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News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Tuesday 6th May 2014

Irish Taxes forcing our young to leave the country in droves Says Minister Hayes


Brian Hayes wants a move on tax in the October budget. 

Ireland’s higher rate of income tax is a major factor in the exodus of our young professionals, according to Junior Finance Minister Brian Hayes.

Mr Hayes has become the latest Fine Gael minister to demand a consecutive cut in the income tax in the next two budgets.

Confirmation that the coalition favours tax cuts over wage increases has proved a thorny issue in recent weeks, particularly among union leaders.

SIPTU president Jack O’Connor said last month that the “key to intensifying the momentum in the economy must be pay increases”.

CAUTIOUS approach, 

His remarks are at odds with those expressed by a number of government ministers who are very cautious about even discussing the prospect of wage increases.

Mr Hayes, who is Fine Gael’s European candidate in Dublin, said he believed tax measures in October’s budget must benefit those who pay the higher rate of income tax.

“Our current rate of tax is a huge disincentive for people to stay in Ireland and work and is encouraging a brain drain of young professionals,” Mr Hayes said.

“We need to keep our best and brightest here in Ireland making a contribution to their own country – not Australia, not Canada, not the US. Our very high tax rates on very modest incomes must be reversed. Young workers deserve a break.”

Government sources insist that Finance Minister Michael Noonan will examine how to “ease the burden” on middle income earners, particularly those with children.

Sources insist that changes to the Universal Social Charge (USC) are also on the table ahead of the budget.

But Mr Hayes said yesterday that while he favours changes to USC, the immediate focus must be on income tax.

His comments come just days after Mr Noonan clearly signalled that he is preparing to raise the band at which workers pay the higher rate of income tax.

At present, workers pay a marginal rate of 52pc on every euro earned above €32,800.

Mr Hayes, a Dublin-South West TD, said this represents a factor in the flow of young people who are being lost to emigration.

He said: “Trade union officials and other economic commentators have been calling for an economic stimulus. The best and fairest economic stimulus of all is a tax cut.”

Irish Central Bank insists people are switching bank accounts to escape fees

However, new figures show just one in 10 switching bank despite hike in charges


The Central Bank has insisted that more people are switching bank accounts in a bid to escape higher fees and bad service.

But the regulator also admitted this morning that despite a rise in the numbers moving accounts, the switching figures are still low.

Fewer than 11,000 people switched bank account in the second half of last year, using the Central Bank’s switcher code.

This is out of a total of 5.4 million current accounts. In percentage terms, less than 0.2pc of accounts were switched in the second six months of last year.

In the first half of last year 4,241 consumers moved bank.

This is despite higher fees and charges being imposed by the main banks and the decision of ACC and Danske Bank to pull out of retail banking here.

Director of Consumer Protection, Bernard Sheridan, said: “These new figures show that, while low, an increasing number of consumers are availing of the Central Bank’s Switching Code to manage the changeover when switching current accounts.

“Factors which appear to be influencing the choices that consumers are making include: changing fees and charges; service issues; and announcements regarding the withdrawal of current account providers from the market.”

The code is supposed to make it easier for consumers to move banks, and demands that the switch is completed within 10 days.

A total of 373 suspected abuse cases at Irish homes


Hiqa said it received 5,362 alerts of potentially harmful events in care homes. A total of 373 reports were made last year of alleged, suspected or confirmed abuse of older people in care homes.

The Watchdog Health Information and Quality Authority (Hiqa) said it received 5,362 alerts of potentially harmful events in care homes up and down the country during 2013.

Among them were 4,246 reports of serious injury to a resident.

But the most concerning figure involved the 373 instances of reported abuse in 195 out of the 566 care homes in either the state or private sector.

Phelim Quinn, Hiqa’s director of regulation and chief inspector of social services, said despite the high figures, safety and quality standards are improving.

But he warned: “It is clear from this report that there are areas where further improvement is required and we will focus on these areas as part of our continued regulatory activities.”

The Hiqa report is the first annual overview on the regulation of nursing homes since the rules were introduced more than four years ago.

Its report said inspectors carried out 814 checks of 565 residential centres for older people in 2013.

It recorded 293 notifications of outbreaks of infectious disease; 171 reports of unexplained absence from a home; and 95 reports of alleged misconduct by the care provider or a member of staff.

On abuse, Hiqa said its inspectors identified 303 actions needed to ensure homes complied with rules to prevent issues over residents’ finances in 174 of the centres.

Hiqa said it received unsolicited information 355 times relating to 213 centres last year, most of which came from concerned relatives of residents. Others came from staff in the care homes, health professionals visiting the homes to work and residents themselves.

Most of the information being relayed to inspectors centred on the quality and safety of care, staffing issues and other complaints associated with fees, discharge decisions and contracts of care.

Age Action said it was concerned about the high level of serious injuries reported by nursing homes and the notifications of abuse, which care homes are bound by law to report.

“The report not only highlights the great need which exists for an independent inspection authority, but also the need for nursing home management to improve their service when it comes to issues of health and safety and risk management,” spokesman Eamon Timmins said.

“This must involve training, supervision and strict adherence to the existing procedures and protocols.”

Issues were also identified with medicines in 325 care homes with changes required on the ordering, prescribing, storing and administering of drugs to residents and the handling and disposing of unused or out-of-date medicines.

Inspectors also looked at issues relating to food and found that more than half of the homes reviewed – 30 out of the 52 chosen for this area – were fully compliant in relation to food and nutrition.

It said there were only seven findings of moderate non-compliances and 15 minor non-compliances, such as a lack of choice or issues over staffing levels at meal times or small dining rooms.

Nursing Homes Ireland (NHI) said that of the 565 registered care centres and homes, one was forced to close last year.

“NHI recognises the critical role of Hiqa in supporting care provision and will continue to be proactive in engagement with the authority to continually drive improvements in care delivery for older persons in residential care,” the organisation said.

UK search police teams excavating sites in Portugal for Madeline McCann


Search teams are expected to start excavating a number of sites in Portugal as part of the investigation into the disappearance of Madeleine McCann.

Portuguese authorities are understood to have given permission for the search of several sites in Praia da Luz, where Madeleine went missing in 2007, aged just three.

The move comes just after the seventh anniversary of her disappearance on May 3 2007, part-way through a family holiday.

The request to search a number of sites is thought to be among a series of requests made by British detectives in connection with the search for Madeleine.

The excavations, which are expected to be conducted by forensic experts, are not thought to necessarily be in connection with a search for the youngster’s body or remains.

Detectives from Scotland Yard are expected to be in Portugal for the searches, but it is not thought that Madeleine’s parents Kate and Gerry will return to Praia da Luz.

Scotland Yard have refused to comment on reports about the latest development in the investigation.

The McCanns’ spokesman Clarence Mitchell said: “As always, we simply will not comment on operational details of Operation Grange, that is a matter for the Met Police.

“Kate and Gerry are being kept fully informed throughout.”

At the weekend, Mr and Mrs McCann thanked the public for their unstinting support at a prayer service on the seventh anniversary of her disappearance.

The couple were joined by around 100 well-wishers, friends and relatives for a low-key open-air service in the centre of Rothley, Leicestershire, which saw candles being lit for all children around the world who have been taken away from their parents against their will.

Mr McCann expressed his family’s gratitude that the Metropolitan Police team investigating Madeleine’s disappearance was now moving on to a “very active” phase in their investigation, saying: “They are chipping away and obviously there is new evidence so we are going to continue to hope that we will get a happy outcome.”

Earlier, Mrs McCann disclosed that she privately returns to the Portuguese resort where her daughter disappeared to “walk those streets” and “look for answers”, as she backed a revamped alert system triggered when missing children are kidnapped or their lives are at risk – known as Child Rescue Alerts.

Gut bacteria research could help regulate peoples weight and cholesterol


Breakthrough research in the role gut bacteria have in regulating weight gain and cholesterol could lead to the design of probiotics for the control of obesity, high cholesterol, and diabetes.

That is according to researchers at the Alimentary Pharmabiotic Centre in University College Cork whose findings are published this week in the prestigious Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA.

Dr Cormac Gahan, who together with Dr Susan Joyce, is leading the UCC team, said they had analysed a protein commonly made by gut bacteria that breaks down bile acids (chemicals produced in the liver) — and found that specifically increasing levels of this protein reduces cholesterol and weight gain in mice.

“We reasoned that in the gastrointestinal tract that if bacteria influence bile acids, they might have an influence on the host’s [mouse] weight gain and metabolism,” Dr Gahan.

“So we went about looking at it experimentally and we basically showed if bacteria can break down bile acids then it influences weight gain in mice,” Dr Gahan said.

However, even though they had shown that a specific mechanism exists by which bacteria in the gut can influence the host’s metabolism, Dr Gahan said they now needed to determine if the same mechanism existed in humans before embarking on the development of probiotics to target this mechanism to regulate weight gain or high cholesterol. Their research meant that they “now have the potential for matching probiotic strains with specific end-user needs”, Dr Joyce said. “Work is under way to determine how this system operates in humans,” she added.

Researchers in China have also looked at what impact gut bacteria have on people’s weight.

Their research has led them to believe that changing the type of bacteria found in the gut may be more effective at helping people to shed weight than cutting calories alone.

Incredible shrinking process helped the dinosaur’s survival

 A depiction of dinosaur body size evolution and shape over 170 million years

A depiction of dinosaur body size evolution and shape over 170 million years

One of evolution’s greatest success stories is that of the Incredible Shrinking Dinosaur, scientists have revealed.

The reptiles that ruled the world for almost 200 million years never went away. At least some of them just got smaller and turned into birds.

Now researchers have shown that shrinking was key to survival for this group, which became one of the most diverse and abundant families of animals alive today.

Only those dinosaurs destined to be birds broke the lower body weight limit of one kilogram seen in their relatives.

Lead scientist Dr Roger Benson, from the Department of Earth Sciences atOxford University, said: “Dinosaurs aren’t extinct; there are about 10,000 species alive today in the form of birds. We wanted to understand the evolutionary links between this exceptional living group, and their Mesozoic relatives, including well-known extinct species like T rex, Triceratops, and Stegosaurus.

“We found exceptional body mass variation in the dinosaur line leading to birds, especially in the feathered dinosaurs called maniraptorans. These include Jurassic Park’s Velociraptor, birds, and a huge range of other forms, weighing anything from 15 grams to three tonnes, and eating meat, plants, and more omnivorous diets.”

Small body size may have been a vital difference that helped the ancestors of modern birds remain on Earth after other dinosaurs were wiped out 65 million years ago, say the researchers.

A huge asteroid impact off the coast of Mexico is generally thought to have brought the dinosaurs’ long reign to an end. However, many experts believe dinosaurs were already in decline when the meteor delivered the coup de grace that finished them off.

Together with Canadian colleagues from the Royal Ontario Museum, Dr Benson’s team estimated the body mass of 426 dinosaur species by measuring the thickness of their leg bones.

The scientists found that dinosaurs underwent rapid changes in body size shortly after they first appeared around 220 million years ago.

Thereafter only the evolutionary line leading to birds continued to change size at such a fast rate, and did so for a further 170 million years.

The study, published in the online journal Public Library of Science Biology, revealed that dinosaurs ranged in size from the 90 tonne Argentinosaurus – the largest creature ever to walk on land – to the bird-like Qiliania, which weighed 15 grams and was the size of a sparrow.

The team worked on the basis that if members of a family of related animals are similar in size, their evolution is likely to have been slow. On the other hand having close relatives that are very different in size implies fast rate of evolution.

“What we found was striking,” said co-author Dr David Evans, from the Royal Ontario Museum. “Dinosaur body size evolved very rapidly in early forms, likely associated with the invasion of new ecological niches. In general, rates slowed down as these lineages continued to diversify.

“But it’s the sustained high rates of evolution in the feathered maniraptoran dinosaur lineage that led to birds – the second great evolutionary radiation of dinosaurs.”

The bird ancestors kept experimenting with different and often radically smaller body sizes, allowing them to adopt new designs and adaptations more quickly than larger dinosaurs.

Other dinosaur groups became locked into narrow ecological niches from which they could not escape, say the researchers. This may have ultimately contributed to their extinction.

Commenting on the findings in the journal, doctors Daniel Moen and Helene Morlon from the Ecole Normale Superieure in Paris, France, wrote: “What explains why some groups of organisms, like birds, are so species rich? And what explains their extraordinary ecological diversity, ranging from large, flightless birds, to small migratory species that fly thousands of kilometers every year?

“(Benson and colleagues) find that body-size evolution did not slow down in the lineage leading to birds, hinting at why birds survived to the present day and diversified. This paper represents one of the most convincing attempts at understanding deep time adaptive radiations.”


News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Friday 4th April 2014

Irish ambassador in London gets ready for President Micheal D’s visit


Dan Mulhall sees promising future for Anglo-Irish relations as he awaits first State visit by Irish head of State

Each day in the central lobby of the Palace of Westminster, one that separates the House of Lords and the House of Commons, visitors crane upwards to see four mosaics.

Representing Saints Andrew, George, David and Patrick, the mosaics have browned with age and few will have noticed the name of Banba written above the head of St Patrick.

For Dan Mulhall, Ireland’s ambassador to Britain, however, the presence of Banba a member of the legendary Tuatha Dé Danann – highlights the complex heart of Anglo-Irish relations.

Fifteen years ago, Mulhall was based in Edinburgh, as it made its first steps after the devolution of power to Holyrood from Westminster.

There, he became friends with the late Seamus Heaney, agreeing with the latter’s view that the two countries were “linked and separated in various degrees by history and geography, language and culture”.

“Considering our convoluted connections, it seems strangely appropriate that this ancient Irish goddess should occupy this perch,” Mulhall mused recently.

For months, the Waterford-born diplomat has led preparations, at the Irish Embassy in London, for President Michael D Higgins’ State visit to Britain.

Often, it has been a job of explaining – to a British audience or to those internationals who have become intrigued – why the first State visit by an Irish head of State is only taking place now.

“For a long time relations between an independent Ireland and our nearest neighbour were burdened by a legacy of history,” he told journalists last week.

The four-day programme will reflect the “huge divide” that has been overcome in relations between Ireland and Britain, but one also that offers “a platform for the future”, he said.

During the visit, Mr Higgins will lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior at Westminster Abbey and inspect the colours of the Irish regiments disbanded when the Free State was founded.

“In the past we might not have seen that Ireland had any real connection with the first World War,” says Mulhall, noting the series of commemorations involving Irish ministers in recent years.

“It underlines our willingness yet again to see our past in its true colours and embrace our past without any reason to shy away from the fact that the Irish played such an important role,” he went on.

Since he moved to London from Berlin last year, Mulhall has spent time getting to know the Irish community, particularly those involved in a succession of Irish centres throughout Britain.

Last month, 350 Irish people were invited to Buckingham Palace for a reception that acted as the warm-up to President Higgins’ visit– one that is getting royal attention.

“It is a wonderful occasion for the Irish community in Britain; the biggest Irish community anywhere in the world outside Ireland,” said the diplomat on the night.

“They have made a huge contribution to Britain over the years. Many of the people here tonight have been here for 40, 50 or even 60 years,” he said.

The ties that bind are cultural too, says Mulhall, pointing to Mr Higgins’ visit to the Royal Shakespeare Company in Straford-upon-Avon and, later, Shakespeare’s birthplace.

“For the Irish, Shakespeare hardly counts as a foreign author; he has been part of our lives. Equally, here, people regard Irish authors as part of their own literary tradition,” he said.

Prone to quoting Heaney, Mulhall wondered, in a speech in Edinburgh some months ago, if Banba “was the goddess” the Derry poet had encountered “at the edge of centuries”.

“We are indeed at the edge of centuries on these islands, with centuries of contention behind us, significant centenaries upon us and, I think, a very positive vista ahead.

“This edge of centuries is a good place to be, a comfortable plateau rather than a threatening precipice. There are, of course, further uplands ahead of us.

“But we can be optimistic about our prospects. At the edge of centuries lies a friendly, cooperative, respectful partnership,” he said.

Pedestrians make up largest group of road users to die in Dublin


Newly released statistics show two out of every five road fatalities in Dublin are pedestrians

Between 2008 and last year pedestrians accounted for 37 per cent of the 121 road deaths in Dublin, just a slightly higher proportion than drivers who made up 35 per cent of the total.

Almost two out of every five road fatalities in Dublin is a pedestrian according to newly released statistics, making them the single biggest group of road users to die in the capital.

The figures have been released by An Garda Síochána as part of their “Casualty Reduction Campaign” to run for the next two months.

“When we analyse the tragic year end figure(s), we can clearly see that pedestrians still remain the most vulnerable, even more so than drivers who traditionally figure higher in terms of fatal incidents,” said chief superintendent Aidan Reid, head of the city’s traffic corps.

Between 2008 and last year pedestrians accounted for 37 per cent of the 121 road deaths in Dublin, just a slightly higher proportion than drivers who made up 35 per cent of the total.

That represents 45 pedestrian deaths, as against 42 drivers, 18 passengers, 11 cyclists and five motorcyclists.

“This is not solely an enforcement issue. We must get drivers to slow down, particularly in 30 kilometre an hour and 50 kilometre an hour zones, but also appeal to pedestrians to ensure they do everything to remain safe on the roads,” said chief superintendent Reid.

“This is particularly relevant in relation to pedestrians who may have been drinking. Getting home safely is what everyone wants, so when our socialising be responsible.”

Figures also show that those struck by a vehicle travelling at around 60 kilometres an hour stand an 85 per cent chance of death.

Michael Rowland of the Road Safety Authority said: “Drivers need to play their part too by realising that in a collision with a pedestrian, regardless of who is at fault, the pedestrian will come off worse so it’s important to drive with your eyes wide open to possible danger and slow down.”

Eircom to send 30,000 customers backdated error bills


Direct debits not taken from bank accounts due to error in system

Thousands of Eircom customers will have to pay arrears of between €100 and €500 after an error in the company’s billing system resulted in direct debits not being collected.

Around 30,000 customers did not have some or all of their monthly payments taken from their bank accounts for phone broadband and TV services since January.

They received their bills as usual however, which incorrectly stated the direct debits had been paid.

Eircom’s director of corporate affairs Paul Bradley said around 4 per cent of their customers had been impacted.

He said most of those affected would owe around €100, but this could rise to around €500 for some customers whose payments had not been collected for a longer period of time.

He said two-thirds of affected customers had already been contacted. Their next bill will reflect the full amount owed, including arrears, which will be paid by direct debit.

Chairman of the Consumers’ Association of Ireland Michael Kilcoyne has called on Eircom to write off the outstanding debts.

“The customer arranged for the payment to be made, they gave them the facility to do it, and Eircom botched it up,” he said.

“There are many people living hand to mouth now, who won’t be able to afford this. It is totally unacceptable that Eircom would demand this money from them.”

Mr Bradley said Eircom would arrange a payments plan for customers who are not in a position to pay the outstanding amount with their next bill.

“If they have any difficulties whatsoever in terms of paying, we are asking them please to contact us. We will work with them in order to put a payment plan in place,” he said.

The error is believed to be related to the implementation of the Single Euro Payments Area (Sepa) payment integration initiative.

Customers with queries about the error can call a dedicated phone line on 1800 303 432, Monday to Friday 9am-8pm.

Identity fraud and cybercrime in Ireland cost firms over €600m


An increase in cybercrimes is costing Irish companies over €600m a year, according to a Grant Thornton new report.

Reports of data breaches are mounting in Ireland as both foreign and Irish criminals infiltrate business computer systems, according to a Grant Thornton business report.

Common crimes include identity fraud, online scams, cyber theft and cyber extortion.

Notifications of security breaches rose 36pc in 2012. Incidents are typically under-reported to the Data Protection Commissioner because companies fear a hit to their reputation should they disclose their security systems failed, according to Grant Thornton partner Mike Harris, who launched the company’s cybersecurity service.


Breaches since 2011 include attacks on Loyaltybuild, Eircom StudyHub and Recruit Ireland. Loyaltybuild suffered a breach of customer data and credit card information and had to invest €500,000 on security.

It is estimated that 55pc of cybercrime is by international organised crime gangs – typically operating in countries where regulation is weak.

Mr Harris said: “Our estimate of €630m is likely to be below the actual level given that many companies still do not report security breaches for fear of the reputational damage.”

He said Irish businesses should be focusing… on the ability to detect and react to data security breaches.

“It is not a question of if an Irish business will be subjected to an online attack, but a question of when,” he said.

Europe launches a satellite to monitor our planets natural disasters

   The European Space Agency has successfully launched its Sentinel-1A satellite (above left), which is designed to monitor natural disasters such as floods and earthquakes.

Europe on Thursday launched the first satellite of its multi-billion-euro Copernicus Earth observation project that will supply valuable images in the event of natural disasters or even a plane crash.

The Sentinel-1a satellite, which blasted off into Earth’s orbit from Europe’s spaceport in French Guiana at 2102 GMT, will be used to monitor sea ice, oil spills and land use and to respond to emergencies such as floods and earthquakes.

The satellite, which carries a 12-metre-long (40-foot-long) radar antenna and has two 10 metre-long solar panels, is now orbiting the planet at 693 km (439 miles) above the earth.

The Copernicus project, for which the European Unionand the European Space Agency (ESA) have committed funding of around 8.4 billion euros ($11.5 billion) until 2020, is described by the ESA as the most ambitious earth observation programme to date.

Copernicus is designed to supply data that can help policymakers develop environmental legislation or react to emergencies such as natural disasters or humanitarian crises.

“The Sentinels will keep a watchful eye on our planet,” Thomas Reiter, ESA director of human spaceflight and operations and head of the ESA’s satellite control centre ESOC, said at the launch event in the German city of Darmstadt near Frankfurt, where ESOC is based.

The launch of the Copernicus project became especially urgent after Europe lost contact with its Earth observation satellite Envisat in 2012 after 10 years.

“The big step forward is that we can now cover every place on Earth every three to six days,” Volker Liebig, director of ESA’s Earth Observation programme, said ahead of the launch.

“This used to take much longer with Envisat. If you want to use images for disaster management support or to find a plane, then you want the images to be as fresh as possible.”

But he cautioned you would first need to know roughly where a plane had crashed, which is not the case with the missing Malaysian Airlines jet.

Chris Reynolds, director of the Irish Coast Guard in Dublin, said authorities needed more satellite images and data delivered as quickly as possible to catch “the bad guys”, such as people who purposely dump oil from their ships into the sea.

“At the moment, it’s very difficult to find out who has the data and to know what level of trust you can place in it,” he said at Thursday’s event.

Copernicus also offers new business opportunities.

Images can be downloaded free of charge, meaning companies can then use them to help deliver data to farmers on soil moisture or pest infestation, help oil companies decide where to drill new wells or make it easier for insurers to assess the risk of costly floods and fires.

Sentinel-1a, which will operate in tandem with a second satellite to be launched next year, Sentinel-1b, has high-tech instruments that will allow it to record radar images of Earth’s surface, even when the skies are cloudy or dark. As part of the Copernicus program, there will be 17 launches over the next decade.

Copernicus is one of the EU’s two flagship space programmes along with satellite-navigation initiative Galileo, which is meant to rival the dominant U.S. Global Positioning System, or GPS, Russia’s GLONASS and China’s new Beidou system.

The main suppliers for the first Sentinel are Italian-French venture Thales Alenia Space for the satellite and Airbus Defence and Space for the radar.

Ocean hidden under the frozen surface of the moon orbiting Saturn


Scientists measure the tiny gravitation pull exerted on satellite to predict what lies beneath the moon’s frozen surface

An ice encrusted moon of Saturn harbour’s a secret – a hidden ocean of liquid water. The Cassini satellite orbiting the giant ringed planet confirmed the huge body of water by studying the moon’s gravitational pull.

The moon Enceladus has proved something of a puzzle and a news maker since Cassini dropped into Saturnian orbit 10 years ago. Effectively Enceladus is a big ice-covered 500 km rock that attracted attention early as scientists wondered whether it might have liquid water underneath. Early pictures showed what have been described as the “tiger stripes” zig-zagging across the moon’s southern hemisphere. They looked very much like joints between giant ice floes.

Then in 2005 the probe detected jets of water vapour and ice emanating from the stripes, convincing scientists that there must be liquid water underneath. The question was how to prove it.

Years passed but observations continued and it was as a result of three Cassini fly-bys in April 2010 and May 2012 that the answer came. Scientists from Italy and the US were able to measure the tiny gravitation tug Enceladus exerted on the satellite and used this to predict what lies beneath the moon’s frozen surface.

The outer shell is ice 30 to 50km thick, but there is a small ocean of liquid water under part of the southern hemisphere, which must be the source of the water vapour jets, the scientists say in the current issue of the journal Science .

This was the first time that a geophysical method was used to understand the internal structure of Enceladus, says Prof David Stevenson, the Marvin L Goldberger Professor of Planetary Science at Caltech. “This is really the only way to learn about internal structure from remote sensing.”

It is assumed that the water stays wet rather than freezing solid because of the massive gravitational pull on the moon exerted by Saturn. The resultant orbital flexing generates heat that keeps the ice melted and probably drives the surface venting.

The Cassini Huygens mission is a joint enterprise involving the US, European and Italian space agencies. It includes the Cassini orbiter and also the Huygens lander that dropped onto the surface of another moon Titan back in 2005.

News Ireland daily BLOG update by Donie

Thursday 20th February 2014.

€100 million investment potential for new retail Irish lifestyle bank


Strategic partners only; hedge funds, private equity and institutions need not apply

If plans for Flip succeed it will become the first new retail player in Ireland since Postbank’s short-lived venture in 2007 and the first to offer cutting edge technology like an app that allows customers to scan and upload cheques instead of physically depositing them.

Wanted – investors willing to pump €100 million into a new European bank that picked Ireland as its first market. Strategic partners only, hedge funds, private equity and institutions need not apply.

American marketing expert Travis Ledwith and German banker Thomas Buemsen have been quietly making that unlikely-sounding pitch to telecoms and technology firms and other hand-picked investors for the last few months.

Now the duo are kicking off formal fundraising that they hope will allow them to cash in on Ireland’s newly-concentrated banking market, the turnaround from economic crisis and the Dublin technology hub that will help them break new ground.

Public perception of the country’s current lenders, including the surviving domestic banks who were among those bailed out to the tune of close to €70 billion, doesn’t hurt either.

“Most of the clients had a negative experience with their existing bank,” said Buemsen (46) who met 33-year-old Ledwith on an international MBA course in 2012.

“Danske Bank is leaving, ACC is leaving, they have huge losses. All the other banks that were state owned are still State owned…It (personal banking) is an area of banking which was neglected in the last couple of years.”

If their plans for Flip succeed they’ll become the first new retail player in Ireland since Postbank’s shortlived venture in 2007 and the first to offer cutting edge technology like an app that allows customers to scan and upload cheques instead of physically depositing them.

They want it to be a “lifestyle bank”, tailored to making your life easier, a concept similar to the one used by a Thai bank called K Bank.

They hope the Irish operation will be open by 2015 and are already thinking further afield, with plans to replicate the model in Italy and Spain, where they see similar post-crisis opportunities, and in Germany, where they want to take advantage of a large banking market they say is lacking in innovation.

Brand new banks have been few and far between across the developed world. Jason Quarry, head of Oliver Wyman UK, cites several barriers to entry – the lack of an existing brand, customer inertia over switching bank accounts, not having an existing balance sheet and cash flow, and the need to develop the complex operating platform needed to run a bank.

“However, you can turn each of those on their head and turn them into an advantage,” he said.

“Historic brand dynamics are shifting given the challenges from the financial crisis; customers are gradually becoming more willing to consider alternative providers; the lack of a balance sheet means less exposure to credit losses from legacy lending; the lack of existing IT complexity offers the chance of developing a clean operating model.”

I’m feeling great after cancer operation says Majella O’Donnell

Majella & Daniel O'Donnell are pictured with Irish Canser Society supporters Angus Oliver, Ruby Mason and Jack Temple     

Majella & Daniel O’Donnell pictured with Irish Canser Society supporters Angus Oliver, Ruby Mason and Jack Temple.

And yesterday brave Majella released the first picture of her recovery – just five days after her surgery.

Majella (53) is battling cancer but says that after the major operation to remove both her breasts, she just needs rest and is feeling “great”.


Majella told fans of her husband on his website that it has been a difficult time, with her sickness and the sudden passing of her father.

Writing from her hospital bed, Majella said that she knows she has a long way to go but that she is taking it step-by-step.

“Well, it’s been a very difficult seven months between being diagnosed with cancer and my wonderful dad passing away very suddenly. As Daniel has already told you, I had a lumpectomy in July and started chemotherapy in September.

“I am now in hospital on day five after surgery for a double mastectomy with reconstruction. I feel great, thank God!

“It’s so good to be this far down the road and to know that all I have to do now is rest and heal,” she added.

And brave Majella said she would not have been able to get through her ordeal without the support of the Irish public.

She revealed she has received thousands of messages and cards on her road to recovery.

“What I want to tell you all at this stage is how very grateful I am to every one of you for everything you have done for me over the last few months,” she said.

“Please do not think that, because you haven’t heard from me, your kindness has gone unnoticed.

“All your prayers, good wishes, donations, gifts, mass cards, and sacred relics have been of great comfort to me.

“I consider myself very lucky to have so many people batting for me.

“I can honestly say that I’m out the ‘other side’ and in good health again.

“There have been thousands of communications and every one was so sincerely appreciated and welcomed. I will never forget your kindness,” she added.

Majella captured the imagination of the public when she appeared on the Late Late Show to shave off her hair.

In the process she managed to raise €600,000 for the Irish Cancer Society.

Male nurse admits taping patient’s mouth to keep him quiet in a moment of stupidity?


The incident occurred at St John’s Hospital in Sligo in 2013

A nurse today admitted taping a patient’s mouth to keep him quiet in a long-term care hospital.

Bimbo Paden, a 39-year-old father of three, pleaded guilty at Sligo District Court to taping a 49-year-old man’s mouth when he was caring for several patients in a facility in the hospital.

The incident occurred at St John’s Hospital, Ballytivnan, Sligo, on June 26th last year. The court was told the patient was in the hospital, incapacitated and needing 24-hour care following a brain haemorrhage 13 years ago.

Inspector Colm Nevin said the Filipino-born male nurse – in Ireland for 12 years, most of it nursing at St John’s Hospital – placed a surgical tape over the patient’s mouth.

“I was alone and caring for five bays of patients with no one to assist me,” said the nurse. “In a moment of complete stupidity I put a small piece of surgical tape on Kevin’s mouth.”

He said he moved it away when another nurse came in to help him. He added that he had nursed the patient for six years.

Judge Kevin Kilrane was told there were a number of investigations, including by Hiqa and an internal hospital inquiry. Mr Paden had voluntarily agreed to be suspended from the registry of nurses and had been suspended from work since the incident last June.

The court heard the patient’s brother had engaged with the HSE and obtained certain documents in which names were redacted. Judge Kilrane noted from Hiqa and other documents before him that investigators were unable to comment on the psychological impact on the patient, but he was clinically well on the day of the incident and on following days.

The judge said Mr Paden, with an excellent work record, “made one bad mistake in his career”.

He adjourned the hearing until March 13th.

Defence solicitor Mark Mullaney said the future employment of Mr Paden, who fought back tears during the hearing, was dependant on the decision of the court.

Ella the 31″ Sligo cow to enter Guiness record books as world’s smallest Cow

    Star attraction: Ella commands plenty of attention

A tiny Irish cow in Sligo is set to enter the record books as the smallest in the world. Ella, a Dexter cow from Sligo, stands at 31 inches some two inches shorter than the previous record holder, Swallow, from England.

Sligo farmer Henry Judge shows ‘Ear to the Ground’ presenter Ella McSweeney her tiny bovine namesake.

The diminutive bovine, which features on RTÉ’s Ear to the Ground tonight, is even dwarfed by one of the pigs at her home in Oxhill Stud, Dromore West, Co Sligo.

Her proud owner, Henry Judge, said he is confident that 3-year-old Ella will secure her slot in the next Guinness Book of Records as the shortest cow on the planet.

“I think she is the smallest cow in the world. She was measured at 31 inches. She would walk under the kitchen table,” he said.

“I have a pig that is bigger than her and she was no bigger than a terrier when she was born.

“At the moment there is one there measured by the Guinness Book of Records. It’s a little black Dexter called Swallow in England but this one is nearly two inches shorter.”

Judge said Ella had to be a fully grown adult of three years to be officially measured for the record. “Ella can be measured by the Guinness Book of Records now as she is nearly four years old in April. She is seen as a fully grown adult. I had her professionally measured at 31 inches and having been showing her as the world’s smallest cow.”

The Sligo farmer told how he named the cow after RTÉ presenter Ella McSweeney as she was on his Oxhill Stud the day Ella’s mother calved.

He said: “Her name is Oxmount Ella and Ella for short. She is called after Ella as she was here talking to me for a radio show that day and I showed her a pregnant cow and the cow calved that evening.

“I told Ella if the cow calved and it was female I would name her after her and I kept my promise.”

The pint-sized bovine gave birth to a regular-sized Dexter calf last year but, within weeks, her calf needed to crouch downon his knees to suckle under his tiny mother.

Judge said: “The first calf she had was known as a long-legged calf and after about three weeks he had to go down on his knees to suckle her.”

Ella, who was born in April 2010, will be kept at his farm for the rest of her life. Judge said: “She will be here on the farm until she dies. We hope to get a calf for her every year for the next 10 or 15 years. They have a very long life, those little cows.”

Judge said he breeds Connemara ponies, the Dexter cows, and Blackface Mountain sheep. The Dexter cows were in danger of extinction in the 1970s but Judge revealed that they are enjoying a resurgence in farms across Ireland.

Artificial sunlight sensitive leaf could be used to produce a cheap energy & oxygen


  • Scientists have taken inspiration from nature to create an artificial leaf
  • The leaf uses sunlight to break water down into hydrogen and oxygen
  • Hydrogen can be used to propel spacecraft, and is a potential fuel source for combustion engines and other vehicles

Taking inspiration from the natural process of photosynthesis, scientists are one step closer to a functional design for an artificial leaf

Society is always on the lookout for cheap, clean, and efficient sources of energy.

One of the most obvious and promising of these sources is hydrogen.

An environmentally-friendly fuel, hydrogen can be produced by breaking water down into its separate elements of hydrogen and oxygen – but doing this in an cheap way is tricky.

Now, scientists are taking inspiration from nature, and are one step closer to producing an artificial leaf that may be able to do the job.

Leaves harness the power of sunlight for photosynthesis, turning water into hydrogen and oxygen.

Hydrogen can be used to propel spacecraft, and is a potential fuel source for combustion engines and other vehicles, including commercial aircraft.

Scientists at Arizona State University and the Argonne National Laboratory have designed an artificial leaf that uses the same process.

‘Initially, our artificial leaf did not work very well,’ said ASU chemistry professor Thomas Moore.

After analysing the design, Moore and colleagues noticed that one step in the chemical chain was slowing the whole process down, where a fast reaction had to interact with a slow one – creating a kind of ‘bottleneck’ in the leaf’s productivity.

‘The fast reaction is the step where light energy is converted to chemical energy,’ added Professor Moore, ‘and the slow one is the step where the chemical energy is used to convert water into its elements.’

After looking more closely at this step, the scientists realised that they could mimic nature even further, as the natural process uses ‘an intermediate step,’ said Professor Moore.

This intermediate step staggered the reactions, meaning that while the ‘fast’ part of the relay was able to move onwards, the ‘slow’ part had enough time to progress in an efficient way without delaying the overall reaction.

On the left, the artificial leaf system is shown - the part in yellow is newly inspired by the natural process of photosynthesis, and acts as an 'electron relay', delaying some part of the reaction and advancing others to improve the system's overall efficiency. The diagram on the right shows a natural photosynthesising system  On the left, the artificial leaf system is shown – the part in yellow is newly inspired by the natural process of photosynthesis, and acts as an ‘electron relay’, delaying some part of the reaction and advancing others to improve the system’s overall efficiency. The diagram on the right shows a natural photosynthesising system


Although hydrogen is abundant in our atmosphere, it is so light that it rises and is rarely found in its pure form.

Producing the fuel currently is not viable – more fuel is needed to produce the substance than can be retrieved from using it.

It is used to propel spacecraft, and is a potential fuel source for combustion engines and other vehicles, including commercial aircraft.

The team looked at the reactions on an atomic level, using a mix of X-ray crystallography and spectroscopy to explore the environment around the electrons and protons involved in the reactions.

They found that the natural process escapes a bottleneck effect due to a unique structural feature – an unusually short bond between a hydrogen atom and a neighbouring nitrogen atom.

After creating an artificial step similar to this natural one, the performance of the artificial leaf was greatly improved.

Although it is not yet a viable option for mass energy production, the development pushes the leaf design one step closer to the production of renewable and carbon-neutral fuels.

The finding also improves our understanding of how the natural photosynthesis process works within plants.