Tag Archives: AA survey

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Sunday 24th April 2016

Fine Gael willing to offer Fianna Fáil suspension of water charges

Enda Kenny said to have offered a temporary halt to charges to end deadlock

   

The two parties have agreed in principle to establish an independent commission to examine the future of Irish Water.

Fine Gael is willing to offer Fianna Fáil a temporary suspension of water charges in a bid to end the political deadlock.

Acting Taoiseach Enda Kenny is understood to have told the Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin he will pause the levies while an independent commission explores a new charging regime.

In return Mr Kenny is seeking a firm commitment to re-introduce the charges after the commission reports. The Fine Gael leader is believed to have made the offer to Mr Martin at a meeting on Saturday and sought reassurances in return.

However, Mr Martin said he could not promise their return during the 32nd Dáil due to the huge opposition.

Instead, Fianna Fail wants the commission’s conclusions to be presented to an Oireachtas committee which will debate the findings and decide the way forward.

Mr Martin and Mr Kenny had a brief discussion yesterday at the Arbour Hill 1916 commemorations. They were due to hold further talks last night ahead of a meeting of the Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil negotiating teams today.

Commitment

A Fine Gael source said: “There is agreement on both sides that this cannot continue and we are willing to go that bit further to ensure this impasse ends. This is a temporary suspension and we would need a commitment from Fianna Fáil that the charges would be brought back after the commission reports and a written agreement alongside that.”

The two parties have agreed in principle to establish an independent commission to examine the future of Irish Water. Any agreement would see the terms of reference stretch to a new charging regime and Fine Gael would be eager to ensure it reported back within a certain date.

Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil both have their parliamentary parties on standby for a meeting tonight in the event an agreement is reached today.

Both sides’ positions seemed to harden in public yesterday as Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan insisted the charges and the utility cannot be abolished.

Conclusion

Fianna Fáil TDs Marc MacSharry and Timmy Dooley said no agreement could be reached without the suspension of charges. However, a Fianna Fáil source insisted there was a resolve to bring the talks to a conclusion and avoid a second election.

The issue of Irish Water is still the biggest policy issue dividing the parties but there are still some concerns surrounding childcare, health and housing.

The two parties are at odds over provision of career guidance counsellors, an extension of the mortgage interest relief scheme, funding for deprived areas and rural crime.

Minister for Health Leo Varadkar is to meet members of the Independent Alliance today in a bid to secure their support for a Fine Gael-minority government. He has offered Waterford TD John Halligan a clinical review of the 24-hour care at the regional hospital and an extension of hours.

Fine Gael is hopeful it can win the support of the six members of the Alliance, two of the five rural TDs Denis Naughten and Michael Harty as well as Michael Healy-Rae and Maureen O’Sullivan. Noel Grealish, of the rural alliance, is also said to be strongly considering supporting the party.

90% of Irish motorists say rising insurance costs are ‘biggest issue’

AA survey finds facilities for cyclists important to just a third of motorists

   

The AA director of consumer affairs Conor Faughnan said the rising cost of insurance was “major frustration” for motorists.

More than nine out of ten motorists believe the cost of car insurance will be the biggest motoring issue they’ll face this year, according to a survey by the AA.

The survey of 8,800 motorists by AA Motor Insurance found that road safety ranks as the second most common concern for motorists (87 per cent), while the need to repair damaged roads came in third (77 per cent).

Another area of concern for motorists was the rate of motor tax with 72 per cent believing the charge to be “very important” in 2016.

Other issues important to motorists were the cost of petrol and diesel (68 per cent), the provision of improved public transport resources (49 per cent) and vehicle registration tax (40 per cent).

The survey also found traffic congestion to be a major issue for 46 per cent of motorists.

Providing and improving facilities for cyclists was an important issue for just 32 per cent of respondents.

Only 35 percent identified Irish Rail and Luas expansions as “very important” while a third were of the same opinion in relation to building new roads.

AA director of consumer affairs Conor Faughnan said the rising cost of car insurance was a “major frustration” for Irish motorists.

“We have seen an increase of almost 40 per cent in under as little as 24 months which the AA regards as an unacceptable burden on motorists,” he said.

“Prominent, visible traffic policing is every bit as important though and is critical to road safety.

“The AA believes the gardaí remain committed to this task, but the Government needs to ensure that gardaí have the necessary resources to carry out their jobs.

“It’s also worth remembering that more gardaí on the roads would see the cost of car premiums gradually decrease owing to a reduction in collisions, and subsequent claims.”

He added it was a “sad state of affairs” when the safety of road users was a secondary issue for motorists.

“This is exactly why we need leadership to be provided from the top level of Government to help stabilise the cost of car insurance,” he said.

“In the meantime, we must continue to promote road safety and responsible driving amongst all road users.”

An open letter to Minister Leo Varadkar

   

UCC Welfare Officer Katie Quinlan has written a stirring open letter to Minister for Health Leo Varadkar over proposed cuts to the mental health budget in 2016.

Earlier this week it was announced that €12m is to be taken from the budget this year, money that had been previously ringfenced to cover an issue that effects thousands and thousands of Irish people, both directly and indirectly.

Varadkar explained that the money had been earmarked for 1,550 new mental health staff across the country this year, a figure that became unrealistic.

Katie’s letter, however, simply asks why the money wasn’t directed into other areas around the treatment of mental health problems rather than removed entirely to cover other areas of the health spectrum.

This is a very strong message, and we’re happy to support it.

The letter begins…  Dear Mr. Varadkar,

This week I have watched you disregard a significant portion of this country’s population in one swift cruel move.

This week I watched you, a Government official, blatantly do a 180 on a promise you made to various mental health charities and advocates in the past few months.

This week I have watched mental health issues develop a small hint of that stigma we’ve fought so hard to remove.

Counselling has saved my life.

That’s not an easy thing to say and that’s probably the first time I have ever admitted it. Medication has saved many of my friends. Talk therapy has saved members of my family. I don’t buy this whole “one in five suffer with mental health issues” statistic, I think everyone is fighting their own fight. Some of us just need more help.

Your decision to cut mental health funding tells those that need more help that they can’t have it. Those that get the courage and conviction to reach out are now at more of a risk of having their plea for help fall on deaf ears.

We’re a country that bows its heads and gets on with things. We’re Irish, we’re stubborn and we’re incessantly polite.

Now is the time we need to fight.

This fight isn’t to remove an extra charge on our weekly bills or to increase the money we receive each week, this fight is to save our siblings, parents and friends’ lives.

This fight is to tell the pathetic substitute we have for government that we will not allow them alienate the people we need to help most.

For long enough this country has behaved as if mental health issues do not exist. We’ve brushed it all under the carpet, sedated the conversation and hoped it would all go away.

Now that we’re having the open and frank conversation on mental health you want to rip the funding from services that do their utmost for those who need it.

Have you ever listened to someone plead with you to let them take their own life? Have you ever spent hours wishing you could just make it all go away, just make all the thoughts stop? Have you ever watched someone spend hours trying to figure out why they feel so desolate? Have you ever woken up to the news that your friend just couldn’t take it any more and decided to end it all?

I have. Both in my work and in my personal life.

I can’t and I won’t sit back while you take money from services are saving lives every single day.

I plead with you, Mr. Varadkar, don’t allow the message that “help isn’t available” spread to the people who need us most.

I don’t want to sit at another funeral because my government took money from the service that could have saved this person.

I don’t want to have to worry when I advise someone to present at their local emergency room when everything becomes too much.

Don’t bring us back 50 years to a place where mental health is a taboo and we all just bow our heads and get on with it.

‘Anti-ageing’ gin claims to drive away wrinkles with each sip

  

The alcoholic drink named ‘Anti-AGin’, was developed by the UK-based Bompas and Parr, that creates food art using gelatin desserts.

The newly launched drink that costs about £35 a bottle may provide a novel way to consume collagen.

A UK-based company claims to have developed the world’s first anti-ageing gin, an alcoholic drink infused with collagen that may make you look younger.

The newly launched drink that costs about £35 a bottle may provide a novel way to consume collagen aside from the usual capsules available in the market. The beauty and cosmetic industry markets collagen because as people get older, they lose this valuable component, resulting in lack of firmness and wrinkles.

The alcoholic drink named ‘Anti-AGin’, was developed by the UK-based Bompas and Parr, that creates food art using gelatin desserts.

The 40 per cent spirit is a combination of chamomile and tea tree scents. Other ingredients include witch-hazel, nettle, juniper, coriander and angelica root, the ‘Tech Times’ reported.

“The ingredients were specifically chosen due to their revitalising qualities, including healing sun-damage, being rich in minerals, inhibiting scar formation and to help smooth cellulite,” Warner Leisure Hotels, which commissioned the drink, wrote in its website.

Collagen is naturally produced by the body, but as people age, its production diminishes. Taking in products with collagen or using beauty products with it, could help reduce wrinkles and other signs of premature ageing on the skin.

Massive coral reef discovered in the Amazon River

     

The University of Georgia’s Patricia Yager, oversees ocean sampling equipment before it’s lowered into the Amazon River plume.

The Amazon River, known for its array of wildlife from pink dolphins to flesh-eating piranhas, has revealed a new treasure — a massive coral reef that stretches for some 600 miles, scientists say.

A team of scientists from Brazil and the United States discovered the reef in the muddy waters at the mouth of the Amazon, according to a report published in the journal Science on Friday.

The reef system spans 3,600-square miles along the ocean floor, stretching from French Guiana to Brazil’s Maranhao state along the edge of South America’s continental shelf.

The finding is surprising because large rivers normally create gaps in reef distribution due to unfavorable conditions such as salinity, pH and light penetration. However, this coral reef system seems to be healthy, according to the report.

American and Brazilian researchers collected this sample of coral.

The carbonate structure, which functions as a waterway passage for fish and other marine life, is home to a big colony of sponges and other creatures that thrive in low-light waters. The study recorded 73 reef fish species, many of them carnivorous.

An international team of scientists from the University of Georgia and the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro was on an expedition to learn more about Amazon River plumes when it made the discovery. Plumes are where the river’s freshwater mixes with the ocean’s saltwater.

“Our expedition into the Brazil Exclusive Economic Zone was primarily focused on sampling the mouth of the Amazon,” Patricia Yager, an associate professor with the University of Georgia and principal investigator of the project, said in a statement.

The Amazon River meets the Atlantic Ocean, creating a plume where freshwater and salt water mix.

However, Yager also wanted to explore the premise of a scientific article from the 1970s that mentioned a scientist capturing reef fish along the continental shelf, which suggested a coral reef may be somewhere in the area.

The search proved fruitful. “We brought up the most amazing and colorful animals I had ever seen on an expedition,” Yager said.

The paper details the reef and the variations in its fish, sponges and other marine life along the shelf due to the amount of light in the area and the plume’s movement. The southern part of the reef, which gets more light, has a wide spectrum of reef critters. Further north, as the light diminishes, the wildlife transitions to creatures like sponges.

Along with the discovery of the reef, researchers also found evidence suggesting this Amazonian jewel may already be threatened.

“From ocean acidification and ocean warming to plans for offshore oil exploration right on top of these new discoveries, the whole system is at risk from human impacts,” Yager said.

News of the extensive reef structure comes as various coral reef systems continue to suffer around the world because of warmer water temperatures and other factors, according to NOAA.

A photo taken on September 22, 2014, shows bleached coral on the Reef, a key Australian tourist attraction.

Tourism on the Great Barrier Reef generates an annual income of A$5 billion ($3.9 billion) and employs nearly 70,000 people.

Of the reefs surveyed in the northern third of the Reef, 81% are characterized as “severely bleached.”

Driven by ocean temperatures that have been 1-2 degrees Celsius (1.8-3.6° F) above average, the bleaching event has left large sections of coral drained of all color and fighting for survival.

The Reef has suffered two mass bleaching events, in 1998 and 2002, but the extent of the bleaching in these years was less severe than in 2016.

Dramatic coral bleaching, seen in Australia’s Great Barrier Reef from March 2016.

Some of the bleaching of reefs in the northern section has been described as “extreme.”

Bleaching occurs when the marine algae that live inside corals die. Of the reefs surveyed in the northern third of the Great Barrier Reef, 81% are characterized as “severely bleached.”

“At some reefs, the final death toll is likely to exceed 90%,” Andrew Baird, of the ARC Center of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, says.

A photo taken on September 22, 2014, shows bleached coral on the Reef, a key Australian tourist attraction.

Tourism on the Great Barrier Reef generates an annual income of A$5 billion ($3.9 billion) and employs nearly 70,000 people.

Of the reefs surveyed in the northern third of the Reef, 81% are characterized as “severely bleached.”

Driven by ocean temperatures that have been 1-2 degrees Celsius (1.8-3.6° F) above average, the bleaching event has left large sections of coral drained of all color and fighting for survival.

The Reef has suffered two mass bleaching events, in 1998 and 2002, but the extent of the bleaching in these years was less severe than in 2016.

Dramatic coral bleaching, seen in Australia’s Great Barrier Reef from March 2016.

Some of the bleaching of reefs in the northern section has been described as “extreme.”

9 photos: Australia’s Great Barrier Reef suffers ‘extreme’ coral bleaching

Bleaching occurs when the marine algae that live inside corals die. Of the reefs surveyed in the northern third of the Great Barrier Reef, 81% are characterized as “severely bleached.”

“At some reefs, the final death toll is likely to exceed 90%,” Andrew Baird, of the ARC Center of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, says.

A photo taken on September 22, 2014, shows bleached coral on the Reef, a key Australian tourist attraction.

A recent report from ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies showed that 90% of the Great Barrier Reef off the coast of Australia is suffering from coral bleaching, which is caused by changes in ocean conditions such as temperature, light or nutrition.

This bleaching happens as algae and other organisms living on the structure leave, depriving the coral of its major food source and causing it to turn white.

Coral bleaching is considered “the most widespread and conspicuous impact of climate change,” according to the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

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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.”

Payment’s.

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.