Tag Archives: “014 Irish budget

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Monday 17th August 2015

A technical error sees Revenue ask foreign businesses for millions of euro

The issue relates to the new ‘VAT Moss’ system.


The Irish revenue has said that a “technical error” resulted in around 2,000 overseas businesses being sent incorrect invoices.

These were supposedly for the new VAT Moss system that has been put in place to allow businesses to pay tax abroad without having to register in each jurisdiction.

Revenue has said that it is working to update the system to prevent a recurrence of the problem.

Traders who received the invoices took to social media to express their disbelief, with the error being covered on the WebDevLaw blog. Earlier Alastair Houghton, a member of the HMRC/SME VAT Moss Working Group in the United Kingdom, said that the letters had come from the Irish Revenue Commissioners but had been sent in error.

There has been no financial impact on those who received the invoices and Revenue has issued an apology for the incident.

Earlier letters were asking some individuals for amounts in excess of €1 million.

Invoices were mostly sent to customers in the United Kingdom. Other correspondence is known to have been sent to the Netherlands and possibly the United States.

The letters sent out were addressed from Michael Gladney, the collector-general with the Revenue. Individuals were given instructions on where to transfer money to.

Irish Water staff start calling customers who fail to pay first bills


Irish Water Staff now calling customers who have not made a payment after first two bills, and they remind customers to pay the bill and the charges due.

Irish Water has started calling customers who have failed to make any payments on their first two utility bills to remind them to pay the charges.

Irish Water spokeswoman Elizabeth Arnett said call centre staff last week began phoning customers who had yet to make any payments 21 days following the issuing of their second water bill.

The company had stated five weeks ago that it intended to take this step, which was normal practice “in every single utility company”, she said. Ms Arnett denied suggestions made in some media that there was any targeting of older customers by the call centre staff.

“There is no age profiling, no targeting of older people. I absolutely categorically refute that, it is absolute nonsense.”

She also emphasised the calls were being made by the company’s call centre, and the debts had not been passed on to a debt collection agency. Suggestions made by anti-water charge protesters that some elderly people had been told their water supply would be cut were also false, she said.

“We record every single phone call, this would not and could not happen.”


Call centre staff offer customers the opportunity to pay over the phone, and outline the different payment methods to those who do not wish to pay at that time, she said.

Figures released by Irish Water in mid-July showed 46 per cent of water charges issued for the first three months of the year had been paid, €30.5 million of the €66.8 million due

This equates to about 675,000 households or 43 per cent of the estimated 1.5 million households on the public water network.

While follow-up calling for non-payment of utility bills may be a common practice, the decision represents yet another public relations blunder for Irish Water. There have been a succession of incidents that have plagued the utility.

Questions were raised over executive remuneration and bonus payments. Head of Irish Water John Tierney revealed on RTÉ that the company had paid €50million to consultants. Then within weeks it emerged that 29 staff members earned more than €100,000 each.

The ESRI economist John FitzGerald calculated that the extra 2,000 staff the company absorbed from local authorities would cost Irish Water up to €2 billion by 2025.

Two weeks ago Eurostat raised a number of concerns about the Government’s considerable control of the utility company. The EU statistics agency confirmed the company had failed the Market Corporation Test which means it must remain on the exchequer balance sheet in the coming years. It also took issue with Government control regarding board appointments and operations.

A third of us have spotted people shaving or putting on make-up while driving


Almost a third of drivers say they regularly see people applying make-up or shaving while driving.

The figure comes from a survey by the AA, which also says that 83% of us have seen people using a phone while behind the wheel.

56% of those polled said they had seen people texting while driving, while another regular experience was witnessing people not indicating properly on roundabouts (84%).

Personal grooming – applying make-up or shaving – are not explicit offences, but the AA warned it could be considered “driving without reasonable consideration.”

“It is worrying to think that people are still taking risks despite the fact that everyone with an ounce of sense knows the dangers. There are stricter provisions on mobile devices that will soon become law and there are really no excuses,” said Conor Faughnan, Director of Consumer Affairs at AA Ireland. “Certainly not for personal grooming; that’s ridiculous behaviour.”

The AA also collected anecdotal evidence by positioning a fieldworker on a busy intersection to observe traffic. They reported that, out of 415 vehicles observed passing the intersection during one hour, 10 motorists – including two taxi drivers – were using mobile phones. Another four used their phones while first in the queue at lights.

Researchers target early warning system signs of concussion

Leinster Rugby and TCD have linked up in two promising brain injury studies.


Ulster’s Stuart Olding above picture left leaves the field after a head injury sustained against Munster at Thomond Park in last season’s Pro12 competition.

Concussion continues to hang over rugby like an unwelcome cloud. We can expect the World Cup to highlight the dangers and see how far the sport has travelled on what has been a steep learning curve. But the threat of brain trauma is becoming less sinister and more understood as academics in Trinity College Dublin begin to make inroads and promote some optimism.

In recent months researchers at the university doing work involving blood examinations, as well as using cadavers to see how body movement behaves on impact, have joined forces with Leinster Rugby for two innovative projects into the diagnosis and analysis of the injury.

Early warning system

Ultimately, the teams hope to identify incidences of concussion and predict when a player should be taken out of a match. They are not at that stage yet, but initial findings have moved both projects closer to the main objective of an early warning system that would increase player welfare.

One of the projects is based on studying the movement of human bodies in car accidents to help understand what positions and actions cause brain trauma in sports collisions.

The other is a simple blood test that shows up proteins that are associated with concussion. In time they hope a pin-prick test can be used to determine head injury. They have already identified what they call metabolic patterns that indicate trauma has taken place.

“Every activity in the body leaves a map,” says Dr Fiona Wilson, a former Irish rowing team physiotherapist, who along with physiologist Áine Kelly, is conducting the research into blood.

“The fluids of your body tell you a lot. It’s a protein and shouldn’t appear in the general circulation unless the blood brain barrier has been compromised. We are looking at these metabolites and early stages show we may have a map.”

Brain trauma

They have studied the blood from people with severe brain trauma and examined the proteins. They then took blood from rowers, who do not have any collisions in their sport but their metabolic systems work as hard as professional rugby players.

This was to determine that the proteins found in rugby players were from multiple collisions and not physical exercise. From the injured patients they knew what “brain damage” proteins would appear in the blood.

“It’s the same as having a heart attack,” adds Wilson.”You go in to hospital with a pain in your chest and they measure cardiac enzymes. It’s like a brain injury. We know patients with brain injury so we can match our players against that.

“Our initial findings indicate that we have made significant progress in identifying the blood test. Collaboration with Steno Diabetes centre in Denmark means progress can be made towards a finger-prick blood test already familiar to diabetes management.”

In time, debates like those around Irish outhalf Johnny Sexton and Welsh winger, George North – should they or shouldn’t they return to play – will be measurable, a sort of Hawkeye for head injury.

The movement patterns, of bodies involved in collisions may appear ghoulish, but in scientific endeavour there’s no such thing as squeamish and dead people can often keep the living alive for longer.

Associate professor Ciarán Simms and bioengineering PhD student Gregory Tierney are using multi-angled videos to look at collisions. They take real footage of rugby incidents and superimpose a model skeleton image on the players.

Based on previous knowledge from experiments conducted on cadavers and studies of pedestrian crashes, they use mathematics to conclude what forces are in play and identify various tolerance thresholds.

From a database compiled over years of research, they can look at the kind of body movements and collisions that cause concussion. It takes several weeks to do a study, but with automation the goal is for real time use during rugby matches.

“The aspiration is to have a real time use. But we’re at early stages,” says Simms. “We are also reconstructing collision cases with ‘what if’ scenarios. For coaches, for example, you could ask what could a player do to effect a tackle without getting injured.”

The findings are ready to be peer reviewed, with a draft of findings expected to be ready within a month. The perfect outcome would be that for each match a TMO equivalent could look at impacts and use the technology to instantly tell whether a concussive impact has occurred or not. In tandem with the blood markers and the other battery of neurological tests there is excitement about bringing the lab to the pitch.

“Leinster is very supportive of the research,” says Wilson. “They have been so invested in making sure this happens. Every time the players give blood it’s a favour because there is no immediate benefit to them. It’s unusual for athletes, because they are usually being pulled in all directions by different people, to be so helpful.”

The research is being funded from America by the NFL’s Head Health Challenge, a fund for the development of new materials and technologies that can detect early-stage mild traumatic brain injuries and improve brain protection. As collaborators, they are committing up to $20 million to a variety of projects.

Owls use a ‘stealth technique’ to capture their prey


Owls are equipped with sophisticated ‘stealth technique’ to help them swoop on prey undetected, according to new study that unveils the secret behind the nocturnal bird’s silent flight.

Owls are equipped with sophisticated ‘stealth technique’ to help them swoop on prey undetected, according to new study that unveils the secret behind the nocturnal bird’s silent flight.

Scientists have long been puzzled by the owl’s ability to flap its wings hard enough to rise into the air without a sound while swooping silently on swift-moving rodents out of the still night.

The researchers crowned the owl the “king of acoustic stealth” after discovering that its wings absorbed the energy of flight vibrations and converted it to heat much more efficiently than other birds they examined.

Generating enough thrust to get aloft involves a large amount of force and disturbs a lot of air. Yet most owl species manage to do it at frequencies below 2 kilohertz (kHz), well out of their prey’s hearing range, ‘The Times’ reported.

Researchers used the feathers of a long-eared owl, a golden eagle and a pigeon.

Simulating wing-beats, they measured the vibrations and found that the owl feathers trapped much more of the energy as heat than the others.

Scientists could copy the owl’s noise-reduction mechanisms to quieten machine noises such as the thrum of onshore wind turbines, said Jinkui Chu, professor of mechanical engineering at Dalian University of Technology in China.

“The owl’s silent flight ability is even more superior than we thought,” said Jinkui.

“It not only manages to suppress aerodynamic noise when gliding, but also mechanical noise caused by vibration during flying. This is remarkable, considering the noise that creates for other birds,” he said.

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Wednesday 29th April 2015

Troika to meet Irish officials for third post-bailout review of our economy


  1. State’s ‘unquestionable’ ability to repay loans is only assessment issue, say Irish officials

Under the terms of Ireland’s bailout, officials will undertake two post-programme surveillance missions each year until 75 per cent of Ireland’s bailout loans are repaid.

Troika officials are due to meet officials from theDepartment of Finance and the Central Bank over the coming days as part of the third post-bailout programme review of the Irish economy.

Representatives from Ireland’s three main lenders during its bailout – the European Commission, European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund – arrived in Dublin on Monday as part of a week-long mission to assess Ireland’s adherence to its commitments under its bailout programme, which ended in December 2013.

Under the terms of Ireland’s bailout, officials will undertake two post-programme surveillance missions each year until 75 per cent of Ireland’s bailout loans are repaid.

Officials are expected to complete their mission by Thursday. As it stands, representatives of the troika are not scheduled to meet Minister for Finance Michael Noonan, although an informal meeting is possible.

Fiscal consolidation

“The mission will take stock of Ireland’s fiscal consolidation and financial repair, as sustained financing conditions are essential for the full recovery of the Irish economy,” a spokeswoman for the commission said today.

“To this end, programme partners’ staff are discussing with the Irish authorities the latest developments in the financial sector, the fiscal and macroeconomic outlook and progress on the structural reforms agreed under the programme.”

Government officials played down the significance of the timing of the visit on the week the government unveiled its inaugural spring economic statement. “The representatives of the troika are completing a post-programme surveillance visit which is part of the post-bailout process. In terms of assessment, the only issue is Ireland’s ability to repay its loans. This is unquestionable,” a Department of Finance spokesman said.

In addition to the three main lenders, a representative of the European Stability Mechanism (ESM) is also participating in the mission. ESM director Klaus Reglinghas consistently argued that the ESM – which manages the euro area’s bailout fund – has an obligation to ensure its members are fully repaid.

The ESM manages the eurogroup’s loans that were offered to Ireland and other bailout countries during the financial crisis.

The Government successfully secured a commitment by the commission to reassess the formulae used to calculate Ireland’s growth projections, in advance of this week’s spring statement.

Mr Noonan raised the issue at a March 9th eurogroup meeting in Brussels at which ministers agreed to grant France, Italy and Belgium greater leeway on reaching budget targets.

Mr. Noonan is understood to have been supported in his call for flexibility for all member states by a number of smaller EU member states, including Portugal.

Heart disease is Ireland’s biggest killer with 27 dying every day,

  • new figures reveal


More people losing their lives to it than from cancer or alcohol-related illnesses.

Heart disease is Ireland’s biggest killer with 27 dying every day, new figures have revealed.

More people losing their lives to it than from cancer or alcohol-related illnesses.

The Irish Heart Foundation released a fact sheet about the dreaded disease yesterday (WED) ahead of their annual Happy Heart Appeal next week.

The IHF said many people don’t realise stroke and premature heart attacks are both cardiovascular diseases, which are caused by a build-up of fatty deposits in our arteries.

IHF Medical Director Caroline Cullen commented: “It is well known by medical professionals that cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death and disability in Ireland.

“Coronary disease can be treated more easily now than in the past with medication and stenting so fewer individuals require bypass grafting, there is a perception by the general public that it’s not so bad.

“But it’s important to remember that a stroke can have severe consequences leading to high levels of disability and a heart attack can lead to development of heart failure, a chronic condition which also has high levels of mortality and morbidity.”

Ms Cullen added: “Prevention is crucial and we strongly advocate healthier lifestyles and a less toxic environment.”

Cardiovascular disease begins at birth, when our body starts collecting these lumps. The effect they have on our arteries is influenced by factors such as genetics, age, gender and lifestyle.

The IHF warned that 20% of people will have a stroke.

They debunked the myth that stroke is an older person’s illness, saying it can strike at any age, with children as young as two being affected.

Women are also seven times more likely to die from heart disease and stroke than from breast cancer.

There is good news though, as the IHF said 80% of premature heart disease and stroke is preventable.

They are encouraging us to make lifestyle changes- such as eating healthily, not smoking, being active and keeping an eye on our cholesterol and blood pressure- to avoid getting these diseases young.

Furthermore, we should regularly monitor our blood pressure, as high levels can be deadly.

The top thing we can do to improve our heart health is to quit smoking.

It has been proven that a year after stubbing out, the risk of having a heart of stroke is slashed to half of that of a smoker.

When it comes to warning signs of a heart attack, chest pains are not the only one to look out for.

Men should be aware of indigestion, jaw or neck pain, while women may experience nausea, sweating and vomiting.

There are 90,000 people living with heart failure in Ireland right now and 50,000 who have been left with a disability after a stroke.

The IHF is urging the public to get behind their Happy Heart Appeal, which runs from May 7-9.

Pin badges will be available for E2 from street volunteers and Shaws and Supervalu branches.

All money raised will go towards helping fight heart disease and stroke, through care, prevention and research.

Having a challenging job could protect your brain in later life,

  • A study says


  • Jobs that require more speaking, and even arguing with colleagues are key
  • Can protect against memory and thinking decline in old age

Having a tough job could protect your brain in later life, researchers have found.

They say professionals whose jobs require more speaking, and even arguing with colleagues, could be better off.

Having managerial reponsibilities may even give you better protection against memory and thinking decline in old age than co-workers.

Professionals whose jobs require more speaking, and even arguing with colleagues, could be better off.


Examples of executive tasks are scheduling work and activities, developing strategies and resolving conflicts.

Examples of verbal tasks are evaluating and interpreting information and fluid tasks were considered to be those which included selective attention and analyzing data.

Memory and thinking abilities were also studied.

‘Our study is important because it suggests that the type of work you do throughout your career may have even more significance on your brain health than your education does,’ said study author Francisca S. Then, PhD, with the University of Leipzig in Germany.

The new study published in the April 29, 2015, online issue of Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology

‘Education is a well-known factor that influences dementia risk.’

For the study, 1,054 people over the age of 75 were given tests that measured their memory and thinking abilities every one-and-a-half years for eight years.

The researchers also asked the participants about their work history and categorized the tasks they completed into three groups: executive, verbal and fluid.


Dublin Zoo announces birth of baby monkey


Dublin Zoo is delighted to announce the birth of a Goeldi’s monkey baby to the South American House, proudly sponsored by Kellogg’s Coco Pops.

The new arrival was born on the 3rd March and weighs approximately 30 grams.

The baby joins its parents and older sister, Yari, who is 10 months old.

Commenting on the new arrival zookeeper Susan O’Brien said, “We’re delighted with the new addition. Inca, the mother, arrived to Dublin Zoo in 2012 from Banham Zoo in the UK and is a fantastic mother.

She is keeping the newborn very close to her at the moment and swinging around the habitat with her new baby on her back.”

“The baby is feeding very well on a diet of crickets, mealworms and waxworms.

This may not sound so tasty to us humans, but the insects are fed a high-vitamin diet which in-turn gets passed onto the Goeldi – a perfect diet for a newborn.”

“In a couple of weeks we should be able to get close enough to determine the gender but for now we are happy for the family to bond and get to know each other.

Goeldi’s monkeys blend into the forest so well that they were only first described in 1904.

These dark-haired monkeys, from western regions of South America’s tropical rainforests, mainly feed on fruit, vegetables, insects and bird eggs.

Don’t miss this week’s episode of The Zoo, which will be aired at 7pm on Thursday April 30th on RTÉ One, where footage of the Goeldi’s monkey baby can be seen!

Tesco to play the green card as it seeks to win back its crown

  • Retailer named as biggest buyer of Irish food and drink as it launches Tastebud initiative


SuperValu, which recently deposed Tesco Ireland as the largest grocer in the State by market share, makes much in its marketing of its relationship with local food suppliers. It sounds as if Tesco is not yet prepared to cede this turf to its rival.

Tesco on Wednesday launched its annual Tastebud initiative in conjunction with Bord Bia. This is a mentoring programme with the ultimate aim of getting Irish suppliers listed with Tesco.

The supermarket giant also launched a detailed report by Indecon economic consultants on its contribution to the Irish food industry.

The Indecon report concludes that the wider Tesco group is the largest buyer of Irish food and drink in the world, with purchases of €1.57 billion. This puts it well ahead of other big buyers of Irish food products, such as McDonalds, which sources beef here.

Alan Gray of Indecon says that Tesco Ireland accounts for close to €600 million of the purchases. Referencing the remaining €980 million sold to Tesco stores abroad, Gray reckons Tesco accounts for more than 11 per cent of all Irish food and drink exports.

Tesco Ireland’s commercial director, John Paul O’Reilly, insisted that the local operation of the group acts as a promoter of Irish food and drink exports to its sister operations in other countries, predominantly the UK.

With the relative weakness of the euro against sterling, the attractiveness of Irish products to Tesco’s buyers in Britain is likely to increase for as long as the currency remains undervalued versus the pound.

It’s another opportunity for Ireland Food Corporation?

O’Reilly suggested that Tesco plans to make more noise about its contribution to the Irish food and drink industry.

“We’re going to talk to our customers more about this, and about the Indecon report,” he said.

Tesco, which is beginning to find its feet at a corporate level after an annus horribilis due to an accounting scandal and lost market share, was never likely to take its toppling by Super-Valu in Ireland lying down.

As one of the planks of its strategy, shouting that “we are the biggest buyer of Irish food and drink in the world” isn’t a bad option.

Progress M-27M Russian space cargo ship could crash to Earth


Russia’s Mission Control has failed to stabilise a cargo ship spinning out of control in orbit and it is plunging back to Earth.

However, Mission Control says it has not yet given up on saving the unmanned spacecraft. The Progress M-27M was launched on Tuesday and was scheduled to dock at the International Space Station six hours later to deliver 2.5 tons of supplies, including food and fuel.

However, flight controllers were unable to receive data from the spacecraft, which had entered the wrong orbit. Mission Control spokesman Sergei Talalasov told the Interfax news agency that flight controllers were still trying to restore communication with the Progress.

However, an official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told the AFP news agency that the cargo ship will plunge back to earth. “It has started descending. It has nowhere else to go,” the official said. “It is clear that absolutely uncontrollable reactions have begun.”

“We have scheduled two more communication sessions to soothe our conscience,” said the official. The vessel would fall back to Earth anytime over the next week. Mark Matney, a scientist in the Orbital Debris Program Office at NASA’s Johnson Space Centre in Houston, said the odds that any of the 7 billion people on Earth will be struck by a piece that makes it back through the atmosphere is 1 in 3,200.

“The odds you will be hit are 1 in several trillion,” Matney said. TASS news agency quoted an unnamed space official as saying the Progress, carrying supplies such as food and fuel, had missed its intended orbit and could be lost if it is not corrected.

Other officials told Russian news agencies there had been a problem opening two antennae on the craft.

Space exploration is a subject of national pride in Russia, rooted in the Cold War space race with the US, but the collapse of the Soviet Union starved the space programme of funds and it has been beset by problems in recent years.

The current crew on the International Space Station is made up of Americans Terry Virts and Scott Kelly, Russians Anton Shkaplerov, Gennady Padalka and Mikhail Korniyenko and Italian Samantha Cristoforetti.

NASA said none of the equipment on board was critical for the US section of the ISS, and that the astronauts have enough provisions for months.

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Thursday 26th June 2014

One-in-four SME loans to Irish businesses in default at end of 2013


New lending to Irish small business sector is static, according to Central Bank report

One in every four loans to Irish small and medium-sized businesses was in default at the end of last year, according to official figures due to be published today.

The amount of money owed by small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to the Republic’s banks has fallen steadily over the last year three years, while new lending to the sector remains static, the Central Bank’s SME Market Report shows.

The study finds that these businesses, responsible for most of the employment in the Republic, owed a total of €21 billion at the end of December 2013, down from between €26 billion and €28 billion in January 2011.

At the end of 2013, the average SME owed its bank €71,101 and was paying interest at 6.41 per cent. The numbers show that just over 26 per cent of all loans to the sector were in default, meaning that repayments on these debts were 90 days or more overdue.

The report states that 41.4 per cent of the total balance owed by the sector was overdue at that time. Default rates were highest amongst building companies, which had fallen behind on more than 60 per cent of the amount that they owed their banks.

The Central Bank states that in most sectors, the balance-weighted default was higher than the share of loans in default, which indicated that borrowers with larger individual debts were most at risk of falling behind with repayments.

Demand is stable: From the beginning of 2010 to the final three months of last year, new lending to SMEs remained between €450 million and €750 million. The Central Bank says that there had been “little discernible upward trend” over that timeframe.

Demand for credit was stable between 2011 and 2014, with 35 per cent to 40 per cent of SMEs seeking loans from their banks. Applications hit a peak of 40 per cent in March 2013 but had slipped back to 35 per cent in March of this year.

Only one-in-four applicants were seeking cash to fund growth and expansion, while 61 per cent cited working capital requirements as the reason for their credit application.

The most commonly requested type of loan was renewal or restructuring of an existing overdraft.

“Irish SMEs’ emphasis on bank overdrafts as opposed to bank loans suggests that credit demand is skewed towards shorter-term,” the report says.

Rejected applications: Between October and March, the rate at which the banks rejected these applications was less than 10 per cent lower than in Italy, France or Spain, according to the report.

However, it states that the percentage of those companies which did not apply for credit as they believed they would be rejected is significantly higher here and in Greece than in other euro zone countries.

The report points out that last month, the Government announced the creation of the Strategic BankingCorporation of Ireland, which has funds of €500 million, and which loan money to a SMEs through resident lending institutions.

May sees another big uplift in beef production in Ireland


Irish beef production in May was once again significantly ahead of year earlier levels, according to EBLEX.

It highlights Central Statistics Office figures which show that at 49,100 tonnes, production was up 18%, or 7,400 tonnes, on May 2013. EBLEX says the increased slaughtering’s follow the general trend of the year so far and in the year to date the Irish report that cattle throughputs are up 13% or 85,500 head on last year’s position.

With better conditions resulting in higher slaughter weights at 242,000 tonnes, beef and veal production in the five-month period is up more than 15% year on year.

EBLEX highlights that with the Irish beef industry very reliant on exports and the UK by far the largest destination for Irish beef, the increased imports recorded so far this year look set to continue. However, current indications are that supplies will tighten towards the end of the year will remain tight in 2015 and into 2016.

EBLEX also comments that with Irish supplies still well ahead of year earlier levels, the fact that Irish prices have remained largely stable of late is something of a positive in the current market.

However, it does note that prices do look to be edging back in more recent weeks. With increased Irish supplies, the price differential is making it difficult for UK product to compete. With falling prices in the UK, the price differential has narrowed considerably.

Nonetheless, EBLEX states that the price differential it is still higher than it was for much of the first half of 2013 and is still relatively high in the historical context. As such, it says it remains likely that the pressure on the UK market is set to continue until supplies tighten or demand improves markedly.

There are 14 times more Irish people looking to adopt children than there are children available to adopt


However the Children’s Rights Alliance has warned that Ireland must not adopt from countries not inside The Hague recommendations.

Irish politicians heard today that there are 14 times more Irish people looking to adopt than there are children available.

The discussion at today’s Oireachtas Committee on Health and Children centred on the number of couples looking to adopt, which far exceeds the number of children.

Witnesses at the committee were giving evidence about Ireland’s relationship with other countries in terms of adoption. Current legislation only allows for adoptions between certain nations, restricting the number of children that can be adopted into the country.

The Children’s Rights Alliance argued that Ireland must continue to work within The Hague convention countries as adoptions outside of these countries can be perceived as ‘corrupt’.

Maria Corbett from the Alliance said The Hague sets out the minimum requirements for countries that children are being adopted from.

If we go outside these countries, we cannot trust their procedures.

“They can be involved in child trafficking and even deception of parents for profit.”

She said, “I understand the pain of parents and I don’t want to stigmatise children currently living in Ireland who have been adopted from Vietnam or Russia but we are not able to trust policies in non-Hague countries.”

“We have to resist the emotional request from families to move outside of Hague.”

Trish Connolly from the International Adoption Association told the committee, “I have a nine-year-old at home. She can hear the radio, she can watch Prime Time.

On the way into school she asked me, ‘Mummy was I stolen? Mummy how much did you pay for me?’.

The Irish experiences: The TD Clare Daly said there’s no doubt that many of the children who left Irish institutions and were adopted by Americans went into loving homes but that is not the issue.

“The issue is what happens down the line as every child will want to find out about their birth parents.”

Susan Lohan from Adoption Rights Alliance highlighted that we have no idea how these countries will deal with people who come back looking for records.

“If you respect children’s rights we cannot entertain working with countries outside The Hague.

We know all too well that adoption can be corrupted.

Too restrictive: Coming from a different perspective, Ruth Lennon from the International Adoption Association said that the Adoption Act is too restrictive.

“Just over 18 million children worldwide have lost both their parents.

There are still 100,000 children languishing in institutions worldwide.

She added, “We’re concerned intercountry adoption has no direction.”

During his testimony, Kiernan Gildea from the Adoption Authority of Ireland said that there are at least 14 times more couples wanting to adopt children than there are children available in Ireland.

He said that most prospective parents want to adopt young and healthy infants.

However he added that older children and children with disabilities remain in orphanages.

“There is no doubt that there are children available in Ethiopia but they don’t have the infrastructure in place, they have said no to a bilateral agreement.

What can we do in that situation, we can’t force them.

He also added that the number of children available for adoption is decreasing worldwide.

Big concerns at slow progress of Irish ‘digital media strategy policy’ among Irish SMEs


Puttnam notes steps forward around education and the elderly but says ‘urgency’ needed

Ireland’s “digital champion” Lord David Puttnam is disappointed with the progress of the National Digital Strategy for small and medium businesses but says the scheme is making good progress in other areas.

  The State’s “digital champion” Lord David Puttnam is disappointed with the progress of the National Digital Strategy among small and medium businesses but says the scheme is making good progress in other areas.

Lord Putnam said the digital strategy has made “pleasantly surprising” progress in education and in helping elderly people to use the internet but “SMEs haven’t done as well as I’d hoped”.

One of the core aspects of the digital strategy, which was launched one year ago, was to provide grants of up to €2,500 to encourage SMEs to build an online presence. Research conducted as part of the strategy found that tens of thousands of Irish small firms do not trade online and were losing valuable opportunities to access larger markets, increase revenue and acquire better market intelligence.

Speaking at the National Digital Strategy update conference in Dublin today (thu), Lord Puttnam said more than 1,000 of these “trade online” grants had been given out so far.

Lord Puttnam, a multi-award winning former film producer, said he was “broadly encouraged” by Ireland’s progress but added “I think we’re being a little slow. I think we could do with more of a sense of urgency.”

But he said this was a common problem in virtually all European governments, with the possible exception of Estonia. “I think the world is changing and individuals are changing much quicker than Government is responding.”

He added: “Many people I talked to, certainly in the UK, kind of wish this wasn’t happening; it’s very inconvenient. The problem is, it is happening.”

Minister for Communications Pat Rabbitte told the conference that some 47,000 small companies in Ireland either don’t have a web presence or do business online.

Addressing the audience via Skype from a school on Arranmore Island, Co Donegal, he announced a further €400,000 in funding for a digital training programme. Digital technology, he said, is “the way of the future”.

New Internet web tool to help manage depression


A new internet-based programme that aims to help people manage depression has been launched.

According to the Department of Health, the iFightDepression programme is a ‘guided self-management tool’ for people with mild to moderate depression. It has been developed by the European Alliance Against Depression (EAAD).

The tool is multilingual and will initially be available in English, German, Spanish, Dutch, Hungarian, Bulgarian and Estonian.

“The tool is intended to help individuals with mild to moderate depression to self-manage their symptoms and promote recovery through informative modules, associated worksheets and mood questionnaires to encourage practicing of new skills and self-monitoring.

“The ‘guided’ element to the iFightDepression tool ensures that individuals maintain contact with their GP or healthcare professional throughout their use of the tool. The tool is free to use and is based on principles of cognitive-behavioural therapy,” the EAAD noted.

Speaking at the launch of the tool, Junior Health Minister, Kathleen Lynch, described it as ‘an invaluable resource’ for those with mild to moderate depression.

“The tool offers immediate access to a lower-intensity psychological intervention. It is free to use and comes in two versions – one for adolescents and young adults aged 17-24 years, and one for adults. The tool is implemented through healthcare professionals, who will maintain a recommended level of contact with the patient,” she commented.

Deputy Lynch added that because it is internet-based, it will ‘empower patients by virtue of its accessibility, regardless of time of day, geographical location and financial status’.

Dragon-fish find highlights threat posed by release of exotic species


The discovery of the remains of an exotic dragon-fish on the River Suck (above left) has raised concerns over the damage being done to Irish waterways by the release of non-native organisms into the wild.

The dragon-fish may have been brought into the country as pike fishing bait and although it is unlikely that it was brought here alive, Dr Joe Caffrey of Inland Fisheries Ireland said it could still damage our native biodiversity.

“There is a possibility that discarded fish could still have parasites, viruses or bacteria that would be alien to Ireland and if the fish are eaten, they could indeed pass that on to our native species,” he said.

The discovery follows the rescue of a yellow-bellied slider turtle in Co Limerick last week and Dr Caffrey said Ireland has suffered from the introduction of a number of non-native species.

Pointing to a 2005 incident when the introduction of curly leaved waterweed into Lough Corrib caused havoc for native plant and insect species, Dr Caffrey said people need to be aware of the potential damage exotic animals or plants can inflict upon our unique wildlife.

“Very few people would do this on purpose. It really is down to a lack of knowledge and really the message we in fisheries are trying to get across is that non-native species should never be discarded into natural watercourses,” he said.

Donie’s news Ireland daily BLOG

Friday 16th May 2014

Ireland’s credit rating goes up by two notches to Baa1

stable outlook by Moody’s upgrade


Outlook ‘stable’ it says four months after ratings agency restored State to investment grade

The move comes four months after Moody’s restored Ireland’s credit rating to investment grade.

Moody’s has upgraded Ireland’s credit rating by two notches to Baa1 from Baa3, with a “stable outlook”, it announced tonight.

 This is the second time in six months that ireland’s rating was raised.

The New York agency listed three key drivers for the rating. First they said that the recent pick-up in the State’s growth momentum will “speed up ongoing fiscal consolidation and put the government’s debt metrics on a steeper downward path than previously anticipated”. This would lead to a “significantly improved outlook for Ireland’s medium-term public debt trajectory,” it said.

The agency also said there had been a “very sharp reduction” if off-balance sheet exposures. The recovery in the property market resulted in a considerable reduction in government contingent liabilities, it said.

This was due to both the “accelerated asset sales of Ireland’s National Asset Management Agency (NAMA) and to the disposal of the Irish Bank Resolution Corporation (IBRC) portfolio,” it said.

Thirdly it said Ireland had an improved credit rating relative to its peers. Compared to other Baa-rated euro counties including Italy and Spain the State’s credit profile was “recovering more quickly” .

However it warned that the State’s credit profile remained constrained by “high public debt level, still-sizeable fiscal deficits and significant banking sector risks, including a high stock of non-performing loans.”But it said such negative factors were partly offset by the States institutional and economic strengths as well as the Government’s “significant cash balance”.

The National Treasury Management Agency chief executive John Corrigan welcomed the decision which meant all three rating agencies rate Ireland at BBB+ or equivalent. This “ clearly ranks Ireland as an investment-grade credit and reflects the confidence in Ireland shared by investors generally,” he said in a statement last night.

He was pleased that “one of the main drivers” was “the sharp reduction in Government contingent liabilities due in part to the accelerated asset sales by NAMA.”

Moody’s also said the State’s short-term rating has been upgraded to P-2 from P-3. The agency also raised the State’s foreign and local currency country ceilings for long-term debt and deposits from Aa3 to A2 and country ceilings for short-term foreign deposits have been raised to Aa3 from A2.

The move comes four months after Moody’s restored Ireland’s credit rating to investment grade.

In January, Moody’s lifted Ireland’s government debt rating one notch from junk to “Baa3”, the lowest investment-grade rung, with a positive outlook. Moody’s said the reasons for the upgrade were the growth potential of the economy and the Government’s exit from the EU-IMF bailout programme.

Kristin Lindow, Moody’s Investors Service lead analyst for Ireland, also said in March that there was no doubt the Irish economy had turned the corner, with the agency expressing faith in the country’s ability to manage its debt levels in the coming years.

Moody’s raised Portugal’s rating last week, and earlier this week a ratings upgrade for Ireland was deemed “more likely than not” by Owen Callan, fixed income dealer at Danske Bank, who cited the agency’s “generally bullish view” on the euro zone.

“Some investors may scratch their head about valuations for Ireland,” Rainer Guntermann and David Schnautz, analysts with Commerzbank, wrote in a note to clients this week, adding the economic backdrop was “mixed.”

Prior to the financial crisis Ireland held a “triple A” rating, the highest possible. Moody’s awarded Ireland this top grade in 1998, but by July 2011, it had cut the country’s sovereign debt rating to non-investment grade, or junk.

The two other main credit ratings agencies, Standard & Poor’s and Fitch, both rate Ireland as “BBB+”, the equivalent of a Moody’s “Baa 1” grade.

No limits on getting ahead for today’s Irish top business women


C-suite women tell Fiona Reddan how they can help themselves and each other

Earlier this year Vanity Fair ran a cover story on the woman hired to save Yahoo. “Will Success Spoil Yahoo’s Marissa Mayer?” the US publication asked. It’s difficult to imagine the magazine – or indeed any publication – running the same headline alongside a male CEO. Could success, for example, spoil Microsoft’s newly appointedSatya Nadella or Albert Manifold of Ireland’s largest company, CRH?

Yes, women are making progress in the corporate world in greater numbers than ever before. But are they being held back in business by traditional stereotyping? In a survey of the “c-suite” of Ireland’s Top1000 companies, which examined the gender of senior management in each of the organisations included in this year’s magazine, our survey found that 25 per cent of all c-suite roles among Ireland’s Top1000 companies are now held by women. This compares favourably with a recent study in the US, which showed that about 15 per cent of similar roles are held by women.

However, there remains a disconnect between these figures and the number of women assuming top roles. Women occupy chief executive or managing director positions in just eleven per cent of Ireland’s top companies, according to the Top1000 survey. Carolan Lennon, managing director of Eircom’s wholesale business and a member of Eircom’s senior executive team, argues that quotas may be needed to redress the balance and that sometimes “the end justifies the means”.

“Do I think boards and organisations and governments would be improved if they had a more balanced membership? I do,” says Lennon. “And I believe the only way we can make that happen is to introduce quotas. Otherwise progress will be so slow we won’t make a difference.”

Not everyone agrees, however. Suzanne Weldon, marketing director at BWG, says she is “not a fan” of quotas. “I’ve always got ahead on merit, on doing the right job, and getting the right results.”

Women are in broad agreement, however, that to increase the number of women participating at senior levels of an organisation, support is essential. “I certainly mentor a lot of women. I believe that as a senior businesswoman I have a responsibility to help and encourage other women. If we want to reach 30 per cent we have to keep talking about it,” says Lennon.

Melanie Sheppard, finance director with Pfizer Healthcare Ireland, agrees that to ensure women are encouraged to play as full a role as they desire in the workplace, support, advice and role models are essential. “The power of role models is very strong; so is the absence of such role models.”

But it’s also about taking responsibility for your own career choices.

Central to Sheryl Sandberg’s recent rallying cry for women to heighten their

engagement in the workforce was the message of “leaning-in” and taking a “seat at the table”. It’s something that is echoed in the experiences of the senior women of the Top1000.

“You have to own your own career, to put yourself in the frame,” advises Lennon. “Put your hand up, make sure you’re available and that you have the skills to succeed.”

She says that when presented with a job opportunity, most women – even when they might be the best candidate – can think of eight reasons why they shouldn’t apply. “But women need to take some ownership and push themselves forward,” she says.

Just one binge drinking session can damage your health potentially for life

(and women are worst affected)


  • One night of heavy drinking can cause bacteria to leak from the gut (as in above right graphic picture)
  • This causes an increased level of toxins to build-up in the blood
  • These cause the body to produce immune cells associated with fever, inflammation and tissue destruction

Many people who do not consider themselves to be heavy drinkers let their hair down occasionally and allow themselves one too many.

Now, new research suggests that even this occasional indulgence could cause permanent damage to their health.

U.S. researchers found that just one night of heavy drinking could be enough to have significant negative impacts upon health.

Just one night of binge drinking could damage a person’s health permanently, research suggests (file picture)

They say this is because it causes bacteria to leak from the gut, causing increased levels of toxins in the blood.

The researchers, at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, say these toxins cause the body to produce immune cells involved in fever, inflammation and tissue destruction.

‘We found that a single alcohol binge can elicit an immune response, potentially impacting the health of an otherwise healthy individual,’ said lead author Gyongyi Szabo, a professor of medicine at the university.

‘Our observations suggest that an alcohol binge is more dangerous than previously thought.’

Binge drinking is defined by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) as drinking that brings blood alcohol concentration to 0.08g/dL or above.

For a typical adult, this is equivalent to consuming five or more drinks for men, or four or more drinks for women, in about two hours, depending on body weight.2

Heavy drinking causes bacteria to leak out of the gut and increase toxin levels in the blood. This can cause inflammation and tissue destruction

Binge drinking is known to be dangerous in the short term because it increases the risk of injury.

Over the long term, binge drinking is also known to damage the liver and other organs.

But the new research provides key evidence that a single alcohol binge can also cause damage to health.

To assess the impact of binge drinking, 11 men and 14 women were given enough alcohol to raise their blood alcohol levels to at least .08 g/dL within an hour.

Blood samples were then taken every 30 minutes for four hours after and again 24 hours later.

Dr Szabo and colleagues found that the alcohol binge resulted in a rapid increase in endotoxin levels in the blood.

Endotoxins are toxins contained in the cell wall of certain bacteria that are released when the cell is destroyed.

They also found evidence of bacterial DNA in the bloodstream, showing that bacteria had permeated the gut. Compared to men, women had higher blood alcohol levels and circulating endotoxin levels.

Earlier studies have tied chronic alcohol use to increased gut permeability, meaning potentially harmful products can travel through the intestinal wall and be carried to other parts of the body.

Greater gut permeability and increased endotoxin levels have been linked to many of the health issues related to chronic drinking, including alcoholic liver disease.

LRC chief Mulvey denies breaching “one person one salary rule”


LRC chief says he did not lobby to retain fees Kieran Mulvey said his appointment as chairman of the Irish Sports Council – for which he receives a €9,000 fee – predated a Government circular that one person should receive only one salary.

Chief executive of the Labour Relations CommissionKieran Mulvey has said his appointment as chairman of the Sports Council – for which he receives a €9,000 fee – predated a Government circular that one person should receive only one salary.

Mr Mulvey is on a salary of €156,000 as chief executive of the commission – the equivalent of a deputy secretary general in a Government department and is also paid nearly €9,000 as chairman of the council.

He said his salary as head of the commission was determined by the Government and he had experienced the same pay cuts as others of his level in the public service. He said he was also chairman of the council, which is a State body.

A daily newspaper yesterday published details of a letter sent by Mr Mulvey to the Department of Transport in which he made inquiries about plans by it to cut the fees paid for his post as chairman of the council.

The letter described the fees as “quite small” and said the chairmanship required considerable out-of-hours commitments at evening and weekend events.

Speaking in Killarney, where he was attending the delegate conference of the trade union Impact, he denied he had lobbied to keep the fees.

He said he had been told the payments were to be ended and he had inquired as to why this was the case.

‘It’s not a big issue’

Mr Mulvey said the department had looked at his warrant of appointment as chairman of the council and restored the fees.

Asked whether he would be prepared to relinquish the payments he said this was a matter for the Government to decide.

“It is not a big issue,” he said.

He said the secretary general of the department also took the view he was not in breach of the one-person, one-salary principle.

Separately, speaking at the conference, he said the private sector in Ireland over the last five years had gone through a “torrid period of attrition” in terms of workers’ rights, pay levels and ultimately in relation to unemployment.

However, he said over the last 18 months he had noticed certain pay movements in some sectors of the economy which gave rise to pay increases of 2 to 4 per cent.

Progressive agreement

“These have been negotiations through successful strategies by unions such as Siptu, Mandate, TEEU and the CWU. So collective bargaining is alive and well. It has withstood the rigours of those who believed that trade unions were dead and should be dusted off.”

Mr Mulvey said that in the public service if it had not been for the Croke Park agreement and subsequent Haddington Road deal – warts and all – “there would have been unilateral decisions made by the previous and current governments that would have effectively brought about the end of collective bargaining” in the sector.

Nine facts you never knew about your common garden snail

They have 14,000 teeth and some can even kill you


The everyday garden snail is one of the most common sights of the British countryside but how much do you actually know about them?

Snail trail: They may be one of the slowest creatures on the planet but what else do you know?

Gardeners are being encouraged to bowl snails out of their back yards to stop them munching on their prized plants.

New research suggests that if you remove them some 65-feet away from your garden- around the same length as a cricket pitch – they will not return.

Chemical pellets are often used to combat the pesky mollusks but this new method could be just as effective.

The humble garden snail is one of the most common sights of the British countryside but how much do you actually know about them?

Walk – or slide – this way.

 Old heads

  A snail’s lifespan is dependant on what exact species they are and what habitat they live in.

Some only live for 5 years but can if lucky enough can live to as long as 25.

Best foot forward

While it may not look like it snails slide around on a single foot.

The one long muscle acts just like a human extremity and helps them grip and push themselves along the ground.

Are they poisonous?

Marine species of snail are poisonous but most of the land-based examples are not.

If you are sick after eating them it’s almost certainly because they weren’t cooked properly.

The sea-based cone snail is one of the most deadly creatures in the world with a single sting even able to cause death.

Life in the fast-ish lane

The slime – which is in fact mucus – helps lubricate the floor and helps them pass along with less friction.

With this being the case snails often travel in the mucus trails of others to move faster.

Maxing relaxing

A snail carries another snail on its shell in a garden

Despite their speedy slime lanes rather unsurprisingly snails are one of the slowest creatures on the planet.

They usually move at a steady pace but can reach a dizzying 50 yards per hour – 1.3cm per second.

You can eat the slime

Yes you read that correctly – you can eat the slimy trail left behind.

A popularly peddled myth is that snail slime makes a food inedible but a simple wash and it should be good to go.

Remarkably some research suggests it can be used to treat stomach ulcers.

Eye eye

  Snails are almost completely blind and they don’t have any mechanism of hearing sounds either.

With the kind of sensory deprivation their sense of smell is extraordinary.

They can apparently locate food from as far away as a few metres, which for an animal of their minuscule dimensions is quite the distance.

You might not think so to look at them but snails actually do have teeth.

In fact the average garden snail has over 14,000 of them – a costly scale and polish for sure.

Dog eat dog

Three-year-old Homer came out of his shell last year to claim the title of the planet’s largest pet snail. Weighing 450g and measuring 25cm long Homer lives with proud owner Joe Billington, ten

Officials in Florida have called in a bizarre method to cause the growing problem of giant snails – using Labrador retrievers.

As many as 128,000 snails were caught as part of an aggressive extermination campaign but more help was needed which saw canines called in.

“They’re very good at detecting the Giant African Land Snail,” said Richard Gaskalla, the head of plant industry at the Florida Agriculture Department.

“So we’re building four-legged technology into this program as quickly as we can.”

News Ireland daily BLOG update

Wednesday 7th May 2014

Ireland’s justice minister Shatter resigns over allegations by Garda whistleblower


Your time is up Alan? Enda Kenny seems to be whispering to the Minister (above right pic.)

Alan Shatter steps down after claims of corruption within the police force and political interference in policing

Alan Shatter has resigned as Ireland’s justice minister in wake of report into alleged police corruption and political interference. Photograph: Peter Morrison/AP

Ireland’s justice minister has resigned over a critical report concerning allegations by a police whistleblower.

Alan Shatter offered his resignation to the Irish premier, Enda Kenny.

In response to the report into the Garda whistleblower’s claims of corruption within the force and political interference in policing, Shatter sent a letter to the taoiseach stating: “I am anxious that any controversy that may arise on publication of the report does not distract from the important work of government or create any difficulties for the Fine Gael or Labour parties in the period leading into the … elections.”

Shatter, who is also minister of defence, told Kenny: “It is my judgment that the only way in which such controversy can be avoided is by my offering you my resignation from cabinet.

“It has been a particular privilege to serve as both minister for justice and equality and also minister for defence.

“I want to thank you for affording me the opportunity to be of public service in these positions and I hope that the reforms and change implemented over the past three years will endure and prove to be of lasting benefit to all reside in our state”

His resignation comes before the publication of the report on Friday that is expected to be highly critical of Shatter’s handling of whistleblower claims.

Kenny announced the news of Shatter’s resignation to the audible gasps of members of parliament.

Bank of Ireland denies turning a blind eye to security on loans


(RIGHT PIC.) Blaise O Donnell, daughter of solicitor Brian O Donnell, pictured leaving the Four Courts yesterday after a Supreme Court action.

Brian O’Donnell provided family’s home as security for loans taken out by himself and his wife

Gorse Hill, Killiney: owned by a company, Vico Ltd, which in turn was wholly owned by a trust set up for the benefit of the couple’s four children.

Bank of Ireland has denied claims it “turned a blind eye” when solicitor Brian O’Donnell provided the family’s luxury home in Co Dublin as security for loans taken out by himself and his wife although that property was not owned by them.

The property at Gorse Hill, Vico Road, was owned by a company, Vico Ltd, which in turn was wholly owned by a trust set up for the benefit of the couple’s four children and from which their parents were excluded, Ross Maguire SC, for the children, told the Supreme Court yesterday.

The Bank of Ireland knew of the existence of the trust from at least 2000 and should have made inquiries in 2006 when Vico Ltd guaranteed Gorse Hill as security for the loans, counsel said. That guarantee amounted to a “fundamental breach of trust” and, had the bank looked, it would have found the parents were not beneficiaries of the trust.

Mr Maguire was continuing his arguments on behalf of the children – Blaise, Blake, Bruce and Alexandra O’Donnell – in their appeal against a July 2013 High Court finding the bank was entitled to possession of Gorse Hill. The bank wants possession as part of its efforts to enforce a €70 million judgment obtained in December 2011 against Brian and Mary Patricia O’Donnell arising from unpaid loans. The house and land is worth €6-7 million.

Opposing the appeal, Cian Ferriter SC, for the bank, said there was evidence to support the High Court’s findings Vico Ltd acquired full legal and beneficial title to Gorse Hill in 2006 and that, while the children were entitled to a beneficial interest in shares of Vico Ltd, the trust held shares, not any interest, in Gorse Hill.

There was no evidence to support the claims the bank knew, when it obtained the guarantee over Gorse Hill, the security amounted to a breach of trust, he said. The appeal continues before the five-judge court.

EU Commission gives green light to AIB’s restructuring plan


The Plan will see bank return to profitability without distorting competition; bank will be banned from making acquisitions and will be required to distribute marketing material for competitors

David Duffy, CEO AIB, welcomed the European Commission’s approval of the bank’s restructuring plan and said that the bank “remains focused on delivering against its strategic objectives, while supporting the ongoing recovery of the Irish economy”.

Allied Irish Bank must set targets for cost reductions and abstain from acquisitions until the end of 2017 under the terms of a new restructuring plan, which was approved today by the European Commission.

The plan, which is tied to the pillar bank’s €21 billion taxpayer rescue, will also see the bank distribute marketing material for competitors to ensure that competition in the market isn’t distorted as a result of its bail-out. A limitation on AIB’s total holdings of Irish sovereign bonds during the restructuring period will also apply, excluding those bonds issued by Nama.

In a statement released today, Commission Vice President in charge of competition policy Joaquín Almunia said: “Today, the Commission closed an important chapter in the ongoing restructuring of the Irish banking sector.

AIB is one of the two largest Irish banks. Its restructuring plan sets out the right measures for this bank to return to profitability without unduly distorting competition in the Single Market. In particular, AIB will implement market opening measures over the next three years to attract new entrants to the concentrated Irish banking market”.

David Duffy, chief executive officer of AIB welcomed the announcement. “AIB has made significant progress and has successfully implemented a number of restructuring measures as the bank progresses with its aim of returning to profitability this year. The commitments as outlined are in line with our existing operational plans. The bank remains focused on delivering against its strategic objectives, while supporting the ongoing recovery of the Irish economy.”

In 2009, AIB and EBS received repeated State support in the form of guarantees, recapitalisations and asset relief. In 2011, when AIB and EBS were merged, the merged entity also received capital support. In September 2012, Ireland submitted a restructuring plan for AIB which was complemented by several additional submissions.

Under the restructuring plan, AIB will operate as a smaller domestically focussed bank with an improved funding profile. The bank will increase its level of profitability “notably by enhancing the net interest margin and further curbing its operating expenses”.

Finally, AIB will maintain a strong capital buffer during the restructuring period. AIB also has contingent capital instruments which can be converted into equity, if needed. These measures will enable AIB to return to long-term viability without further State support.

The restructuring plan also includes a set of commitments which AIB will respect until the end of 2017. Those commitments comprise, among other things, targets on cost reduction and a ban on acquisitions. Moreover, AIB will operate “market opening measures” to facilitate the market entry of competitors, comprising a “services package” and a “customer mobility package”.

Under the “services package” AIB will provide to competitors access to certain services, such as cash supply and distribution services, and access to market intelligence. Under the “customer mobility package” AIB will distribute advertising material on behalf of a competitor to its clients to promote customer switching. The commitments will ensure that the competition distortions brought about by the aid are limited.

Many Irish patients complain about dental fees and quality of service standards


The amount of complaints made about dentists in Ireland could be reduced by around 40% if they and their patients communicated more clearly with each other, the Dental Complaints Resolution Service (DCRS) has said.

It has published its second annual report, which provides details about the 130 complaints it dealt with last year.

The DCRS is a voluntary service that offers an independent mediator service to patients who wish to make a complaint about their dentist. It is free of charge and while it operates independently of the Irish Dental Association, it does have the association’s support.

According to its 2013 Annual Report, the service received over 1,200 letters and emails and over 250 phone calls last year, and dealt with a total of 130 complaints. Twenty-eight of these complaints were resolved during the year and 16 of the other 102 cases have since been resolved or are almost resolved.

The majority of complaints made in 2013 related to fees, although a large number of complaints were also made about the standard of work received. Almost one-third of complaints related to dentists failing to communicate properly with their patient.

“Communication failures remain the main cause of disputes. If the patient and dentist communicated clearly with each other about an issue it would reduce the amount of complaints made by about 40%. Dentists need to keep patients informed of the treatment plan and to deal with complaints promptly,” commented DCRS facilitator, Michael Kilcoyne.

Some of the most difficult cases seen by the DCRS concerned crowns, bridges and veneers and of the 28 cases resolved in 2013, some of these results involved an apology by the dentist, a full refund, or further work carried out at no extra cost.

The report highlighted that in many cases, a patient will come back to a dentist with a problems, but the dentist will not listen to them. It advises dentists to deal with complaints ‘immediately’ as the issue ‘is not going to go away’.

It is also essential that the patient is kept fully informed of their treatment plan and the costs this will incur.

Meanwhile, Mr Kilcoyne also expressed concern about companies that fit out a premises as a dental practice and then let it out to dentists.

“There certainly needs to be tighter regulation of these kinds of businesses and they need to be liable in some way if the practicing dentist carries out work of a sub-standard nature and then vacates the premises. In these circumstances, the patient has very little comeback” he pointed out.

Peoples handshake grip is an age indicator


The strength of someone’s handshake is an indicator of their true age, scientists have claimed

A person’s true age can be discovered simply by shaking hands, researchers claim.

Scientists found hand-grip strength correlated with known markers of ageing such as disability, mental decline, recovery time after hospital treatment, and death.

They believe a “handshake test” could be used as a viable test for biological age.

“Hand-grip strength is easily measured and data on hand-grip strength now can be found in many of the most important surveys on ageing worldwide,” said Dr Warren Sanderson, a member of the team from the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) in Austria.

The research, published in the online journal Public Library of Science ONE, reviewed findings from more than 50 studies looking at people of all ages from around the world.

It found that higher grip strength corresponded with indicators of younger biological age in different population groups.

Co-author Dr Serguei Scherbov, also from the IIASA, said: “We found that based on this survey, a 65-year-old white woman who had not completed secondary education has the same hand-grip strength as a 69-year-old white woman who had completed secondary education.

“This suggests that according to hand-grip strength characteristic their ages are equivalent and the 65 year-old woman ages four years faster due to lower education attainment.”

Previous research has shown that simply measuring the number of years people have lived does not provide an accurate picture of biologically how old they are.

Dr Scherbov added: “Our goal is to measure how fast different groups in a society age. If some group is getting older faster than another, we can ask why that might be and see whether there are any policies that could help the faster ageing group.”

Giant Meteor leaves huge crater in Bow City Alberta Canada


A giant meteor struck Canada within the last 70 million years, creating a crater five miles (8km) wide, scientists believe.

The force of the blast in southern Alberta would have been powerful enough to destroy present-day Calgary.

Seismic surveys have revealed a ring-like structure in the Earth’s surface at the impact site near the hamlet of Bow City.

All that remains today is a semi-circular depression five miles (8km) across with a central peak.

Wei Xie, from the University of Alberta, said: “An impact of this magnitude would kill everything for quite a distance. If it happened today, Calgary (124 miles/ 200km to the north-west) would be completely fried and in Edmonton (310 miles/499km north-west) every window would have been blown out.

“Something of that size, throwing that much debris in the air, potentially would have global consequences; there could have been ramifications for decades.”

When it formed, the crater probably reached a depth of up to 1.5 miles (2.4km), said the researchers, whose findings appear in the journal Meteoritics & Planetary Science.

Donie’s news Ireland daily BLOG

Tuesday 22nd April 2014

Honours maths will be mandatory for primary Irish teachers training


Quinn’s comments about ‘highly feminised profession’ prompt widespread disapproval

Comments by the Minister for Education about the ‘highly feminised’ primary teaching profession caused disapproval among delegates at the INTO’s annual conference.

Honours leaving certificate maths will become a minimum requirement for entry into teacher training, Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn said today.

In a comment which caused widespread disapproval among the 750 delegates at the annual conference of the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation, Mr Quinn referred to his “highly feminised audience and profession”.

“I also want to see Higher Level Mathematics in the Leaving Certificate becoming part of the minimum entry requirements for Initial Teacher Education and I’ll tell you why – to a highly feminised audience and profession – our research shows that young women who do the Junior Certificate and take Higher Level Mathematics comfortably in the Junior Certificate exam, drop Higher Level Mathematics when they do their Leaving Certificate because it is not a requirement. This is evidence-based research, and that’s why we want to see it happen.”

However general secretary of INTO Sheila Nunan provoked roars and cheers by opening her response to Mr Quinn’s speech with the words: “Sisters – hell hath no fury”.

While Ms Nunan said she was “quite agnostic about honours maths”, the “sisterhood” knew well the “simple sums of the primary school are: 30 into 1 teacher doesn’t go very easily”.

As delegates got to their feet in approval she continued “46 per cent cuts in assistant principal posts do not make for a good running of schools and 20, 40 and 86 pupils in a 2,3,4 teacher-school … are not easily divided, so whatever way you multiply it, add it, subtract it, do the Pythagoras theorem, I have one message, Minister, the sum we’re looking for is an increase in the money that goes into education”.

Ms Nunan added: “It wasn’t the honours maths that made the Irish women the way they are today, let me tell you. It was the boys who did the honours maths led the country to ruination”.

Mr Quinn made his remarks as part of his speech which addressed the “need to continue to ensure that most entrants to initial teacher education come from the top 15% of all leaving certificate students.

He later told reporters he had been paying tribute to women members of the audience who had been able to spot the lack of a requirement for higher maths and amend their study schedule accordingly.

He said his remarks were “a compliment” to the young women who make up 85% of the primary teaching profession.

“They realise that they don’t need Higher Level maths for entry into the Initial Teacher Education and that requires more work than Ordinary Level so they drop it. I think that we need, in fact, to have our primary school teachers at the same level in mathematics that we require of them in the Irish language,” he said.

Electric Ireland warns residents over disconnecting Sligo housing estate 


an Outstanding bill and who should pay it at the centre of dispute

There has been concern among residents of a Sligo housing estate after Electric Ireland warned the electricity supply to public lighting would be disconnected today.

There was concern among the residents of a housing estate in Sligo after a warning from Electric Ireland that the electricity supply to public lighting would be disconnected today.

An outstanding bill and who should pay it is at the centre of the dispute. Following the collapse of the developer, the estate became part of the liquidation process administered by KPMG.

The residents of over 200 houses were forced to take an active part in the running of the estate and had to settle the last electricity bill over 18 months ago. However the residents’ association committee says it does not have the financial resources to pay the €5,051 demanded by Electric Ireland.

Sligo Borough Council has yet to instigate a “taking in charge” process and says it is still awaiting an application from the liquidators, KPMG.

The council is to be abolished next month and Sligo County Council will now assume the administration of an application when received.

Cllr Matt Lyons (FG) said it was unacceptable that the residents were faced with the threat of having their streetlights turned off and he would be pursuing the matter with Electric Ireland and the council.

Obesity crisis as 1in 4 of Ireland’s tots are overweight


Seven out of ten Irish children are eating sweet or savoury treats at least once a day, according to a leading obesity expert,

At present, a quarter of Irish children at the age of three are already classed as overweight or obese while obesity rates among women have doubled and quadrupled among men in the past 20 years.

Director of food safety board Safefood Cliodhna Foley-Nolan said one of the biggest culprits contributing to childhood obesity is the treats which make up one fifth of the calorie intake of an average Irish child every day.

She said: “Over 70pc of children have snacks and stuff from the top shelf at least once a day. The contribution of sweet and savoury snacks is contributing to a fifth of calories intake of children a day. We’re not just talking about one little Marietta.

“We put diesel or premium petrol in a car but what we are giving our children, their bodies weren’t meant to run on that.

“It’s the preponderance of nutritionally poor but calorie rich food. There is very little nourishment in them.

She said many Irish parents are also piling too much food on their children’s plates.

She said: “We’ve shown that children of five years of age need roughly half the amount of food that an adult needs but the evidence is they are getting bigger and bigger portions.


“It is almost seen as a sign of intelligence or progress if they want more.

“Children in particular have difficulty in regulating their appetites. If they are presented with more, and particularly more of highly palatable food like chips or like chicken nuggets, they will eat more than they need.”

She said the fruit and vegetable consumption for many Irish children is still well below recommended guidelines despite all health campaigns.

“There are more pre-made meals, and snacks, treats and sugary drinks are a big issue,” she said.

“Only about one in four children actually get the amount of fruit and vegetables they require.”

Studies have shown that almost half the children under three in the lower social classes in Ireland are watching more than two hours of TV a day.

Foley-Nolan said weight gain in the first three years needs to be monitored by parents.

She said: “It is a time when children put on weight and it is more difficult having put it on to lose it.

“Things like early weaning, the introduction of solid food, and breast feeding are other factors which impact on weight gain and the amount of time that under three years olds watch TV.

“Those early years are critically important. Weight at three years of age does predict overweight and obesity in later childhood and into adulthood.”

Deer’s head seized as poachers hit by Operation Bambi 


This is the deer’s head that Gardai seized as part of an investigation into poaching code-named Operation Bambi.

The discovery was made by Tallaght Gardai when five officers entered a house last Friday week after they obtained a warrant under the Wildlife Act.

It is understood that the head belonged to a deer that was poached using two lurchers and a spotlight in the Dublin Mountains.

Sources have revealed that gardai were alerted to the situation after an image of the deer’s head was placed on Facebook.


Operation Bambi, being conducted by gardai and the National Parks and Wildlife Service, is co-ordinated by Insp Martin Walker who is based at Carlow garda station.

It is understood that the Facebook image of the deer’s head was sent to Insp Walker who passed on the information to colleagues in Tallaght who then conducted a search of the house.

Commenting on the seizure, Damien Hogan, the secretary of the Wild Deer Association of Ireland, said: “The Wild Deer Association of Ireland welcomes this development and would like to thank all involved.

“There has been a significant increase in the number of successful prosecutions and detections in recent months, and we would encourage our members and supporters to continue to report suspected incidents of deer poaching.”

The Herald revealed last December that a gang that gardai targeted was responsible for poaching up to 200 deer after boasts about their exploits were posted on Facebook.

The deer hunters had been operating without licences in counties Wicklow, Carlow and Kilkenny and were under investigation by gardai since the start of the season last September.

Senior sources said that one suspect used Facebook to boast that he had killed 15 deer in one night, and that gardai would not catch him.

The poachers operated with the help of a high-powered lamp and an electronic device imitating the call of a stag during the rut, or mating season, in October.

This attracted stags to come out of their cover in heavily forested areas and become easy targets for the poachers.

Co Wicklow is reckoned to have the highest concentration of Sika deer in Europe after it was introduced from its native Japan by Lord Powerscourt in 1859, at his estate near Glencree.

Sika and red deer are closely related, and as a result of interbreeding all of the deer now in Wicklow are hybrids.


It is estimated that about 12,000 of the 32,000 deer shot under licence last year were killed in Wicklow, while hundreds more fell victim to poachers.

It is understood that venison from poached Irish deer is being exported.

Intelligence available to the Operation Bambi team indicates that some of those involved are supplying poached deer directly to British dealers who collect carcasses at prearranged locations using refrigerated lorries.

And now it turns out that Monkeys are pretty good at doing Maths as well


A recently concluded experiment shows that rhesus monkeys are capable of doing simple addition using numbers 1 through 25. But more interesting than that is the observation that they also make the same mistakes as us.

To test whether monkeys can represent and manipulate numbers in their head, neurobiologist Margaret Livingstone of Harvard Medical School and her colleagues set up a rather interesting experiment.

Prior to this, however, the monkeys learned to associate the Arabic numbers 0 through 9 and 15 select letters with the values zero through 25. This was done by having the monkeys choose larger numbers as a means to acquire greater quantities of a food reward.

But for the new experiment, the monkeys had to work a bit harder for it. They had to perform addition in order to correctly choose the larger reward. Specifically, they were given a choice between performing a sum calculation and a single symbol rather than just two single symbols. Eventually, they learned how add the two symbols and compare the sum to a third, single symbol.

To rule out the possibility that they were simply memorizing combinations of symbols, the researchers taught the monkeys an entirely new set of symbols. They were still successful, calculating previously unseen sets of combinations.

The monkeys weren’t perfect, however. And in fact, they committed an error often exhibited by humans. Aviva Rutkin from New Scientist explains:

The monkeys made more mistakes on problems involving numbers that were close in value – a fact which might ultimately prove more interesting than their success at small numbers.

Neuroscientists already know that the human brain is better at distinguishing between two low numbers than two high ones. For example, you could easily tell the difference between two and four birds sitting in a tree, but you’d be less likely to spot the difference between a flock of 22 and a flock of 24.

What we don’t know is why. Some think it is because the brain encodes numbers logarithmically, so that we perceive the distance between two small numbers as greater than that between two large ones. Others argue that the brain encodes numbers linearly, as on a number line, but that our concept of a number becomes less distinct as the value increases.

As Rutkin points out, the monkeys were biased towards a linear scale. More insight is likely to emerge if and when monkeys are asked to perform tasks involving multiplication.

Study shows dangerous asteroid impacts hit Earth every six months


A study using data from monitoring stations designed to enforce a nuclear test ban treaty shows that the Earth is enduring far more dangerous asteroid impacts than previously thought.

Between 2000 and 2013, the Earth was hit by 26 asteroids that exploded with a force of between one and 600 kilotons – an average of one every six months. Even more concerning is that in all cases the asteroids themselves weren’t detected in space and only came to light when they detonated in Earth’s atmosphere.

The study was carried out by the B612 Foundation, a group set up by three former astronauts who are worried about the threat of asteroids to life on Earth. The foundation’s CEO (and former shuttle pilot) Dr. Ed Lu presented the report’s findings at a press conference in Seattle’s Museum of Flight on Tuesday.

“While most large asteroids with the potential to destroy an entire country or continent have been detected, less than 10,000 of the more than a million dangerous asteroids with the potential to destroy an entire major metropolitan area have been found by all existing space or terrestrially operated observatories,” said Lu.

“Because we don’t know where or when the next major impact will occur, the only thing preventing a catastrophe from a ‘city-killer’ sized asteroid has been blind luck,” he concluded.

The study notes that four of this century’s collisions have been larger than the atomic bombs that took out Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In 2013, over a thousand people were injured when an asteroid exploded over Chelyabinsk, and 20 kiloton impacts were recorded over Indonesia, the Southern Ocean, and the Mediterranean.

All of these are dwarfed by the 1908 Tunguska impact, when the earth wandered into the path of a comet or large asteroid that exploded with a force of around 10 megatons – an explosion that leveled the surrounding forests and blasted down trees for 2,150 square kilometers (830 sq miles.)

NASA’s Spaceguard project, named after the fictional asteroid-watching body described by Arthur C. Clarke, has done a good job at finding larger clumps of space junk that could seriously threaten human life on Earth, but it is missing a lot of the smaller debris that could just wipe out a city or cause a tsunami.

To spot this material, the B612 Foundation wants to build and launch a privately funded orbital asteroid detector, dubbed the Sentinel Space Telescope Mission. The designs have already been completed and the team estimates it could find 200,000 smaller asteroids a year after its planned 2018 launch.

The study shows that most of the kiloton-range explosions recorded this century resulted in very little debris striking the planet’s surface. Asteroids are ablated by the earth’s thick atmosphere and heat up to the point of explosion – most of the time – but sooner or later, probability suggests, one will hit and cause major damage. ®


The curious name of the B612 Foundation stems from the popular French book The Little Prince, by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry.

In the fable, the author meets a small man after crash-landing his plane in the desert, who explained he lived on an asteroid named B612. The foundation used this name because, it says, the moral of the prince’s tale was that what is essential in life is often invisible to the human eye.

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Tuesday 1st April 2014

Up to 15,000 customers had gas and electricity cut off in 2013 after non-payment pay bills


A leading charity warned far too many families are being left without light and heat

More than 15,000 customers had their gas and electricity cut off last year because they couldn’t afford to pay their bills.

 Misery: The reality of being cut off

While the number of homes being disconnected is down, a leading charity warned far too many families are being left without light and heat.

The Commission for Energy Regulation revealed 10,122 electricity customers and 5,895 gas customers were cut off in 2013.

But there was some good news as there was a sizeable fall in the number of disconnections for non-payment from the previous year.

The CER figures show there was a 31% reduction for electricity customers and around 16% for gas users.

Much of this fall is being put down to a rise in agreed settlements and greater use of pay-as-you-go meters.

But St Vincent de Paul said the number being cut off is still far too high. A spokesman added: “There are a very troubling number of households who must resort to payment plans.

“In Great Britain, for example, there were just 453 electricity disconnections in 2012 and in the same year SVP provided €11.1million in helping people in Ireland meet their energy costs.

“SVP has long stated to the minister that the crisis is about arrears, the inability to pay bills, as opposed to disconnections alone.”

The CER has confirmed the number of electricity customers accepting a meter jumped by 80% to 26,591 last year.

Across all companies in the gas sector another 18,519 customers were given a meter, up 45% on 2012.

The St Vincent de Paul spokesman called for wider use of PAYGO systems and for payment plans to be made less costly.

There are growing fears that the introduction of water charges later this year will make it even more difficult for those on benefits and low incomes to pay their utility bills.

The spokesman said in some cases families had to choose between heating their home or providing food.

He added: “We see it every day where people are having to make choices, often between eating and heating.”

It is not only domestic users who are finding it difficult to pay their bills as a recent report showed the price of electricity to industrial users has risen dramatically in recent years.

The National Competitiveness Council revealed yesterday that electricity costs in Ireland are among the highest in the EU.

Ireland and what we can learn from Silicon Valley

(The Small Business Show)


The Small Business Show examines how Ireland is embracing innovation that is the hallmark of Silicon Valley and how SMEs are at the forefront of this.

This is one of the most exciting times in Irish business, although it may not seem like it as many SMEs still raise questions over their futures. This week’s Small Business Show is centred on the question of whether Ireland can emulate Silicon Valley?

When you break down where Irish SMEs are now to where they were a number of years ago, it’s clear to see things have changed, not least in mentality and in innovation. That latter word of innovation has long been misdirected at the technology sector here in Ireland. Innovation is the trademark of technology — of that there is no doubt. But trademarks are representations of something; what defines them is not exclusive.

On last week’s show and in these columns, I spoke to Doireann Barrett from the Gluten Free Kitchen Company in Tralee, Co Kerry, a great example in food innovation.

Now, spiral out to sectors such as agriculture, professional services, retail, and even construction: Innovative ideas have come to the fore to help drive these industries forward and, as such, demand for them has not only increased in Ireland but across the world. Necessity really is the mother of invention.

Silicon Valley in California is the place to be for innovation and entrepreneurs. It’s where the capital investment is, where the movers and shakers are in world technology and thinking. Coupled with an ability to fuse together nations and races from around the world in the same place and you have an equation for top end success. This is what the ultimate innovation hub looks like.

However, we’re not capable of something like that in Ireland, are we? Actually, yes, we are. We see that we are already on the road to creating businesses that are innovative for their own reasons.

Venture capital, one of the biggest drivers of innovation, is becoming a standard sight here in Ireland. The likes of SOS Ventures and Atlantic Bridge are putting investment capital into Irish businesses and getting results to match.

For so long, we have stood and looked across the pond with envy, wondering what they have that we don’t. The reality is that we have it — we just need to nurture it. The venture capital is here, the thinkers are here, the entrepreneurs are here, and, what’s more, the hunger is here. Never before has Ireland seen so many entrepreneurs so enthused about its future.

There are many challenges ahead for the economy and small business. But with fresh thinking and new approaches, we are slowly creating the solutions to things that for so long have just been problems.

If Silicon Valley is the dream, then Ireland’s reality needs to be this road of new ideas. If you will it, it is no dream.

Irish country house prices rise by up to 3% for first time since 2007


A new report shows property prices outside Dublin went up in the first three months of the year.

According to Daft.ie, it is the first quarterly increase outside the capital since mid 2007. Today’s figures ending a run of 26 straight quarters of falling values outside Dublin.

Cork and Galway city centre properties rose 2% and 3%, respectively.

Meanwhile, prices in Dublin are 15% higher.

Daft says there are currently fewer than 2,300 properties listed for sale in Dublin, the lowest since June 2006.

Fewer than 800 Dublin houses are coming on the market each month on average, or 10,000 homes over per year.

Daft’s in-house economist Ronan Lyons said: “In a city of roughly half a million households, this translates to just 2% for sale – a healthy market would see at least three times this amount coming on to the market each year and perhaps as much as six times.”

He added: “The end of price falls around the country is unsurprising when taken together with the figures on supply.

“The total stock of properties sitting on the market fell from 54,000 in March 2012 to 43,000 in March 2013 and to 33,000 in March 2014.

“To put the last two years into perspective, between early 2008 and early 2012, that figure had been stuck persistently above 50,000.”

Update 9.30am: Meanwhile, MyHome is tracking a slight fall in prices outside Dublin, of .7%.

Both MyHome and Daft, as well as DNG, all confirm that prices in Dublin are continuing to rise, though by varying amounts.

Irish adverse weather symposium set for NUI Galway


A recently-published report by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) makes dire predictions about the adverse effects and impacts of climate change.

The Irish Met Society and NUI Galway have joined up to organise a Symposium on ongoing work in Ireland in researching and monitoring of our atmosphere.

The Symposium, which will take place in the Martin Ryan Annex Lecture Theatre in NUI Galway, includes presentations on atmospheric monitoring and research activities of national bodies such as the Environmental Protection Agency, Met Éireann and the Marine Institute.

It will be held on Saturday next, 5 April from 10.45am and will be followed on Sunday by a trip to the NUI Galway Atmospheric Research Station at Mace Head in Connemara. All details are available on the Irish Met Society website at http://www.irishmetsociety.org.

The Symposium should be especially relevant to bodies such as local authorities, farming and other organisations where the weather can have an impact on their work. The aim of the Symposium is to encourage more synergy between the various agencies that are active in atmospheric monitoring and to promote greater use of the data collected.

It will provide an opportunity for members of the public and individuals directly involved in Atmospheric Research and Monitoring to inform themselves on current activities in those areas.

A highlight of the day features Dinah Molloy, a researcher with the Scott Polar Research Institute in Cambridge. She uses the weather records kept by captains of whaling ships in the 1700s and 1800s to describe the climate at that time. This is of interest in the light of this week’s IPCC report, which refers to how recent weather events such as melting ice caps, more intense rains, more frequent storms and heat waves were brought about by climate change.

A presentation on the work of the European Centre for Medium Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF) in monitoring air pollutants and their effect on the weather brings an international flavour to the event. Other presentations highlight the work of scientists in NUI Galway at an international level, through their work at Mace Head since 1958.

This work is led by Professor Colin O’Dowd, a recent recipient of the Royal Irish Academy Gold Medal for outstanding contribution to the Environment and Geosciences. Aspects of their work will include research on the impact of aerosol particles on the sunlight reaching the earth.

Other organisations that will be describing their work are Met Éireann, the Radiological Protection Institute of Ireland, the Marine Institute and the Environmental Protection Agency. The monitoring of radiation levels in the atmosphere, in particular in an emergency situation, is the focus of one presentation.

Other presentations describe how data on the atmosphere are gathered at sea using buoys and on land through a network of observing stations. Improving the accuracy of air quality forecasting is addressed in a presentation by the Environmental Protection Agency.

These are the ten counties with the highest rates of bowel cancer


The Irish Cancer Society has highlighted these ‘hotspots’ (left map picture) as Bowel Cancer Awareness Month gets under-way.

The Irish Cancer Society has revealed the ten counties with the highest rates of bowel cancer in Ireland.

Today marks the start of Bowel Cancer Awareness Month, during which the charity is hoping to advise people on what lifestyle changes to make to reduce the risk of bowel cancer.

These include more exercise and a healthier diet, both factors that can reduce the risk by between 30 and 40 per cent.

Research has estimated that between 30 to 60 minutes of exercise can offer the “best protection” against bowel cancer.

Bowel Screen is also advising those aged between 60 and 90 to be screened for the cancer.

Figures from the National Cancer Registery show that Cork has the highest rate at 57.90 cases per 100,000 people.

These are based on studies between 1994 and 2011.

A number of the counties with the highest rates are centred around the north-west of the country.

“The high levels of bowel cancer incidence in certain parts of the country could be due to lifestyle or genetic factors,” a statement from the Irish Cancer Society read.

Here’s the full list:

•          Cork – 57.90

•          Leitrim – 56.39

•          Louth – 54.97

•          Dublin North – 54.49

•          Westmeath – 54.23

•          Dublin South – 53.87

•          Cavan – 53.44

•          Mayo – 52.98

•          Waterford – 52.29

•          Sligo – 52.28

Norfolk Storks could be first to breed in the wild in Britain for some 600 years


A pair of storks which have built a nest on top of an 18th century chimney in Norfolk could become the first to breed in the wild in the UK since 1416

The storks have built their nest on an 18th century chimney at Thrigby Hall Wildlife Gardens

In Britain they are usually confined to the walls of nurseries carrying baby bundles in their beaks.

But now a pair of white storks is set to make history by producing their own offspring in this country for the first time in nearly 600 years.

The female bird is expected to lay her eggs in the next few days after building an impressive nest of twigs on top of a 35ft high disused chimney.

If the eggs hatch they will be the first storks known to have successfully bred in the wild in Britain since 1416, the year after Henry V celebrated victory at the Battle of Agincourt, when a pair nested on top of St Giles Cathedral in Edinburgh.

The four-year-old birds have built their traditional elevated nest on an 18th century chimney at Thrigby Hall Wildlife Gardens near Great Yarmouth, Norfolk.

They were also spotted “copulating furiously” a few days ago, according to hopeful staff at Thrigby Hall.

Other storks which have had their wings pinioned to stop them flying away have been successfully bred in zoos in recent years.

But the pair at Thrigby Hall are semi-wild as they are able to fly and can come and go as they please.

White storks, which are a traditional symbol of childbirth, breed mainly in continental Europe in summer months before migrating south to Africa in the winter.

They often nest close to human settlements but rarely visit the UK with only about 20 spotted each year.

They often nest on top of manmade objects like chimneys, rooftops and telegraph poles.

Ken Sims, 72, director of Thrigby Hall Wildlife Gardens, said the birds on his chimney had been bred in captivity in Cumbria and the Cotswolds.

He said: “They are resident at the wildlife gardens, but they can fly and they are allowed their semi-liberty.

“They go off into the countryside and the Norfolk Broads to feed and they come back here.

“We gave the storks a helping hand, by building a structure for their nest on the hall’s front chimney, but they turned their back on our handiwork and have built their own nest on one of the rear stacks.

“They have been seen mating several times and are very busy adding twigs to their nest so we’ll be keeping a close eye on them over the next month or so to see if they begin feeding activities, which will mean that chicks have arrived.

“We attempted to encourage stork breeding in 2008, but sadly the hen disappeared and the male stork flew into a powerline and died.

“We are hoping to have more success this time. It will be a day for great celebration if our storks manage to breed successfully in their traditional way.”

A previous attempt by a pair of storks to nest on an electricity pole at Horbury Bridge in the Calder Valley, West Yorkshire, ended in failure in 2004.

Mr Sims said it had been his policy in recent years to not pinion birds at his wildlife park to allow them greater freedom.

He added: “The building of a nest together is part of their courtship display and an indication that eggs are on their way.

“They were seen copulating furiously around five days ago and we think they were doing it a couple of days either side as well.

“We are pretty confident that we will get some young storks. It could be that eggs have been laid already, but we can’t see as the chimney is so high.”

White storks facts:

  • White storks are tall and slender birds with a distinctive long neck, bright red bill, long legs and black wing feathers.
  • They grow up to 125cm (50ins) tall with a wing span of about 155 to 200cm (61 to 79ins) and feed on worms, amphibians like frogs, reptiles, insects and small mammals including voles.
  • They usually breed in the warmer parts of continental Europe and spend most winters in Africa before returning north in the spring.
  • Some occasionally visit the UK in spring, but only around 20 are spotted on British shores every year.
  • Once they have built their nest the same pair will often return to the same site every year to breed.
  • The nests can weigh between 60 and 250kg (130 to 551lb) and sometimes cause chimneys to collapse.
  • Storks have long been associated with fertility and fidelity and the myth the birds delivering babies down the chimney is known worldwide.
  • The story was popularised by a 19th century Hans Christian Anderson story called The Storks.
  • Adult storks continue to care for their young even after they have fledged which led to a belief the young birds were taking care of their parents.

This is thought to explain why an ancient Greek law about taking care of your parents was called the Pelargonia, from pelargos, a stork.

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Tuesday 25th March 2014

Queen Elizabeth greets Irish stars at reception for Irish community


British monarch welcomes Van Morrison, Imelda May and Niall Horan to Buckingham Palace

One Direction’s Niall Horan (2nd right) meets Queen Elizabeth of Britain at a reception for the Irish community at Buckingham Palace, London.

Three years ago, a photograph of a Cork fishmonger, Pat O’Connell and Queen Elizabeth II, both beaming with laughter, became the image of her State visit to Ireland that went around the world.

Tonight in Buckingham Palace, the two again met in laughter when the queen, accompanied by the Duke of Edinburgh, Prince Philip, greeted the man from the English Market and 300 other Irish guests.

“Well, she recognised me, anyway. We had a joke back in 2011 where I told her that I was more nervous than I had been since I got married 30 years earlier. “Tonight, I told her I was better dressed than I have been for 30 years,” O’Connell told The Irish Times minutes later at the reception to mark the role played by the Irish in Britain.

“The Duke said to me, “Well, you’re here!”,” he went on.

Pressed to offer more details about his exchanges with the queen, O’Connell said: “Before she left she asked me if I had brought any fish.”

The gathering was the curtain-raiser for President Michael D Higgins’s state visit to Britain early next month – the first time a visit by an Irish head of state has received such status.

The guests included musician Van Morrison, ex-Formula 1 team-owner Eddie Jordan, ex-rugby player Bob Casey, designer Orla Kiely, ex-world boxing champion Barry McGuigan.

“It is a wonderful occasion for the Irish community in Britain,” said Irish Ambassador to Britain Dan Mulhall.

“They have made a huge contribution to Britain over the years – a huge contribution.”

Grand National winner and racehorse trainer Jonjo O’Neill joked: “I was only talking to her about horses, it all I know about. She just had a horse lose by a short-head in Australia.

“Sure, she’ll pick up a few quid anyway. It is lovely to be invited to the palace,” he told The Irish Times, following his extended words with the queen.

Bernie O’Roarke, who works with domestic abuse victims in London, declared: “I’m very proud and my family back in Ireland are very proud, really thrilled.”

The Clones, Co Monaghan-born Barry McGuigan exchanged pleasantries with the queen and Prince Philip.

“The Duke said it was a long time since he had seen me. I haven’t been here since the 1990s,” he said.

Clearly enjoying the occasion, the queen mingled with the guests who had begun to gather in Buckingham Palace before six o’clock for the reception.

Getting into the spirit of things, a spokesman for the palace later said: “It was a really fun evening – great company and extremely relaxed. Her Majesty seemed to enjoy the craic.”

Former Ireland rugby international Bob Casey was one of 10 people to be presented to the queen in the White Drawing Room at the start of the reception.

“I am more nervous than I ever was going out at Twickenham. It’s lovely, I am really, really thrilled to be here. It is amazing,” he said later.

The guests numbered NI Secretary of State Theresa Villiers, chef Rachel Allen, One Direction singer Niall Horan, along with Dr Cecilia McDaid, who leads Conradh na Gaeilge in Glasgow.

“It is an absolute honour to step inside this building and meet the lady herself. Obviously when Irish and English people get together it is always a good occasion,” said Horan.

“I saw an envelope which had the Buckingham Palace royal stamp on top and it was a bit ‘OK what is this about’ and I got a bit of a shock and here we are three weeks later,” he went on.

Band manager Louis Walsh, who is a judge for the X-Factor show, declared: “It is a really good night, a celebration of all things great about Ireland and the Irish.

“The queen was magnificent when she came to Ireland. She has the X Factor, she’s got it, no doubt about that,” he said, as he broke away from chatting to Orla Kiely and Rachel Allen.

Graham Linehan now living in Norwich, the co-creator of the Father Ted series said: “If you are a writer and you turn down a chance to get inside walls like these then you would be drummed out of the business.”

As much as half of Irish lenders decisions appealed by SMEs are overturned


More than half of all lending decisions appealed to the Credit Review Office by small and medium enterprises (SMEs) are overturned.

The office, set up to monitor banks’ lending into the real economy, has warned about the lack of competition among lenders because of the withdrawal of foreign lenders.

But in his 13th report into lending to small business, the head of the Credit Review Office, John Trethowan, said he did not believe that lending targets set for AIB andBank of Ireland needed to be extended.

The two main banks both hit their targets to lend €4bn each to SMEs last year, Mr Trethowan said.

Ongoing monitoring of lending and the continued scrutiny of the lenders meant it was not necessary to extend the formal targets, he said.

The report also weighs into the debate over whether lack of demand for credit, or lack of supply, is affecting the statistics.

The consensus arrived at in meetings between the Credit Review Office, the Department of Finance and business groups was that demand for loans is depressed and likely to remain low while SMEs rebuild their balance sheets.


For companies that are looking to borrow, the report found that 55pc of lending decisions appealed by prospective borrowers end up with the original decision reversed.

As a result, €21.6m in additional credit has been made available to SMEs and farms, according to the report.

SMEs unhappy with a credit decision by AIB (including EBS) or Bank of Ireland can take an appeal to the Credit Review Office, which was set up in the wake of the banking crisis.

Based on the cases appealed, the latest report from the agency found that capital increases and cash for business investment were now the main drivers of business loan applications.

It is seen as a sign business is starting to recover from the crash.

However, the other main driver of demand is from companies looking to refinance debts previously advanced by foreign banks that are now pulling out of Ireland.

The report also warned that it was becoming easier for AIB and Bank of Ireland to maintain levels of lending to small business without taking on riskier clients because of the exit of a number of foreign-owned banks from the market here.

Last year, Rabobank-owned ACC and Denmark’s Danske Bank announced plans to withdraw from the market here, forcing customers to shift their banking arrangements over to the remaining pool of lenders.

IBEC launches priorities for next phase of recovery


Employers’ group IBEC is launching its new campaign, “An Ireland that works”, setting out the business priorities for the next phase of the recovery.

The lobby group wants a lower tax burden for individuals – saying consumers here deserve a break.

It’s also calling for the Government to invest in infrastructure projects, skills and education, promotion of entrepreneurship and a push to extend Ireland’s reach in international debates such as those on tax and EU reform.

It wants a reduction of the marginal income tax rate to below 50pc and also recommends that the pension levy to be dropped.

Infrastructure spend should be increased to 4% of GDP while it is also calling for Irish interests to be protected in the international tax debate.

300 Irish driving tests cancelled because of a planned strike

Union says further stoppages could follow if dispute not resolved

About 300 people who are scheduled to undergo driving tests next week will have them cancelled by a planned strike by driver testers.

Driver testers, who are represented by the trade union Impact, are to stage a half-day strike from 2pm on Wednesday April 2nd in a dispute over outsourcing.

Impact said that further stoppages could follow if the dispute was not resolved.

The Road Safety Authority (RSA)said that anyone who was due to have a driving test next Wednesday afternoon would have it re-scheduled at no cost as quickly as possible.

Impact said the dispute centred on proposals by RSA management to outsource testing in breach of a LabourCourt ruling which recommended the recruitment of a reserve body of qualified testers to avert any possible backlog in test applications.

Impact official Denis Rohan said management had since ignored the Labour Court-recommended process and instead moved to engage subcontractors instead of recruiting reserve staff. He said management had breached its agreement with staff and had since refused to talk to the union about the issue.

The union said that a subsequent Labour Courtrecommendation in January this year was rejected by driver testers.

Mr Rohan said that this was because the recommendation made no provision for talks on outsourcing arrangements.

The RSA said in accordance with numerous recommendations and rulings by the Labour Relations Commission it had established a panel of five reserve driver testers to assist in reducing the impact of short-notice sick leave absences on customers and to continue to deliver a high quality service.

It said this service would only be drawn down if required, in order to minimise any disruption that sick leave or absences causes to customers, and to ensure that waiting times of less than 10 weeks for a driving test continued to be met.

It said that in 2012, a total of 11,880 driving tests were not conducted due to sick leave taken by driver testers. It said 8,200 of these tests were not covered from spare capacity and as a result, the RSA had to reschedule the affected candidates’ tests, free of charge, at a cost of €697,000 to the Authority.

The RSA stressed it was not replacing any substantive post with these reserve testers but supplementing the service to allow for sickness absence and training activities in order to deliver an improved level of service to the public.

“The RSA is extremely disappointed with the stance taken by Impact as the Public Service (Croke Park) agreement 2010-2014 states that the findings of the industrial relations dispute mechanism are binding. It also states that trade unions are precluded from taking industrial action when the employer is acting under the remit of the Public Service Agreement.”

“Furthermore, contrary to the statement issued by Impact, the Road Safety Authority’s actions are fully compliant with Labour Court findings, specifically recommendation LCR 20309 (May 2012); and the Labour Court recommendation LCR20681 (Dec 2013) as subsequently clarified and reinforced in January 2014”, it said.

Mr Rohan said management’s outsourcing proposals could also breach the RSAs own safety standards as it was not insisting that subcontractors hold the HETAC driver-tester qualification, which is a requirement for all RSA testers.

“We regret the inevitable inconvenience that will now follow management’s decision to ignore our concerns on outsourcing and the breach of agreement with staff. We have decided on a relatively short stoppage to limit the inconvenience, but the staff concerned feel they have been forced into this action because management is refusing to deal with the issue,” he said.

Ireland’s older & lonely generation grows as emigration increases

All alone, walking for comfort?

Emigration is now tearing families apart and creating a new generation of lonely older people in Ireland, the Alone charity has claimed.

Irish charity ALONE says it has seen an increase in the number of older people at an all-time low as a direct result of their children and grandchildren emigrating.

The charity’s claims follow news last week that a record number of Irish workers under 35 are set to move to Canada after more than 10,000 Canadian visas were made available this year.

ALONE CEO Sean Moynihan said: “We have even received calls from the emigrants themselves asking us to check on their older relative.

“The children and grandchildren of Ireland’s older people are emigrating in droves, leaving behind a large huge increase in the number of older people requiring our services because their support systems have disappeared.”

EU figures show Ireland now has the highest level of emigration in Europe.

The latest Central Statistics Office figures show almost 250 people leave the country daily – one person every six minutes.

With a son already in London, 70-year-old Dubliner Noeleen was referred to ALONE last year after her daughter’s family left to live in Australia.

She said: “It’s very hard, but that’s the reality I miss my two little granddaughters terribly, but they seem to be settling in well.”

Marian, who also moved to Australia after her husband lost his job, contacted ALONE as she was concerned for her elderly mother.

“My husband had been out of work since 2007 so we had to move, otherwise we would be back in Ireland in a heartbeat,” she said.

“I feel really helpless being so far away. My mam used to be so active but now with age she doesn’t go out as much as she used too.

She added: “I’m so worried about her being isolated and alone in her house. She has a history of depression and the thought of her being lonely, is very difficult.”

ALONE supports older people in Ireland through its volunteer befriending and community response service.

To contact the charity call 00353 1 679 1032 or visit http://www.alone.ie

Real leadership is when everyone else thinks they are in charge?

Yes we are the top’s 

Fortune Magazine has named Bono in their list among businessmen, The Pope and Bill Clinton.

In their short profile, the magazine says: “Real leadership is when everyone else feels in charge.

“Now, through his ONE and (RED) campaigns, he is enlisting major companies and millions of people to combat AIDS, poverty, and preventable diseases.”

The full top ten in Fortune’s list is:

1 Pope Francis

2 Angela Merkel – Chancellor, Germany

3 Alan Mulally – CEO, Ford Motor Co.

4 Warren Buffett – CEO, Berkshire Hathaway

5 Bill Clinton – Founder, the Clinton Foundation

6 Aung San Suu Kyi – Chairk, National League for Democracy

7 Gen. Joe Dunford – Commander, U.S. Forces, Afghanistan

8 Bono – Irish rock singer

9 The Dalai Lama

10 Jeff Bezos – CEO Amazon

Researchers at Nanyang TU develop new solar Cell that can emit light


Scientists at Nanyang Technological University have made a significant breakthrough that can advance solar technology as well as better integrate it into our lives.

Almost a serendipity, the scientists found a new solar cell material capable of emitting light in addition to the regular role of converting light into electricity.

While developing a new hybrid Perovskite solar cell material, physicist Sym Tze Chien asked his fellow researcher Xing Guichuan to shine a laser on the material. To the researchers’ surprise, when the laser was directed at the new Perovskite solar cell, it lit up.

“What we have discovered is that because it is a high quality material, and very durable under light exposure, it can capture light particles and convert them to electricity, or vice versa,” said Asst Prof Sum, a Singaporean scientist at NTU’s School of Physical and Mathematical Sciences (SPMS). The team of eight scientists and researchers has been working on the Perovskite research project since early 2013.

A press release from the university says Perovskite could hold the key to creating high-efficiency, inexpensive solar cells.

The new material is also versatile, with the applications potentially ranging from being used as tinted windows in cars (it can be made semi-translucent) to making lasers. In addition, the material is five times cheaper than current silicon-based solar cells, making it an option the solar energy industry could look into. The researchers say the significantly lower cost is due to easy solution-based manufacturing process that works by combining two or three chemicals at room temperature.

The scientists picture a future where the facade of buildings such as malls could store energy in the day and light up advertisements at night.

Further, the team says the material can be tuned to make it emit a wide range of colors, a characteristic that makes it suitable for use in gadgets with flat screen displays. Perhaps in the future when your phone runs out of juice while you are out, you can just recharge it under the sun.

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Tue/Wed. 4th & 5th March 2014

Irish Government sets out its priorities for remainder of term


Taoiseach and Tánaiste pledge to step up job creation efforts as they mark third year in office

Partners in arms: Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore at a joint press conference at Government Buildings on Tuesday.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny said he recognised many people have no sense of change in the recovering economy as he and Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore pledged to step up the Government’s effort to boost job creation and economic growth.

Publishing a positive assessment of the Coalition’s performance in office in the last 12 months, Mr Kenny said said the end of the bailout in December meant the Government had “some little flexibility” to focus on jobs creation and the lack of credit in the banking sector.

The Government’s aim is to boost 2 per cent anticipated economic growth this year to 2.5 per cent in 2015 and to 3 per cent by 2016 with the long-term objectives of eliminating the budget deficit by 2018 and restoring full-employment by 2010.

“I’ve often said it’s the fallacy of fools in politics to look for any credit. This is a work in progress. We’re not going to grade ourselves. Obviously in the spring of 2016 all grades will be known,” Mr Kenny told reporters at Government Buildings.

“Clearly the bailout was not an end in itself, it’s the start of implementing now two priority targets, create more jobs and the fact that so many people in the country do not feel any sense of change in their lives for the better.

“While the unemployment figure is down from 15.1 per cent to 12 per cent, still much too high, the Tánaiste and I are committed on behalf of the parties in Government to have a continued relentless focus this year now on job creation.”

Noting that this month marks the beginning of the Government’s fourth year in office, Mr Gilmore said 2014 was the year in which decisions would be made as to how the people share in the recovery.

“If March 2011 was a critical moment in Ireland’s crisis, then 2014 is the pivotal moment in our country’s recovery,” he said.

“The test for our country and for the Government is how people are going to share in that recovery.”

Recovery should meant that people looking for work should be able to find it and that people who work for a living should be able to afford to live. “It should also mean that as our public finances allow that we can ease the burden on hard pressed families,” Mr Gilmore said.

The 2014 “Annual Report” on the Programme for Government said the Coalition will complete a second comprehensive expenditure review in the first half of the year and publish a revised capital plan.

There will be new measures in the coming weeks to boost employment in the construction sector. Draft legislation will also be published to establish a €6 billion Strategic Investment Fund.

7.1% VAT Irish Exchequer returns signals an increase of rising consumer confidence


The amount of VAT collected so far this year is up 7.1% on the same period in 2013, signaling people are starting to spend again.

But despite strong jobs figures showing employment increased last year by 61,000, the amount of income tax collected in January and February is roughly the same as the first two months of last year.

The Department of Finance described the income tax data from the latest Exchequer returns as surprising given the strong jobs figures.

A spokesman said officials are examining the issue and suggested it could be as a result of changes to payments systems that have been delaying some returns.

He said a number of income tax receipts for last month were received today, meaning they were too late to be included in the figures for last month.

“There is something going on and we’re not quite sure. But it’s only February and we’ll wait for March,” the spokesman said,

“They’re not as high as they should be. All of the other (economic) indicators are pointing the right way.

“It is surprising to see that income tax is basically flat in February.”

The first Exchequer data for 2014, released last month, was heavily distorted because of delays in receiving tax receipts due to the switch-over to a new European-wide payments system.

The latest Exchequer returns show €2.1bn was brought into the state’s coffers in VAT up to the end of last month. This is up from €1.98bn in the first two months of last year.

But overall, the tax take for the first two months of this year is flat compared with the first two months of 2013.

€5.8bn came in through tax in the first two months of the year, down €4m on the same period last year.

Public spending, at €7.1bn is down €236m or 3.2% year on year.

The deficit, the gap between how much the state spends and takes in through taxes and other revenue, widened to €1.7bn compared with €0.9bn at the end of February last year.

The Department said this was due to the sale of the Bank of Ireland Contingent Convertible Capital notes for over €1bn in January of last year and a loan to the Social Insurance Fund of €300m last month.

Passive smoking causes lasting damage to children’s arteries


Passive smoking causes lasting damage to children’s arteries, prematurely ageing their blood vessels by more than three years, say researchers.

The damage – thickening of blood vessel walls – increases the risk of heart attacks and strokes in later life, they say in the European Heart Journal.

In their study of more than 2,000 children aged three to 18, the harm occurred if both parents smoked.

Experts say there is no “safe” level of exposure to second-hand smoke.

This study goes a step further and shows it [passive smoking] can cause potentially irreversible damage to children’s arteries increasing their risk of heart problems in later life”

The research, carried out in Finland and Australia, appears to reveal the physical effects of growing up in a smoke-filled home – although it is impossible to rule out other potentially contributory factors entirely.

Hidden damage

Ultrasound scans showed how children whose parents both smoked developed changes in the wall of a main artery that runs up the neck to the head.

While the differences in carotid intima-media thickness were modest, they were significant and detectable some 20 years later when children had reached adulthood, say the investigators.

Study author Dr Seana Gall, from the University of Tasmania, said: “Our study shows that exposure to passive smoke in childhood causes a direct and irreversible damage to the structure of the arteries.

“Parents, or even those thinking about becoming parents, should quit smoking. This will not only restore their own health but also protect the health of their children into the future.”

The results took account of other factors that might otherwise explain the association, such as whether the children went on to be smokers themselves, but the findings remained unchanged.

However, if only one parent smoked the effect was not seen – possibly because exposure was not as high.

Dr Gall said: “We can speculate that the smoking behaviour of someone in a house with a single adult smoking is different. For example, the parent that smokes might do so outside away from the family, therefore reducing the level of passive smoking. However, as we don’t have this type of data, this is only a hypothesis.”

Regardless, experts say all children should be protected from second-hand smoke.

Doireann Maddock, senior cardiac nurse at the British Heart Foundation, said: “The negative health effects of passive smoking are well known, but this study goes a step further and shows it can cause potentially irreversible damage to children’s arteries increasing their risk of heart problems in later life.

‘Avoid scaremongering’

“If you’re a smoker, the single most effective way of reducing your child’s exposure to passive smoke is for you to quit.

“If this isn’t possible, having a smoke-free home and car offers the best alternative to help protect your child from the harmful effects of passive smoke.”

Simon Clark, director of the smokers’ group Forest, said: “We must avoid scaremongering because damage to arteries could be caused by a number of factors including poor diet and other forms of air pollution.

“While it’s sensible and considerate not to smoke around children in a small confined space it’s far too easy to point the finger at smokers when the issue is extremely complicated.”

To get equality in politics participation is no excuse for the promotion of women into the front-line


Michelle O’Donnell Keating is not a household name in Ireland, but perhaps she should be.

She, along with Niamh Gallagher, is founder of Women for Election, a non-profit, non-partisan organisation whose vision is of an Ireland with balanced participation of women and men in political life.

Their mission is to ensure an equal playing field for both sexes and, in particular, to inspire and equip women to succeed in politics in Ireland. They deserve our support and admiration.

They have an uphill battle, though. Despite the fact that it was an Irishwoman who became the first woman elected to the British House of Commons, the active participation of women in Irish politics is abysmal.

The charge was led by Constance Gore-Booth, the Countess Markiewicz, who won a Commons seat for the constituency of Dublin St Patrick’s as one of 73 Sinn Féin MPs elected in December 1918.

Constance did not take her seat and, along with the other Sinn Féin members elected, formed the first Dáil Éireann. She was also the first woman in Europe to hold a cabinet position, as Minister of Labour of the Irish Free State. It is ironic, therefore, that Ireland now stands a lowly 88th in the international league table of women in politics, the same as South Korea, below Morocco and Libya and just ahead of Mongolia.

As we approach International Women’s Day next Saturday, perhaps it is time to reflect on where we are and where we wish to be in terms of equal opportunity for women in politics. Our poor record of female participation is despite the fact that, unique among western democracies, Ireland elected two women in succession as President — Mary Robinson and Mary McAleese. Both — in their own way — did us proud.

So, why is it that, while we celebrate female presidents we seem reluctant to elect, or even select as candidates, a greater number of women as local representatives or members of the Dáil?

As the website womenforelection.ie records, since the foundation of the State, just 91 women have been elected and the Dáil has never been less than 85% male. In the 2011 general election, only 86 of 566 candidates were women (15%) and 25 of 166 of those elected were women (also 15%).

Looking ahead, the number of female candidates for the May local elections remains pitifully low, with a clear urban/rural divide. Women candidates are most concentrated in Leinster (27.8%), followed by Connacht (23.6%) and Ulster (18.8%). Munster has the least with 16.7%. Dublin has one of the highest number countrywide — 34.9%. Galway has 29.4% female representation, and Cork 21.4%.

That is hardly anything to shout about. In a report published yesterday, the National Women’s Council says women have not been properly integrated into the Oireachtas and this has had a negative impact on society. It is not as if women have not proven their political skills. The world’s two most powerful women are Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel and Brazil’s President Dilma Rouseff. Some of our best parliamentary performers in Ireland are women.

Why not a woman Taoiseach? Why not indeed, but that may not be enough. Even Nordic nations such as Denmark, where the leaders of its three main political parties are women, still struggle for full female representation.

We started the process of political equality almost 100 years ago. History demands that we finish it.A total of 1,000 patients and nearly 700 doctors were surveyed by the Medical Council.

NUI Galway now to offer extra CAO points for elite Irish athletes

 * * * *

Some fifteen athletes will receive 40 points on top of their Leaving Cert results.

FIFTEEN IRISH HIGH LEVEL athletes will be offered bonus CAO points for courses at NUI Galway.

The scheme announced yesterday will see elite athletes given 40 extra points as they apply for courses.

The plan is an extension of the university’s Elite Athlete Scholarship scheme which includes a subsistence grant, performance supports, gym membership and medical support.

It will only serve those under 21 who are applying for undergraduate courses who meet strict criteria in a number of identified sports.

The points will be added to a minimum requirement of 350 points from a single sitting of the Leaving Certificate in six subjects.

President of NUI Galway, Dr Jim Browne said that the scheme will support athletes in their learning.

“NUI Galway has a long and proud tradition of sporting success. Our success has fuelled our ambition.

“We aim to be leaders in research, innovation and learning and as a university we are proud to support the next generation of elite athletes as their ambition and dedication leads them to sporting success.”

Ireland rugby player Robbie Henshaw is a second year arts student at NUIG, he says that the supports offered can be vital.

Performing at the highest level means you can’t take your eye of the ball, so it’s great to see NUI Galway rewarding elite athletes for their dedication through this scheme.

“University support like this allows you to concentrate on getting the best results both on and off the pitch.”

Focus on Rote learning causes problems for Leaving Cert students


Conference hears of ways of improving transition to third level

Universities complain the Leaving Certificate points system affects students’ capacity for independent thinking.

The focus on accumulating CAO points causes Leaving Certificate students to struggle with the transition to third level education, a conference has heard.

Deputy Secretary at the Department of Education Mary Doyle said the transition of students from second level to onward education must be improved.

“You can’t get further and higher education right until you get second level right,” she told the Association of Principals and Deputy Principals national symposium.

Projected growth in demand for second level places will bring greater challenges for schools and policy makers in an area which already accounts for 16% of Government spending.

Earlier, the president of the association Pádraig Fallon said Ireland had a high level of secondary school participation but it was important to improve access to further and higher education, especially among students from disadvantaged, Traveller and foreign backgrounds.

By 2018 an extra 70,000 students are expected to be in secondary education with enrolment due to peak at 990,000 in 2024. “Whichever way you look at it, it’s going to be big and it’s going to be expensive,” Ms Doyle said.

The transition to third level could be made easier if upward pressure on CAO points was eased by reducing the number of grade bands in the Leaving Certificate; addressing “problematic predictability” in the exams and reducing the number of specialised degree programmes in higher education, she said.

These factors push up CAO points requirements which then puts pressure on teachers to encourage rote learning among senior cycle students. This, in turn, leads third level institutions to complain that students lack the capacity for independent learning when they enter college.

“Using the Leaving Cert to decide who goes where in third level may have a negative effect on teaching in fifth and sixth years,” Ms Doyle said, adding that evidence suggests some students make subject choices based on what is easiest to rote learn.

Trinity College vice-provost Professor Linda Hogan agreed with Ms Doyle and said educators had to co-operate across the sector to bring about reform. It is “all too easy” for stakeholders to demand reform but to believe it should start somewhere else, she said. “If we are really going to reform education then we really do have to start working together and stop pointing the finger.”

She added the third level sector bore a significant level of responsibility for the problems besetting education in Ireland.

“The single biggest issue we are trying to address…is the emphasis on rote learning,” she said. A “byproduct” of the points system. Third level institutions are “dismayed” by that system but ignore the role they play in it and the power they have to change it.

She added that Trinity was trialing a new admission route which would consider a broader range of achievements rather than a single set of exams. “Every college wants to admit the best students,” she said. “But we have to move away from equating the best with a simple points score.”

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Wednesday 26th February 2014

Construction sector is set to grow in Ireland by 30% for next 4 years 


It is hoped that a boost in the construction industry will begin to attract emigrants home to Ireland.

A new report by the Society of Chartered Surveyors of Ireland has forecast growth of 30% within the sector over the next four years, with the creation of almost 30,000 jobs.

It is predicted that the upward trend in activity will be driven by the private commercial and residential sectors.

President of the SCSI, Micheál O’Connor, says Dublin is the main driving force behind the positive outlook.

Mr O’Connor also said they have concerns about being able to fill the jobs in the growing sector.

“A lot of construction workers have emigrated and also there’s a lack of school leavers embarking on a career in construction or property,” Mr O’Connor said.

“So that’s going to be a real concern, and it will see a need for potentially emigrants to return home and re-engage in the construction and property sector.”

Irish Government defeated in a Seanad vote on upwards-only rent reviews


Independent Senator Fergal Quinn Bill passes narrowly

The Government has been defeated in the Seanad in a vote on a Private Member’s Bill ending upward only rent reviews.The Bill, moved by Independent Senator Feargal Quinn, was carried by 23 votes to 22, in a division where Senators walked through the Ta and Nil lobbies, having received the backing of fellow Independents.

Earlier, there had been a tie in an electronic vote and the Bill was defeated on the casting vote of Fine GaelCathaoirleach Paddy Burke. When Mr Quinn’s supporters called for a “walk through’’ vote, Independent Senator Paul Bradford had arrived in the chamber and supported the Bill.

The Bill now goes to the Dáil for consideration.

Mr Quinn said his Bill, the Upward Only (Clauses and Reviews) Bill 2013, was anything but arbitrary or discriminatory.

“The reason this Bill targets upward only clauses in the commercial sector is because of the damage which has been done to that sector by the existence of such clauses,’’ he added.

Mr Quinn said the legislation did not seek to impose any burden on landlords as a class, and it merely sought to allow market rents to prevail.

Sligo capital of the North-West out to resurrect its fortunes


Like so many other places in State ‘The capital of northwest Sligo’ lost the run of itself during the boom

Sligo rightly sees itself as the “capital of the northwest”, easily outpacing Enniskillen. With a royal charter granted in 1613, it defines itself as a “city” even though the population within the perfect circle that marks the urban boundary is fewer than 20,000 – a far cry from the European threshold of 100,000 for city status.

Designated as a development “gateway” under the 2002 National Spatial Strategy (NSS), Sligo has significant strengths – not least its unrivalled topographical setting, with Ben Bulben on one side and Knocknarea on the other, and the fast-flowing Garavogue river sweeping right through the town centre.

Borough architect Seán Martin notes that Sligo experienced a “dramatic period of change in the 19th century when our port, which could then be considered the equivalent of an international airport, was bringing trade, farming materials, plant, stock, coal and timber to and from Sligo”, generating local prosperity.

Much of this wealth was invested in fine buildings such as Sligo courthouse, the Town Hall, bank branches such as the superb Victorian Italianate Ulster Bank at Hyde Bridge, the Model School that lives on as the Niland Gallery and the former St Columba’s mental asylum, which is now an unusual Clarion Hotel.

Like so many other places in Ireland, though, Sligo lost the run of itself during the boom years. Hugely optimistic population projections were made and large tracts of land on the outskirts were rezoned for residential development.

Crazy prices were paid, even by the local authority, for land in areas such as Bellinode.

In town, river walks were laid out along both sides of the Garavogue, lined by new apartment buildings and old warehouses with cafes and shops at quay level. The old Silver Swan Hotel, at Hyde Bridge, was replaced by an angular glazed prow-like structure, The Glasshouse, Hotel, with a vacant eight-storey apartment block alongside it.

The N4 dual-carriageway was driven through the town centre, isolating Sligo’s cathedral from the railway station, and the envisaged “streetscape” along its length – intended to present a new face of Sligo – never materialised. Neither did the Treasury Holdings plan for a major shopping centre on the Wine Street car park.

The twice-daily scheduled Aer Arann air service to and from Dublin ceased operating three years ago after its PSO (public service obligation) subsidy was withdrawn. Passenger numbers had plummeted to 26,000 a year – and it turned out that the subsidy was costing taxpayers €95 for each passenger.

 On the plus side, Strandhill Airport – owned 50% by the Sligo County Council – is still the base for an Irish Coast Guard Search and Rescue helicopter and it is used regularly to fly out fresh shellfish to France.

The Dublin-Sligo rail service has also been improved, with trains now running frequently, and more is promised.

Unlike Limerick, there is no specific new vision or strategy for Sligo once its county and borough councils merge, other than the current Sligo County Development Plan (2011-2017) and the borough’s Sligo and Environs development plan (2010-2016). These will no doubt be reconciled after the councils become a single authority.

Even though the borough did not have an independent corporation, Seán Martin believes that it will “not be so challenging to make transition” because there is not another big urban centre in the county;  The new municipality of North Sligo would largely consist of the urban area and satellites from Ballysadare to Rosses Point.

Irish Nurses workload too much? education is linked to the patients survival rate

Prof Anne Scott (above picture right), of the School of Nursing in Dublin City University, who led the Irish arm of the study, said there was a significant variation in nurse staff ratios between hospitals and even wards here.

Between administering medications (as above) and coordinating care, nurses are some of the busiest health care professionals, often placed as the first point of contact for patients. Perhaps it comes as no surprise, then, that a recent study suggests patients are more likely to die after common surgeries when the nurses who care for them have heavier workloads.

Results of the study are published in The Lancet, where researchers from nine European countries report on data derived from over 420,000 patients in 300 hospitals.

They say that for every extra patient added to a nurse’s average workload, the chance of surgical patients dying within 30 days of admission increases by 7%.

However, they also found that a 10% increase in the ratio of nurses who hold a bachelor degree is linked to a 7% decrease in the risk of death.

To conduct their study, the team evaluated responses from more than 26,500 nurses and reviewed medical records for the hundreds of thousands of patients aged 50 years or older who were discharged after common surgeries, such as hip/knee replacements, appendectomy, gall bladder surgery and vascular procedures.

Their investigation took into account each patient’s risk of death and included age, sex, type of surgery, type of admission and the presence of certain chronic conditions. In addition, the team considered hospital characteristics, such as bed size, teaching status and technology.

Lead researcher Prof. Linda Aiken, from the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing in the US, says:

“Our findings emphasize the risk to patients that could emerge in response to nurse staffing cuts under recent austerity measures, and suggest that an increased emphasis on bachelor’s education for nurses could reduce hospital deaths.”

‘Evidence may be deemed too expensive to act upon’

In detail, the report shows that the overall percentage of patients who died in the hospital within 30 days of admission was low, between an average of 1.0-1.5%.

But this percentage varied from hospital to hospital and ranged from less than 1% to more than 7%, the researchers say.

Additionally, nurse workload and education levels differ among countries. For example, the average patient-to-nurse ratio in Spain was 12:7, whereas in Norway this was 5:2.

In terms of education, all nurses in Spain and Norway had a bachelor’s degree, compared with an average of only 10% in Switzerland. In England, 28% of nurses had bachelor’s degrees.

The authors write about their findings in detail:

“These associations imply that patients in hospitals in which 60% of nurses had bachelor’s degrees and nurses cared for an average of six patients would have almost 30% lower mortality than patients in hospitals in which only 30% of nurses had bachelor’s degrees and nurses cared for an average of eight patients.”

Prof. Aiken says the European findings mirror data from the US suggesting “that a safe level of hospital nursing staff might help to reduce surgical mortality, and challenge the widely held view that nurses’ experience is more important than their education.”

The team says their findings back a European Union (EU) decision last year to approve education for nurses within higher education institutions starting after 12 years of general education.

In a linked comment to the study, Alvisa Palese, from the University of Udine in Italy, and Roger Watson, from the University of Hull in the UK, write that this latest research provides support for appropriate patient-to-nurse ratios.

“Whether these findings are used to inform health care policy or how they are implemented in practice will be interesting to see,” they say.

Kepler telescope bags huge haul of planets


The science team sifting data from the US space agency’s (Nasa) Kepler telescope says it has identified 715 new planets beyond our Solar System.

In the nearly two decades since the first so-called exoplanet was discovered, researchers had claimed the detection of just over 1,000 new worlds.

Kepler’s latest bounty orbit only 305 stars, meaning they are all in multi-planet systems.

The vast majority, 95%, are smaller than our Neptune, which is four times the radius of the Earth.

Four of the new planets are less than 2.5 times the radius of Earth, and they orbit their host suns in the “habitable zone” – the region around a star where water can keep a liquid state.

Whether that is the case on these planets cannot be known for sure – Kepler’s targets are hundreds of light-years in the distance, and this is too far away for very detailed investigation.

The Kepler space telescope was launched in 2009 on a $600m (£360m) mission to assess the likely population of Earth-sized planets in our Milky Way Galaxy.

Faulty pointing mechanisms eventually blunted its abilities last year, but not before it had identified thousands of possible, or “candidate”, worlds in a small patch of sky in the Constellation Lyra.

It did this by looking for transits – the periodic dips in light that occur when planets move across the faces of stars.

Of something like 3,600 candidates recorded, just over 20% have now been moved up to the status of confirmed detections by the Kepler team.

“This is the largest windfall of planets that’s ever been announced at one time,” said Douglas Hudgins from Nasa’s astrophysics division.

“Second, these results establish that planetary systems with multiple planets around one star, like our own Solar System, are in fact common.

“Third, we know that small planets – planets ranging from the size of Neptune down to the size of the Earth – make up the majority of planets in our galaxy.”

When Kepler first started its work, the number of confirmed planets came at a trickle.

Scientists had to be sure that the variations in brightness being observed were indeed caused by transiting planets and not by a couple of stars orbiting and eclipsing each other.

The follow-up work required to make this distinction – between candidate and confirmation – was laborious.

But the sudden dump of new planets announced on Wednesday has exploited a new statistical approach referred to as “verification by multiplicity”.

This rests on the recognition that if a star displays multiple dips in light, it must be planets that are responsible because it is very difficult for several stars to orbit each other in a similar way and maintain a stable configuration.

“This technique that we’ve introduced for wholesale planet validation will be productive in the future. These results are based on the first two years of Kepler observations and with each additional year, we’ll be able to bring in a few hundred more planets,” explained Jack Lissauer, a planetary scientist at Nasa’s Ames Research Center.

Sara Seager is a professor of planetary science and physics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, but is not involved in the Kepler mission.

She commented: “With hundreds of new validated planets, Kepler reinforces its major finding that small planets are extremely common in our galaxy. And I’m super-excited about this, being one of the people working on the next generation of space telescopes – we hope to put up direct imaging missions, and we need to be reassured that small planets are common.”