Tag Archives: Ageing

News Ireland daily blog by Donie

Thursday 8th September 2016.

Insurance Companies in retreat over lack of information about Ireland’s claim costs

Motorists more concerned about price of cover than road safety, committee hears

Image result for Insurance Companies in retreat over lack of information about Ireland's claim costs  Image result for Insurance Companies in retreat over lack of information about Ireland's claim costs

Motor insurance premiums have risen dramatically and could rise by a further fifth, says Conor Faughnan of the Automobile Association.

Insurance companies are pulling out of Ireland because of the lack of information about the costs of meeting claims, the Automobile Association warned on Thursday.

“Competition should be attracted into our market, but, in fact, insurers are in active retreat from Ireland,’’ Mr Conor Faughnan, director of consumer affairs of the Automobile Association (AA Ireland) told an Oireachtas committee.

The “book of quantum’’, the document that describes in detail the appropriate level of financial compensation for injuries of a given severity, is hopelessly outdated and is effectively useless as a guideline to the courts, he said.

Meanwhile, the courts are not bound to abide by it. Seven out of every 10 cases are settled directly by the insurance companies to avoid a court case, but the detail of settlements are not shared.

Motorists are now more concerned about the cost of insurance than road safety, fuel costs, taxation and road maintenance, Mr Faughnan told the Oireachtas Joint Committee for Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform.

Premiums have risen dramatically and could rise by a further fifth, he warned, adding that new car sales have themselves jumped by 20 per cent so far this year.

Motorists who had made an insurance claim, or acquired penalty points, were unable to shop around and had to absorb whatever increases there were with their insurance company.

Mr Faughnan said there was a lack of clear information and data on issues surrounding proper claims’ costs. “So if you are a foreign insurance company, and you want to come into Ireland, you are at a disadvantage vis-a-vis the people already here because our data is so murky and so difficult to understand,’’ he added.

Chief executive of the Irish Small and Medium Enterprise Association Mark Fielding said there was a continuous line of complaints from members on the handling of what they would regard as questionable claims.

Members complained insurance companies continued to settle without the consent and knowledge of the insured businesses, he added.

Director of the Small Firms Association Patricia Callan said rising costs and competitiveness were issues for her members, ranking second only to labour costs.

Pension gap is sickening news for anyone retiring in Ireland over the next 40 years

 Image result for Pension gap is sickening news for anyone retiring in Ireland over the next 40 years  Image result for Pension gap is sickening news for anyone retiring in Ireland over the next 40 years  Finance Minister Michael Noonan (left) and Taoiseach Enda Kenny (right) are 73 and 65 years old respectively. Most workers must retire at 65.

(Right pic above) Finance Minister Michael Noonan (left) and Taoiseach Enda Kenny (right) are 73 and 65 years old respectively. Most workers must retire at 65?

This is not the kind of news that any young professional in Ireland wants to hear.

Ireland’s pension gap is now the second largest in Europe, according to Aviva, behind only that of the UK.

Aviva’s report on the Irish pension system has advised that people hoping for an adequate income post-retirement must save an additional €1,000 per month – something that virtually anyone who is earning anything like the average wage in Ireland will tell you is utterly impossible.

The news gets worse the older you are, with people in their 60s being told they need to save an extra €28,000 a year. Short of winning the lottery, it’s hard to see where that is going to come from for most.

The report notes that there has been a decline in pension savings, meaning that a pushback on the age of retirement or an increase in state pensions would not entirely alleviate the problem.

According to media sources, two of the biggest factors that have widened that pension gap are longer life expectancy and lower returns on investments.

The number of workers with pensions has dropped by 5% since the start of the economic crash in late 2008.

5% increase in support for a united Ireland

A five-point increase in backing for unification, now at 22% which is up from 17% in 2013.

Image result for 5% increase in support for a united Ireland  Image result for 5% increase in support for a united Ireland  Image result for 5% increase in support for a united Ireland

According to the data there is still a significant percentage of people in favour of Northern Ireland remaining part of the United Kingdom.

There has been a significant statistical increase in support for a united Ireland among people in the North, according to a new survey conducted by Ipsos Mori.

The face-to-face survey of more than 1,000 people carried out across Northern Ireland on behalf of BBC political programme The View, between August 16th and September 2nd, indicates a five-point increase in support for a United Ireland (22%), from 17% in 2013 . This is regarded as a significant change.

More than four out of 10 people with a Catholic background (43 per cent) would back a United Ireland, up from 35% in 2013, an increase regarded as statistically significant.

When respondents from across the North were asked if the government should call a referendum on the Border, 33% of people said No and 52% said Yes, while 15% were don’t know.

A majority of Protestants were against the idea, with 72% No and 53% of Catholics Yes.

According to the data there is still a significant percentage of people in favour of Northern Ireland remaining part of the United Kingdom.

A referendum.

When asked how they would vote if there was a referendum on the Border, 63% of respondents said they would vote to stay in the UK, down 2% on 2013.

From 2013 there has been a 5% increase to 22% among those who said the would vote to join the Republic of Ireland.

When the 2016 results are broken down by religion, 88% of Protestants and 37% of Catholics said they would vote to stay in the UK, while 5% of Protestants and 43% of Catholics said they would vote to join the Republic of Ireland.

Some 83% said the Brexit decision had not altered their position, while 17% indicated it had changed their thinking.

Those whose views had been influenced by the EU result were slightly more likely to be female, from a Catholic background and drawn from the affluent AB social classes.

Positive ageing perception ‘You are as young as you feel’

Irish research now shows that how people perceive their age affects their overall health condition.

Image result for Positive ageing perception ‘You are as young as you feel’  Image result for Positive ageing perception ‘You are as young as you feel’

The Tilda study found older adults with negative attitudes towards ageing had slower walking speeds and worse cognitive abilities compared to those with more positive attitudes towards ageing.

“The saying” You really are as old as you feel, a leading expert on ageing has confirmed.

Prof Rose Anne Kenny, principal investigator with the Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing (Tilda) said their research shows that how people perceive their age affects their overall health.

Uncovering the Secrets of Successful Ageing is an analysis by Tilda of 10 years of its study of older people.

Its findings, published today, include health, social, and economic factors.

The study found older adults with negative attitudes towards ageing had slower walking speeds and worse cognitive abilities compared to those with more positive attitudes towards ageing.

This was true even after participants’ medications, mood, life circumstances and other health changes were accounted for. Negative attitudes towards ageing also seemed to affect how different health conditions interacted.

Hundreds of participants from all over Ireland gathered at Trinity College Dublin today for the 10th birthday of Tilda.

Sattie Sharkey said she volunteered herself to be part of the study because she tended to fall.

“It is very important this research has taken place as it will play such a large role in policy and decision-making, and researchers have gained a real insight into the issues facing older people in Ireland,” she said.

“I used to fall regularly in my home. Falls are debilitating. They not only hurt you physically but they take your confidence away too. My falls were due to a tumour in the back of my head and I had to have an operation.”

Living independently?

Ms Sharkey said she enjoyed being interviewed by the Tilda researchers and has more confidence living independently.

“I’d also like to say, I’m younger than the two people who want to be the president of the United States,” she said to laughter and applause from the audience.

Dr Colm O’Reardon, deputy secretary for strategy and policy at the Department of Health, said Tilda’s findings will help to dispel myths about older people and ageing.

“The common portrayal of older people in our society is often that people over 65 have no meaningful contribution to society and it becomes part of the myths about ageing,” he said. “This study will change the assumptions decision-makers will bring when it comes to making policy.”

Dr Graham Love, chief executive of the Health Research Board, said “the time has come to stop HSE-bashing” and to focus on how to improve our health service.

He said the recent RTÉ documentary on the HSE called Keeping Ireland Alive had a positive reaction on social media and from the general public.

“It’s a small turning point in the collective ambition for our health service at a time when collective energies are switched from HSE-bashing to actually defining what ambition we have for our health service here,” said Dr Love.

“I believe that through initiatives like Tilda we can turn our health service into a national treasure.”

Researchers discover there are not just one  but four species of giraffe

Discovery of genetic differences, using DNA analysis, could boost efforts to save declining populations.

Image result for Researchers discover there are not just one  but four species of giraffe  Image result for Researchers discover there are not just one  but four species of giraffe  A Masai giraffe, one of the four newly recognised species, grazing inside Nairobi national park

Four giraffe species: top left: reticulated giraffe (Giraffa camelopardalis reticulata), top right: west African giraffe.

Researchers have discovered there are not just one but four distinct species of giraffe, overturning two centuries of accepted wisdom in a finding that could boost efforts to save the last dwindling populations.

Analysis of DNA evidence from all of the currently recognised nine sub-species found that there is not just one species of giraffe but enough genetic differences to recognise four distinct species. Experts said the differences are as large as those between brown bears and polar bears.

Giraffe have suffered a decline in number from around 150,000 across Africa three decades ago to 100,000 today, as their habitat has been turned over to agriculture. But as a single species the giraffe is currently listed as of least concern on the red list of endangered species, leaving the tallest living animals a relatively low conservation focus compared to rhino and elephant.

“People need to really figure out that giraffes are in danger. There are only 100,000 giraffes left in Africa. We’ll be working closely with governments and big NGOs to put giraffes on the radar,” said Dr Julian Fennessy, lead author of the new study which saw genetic testing in Germany on 190 giraffe.

The four recommended new species are the southern giraffe, with two subspecies, the Angolan giraffe and South African giraffe; the Masai giraffe; the reticulated giraffe; and the northern giraffe including the Kordofan giraffe and west African giraffe as subspecies.

If formally recognised as four separate species, three of those four would suddenly be deemed more seriously threatened by the red list, Fennessay said, which would hopefully catalyse greater efforts to protect them.

A Masai giraffe, one of the four newly recognised species, grazing inside Nairobi national park.

While the southern giraffe was increasing markedly in number, populations in east and central Africa were in trouble, he said.

“It’s all habitat loss, fragmentation and a lot of that is, let’s be honest, linked to human population growth – increasing land for agricultural needs, whether for commercial or for subsistence farming,” he said, speaking from Windhoek, Namibia. “In some of these countries though there is illegal hunting or poaching causing the decline.”

Co-author Axel Janke, a geneticist at the Senckenberg Biodiversity and Climate Research Centre and Goethe University in Germany, said: “This has huge implications for conservation. It’s also significant from an evolutionary aspect: the giraffe is a very young species and we see evolution, becoming species, in real time, happening in front of our eyes.”

Both said they were surprised at the number of genetically distinct species, because the currently recognised nine subspecies are relatively similar-looking. The most obvious differences are in the shape of their patterns and how far they extend, and how many horns the creatures have.

The study also suggested that the four species do not mate with each other in the wild, an unexpected finding given giraffe move far and wide, and have been shown to interbreed in captivity.

The historically accepted definition of one species of giraffe was based on a description in 1758 by the Swedish taxonomist Carl Linnaeus, who examined a Nubian giraffe (now to be considered as a northern giraffe). The new study’s discovery that there are in fact four will not come as a a total surprise to those who study giraffe closely – previous research has suggested some subspecies appeared genetically distinct enough to be considered separate species.

The conclusions of the study, which took five years, will be now be reviewed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s specialist group on giraffes.

West African giraffe, a subspecies of northern giraffe, in southern Niger.

In a statement, the IUCN said: “The number of species of giraffes has come in for much discussion and debate in recent years. The findings of this latest study will need to be carefully evaluated, as it could – as the authors note – have considerable implications for their conservation. We know that giraffes, while widely distributed, are declining nearly across their range, with some narrowly distributed populations in serious trouble.

“If the findings of the current study are accepted, then it may well be that some species would be listed in threatened categories on the IUCN red list. This would hopefully flag the need for increased attention on a species that is otherwise normally considered common.”

Fennessy, who is also co-director of the Giraffe Conservation Foundation, said: “I would just hope that as the IUCN reviews this, they look at the fact 200 years ago people looked at giraffe coat patterns from samples sent from Africa and made a decision to call it one species and nine subspecies. And now, using nuclear mitochondrial and genomic DNA, I think more science can help us answer the mystery.”

The new study, Multi-locus Analyses Reveal Four Giraffe Species Instead of One, was published in the journal Current Biology on Thursday.

Advertisements

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Saturday 30th July 2016

Three Irish bank execs jailed (not before time) for ‘dishonest, corrupt’ and Anglo Irish fraud

David Drumm described by judge as the ‘driving force’ behind €7.2bn banking conspiracy

   

A judge has said the former Anglo Irish Bank chief executive David Drumm appeared to be the driving force behind the €7.2bn conspiracy that led to three banking executives being jailed yesterday.

Judge Martin Nolan made the comments as he sent the men to jail for terms ranging between two and three-and-a-half years.

Former Anglo chief risk officer Willie McAteer (66), ex-Anglo treasury executive John Bowe (52) and former Irish Life & Permanent chief executive Denis Casey (56) showed little emotion as the sentences were handed down.

Their first night in jail was spent at Mountjoy among all of Ireland’s criminals, where they were processed and kept under close observation, as is the practice with new inmates.

A decision will be made in the coming days on where each man will serve out his sentence.

McAteer, of Greenrath, Tipperary town, was sentenced to three and-a-half years; Bowe, of Glasnevin, Dublin, was sentenced to two years and Casey, from Raheny, Dublin, was sentenced to two years and nine months.

All three were convicted in June of conspiring with others to mislead investors, depositors and lenders by setting up a €7.2bn circular transaction scheme in September 2008 to bolster Anglo’s balance sheet. They had denied the charges.

The verdicts followed an 89-day trial, the longest criminal trial in the history of the State and the jury spent a total of 65 hours deliberating.

The case came to trial following a lengthy investigation, which began in 2009.

The judge said that the scheme was “dishonest, deceitful and corrupt”, as it gave a distorted impression of Anglo’s accounts to shareholders and depositors.

“From the evidence, it appears to me the driving force was Mr Drumm,” he said during the sentencing hearing at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court.

Nevertheless, the three defendants were involved in the scheme and knew that what they were doing was wrong.

Their behaviour was reprehensible, the judge said.

Drumm was not a defendant in this trial, but is due to face similar conspiracy charges next year.

 Sentencing McAteer to three-and-half years, Judge Nolan said he had held a senior position in the bank.

Although it appeared that Drumm was driving the scheme, McAteer was seen as a leader within the bank and he could have objected.

“It is grossly reprehensible what he did and a great shame on him,” said the judge.

McAteer authorised these transfers when he knew that what he was doing was “deceitful, underhand and corrupt”.

Sentencing Bowe to two years, the judge said he was “a lesser functionary in the bank”.

The judge described him as the “de facto treasurer”. He was a man of considerable experience and should have known what he was doing was wrong.

“In law, following orders is not a defence,” the judge said.

Bowe “failed to act with integrity and honesty in these matters” and had behaved reprehensibly by going along with it.

Sentencing Casey to two years and nine months, Judge Nolan acknowledged that he had become involved in the scheme as part of the so-called ‘Green Jersey’ agenda, where Irish banks were encouraged to assist others in a time of crisis.

Although Anglo was the author of the scheme, Casey authorised Irish Life & Permanent’s involvement and had behaved “disgracefully”.

“This was a grave error of judgment,” the judge said. “He should have known and did know that this was a sham transaction.”

Earlier, the judge said the crime had arisen during a period when people in the banking sector “were operating under great stress”.

The judge had taken into account submissions on behalf of the defendants that they had made no direct profit or reward from their crimes. He said all had acted in what they believed was the best interest of the companies they worked for.

A conspiracy? 

Judge Nolan had taken into account their background, what each man had achieved in life, their contribution to the community and that they had been good family men.

Each of them had been the subject of odium and ridicule, had endured a lot of stress and had lost their jobs. However, they were involved in a conspiracy where two blue-chip publicly quoted companies conspired to manipulate the balance sheet of Anglo Irish Bank.

It was decided in Anglo that it needed to hit a certain “corporate number” for banking deposits.

“It seemed Mr Drumm and the top management at Anglo decided this corporate number was important,” said the judge.

When this could not be achieved legitimately, a “dishonest, deceitful and corrupt scheme” was entered into.

The public, he said, was entitled to probity from blue-chip companies. “If we cannot rely on probity, then we lose all trust in such institutions,” he said.

“People are entitled to rely on the integrity and honesty of top firms. In this case, honesty and integrity were sorely lacking.”

How the €7.2bn scheme to boost Anglo came about

The scheme at the centre of the case was designed so that the books of Anglo Irish Bank could look much healthier than they actually were amid the global financial crisis in 2008.

The court heard that following the so-called ‘St Patrick’s Day Massacre’, when Anglo’s shares slumped by 20pc, the bank’s executive directors decided Anglo should show “a good corporate number to the market”, meaning that it needed to increase its corporate deposits.

Irish Life & Permanent (IL&P) was approached and a back-to-back transaction was arranged whereby Anglo placed €750m with IL&P and the IL&P group gave Anglo a corporate deposit from its Irish Life Assurance Corporation, a non-banking entity managed by IL&P.

In June, another deal took place, with Anglo transferring €3bn to IL&P and IL&P transferring a portfolio of home mortgages to Anglo.

Over that summer, Anglo drew up a list of 50 funding initiatives, but by September most of these had fallen away. The trial heard evidence that David Drumm asked a manager in Anglo’s treasury department if IL&P would do another set of transactions worth up to €7bn that month. These were to be included in Anglo’s year-end figures.

What resulted was a series of nine ‘rotational transactions’ between September 26 and 30, with €7.2bn moved from Anglo to IL&P, with IL&P sending the money back, via Irish Life Assurance, to Anglo. The trial heard that the transactions were arranged “with considerable difficulty”.

Judge Martin Nolan described the dishonest scheme as a “conspiracy on the public”. Shareholders and depositors were entitled to rely on public accounts, but were instead given a distorted view of the financial strength of Anglo, he said.

Does the Irish Government really have the bottle that it takes to handle the Brexit fallout? 

‘The position of Northern Ireland could create a serious stumbling block for Brexit and, if not managed correctly, could even derail it’

   

NI First Minister Arlene Foster, British PM Theresa May, and NI Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness at Stormont on Monday.

As the Dáil rose for the summer recess last week, there was an almost audible sigh of relief in Leinster House – and not only on the Government side.

It has been a tumultuous six months which has seen an arduous election campaign, an inconclusive result that necessitated some serious improvisation by the major parties to enable a government to be formed after a tense 10-week stalemate, and some serious hiccups as the new Government finally got down to work.

By far, however, the most dramatic event happened outside of Leinster House’s remit – namely the British vote to leave the European Union. How the Government responds to this will be the biggest challenge in the next Dáil term and perhaps in modern day Irish politics, and the interests of the EU will now play a key part in the approach Ireland takes to the Brexit negotiations.

The biggest task facing the Government is to juggle two now competing interests – our relationships with the UK and the EU. No two countries within the EU have a closer relationship than Ireland and the UK – strong cultural ties, a history of Irish emigration to the UK, and huge volumes of trade and movement of people in both directions.

Despite various changes over the past century – independence in 1922, the adoption of the new Constitution in 1937, the declaration of the Republic in 1949, the break with sterling in 1979, and Ireland joining the euro without Britain in 1999 – these ties have remained very strong. On top of all of this there is the position of Northern Ireland, which looks likely to play a central role in the post-Brexit fallout.

Given all of this, it is little wonder the two countries joined the then EEC on the same day in 1973. Back then it was inconceivable that Ireland would take a different approach to the UK on the question of membership. In the 43 years which have followed it is fair to say that Ireland has been a far more enthusiastic member than the UK, and indeed in many respects, it has enabled it to detach itself from the UK’s bosom and assert its independence.

Yet there is no doubt that the Republic would much rather not be faced with this split with the UK and there is a palpable sense of dismay – resentment even – at the UK for leaving us in the lurch. What then are the major faultlines as Ireland attempts to juggle these two competing interests?

The border with Northern Ireland

Without doubt, the biggest issue facing us is the position of the border. One cannot underestimate the positive impact that the opening of border roads has had; it was one of the most important practical impacts of the peace process during the 1990s. The reintroduction of a hard border would be unacceptable to communities in the area, not to mention the costs and complexity of enforcing it.

Yet on the other hand a desire to impose greater restrictions on immigration from the EU was one of the main motivating factors in Britain voting for Brexit. It is difficult to reconcile this with an open border. There have been some suggestions that a compromise may be reached that will entail free movement across the border but with passport checks between Northern Ireland and Great Britain. This however is hardly something Unionists will welcome.

Insider senses that the proponents of Brexit wholly overlooked this conundrum and their response to it has been incoherent and unsatisfactory. It is only now beginning to dawn on them that the position of Northern Ireland could create a serious stumbling block for Brexit and, if not managed correctly, could even derail it.

In the five weeks since the referendum, the our Government has focused heavily on the impact on the peace process. This is widely seen by observers as a clever move – at an EU level the peace process is seen as one of the European project’s successes and there is a real sense in Brussels that the EU played a positive role in it. The view is that stressing the impact on the peace process is likely to carry more weight in Brussels than in, for instance focusing on trade along the border, important and all as that is to people residing in the area too.

Making Brexit work for Britain

Another conundrum for the Government in Dublin is how to square the need to maintain free trading relations with the UK, with the likelihood that the EU will seek to conclude a single EU/UK trade agreement. The level of business done between the UK and Ireland is huge with each counting the other among its main trading partners; indeed trade with Ireland is more important to the UK than trade with countries such as Brazil, Russia, India, and China.

To have restrictions imposed in this area would be potentially calamitous for Ireland. For virtually our entire history free trade with the UK has been taken for granted and trading restrictions between the two countries would be an alien concept. Our Government must take a firm line at EU level on this point. Of course the free movement of people between the two countries and the Common Travel Area is a key part of this.

There is also a sense of urgency on this point for the Government, even ahead of formal Brexit negotiations. There is a huge degree of investment made by businesses on both sides of the Irish Sea. A period of uncertainty ahead of Brexit runs the risk of businesses postponing investment decisions – there are already signs of this – as they wait to see what happens, thereby running the risk of an economic slowdown in Ireland.

Leaving aside the key aspects of British/Irish relations that need to be weighed, at a broader level, the issue that carries most importance for Ireland, and an area of potential division with other EU member states, is whether Brexit works for the UK. From an Irish perspective, notwithstanding the disagreement with the stance Britain has taken and the sense of disappointment or betrayal even that Insider referred to earlier, it is important that it does.

At an EU level there will be a desire not to be seen to reward Britain for leaving and a sense that it needs to be seen to suffer some negative consequences from its decision. While obviously not wanting to damage its own interests by overly hampering the UK, the EU will wish to be seen flexing its muscles. From an Irish perspective however, in light of the close relations between the nations and the importance of the UK economy to the Irish economy, it is important that Britain does well outside the EU. This will be a tough circle to square.

The future, Brexit, and ‘its new politics’

The Brexit negotiations, and protecting Ireland’s interests in, among others the areas that Insider has referenced, will be the Government’s primary objective for the foreseeable future. Nevertheless, some consideration must be given to a vision for Ireland’s future in the changed circumstances that will follow Britain’s eventual exit.

As Insider noted there have been several breaks with Britain over the years, many of them resulting from EU membership. Indeed many Irish politicians – in particular from FG over the years – have viewed EU membership as a means of Ireland broadening its horizons beyond the UK. Arguably Brexit offers proponents of this a golden opportunity to put this further into practice.

On the other hand, for a considerable number of Irish people, relations with the UK will always be of paramount importance and so this is another balancing act that needs to be managed. Then there is the question of the long-term future of Northern Ireland. Recent talk of a border poll may have been premature but nevertheless reflects an acceptance that things could be about to change radically and that in the medium term everything is on the table.

Finally, we must return to events earlier this year, namely the inconclusive result thrown up by the General Election and the advent of ‘new politics’. This is a topic Insider hopes to return to in greater detail in the autumn – assuming a General Election has not derailed it all by then! – but for the time being will note that it changes the context in which we approach the challenges of Brexit and the negotiations to follow.

Clearly it will not be the Government side alone that will have an input when it comes to determining the strategy to be followed. Dáil arithmetic dictates that the Opposition parties will also have an input, but given the strategic importance of this matter, that was likely to be the way in any case. The Opposition parties have some interesting contributions to make, with FF leader Micheál Martin being an experienced former foreign affairs minister and Sinn Féin bringing some interesting perspective to the North/South dimension in particular, with its role in the Northern Executive.

Theoretically this is one area where the ‘new politics’ should thrive. Insider expects a reasonable degree of consensus but there may be some rancour about whether the Government is pushing Ireland’s interests aggressively enough on those occasions where the EU/UK tradeoffs that Insider has mentioned come to the fore.

It will be a tumultuous period ahead and a real test of the political system and the diplomatic corps. Even in the context of our changed politics it promises to leave the day-to-political dramas in the shade.

Irish car insurance premiums said to have gone up 70% since 2013

   

Concerns are being raised about the continued rise in the cost of insuring your car.

Insurance companies are said to be clamping down on the types of drivers and cars that they are willing to provide cover for.

Premiums are reported to have gone up by more than 70% since 2013.

The motor industry has issued a warning saying the rise in costs is showing no signs of easing.

Broker Jonathan Hehir says the sector is haemorrhaging money: “We’ll have to take the reports they give us on face value because they weren’t afraid to publish when they were making money.

“So I went through the reports recently and if we go back to 2007 they weren’t afraid to show profit in motoring insurance of around €500m at that time.

“That figure has gradually gone down over the ten years and the last time they are shown to be making money was back in 2012 and there was a slight profit on it and since then they have shown losses of hundreds of millions of losses in the motoring insurance sector.”

An hour of Exercise a day may offset a sitting’s toll on your health

   

An hour of Exercise a Day May Offset Sitting’s Toll on Health?

Just one hour of physical activity a day — something as simple as a brisk walk or a bicycle ride — may undo the increased risk of early death that comes with sitting eight hours or more on a daily basis, a new study suggests.

“These results provide further evidence on the benefits of physical activity, particularly in societies where increasing numbers of people have to sit for long hours for work or commuting,” said lead researcher Ulf Ekelund. He is a professor in physical activity and health at the Norwegian School of Sport Sciences in Oslo, Norway.

“Unfortunately, only 25% of our sample exercised an hour a day or more,” he said.

The study also found that watching TV for three hours or more a day was linked with an increased risk of early death, regardless of physical activity except among those who were the most physically active.

However, even among those who exercised the most, the risk of premature death was significantly increased if they watched five hours of TV a day or more, the researchers added.

It’s not TV, per se, that is associated with an increased risk of dying early; rather, TV is a marker for sitting and not being active, Ekelund said.

In their review of 16 previously published studies that included more than one million people, the researchers divided the participants into four groups: those who got about 5 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise a day; 25 to 35 minutes a day; 50 to 65 minutes a’ day; and 60 to 75 minutes a day.

The increased risk of early death ranged from 12% to 59%, depending on how much exercise the participants got, the findings showed.

“Indeed, those belonging to the most active group, and who are active about 60 to 75 minutes per day, seem to have no increased risk of mortality, even if they sit for more than eight hours a day,” Ekelund said.

“Sit less, move more, and the more you move the better,” he suggested.

The report, which did not prove that inactivity caused early death, was published online July 27 in The Lancet.

According to Dr. David Katz, president of the American College of Lifestyle Medicine, “This important analysis fortifies the increasingly clear verdict from a large and growing body of evidence addressing physical activity and health: all movement is good movement.”

Evidence is clear that moderately vigorous exercise has an array of health benefits, Katz said.

“If you don’t exercise but can stand often, do. If you can’t stand often but can exercise, do,” he added. “Better still, do both. It’s clear: all movement is good movement.”

Not only does physical inactivity increase the risk of early death, it’s expensive, according to another study published in the same journal issue.

In that study, researchers estimated the cost of being physically inactive based on the increased risk for type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and breast and colon cancer. In 2013 dollars, the study authors estimated that inactivity costs the United States about $28 billion annually.

“The current economic cost of physical inactivity is borne mainly by high-income countries. However, as low- and middle-income countries develop, and if the current trajectory of inactivity continues, so too will the economic burden in low- and middle-income countries who are currently poorly equipped to deal with chronic diseases linked to physical inactivity,” study author Dr. Melody Ding, of the University of Sydney in Australia, said in a statement.

Can this woman cure ageing with gene therapy?

    

Biotech boss Elizabeth Parrish (above) has tried out her company’s anti-ageing gene therapy with, she says, amazing results. Too good to be true?

‘We’re trying to hit the biggest point of suffering in the industrialised world.’ Photograph: Antonio Olmos for the Observer

Elizabeth Parrish is CEO of BioViva, a Seattle-based biotech company working to develop treatments to slow the ageing process. In April, the company revealed that Parrish herself had undergone “the first gene therapy successful against human ageing”. The treatment, it claimed, had reversed the biological age of her immune cells by 20 years.

“There are a lot of fantastic conclusions that [people] can jump to,” says Parrish – “defeating death, or people becoming immortal, or things like that. What we’re trying to do is hit the biggest point of suffering right now in the industrialised world, which is the diseases of ageing.”

In September 2015, Parrish, then 44, flew to Colombia to receive two experimental gene therapies. One was a myostatin inhibitor, a drug that is being tested as a treatment for muscle loss. The other was a telomerase gene therapy – the drug that BioViva claims has reversed her cells’ biological age, by lengthening parts of her genetic material called telomeres.

Genes are held in twisted molecules of DNA called chromosomes. At the ends of these chromosomes are stretches of DNA called telomeres. Telomeres protect the important genetic material from damage that can lead to disease-causing malfunction or cell death. Telomeres also allow the cell and its DNA to divide, but as cells divide a portion of the telomeres is lost until, after a finite number of divisions, the cell dies, a process that might contribute to the human ageing process.

If a cat has nine lives, then a dividing human cell has about 50 to 70 – unless, the thinking goes, you lengthen the telomeres to extend the cell’s lifespan and increase its ability to withstand damage. The gene therapy that Parrish received is designed to do just that by encouraging the cell to produce telomerase, a protein that repairs telomeres.

The treatment is highly controversial. Because BioViva had not done the necessary pre-clinical work to progress to human studies, the US Food and Drug Administration did not authorise Parrish’s experiment – hence her trip to an unnamed clinic in Colombia.

BioViva claims that six months after treatment the telomeres in Parrish’s white blood cells had lengthened by 9%. It was an announcement met by a mixture of derision and incredulity by many scientists, who cited the lack of proper scientific procedure. “We used third-party testing for everything,” asserts Parrish. “We used a standard telomere testing system that doctors sell and patients can buy over the internet. By that test, it said my telomeres in my [white blood cells] extended by the equivalent of 20 years.”

The scientists’ scepticism goes further than the reliability of the company’s testing systems. On its website, BioViva claims that its work builds on that of María Blasco, director of the Spanish National Cancer Research Centre. In a 2012 study, Blasco’s findings suggested that a similar telomerase gene therapy could increase the median lifespan of mice by around 20%. Her work since has focused on assessing whether the technology can improve outcomes in mice with heart and blood diseases that originate in very short telomeres.

Blasco does not associate herself with BioViva’s work and she has no relation with the company or with Parrish. “Clinical validation of our telomerase gene therapy strategy, as with any other therapies, should be achieved through rigorous trials validated and backed by the regulatory agencies,” she says.

We should be able to say: This didn’t kill mice, it doesn’t kill human cells – let’s just run a test

On her company profile Parrish describes herself as a “humanitarian, entrepreneur and innovator” and “a leading voice for genetic cures”. Absent from that list is the word “scientist”. She also describes herself as “patient zero” for these treatments – a term some would take issue with. “Patient zero” is a typically used to describe the first patient in an infectious disease outbreak, rather than the first patient to have received a treatment. A better description, some would argue, is that hers was an n = 1 study (a study on only one person).

“Perhaps she is patient zero, but only for the spread of the pseudoscience that’s going to grow from her story,” says Timothy Caulfield, a professor in the Faculty of Law and the School of Public Health at the University of Alberta. Caulfield is concerned that Parrish’s work lacks scientific rigour and is at risk of being picked up by unscrupulous practitioners aware of the selling power of anti-ageing treatments. “People forget that most clinical trials don’t pan out,” he says. “Drugs often look really promising in mice but don’t pan out in people – they’re different animals.”

But Parrish, who says she has already had people contact her to ask if they can try her anti-ageing gene therapy, argues that enough animal studies have been conducted to move to humans. “I think we are doing things wrong. We should be able to say, ‘This looks promising, it didn’t kill mice, it doesn’t kill human cells.’ So what we said [when deciding to test her company’s treatments] was, ‘Let’s just run a test; let’s see if this stuff is safe.’”

Parrish and her team say they plan to explore the effects of the gene therapy in other cells in her body, and to assess the effect of the muscle-loss treatment. Meanwhile, they are looking to test the treatments in more people, but first they need to find a country with less stringent requirements than the US. “We are still looking for a faster route,” says Parrish. “We have gone from country to country, with groups who are asking these countries to re-regulate. They will come in with new regulatory standards… with a fast track to get the most life-saving therapeutics to humans as fast as possible.”

While Caulfield admits that the drug development process is strict, he argues that it needs to be to maintain scientific rigour. “Sure, we’re all looking at ways to get effective drugs to clinics quicker but this idea of foreign shopping until you can find the regulatory framework that is most friendly to your idea about how science should be done is a terrible mistake,” he says. “Good science should be universal.”

Quick to distance himself from BioViva was George M Martin, professor of pathology at the University of Washington. Martin had agreed to be an adviser to the company after being visited at his university by Parrish but relinquished that role on hearing the news of Parrish’s self-experiment. “I resigned only weeks after accepting the invitation, I never attended a board meeting and I certainly had no inkling of her plans to carry out human interventions without any pre-clinical work,” he says.

George Church, professor of genetics at Harvard Medical School and another of the BioViva’s advisers, is wary of the idea that he has “ties” with the company. “I wouldn’t call them ties,” he says. “I advise people who need advice and they clearly need advice.” Church says he advised the company to go through proper regulatory channels and to do the required pre-clinical work. “If you just let people run loose without any advice, especially if they don’t have training in medical research, then you’re inviting consequences.”

It’s a point, he notes, that was tragically highlighted by a gene therapy trial in France that is believed to have caused cancer in two participants in 2003, and the 1999 death of Jesse Gelsinger, the first person to die in a clinical trial for the therapy. Both failures, he says, set back the whole field. “Since then, the field has improved tremendously and is much safer but new drugs have to be tested in placebo controlled trials with animal testing first.”

And it’s not just scientists who are cautious about how advanced therapeutics such as gene therapies or those that use stem cells are handled. The public and policymakers, whose attitudes can either help or hinder potential medical advances, are also twitchy about science that tinkers with the inner workings of life. If the debate around the powerful new genome-editing tool, Crispr/Cas9, is anything to go by, Parrish’s approach to combating ageing won’t roll out without significant scrutiny.

Duncan Baird is a professor of Cancer and Genetics at Cardiff University’s School of Medicine. He urges caution over Parrish’s impatient approach to unearthing treatments. “Life and ageing are too biologically complicated to start boiling it all down to these entities at the ends of chromosomes [telomeres],” he says. “To pick out one particular phenomenon of telomere length as a key determinant of ageing and say that if you’re going to lengthen telomeres you’re magically going to cure ageing, I think that’s fanciful.”

Without a much greater understanding of the biological processes that underlie ageing, such tampering can be dangerous, says Baird. One of the reasons telomeres have evolved to be the length they are, he says, is to limit the number of times a cell can proliferate and thus to limit its potential to be cancerous. “Meddling with a fundamentally important tumour-suppressive mechanism that has evolved in long-lived species like ours doesn’t strike me as a particularly good idea.”

Attempts to combat ageing, and its myriad manifestations, do not belong to Parrish alone. Around the world, teams of dedicated researchers are doing the painstakingly thorough work needed to unpick the biological mysteries of ageing and, maybe one day, figure out how to tackle it. But, as so often with science, it seems success might lie in the very thing that Parrish refuses to accept: time itself.

 

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Tuesday 19th May 2015

Mortgage lending soars as Ireland’s recovery goes from strength to strength

   

Recovery could hit a speed bump as figures don’t yet reflect Central Bank lending rules

First-time buyers continue to dominate the property market although latest figures show a slow return of property investors

Mortgage lending rose by 73% in the first quarter of 2015 to € 983m, as first-time buyers continued to dominate the market.

However, both the value and volume of mortgage lending was down on the last quarter of 2014, and the impact of tighter lending requirements from the Central Bank, which came into force on February 11th, has yet to be fully observed.

According to data published on Tuesday by the Banking and Payments Federation Ireland, some 5,618 new mortgages worth €983m were drawn-down in the first quarter, up by 64% on the same period in 2014, but down by 26% on Q4 2014, traditionally the strongest period for mortgage lending. This compares with Q1 2007 when 7,919 loans worth some €7.8bn were drawn-down.

First time buyers accounted for more than half (53.6%) of these loans, followed by those trading up (31.9%). Just 320 buy-to-let mortgages were drawn down during the period, accounting for 5.7% of the total. While down on Q4 (395), the figure is up 74% on Q1 2014, suggesting that investors are looking to take advantage of strong rental growth.

The average loan size rose to € 175,016 in Q1 2015, up 5.5% on Q1 2014.

Central Bank rules

Davy economist Conall MacCoille expects total new mortgage lending to reach €4.5bn in 2015, up from €3.7bn in 2014 and €2.4bn in 2013. However, growth rates have slowed, and Mr MacCoille said that the new lending rules from the Central Bank “will constrain credit availability as the year progresses”.

As of yet, the figures reveal little about the impact the new rules might have.

Juliet Tennent, economist with Goodbody Stockbrokers, says that while it is difficult to quantify the incidence of those who received mortgage approval under the “old” regime accelerating home purchase in the aforementioned figures, the Q1 numbers are encouraging as is the strong approvals figure for March, noting that the recovery has some “momentum”.

Ireland will struggle to meet its EU GHG emission reduction target

   

Figures released by the EPA on Monday show that significant effort will be needed for Ireland to meet its EU greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets

Figures released by the EPA on Monday show that significant effort will be needed for Ireland to meet its EU greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets.

The EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) has predicted that Ireland will struggle to meet its EU greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) reduction targets, which demand a 20% reduction by 2020 on 2005 levels.

The latest figures show that annual emissions from Ireland’s non-Emissions Trading Scheme sector, in which agriculture and transport dominate, are projected to be 9% to 14% below 2005 levels by 2020, which compares unfavourably to the 2020 target.

The EPA does add, however, that overachievement of annual limits in the period 2013-2017 under the best case scenario will allow Ireland to cumulatively meet its compliance obligations over the period 2013-2020.

This best case scenario assumes that ambitious policies and measures out to 2020 will be implemented in full, including reducing energy consumption in our homes and businesses and increasing renewable fuels in transport and heating.

Commenting on the latest figures, Laura Burke, EPA Director General said, “Our economy is now beginning to grow again and we must balance our focus on growth with a focus on becoming more sustainable and reducing emissions. Considerable effort will be needed between now and 2020 to implement key policies and measures in order to deliver projected emissions reductions. These include improvements in energy efficiency across the industry, commercial and residential sectors and reducing emissions from transport.”

Agriculture and transport dominate the non-Emissions Trading Scheme sector. Together they account for approximately 75% of Ireland’s non-Emissions Trading Scheme sector emissions in 2020, with agriculture at 46% and transport at 29%. For the period 2013-2020, agriculture emissions are projected to increase by 2%.

The EPA added that even if Ireland complies with its 2013-2020 obligations there will be as yet undefined new obligations for the years 2021-2030.

A starting point for post-2020 obligations in excess of the range of expected outcomes for 2020 (i.e., 9 – 14% below 2005 levels) will inevitably lead to severe compliance challenges early in the following decade and beyond.

Eircom needs more fibre to keep pace with new competition

    

What do Eircom’s results really tell us about its prospects in the near future? Has it turned itself around?

By the standards of recent years, the results are good.

Quarterly revenue growth, even taking into account seasonal factors, is a decent achievement.

If such growth continues, as executives are guiding, confidence will increase.

The company is a lot leaner than it was two or three years ago, too, and appears to have successfully changed its focus to high-speed broadband, an area it largely ignored until it almost collapsed two years ago.

But it still has some big decisions ahead. The biggest one is whether, and to what extent, it is prepared to walk the walk in terms of rolling out fibre broadband.

Directly piped to houses broadband?

That means proper fibre broadband that is piped directly into homes and businesses, not the type that only connects to old-fashioned copper phone lines from half a mile away. (Such ‘eFibre’ lines may be perfectly adequate for most of today’s uses, but are not long-term solutions.)

Eircom would undoubtedly prefer to ‘sweat’ its existing infrastructure – its copper landlines – for as long as it possibly can before having to invest several hundred millions more. That would mean relying on ‘eFibre’ DSL copper-hybrid infrastructure.

But rival entities such as the new ESB-Vodafone fibre broadband firm Siro are set to plough ahead with a €450m investment to connect 500,000 premises to direct fibre by 2018. And UPC, whose broadband speeds are over twice what Eircom can achieve with its current technology, has hoovered up a huge percentage of broadband subscriptions in urban areas. So if Eircom is to keep pace, it needs to invest hundreds of millions in new fibre infrastructure, even if it forestalls a return on investment for shareholders.

Is it prepared to do this? So far, it has indicated that it will match fibre roll-out plans in 50 towns by the ESB-Vodafone’s Siro company. And it could get a big boost if it wins the Government’s upcoming National Broadband Plan tender, which is likely to prioritise fibre to 700,000 rural premises. But it needs to keep investing to keep its momentum going.

New study on brain exercises for healthy ageing in people with Down syndrome

      

Researchers specialising in ageing in persons with an intellectual disability at Trinity College Dublin have just begun a new study to examine if cognitive training for adults with Down syndrome can have a protective effect for healthy ageing. The study is being conducted in the context of a growing concern by the researchers involved regarding levels of dementia in an ageing Down syndrome population in Ireland and varying standards of care, support and diagnostic pathways around the country.

The BEADS study (Brain Exercises for Adults with Down syndrome) will investigate the feasibility of using existing brain training games with a cohort of older adults with Down syndrome without dementia, and measure the effectiveness of the training in positively influencing levels of executive functioning such as planning, attention and memory.

Dementia is a critical issue for adults with Down syndrome, both in terms of rates of occurrence and the early age of onset in this particular group pf people. In a recent report by IDS-TILDA, the Intellectual Disability Supplement to The Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing, the researchers found that in the three year period since the first wave of data collection was conducted in 2010, the prevalence of dementia among people with Down syndrome had almost doubled from 15.8% to 29.9%. These are much higher levels than the 1.5% seen in the general population. Other Trinity studies have found that the average age of onset of dementia for people with Down syndrome was 55 years of age with some cases presenting in their early 40’s. By comparison, onset for the majority of people with dementia in the general population was at over 65 years of age.

In the general population there has been a lot of research conducted on the protective value of cognitive stimulation, or brain training, and its importance in healthy ageing. This is even more vital in a population of adults with Down syndrome as typically fewer opportunities for cognitive training and development were presented throughout their lives. As of yet, there has been little work in Ireland or indeed internationally on cognitive training and its influence on executive functioning for older adults with intellectual disabilities.

Speaking about the importance of conducting new research which will address the challenges with increasing levels of dementia in people with Down syndrome in Ireland, Dean of the Faculty of Health Sciences in Trinity and Principal Investigator of IDS-TILDA, Professor Mary McCarron said: “Dementia has become such a significant challenge to the successful ageing of people with Down syndrome and we must do more than simply provide care. Other successes in the lives of people with Down syndrome occurred because we found new ways to increase opportunities; we can do no less as we confront the challenge of dementia.”

“In tandem with new studies such as BEADS which hope to help with improved levels of healthy ageing for people with Down syndrome, the Irish healthcare system must also urgently address the specific diagnostic and care needs of this group of people in a comprehensive, systematic and consistent way,” Professor McCarron concluded.

Sea lions get their teeth brushed at Scottish safari park

  • Part of an oral national health campaign

     

Poppy the sea lion gets a kiss from head sea lion keeper Frances Reid at Blair Drummond Safari Park near Stirling.

It is National Smile Month, so some of the sea lions at Blair Drummond have been having their pearly whites brushed. They’ve been trained to have it done from an early age.

Poppy the sea lion has her teeth cleaned by head sea lion keeper Frances Reid at Blair Drummond Safari Park near Stirling.

A group of sea lions at Blair Drummond Safari Park have been getting their teeth cleaned to help mark the start of a national oral health campaign.

The animals lined up to get their gnashers polished at the park near Stirling as National Smile Month got under way around the UK.

Poppy the sea lion has her teeth cleaned by head sea lion keeper Frances Reid at Blair Drummond Safari Park near Stirling.

The campaign aims to raise awareness of health issues and improve the oral health of millions of people throughout the country.

And while brushing a sea lion’s teeth might seem an odd thing to do, park bosses insist it is vital to their welfare.

Head keeper Frances Reid said: “Sea lions will live a lot longer in captivity then their wild counterparts, so their teeth need to last a lot longer.

“Just like our own teeth, we need to control the amount of plaque building up on them and reduce the amount of decay.

“Also if our sea lions get something stuck in their teeth, we can remove it easily without the need to put them under general anaesthetic and call the vet in.”

One of the sea lions, 10-year-old Poppy, was trained at an early age to get her teeth cleaned.

Trainer Sam Clark said: “We achieved it through positive reinforcement, so lots of encouragement and food rewards until she had complete trust in us and was confident to have her teeth brushed.

“A sea lion has 18 teeth on the bottom jaw and 18 on the top, and they only have one set of teeth in their lifetime, so we need to be able to inspect them daily.”

Planet Earth now has a flag for interplanetary relations

    

Let’s imagine for a moment that we’re on the cusp of the next great space race.

With private space enterprise a reality, the possibilities of incredible new spacedrive technologies, and a plan to colonise Mars in the next decade, it’s a wonderful time to be a space nerd.

But when humankind reaches Mars, what flag will we plant proudly in the surface?

There is actually an Outer Space Treaty (part of Space Law, which is also a thing) that bans countries from claiming celestial bodies as territory.

And so, a Swedish designer has taken it upon himself to create the International Flag of Planet Earth.

Designed by Oskar Pernefeldt as a graduation project at the Beckmans College of Design, it’s not yet an “official” flag for Earth – however that would be decided – but NASA is thanked on the contributors page for the project.

It’s not known how they were involved, though.

“Current expeditions in outer space use different national flags depending on which country is funding the voyage,” Pernefeldt wrote about the project.

“The space travelers, however, are more than just representatives of their own countries. They are representatives of planet Earth.”

As a design student, he set out to design something that not only reflect humanity’s existing flags – rectangular, wider than it is tall – but also has some meaning in the symbol.

Our little pale blue dot is unique in our survey of the known universe so far for its large quantities of liquid surface water – and so Pernefeldt chose a deep, rich blue as his primary colour – to offset a pure white flower.