 METEORS SPRINKLE — JULY 30

Keep an eye out for shooting stars from the Southern Delta Aquarid meteor shower peaking in the early hours before dawn. With its famed cousin, the Perseid meteor shower, potentially being washed out by the moon in mid-August, this shower may actually be a better bet for sky-watchers.

With the first quarter moon setting soon after local midnight, this sky show should peak in the early mornings under ideal dark skies. The first Aquarid meteors will actually begin flying as early as July 20 and will continue to ramp up in activity, reaching about 25 meteors per hour on July 30. Sporadic meteors from the Aquarid stream will continue until it trickles out in August by mid-month.

Individual meteors from this shower can be traced back to their radiant, which is their namesake constellation Aquarius, the water bearer, seen very low in the southern skies across mid-northern latitudes. The best views will be for meteor watchers located near the equator and in the Southern Hemisphere.

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News Ireland daily BLOG as told by Donie

Sunday 23rd April 2017.

Housing census figures in Ireland paints a bleak picture?

A bleak picture of homelessness, overcrowding and reliance on overpriced rentals

Image result for Housing census figures in Ireland paints a bleak picture?   Image result for Housing census figures in Ireland paints a bleak picture?

Even the Irish Government admits that its plans to increase the supply of new homes will fall woefully short of expanding demand. The State needs to build about 35,000 new homes every year to begin making a dent in the housing crisis,

The Minister for Housing Simon Coveney said last week. He admits that the current target is to build only some 25,000 new houses a year, a third less. It was a challenge, he confessed, that reflects a “fundamental structural problem in the housing sector”.

The first Central Statistics Office “thematic” report on housing from the 2016 census paints a bleak picture: homelessness, overcrowding, and forced reliance on an overpriced rental sector, on the rise, while home ownership and house-building have declined – a perfect storm of rising demand and falling supply.

Perhaps most dramatic is the stark contrast between the 0.4% growth (just 8,800 units) in the housing stock between 2011 and 2016 and the previous five-year period – the latter, at 225,232 new dwellings, was 26 times larger.

Close to one in 10 of the population now lives in some 95,013 overcrowded households which have more people than rooms, a rise in five years of 28%. The hidden homeless. And the number of owner-occupied homes also fell between 2011 and 2016 causing the overall rate to drop from 69.7% to 67.6%, a level last seen in 1971. We are moving backwards, fast.

For most young people renting is the only option and now exceeds owner-occupation among under-35s . And in a squeezed market like Dublin, rents have inevitably soared – up some 30 per cent in the capital since 2011, if you are lucky enough to find somewhere.

Yet, why is there not a more serious attempt to incentivise bringing the 183,000 homes that are currently vacant back into use? And why the obsession with building homes-to-buy for first-time buyers at ever-inflating prices, when the real demand is for affordable social and affordable housing and rental properties? Time for a broader range of solutions, Says Mr Coveney.

Meanwhile: —

New data shows just 2,076 homes built last year

Freedom of Information figures show new homes falling far short of Government’s 15,000 estimate. 

Image result for New data shows just 2,076 homes built last year  Related image

The number of new homes built in the State last year was just 2,076, a fraction of the Government’s 15,000 estimate, according to new figures.

The number of new homes built in the State last year was just 2,076, a fraction of the Government’s 15,000 estimate, according to new figures obtained under the Freedom of Information.

Taken from the Building Control Management System, which is widely acknowledged as the most reliable construction database, the figures cast further doubt on the Government’s estimate of homebuilding rates in the economy.

They show that, when one-off homes are excluded, just 848 estate houses and apartments were completed in 2016 compared to an official Department of Housing estimate of 8,729.

In Dublin city, the most populous part in the State, just 68 scheme homes and apartments were completed last year.

The figures for other local authorities were also well below official estimates; Fingal (121), Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown (78), South Dublin (69) and Cork City (21).

In three local authorities, Longford, Leitrim and Roscommon, there were no housing completions recorded at all in 2016, while a further eight counties recorded fewer than 10 completions.

The figures stand in stark contrast to the Department of Housing’s official housing completion figure for 2016 of 14,932.

The discrepancy stems from the department’s use of ESB metering data as a proxy to count new builds. Electricity connections can be triggered by work to existing buildings or by formerly vacant units coming back on stream.

Ghost estates in Ireland?

The official figures are also likely to have been inflated by the finishing out of so-called ghost estates built during the boom.

Dublin architect Mel Reynolds said the Government’s housing targets, contained in its Rebuilding Ireland strategy, are based on new-build levels that were “fictional”.

He said the remarkably low output figure for scheme homes and apartments also raised questions about the Government’s new Help-to-Buy scheme, which has been blamed for fuelling further inflation in the market.

Mr Reynolds said there were now almost five Help-to-Buy scheme applicants for every new home being built.

The Department of Housing has repeatedly defended its use of the 14,932 completion figure, suggesting electricity connections have been used as a proxy for completions since the 1970s, as developers would not connect a property to the grid until it is ready for sale.

It also claims the Building Control Management System database is not an accurate measure of homebuilding activity as it was only established in 2014 and may fail to capture projects commenced prior to that.

Last week, Minister for Housing Simon Coveney said he hoped the level housing supply could be accelerated to 25,000 units a year by the end of next year. However, he indicated the State may need to build 35,000 units before demand in the market can be met.

Minister Varadkar supports an SSIA-style scheme to top up personal pensions

Varadkar says a plan is urgently needed to encourage more saving’s.

Image result for Minister Varadkar supports an SSIA-style scheme to top up personal pensions  Image result for an SSIA-style scheme to top up personal pensions

A new SSIA-style savings scheme should be introduced to try to tackle our ‘pensions time bomb’, according to Social Protection Minister Leo Varadkar.

The original State-backed five-year SSIA plan, introduced in 2001, offered a bonus of €1 for every €4 saved monthly, subject to an agreed maximum.

Now Minister Varadkar wants a similar type of incentive for workers to pay into their own “personal” pension fund. The plan would give them additional retirement cover – on top of their State pension entitlement – and employers would be required to match their contributions.

“The minister’s preferred option would be an SSIA-type top-up from the Government, rather than the current system of a tax-relief incentive,” a spokesperson confirmed to the Sunday Independent.

“The SSIA top-up is very well understood, much more so than tax relief.

“It costs much the same, and would add to an individual’s pension income, as the money would go into their personal pension savings account.”

The fund would have to be phased in over a period of time with contributions starting at a “low level” in the first year.

The most favoured model would be similar to the Australian, Singaporean and New Zealand systems, and specially “tailored” for Ireland.

Every worker would be automatically enrolled in the scheme – but would have the right to avail of an opt-out clause. The fund would be the “private property” of the individual, could not be expropriated by any government, and could be inherited by a partner or family members if the worker passed away before drawing down any benefits.

It could be transferred to another jurisdiction, and there would be flexibility as to when benefits accrued could be taken out. The SSIA scheme of 16 years ago was generally regarded as a success, generating a huge national savings kitty.

Only a third of private-sector workers have a pension. During the recession years, many people sacrificed saving for their retirement as they battled to cope with more immediate bills such as mortgages, heating and food.

Meanwhile, the latest census data shows the proportion of those in the older age bracket continues to increase.

There are now 296,837 males and 340,730 females aged 65 or older in Ireland.

The number of men in this age category has gone up by 22% since 2011, compared with an increase of 16% for women. Medical experts predict improved medical care and other lifestyle changes will result in people generally living longer.

Financial studies show the demise of the traditional ‘permanent pensionable job’ as the nature of the workplace changes. Problems in many company schemes are an added complication.

Dermot O’Leary, chief economist with Goodbody Stockbrokers, suggests an SSIA-style government initiative could help deal with the ‘ticking pensions time bomb’.

He said recent census figures provided further confirmation that the over 60s segment of the population will increase in the coming years.

He suggested there would be obvious benefits to an SSIA-style scheme linked to pensions provision.

Nutritionists now agree there’s only one fruit that must find a place in your shopping basket “Berries”?

Related image  Image result for Nutritionists now agree there's only one fruit that must find a place in your shopping basket "blue Berries"?

Every fruit has its nutritional benefits but there is only one that seems to be winning the battle across the board when it comes to the expert’s advice.

If you tend to opt for berries of the red variety over blue because of their appealing buy me attractions, it might be time to change that because blueberries have multiple health benefits with 17 different dietitians agreeing that they’re one of the best superfoods available.

After surveying a group of nutritionists and cross-referencing their answers, Byrdie found the non-assuming berry came out on top.

Why is that?

Nutritionist Frida Harju, sums it up perfectly, when explaining:

“If you are going to add one fruit to your diet, make it blueberries. They have been labelled a superfood due to their high levels of polyphenols, antioxidative, and anti-inflammatory compounds that help to combat memory loss and enhance your mood.”

Due to the high amount of antioxidants present in blueberries, they help cardiovascular health and brain health.

They’re also high in fibre, good for your skin, aid digestion and unlike other fructose-laden fruits, blueberries have been shown to improve blood glucose and insulin levels.

If food shopping is on your Weekly to-do list, make sure blueberries find their way into your basket…

‘Hobbits’ Now claimed as one of the earliest forms of the human species?

Image result for 'Hobbits' Now claimed as one of the earliest forms of the human species?  Image result for 'Hobbits' Now claimed as one of the earliest forms of the human species?

A model of a female Homo floresiensis right picture.

Hobbits, known as Homo floresiensis, could be one of the most archaic forms of human according to new research.

Remains of hobbits were discovered on an Indonesian island in 2003, and since then scientists have debated where they originated from.

While some claim they were just short Homo sapiens, new Australian National University (ANU) research claims the hobbits were most likely a sister species to Homo habilis – who lived in Africa about 1.75 million years ago.

There’s also a chance that they even proceeded the Homo habilis, making them one of the oldest forms of humans.

They were about 3.5ft tall and used stone tools.

“It’s possible that Homo floresiensis evolved in Africa and migrated, or the common ancestor moved from Africa then evolved into Homo floresiensis somewhere,” study leader Dr Debbie Argue says.

Dr Argue said the analyses could also support the theory that Homo floresiensis could have branched off earlier in the timeline, more than 1.75 million years ago.

“If this was the case Homo floresiensis would have evolved before the earliest Homo habilis, which would make it very archaic indeed,” she said.

The hobbits lived on the Indonesian island of Flores until as recently as 54,000 years ago.

Prior to the ANU study it was believed that the Homo floresiensis evolved from Homo erectus, a larger human that lived on the Indonesian mainland of Java.

However the ANU researchers say that’s almost certainly not the case.

“We can be 99 per cent sure it’s not related to Homo erectus and nearly 100 per cent chance it isn’t a malformed Homo sapiens,” Professor Mike Lee said.

The research was published in the Journal of Human Evolution.

It’s unclear whether Bilbo Baggins is connected to the Homo floresiensis, or how he and his relatives made their way to Hobbiton from Indonesia.

News Ireland daily BLOG as told by Donie

Tuesday 14th March 2017.

Irish complaint about rivals in Brexit race for London’s business

Dublin says other financial centres engaging in ‘regulatory arbitrage

Image result for Irish complaint about rivals in Brexit race for London’s business  Image result for Irish complaint about rivals in Brexit race for London’s business

Ireland has complained about Luxembourg’s conduct in the race to lure post-Brexit business away from the City of London in a sign of the intense competition among European financial centres.

Eoghan Murphy, the Irish financial services minister, has told the European Commission that rivals are engaging in “regulatory arbitrage”. Mr Murphy’s complaint was lodged on March 1, before Dublin lost out to Luxembourg in the race to be the location of choice for AIG. The US insurance company said last week it had decided to set up an operation in Luxembourg to secure its EU base after Brexit.

“We are hearing from various sources that companies are being offered certain incentives, that they are offering a back door to the single market, without the requirement to have capital to back up their entities in the European Union,” Mr Murphy told Reuters. Luxembourg dismissed Mr Murphy’s comments. “I didn’t expect the Irish to be sore losers,” said Nicolas Mackel of Luxembourg for Finance, the agency that markets the grand duchy as a financial centre. “There are plenty of good reasons that international institutions like AIG are choosing Luxembourg as their favoured location, including economic stability, international make-up, its central location and multilingual business culture.”

Mr Murphy raised concerns with Valdis Dombrovskis, the EU financial services commissioner, that there should be consistency in the way regulatory standards are applied across member states, against the background of the risk to stability in the European financial system. The heads of Esma and EIOPA, two key EU financial regulatory agencies, are believed to have raised similar concerns in recent days. In the aftermath of last year’s British vote to leave the EU, many in the insurance industry identified Ireland as a strong prospect for an alternative base to the City within the bloc.

Not only does Dublin have a similar legal system and is in the same time-zone, but it has long been considered a satellite of London for financial services. The Irish central bank increased its staff in anticipation of a deluge of interest from the industry. Beazley, one of the first groups to make its intentions clear, said that it would turn its Irish reinsurance subsidiary into a primary insurance business, and then use it as a base to sell products to the rest of the EU. Dublin is still on people’s radar.

The Central Bank of Ireland has been stricter than people thought it might be. They have moved from being a light touch regulator to being more serious Oliver Wareham Mr Murphy’s complaint suggests the Irish authorities are worried that their hopes of an influx of new insurance business to complement Dublin’s existing strengths in that sector may not materialise. “Dublin is still on people’s radar, but the Central Bank of Ireland has been stricter than people thought it might be. They have moved from being a light touch regulator to being more serious,” says Oliver Wareham, a partner at Slaughter and May, the law firm. Karel Lannoo, chief executive officer of the CEPS think-tank in Brussels, said he saw little legal scope for complaints, such as Ireland’s, for other countries to toughen up their own regulations.

“This is all about supervision,” he said. For insurers and investment funds, “regulation is harmonised in Europe, but supervision isn’t, and on these matters it’s up to the supervisor to judge”. Mr Lannoo also noted that the European Securities and Markets Authority, an EU agency in Paris working on “convergence” of supervisory standards, was not yet a powerful body. “They have peer pressure, nothing more,” he said, in comments echoed by an EU official.

Nama property deal ‘seriously deficient’, says watchdog

Image result for Nama property deal 'seriously deficient', says watchdog   Image result for Irish public accounts committee

The Public Accounts Committee said the 2014 transaction was not well-designed and adviser Frank Cushnahan should have been removed

The biggest property deal in Northern Ireland’s history was “seriously deficient”, an Irish watchdog said.

The cut-price sale of almost 1,000 properties by Ireland’s state-owned bank for bad loans following the economic crash, the National Asset Management Agency (Nama), cost the Irish taxpayer 185 million euro.

The Irish Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC) said the 2014 transaction was not well-designed and Nama’s former adviser Frank Cushnahan should have been removed.

It also said key elements of the sale were influenced by one of the bidders, US firm Pimco, and the most active participants in the market for non-performing loans were not initially invited to compete.

The PAC report said: “The sales strategy pursued by Nama included restrictions of such significance that the strategy could be described as seriously deficient.

“Nama has been unable to demonstrate that by pursuing such a strategy that it got value for money for the Irish State in relation to the price achieved.”

Nama was established in 2009 to take control of billions of euro of bad property loans at home and abroad which were undermining the finances of the Irish banks.

The entire Northern Ireland portfolio was sold to Cerberus, a US investment fund manager, for £1.1 billion (1.23 billion euro) in a sale known as Project Eagle.

The report said Nama incurred losses on its Northern Ireland debts of 800 million euro from 2010 to 2014 and the state ultimately recovered only 36% of the original value of the loans.

A Nama statement disputed the suggestion an extra £162 million (185 million euro) could have been raised through Project Eagle and said the overall losses would have arisen whether the portfolio was sold or retained in 2014.

A spokesman said: “It was the Board’s commercial and considered judgment, in full knowledge of the financial implications, that the sale of the Project Eagle loan portfolio provided a better financial outcome than any alternative monetisation strategy.

“That was the Board’s view in 2014 and it remains the Board’s view today.”

Businessman Mr Cushnahan was a member of the Northern Ireland Advisory Committee (NIAC) to Nama.

During 2011 and 2012 he admitted providing financial consultancy services, mainly on a non-fee basis, to six Nama Northern Ireland debtors.

PAC chairman Sean Fleming noted: “These debtors’ connections accounted for approximately 50% by value of the Project Eagle loans.

“It is the opinion of the committee that Nama’s failure to effect Mr Frank Cushnahan’s removal from NIAC, following his disclosures in relation to consultancy services on behalf of a number of Nama’s Northern Ireland debtors, was a failure of corporate governance by Nama.”

Mr Cushnahan has consistently denied any wrongdoing.

According to the PAC chairman, when the Nama board was deciding to set its minimum price for the sale, it already had an indicative offer on the table from Pimco.

He said: “I believe that Nama was influenced by the Pimco offer when deciding on the minimum reserve price and key elements of the sales process.”

Have the Irish given up on owning their own homes?

The number of people buying rather than renting has fallen to a near 50-year low

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Berlin, where just about 14% own their own homes compared to about 60% in Dublin.

We may look to Boston when it comes to business, but when it comes to home ownership, it’s another story. While we might not be looking to emulate Berlin yet, we have definitely become more akin to a small German state. An analysis of home ownership trends shows that the Irish are becoming ever more European, as the number of people buying rather than renting a home has fallen to a near 50-year low.

According to unpublished figures from the Central Statistics Office, which it compiles as part of its Quarterly National Household Survey, Irish society has changed significantly in the past 16 years. People are turning away from the dream of owning their own homes in favour of the flexibility – and uncertainty – of the increasingly tough rental market.

But why have the Irish scaled back their dreams of owning their own plot of land? Should we care about this? And what is the future likely to hold?

Home ownership figures?

Irish people’s living arrangements have become decidedly European in recent years. Home ownership reached a peak at about 80.1% in 1991, one of the highest rates of home ownership in western Europe at the time, with just 8% of households renting privately in that year.

However, soaring property prices in the boom years, a sharp rise in the demand for rented accommodation on the back of tax breaks and an influx of investors into urban regeneration projects means that ownership figures have been on a downward trajectory since. And the years of dicing with economic collapse followed by a slow recovery have done nothing to reverse the trend.

Back in 2000, for example, four out of every five people in Ireland lived in a home they owned, with just 7% of the population renting privately, and the remainder largely renting from a local authority.

Fast forward to the epoch of the crash, 2008, and a sharp increase in property prices meant that the figure had fallen to just three in every four people living in a home they owned. By 2015, this had slumped to 71%, and to 69.7% by the end of 2016.

The last time we saw figure this low was in the late 1960s, a time when studies show that State incentives meant that almost a third of the cost of a standard suburban house could be recouped from grants, helping to boost home ownership levels in the subsequent years.

Given such a downward trend, it’s possible that within a few years, as few as two-thirds of the Irish population could live in a home they own – a stark contrast to the years when home ownership was a legitimate goal for most Irish people.

At the same time, the population of renters has soared, driven by immigration and population trends as well as home ownership trends. The figure has jumped from 7%, or 270,000 people in 2000, to 18%, or 843,000 people by 2016.

With an extra 573,000 people looking to rent, it’s little wonder we are in the midst of a rental crisis.

Dublin renters

This trend is most notable in the capital. Back in 2000, almost 75% of people living in the capital lived in a home they owned, while just 10% of people rented a property. Since then however, the numbers of homeowners has fallen substantially, dropping beneath 60% for the first time in 2016. Just 59.6% of Dublin-based residents owned their own home in the third quarter of 2016.

This means that the numbers looking to rent have multiplied – up from 10% of population (110,000 people) in 2000 to 25% (328,000 people) as of end 2016.

For John McCartney, an economist with Savills, some of the demand for housing was funnelled from home ownership into rent. This is especially so as immigration into Ireland increased. Migrants typically opted to rent, rather than buy, a home.

The International trend?

But Ireland is not alone in seeing home ownership rates decline. It’s a trend that is happening elsewhere. Last year home ownership in the US fell to the lowest in more than 50 years, down to 63%, while home ownership in Britain is at a 30-year low of 64%, the lowest figure seen since 1986. PwC suggests that the rate is expected to drop to less than 60% by 2025 in Northern Ireland.

In an Irish context, it means, for example, that more people now own their own homes in parts of Germany, which is known as a nation of renters, than in Dublin. In coal-rich Saarland, for example, which has Saarbrucken as its capital, some 63% own their own home, compared with fewer than 60 per cent in Dublin, although we’re not yet anywhere near a city like Berlin, where as few as 14% of residents own their own homes.

The question is whether or not people are choosing to stay in rented accommodation or whether a combination of uncertain jobs and rising house prices is keeping them out of the housing market.

What is driving the trend?

A number of factors appear to have combined to make it more difficult to secure home ownership.

Younger buyers constrained by insecure jobs, inadequate savings and mortgage rules are taking longer to get on the ladder. The average age of today’s first-time buyer is 34 – a big advance on the typical age of 29 a decade ago.

Access to credit and mortgage-lending rules, introduced in 2015, have also been a factor.

“Mortgage lending restrictions weren’t binding in other parts of the country but they were binding in Dublin, so it was harder to buy houses in Dublin,” notes McCartney.

Also, more people are single today than in previous generations, which in itself makes it more difficult to get on the housing ladder. For example, the number of “small” household units of one to two persons rose significantly between 2009 and 2013, and most of this increase was noted in Dublin.

Given that owning your own home is cheaper than renting in many parts of the State, even in Dublin, one might expect the slide not to be so significant.

Affordability, for example, has remained stable in recent years; the EBS DKM affordability index shows that a working couple now needs to spend 21% of their after-tax income on mortgage repayments, down from 32% in 2007.

Moreover, a survey from Daft.ie last year found that, in the capital, owning a one- or two-bedroom property was cheaper than renting, as is a three-bedroom home in west Dublin. So one possible conclusion could be that people are finding it difficult to get the funds together for a deposit on a home, rather than the wherewithal to pay the mortgage itself.

Of course it could also be a case that people have fallen out of love with the ideals of home ownership. Younger people may prefer the flexibility that renting offers; their older counterparts may have been burned by negative equity and arrears in the fall-out of the boom years.

Should we as a society care?

The question then, if home ownership rates are slipping, should we, as a society, as an economy, care? The main economic argument for home ownership is that, in the words of Thomas Shapiro of Brandeis University, “it is by far the single most important way families accumulate wealth”.

A US survey in 2013, for example, found that a typical homeowner’s net worth was $195,400 (€184,280) while that of renter’s was just $5,400.

This is particularly true in Ireland. As McCartney notes, Irish people have a relatively low savings ratio because the mortgage has proven a de facto method of accumulating wealth over time.

This approach sees someone buy a house in their 20s or 30s, paying off their mortgage and retiring at the age of 60 to 65, then living rent free for the rest of their lives on a pretty modest pension.

“It’s pretty deeply embedded and is a pretty good workable system,” he says. “But this gets disrupted if you’re going to be renting for a longer portion of your life. How will you pay for accommodation costs when you retire?”

Those of us dependent on defined-contribution pensions to fund our retirement will struggle to live on these as it is, given current inadequate funding levels. If we have to pay rent as well, many of us could be looking at poverty in our senescence.

“We’re not really set up for long-term renting; there would need to be some pretty fundamental cultural shifts in terms of how ordinary households plan their finances through their life cycle before it could become a mainstream possibility,” says McCartney.

In countries such as Germany, rental markets are subject to much greater regulations which can help protect pensioners.

On the other side, given experiences post-boom, it could be argued that home ownership is only really beneficial when it is able to withstand shocks.

The outlook:- “An improvement”?

It could be that, to pardon the pun, a floor has been reached in falling home ownership figures. Mortgage approvals have jumped in the wake of the Governments’ Help to Buy scheme and looser lending rules, increasing by 41% in the three months to the end of January, as first-time buyers flocked to get loans.

“There is a distinct possibility that the size of rental market has peaked,” says McCartney. If this is the case, we could expect to see the overall trajectory of home ownership trends reverse once more.

Your kids aren’t killing you because one day they may actually help you live longer?

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Sometimes and a lot of times it does feel as if being a parent is shaving years off your life, but a new study suggests that’s not the case.

In fact, just the opposite may be true?

In a paper published Monday in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, a team of Swedish researchers report that having kids is associated with an increase in life expectancy, especially as we age.

According to the new work, 60-year-old women with children had a remaining life expectancy of 24.6 years, compared with 23.1 years for those who do not have children.

For men, the difference was even greater.

Sixty-year-old men with children were expected to live for another 20.2 years on average, whereas those without children were expected to live for an additional 18.4 years.

That’s nearly a two-year difference.

To come to these conclusions, the researchers used national registry data to track the life spans of more than 1.4 million Swedish men and women who were born between 1911 and 1925.

The researchers were also able to determine the marital status of the participants as well as how educated they were, and the number and sex of their children if they had any.

Previous studies had indicated that people who have daughters have a longer life expectancy than those who have just sons. To see if that was true, the researchers compared the life spans of participants with just one daughter to those who had just one son. According to their analysis, there was no difference in life expectancy between the two groups.

The authors also wondered if having an adult child who lives nearby would increase one’s life expectancy in older age. After crunching the numbers, they discovered this was not the case.

Indeed, it seems that parents 60 and older who live more than a 30-minute drive away from their children had a slightly smaller risk of dying within the year than those who lived closer to their children.

This finding may seem counter-intuitive, but the authors note that previous studies have shown that highly educated children are more likely to live farther away from their parents. They suggest that it is possible that having a well-educated child might have a greater effect on one’s chances of survival than proximity.

The results of this work are purely observational and cannot be used to draw any conclusions about why they see the effects reported in the study, the authors said.

They also said it is possible that adult children may offer various types of help to their aging parents. For example, physical, social and emotional support all might increase a person’s life span.

The study may be particularly significant in places such as Sweden and other Nordic countries where childlessness is on the rise, the authors said. By understanding what it is that having a child offers an aging parent, it might be possible to provide similar services to those who chose not to have children.

‘It frightened the life out of me’: Mary Boyle’s mother has been sent hate mail

Saturday marks the 40th anniversary of Mary Boyles’s mysterious disappearance.

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Mary Boyle as she looked at six years?                       Anne Boyle today.

Mary Boyle’s Mother Anne has renewed her appeal for information about her daughter’s death on the 40th anniversary of her disappearance.

Mary was just six years old when she vanished while visiting her grandparents in Cashelard, Ballyshannon, Co Donegal on 18 March 1977. No trace of her has ever been found since.

Her disappearance is Ireland’s longest-running missing person case.

Speaking to RTÉ’s Prime Time tonight, Mary’s mother Ann Boyle said she believes her daughter made it to the nearby road which links the townland of Cashelard with Belleek in Co Fermanagh on the day she disappeared.ary Boyle

Mary’s twin sister Ann Doherty has previously said she believes Mary was murdered and has called for an inquest to be held, while her mother – also called Ann – does not want this. Prime Time said Ann Doherty declined to be interviewed for tonight’s programme.

“I’ve begged to know for 40 years what happened to Mary. I don’t want an inquest that Mary is dead. I want to believe that Mary is still alive somewhere. I have to live that way,” her mother said.

Ann’s granddaughter Mary Duffy also spoke to Prime Time.

“It’s very sad to think this is the place Mary went missing. It’s sad because I never got to meet Mary, and you just feel a sense of loss because this is where she was,” she said.

Ann also spoke about receiving hate mail in recent times, recalling:

One was a Christmas card and the other was a letter, and the stuff that was in it was shocking – that threatened my life, and frightened the life out of me. One of them started off like it was from Mary. I mean, my God. That made me ill … I wasn’t able to cope with it, I just threw it away.

Her granddaughter Mary said the hateful mail was very distressing for her grandmother, stating: “It’s horrible and nanny’s afraid to be in her own home and no one should be left like that, it’s horrible.”

Images of clothing.

Gardaí have released images of clothing similar to that worn by Mary when she disappeared four decades ago, a lilac-coloured cardigan and black wellington boots.

Her twin sister Ann wore identical clothes that day, and those images were shown on Prime Time tonight.

Chief Superintendent Walter O’Sullivan of the Serious Crime Review Team said a full review of the case is currently being undertaken, and seeks to identify every person who was in Cashelard on the day Mary disappeared.

“Although a rural area, there would have been a number of people in the area, living there, farming, visiting, driving through.

When a child goes missing it goes right into the heart of a community, it struggles to understand why this has been visited on their community. The community has provided information confidentially, anonymously and through making statements.

“I believe there is further information to be obtained and I am appealing for people to come forward ” O’Sullivan said.

The oldest fossil plants on Earth discovered in India.

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The origins of plants may go back hundreds of millions of years earlier than previously thought, according to fossil evidence.

Ancient rocks from India suggest plants resembling red algae lived 1.6 billion years ago in what was then shallow sea.

The discovery may overturn ideas of when relatively advanced life evolved, say scientists in Sweden.

They identified parts of chloroplasts, structures within plant cells involved in photosynthesis.

The earliest signs of life on Earth are at least 3.5 billion years old.

The first single-celled microscopic life forms evolved into larger multi-cellular eukaryotic organisms (made up of cells containing a nucleus and other structures within a membrane).

Therese Sallstedt of the Swedish Museum of Natural History discovered some of the fossils. She described them as “the oldest fossil plants that we know of on Earth in the form of 1.6 billion year old red algae”.

“They show us that advanced life in the form of eukaryotes (like plants, fungi and us humans/animals) have a much deeper history on Earth than what we previously have thought,” she told BBC News.

The tree of life

The scientists found thread-like fossils and more complex “fleshy” colonies in sedimentary rock from central India. Both have characteristics of modern red algae, a type of seaweed.

Co-researcher Prof Stefan Bengtson of the Swedish Museum of Natural History added: “You cannot be 100% sure about material this ancient, as there is no DNA remaining, but the characters agree quite well with the morphology and structure of red algae.”

The oldest known red algae before the present discovery date back 1.2 billion years. The Indian fossils are 400 million years older, suggesting that the early branches of the tree of life began much earlier than previously thought.

Claims of ancient life are always controversial. Without DNA evidence, confirmation must rest on whether more fossils can be found.

There is also debate over whether red algae belong in the plant kingdom or in a class of their own.

Modern red algae is perhaps best known for two commercial products – gelatinous texturing agents used in making ice cream – and nori – the seaweed used to wrap sushi.

News Ireland daily BLOG as told by Donie

Thursday 9th March 2017

Irish economy outpaces euro zone countries with a 5.2% growth for 2016

Quarterly national accounts from CSO suggest output grew in all sectors of economy

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The latest figures show industrial output in 2016 increased by 2.4% in volume terms.

Ireland’s economy grew 5.2% last year, outstripping all other euro zone countries and most official forecasts for the third successive year.

While the rate of growth is a fraction of the 26% recorded for 2015, that was largely seen as an aberration.

The latest quarterly national accounts from the Central Statistics Office (CSO) suggest output increased in all sectors of the economy.

The figures show gross domestic product (GDP) accelerated 5.2% in 2016, while gross national product (GNP) rose 9%. The bigger GNP number reflects the profits associated with so-called redomiciled plcs, which have relocated their headquarters here for tax purposes.

On a quarterly basis, GDP advanced 2.4% in the final quarter of 2016, down from the 4% recorded for the three months to September.

Investment, meanwhile, jumped 45.5% to €76 billion, driven by the import of intellectual property assets to Ireland. This was linked to once-off tax planning by multinationals amid a global clampdown on corporate tax avoidance.

Personal consumption, which accounts for almost half of domestic demand and ranks as the best indicator of local economic activity, rose 3%. This tallies with the rise in employment and tax revenue evidenced in other indicators.

Vigilant view?

Minister for Finance Michael Noonan welcomed the latest figures, saying the Government was committed to remaining vigilant in the face of an increasingly uncertain external environment.

“Domestic demand is now the main driver of growth, with private consumption up 3% in 2016 supported by favourable labour market dynamics, continued increases in disposable income and solid consumer confidence.”

While his department expects growth to stay above 3% over the next three years, it has estimated that a “hard Brexit”  involving Britain exiting the EU’s single market entirely – could knock about 3.5% off GDP over the next decade.

Merrion analyst Alan McQuaid said the latest figures show personal spending and construction were holding up well, but he warned of a possible Brexit-related slowdown in headline growth. “We expect that ‘Brexit’ worries will intensify in 2017, leading to lower overall GDP growth this year.”

 Latest industrial output?

The latest figures show industrial output last year increased 2.4% in volume terms. Within the industry sector, building and construction grew 11.4%, reflecting the recovery in property.

The distribution, transport, software and communications sector grew 7.8%; while the other services and agricultural sectors grew 6% and 6.2% respectively.

Separate CSO figures on the State’s balance of payments pointed to a current account surplus of €12.5 billion in 2016, which was €26 billion lower than the surplus recorded in 2015.

Over half in favour of an empty homes tax according to Peter McVerry Trust

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Pat Doyle says tax could yield an extra €20 million per annum to the State.

The latest CSO figures show there are 198,000 empty homes, excluding holiday homes in Ireland.

New research by homeless charity the Peter McVerry Trust has found that 62% of people are in favour of a tax on empty homes.

The latest CSO figures show there are 198,000 empty homes, excluding holiday homes in Ireland.

CEO of the Peter McVerry Trust, Pat Doyle said that putting a tax on empty homes, collected through the existing property tax would yield an extra €20 million per annum to the State.

“The Government is launching at the end of the month an empty homes strategy and what we are saying is that there will be grants to encourage landlords and those who are not using their properties to bring them back. But if they won’t or they are not interested in supporting the State tackle what is a crisis in housing right now we are saying there should be a tax.

“If you turn down the grant and you don’t have a legitimate reason to bring it in and are just sitting on it waiting for property prices to go up then that’s not good enough.

“That (the tax) could bring in about €19 or € 20 million a year and would support the Government’s campaign around granting aid to landlords to bring the properties back.”

Mr Doyle told Newstalk Breakfast that the trust believes there are 13 homes for every homeless person in urban areas.

“If you do the normal, there is around two of them will be in probate, three of them in legal dispute, two of them used for the fair deal scheme where people are using the property because someone is in hospital, that still leaves half of them at moment lying idle while we have a housing crisis.”

Minister of State for Housing and Urban Renewal Damian English said the Government was not be considering a tax on vacant homes at the moment and was more focused on projects like the repair and lease initiative and the national vacant housing reuse strategy to reduce homelessness.

He said a vacant tax levy had been scheduled for 2019 but that it was not a short term solution to the housing crisis.

“We’re very clear that there would be a long lead in time if you went down that road and we actually believe that we can get a better result by putting in place new initiatives to encourage people to bring their houses forward and to make them available.”

Mr English told RTÉ Morning Ireland that the Government had “reactivated 7,000 houses over the last 3-4 years” and had spent over €100 million on bringing vacant properties back into use.

He added that Minister for Housing Simon Coveney had committed to ensuring that the 720 families currently living in commercial hotels would be moved into housing by July. This move from hotels into housing would be made possible through the use of existing housing, refurbishing vacant properties through the repair and lease initiative and the “rapid construction” of new homes.

Asked by Morning Ireland to elaborate on the target of building 1,500 homes through rapid construction, Mr English said 150 were already under construction while 350 more “are in play”.

“We know and our targets, we have the sites secured to achieve about a 1000 additional housing under the rapid construction scheme before the end of this year,” said Mr English. “The increase of supply of housing is the solution here.”

The number of homeless people in Ireland reached a new high of 7,167 in January.

Some 4,760 adults and 2,407 children were homeless in January, a marginal increase of the previous record high of 7,148 reached in December, but a rise of a quarter on the same month last year (5,715).

The situation remains worst in Dublin where 3,247 adults and 2,046 children are homeless.

The number of homeless families in the State declined by 33 in January 2017, but it was still up by a third on that time last year.

Sister of ‘Sarah’ talks of ‘horrific sex abuse’ of those who lived in the Grace Foster Home.

‘Their lives were robbed’

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The sister of a child who spent time in the ‘Grace’ Foster Home has claimed her sister ‘Sarah’, also suffered horrific sexual abuse at the home.

In an interview with David McCullagh on RTÉ’s Prime Time, the woman spoke out about her family’s experience at the foster home.

Sarah had intellectual disabilities and the family decided that the best learning option for her would be in a home that was far away from the family.

“There was a private arrangement where Sarah could go just kind of respite during the week just to give her a break from all the travelling but this wasn’t approved by the Health Board at that stage and they were keen for Sarah to go and stay in a registered foster placement.

“It was a comforting thing to our mother because she felt well if this was under the Health Board, the HSE, then all the checks were in place and that would be the best place for Sarah because she would be safe.”

Sarah’s sister said the family began to have concerns about the home?

“As a parent this is your worst nightmare. Sarah was home on a Sunday afternoon with Mom playing in the sitting room and just being in the space and Sarah was a beautiful young child and Mom said a very innocent turn of phrase and to her absolute horror Sarah got into a position, took down her pants, and kind of got into a sexual position and as you can imagine for any Mum, my mum was shocked and she just was you know immobilised.”

The family raised their concerns with the Health Board as they believed it needed to be addressed immediately.

“It was led by our mother who just looked at other options to get her out of there and to see what would offer her the best and safest environment again to learn and grow into her young teens and into adulthood and that meant that she left the jurisdiction and had to go to the North.

“We knew that Sarah had to go and leave that place but again the options were limited and again mom had to look for places outside of Ireland up to Northern Ireland.”

According to RTÉ, Sarah’s mum was one of the first whistle-blowers in the home, and a recommendation was made that another child named ‘Grace’ would be removed from the foster home but no action was taken.

“Our mother would have been the first whistle-blower and again you’re living in a different time and different context altogether and it would have taken a lot of strength and courage to go forward really start speaking out about what her concerns were and not only was she met with a brick wall, they came down really hard on our mother, there was reports written up, they were quite aggressive towards the family, they just totally bullied us in to thinking that it was all just in Mam’s head.

“On the other hand, they were doing all of these checks themselves and reaching a decision well actually there is something going wrong and Sarah was there the same time as Grace, you know their lives have been robbed in so many ways.

“Both beautiful, innocent children. Some of the most vulnerable children in our state.”

Sarah’s sister said that she is not only a victim but a survivor.

“Sarah is a victim of this but she’s also a survivor and she is one of the most incredible human beings I know. I have no idea of the pain, the physical pain and the mental torture. Sarah doesn’t have words to express what happened to her how she suffered and yet Sarah greets every day fighting.

“Some days she struggles to get out of bed, there’s so much damage done to her bowel and yet she still has the ability to laugh, she’s one of the most forgiving people you’ll meet and she fights for her life and she fights to have meaningful role within our community and be part of our family and that’s why we’ll continue to fight for her right to be heard and her to have a voice and have justice and some truth around what she’s faced and what she’s gone through.”

The family are hoping that the Commission of Investigation will give them answers into why this happened.

“I just wonder why Finian Mc Grath in his role as the Minister, particularly in his role as Minister for Disability has chosen this path. We have looked under the Freedom of Information for Sarah’s files to know who has had access to her file and yet we still haven’t got that.

“I think we’re very fortunate that we have some really strong individuals who have gone forward as whistle blowers and we know that whistle-blowers are not treated very well in this country but I think without them and without the support of lots of champions in the area this story would be very easily forgotten about and the absolute horrors that have been inflicted on young vulnerable children would be just laid to rest.”

Brain activity can continue for 10 minutes after death?

A new study reveals

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Scientists cannot explain the single delta wave.

The human brain can continue functioning for more than 10 minutes after the body has died, scientists have discovered.

Intensive care doctors reported observing the same kind of brain waves in a patient whose pulse had stopped and whose pupils were unreactive as occurs during deep sleep in healthy people.

Researchers had previously thought that brain activity ends before or shortly after the heart stops beating, although two studies last year demonstrated that genes continue to function, in some cases more energetically, in the days after people die.

The authors of the new study, published in the Canadian Journal of Neurological Sciences, say the fresh discovery raises ethical problems as to when it is appropriate to remove donor organs in patients who appear to have died.

The Canadian doctors reported observing seeing “single delta wave bursts” in the brain of a patient after the cessation of cardiac rhythm and arterial blood pressure.

Only one of the four people studied exhibited the long-lasting and mysterious brain activity, they pointed out, with activity in most patients dying off before their heart stopped beating.

However, all of their brains behaved slightly differently in the minutes after they died.

The study authors say they have no idea why one of the brains might have continued partially functioning so long after clinical death.

Probiotic found in yogurt can reverse depression symptoms,  A study finds

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Researchers at the University of Virginia School of Medicine have reversed depression symptoms in mice by feeding them Lactobacillus, a probiotic bacteria found in live-cultures yogurt. Further, they have discovered a specific mechanism for how the bacteria affect mood, providing a direct link between the health of the gut microbiome and mental health.

Based on their findings, the researchers are optimistic that their discovery will hold true in people and are planning to confirm their findings in patients with depression.

“The big hope for this kind of research is that we won’t need to bother with complex drugs and side effects when we can just play with the microbiome,” explained lead researcher Alban Gaultier, Ph.D. “It would be magical just to change your diet, to change the bacteria you take, and fix your health – and your mood.”

Treating depression

Depression is one of the most common mental health conditions in the United States, with up to 7 percent of people experiencing a major depressive episode, Gaultier noted. “It’s a huge problem and the treatments are not very good, because they come with huge side effects,” he said.

The role of the gut microbiome – the bacteria that live inside us – has been of tremendous interest to researchers studying depression and other health conditions, both mental and physical. Gaultier, of the UVA Department of Neuroscience and its Center for Brain Immunology and Glia, set out to see if he could find a concrete link between depression and gut health. “When you’re stressed, you increase your chance of being depressed, and that’s been known for a long, long time,” he said. “So the question that we wanted to ask is, does the microbiome participate in depression?”

The answer appears to be yes. Looking at the composition of the gut microbiome before and after mice were subjected to stress, Gaultier’s team found that the major change was the loss of Lactobacillus. With the loss of Lactobacillus came the onset of depression symptoms. Feeding the mice Lactobacillus with their food returned them to almost normal. “A single strain of Lactobacillus,” Gaultier observed, “is able to influence mood.”

He and his team then went on to determine the mechanism by which Lactobacillus influences depression. They found that the amount of Lactobacillus in the gut affects the level of a metabolite in the blood called kynurenine, which has been shown to drive depression. When Lactobacillus was diminished in the gut, the levels of kynurenine went up – and depression symptoms set in.

“This is the most consistent change we’ve seen across different experiments and different settings we call microbiome profiles,” explained researcher Ioana Marin, a graduate student who is finishing up her Ph.D. work. “This is a consistent change. We see Lactobacillus levels correlate directly with the behavior of these mice.”

Testing in humans ASAP.

Gaultier was careful to call the symptoms seen in mice as “depressive-like behavior” or “despair behavior,” as mice have no way to communicate that they are feeling depressed. But those symptoms are widely accepted as the best available model for looking at depression in creatures other than humans.

Based on the new findings, Gaultier plans to begin studying the effect in people as soon as possible. He intends to examine the effects of Lactobacillus on depression in patients with multiple sclerosis, a group in which the disorder is common. Promisingly, the same biological substances and mechanisms Lactobacillus uses to affect mood in mice are also seen in humans, suggesting the effect may be the same.

In addition to looking at the effects in people, the researchers are continuing to explore the important role of kynurenine. “There has been some work in humans and quite a bit in animal models talking about how this metabolite, kynurenine, can influence behavior,” Marin said. “It’s something produced with inflammation that we know is connected with depression. But the question still remains: How? How does this molecule affect the brain? What are the processes? This is the road we want to take.”

While there is no harm in people with depression eating yogurt, people receiving treatment for depression should not stop taking their medications without consulting their physicians. More studies, the researchers noted, are needed.

Low gluten diets linked to higher risk of type 2 diabetes

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Diets higher in gluten were associated with a lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Study participants who ate less gluten tended to eat less cereal fiber, a known protective factor for developing type 2 diabetes.

Gluten, a protein found in wheat, rye and barley, gives bread and other baked goods elasticity during the baking process and a chewy texture in finished products.

Eating more gluten may be associated with a lower risk of developing Type 2 diabetes, according to research presented at the American Heart Association’s Epidemiology and Prevention / Lifestyle and Cardiometabolic Health 2017 Scientific Sessions.

Gluten, a protein found in wheat, rye and barley, gives bread and other baked goods elasticity during the baking process and a chewy texture in finished products. A small percentage of the population cannot tolerate gluten due to Celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, but gluten-free diets have become popular for people without these conditions, even though there is lack of evidence that reducing gluten consumption provides long-term health benefits.

“We wanted to determine if gluten consumption will affect health in people with no apparent medical reasons to avoid gluten,” said Geng Zong, Ph.D., a research fellow in the Department of Nutrition at Harvard University’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston, Massachusetts. “Gluten-free foods often have less dietary fibre and other micronutrients, making them less nutritious and they also tend to cost more. People without Celiac disease may reconsider limiting their gluten intake for chronic disease prevention, especially for diabetes.”

Micronutrients are dietary components such as vitamins and minerals.

In this long-term observational study, researchers found that most participants had gluten intake below 12 grams/day, and within this range, those who ate the most gluten had lower Type 2 diabetes risk during thirty years of follow-up. Study participants who ate less gluten also tended to eat less cereal fiber, a known protective factor for Type 2 diabetes development.

After further accounting for the potential effect of cereal fiber, individuals in the highest 20 percent of gluten consumption had a 13 percent lower risk of developing Type 2 diabetes in comparison to those with the lowest daily gluten consumption (approximately fewer than 4 grams).

The researchers estimated daily gluten intake for 199,794 participants in three long-term health studies — 69,276 from the Nurses’ Health Study (NHS), 88,610 from the Nurses’ Health Study II (NHSII) and 41,908 from the Health Professionals Follow-up Study (HPFS) — from food-frequency questionnaires completed by participants every two to four years.

The average daily gluten intake in grams was 5.8 g/d for NHS, 6.8 g/d for NHSII, and 7.1 g/d for HPFS, and major dietary sources were pastas, cereals, pizza, muffins, pretzels, and bread.

Over the course of the study, which included 4.24 million person-years of follow-up from 1984-1990 to 2010-2013, 15,947 cases of Type 2 diabetes were confirmed.

Study participants reported their gluten consumption and the study was observational, therefore findings warrant confirmation by other investigations. Also, most of the participants took part in the study before gluten-free diets became popular, so there is no data from gluten abstainers.

News Ireland as told by DONIE

Ireland Monday 27th February 2017

A child became homeless in Ireland every five hours in January, Dáil is told

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‘Shameful’ statistic shows Government policy not working, says FF TD Barry Cowen. 

Fianna Fáil TD Barry Cowen accused the Government of attempting to bamboozle people with details.

Focus Ireland said a child became homeless every five hours in January, a statistic called “shameful” by Fianna Fáil housing spokesman Barry Cowen.
“We are obliged in this House to seek to remove whatever obstacles that are preventing the implementation of any plans,” Mr Cowen told the Dáil on Thursday.
He said only 1,829 housing units were under construction as part of the Government’s plans. “The rest are going through various stages and the majority of them were approved over two years ago,” he said.
Mr Cowen accused the Government of being obsessed about announcements in the hope that people would be bamboozled by detail.
Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald, who took Opposition Leaders’ Questions, said the country was in a extraordinarily difficult economic situation just a few years ago. On Wednesday, she told the Dáil that unemployment figures were revealed to be down 6.8 per cent, a figure Fianna Fáil said would never be reached, she added.
The Government was providing more money and more detailed work with local authorities to deal with the housing situation, Ms Fitzgerald said.
Repair and leasing
The Tánaiste later said the allocation of €32 million to deal with repair and leasing of housing would be announced and local authorities would work to ensure that more properties were available for people seeking housing.
She said the four Dublin local authorities had confirmed the target would be met to ensure children and families would not be using hotels in the city.
There was a targeted social plan, but it would take some time, Ms Fitzgerald added.
Later, Minister for Housing Simon Coveney said last year 2,700 “housing solutions” were put in place for homeless individuals and families.
In the past number of months, he said, the Government had managed to stop the significant increase by taking a lot of people out of homelessness as quickly as possible.
“We need to ensure that we slow down the numbers becoming homelessness and continue to increase the pace in which we can facilitate the transition out of emergency accommodation,” Mr Coveney added.
“I am still confident we can do that by July 1st.”
Mr Coveney said it was a big job to get between 700 and 800 families out of hotel accommodation and into appropriate accommodation in that period, but the Government was determined to do it.

RSA Ireland losses widen on setting aside £50m for prior-year accidents

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Insurer targets return to Irish operating profitability this year after £42 million losses.

RSA Insurance Ireland’s operating loss widened by 62% last year after the country’s once-largest provider of motor and property coverage was forced to set aside £50 million (€59.1 million) of reserves to cover the costs of accidents in 2014 and 2015.
The local subsidiary of London-listed RSA Group posted a £42 million full-year loss compared with a £26 million loss for 2015. The performance was described by the parent as “disappointing”, especially as it had returned last year to writing new business on a profitable basis, as it and the wider industry hiked rates.
Insurers in the Republic have increased motor rates by almost 60 per cent over the past three years, according to Central Statistics Office data, in an effort to return to profitability as they struggle with rising claims, attributed to more cars on our roads in a recovering economy and spiralling court awards.
RSA Insurance Ireland has suffered more than most, as it was embroiled in an accounting scandal in 2013, when it emerged the company had not been setting aside enough reserves to cover large claims.
RSA said it is targeting a return to operating profitability for the Irish unit this year “through continued underwriting improvement, portfolio remediation and cost reduction”. However, it warned that the unit may face “additional reserve volatility” this year as a result of claims inflation on the back of the Personal Injuries Assessment board recently updating its so-called “book of quantum” – the guidelines for injury awards and judicial reviews.
As a result of the additional amount of money RSA Insurance Ireland had to set aside to cover higher expected costs from accidents in 2014 and 2015, its combined ratio – a keenly followed figure that measures insurance losses and expenses against premiums earned – rose to 116.2% from 113.4% year-on-year. A combined ratio off less than 100% indicates an insurer is writing insurance on a profitable basis.
“The prior year loss is predominantly in the Republic of Ireland commercial and motor portfolios, where a combination of higher-than-expected claims and the distortion of our reserving patterns following the events of 2013 have resulted in further strengthening of reserves during 2016,” the company said.
“The issues have been amplified by a challenging Irish market, characterised by aggressive claims inflation and increasing litigation mitigated by a very hard rating environment.”
The bulk of the additional provisioning appeared to be in RSA’s commercial insurance business rather than its personal line, comparing the full-year results with its interim figures that were published in August.
RSA said premiums in Ireland were up 6% last year to £306 million from a year earlier. This was largely driven by continued rating actions. Net written personal premiums rose 2% to £185 million with commercial premiums increasing 12% to £121 million.
Insurers have been less able to rely in recent years on investment income to cushion the blow from underwriting losses, as they grapple with low global bond yields. RSA Insurance Ireland’s investment profit fell to £7 million last year from £9 million in 2015.
The latest results come a day after three former RSA Insurance Ireland staff Rory O’Connor, Martin Ryan and Gerard Bradley were fined a combined £182,000 (€206,090) under sanctions tied to an investigation by a UK accounting watchdog into financial irregularities at the firm in 2012.
The Dublin-based insurer’s London-listed parent RSA Insurance Group injected €423 million of cash between 2013 and 2015 after the country’s once-largest insurer was thrown into crisis when it emerged it had a large hole in its balance sheet. This was mainly the result of the business having been found at the time to have set aside too little money in reserve to cover large claims.
RSA Group made a further €90 million available to the Irish division, if needed, last March to bolster its balance sheet under new insurance capital rules, known as Solvency II.
The continuing woes of the Irish business contrast with a 25% surge in operating profits delivered by the broader RSA Group last year, to £655 million. The group, which has been undergoing a restructuring programme under ex-RBS boss Stephen Hester, raised its target for return on tangible equity to 13-17% from a previous range of 12-15% on Thursday, and said it hoped to “perform in the upper part of this range”.
RSA said its cost-reduction programme was ahead of original targets and it was upgrading that target for a third time to more than £400 million sterling of gross annualised savings by 2018, from a previous target of more than £350 million.
The insurer said it would pay a final dividend of 11 pence per share and total dividend of 16 pence, up 52% from a year earlier and above a forecast 15.1 pence.

Tesco calls on union to reconsider strikes after five more stores vote no

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Six ballots held on Wednesday night with all but one store voting against strike action

Tesco has called on Mandate to re-visit its strike strategy after five more stores voted against joining the picket.
There were six “supportive ballots” held on Wednesday night with all but one store voting against strike action. There are currently pickets on 16 stores, with six more set to go on strike from next Monday.
The strike centres around what the Mandate union says is an attempt by Tesco management to enforce contract changes which will see the wages of staff recruited before 1996 fall by more than 15%.
Tesco has repeatedly denied this and says it needs to make changes to contracts to reflect an altered retail environment which now includes late-night and online shopping, as well as Sunday openings.
It says only a very small number of staff will see contract changes and promised that they will not lose out financially.
In a statement, Tesco said that 23 stores, or more than of half the shops balloted, had “overwhelmingly refused to co-operate with the union’s strike”.
The company said there was “an onus now on Mandate to face up to the emphatic decisions by the majority of colleagues. It is incumbent on Mandate after tonight’s strike rejections to re-visit its strike plans.”
The spokeswoman said it was “incontrovertible that Mandate’s strike plan is not being endorsed, as is shown not just by the union’s overwhelming losses in ballots, but also by the increasing number of colleagues crossing picket lines to return to work, with a further increase today.”
The company said the union would have to “urgently reconsider its refusal to accept the Labour Court Recommendation and its undermining of the industrial relations processes at the company and of the State, including its use of a Labour Court intervention to try to strengthen its hand in ballots.”
However, Mandate has said supportive ballots in other stores will continue next week and has said intense pressure by management on staff in voting stores was having an impact on outcome of the ballots.

Eat more fruit and veg for a longer life & eat 10 portions a day

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Eating loads of fruit and vegetables – 10 portions a day – may give us longer lives, say researchers.

The study, by Imperial College London, calculated such eating habits could prevent 7.8 million premature deaths each year.

The team also identified specific fruit and veg that reduced the risk of cancer and heart disease.
The analysis showed even small amounts had a health boon, but more is even better.
A portion counts as 80g (3oz) of fruit or veg – the equivalent of a small banana, a pear or three heaped tablespoons of spinach or peas.
What counts as five-a-day?
The conclusions were made by pooling data on 95 separate studies, involving two million people’s eating habits.

Lower risks of cancer were linked to eating:
1. green veg (eg spinach)
2. yellow veg (eg peppers)
3. cruciferous vegetables (eg cauliflower).

Lower risks of heart disease and strokes were linked to eating:
1. apples
2. pears
3. citrus fruits
4. salads
5. green leafy vegetables (eg lettuce)
6. cruciferous veg.et is a big fan of spinach.

Harriet Micallef, from Chippenham, says she often manages eight to 10 portions a day and has multiple portions of spinach every day.
She told the BBC: “I have a lot, I don’t ever have a meal without veg or salad so eight to 10 portions is a regular thing.”
She starts her day with a veg-packed omelette containing spinach and sometimes avocado or tomatoes.
Harriet’s salad-based lunch is also packed with a mix of veg and her evening meals tend to be stir fries or stews.
Snacks during the day include blended fruit smoothies or peppers dipped in hummus.
She added: “It’s definitely healthy, if you’ve got loads of colours on your plate then you’re pretty much okay.”
The results, published in the International Journal of Epidemiology, also assessed the risk of dying before your time.
Compared with eating no fruit or veg a day, it showed:
• 200g cut the risk of cardiovascular disease by 13% while 800g cut the risk by 28%
• 200g cut the risk of cancer by 4%, while 800g cut the risk by 13%
• 200g cut the risk of a premature death by 15%, while 800g cut the risk by 31%
The researchers do not know if eating even more fruit and veg would have even greater health benefits as there is little evidence out there to review.
Dr Dagfinn Aune, one of the researchers, said: “Fruit and vegetables have been shown to reduce cholesterol levels, blood pressure, and to boost the health of our blood vessels and immune system.
“This may be due to the complex network of nutrients they hold.
“For instance, they contain many antioxidants, which may reduce DNA damage and lead to a reduction in cancer risk.”
However, many people struggle to even eat the five a day (400g) recommended by the World Health Organization.
In the UK, only about one in three people eats enough.
Heather Saunders, 24 and from Oxford, routinely manages nine or 10 portions a day since becoming vegan.
She has two pieces of fruit with breakfast, a “massive pot” of roasted vegetables at lunch and then at least four vegetables in curries or chillies in the evening.
She told the BBC: “It is about making a conscious decision, I feel fuelling myself with plant-based foods is a more healthy way to sustain myself.”
Her tips for anyone trying to eat more is to do it gently: “Maybe decide to have one or two meat-free days a week and phase more veg in, I quite like a sweet potato curry with spinach and chickpeas.”
Dr Aune said the findings did not mean the five-a-day message needed to change.
He told the BBC: “There are many different considerations if changing policy, it’s not just the health effects – is it feasible?
“But our findings are quite clear in that they do support five a day, but there are even some further benefits for higher intakes.”
• Five-a-day advice ‘unrealistic’ says new GPs’ head
• Take the test: are you getting five-a-day?
Dr Alison Tedstone, chief nutritionist at Public Health England, said: “The five-a-day target is the foundation of a healthy balanced diet and is an achievable way to help prevent a number of diseases.
“Whilst consuming more than five portions of fruit and vegetables a day may be desirable… adding pressure to consume more fruit and vegetables creates an unrealistic expectation.”

Bumble bees found to have ‘impressive’ brain power as they are trained to score ‘goals’

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Bumblebees can teach each other how to score “goals” with a tiny ball, a new study finds

Bumblebees can teach each other how to score “goals” with a tiny ball, displaying a learning ability never before seen in insects, a study has shown.
The bees surprised scientists by working out how to use a novel tool to obtain a food reward simply by watching their neighbours.
In the experiment, the bees were placed on a platform and had to roll a yellow ball to a specific location – or “goal” – in order to obtain a sugar solution.
They were given two types of training, either watching a previously trained bee “score”, or being shown the ball that appeared to move on its own with help of an unseen magnet.
Insects that observed the success of other bees were better at learning the task than those given the “ghost” demonstration.
Project leader Professor Lars Chittka, from Queen Mary, University of London’s School of Biological and Chemical Sciences, said: “Our study puts the final nail in the coffin of the idea that small brains constrain insects to have limited behavioural flexibility and only simple learning abilities.”
The bees did not simply copy exactly what they saw, but figured out their own way to get the ball to the right destination.
“This shows an impressive amount of cognitive flexibility, especially for an insect,” said Dr Olli Loukola, another member of the Queen Mary team.
During the tests, the bees had to roll a ball from the edge of the platform to the centre.
Initially, “demonstrator” bees were trained by watching a plastic bee pushing the ball to the goal.
They then moved the ball in front of other bees undergoing training, who quickly learned the same trick.
But in later trials “observer” bees faced with a choice of three balls made a beeline for the one closest to the goal, rather than the one at the platform edge.
In yet another test they had to move a differently coloured ball to earn the reward.
Dr Loukola said: “It may be that bumblebees, along with many other animals, have the cognitive capabilities to solve such complex tasks, but will only do so if environmental pressures are applied to necessitate such behaviours.”

News Ireland as told by Donie

Sunday 19th February 2017

Varadkar and Coveney in dogfight for power as gap closes on successor to Enda

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The likely lads to succeed Enda Kenny above?

Simon Coveney has dramatically narrowed rival Leo Varadkar’s lead as the public’s favourite to succeed Enda Kenny yes but there is also clear evidence that a third candidate could emerge to win a Fine Gael leadership contest, according to a Sunday Independent/Kantar Millward Brown opinion poll.

Social Protection Minister Mr Varadkar (27%) has a slight lead over Housing Minister Mr Coveney (23%), but almost a quarter of all voters favour somebody else (16%) or neither (8%) of the two front-runners to lead Fine Gael, according to the nationwide poll.

This is the first time that those polled were offered a choice of just two candidates to succeed Taoiseach and Fine Gael leader Mr Kenny.

Mr Varadkar (37%) extends his lead over Mr Coveney (28%) among Fine Gael supporters, according to the opinion poll, but again almost one-quarter of party supporters favour somebody else (15%), or neither front-runner (7%), should Mr Kenny decide to step down.

Yesterday, Mr Varadkar increased the pressure on Mr Kenny to make his continued leadership intentions known, but the Taoiseach told the Sunday Independent he intended to “focus on the job in hand” which, his spokesman said, he would carry out with “continued dedication and dignity”.

But today’s opinion poll contains further findings which will add to the mounting pressure on Mr Kenny to resign. The state of the parties shows Fianna Fail (33%) — up six points since a comparable poll in October — has opened up an eight-point lead over Fine Gael (25%), down four points.

Fianna Fail is extending its lead — it is now at its highest point since 2008 — at a time when there has been a marked increase in consumer confidence.

The poll finds 23% believe they are better off than they were last year,  a seven-point increase, and 21pc feel worse off, a nine-point decrease, while 27% feel they will be better off next year, a seven point increase, and 14% feel they will be worse off, a nine- point decrease.

The poll also shows Sinn Fein (20%) unchanged, Labour (6%) down two points, the Greens (2pc) unchanged and Independents/others (14%) down one point.

Mr Varadkar told the Sunday Independent: “Everyone is waiting to hear from the Taoiseach. The current situation is distracting and destabilising for the Government, the party and the country. I have full confidence in the Taoiseach to settle it.”

Simon Coveney and his wife Ruth at the wedding Photo: Gerry Mooney

However, Mr Coveney said the Taoiseach should not be forced to “set a date” for his departure.

“Enda is still the leader of our party – he has been for 15 years. I think he deserves the respect to be given time and space to make any decisions he thinks he needs to make.”

Today’s poll also finds Mr Kenny’s satisfaction rating (27%) down just two points and dissatisfaction rating (62%) up three points since October. Furthermore, satisfaction with the Government (27%), down four points, and dissatisfaction (64%), up two points, have not significantly changed despite recent political turmoil.

The poll, among a representative sample of 960, was carried out between February 6 and 16 and has a margin of error of 3.2%.

Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin (44%), up one point, remains comfortably the most popular party leader with an unchanged dissatisfaction rating of 40%.

However, only a slim majority (53%), down one point, want Mr Kenny to resign as Fine Gael leader while 25%, up one point, want him to remain. Fascinatingly, a majority (57%) of Fine Gael supporters say Mr Kenny should remain leader, a finding which may encourage him to resist pressure to resign and choose the time of his own departure. Furthermore, 73% of Fine Gael supporters are satisfied with his leadership.

Also interestingly, of those who believe Mr Kenny should remain, more opt for Mr Coveney (29%) than Mr Varadkar (27%c) as his successor, a finding which indicates that the Housing Minister is in a position to win the backing of more of Mr Kenny’s supporters in a leadership contest.

Of those who believe Mr Kenny should resign, 31% would support Mr Varadkar and 28% would support Mr Coveney.

These findings show that while Mr Varadkar must be the favourite to succeed Mr Kenny, a Fine Gael leadership contest would be far from a foregone conclusion.

Yesterday, Foreign Affairs Minister Charlie Flanagan said Fine Gael needed to “keep calm and measured over the next few months” or the party would “catapult ourselves into a messy general election that will play into the hands of Sinn Fein and the loony left”.

Today’s opinion poll, however, finds that support for Independents and smaller parties has almost halved since the General Election.

Furthermore, when asked which party or political grouping they would not consider voting for in the next election, the poll finds that the Socialist Party (22%), up seven points; AAA-PBP (22%), up four points; Greens (20%), up three points; and Social Democrats (14%), up four points, appear to be falling out of favour with voters, while 36%, down two points, say they would not consider voting for Sinn Fein.

Tribalism is still a problem in Northern Ireland politics after 20 years of peace

Image result for Tribalism is still a problem in Northern Ireland politics after 20 years of peace  Image result for Tribalism is still a problem in Northern Ireland politics after 20 years of peace

It is no great surprise to see that Northern Ireland politics are still as polarised as ever nearly two decades after the Good Friday Agreement was signed in a wave of optimism that society here could be changed forever.

It is no great surprise to see that Northern Ireland politics are still as polarised as ever nearly two decades after the Good Friday Agreement was signed in a wave of optimism that society here could be changed forever.

The survey from the Electoral Reform Society shows that only a tiny proportion of unionists or nationalists would ever contemplate voting first for a party outside their own bloc.

And even though the STV system allows voters to give their preferences right through the list for their constituency, few Catholics or Protestants would put their mark in the box of an opposing party.

Around one-third of all preferences were for parties outside the big four – DUP, Sinn Fein, SDLP and UUP – but that does not give a corresponding return of Assembly Members. The centre ground still remains a minority.

Little wonder that UUP leader Mike Nesbitt received such a cold shoulder from even his own party when he said he would vote for a SDLP candidate as a second preference in the forthcoming election. His gesture may be the ideal way to conduct politics, but obviously tribal considerations trump real cross-party co-operation.

So where did it all go wrong after the Good Friday Agreement? The hope for a brighter future was fuelled first by the ending of conflict, but the guerrilla war conducted by the DUP and Sinn Fein against the original power-sharing partners, the UUP and SDLP, ensured that devolution never gained the momentum it should have.

The decision eventually by the DUP and Sinn Fein to share power offered new hope, but this has dwindled over the last decade as the parties both retreated towards the trenches in a welter of bad feeling and even more virulent language.

We are now a fortnight away from a new election, but the prospect of an early return to devolved government seems remote.

The inevitable conclusion – unless there is an unprecedented sea-change in voting habits – is that the majority of those who go to the polls are content to keep to their tribal silos no matter what the implications.

The one glimmer of hope is that a significant number of the 45% of voters who didn’t bother going to the polls last May – either through apathy or weariness -turn out this time and change voting patterns to register their displeasure with the status quo. History is not encouraging.

An Irish mum shares a heart-breaking video of her 21-year-old scoliosis daughter in agonising pain?

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A Kildare mum Tina O’Kelly has shared a video of her 21-year-old daughter Colleen in agony and pleaded with Health Minister Simon Harris for a surgery date.

Colleen O’Kelly has Joubert Syndrome and has now been waiting for an appointment for two years just to get on the list for scoliosis surgery.

Her mum Tina says that Colleen’s condition will worsen, unless she is granted surgery. The rate of curvature of her daughter’s spine is at 97%, and apart from causing Colleen to live with agonising chronic pain, it significantly increases her risk of lung collapse, pneumonia, and respiratory infections.

Tina spoke to Her Family about the heart-breaking situation,

“I wish that the HSE management and the government would stop blaming each other and just get together to get the root of this mess.

The HSE says it’s caused by a lack of money and the government say that it’s not a lack of money that’s the problem, but rather mismanagement of it.

While they are busy squabbling with each other nothing is getting done.”

The Naas mum explained that her 21-year-old daughter has already undergone a kidney transplant but unfortunately Colleen still has no date for surgery to correct the painful curvature of her spine,

“When Colleen turned 18 she had to be transferred from the care of Crumlin to Tallaght hospital as an adult patient. Her doctor in Crumlin essentially had to write a letter referring her to himself – from one of his patient lists to another.

She has waited two years just to get on another waiting list, she has been on the surgery waiting list since last August. The secretary said she’d ask the doctor for a 7th of March listing but I have heard nothing.”

Tina told us that Colleen is a fighter who has been through so much but has managed to keep a smile on her face,

“She is normally such a happy, happy person. She has flown through her transplant…through everything…with a smile on her face. That’s why it’s so heart-breaking to see her suffering like this now. She doesn’t have to suffer like this. This is avoidable.”

Tina says that she agonised over sharing a video of her daughter crying in pain, but she wants people to see the completely avoidable reality that they live with on a daily basis,

“Everyone that knows Colleen knows how amazingly happy she is. Lately her scoliosis has really been causing awful problems for her and it’s heart-breaking. She has no date for surgery. We have no idea when it will be.

This is the reality of living with this condition. It’s getting worse and compromising her health that we have fought so hard for all her life. It’s compromising her kidney transplant.

We wait every day for word from Tallaght.

We want her pain to end – she’s been through enough – and call on Simon Harris to fix this. ”

Take a minute to boost your fitness the easy way & it works

Rose Costello looks at the quickest and simplest way to get fitter?

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If you think that running for the bus is a waste of time, think again. Even if you don’t catch that bus, you will be doing a lot more for your fitness than you might realise. The latest research shows that taking exercise in short bursts could be just what the doctor ordered.

It’s known as high-intensity interval training (Hiit) and it is now part of any fitness instructor’s offering. Even those who can’t be bothered to go to a gym or who don’t have the time can benefit.

High-intensity training means really pushing yourself for a short amount of time, resting, then pushing yourself again. What’s shocking is how little time it can take to make a difference to your fitness.

A report published in the PLOS One journal last year followed two groups over 12 weeks: one spent just 10 minutes on training that included intense intervals that added up to one minute; the second group worked out at a moderate, even pace for 45 minutes. The surprise is that the two groups saw similar improvements in health. There are a number of other studies showing equally encouraging results.

Claire Mc Glynn, a competitive weightlifter and personal trainer at cmgfit.com in Dublin, loves to use Hiit and says it is the best and quickest way to achieve positive results in your physical and mental health. “It’s very simple really – everyone knows that when you put 100 per cent of effort into something, you get the best results and there is no exception when it comes to exercise.”

Level of intensity?

Mc Glynn points out that she can do the same Hiit routine as a beginner, but if they both do it at their top level of intensity, they both benefit dramatically. There is no need for modification of a routine for beginners. They key is to feel that you are pushing past your own comfort.

They might curse me for asking them to do it,” she says, “but once they’re doing it, the adrenaline kicks in and it’s just a matter of working through the process. Afterwards, endorphins – happy hormones – have been released and they’re tired, yet contented and have an air of accomplishment, and sometimes surprise at what they have been able to achieve.”

The 29-year-old runs hardcore classes in CrossFit353, which involves using heavy weights or pushing around massive tyres for fun. But she also teaches members of the Retired Teachers’ Association of Ireland, who are between 50 and 70.

“Their progress has been unbelievable. Many started with me two years ago and now they are blitzing sessions of many, many squats, lunges, push-ups, plank holds for up to three minutes and so on. Their mobility, strength, fitness, self-belief and confidence has increased tenfold.”

Hiit also boosts your metabolism, ie the rate at which you burn calories, for hours afterwards.

No class needed?

Good form is key on whatever exercise you are doing, she says. “There is no point in repping out 100 squats if your back is rounded and knees are caving in, you’ll just do more harm than good.”

You don’t have to join a class to experience the benefit, however. These are principles you can put into practice every day. This doesn’t mean you should give up on beach walks, rather that you should run after that bus with abandon, for a minute anyway. And regardless of whether you catch it or not, you will have done yourself some good.

The World Health Organisation advises adults do at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity a week or at least 75 minutes of vigorous activity. Incorporating Hiit doesn’t mean slacking off, simply realising that a few sharp bursts can be valuable too.

If you cannot exercise most days, but try to get out at the weekend, take heart. A report last month in the JAMA Internal Medicinejournal shows that “weekend warriors”, who did all their exercise on one or two days of the week, were found to lower their risk of dying from cardiovascular disease by 41 per cent and cancer by 18 per cent, compared with the inactive. Even those who didn’t manage to get the 150 minutes of activity advised by the WHO reduced their risk of early death by one-third.

Push yourself

For those not exercising now, walking quickly can count as “high-intensity” if you push yourself. Even a brisk 20-minute daily walk could reduce your risk of early death, according to research published in the American Journal of Clinical Exercise in 2015. The study of more than 334,000 Europeans found that twice as many deaths may be attributable to a lack of physical activity compared with the number attributable to obesity, but that a modest increase in physical activity could have significant health benefits.

An earlier study in the Lancet in 2012 said that inactivity was killing about as many people as smoking.

If you have been following this series, you should be eating a pretty balanced diet that gives you more energy. Put that energy to good use by adding in some extra exercise – or even just some exercise.

An effective way?

The maxim still holds that you cannot outrun a bad diet, but to be healthy you need to do some exercise too. Using the principles of high-intensity interval training is an easy and effective way to achieve results without putting in too much effort.

Ashley Borden of the Body Foundation in California, who has trained actor Ryan Gosling, says she uses Hiit training because it is efficient, burns fat and builds muscle. There is no need to have any fancy equipment either, just the focus to really go for it for half a minute at a time.

This all comes with a proviso, of course: as with any form of exercise, you need to be in fairly decent shape to get started. If not, or if you are on medication or have any concerns or conditions, check with your doctor first. And wear the appropriate footwear. Then go for it.

GM ‘surrogate hens’ could lay eggs of rare chicken breeds,

So scientists say

A radical plan to maintain diversity of gene pool proposes the use of genetically modified chickens as surrogate mothers?

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Some of the genetically modified chickens bred by scientists at the Roslin Institute.

The Rumpless Game is squawky and, as its name suggests, lacks a tail, while the Burmese Bantam, has fantastically flared leg feathers and a head like a feather duster. But the true value of rare chicken breeds, according to a team of scientists working to save them from obsolescence, is not their decorative crests and plumage, but the diversity they bring to the chicken gene pool.

In a radical plan to preserve rare varieties such as the Nankin, Scots Dumpy and Sicilian Buttercup, scientists at the the University of Edinburgh’s Roslin Institute have bred genetically modified chickens designed to act as surrogates that would be capable of laying eggs from any rare breed.

Speaking to journalists at the AAAS conference in Boston, Mike McGrew, who is leading the project, said: “These chickens are a first step in saving and protecting rare poultry breeds from loss.”

The surrogacy technique, which places a new, mind-bending twist on the classic chicken or egg question, involves first genetically engineering hens to be sterile. This is done by deleting a gene, called DDX4, that is required for the development of primordial follicles (the precursors to eggs) meaning that the surrogate hens will never lay eggs that are biologically their own.

A baby bantam. The scientists’ ultimate goal is to create a gene bank of chicken breeds preserved for posterity.

A batch of sterile GM chicks hatched at the Roslin Institute in 2016, becoming the first genetically modified birds created in Europe. “We produced a hen that doesn’t have any eggs,” said McGrew, who is first author on a paper on the work published this week in the journal Development.

The next step will be to transplant follicles from rare birds into the surrogate (this is done before the surrogate chick is hatched from its own egg), meaning it would go on to lay eggs belonging to entirely different breeds of chicken.

Given that the hens would also need to be artificially inseminated with sperm from the same rare variety, the approach may appear unnecessarily convoluted. Why not just breed the rare birds the normal way?

The scientists’ ultimate goal is to create a gene bank of chicken breeds preserved for posterity, and since primordial follicles can be frozen efficiently, while eggs cannot, the surrogacy technique serves an essential work-around.

The Roslin team has set up the Frozen Aviary, a £14m project aimed at preserving a wide variety of poultry breeds.

“We’re interested in chicken because that is the animal which is the most consumed animal on the planet and we want to protect all the different breeds of chickens that we have,” said McGrew. “So we can freeze down all the breeds of chicken.”

McGrew predicts that the surrogates will be able to lay eggs from any breed, including chicken’s wild predecessor, the red junglefowl, but he is doubtful about whether it will work efficiently across species – it is not likely that the surrogate hens will be giving birth to eagle chicks, for instance.

Richard Broad, a field officer for the Rare Breeds Survival Trust, said the idea was appealing: “You can save all kinds of breeds, put them in a freezer and there would be a genetic ark for us.”

A Salmon Faverolle chicken. Scientists say rare breeds can bring diversity to the chicken gene pool.

“If you had one in every country it would be a wonderful thing. In terms of usefulness, we couldn’t wish for anything better – it would be unbelievably useful.”

Broad agreed that rare chickens could be a source of valuable genetic variation, potentially carrying variants that would provide resistance against new forms of avian flu. “It’s not what we’re protecting in the breeds that’s important, it’s what those breeds represent in their genes,” he said.

The Frozen Aviary, which would allow scientists to rapidly expand populations that contained a protective gene for a new disease, bring breeds back to life after they had been declared extinct and provide an insurance against commercial breeds, which have been honed for their fast-growing, being wiped out by a disease.

The avian biobank currently has genetic material from 25 different breeds and more than 500 samples from individual birds, all stored in liquid nitrogen cryostats. “They should be good – as long as the power doesn’t go out – for decades,” said McGrew.

At present, the team is focused on chicken breeds, but expects the technique to work to preserve rare varieties of ducks, geese and quail. Previously, scientists in Dubai used a similar technique in male birds to create a houbara (a large bustard) fathered by a cockerel.

In the future, it may also be possible to use the technique to conserve endangered species such as golden eagles – although this would depend on a suitable surrogate being identified.

“The question remains open on how evolutionarily related they have to be for them to transplant them,” said McGrew. “You need a bird that can be bred in captivity and produce a lot of eggs.”

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Thursday 19th January 2017

Figures within weeks to allow rent cap in new areas, says Simon Coveney

Minister insists housing policy needs to include a balance towards landlords

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Simon Coveney says: “If areas qualify under the criteria with which everyone is familiar, they will be designated as rent-pressure zones and the rules will apply’’

Figures will be available in the next few weeks to allow for the introduction of a rent cap in 15 new areas, Minister for Housing Simon Coveney has said.

“We will get assessments of those areas done quickly so that we can create new designations for rent-pressure zones as quickly as possible.’’

Mr Coveney said the areas focused on were cities like Waterford, Limerick and Galway, as well as areas adjacent to Dublin and Cork city. This included counties like Wicklow, Kildare, Meath and places in the outskirts of Cork city like Carrigaline and Ballincollig.

“If areas qualify under the criteria with which everyone is familiar, they will be designated as rent-pressure zones and the rules will apply,’’ said Mr Coveney. “We will limit rent inflation in those areas to 4 per cent annually.’’

AAA-PBP TD Ruth Coppinger said the National Competitiveness Council had reported people were spending 41 per cent of their income on rent.

“That is not sustainable, particularly for families. Obviously, for those in receipt of rent allowance, the amount they must personally pay has increased dramatically.’’

Mr Coveney said some people in the House only wanted to make the case for one side of the rental debate.

“Of course we need to introduce changes to protect tenants from spiralling rents and to address the matter of security of tenure to ensure that landlords are not abusing tenants, but we also need to have a policy that is balanced towards the landlords. Otherwise we will not have any landlords.’’

He said his job was to introduce a balance to allow the rental sector to function. He must ensure an increased amount of social housing while retaining a private rental market which was functioning properly.

Ross says fixing Bus Éireann is a must for the unions and Bus Eireann

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Bus Éireann unions to meet next week to consider joint strategy and have warned of potential industrial action

Shane Ross told the Dáil that Bus Éireann was losing €6m a year, mainly due to losses being run up by its commercial Expressway arm

Finding a resolution to the problem of unsustainable losses at Bus Éireann is a matter for management and trade unions, Minister for Transport Shane Ross has indicated.

He told the Dáil that Bus Éireann was losing some €6 million a year, and this was not as a result of the State’s subvention to the company but rather due to losses being run up by its commercial Expressway arm, which faces intense competition from private operators.

Mr Ross did not say whether he supported controversial proposals put forward by management on Wednesday to restructure the company which includes redundancies and cuts to premium payments, allowances and overtime rates.

Bus Éireann has argued that its financial position is unsustainable, and without action to tackle its cost base and inefficiencies it will go out of business within two years.

Unions have promised to resist the company’s plan, which they argue could see a 25-30 per cent reduction to their members’ earnings.

The union groups at Bus Éireann will meet next week to consider a joint strategy, and have warned of potential industrial action over the proposed cuts.

They indicated this could ultimately spread to CIÉ sister companies Irish Rail and Dublin Bus.

Pensions

Union sources have suggested that a potential trigger for any broader row could be a dispute over pensions for staff in the three companies.

A spokesman for the CIÉ group said it would be resuming talks with unions at the beginning of February on the future funding of pension schemes in the group with a view to developing joint proposals.

Meanwhile, Bus Éireann appears to not have ruled out introducing compulsory redundancies as part of its restructuring plans. Sources said it would prefer any severance arrangements for staff to be on a voluntary basis.

Mr Ross told the Dáil that rural communities would not be abandoned as a result of any decisions by Bus Éireann to discontinue operating any existing routes. He said the National Transport Authority had clarified that it could and would “step into any area, assess the transport needs and ensure continued public transport connectivity”.

In part of a speech circulated by the Department of Transport but not delivered in Dáil, Mr Ross said the difficult position being experienced by Bus Éireann should not be underestimated.

However he did not, either in his comments in the Dáil or in the prepared speech, indicate whether he endorsed the controversial proposals set out by Bus Éireann management in its new survival plan.

Emergency aid fund for tillage farmers gets a step closer

After Government loses vote?

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Fianna Fail has had a private members motion passed in the Dail in favour of the creation of a support fund for up to 300 tillage farmers hit with significant crop losses last year.

Fianna Fail spokesperson on agriculture Charlie McConalogue said the motion was passed with “strong support” and the onus is now on the Minister for Agriculture to call an urgent meeting of the Tillage Forum and discuss what such a scheme could look like.

“Now it is the wish of the Dail that these farmers are supported.”

He said that it is imperative a scheme and fund is agreed within the next few weeks, which would provide aid to 250-300 tillage farmers who lost over 25pc of their crops last year.

“These farmers are mainly located along the western seaboard and some inland counties and a fund in the region of €4.5-5m is needed.

“The Minister for Agriculture does have access to such funds, due to the large carryover of funds in his department from 2016.”

IFA President Joe Healy said he welcomed the support in the Dail for IFA’s campaign for emergency aid for grain growers seriously affected by weather losses in the 2016 harvest.

“Following our protest outside the Dail yesterday, there is a groundswell of support for those tillage farmers who incurred significant weather losses during last year’s harvest.”

Healy too called on the Minister for Agriculture Michael Creed to reconvene the National Tillage Forum as a matter of urgency to deal in the first place with the emergency aid issue.

We have to tell pregnant Irish women not to drink alcohol

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Although it’s accepted that binge-drinking poses significant risks to a foetus, health professionals and the public are divided on the effects of an occasional drink after 12 weeks. 

A recent study suggests that over 60% of Irish mothers drink alcohol during pregnancy. The research looked at more than 3,500 Irish maternal records from 1990 to 2011 and examined the rate of foetal alcohol syndrome, where the baby in the womb was affected.

The official advice from the Department of Health is that women should not drink any alcohol during pregnancy. However there is no strong evidence that low levels of drinking is harmful. We asked two commentators to tell us their views.

YES. Being American and growing up surrounded by health education and open diagnoses regarding substance abuse, I, of course, think everyone is an alcoholic and should go to AA.

I admit, I love to diagnose (with no qualification) psychiatric and substance abuse issues, and that I have been influenced by what is an overzealous health care system (with severe issues of its own) and media culture in the United States.

Before I was pregnant, I had plenty of interesting conversations about healers and home remedies with Irish colleagues and friends. I also had a few friendly debates about the merits of booze to cure my upset stomach, my flu, and of course my headache from drinking too much booze the night before.

The same people that refused to take medication preferred to drink their remedies, and believed this was a healthier and more natural option than popping pills like Americans. Maybe it is healthier but what it definitely is to me, is the confirmation that popular beliefs about alcohol play a stronger role in many Irish people’s decisions than medical evidence or health education.

In Ireland I felt a bit silly and paranoid for maintaining that doctors don’t know exactly what level of alcohol affects the foetus so it was safest to not drink. I had an odd drink or sip and didn’t feel particularly guilty because I knew I would never drink more than that but I was also aware of the public image a pregnant woman drinking alcohol presents and I wasn’t comfortable normalising that image.

Since it is unknown what level of alcohol consumption causes Foetal Alcohol Syndrome and alcohol consumption is notoriously open to subjective and cultural interpretation, why believe that the average woman understands what a few drinks means? How much is “a few” drinks while pregnant?

I heard a woman say that drinking a six-pack was fine once it was only West Coast Coolers. I also heard women and men agree that it’s safe to drink in the last trimester because the baby is already developed when in fact the liver is not developed. Most husbands and wives can’t agree on the definition of “having one” so why did the Irish government think the public could?

I hope that the clear recommendation to avoid drink will make pregnancy easier for women in Ireland by presenting a consistent public health message and associated education that should result in a shift in culture around drink (without thinking everyone needs Alcoholics Anonymous).

Colleen Hennessy is a writer and mother to two Kerry-born munchkins. She can be reached at colleenhennessy.com or @colleenhennessy4 on Twitter.

  1. This kind of thinking opens the door to monitoring women’s behaviour in pregnancy. What about the binge eating mom who risks passing on diabetes? Or the cyclist who might fall off and injure herself? Or the vegetarian lacking iron?

We all know that excessive drinking in pregnancy is very stupid and irresponsible. We know that drinking a lot of alcohol – six or more units a day – can cause foetal alcohol syndrome, which stunts the mental and physical development of a child, and can even trigger a miscarriage. We know that a baby’s organs can’t deal with alcohol in the way that ours can.

However, there is no confusion about how much is safe. And – of course – many women who are not alcoholics drink too much before even realising that they are pregnant. But for the vast majority of women, discovering they’re having a baby switches on the overwhelming instinct to protect and nurture.

We women are lectured to enough when it comes to our bodies. It’s time for us to take back control. Yes, we will listen politely to the advice. But then, as with all advice, we will make our own decisions as to whether to adhere to it or not.

World’s primates facing ‘an extinction crisis’

Victoria Gill explains the threat to primates, with the help of some lemurs

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The world’s primates face an “extinction crisis” with 60% of species now threatened with extinction, according to research.

A global study, involving more than 30 scientists, assessed the conservation status of more than 500 individual species.

This also revealed that 75% of species have populations that are declining.

The findings are published in the journal Science Advances.

Professor Jo Setchell from Durham University, a member of the team, explained that the main threats were “massive habitat loss” and illegal hunting.

“Forests are destroyed when primate habitat is converted to industrial agriculture, leaving primates with nowhere to live,” she told BBC News.

“And primates are hunted for meat and trade, either as pets or as body parts.”

Other threats – all driven by human behaviour – are forest clearance for livestock and cattle ranching; oil and gas drilling and mining.

“The short answer is that we must reduce human domination of the planet, and learn to share space with other species,” Prof Setchell commented.

No alternative

Deforestation has driven the Sumatran orangutan to the brink of extinction

The study also cited poverty and civil unrest as a driving force for hunting – in the poorest parts of the world many people are being driven to hunting primates in order to feed themselves.

“We need to focus on the development of these parts of the world and make sure people have an alternative source of protein,” said Prof Serge Wich from Liverpool John Moores University.

He pointed out that the loss of primate species represented the loss of forests that are essential for the future of our own species.

“These forests provide essential services for people,” he told BBC News.

“They help in being carbon stocks to mitigate climate change; they help in providing clean water and providing pollination services for people, so they can grow their crops.”

The researchers also pointed to some personal choices that people could make as consumers, particularly in the west, to avoid contributing to tropical deforestation.

“Simple examples are don’t buy tropical timber, don’t eat palm oil,” said Prof Setchell.

But more broadly, “we need to raise local, regional and global public awareness of the plight of the world’s primates and what this means for ecosystem health, human culture, and ultimately human survival.

“In industrialised nations, we must decrease our demand for resources that we don’t need, and stop confusing wants with needs.”

Dr Christoph Schwitzer, from the International Union for the Conservation of Nature is also director of conservation at Bristol Zoological Society. He told the BBC that it was his “strong belief” that “with a concerted effort by the world’s governments and conservationists, primate declines can be halted and populations stabilised”.

He added that changes in consumer behaviour could help, for example “choosing FSC-certified wood and paper products, and making sure palm oil comes from sustainable sources”.

Video

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Sunday 15th January 2017

Irish mortgage rates still nearly double the euro area average?

Variable rate holders continue to pay price for profligate bank lending during boom years

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Irish mortgage interest rates remain nearly double the euro area average, according to data published by the Central Bank last Friday.

The weighted average interest rate on new mortgages, excluding renegotiation’s, was 3.38% in November, down 28 basis points year-on-year. The equivalent euro area rate was 1.72%.

Mortgage interest rates in Ireland used to reflect the main European Central Bank (ECB) lending rate, primarily because of the high proportion of tracker mortgages issued during the boom years.

The more recent divergence reflects the premium Irish banks have attached to variable rate mortgages issued since the start of the financial crisis.

Lenders here have resisted political pressure to lower their rates, insisting that lending into to Irish market represents a riskier proposition.

They also argue that Irish costs remain higher because of the higher funding costs they face as a result of the crisis.

Variable rates can rise or fall depending on wholesale interest rates, which are set by the ECB, though banks are not obliged to pass these changes on to customers.

Fianna Fáil is pushing for legislation that would give the Central Bank powers to cap variable mortgage rates, a move that is being resisted by the Central Bank and the Government.

The latest Central Bank data also show the volume of new mortgage agreements amounted to €548 million in November, bringing new agreements to €4.9 billion over the past 12 months.

Oxfam World report reveals ‘an obscene gap’ between the rich and poor.

Eight men’s wealth same as world’s poorest 50%, indicates study ahead of Davos forum

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The gap between rich and poor is becoming increasingly large, with just eight individuals owning the same wealth as 3.6 billion of the world’s poorest people, according to new research.

A report from Oxfam, launched on the eve of the World Economic Forum in Davos, found that the poorest half of the world has less wealth than previously thought, due to new data emanating from China and India. This means that the eight richest men in the world are worth the same as the poorest half of the world’s population, according to wealth distribution data provided by Credit Suisse.

“It is obscene for so much wealth to be held in the hands of just eight men . . . particularly when one in nine people in the world go to bed hungry every night,” said Oxfam Ireland chief executive Jim Clarke. “A fundamental change in the way we manage our economies is required so they benefit everyone, not just a fortunate few. We need a global economy for the 99%, not just the 1%.”

More than 3,000 participants, including Taoiseach Enda Kenny, will descend on the snowy peaks of Davos, Switzerland, this week for the 47th World Economic Forum.

While the annual gathering has long been seen as a playground for the rich and powerful, the event this year is taking place against a background of resurgent populism and increasing public opposition to globalisation. This mood has been manifested in the election success of Donald Trump and the British vote to leave the European Union.

Although the US president-elect will not be attending the event, his inauguration as president of the US on Friday is expected to overshadow the summit. A number of sessions during the week are devoted to globalisation and the challenges posed by growing inequality and the question of wealth distribution. The theme of this year’s forum is “Responsive and Responsible Leadership”, a barely veiled acknowledgement of anxieties about the incoming regime in Washington and the series of elections scheduled to take place across Europe in 2017.

Xi Jinping Keynote address.

Among the most high-profile participants this year is Chinese premier Xi Jinping, who will deliver a keynote address on Tuesday. His presence marks the first visit to Davos by a Chinese leader.

British prime minister Theresa May will deliver a special address on Thursday morning, two days after she is expected to unveil details of her government’s vision for Brexit in a major speech.

British chancellor of the exchequer Philip Hammond will be in Davos on Friday, when he is expected to do a series of interviews and participate in a session titled “Britain and the EU: The Way Forward” with the former Italian prime minister and EU commissioner Mario Monti and others.

While more than 50 heads of state and government will travel to the exclusive Swiss ski resort, some of the world’s most senior banking and corporate executives will also attend the five-day event.

Among the economic heavy-hitters in attendance will be Jim Yong Kim, president of the World Bank, and IMF managing director Christine Lagarde, as well as senior executives from the world’s biggest banks, such as UBS, Goldman Sachs and Deutschebank.

One familiar face on the Davos circuit, the Goldman Sachs chief operating officer Gary Cohn, won’t be present this time. He’s likely to be busy preparing to become Donald Trump’s new chairman of the National Economic Council.

Senior officials from Trump’s transition team will attend the event, however, and are expected to hold a series of bilateral meetings with senior political leaders, including possibly Xi Jinping, on the fringes of the event.

Outgoing US vice-president Joe Biden will address the summit on Wednesday, while US Secretary of State John Kerry will also attend the forum, undoubtedly one of his final official engagements of the Obama presidency.

Gaybo (Gay Byrne) hopes for best in battle against prostate cancer?

‘He is doing well. The treatment is ongoing’

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Left Pic. Broadcaster Gay Byrne, with wife Kathleen, right pic. the old, the middle & the new L.L.S. hosts. Gay remains positive despite being diagnosed with prostate cancer

Ireland’s most-loved broadcaster Gay Byrne is upbeat and positive as he comes to terms with his cancer diagnosis, telling the Sunday Independent: “The treatment continues and we hope for the best.”

Gay was his usual sanguine self as he talked about his illness – echoing the thoughts of millions of well-wishers up and down the country who hope for his return to the airwaves in full health.

Last November, with typical understatement, Gay revealed to shocked listeners on RTE’s Lyric FM the disheartening news that he was suffering from cancer.

“I shall not be with our listeners on this day next week. Have to go to hospital… They think they may have discovered a bit of cancer in the prostate and they think it may have moved up into my back.

“I’ve had the most wonderful, fantastic, robust, good health all my broadcasting life,” he said in usual breezy style during his enormously popular show on the classical radio station.

“It’s my turn now… many, many people much worse off. Thank you for your good wishes,” he signed off.

Now, nearly three months on, Gay is in the throes of cancer treatment, but he is tough and resilient and well aware that he is undergoing the same difficulties endured by so many who are touched by the disease in this country.

And he is aware that prostate cancer is very treatable and the chances of a favourable outcome are quite high.

In short, Gay is not feeling sorry for himself but ongoing medical treatment obviously interrupted the usual Christmas and New Year celebrations – a favourite time of year for the couple who were married in 1964.

“Everything is on hold while we do our best to look after Gay,” his wife Kathleen Watkins told the Sunday Independent yesterday.

“He is doing well. The treatment is ongoing. Do thank the many people all over the country who have been in touch,” Kathleen requested.

“We got all the notes and letters and cards. We read all of them. Thank you. Thank you to all those kind people.It’s so much appreciated.”

The broadcasting legend is being looked after by his devoted wife at their home in Ballsbridge and there is lots of help and encouragement from the family – as well as the good wishes of an entire nation.

Local Property Tax in Sligo has highest compliance rate of almost 97% in Ireland

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There was a compliance rate of 96.8% with the Local Property Tax in Sligo in 2016 according to the figures just released by Revenue.

The national compliance rate is is estimated at 97% which is in line with previous years.

Revenue, which oversees its collection, say some €5.3 million was collected through the tax in county Sligo last year from almost 30,000 properties. Laois and South Dublin had the highest compliance rate in the country at 99.8%.

The vast majority of householders in County Sligo (43.8%) valued their homes in the lowest bracket of up to €100,000 with 32.1% valuing their houses up to €150,000 and 16.4 falling into the €150,001 to €200,000 category. Just 1.5% valued their homes at over €300,000 and a further 1.5% were in the €250,001 to €300,000 bracket. Approximately 42% of property owners self-assessed the same valuation band as the Revenue estimate and 58% of property owners self-assessed a different LPT valuation band compared to Revenue.

LPT Exchequer receipts in 2016 (at end December) are €463m. This includes approximately €50m in pre-payments for 2017 LPT as well as €70m in payments for 2015 LPT and earlier years. Exchequer receipts also include Household Charge (HHC) arrears. Revenue assumed responsibility for the collection of arrears of HHC from July 2013. By end 2016 in excess of €64m was collected (including nearly €8m in 2016) and over 360,000 additional properties are now HHC compliant.

For 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016 Revenue issued 212,000, 148,000 and 324,000 and 300,000 compliance letters respectively. In the vast majority of these cases property owners fully complied with their LPT payment obligations, either on a phased basis or by way of a single payment. However, in each year there were a relatively small number of cases that chose to remain non-compliant,

Revenue say it left them with no alternative but to deploy debt collection/enforcement measures or other sanctions to ensure payment. Some 864 cases were referred to the Sheriff in 2016 and 40 cases to external solicitors for collection. Over 20,300 tax clearance requests were refused on foot of LPT non-compliance, of which almost 97% were subsequently granted clearance following mutually acceptable payment solutions.

Revenue deducted LPT from the salaries or pensions of almost 89,000 property owners last year of which over 49,000 ‘rolled over’ from mandatory deductions applied in 2015. Over 11,000 valuations were also increased in 2016 following Revenue compliance interventions.

The BT Young Scientist exhibition category winners

All the winners in each section of 2016 BT Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition

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Right picture the overall BT Young Scientist & Technologist of the Year 2017 Shane Curran from Terenure College.

And above left picture:- Shay Walsh, managing director BT Ireland (left) and Minister for Education Richard Bruton (right), with Matthew Blakeney and Mark McDermott of the Jesus & Mary Secondary School, Sligo, runners-up at the BT Young Scientist & Technologist of the Year 2017 with their project Flint on the Moy?

The winners in each category of the 2016 BT Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition have been announced.

1st place Junior group Kinsale Community School, Impact of sound pitch on the biological gustatory perception mechanism, a quantitative comparative study between adults and children.

Biological and Ecological Junior Group Caoimhe Lynch , Sylvie Plant

2nd place Junior group Loreto College – Foxrock, Does Simulating a Lack of Binocular Vision Have An Impact on performance?

Biological and Ecological Junior Group, Jessica Oakley O’Kelly, Margot Moore, Jennifer Leavy

3rd place Junior group St Mary’s Diocesan School, 40 Licks ( trying to determine if being weaned onto certain foods as a baby can effect your development into a super-taster) Biological and Ecological Junior Group Seb Lennon Calum Agnew

1st place Junior individual Christ King Girls Secondary School, An investigation on whether cereal is a healthy breakfast option for Children Biological and Ecological Junior Individual Romy Kolich

2nd place Junior individual Bandon Grammar School, A novel approach to growing Nannochloropsis in a controlled environment and it’s subsequent ability to produce oil Biological and Ecological Junior Individual Gregory Tarr

3rd place Junior individual Sandford Park School Ltd, Time as a variable in bread production Biological and Ecological Junior Individual Oscar Despard

1st place intermediate group Loreto Secondary School – Balbriggan, Does consuming certain varieties of potatoes as a staple food in a diet, increase blood glucose levels & chance of high blood pressure and diabetes in a sample of Rush residents Biological and Ecological Intermediate Group Sophie Weldon Laura Weldon Emma Kleiser Byrne

2nd place intermediate group Tullamore College , Investigating The Difference In Bacterial Contamination When Handling and Using a Device to Insert Contact Lenses Biological and Ecological Intermediate Group Lucy Leonard Michele Mann

3rd place intermediate Group Avondale Community College, Biodegradable plastic pots to minimise the effects of transplant shock. Biological and Ecological Intermediate Group Ayyub Azmat Niall Gaffeny Christopher Makin.

1st place intermediate individual Ardscoil Ris ‘To Bee or not to Bee’: Investigating solutions to falling bee populations using a multifaceted problem solving approach. Biological and Ecological Intermediate Individual David Hamilton

2nd place intermediate individual Colaiste Choilm, Investigating the use of natural plants oils and extracts as an antiproliferative cancer agents. Biological and Ecological Intermediate Individual Aivan Jose

3rd place intermediate individual Bandon Grammar School, A comparison of foot biomechanics in sport playing and non-sport playing teens Biological and Ecological Intermediate Individual Alex O’ Connor

1st place Senior group Midleton College , Foal sickness containment and prevention Biological and Ecological Senior Group Cathal Mariga George Hennessy

2nd place Senior group Loreto Secondary School – Balbriggan, To investigate whether contrast sensitivity can be improved from regular exposure to action video games and the impact on everyday tasks on a teenager with myopia Biological and Ecological Senior Group Chloe Tap Dagmara Dobkowska

3rd place Senior group St Joseph’s Secondary School, Stimulating plant growth using electricity Biological and Ecological Senior Group Niamh McHugh Vitalija Janusonyte

1st place Senior individual Our Ladys College – Drogheda, The Antimicrobial Potential of Tree Bark Extracts Biological and Ecological Senior Individual Niamh Ann Kelly

2nd place Senior individual Coláiste Choilm, An Investigation into the Application of Symsagittera roscoffensis & it’s symbiont Tetraselmis convolutae in Neurobiology and Biotechnology. Biological and Ecological Senior Individual Con Moran

3rd place Senior individual Scoil Mhuire Strokestown , An investigation into the quality of effluent discharging domestic waste water treatment systems (septic tanks) and an apparatus to improve this. Biological and Ecological Senior Individual Abbie Moloney

1st place Junior group Synge Street CBS, Generalisations of Feynman’s Triangle Theorem Chemical, Physical & Mathematical Sciences Junior Group Carl Jones Keiron O’Neill

2nd place Junior group Synge Street CBS, New Conjectures Concerning the Partition Function Chemical, Physical & Mathematical Sciences Junior Group Talha Moktar Abdulrhman Abouryana

3rd place Junior group Sutton Park School, The design and testing of a safe drinking water system for developing countries Chemical, Physical & Mathematical Sciences Junior Group Xiangyu Carbon Mallol Méabh Scahill

A huge glacier crack in the Antarctic ice shelf widens dramatically

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A huge chunk of Antarctic ice is hanging on by a virtual thread. At the edge of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, a glacier is cracking from the inside out at an alarming speed. That’s scary because this glacier, and others like it, keep the ice from flowing into the sea, where it would raise sea levels by several feet.

The ice shelf in danger is known as Larsen C. British researchers who are monitoring the crack in this ice shelf believe that only about 12 miles now connect the chunk of ice to the rest of the continent. You can see more images of this ice crack here.

“After a few months of steady, incremental advance since the last event, the rift grew suddenly by a further 18 km [11 miles] during the second half of December 2016,” wrote Adrian Luckman in a statement from the MIDAS Project, which is monitoring changes in the area.

Luckman, a professor at Swansea University in Wales, and head of the MIDAS Project, is referring to a crack that has been growing for years and is now a total of roughly 70 miles long. When that fissure finally reaches the far side of the shelf, British scientists believe that an iceberg the size of Delaware will float off. The ice shelf itself is almost the size of Scotland, and the fourth largest of its kind in Antarctic. The piece that it is getting ready to break off is nearly 2,000 square miles in size.

It’s true that icebergs break off from ice sheets in the Antarctic on a fairly regular basis, but this one is especially significant because of its size, and because it shows that the ice retreat is happening farther inland than scientists had previously observed.

What Could Happen After This Break?

What will happen next? Scientists are uncertain. But the consequences of the break could be dramatic.

“When it calves, the Larsen C Ice Shelf will lose more than 10 percent of its area to leave the ice front at its most retreated position ever recorded; this event will fundamentally change the landscape of the Antarctic Peninsula,” said the MIDAS researchers in a statement about the rift.

The First Time In Over 12,000 Years and this could be part of a broader pattern for ice shelves.

It’s the latest sign of major ice loss in the fast warming Antarctic Peninsula, which has already seen the breakup of two other shelves in the same region, events that have been widely attributed to climate change. Larsen A collapsed in 1995, and much of Larsen B collapsed dramatically in 2002. Scientists have revealed that this is probably not something that has happened in the past 12,000 years or possibly, even more alarmingly, in more than 100,000 years.

So, Antarctica has lost ice shelves before, but none so huge as this one.

The iceberg resulting from this crack will not in itself raise sea levels, but if this ice shelf breaks up even more, that would have an impact on sea levels. Experts believe that if all the ice that the Larsen C shelf currently holds back entered the sea, global waters would rise by around four inches.

Antarctica is geographically a long way from most of us, but what happens there could be an indication of what’s happening with our planet Earth.

Is Climate Change To Blame?

The Project MIDAS group has not made any statement attributing the development at Larsen C to climate change, but has stated that the shelf would be “at its most retreated position ever recorded,” which suggests the possibility of climate change being the cause for this crack.

Previous research has also noted that the Larsen C ice shelf is becoming less thick, making it float lower in the water, which appears linked to the warming of the Antarctic Peninsula in recent decades.

Meanwhile, scientists wait for the anticipated break. Luckman told the BBC that “If it doesn’t go in the next few months, I’ll be amazed.”

But there are few certainties right now apart from an imminent change to the outline of Antarctica’s icy coast. “The eventual consequences might be the ice shelf collapsing in years to decades,” said Luckman.

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Saturday 7th January 2017

Barack Obama plans return to Ireland in the next year  

“US ambassador says”

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Kevin O’Malley does not think change to US corporate tax rate will affect investment in Ireland.

 

Outgoing US president Barack Obama is planning to visit the Republic at some point this year, the US ambassador to Ireland has said.

It is almost six years since Mr Obama and first lady Michelle Obama addressed a crowd of about 60,000 people at College Green, Dublin, and spoke warmly of the relationship between Ireland and the United States.

US ambassador to Ireland Kevin O’Malley, who will leave his post on January 20th when businessman Donald Trump is inaugurated, said on Saturday that Mr Obama has indicated he is planning to return in the coming year.

“The last sentence the president said to me on Wednesday of this week, when we were saying goodbye, was ‘please tell them I’m coming’,” said Mr O’Malley. “I think that’s the president’s way of saying informally you will probably see him again, and my guess is in the coming year or so.”

Mr Obama’s eighth cousin Henry Healy from Moneygall, Co Offaly, said an invitation to visit had been extended to Mr Obama in 2013 but that he could not attend due to security issues.

“The president is coming back to Ireland and we would be hopeful he will pay another visit to Moneygall,” said Mr Healy. “He has Irish ancestry here so we’re very much looking forward to having him down again.”

Mr O’Malley, who was speaking on the Marian Finucane Show on RTÉ Radio 1, also discussed the Trump administration’s plans to cut US corporation tax from 35 per cent to 15 per cent. He dismissed the suggestion the move would impact on the Republic’s ability to attract US companies, where the corporate tax rate is 12.5 per cent.

“I don’t believe that if the taxation rules in the United States change – and particularly the corporation tax – that it would change investment by American companies in Ireland,” he said.

“Although tax is a reason for Ireland’s prosperity, it is not the [primary] reason. Americans need a market in the EU. We need a stopping off place for the EU and what better place than Ireland.

“We speak the same language. You use the euro so we only translate the money once, not twice. If Brexit goes through, you’ll be the only English speaking country in the EU. Your education system provides these great, dedicated, creative workers for us.

“But the real reason that these companies are here and doing so well is that we simply get one another. Americans like the Irish. You like dealing with us. We like being together.”

A report by aid agency Oxfam last month described the Republic as one of the worst tax havens in the world, on a par with countries like Bermuda and the Cayman Islands when it comes to helping big business dodge billions of euro each year in tax.

Mr O’Malley rejected the suggestion that Ireland is a tax haven. “When people speak about Ireland as a tax haven, it doesn’t ring true at all,” he said. “If you look at the big American companies that are here – 700 of them – they’re run by Irish people.

“They’re not run by Americans who are coming here with a brass plate, just changing addresses to avoid taxation. We believe that the Irish people are capable of running these big companies, and they have, and are making enormous profits.

“They’re employing numbers of people. They’re providing not only jobs, but state of the art jobs. They’re producing items everybody can be proud of. I don’t think the change in the tax rate is going to change foreign direct investment.”

Separately, Mr O’Malley described the June 2015 Berkeley balcony collapse in which five Irish students and an Irish-American student were killed as the “saddest time” of his tenure representing the US government in the Republic.

“There was a great outpouring,” he said. “Everybody seemed to know somebody who was directly affected by this. If I didn’t understand before, I certainly understood then, that family is the top priority in Ireland.”

Mr O’Malley is a lawyer from St Louis in Missouri. He is considered a leading authority on jury instructions in trials.

He was appointed ambassador to Ireland by Mr Obama in 2014.

He has strong Irish connections. His grandparents were natives of Co Mayo who emigrated to the US in the first half of the 20th-century.

Irish homeowners warned they have just days left to pay their property tax bills

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Collector Michael Gladney

Homeowners have until Wednesday to pay their property tax. People who opt to pay by debit card, cheque or credit card need to have made the payment by January 11.

Revenue has warned.

Those who want to pay the tax by electronic cheque – what Revenue calls an annual debit authority – must inform tax officials by Wednesday, and the funds will be taken out of their bank account in March.

Property tax bills fall due at a time when many homeowners are being hit with credit card bills, due to the Christmas spending splurge, and many face the cost of renewing health insurance.

A spokeswoman for the tax authority said people can have the tax withdrawn incrementally by opting to have it taken out of their wages or pension. Alternatively, they could pay monthly through a direct debit, rather than paying a lump sum.

The tax authority said it collected €463m from the tax last year, with a large number of property owners having already paid for 2017. Some 97% of owners paid the tax last year.

This was after 300,000 warning letters were issued, prompting most to pay up.

Revenue said the overall figures represented a “continuing high compliance rate”.

Collector-general Michael Gladney said that since Revenue assumed responsibility for collection of arrears of household charges in July 2013, more than €64m has been collected, bringing 360,000 additional properties into compliance.

“The vast majority of property owners fully comply with their local property tax payment obligations, either in a single payment or with phased payments,” he said.

“As long as payment obligations are being met, Revenue will automatically roll over existing payment methods for property owners who pay by direct debit or by deduction at source from pay/pension.”

Close to six-out-of-10 people in the Dún Laoghaire- Rathdown local authority area live in a home worth over €300,000. Fewer than 10pc of homeowners nationally live in a house worth more than that.

Property tax has been dogged in the past by the argument it is generated mainly from the capital. Laois and south Dublin were the regions with the highest compliance rate, while Donegal is the county with the lowest level of payment.

Revenue said it had applied a mandatory deduction at source for 80,000 properties, with Dublin city having the highest percentage where this applies.

The number of mandatory deductions has jumped by close to 24,000 in the last year.

Garda gets power to seize cars driven by disqualified motorists in Ireland

Minister to legislate for naming and shaming of disqualified drivers via public database.

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Together with the power to seize a vehicle, Gardaí would also be given the power to arrest a disqualified driver caught driving, Minister for Transport Shane Ross has said.

The Garda has been given powers to seize vehicles driven by disqualified drivers, the Minister for Transport, Shane Ross, has said.

He said also that he would be legislating to allow for the naming and shaming of disqualified drivers by means of a publicly accessible database identifying them and detailing the sentence of disqualification.

“That’s very important,” he said, “it’s not just a token measure. A lot of people disqualified [from driving] are in employment, some of them are professional drivers, their employers don’t know, their spouses don’t know, their neighbours don’t know.”

A register would mean they were outed in their community and would not be able to flout the law by ignoring their sentence “nearly so easily”.

Mr Ross was speaking to RTÉ following yesterday’s publication in The Irish Times of Road Safety Authority research showing that, based on data extant last August, close to 8,000 drivers banned for drunk driving and/or causing the death of another person by their driving, had ignored the consequences of their convictions and sentencing and carried on driving.

Professional drivers

The same research found that, in 2015, 1,767 disqualifications had been issued to drivers who had already been banned. In the 18-month period after January 2015, 700 professional drivers were banned but at least 100 of them carried on driving, a fact known because they received penalty points for further driving offences.

In the 2008 to 2012 period, banned drivers were shown to have been responsible for between 11 and 14 deaths per year. The research found that 97 to 98 per cent of banned drivers asked in writing to return their licences ignore the letter. Most are assumed to carry on driving.

Mr Ross said the figures were “absolutely shocking”.

“What we see here is a lawlessness which a lot of people were not aware of – that those who are disqualified are simply flouting the law, going out and driving willy-nilly, whether they have a licence or not. We are going to have to do something about that.”

Together with the power to seize a vehicle, Mr Ross said gardaí would also be given the power to arrest a disqualified driver caught driving, and he committed to taking stronger measures if necessary – “to ensure they are disqualified and it means it”. Gardaí have had the power to seize vehicles driven by uninsured drivers for some time but hitherto not vehicles driven by disqualified drivers.

The problem of disqualified drivers could also be lessened if insurance companies shared information and there was a central database they could access, industry experts said in reaction to the RSA research.

Conor Faughnan of the motoring organisation AA Ireland said there needed to be an integrated insurance data service so criminal drivers could be detected and kept off the roads.

“That information should be available – your insurance history, your driving licence status and your penalty point record,” he said. “The problem is that the existing insurance companies won’t – not can’t but won’t – do this and yet 90km up the road in Northern Ireland and in the rest of the UK they have this.”

Database problematic?

A senior figure in one of the major insurance companies, who asked not to be named, said that while companies could access the RSA’s penalty points database, creating a database of licences and convictions attaching to them was problematic.

“One of the challenges we face is there are strict data-protection laws in Ireland,” he said. “They are much stricter than in the UK and it prevents us, as an industry, storing information as in the UK.”

Mr Faughnan does not accept this. “You’ll hear things like data protection but that’s just spurious,” he said.

Another industry source maintained that insurance companies were themselves resisting sharing licensing and drivers’ claims histories for self-interested commercial reasons and had failed for five years to create a system to share information out of “cynicism and laziness”.

The recently enacted Road Traffic Bill allows for an expansion of the Garda’s ANPR (automatic number plate recognition) system to have access to more data. A spokesman for the Motor Insurance Bureau of Ireland, the industry-funded body which pays for the consequences of uninsured drivers, said this data might usefully include the data identified by the RSA research.

Mr Faughnan said it was “nuts and absurd” that proof of insurance and vehicle roadworthiness was dependent on windscreen-displayed paper that could be forged “by a child with a laptop”.

The solution was a central database on which all relevant information, including licence and disqualification information, was stored and readily accessible.

The top ten Irish counties where people are most likely to cheat are now revealed

The figures were obtained by the Irish Mirror from Victoria Milan, an extra-marital affairs website, which has a staggering 75,000 members here.

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Those living in the capital are the most likely to cheat on their other half, a top affairs website has warned.

While people in Dublin are more likely to look for someone to have fun on the side with, those in Cork, Sligo and Kilkenny also are also allegedly keen to play away from home.

The figures were obtained by the Irish Daily Mirror from Victoria Milan, an extra-marital affairs website, which has a staggering 75,000 members here.

They are hoping to double that membership in 2017 to help 150,000 people in Ireland hook up away from home.

Dubliners made up 7% of their Irish users, followed by those in Cork, 5.8% and Sligo finished up the top three at 4.6%.

Kilkenny accounted for 4.4% of Victoria Milan members, followed by Longford, 4.2%, Westmeath, 3.9%, and Clare, 3.8%.

People from Kildare were sixth most likely to sign up to the racy website, followed by those in Donegal and Waterford.

They said: “In a traditionally religious part of the world, it seems that Ireland’s strong Catholic tradition was no barrier to the numbers looking for that something extra within their existing relationship, whether or not this is denied in polite conversation.

“After seeing the initial results, the data was analysed further, in order to get a more detailed picture of the numbers being generated in Ireland, on a city by city basis.

“The picture that did emerge continued to surprise, in that the desire for people to seek a little bit of passion outside their marriage was consistently high and furthermore, more widely and evenly distributed than was thought across both city and rural areas.”

They also speculated on why Dubliners may be most likely to cheat.

They said: “The position of Dublin at the top should not be seen as a surprise given that it is a more cosmopolitan city, a harbour, and a tourist centre where there are simply more options.”

He said: “Victoria Milan did not invent infidelity and having an affair is something that is only too human. These figures bear this out.

“You would expect certain places to be open – but the results in Ireland surprised even me!

“Clearly, people will find a way to have an affair if they are not happy and feel trapped. We at Victoria Milan simply provide a discreet online meeting place designed for these people.

“I strongly suspect that if you were to ask 100 people on the streets of Dublin if they had cheated, then you would get a string of denials.

Hopeless Father of two jailed for spate of thefts including cash from Childline collection box

Image result for prison life for spate of thefts including cash from Childline collection box   Image result for Mountjoy prison for thefts Childline collection box

A judge said of theft of €100 from a Childline collection: “A meaner crime one can hardly imagine.”

Judge Kevin Kilrane made the comment while sentencing Jimmy Ward of 15 Armada Cottages Bundoran for a spate of thefts and other offences.

Ward who was already in custody appeared before Judge Kilrane at Ballyshannon District on Friday, a date which marked the defendant’s 27th birthday.

The judge said he was familiar with the defendant and had already given him many chances to amend his ways.

“I have to consider that rehabilitation might not work here,” said Judge Kilrane. “Ultimately, it is about protection of the public and if that is a blunt instrument of imprisonment, then so be it. That could mean imprisonment after imprisonment until he dies.”

Ward pleaded guilty to 11 offences which took place over the last year.

Thefts included 18 litres of vodka valued at €504 stolen from Super Valu, Donegal Town. He stole a further two litre bottles worth €56 from the same premises on another occasion. Ward admitted theft of clothes, food, a blanket and other items from Lidl and Aldi in Cavan and a Spar shop in Belturbet.

He stole Childline collection money from the Abbey Arts Centre foyer during the pantomime ‘Robin Hood and Babes in the Wood.’

He broke into a parked car at Atlantic Point Apartments in Bundoran and stole a laptop worth €450.

Ward also admitted trespassing at the Model Arts Centre in Sligo where he stole a ladies purse worth €10 from an office.

A difficult Background plea?

Solicitor Gerry McGovern told the court that his client had a particularly difficult upbringing. A brain injury which almost killed him exacerbated his problems. Along the way he fell into addiction to alcohol and drugs.

“Mr Ward has been a victim of society since the day he was born,” said Mr McGovern. “He was born into a traveller/settled family with a large number of siblings and didn’t get the opportunity to get an education or gain employment skills.

The solicitor said Ward had two young children of whom he saw very little due to time in prison.

“He wants to get help,” said Mr McGovern. “Unfortunately, society has let him down. He gets locked up and that is it.”

Judge Kilrane replied that Ward got counselling in the Midlands Prison. He added that defendant previously told him he was glad he got locked up because of the counselling.

Mr McGovern said: “He got counselling for drugs but not for alcohol. When he came out he started drinking again. He needs one-to-one counselling.”

Mr McGovern stressed that his client genuinely had no memory of the offences due to the damage to his brain.

The defendant’s mother Anne Ward appealed to the judge not to send her son to prison.

“He is going round in circles and doesn’t know what he is doing,” said Mrs Ward. “Prison won’t do him any good. I promise you I will get help for him.”

Judge Kilrane thanked Mrs Ward but said: “I agree with you that prison will not help him but it will help the people of this area. I am talking about breaking into cars stealing a laptop that he doesn’t even know how to use. But it was very important to the person who owned it.”

A jail sentence given.

He sentenced Ward to 14 months in prison with a further 10 months suspended.

“I have no faith in this man’s ability to reform,” said Judge Kilrane. “However, we should never give up hope. I recommend that he receives counselling for his addiction while in prison.”

The judge ordered Ward to enter addiction treatment immediately on his release as a condition of the suspended portion of the sentence. The defendant must also enter a bond to not commit any further offences.

Take a look at one of the rarest types of galaxies there is in existence

“Less than 0.1% of all observed galaxies are Hoag-type galaxies.”

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Scientists at two US universities have got the first look at an extremely rare type of galaxy.

New research gives the first description of a well-defined elliptical-like core surrounded by two circular rings – a galaxy that appears to belong to a class of rarely observed, Hoag-type galaxies.

The galaxy has been discovered by researchers at the University of Minnesota Duluth and the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences.

“Less than 0.1% of all observed galaxies are Hoag-type galaxies,” says Burcin Mutlu-Pakdil, lead author of a paper on this work and a graduate student at the Minnesota Institute for Astrophysics, University of Minnesota Twin Cities and University of Minnesota Duluth.

Hoag-type galaxies are round cores surrounded by a circular ring, with nothing visibly connecting them. The majority of observed galaxies are disc-shaped like our own Milky Way. Galaxies with unusual appearances give astronomers unique insights into how galaxies are formed and change.

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Tuesday 3rd January 2017

Employment in IDA Irish backed firms reaches a record high

Almost 200,000 employed in multinationals but IDA warns of political uncertainty

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Martin Shanahan, chief executive of IDA Ireland, with Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Mary Mitchell O’Connor: “That companies have continued to invest in Ireland is testament to the quality of the offering we have here,” he said.

IDA Ireland says the flow of foreign direct investment (FDI) into Ireland will remain strong in coming months after a record 2016, although the State enterprise agency warned against “complacency” over cost-competitiveness and potential threats in the global economy.

Employment in foreign multinationals backed by IDA reached a record high of almost 200,000 in 2016, with 244 investments during the year. This is up from a previous high of 213 in 2016.

At the publication of its annual statement on Tuesday, IDA said the number of investments from companies new to the Irish market went to 99 from 94 in 2016, with 11,842 additional jobs (net) created. Job losses were at their lowest level in 19 years.

In 2016, more than half (52%) of all jobs created by IDA clients were based outside Dublin. The mid-west experienced the fastest growth rate, of 10%, with some 1,500 jobs created during the year. The midlands fared the worst, with just 58 jobs created during the year.

Martin Shanahan, chief executive of the IDA, said he expected some US companies to delay investment announcements until details emerged of US president-elect Donald Trump’s trade policies.

He also said some London-based banks were close to choosing alternative locations, as Dublin fights to pick up business amid post-Brexit vote uncertainty.

Success

Mr Shanahan said: “That companies have continued to invest in Ireland is testament to the quality of the offering we have here. That being said – we absolutely cannot be complacent about this success. We have to keep an eye on our competitiveness including costs.

“The contribution of the FDI sector has always been important to Ireland, but the 2016 results show that the contribution has never been greater. It is particularly welcome to see such a broad-based performance and all regions growing. International services, pharmaceuticals and medical devices and financial services all showed significant employment increases in 2016.”

On Brexit, the IDA said the UK’s planned departure from the European Union has led to “a significant volume of specific queries” to IDA offices from across the world, with Ireland among a small number of locations in Europe being considered. However the IDA also noted that Brexit brings with it some “adverse impacts”.

Access.

“FDI companies that depend heavily on the UK market have already been impacted by exchange rates and they may also need to consider their future access to the UK market in a post-Brexit environment.”

Looking ahead, Mr Shanahan said that “ongoing global political and economic uncertainty will continue to affect investor confidence in 2017”, while competition from other jurisdictions for FDI has “never been as strong”.

However, the outlook is still “promising”. “While there is significant uncertainty, the jobs pipeline for the first quarter of 2017 looks promising. In 2016, job losses within IDA client companies were at their lowest level since 1997. Given market turmoil, Brexit impacts and cost-competitiveness pressure, IDA does not expect this trend to continue,” Mr Shanahan said.

Irish property prices to rise by at least 8% this year 2017

Help-to-buy scheme will add ‘fuel to the fire’ and drive price rises, myhome.ie reports

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Irish property prices are set to rise by at least 8% in 2017, with double-digit growth a ‘distinct possibility’.

Property prices are set to rise by at least 8% in 2017, with double-digit growth a “distinct possibility”, as today’s launch of the new help-to-buy scheme, plus looser mortgage lending rules and constrained supply drive price growth across the country.

The prediction comes in a report from myhome.ie, the property website, and Davy, the stockbroking firm, which says the help-to-buy scheme will add “fuel to the fire” in driving price growth.

The scheme, which opens for applications today (January 3rd), will give first-time buyers of new homes 5 per cent back on the cost of their property.

According to the Central Statistics Office, property prices rose by 7.1% in the year to October, while full-year calculations from estate agent Sherry FitzGerald, also published today, estimate that prices rose by 5.2% for 2016 as a whole, a moderate increase on the 4% recorded in 2015.

Prices in Dublin increased by 3.7% in 2016, compared to 1.4% in 2015, according to Sherry FitzGerald with growth of 7.4%, 10.1% and 6.9% respectively in Cork, Galway and Limerick.

Despite recent price growth, however, average values are still about 40% off peak 2006 levels.

Big fall in supply?

Predictions of an acceleration in house-price growth next year comes as the number of properties for sale across the country has fallen to a 10-year low.

New figures from Daft.ie, also published today, show just 21,700 properties for sale nationwide on the property portal in December 2016, the lowest since January 2007.

Myhome.ie reports a similar picture, with just 20,875 properties listed for sale on the site, down 7.7% from last year.

This suggests that just 1% of the Irish housing stock is currently listed for sale – a normally functioning market would typically boast turnover levels of 4%.

“The lack of liquidity is particularly acute in Dublin where there are just 3,619 properties listed for sale.

“This is down 20% on last year and means just 0.7% of Dublin’s housing stock of 535,000 properties is currently listed for sale,” says Angela Keegan, managing director of myhome.ie.

Trinity College Dublin economist and author of the Daft.ie report Ronan Lyons warns that demographic trends, housing obsolescence and migration means that close to 50,000 new properties are needed each year but just about 14,000 were built in 2016.

“Without this kind of supply, we will all have to spend more and more of our income just to have a home,” he warns.

With fewer homes for sale, transaction levels are also slumping. While the full figures for Q4 are not yet available from the property register, early returns suggest a sharp fall in transactions in the final quarter of 2016, with sales down by 12% on the year, according to Daft.ie.

But the decline may also be due to the imminent arrival of the new help-to-buy scheme, as prospective purchasers postponed their decisions.

Asking prices rise.

The latest survey from Daft.ie for the fourth quarter of 2016 shows that asking prices across the country rose by 8% in the year, with prices continuing to rise at a faster rate outside the capital.

Asking prices in Dublin were 5% higher than in 2015, but in Cork, Galway and Kilkenny, inflation exceeded 10%, although the rate of growth has fallen since 2014.

The figures mean that the average national asking price has risen 34.3% or just over € 56,000 – since the property market reached its nadir in the third quarter of 2013.

In Dublin, however, the bottom was reached in the second quarter of 2012 and prices have risen by an average of 46.2% or €101,850 since that time.

In Limerick, prices have risen by 39% in the city (and by 19% in the county) since its low in 2014.

According to myhome.ie, while asking prices on new instructions fell by more than 2% in the fourth quarter, bringing the mix adjusted asking price for new sales nationally to €227,000 – prices on their site are still up 5.5% year on year.

In Dublin, the average asking prices for a newly listed property remained unchanged at €328,000, but this is still up 4.9% year on year, according to myhome.ie.

Flu, respiratory illness, and the winter vomiting bug on the rise in Ireland

Ireland is under the weather at the moment

Image result for Flu, respiratory illness, and the winter vomiting bug on the rise in Ireland  Image result for Flu, respiratory illness, and the winter vomiting bug on the rise in Ireland

HSE Hospitals across IRELAND have reported a significant increase in the number of cases of winter-related illnesses, including influenza, respiratory illness and the winter vomiting bug.

The Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HSPC), which monitors the spread of infectious diseases, says that there has been a tripling in the numbers of people with norovirus (winter vomiting bug) over the past five weeks.

The HSPC also warned that this escalation is expected to continue until at least the end of February.

Minister for Health Simon Harris has described the outbreak of the infections as “a very challenging period of time” for Ireland’s health service.

The HSE has asked people with symptoms of the winter vomiting bug not to visit or attend hospitals or GP surgeries.

“This bug, while often unpleasant, rarely causes serious problems for otherwise healthy children and adults,” the HSE said in a statement.

It can, however, “be a serious problem in hospitals and residential facilities where it can lead to ward closures, postponed operations, and worryingly, can result in very serious illness for patients in hospital who are already weakened by other medical conditions.”

The comments were echoed by Minister Harris, who warned against spreading the flu:

We all as citizens have a role to play in terms of doing everything we possibly can to minimise the spread of what is a very significant outbreak of flu.

The HSE confirmed that there have been 21 outbreaks of flu and respiratory infections in healthcare settings such as hospitals, residential centres and nursing homes so far, this season, and a significant increase in people aged 75 and older seeking treatment.

All hospitals around the country have put in place contingency measures to manage the increased number of patients coming to Emergency Departments, with the HSE saying that the spike in demand is expected to continue over the coming weeks.

The HSE has urged at-risk people to get the flu vaccination as soon as possible.

“The winter tends to be a difficult period for the health service, and that is why we have put significant resources [into dealing with it] but the particular challenges we’re experiencing now are not just the challenges of a normal winter,”Minister Harris said at a press conference this afternoon.

The minister said that there has been almost a 20% increase in the number of people over the age of 75 attending Emergency Departments over this Christmas period compared to last year.

The HSPC said the increase in the winter vomiting bug has been due to new strains of the infection being reported in Ireland, which the population is not immune to.

The HSE’s ‘Winter Initiative’ has seen at least €15 million spent in recent months to deal with the increased demand for the health service, particularly in ensuring that people are discharged from beds once they have recovered from their illness.

Irish Scientists identify a new organ in Humans & it’s official

Image result for Irish Scientists identify a new organ in Humans  Image result for Irish Scientists identify a new organ in Humans

Dr. J. Calvin Coffey above right pic, a professor of surgery at the University of Limerick in Ireland, has concluded that the mesentery, which is a membrane found in the gut, is in its own an organ.

A mighty membrane that twists and turns through the gut is starting the new year with a new classification: the structure, called the mesentery, has been upgraded to an organ.

Scientists have known about the structure, which connects a person’s small and large intestines to the abdominal wall and anchors them in place, according to the Mayo Clinic. However, until now, it was thought of as a number of distinct membranes by most scientists. Interestingly, in one of its earliest descriptions, none other than Leonardo da Vinci identified the membranes as a single structure, according to a recent review.

In the review, lead author Dr. Calvin Coffey, a professor of surgery at the University of Limerick’s Graduate Entry Medical School in Ireland, and colleagues looked at past studies and literature on the mesentery. Coffey noted that throughout the 20th century, anatomy books have described the mesentery as a series of fragmented membranes; in other words, different mesenteries were associated with different parts of the intestines. [6 Strange Things the Government Knows About Your Body]

More recent studies looking at the mesentery in patients undergoing colorectal surgery and in cadavers led Coffey’s team to conclude that the membrane is its own, continuous organ, according to the review, which was published in November in the journal The Lancet Gastroenterology and Hepatology.

What’s in a name?

The reclassification of the mesentery as an organ “is relevant universally as it affects all of us,” Coffey said in a statement.

By recognizing the anatomy and the structure of the mesentery, scientists can now focus on learning more about how the organ functions, Coffey said. In addition, they can also learn about diseases associated with the mesentery, he added.

“If you understand the function, you can identify abnormal function, and then you have disease,” Coffey said.

The continuous nature of the mesentery, for example, may serve as a means for disease to spread from one part of the abdomen to another, according to the review.

In addition to studying disease, researchers may also look to the mesentery for new approaches to surgery, the authors said in the review.

More questions need answers

The authors noted in the review that many anatomical and other features of the mesentery still need to be described.

For instance, what body system should the mesentery be classified in? “Whether the mesentery should be viewed as part of the intestinal, vascular, endocrine, cardiovascular or immunological systems is so far unclear, as it has important roles in all of them,” the authors wrote.

While many organs have distinct functions in the body, the mesentery’s distinct function is still unknown, according to the review.

Venus is looking stunningly bright next to the moon right now and here’s why

Image result for Venus is looking stunningly bright next to the moon right now and here's why Image result for Venus is looking stunningly bright next to the moon right now and here's why Image result for Venus is looking stunningly bright next to the moon right now and here's why

The second rock from the sun has been even brighter than normal and it’s not too late to catch a glimpse.

Those with their eyes on the skies have been noticing that Venus, the second rock from the sun, has been even more stunning than normal recently.

Venus is always one of the brightest lights in our night skies but in recent days it has been especially luminous.

All over the country, people have been posting pictures on social media of Venus below the crescent moon. Particularly sharp-eyed observers could also see a ruddy red Mars close to the moon.

We answer some questions that people have been asking.

Have I missed it?

Not necessarily. Like yesterday, Venus will remain very bright tonight but unfortunately it could be obscured by cloud cover.

If there is a break in the cloud, the best time to see it will be in the hours just after sunset as Venus sets about four hours after the Sun this month.

Early January 2017 is a great time to see Venus. According to the Beckstrom Observatory, it will reach its peak height above the horizon this month.

It will also see the distance between Venus and Mars get smaller as Venus gets higher each night.

Why is Venus so bright?

Venus is the brightest of all the planets visible in the skies above Earth due to a highly reflective acidic atmosphere.

Over the last billion years Venus’ atmosphere has become incredibly thick. Scientists believe that this is because of a runaway greenhouse effect.

And with the atmosphere being so dense, it reflects 70 per cent of the sunlight that reaches it.

In comparison, the moon only reflects 10 per cent of the light that hits it. However, due to its close proximity to earth, the moon appears brighter than Venus to us.

Can I see Mars?

Yes! Mars was bright red in the sky in May and June last year but is no longer as bright. However, you can still see it with the naked eye, with it appearing a ruddy red colour.

As the Red Planet is not as bright as Venus you need to wait until total nightfall to see it. Bear in mind it won’t be visible immediately after sunset.