Tag Archives: Beautiful Sligo

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Monday 15th June 2015

Former Anglo workers tried to destroy records, court hears

  

Three accused of conspiring to hide account with Seán FitzPatrick link from Revenue.

Former Anglo Irish Bank official Aoife Maguire (60) of Rothe Abbey, South Circular Road, Kilmainham, Dublin, has pleaded not guilty to deceiving the Revenue between 2003 and 2004.

An account held in Anglo Irish Bank was not furnished to the Revenue Commissioners because it was connected with the bank’s former chairman Seán FitzPatrick, the jury in the trial of three former Anglo officials has been told.

In his opening statement, Dominic McGinn SC, for the prosecution, said an account held by John Peter O’Toole was omitted from a list of non-resident accounts to be given to Revenue in March 2003.

Mr McGinn said that it was deliberately omitted because it was connected with Mr FitzPatrick, who was Mr O’Toole’s brother-in-law.

He told the jury of six men and six women that in 2004, there were also attempts to delete information from the bank’s database about six other accounts, the motivation for which was a connection between the accounts and Mr FitzPatrick.

Aoife Maguire (60) of Rothe Abbey, South Circular Road, Kilmainham, Dublin, Bernard Daly (65) of Collins Avenue West, Whitehall, Dublin and Tiarnan O’Mahoney (54) of Glen Pines, Enniskerry, Co Wicklow are facing charges for alleged offences that occurred in 2003 and 2004.

They have pleaded not guilty.

All three are accused of conspiring to destroy, mutilate or falsify documents relating to accounts of Mr O’Toole held at Anglo Irish Bank.

Mr Daly and Mr O’Mahoney are accused of furnishing a list of bank accounts in connection with tax that did not include Mr O’Toole’s.

Ms Maguire and Mr O’Mahoney are accused of conspiring to destroy the records of six accounts and defraud revenue.

The accounts were listed in court as Lock Ltd/Suzie Ltd, Carnahalla Ltd/Suzie Ltd, Lock Ltd, Carnhalla Ltd, Triumvirate Properties Ltd and Seán FitzPatrick Trust/Crohan O’Shea Trust.

Mr McGinn told the jury there would be significant parts of the trial that wouldn’t be exciting.

He said that the courts were usually full of offences such as those seen on television in Crimecall or in Love/Hate, but this trial would be long and would involve tax and fraud.

“There are no punch ups or car chases,” he said.

He told the jury that in the early 1990s and late 2000s, Revenue began looking at non-resident bank accounts.

He said that Deposit Interest Retention Tax (DIRT) did not apply to the accounts of people who did not live in the State, but that some non-resident accounts were bogus and tax should have been paid on them.

Revenue was said to have contacted all banks to ask them about non-resident accounts and Anglo told them they had no such accounts.

However, when a tax amnesty followed, some people came forward who had such accounts in Anglo. Revenue then decided to investigate the bank.

High Court order

Revenue got a High Court order in March 2003 requiring Anglo to provide a list of non-resident accounts.

It also said it would come into the bank and audit it. It sought three lists of non-resident accounts of more than €100,000 in 1990, 1995 and 1999.

To comply with that, a team was sent up in the bank led by Mr Daly. Mr O’Mahoney had a supervisory role in the team, and the prosecution alleged that Ms Maguire was appointed to the team by Mr O’Mahoney to report directly to him and influence team members.

In November 2003, lists were provided and Mr O’Toole’s name was left out of the list for March 1995.

Mr McGinn said that the omission was a deliberate act because the account was connected to Mr FitzPatrick. He said that Mr O’Toole was Mr Fitzpatrick’s brother-in-law and that Mr FitzPatrick had some involvement with transactions on the account.

He said Mr Daly and Mr O’Mahoney both had separate conversations with separate team members who refused to omit Mr O’Toole’s name from the list, and that those members were removed from the team.

In 2004, there were attempts to delete the information from the bank’s database, counsel said.

Mr McGinn said that staff in Anglo’s IT department were instructed to delete references to Mr O’Toole’s accounts and to six other accounts.

Mr McGinn alleged that the IT department was uncomfortable regarding the deletions and so instead archived the information.

He said that the attempt to delete those accounts was motivated by a connection between the accounts and Mr FitzPatrick.

“To a greater or lesser extent, Seán FitzPatrick has involvement in this case.”

Counsel told the jury the six accounts were set up to trade offshore or manage property and were held in the Isle of Man or Jersey, but they were Anglo accounts, and that there was a concerted effort made to conceal them for the purpose of not paying tax.

Mr McGinn said that all three accused were involved in the attempt to delete Mr O’Toole’s accounts from the bank system and Mr O’Toole’s name was removed from the tax list by Mr Daly and Mr O’Mahoney.

Mr O’Mahoney and Ms Maguire were involved in an agreement to delete the other six accounts and hide references to them in the bank system, Mr McGinn said.

He told the jury there would be no direct evidence, or “smoking gun”, in the case. He also said the prosecution did not have to prove that Revenue was actually defrauded.

Poets and fans gathered for WB Yeats celebrations in Sligo

  

‘Absolutely Fabulous’ actor Joanna Lumley (above right) declares Sligo has stolen her heart.

Irish poet and playwright William Butler Yeats (1865 – 1939) who received the Nobel prize for literature in 1923.

During one of the headline events of his birthday celebration in Sligo, WB Yeats’ granddaughter Caitriona briefly shared a stage with Mary Plunkett grandniece of 1916 leader, Joseph Mary.

Caitriona Yeats, a harpist, was presented with a book of her grandfather’s poems hand-printed by Plunkett, whose work is inspired by the poet’s sisters Susan and Elizabeth Yeats, of Cuala Press fame.

Earlier in the day, Ireland’s ambassador to Britain Dan Mulhall had noted that Yeats “engaged on a daily basis with the public life of Ireland”.

The encounter between descendants of the revolutionary and the poet underlined that role in the life of the country.

Yeats and Plunkett were applauded by six poet laureates , all female, from Ireland,England, Scotland, Wales, London and Northern Ireland, who were joined by President Michael D Higgins at Saturday night’s National Poets’ event. The laureates read from Yeats’ and their own work.

President Higgins, despite being enthusiastically kissed on his arrival by the National Poet of Scotland Liz Lochead, who was charmed with the idea of a poet as President, chose to read Auden’s In Memory Of WB Yeats, but none of his own work.

Politicians and celebrity guests spent the weekend in Sligo soaking up the atmosphere.

Minister for Arts Heather Humphreys was at Lissadell House, while Minister for Communications Alex White was there for the cutting of a giant birthday cake on O’Connell Street.

It was a weekend when everyone reached for connections with the man, who President Higgins described as our national poet.

London laureate Aisling Fahey , wasn’t sure if it was her grandfather or great grandfather who “used to drive Yeats in a horse and cart to Thoor Ballylee” when he went west.

One of the unlikely stars of the weekend was Absolutely Fabulous star Joanna Lumley who declared that Sligo had stolen her heart.

“I love it, I completely love it,” said actor Joanna.

Her popularity meant that the award winning Lake Isle of Innisfree garden was in danger of being trampled into the ground when she cut the ribbon there.

Lumley, who started the day with a visit to Yeats’ grave in Drumcliffe, had been invited by Senator Susan O’Keeffe, chair of Yeats 2015, to open the garden at the Model arts centre because of her campaign for a London Garden Bridge.

“It is enchanting – Yeats’ dream, every dream he ever had,” she said.

If the actor was taken aback by “all the loveliness I have met” in Sligo, out the road in Lissadell House, SenatorDavid Norris was giving her a run for her money in the popularity stakes where he too spent the day posing with fans for selfies.

As Sligo Drama Circle organised a marathon reading of all 378 Yeats poems, celebrities spent the weekend reciting personal favourites.

The apparently age-defying 69-year-old Lumley who urged people to “take off your hats and dance in the street” recited When You Are Old.

In Lissadell, Senator Norris gave a majestic rendering of Sailing to Byzantium while Anne Doyle read The Cat and the Moon tearfully recounting that her pet cat Pooka had passed on last week.

RTE’s Bryan Dobson chose Easter 1916 as his party piece, while his colleague Mary Wilson treated the audience to her favourite Crazy Jane talks with the Bishop.

But in Hargadon’s pub Caitriona Yeats probably won the heart of many of those force fed Yeats as school children when she candidly admitted: “We didn’t read much of my grandfather’s work growing up”.

She read Come Gather Round Me, Parnellites because her mother Grainne used to sing it and she liked the sentiment of “Come fill up all those glasses and pass the bottle round”.

Ireland to stop making 1 & 2 cent coins

  

National Payments Plan recommends nationwide roll out for ‘rounding’ system.

Ireland has been minting coppers at three times the rate of the EU average but there is a consistent shortage of them across the country.

Minister for Finance Michael Noonan will recommend to Cabinet on Tuesday the withdrawal of one and two cent coins following the success of a pilot project in Wexford.

Mr. Noonan has received a report from the Central Bank’s National Payments Plan recommending the roll out nationally of the rounding project so as to reduce the need for one and two cent coins.

The recommendation comes following the overwhelming success of a nine-week project in Wexford in 2013 where transactions were rounded up or down to the nearest five cent.

According to Wexford Chamber of Commerce CEO, Madeleine Quirke the project which ran from September 17th until November 17th 2013 was a tremendous success.

“Some 250 businesses in Wexford participated in the project – everyone from supermarkets to pubs to fast food outlets to garages – anyone handling large amounts of cash.

“Some 85 per cent of consumers and 100 per cent of business owners surveyed afterwards were in favour of the project – in fact we have had no complaints or negative comments at all.”

Ms Quirke said the success of the project stemmed from the fact that business people in Wexford adhered to the strict guideline that there should be no increase in prices.

“It was stipulated clearly by the Central Bank when Wexford was chosen that there would be no increase in prices and businesses here adhered to that faithfully,” she explained.

“Prices remained the same – items were still carrying the same prices tags and it was only the total bill at the end of the transaction that was rounded up or down to the nearest five cent.”

“Consumers were very happy to support the project once it wasn’t hitting them in their pocket while it cut down on the time that business people had to spend dealing with coin.”

Unveiling the pilot project back in 2013, Ronnie O’Toole of the National Payments Plan explained that the pilot trial followed the Central Bank surveying customers about the coins.

“People said they couldn’t use them any more to buy anything or use them in machine so what people do is that they take them out of their wallet or purse and put them in a jam-jar.

“As a result, we have had to replace those coins going out of circulation – we have issued over €30 million worth of one and two cent coins since the euro was introduced in 2001.

“In fact our issuing of replacement one cent and two cent coins accounts for 85 per cent of all coin production for the Central Bank at the mint in Sandyford,” said Mr O’Toole in 2013.

However even small change comes at cost with each one cent coin cost 1.7 cent to mint and each two cent coin cost more than two cents to mint, explained Mr O’Toole.

This has resulted in the Central Bank having to spend well in excess of €30 million on the coins in the period between 2001 and 2012.

It’s understood that while the Central Bank has recommended out the national roll out of the rounding project, participation in the scheme will be on a voluntary basis.

This means that one and two cent coin will remain legal tender as is the case in a number of other Eurozone countries which have already adopting a rounding policy.

Earlier this month Fine Gael Senator Catherine Noone said the Central Bank should abolish the coins.

“Ireland has been minting coppers at three times the rate of the EU average and yet there is a consistent shortage of them across the country. This is causing consistent problems for businesses when it comes to change shortages and is a hassle shared by businesses and consumers alike,” she said.

“It seems senseless that we are bending over backwards to produce these coins given the cost of production costs more than their stored value, with a one cent coin costing 1.7 cent to produce and a two cent coin costing about two cents.”

New low cholesterol drug may be available by end of year

  

Evolocumab can be used for high levels of cholesterol when statin drugs are not effective

based on the potential role of the monoclonal agent and its cost effectiveness.

LDL cholesterol causes “furring” of the arteries that supply blood to the heart and the brain, which puts those affected at greater risk of heart attack and stroke.

A novel class of cholesterol-lowering drug could be available to Irish patients by the end of the year, following the approval of the first of the new agents by the European Medicines Agency (EMA).

The EMA has recommended to the European Commissionthat it issue a EU-wide marketing authorisation for evolocumab as a treatment to lower high blood levels of cholesterol in cases where the standard treatment with statin drugs is not effective.

The new drug, which will be marketed under the trade name Repatha and is manufactured by Amgen, is also indicated for people who cannot take statins and for those with a rare inherited form of familial high cholesterol in which levels of LDL cholesterol (“bad cholesterol”) are higher than normal from birth.

Unlike statins, which are taken orally, the new class of monoclonal antibodies are injected either monthly or once every two weeks.

Evolocumab, and other drugs in the class, block a protein called PCSK9, the effect of which is to increase the number of LDL- receptors in the liver, thereby enhancing the body’s ability to remove the harmful form of cholesterol from the blood.

LDL cholesterol causes “furring” of the arteries that supply blood to the heart and the brain, which puts those affected at greater risk of heart attack and stroke.

Evolocumab and another agent alirocumab received preliminary approval from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) last week even though research data proving their efficacy in reducing cardiovascular disease is not yet complete. This fact led a minority of experts on the FDA panel to vote against approval.

However other experts say that trial results showing a 40 to 65 per cent reduction in LDL levels among participants is highly significant.

Dr Jim Crowley, medical director of CROì, the west of Ireland cardiology foundation, said it is reasonable to use LDL reduction as a surrogate for reducing cardiac events based on current knowledge.

Both Dr Crowley and Dr Angie Brown, medical director of the Irish Heart Foundation, emphasised a need to establish the long -term safety profile of the new class of agents.

“It is very important to see the results of long term outcome trials before these agents are used more widely,” Dr Brown said. She predicted the new agents are likely to complement statins in the prevention of heart disease rather than replace them.

While the exact cost of the drug in Europe is not yet known, US sources have predicted a cost per patient per year of around $10,000.

Once marketing authorisation has been granted, the HSE medicines management programme will take a decision on reimbursement

What does a diabetes-friendly meal look like?

  

Practicing portion control is a crucial part of a diabetes-safe diet, and this tip makes it easy.

Counting carbs is effective and plays a critical role in your diabetes control. So does portion control — and all you need to get started is an empty plate.

Take an ordinary dinner plate and draw an imaginary line down the center. Now, focus on filling half the plate with nonstarchy vegetables. Then divide the remaining half into two sections, each of which you will fill with starchy foods and a protein source like meat or fish. (But don’t pile the food sky-high on the plate!) Following this practice is a simple and effective method to lose weight and help manage type 2 diabetes.

Fill half your plate with non-starchy vegetables:

  • Spinach
  • Carrots
  • Lettuce
  • Greens
  • Cabbage
  • Bok choy
  • Onion
  • Cucumber
  • Beets
  • Okra
  • Mushrooms
  • Peppers
  • Turnips

In one small section (1/4 of the total plate) put starchy foods:

  • Whole-grain bread
  • Rice
  • Pasta
  • Dal
  • Tortillas
  • Cooked beans or peas, such as pinto beans or black-eyed peas
  • Potatoes
  • Green peas
  • Corn
  • Lima beans
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Winter squash
  • Low-fat crackers, snack chips, pretzels, or fat-free popcorn

In the other small section (1/4 plate) place your protein choice:

  • Chicken or turkey without the skin
  • Fish such as tuna, salmon, cod, or catfish
  • Other seafood such as shrimp, clams, oysters, crab, or mussels
  • Lean cuts of beef and pork such as sirloin or pork loin
  • Tofu
  • Eggs
  • Low-fat cheese

At breakfast, your plate will look different, but the idea is the same. Whether you use a plate or bowl for breakfast, keep your portions small. Use half the plate for starchy foods and fill the smaller sections with fruit (1/4) and your protein choice in the other (1/4).

Pope backs climate changes and denounces world leaders

   

Pope Francis attends a meeting with the Roman Diocesans in St. Peter’s Square on June 14, 2015 in Vatican City, Vatican.

Pope Francis has endorsed the science behind global warning and denounced the world’s political leaders for putting national self-interests ahead of action.

The 192-page leaked draft of a papal encyclical, published Monday by the Italian magazine L’Espresso, is an attempt to influence the debate before United Nations climate talks scheduled for the end of the year in Paris. Father Federico Lombardi, the pope’s spokesman, said the text was not the final one, which will be officially released midday local time Thursday by the Vatican.

The encyclical, entitled “Laudato si (Praised Be) on the care of our common home,” is a call to action in the form of a letter to the church’s bishops. With fossil-fuel emissions and temperatures at record levels, the spiritual leader of 1.2 billion Catholics is adding his voice to calls to rein in greenhouse gases.

“International negotiations cannot progress in a significant way because of the positions of the countries which privilege their own national interests rather than the global common good,” the pope wrote. “Those who will suffer the consequences which we are trying to hide will remember this lack of conscience and responsibility.”

Francis squarely put the blame on humans, writing that many scientific studies show “the greater part of global warming in the last decades is due to the great concentration of greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide, methane, nitrogen oxide and others) emitted above all due to human activity.”

  Some ‘Honesty and Courage’ needed.

Reducing emissions, he wrote, demands “honesty, courage and responsibility, above all by the most powerful and most polluting countries.”

For months, the pontiff and his advisers have met dozens of scientists and economists to guide the church’s views on the topic.

The pope’s intervention already is rattling climate skeptics in the U.S. and giving environmentalists hope that the weight of his opinion could energize the agonizingly slow UN discussions.

“Francis has become the moral leader of our age, and he can do what scientists and national leaders cannot do,” Veerabhadran Ramanathan, professor of climate and atmospheric sciences at the University of California in San Diego, said in a phone interview.

“He can ask people, and not just Catholics, to change their behavior,” said Ramanathan, a senior member of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences that advises Francis.

Renewables and Investments.

A shift in the energy industry, which produces the majority of greenhouse gases, is already is under way. Investment in renewable energy ballooned to $310 billion last year from $60 billion a decade ago, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. The International Energy Agency says cleaner forms of energy willdominate power generation by 2030.

To help drive his message home, Francis has requested that bishops around the globe “accompany the publication with appropriate explanations and comments,” the Vatican said in a statement last week.

Francis himself will press his views on a visit to the U.S. in September. He will meet President Barack Obama and address Congress — the first pope to do so — and the UN General Assembly.

Rumblings about the encyclical already have drawn fire from critics in the U.S. — where the Republican chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, James Inhofe, wrote a book on climate change titled “The Greatest Hoax.” Francis should “leave science to the scientists,” Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum said this month.

St. Francis

“There are a significant number of devout Catholics who are Republicans, and those people will have to think very hard about his message,” said Andrew Steer, president of the World Resources Institute in Washington, who took part in a seminar on climate with Francis and several cardinals in May.

The title of the encyclical recalls the opening phrase of the “Canticle of the Creatures” by St. Francis of Assisi, who was the patron saint of animals and the environment. The pope chose to become Francis on his election in March 2013.

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News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Monday 2nd March 2015

Joan Burton criticises Irish banks for pulling out of agreed deals on mortgages

  

Tánaiste says reducing bankruptcy periods may send message to institutions of ‘playing games’ with customers in severe difficulties.

Tánaiste Joan Burton has criticised the banks for pulling out of deals with customers in mortgage difficulties.

Tánaiste Joan Burton has said a reduced bankruptcy period could send a message to banks who are pulling out of deals with customers in mortgage difficulty.

Ms Burton said she recently met personal insolvency practitioners who told her banks were creating an expectation that arrangements could be agreed but were then disappointing clients.

“If we reduce the bankruptcy period maybe that will send a message to the banking institutions, particularly those who are kind of playing a game of ‘now you see it, now you don’t’, suggesting to people that a deal is possible and then pulling out at the last minute.”

Labour TD Willie Penrose is preparing legislation to cut the bankruptcy period from three years to one year.

Speaking in Dublin this morning, Ms Burton said she had not had an opportunity to read Mr Penrose’s Bill. The bankruptcy period was reduced from 12 to three years at the end of 2013.

She said she wanted to see people staying in their family homes.

“We have an insolvency process vastly reduced in time from 12 years down to three, which is great. But at the same time what the personal insolvency practitioners were saying to me is that…some of the banks are not cutting deals,” she said.

The Tánaiste said people who had “got the courage” to attempt to strike a deal with the bank were often left in a worse situation when “at the last minute the deals are being pulled”.

Ms Burton said not every financial institution acted in this way.

She was speaking after addressing a business event to mark National Employment Week 2015 in the House of Lords, Bank of Ireland, College Green.

Meanwhile:— 

Moves to reduce bankruptcy period to one year now proposed by Lab. TD.

   

A leading Labour TD is preparing special legislation to cut the bankruptcy period from three years to one year.

Former Junior Housing Minister Willie Penrose, who is also a barrister, says the law introduced in 2012, and the accompanying insolvency service, has not helped enough people struggling with debt.

His move follows comments in the Dáil last week by Tánaiste Joan Burton, who said the three-year bankruptcy duration – recently reduced from the long-standing 12-year term – will be revisited.

There has also been a strong call from mortgage debt campaigner David Hall for such a move.

Mr Hall said that the Government’s remedy, the Insolvency Act of 2012, simply has not given necessary relief to very many people.

“An alternative which is within the control of politicians is to reduce the current bankruptcy term to one year. This is an uncomplicated move and one that could happen within weeks and I would imagine a vote that could be 100pc supported by TDs and Senators,” Mr Hall told the Irish Independent.

Mr Hall, who was an independent candidate in a by-election in Dublin West in 2014, said that the introduction of the Insolvency Service of Ireland in September 2013 had failed to help the hundreds of thousands of people “smothered by debt.”

The debt relief campaigner said the statistics on debt showed how few people had been helped.

* There are 117,000 family home mortgages in arrears, each with an average of four unsecured debts such as credit cards and credit unions.

* Over 38,000 buy-to-let mortgages are in arrears.

* The Insolvency Service has a €7.5m budget and 95 staff – but only helped secure 1,000 “deals” in 2014.

* 448 of these “deals” were people going bankrupt and 251 were debt relief notices with debts under €20,000.

* Just 199 involved property but most were buy-to-let properties.

* Just a handful were family homes and 97 covered unsecured debts.

The debt-relief campaigner argued that given this record it was time to try again.

He acknowledged that other law changes aimed at reducing the banks’ de facto veto on “writing down” debt could run into constitutional difficulties – but this law change would change bank attitudes.

“Banks have an obsessive compulsive disorder around writing down or writing off debt. They must have their minds focused,” he said.

“Banks only understand one language and a one-year bankruptcy is urgently needed to focus banks and all creditors’ minds,” Mr Hall added.

Labour TD Willie Penrose said he will discuss his draft law with party colleagues next week.

He said along with the reduction of the bankruptcy period from three years to one year, the current “follow-on period”, which also allows creditors recoup debt, would be cut from five years to three.

“Apart from anything else the current situation where it is three years’ bankruptcy and one year north of the border is rather silly and impractical,” Mr Penrose said.

Last Thursday the Tánaiste said the Government will consider this change.

Tea could also can reduce the risk of diabetes type 2?

   

Tea consumption is also associated along with certain cancers, and with a reduced risk of type 2 diabetes, according to recent new research.

The review authored by Dr Catherine Hood from the Tea Advisory Panel looked at 12 studies and of these 11 showed a positive effect of tea consumption on reducing the risk of diabetes.

Dr Hood commented: “In the Chinese Singapore Study among 36 908 participants age 45-74 years, consumption of more than one cup of tea daily reduced the risk of diabetes by 14%.

“The Dutch arm of the big European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC) which was followed up for 10 years found a bigger reduction in risk of diabetes. In this study total daily consumption of three cups of tea, three cups of coffee or a combination of tea and coffee reduced the risk of type 2 diabetes by approximately 42%.”

She continued: “The BMJ published a study evaluating the relationship between black tea consumption and key health indicators across the world. Health indicators covered were respiratory diseases, infectious diseases, cancer, cardiovascular diseases and diabetes at a global level.  This study found a significant linear correlation between high black tea consumption and low diabetes prevalence in the world. ”

Dr Tim Bond from TAP added: “Overall these studies indicate a very promising association between tea consumption and diabetes which if confirmed in further studies indicates further health benefits for tea beyond the well-established cardiovascular benefit.

Diabetes is affecting increasing numbers of the population and potentially could cost 17 per cent of the health care budget.  Drinking 3-4 cups of tea each day has benefits for the heart and could also have benefits for glucose metabolism, inflammatory markers and reducing the risk of diabetes.”

Knock planes diverted as heavy snowfalls hits the west of Ireland

 

About 500 passengers on incoming flights from Britain ended up in Shannon today (Monday) because of heavy snowfall at Ireland West Airport Knock.

Morning flights from London Stansted, Liverpool, East Midlands and Luton were all diverted.

Affected passengers were all bussed from Shannon back to Knock.

A major operation to clear the runways continued at Knock all morning. As a result planes to carry outbound passengers to UK destinations were able to land and take off in the afternoon.

Photos of Sligo and Leitrim that are pure WB Yeats like poetry

Aerial view over Cope's Mountain to Sligo Bay with Knocknarea in the distance. Photo: Colin Gillen / Framelight.ie   

“On a recent hike with Northwest Adventure Tours, we come across this mound; it looked like a glacial slide had pushed it down and left a nice viewing point to stand upon.”

The desolate landscapes of Sligo and Leitrim aren’t just a fitting subject for poetry, as Colin Gillen’s photographs above show.

Gillen is a professional photographer living on the Sligo coast, and he spends his days shooting what he calls “the amazing, light-filled playground of a landscape that is Yeats Country”.

W.B. Yeats was a regular visitor to Sligo and Leitrim, with local features like Ben Bulben, Glencar and Inishfree familiar to many through his poetry.

But words aren’t the only way to celebrate unforgettable landscapes.

 A good photo, as we all know, is worth 1,000 of them.

By day working for local and national media, Gillen is also a keen musician with a reputation as one of Ireland’s top music photographers.

But it’s his stunning eye for Sligo and Leitrim that caught our attention.

  From the tiny human forms caught in magnificent landscapes (or monster waves) to simple, almost painterly shots of bohareens and lakes, his photos like Lissadell House draw you into the waters and the wild country of Sligo inviting you to explore Yeats Country all over again.

You can find out more about Colin and his photos on framelight.ie, on Facebook here, and about hiking and adventure guides in Sligo on northwestadventuretours.ie.

  For more on Yeats 2015, a programme of events celebrating the 150th anniversary of the poet’s birth, see yeats2015.com.

What would it be like to live on Mars?

   

The idea of living on Mars has been a staple of science fiction since the 19th century, when American astronomer Percival Lowell speculated that the channels on the Red Planet were really ancient canals built by intelligent extraterrestrials.

But if this sci-fi dream were to ever become reality, what would it be like to actually live on Mars?

NASA is now planning for a manned mission to Mars, which is slated for the 2030s.

It’s unknown where astronauts will land on Mars for that mission, but for a future Martian space colony, “you’d probably want a permanent base somewhere in the low northern latitudes,” Ashwin Vasavada, a deputy project scientist for NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory, told Space.com.

Like Earth, Mars has seasons due to the planet’s tilt upon its axis, but it also has a secondary seasonal effect because of its highly elliptical orbit. The southern hemisphere is pointed away from the sun when the planet is farthest from it, resulting in far colder winters (and far hotter summers) than those in the northern hemisphere.

If you were to live in the northern hemisphere, you’d enjoy about seven months of spring, six months of summer, a little more than five months of fall and only about four months of winter. (A year on Mars is about 1.88 Earth years, and a day lasts a little more than 24 hours.)

The average temperature on Mars is minus 80 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 60 Celsius), but temps can range from minus 195 F (minus 126 C) in winter near the poles to 68 F (20 C) during summer near the equator. The temperatures can also change dramatically within a single week.

Mars’ temperature variations often result in powerful dust storms, which can sometimes shroud the entire planet after just a few days. Though these storms probably wouldn’t physically harm you, the dust could clog electronics and interfere with solar-powered instruments, Vasavada said.

At just 1 percent the density of Earth’s atmosphere, the Martian atmosphere is thick enough to burn up meteors smaller than marbles — meteors larger than that are relatively rare, so you’d be unlikely to get hit by them, Vasavada said. You also wouldn’t have to worry much about volcanic and tectonic activity while living on Mars.

“The No. 1 thing an astronaut would be worried about is the radiation from space,” Vasavada said. Unlike Earth, Mars doesn’t have a global magnetic field and thick atmosphere to protect its surface from radiation.

If you were to experience some unfortunate incident, a message sent home to Earth would take an average of 15 minutes to get there. While not terribly long, “it’s definitely annoying enough that it’d be hard to Skype with anybody,” Vasavada said.

In terms of weather, you might see an occasional wispy cloud or cold morning frost because Martian air contains low levels of moisture from the polar ice caps. But you wouldn’t find any storm clouds in the sky or raindrops hitting the ground.

With these clear skies, the Martian night is full of stars. Amateur astronomers would want to look out for Mars’ moons, Deimos and Phobos, which can come out at the same time. These satellites, both of which are far smaller than Earth’s moon, can also partially eclipse the sun during the day.

The daytime sky generally has an orange tint to it because of all the dust, Vasavada said. Sunrise and sunsets look similar to those on Earth during a very hazy day, except that the area around the sun is blue.

The surface of Mars offers up a few great opportunities for sightseeing. “If we were to completelycolonize Mars, there are certainly places that would become national parks,” Vasavada said.

For example, Olympus Mons is the tallest volcano in the solar system, reaching 16 miles (25 kilometers) above its surrounding plains. Valles Marineris, on the other hand, is a giant system of valleys about the distance from Los Angeles to New York. And you’d also probably want to visit the Viking landers and Mars’ tremendous polar ice caps, which sometimes get dry ice snowfall, Vasavada said.

But with a gravity that’s only 38 percent of Earth’s, getting around on Mars would be challenging at first. “Running and fast movements would probably take quite a bit of relearning,” Vasavada said. “But it’d be better than moving around on the moon.”

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Tuesday 19th August 2014

Beautiful sweet Sligo success as some 400,000 thousand of music lovers took over the streets. 

  

The best free traditional music show in the World as described by many, that is the Fleadh Cheoil na Eireann, as many thousand’s of music lovers packed the streets of Sligo all of last week.

Large parts of the city Centre was sectioned off as a big pedestrian only zone as many thousands of music lovers parked their cars up to three kilometres away from the town Centre and took bus rides in to the “Land of hearts desire City Centre Sligo to enjoy hundreds of sessions of traditional music and dance in dozens of pubs and at every street corner.

A group of young buskers at the all Ireland Fleadh in O'Connel Street, Sligo.

Two groups of young buskers at the all Ireland Fleadh in O’Connel Street, Sligo.

Fleadh photo Sligo 2014 Buskers from all over Ireland and abroad aged from as young as eight years of age to eighty played and fiddled, whistled and tapped their bodhrans and boxes’ in the thronged parades and streets along the banks of the Garavogue River, which flows through the City Centre of the beautiful Yeats county of Sligo.

An estimated 30% of the 400,000 visitors to Sligo last week for the 63rd Fleadh Cheoil were from the overseas, mainly from Britain and America, but they also include dedicated Irish music lovers hailing from as far away as Australia, Japan, Korea, Spain and even Mexico.

The fleadh school, Scoil Eigse, which has been staging lectures and music classes, were also packed as they turned people away on some of the days last week.

Crowds were also turned away from a special fleadh film running at the Gaiety Cinema.

The Fleadh chairman Bartley Gavin said while the festival was attracting crowds since President Michael D Higgins opened it on last Sunday, The crowds were very big all week but the biggest crowds were on Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

The surge in visitors at the weekend was partly attributed to it being the opening day of the contests. Three days have been set aside for competitions this year, compared to two in previous years. They finished on Sunday night, there were many other events during the week, including a concert on the Peace 111 Gig Rig at Stephen Street car park on the final day Sunday where Dervish with lead singer Caty Jordon performed to a packed crowd there.

The curtain came down on this year’s successful Fleadh Cheoil Na Heireann 2014 in Sligo at 3pm on Sunday with a massive long colorful parade of choirs, Stilt walkers, an Orange order club from Northern Ireland, Macnas arts performers from Galway, and the Rathcormack, Drumcliffe choir performers who enacted the life of Colmkille on the opening day Sunday the 10th August, and many more entertaining happy groups from other areas of the Art’s.

R-Cormack choir group Pictured left some of the Rathcormack choir group who took part in the Colmkille Pageant on the opening day and in the final day parade through the City Streets of Sligo.

Bartley Gavin said early on the week that he would hope that many of the traditional musicians would stay over until about next Wednesday or Thursday, when the pubs have quietened down and they could enjoy each other’s music and make new friend’s, and this what exactly happened.

Mr. Gavin said: “That’s partly down to third places in many contests in the provincial finals going through this year. In the past it was always two.

He said the success of the Fleadh this year in Sligo was down to Sligo having played such an important part in our traditional musical heritage and the County it was fully recognised for that.”

Robert Naczas (38), from southern Poland, attracted lots of interest. When he was selling homemade two and three-string instruments made with hurleys, called da shtick guitars Robert, who has been in Ireland for eight years and lives in Sligo, plays harmonica in a group called the Out Of Towners.

The traditional music shop Manager/Owner in Castle Street said he was very happy with the shops trading performance at this year’s Fleadh,adding it was up there with the best.

The real success of the Fleadh in the Yeats county of Sligo this year was the amount of young people performing and playing our traditional music, some of them for the first time to thousands of  people from Ireland and abroad. It was a wonderful example of Ireland’s greatest tradition “our music culture” being passed on to our Sons and Daughters, and them not being afraid to express their ways of playing our music and stamping their authority on our culture in a proud and emotional way.

The other success was the way the City and county was managed and shown in a new and proud way that the people of Sligo can work together with young, not so young, and the older experienced and wiser sectors of the community along with the Authorities pulling together to show Sligo what it has craved for many years, a true picture of what it is really about through co-operation at all levels, A “Beautiful, Clean, Friendly and Delightful” City to behold not just for now but for ever more.

Irish prisons struggling to tackle drug and staff problems

  

Use of methadone in Mountjoy criticised by prisons oversight group

The Methadone and Medication station in Mountjoy jail.

Prisons are still struggling to tackle drug and staffing problems, according to the latest round of prison visit reports released by the Department of Justice today.

One of the reports, which were compiled by prison visiting committees for various detention centres across the State, expressed severe reservations over the introduction of methadone into Mountjoy Prison’s low security Training Unit.

Committee members voiced concerns over the highly-addictive nature of the drug, which is used to wean addicts off opiates such as heroin, but acknowledged some successes of the fledgling system introduced earlier this summer.

Despite largely positive findings on conditions in Castlerea, Mountjoy, Wheatfield and Midlands prisons, the core issues of understaffing and drug use within jails provided particular points of concern for inspectors.

The report on Dublin’s Wheatfield Prison identified “a lot of [drug-related] difficulties” still ongoing in the facility, and also made reference to health issues such as a “vermin” problem caused by unsanitary methods of refuse disposal from prisoners’ cells.

It also detailed problems emanating from severely reduced library opening times within the 540 capacity prison, a situation which may detract from prisoners’ ongoing rehabilitation according to the Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT).

“While IPRT welcomes the improvements noted, particularly in Mountjoy Prison, we are concerned at recurring reports of limited access to libraries and workshops,” said IPRT executive director Deirdre Malone.

“It is essential that those aspects of prison life which support rehabilitation, including year-round access to education, training and libraries, must be fully resourced and accessible to all prisoners, including those on restricted regimes,” she added.

Minister for Justice and Equality Frances Fitzgerald said issues such as understaffing and drugs remain a top priority for the Irish Prison Service.

“The Irish Prison Service will continue to implement policies and procedures to reduce the availability and use of illicit drugs in the prison estate,” she said at the publication of the reports.

“Efforts are made on a continuous basis to prevent the flow of contraband into our prisons. Nevertheless the IPS recognises that constant improvements are required in this area,” she added.

Although offering a largely positive assessment of prisoners’ conditions amid ongoing refurbishments to Mountjoy’s D wing, the report on the unit stated that staffing arrangements had reverted back to 2012 levels of two prison officers for every 500 prisoners, a situation which had been described in a previous visiting committee publication as “unsatisfactory”.

It was also found that 30 prisoners had been confined to their cells for 20 hours a day in the State’s largest prison as of January 2014, with a further 10 locked up for periods of 19 hours per day.

The reports come during a busy period of activity for the IPS, with the release of two further reports – the inspector of prison’s annual report for 2013 and an 18-month overview on deaths in custody – expected imminently.

An investigation by the National Advisory Committee on Drugs and Alcohol in April found that 43 per cent of inmates who used heroin had started taking it in prison, while further visiting committee reports released at the beginning of May pointed to issues of severe overcrowding in Cork and Cloverhill prisons, describing some of the accommodation provided as “Dickensian”.

Cities of Ireland still littered but towns getting cleaner

Irish business against Litter 2014

    

Areas of Dublin, Cork and Limerick occupy the six lowest positions in the table of 40 areas surveyed

Ireland’s towns continue to get cleaner but the main cities are still littered according to the latest survey by business group Irish business against Litter.

Areas of Dublin, Cork and Limerick occupy the six lowest positions in the table of 40 areas surveyed.

75% of towns and cities were found to be as clean as, or cleaner than European norms.

Kilkenny and Cavan were once again Ireland’s cleanest towns, followed by Killarney, Tramore and Longford.

They were among 18 towns deemed to be cleaner than the European average.

By contrast, Cork city, Limerick city, Dublin city, Tallaght, Dublin north inner city and Farranree in Cork were at the bottom of the table.

The survey shows a clear disparity between cities and towns.

IBAL puts this down to residents’ associations and tidy towns groups compensating for the scarcity of resources in local authorities in many towns, whereas these groups are often absent in cities.

The survey found that sweet papers were by far the most common form of litter, followed by cigarette butts, fast food wrappers and chewing gum.

A healthy eating regime can save sight

    

Diabetes Ireland, amongst other organisations to launch Eye Am What I Eat campaign.

Diabetic retinopathy is a common complication of diabetes and is the leading cause of blindness in working-age adults in Ireland. In fact, Irish statistics show that on average, one person with diabetes goes blind in Ireland each week. In the early stages, diabetic retinopathy will not affect the sight, but if the changes get worse, eventually the sight will be affected.

Symptoms of diabetic retinopathy can include blurred vision and black spots that appear to float in your eye.

According to eye doctor Mark Cahill, spokesperson for the Irish College of Ophthalmologists at the Royal Victoria Eye and Ear Hospital, “If diabetic retinopathy is not detected in the early stages it can lead to vision impairment and even vision loss.

“Eating well and maintaining a healthy lifestyle are hugely important but it is also essential for anyone with diabetes to have their eyes screened annually in order to detect the signs of diabetic retinopathy as early as possible.”

Sinead Hanley, Senior Dietitian at Diabetes Ireland, explains “Following a healthy lifestyle by taking regular physical activity and achieving a healthy weight through a balanced diet is the key to managing your diabetes and maintaining healthy eyes.”

The National Diabetic Retinal Screening Programme, ‘Diabetic RetinaScreen’ offers free, regular diabetic retinopathy screening to all people with diabetes, aged 12 and older.

Through the programme, people who are registered are invited to attend for screening. When people get the letter of invitation, they need to call the Freephone number listed on their letter to make an appointment. This will go a long way to maintaining healthy eyes and preventing vision loss in people with diabetes.

What are the Chimps saying? 10 Hours of ‘chimp chat’

    

Dutch academics want to encourage research into what animals say in recordings

Ten full hours of “chimp chat” have been put up online in order to encourage more research into what the animals are saying.

Ten full hours of ‘chimp chat’ have been put up online in order to encourage more research into what the animals are saying.

This valuable resource was originally recorded the early 1970s in Tanzania, but has now been digitised and made available to help the study of chimpanzee communications.

It ranks as the largest dataset of recordings from free-living immature chimps yet collected, and includes the whole gamut of their vocalisations including grunts, hoocalls, barks and squeals.

Details of their recording are published this afternoon in the journal Scientific Data. They were collected by Dutch researchers the late Hetty van de Rijt-Plooij, and Frans Plooij at Gombe National Park, Tanzania from 1971 to 1973.

None of the recordings have been analysed for any meaning behind the hours of adolescent chimp chatter, so they could represent an important opportunity to learn whether the sounds have any real meaning, the journal suggests.

The great apes including chimps are our closest living relations. We share about 95 per cent of our DNA with chimps so it may be that there is hidden content in the sounds.

There is already extensive research into great ape vocalisations because of this and the journal points to this work. Recent studies have found there are similarities between human and chimp language including having regional dialects.

The digitised recordings are stored in the Macaulay Library at Cornell University and released via the Dryad Repositoryonline.

The release also incudes the original notes on the contexts of the calls, now translated from the original Dutch into English.

News Ireland daily BLOG Thursday

Thursday 22nd August 2013

If we don’t make our sick people a priority we’re not a society

Daniel Day-Lewis says

  

The actor Daniel Day-Lewis has toured the site for a 12-bed hospice in Wicklow which he has worked on since his mother’s death.

Daniel Day-Lewis, who has a house in nearby Annamoe, is a supporter of the proposed facility, which will be located in idyllic rural Magheramore.

His mother, Jill Balcon, had chosen to end her days in a hospice instead of at home because she felt “safe and comfortable there”.

“Newborns, children, the sick, the disabled, the dying … if we do not make them a priority we have not right to respect ourselves as a society,” the actor stressed.

Personal: “As much as it is personal for us to have these facilities in Wicklow, it is also important for us to be doing things of value in this country when we are so often led to believe that the doldrums will finish us all off.”

The actor, who lives in Wicklow with his playwright wife Rebecca Miller and their two children, paid tribute to Columban Sisters for donating the site.

Evanne Cahill said the hope is that the HSE will include it in its 2014 service plan and pre-planning has been submitted to Wicklow County Council.

The “passion and professionalism” of Wicklow people determined to build a hospice inspired the Worldwide Ireland Funds to get involved in the project, president and CEO of the funds, Kieran McLoughlin, told the Herald. The Wicklow Hospice Foundation has just reached a crucial €3m target, with help from the funds.

The amount is the required half of the building cost which will trigger a commitment from the HSE to meet the second half of the cost. Donors to the American-Ireland Funds committed to an ongoing relationship with the project after an impressive address to the Funds annual Gala dinner in New York earlier this year by Daniel Day-Lewis.

Sligo, Yeats County finds it’s working capital in its couch cushions

  

Beautiful Sligo pictures of seaside, lakes and wild life at its best.  

Money has to come from somewhere. During the boom years in Ireland, it came from bond investors, through Irish banks and into mortgages. That money’s gone. It could come from a government running a deficit, but the Republic of Ireland, still operating under the watchful eyes of the International Monetary Fund, the European Central Bank, and the European Commission, doesn’t have that luxury. 

Since the crash, the government hasfocused on foreign direct investment as a source of capital, with some success. This month Overstock.com(OSTK), for example, announced 45 new jobs at a software development center in Sligo, far from the tech hub of Dublin.
But this is not enough good news. It’s difficult, as an economist or a policymaker, to determine the exact difference between speculative investment and working capital, the loans that help businesses grow naturally to meet market demand.

In Sligo, as elsewhere in Ireland and all over the euro zone, when the cheap money and the fast mortgages disappeared, so did all the working capital. Several business owners in the center of the city told me to ignore what I heard from Dublin. Banks are cranky and scared, they said, and credit is not to be had. The one new business on Bridge Street, a cell phone repair shop that opened this spring, bought stock and furniture with the owner’s personal savings.
This leaves the Sligo Chamber and the Western Development Commission with a problem. These are the agencies charged with economic development for the area. Economic development, even of good ideas, takes money. But there’s no money from Dublin for any ideas, good or bad. The Western Development Commission has 70 percent less money and 30 percent fewer employees than at its peak during the boom years. So the chamber and the commission have gone looking for capital, anywhere they can find it. And they have found it.

Early in the 2000s, the European Union set up a venture capital fund for the west of Ireland, managed through Dublin. No new investments have been made through Dublin since 2010. In 2012, the Western Development Commission began turning its old equity stakes through the fund into new cash, then reinvested those in a new vehicle, the WDC Investment Fund. It’s targeted toward artists and artisans in the region, to help them with microloans to find markets abroad. (Among its first round of applications, the commission heard from all kinds of businesses—septic tank distributors, for example—desperate for working capital.)

In 2011, a group of volunteers calling itself “Team Sligo” found 60,000 euros in donations from local bars and retailers, paid for focus groups in Dublin, and used volunteer copywriters and PR professionals to create a marketing campaign for the city. This year’s effort, supported by 176,000 euros from the same local businesses and an EU regional development fund, has adopted the slogan “Sligo—Who Knew?” The city does not have working capital. But it does, it turns out, have a rich traditional music scene, truly stunning scenery, and an Atlantic-facing shallow beach with a consistent swell and overhead rollers. (Overhead rollers are good for surfing on.)

The city was also home to William Butler Yeats, one of the greatest poets of the English language.
What Sligo doesn’t have is a highway from Dublin, and the focus groups revealed that even the Irish had no idea what was up there in the northwest of their own country. Monday’s front page of Western People, a local weekly, reported that traffic to Knock airport had wildly exceeded expectations this summer from Frankfurt-Hahn and London Stansted airports. Sligo. Who knew?

“I’d be scared of a big wad of money,” says Paul Keyes, chief executive officer of the Sligo Chamber. “We need to get our structures in place.” Tourism promotion in Ireland used to have a national theme, with Celtic crosses and the generalized nostalgia the Irish call “diddly-aye,” run out of Dublin. But the tourists stayed in Dublin.

The recession, says Keyes, has forced Ireland’s west to find a message for the west. Barren. Lovely. Tuesday morning, I took a run along the ocean road, and an Audi with German tags pulled over to ask me a question. The driver, dressed in adventure gear, asked me whether I knew where he could find a grocery store. The money has to come from somewhere.

 

Four cups of tea is good for our liver function, researchers now find

   

A study found that increased caffeine intake may reduce fatty liver in those with non-alcohol fatty liver disease (NAFLD).

Seven out of 10 people diagnosed with diabetes or who suffer from obesity have the condition, and cases are rising.

There are no effective treatments for NAFLD except diet and exercise, reports journal Hepatology.

Professor Paul Yen, of America’sDuke University, carried out a study using cell cultures and mice models.

He found that caffeine stimulates the metabolization of lipids stored in liver cells and decreased the fatty liver of mice that were fed a high-fat diet.

The findings suggest that consuming the equivalent caffeine intake of four cups of coffee or tea a day may be beneficial in preventing and protecting against the progression of NAFLD in humans.

Prof Yen said: “This is the first detailed study of the mechanism for caffeine action on lipids in liver and the results are very interesting.

“Coffee and tea are so commonly consumed and the notion that they may be therapeutic, especially since they have a reputation for being “bad” for health, is especially enlightening.”

The discovery could lead to the development of caffeine-like drugs that do not have the usual side effects related to caffeine, but retain its therapeutic effects on the liver.

Howling wolves gives clue to who is top dog

  

Wolves choose to howl to maintain contact with each other, not because they are stressed

Wolves howl more when a close companion or high-ranking group member leaves the group.

That’s what scientists found when they analysed how captive wolves reacted when one was taken to the forest for a walk.

Known to be social creatures, the work further emphasises the importance of a wolf’s relationships within its pack.

The findings, published in Current Biology, suggest the wolf’s howl is explained by social factors rather than physiological ones such as stress.

Friederike Range from the University of Veterinary Medicine Vienna, Austria, who co-authored the work said the wolves were communicating to each other just how important they were.

“We didn’t know there was some flexibility on how much they howl depending on their relationship. The amount of howling is really defined by the quality of the relationship.” Dr Range said.

She told BBC News that the wolves howled differently depending on which one was taken away.

Calling ‘friends’: The creatures call has long fascinated scientists and so unique are their howls that researchers can now recognise individual wolf howls from the wild.

Dr Simon Townsend one of the lead authors from the University of Zurich, Switzerland, said that wolves could be using the howl in a strategic way to regain contact with dominant individuals or with friends.

“Wolves seem to howl more when higher ranking individuals leave because these individuals play quite important roles in the social lives of wolves.

“When they leave it makes sense that the remaining wolves would want to try and re-initiate or regain contact. The same applies for friendship.”

Stress-free wolves: The team listened to the howls of nine wolves from two packs in Austria’s Wolf Science Center and they observed that when a wolf was only taken away to a close surrounding area – rather than the much further away forest – their companions did not howl.

The study was done in a captive setting which enabled the team to measure the wolves’ underlying physiological stress by analysing the cortisol levels in their saliva.

“What we expected was higher cortisol levels if the wolves were more stressed when ‘friends’ leave, but what we found is that cortisol doesn’t seem to explain the variation in the howling behaviour we see,” Dr Townsend told BBC News.

“Instead it’s explained more by social factors – the absence of a highranking individual or the absence of a closer affiliate.”

Holly Root-Gutteridge, a wolf-howl specialist from Nottingham Trent University, UK, who was not involved with the work, said the study was “exciting for wolf scientists”.

“The wolves are choosing to howl because a preferred wolf has been removed and they appear to consciously choose to stay in touch with that wolf. That’s fascinating because it’s really hard to separate social contact calls from the trigger causing them and also the hormone change the trigger causes.

“It means the wolves may be taking complex social interactions into consideration and then changing their own behaviour accordingly, not by instinct but by choice,” Ms Root-Gutteridge told BBC News.

Predictors of suicidal behaviour found in patients’ blood

  

Changes in gene expression can indicate heightened risk for self-harm.

People who are intent on taking their own life may not seek counsel or discuss their thoughts with others. Having some ways of predicting the rise of suicidal thoughts could help save at least some of the 1 million people worldwide who die that way every year.

“It’s a preventable tragedy,” says Alexander Niculescu, a psychiatrist at an Indiana University in Indianapolis who is looking for biological signs of suicide risk.

Because of the brain’s complexity and inaccessibility, the search for predictors of suicide risk has instead focused on molecular signs, or biomarkers. These biomarkers help to indicate which people are at even higher risk. Niculescu and his colleagues have found six such biomarkers in blood that they say can identify people at risk of committing suicide. Their work is published in Molecular Psychiatry1.

The study by Niculescu and his colleagues had four distinct phases. First, they identified nine men with bipolar disorder from a longitudinal cohort study at Indiana University who, between visits to the lab, had switched from having no suicidal thoughts to scoring highly on a suicide-risk scale. They looked for changes in gene expression in men’s blood cells, and identified candidate biomarkers. These biomarkers were then checked against previous work on genes related to mental illness and suicide to identify 41 most likely to be involved. “It works like a Google searchranking,” says Niculescu. “Those that had the most independent lines of evidence got the highest rank.”

Next, the researchers checked their results against blood samples taken by the coroner from nine men who had committed suicide. This enabled them to narrow their list of candidate biomarkers from 41 to 13. After subjecting the biomarkers to more rigorous statistical tests, Niculescu’s team was left with six which they was reasonably confident were indicative of suicide risk.

To check whether these biomarkers could predict hospitalizations related to suicide or suicide attempts, the researchers analysed gene-expression data from 42 men with bipolar disorder and 46 men with schizophrenia, and found correlations with four of their biomarkers, especially in the bipolar group. This indicates that the active genes are not just ‘state markers’ of immediate risk but ‘trait markers’ that can indicate long-term risk. When the biomarkers were combined with clinical measures of mood and mental state, the accuracy with which researchers could predict hospitalizations jumped from 65% to more than 80%.

The strongest predictor was a biomarker encoded by a gene called SAT1. “It was head and shoulders above the rest,” says Niculescu. The work “opens a window into the biology of what’s happening,” he says.

Ghanshyam Pandey, a psychiatrist at the University of Illinois at Chicago, says that Niculescu’s work is an important step in the search for psychiatric biomarkers, but the small sample size means the results will have to be validated in much larger groups and tested for specificity and sensitivity before the results could be used clinically. “That’s a big challenge,” Pandey says.

Niculescu says that this type of work is usually done with much larger sample sizes but that he and his colleagues used rigorous, multi-step methods to weed out false positives. The next step, he says, is to look at the levels of these biomarkers in the general population and in other at-risk populations, such as those with depression or suffering from stress or bereavement. “Suicide is not just related to mental illness,” he says. “It’s a very complex behaviour.”

The story of Ryan the chimp: The triumph and depression of a very lovable animal

    

Ryan the chimp contemplates a pinecone treat covered in peanut butter, sunflower seeds, and dried fruit.

Most of Save the Chimps’ residents have heartbreaking stories of suffering—and equally heartwarming stories of recovery. But some chimpanzees just get to you. Maybe you feel an inexplicable connection to them because their stories are a little sadder or because they found it harder to heal. For me, Ryan is one of those chimps. Whenever I see Ryan on his island, I think of the day I met him: the day he fell, and gotback up again.

Ryan was born November 17, 1987 in New Mexico to his parents Olivia and Doug. Before his second birthday, Ryan was shipped off to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta, where he would reside indoors for 14 years.

Ryan had it tough at the CDC. He lived alone in a cage that provided just 25 square feet of floor space and five feet of height. Ryan also had to endure invasive experiments that required numerous liver biopsies; he even had part of his liver removed. All these needles and surgeries caused Ryan to develop physical scars that riddled his internal organs, but the damage went even deeper.

When Ryan was seven he began mutilating himself. He pulled out hair, hit his face, bit his ankles, and rubbed his knuckles raw. His laboratory caregiver, who tried desperately to comfort him, noted that he was depressed and withdrawn. Despite this, he was used in additional protocols. One study caused frequent vomiting and he lost 20 pounds. During another he developed an infection in the needle tracks in his forearm.

In 2003, Ryan’s life changed dramatically when he was retired to Save the Chimps. Although Ryan lived at the CDC, he belonged to The Coulston Foundation, a research lab in New Mexico. Save the Chimps took over Coulston and gained custody of Ryan. Ryan moved back from Atlanta to New Mexico, where he would meet other chimpanzees before moving to our sanctuary in Florida.

My first impression of Ryan was of a gangly, awkward, bewildered chimp. When Ryan arrived, the only space available was in the building we called “The Dungeon.” But for Ryan, the Dungeon was paradise. He could go outdoors and feel the sun on his face, a sun he had never seen. The measly 120 square feet of space was nearly five times the amount of space he had known. For the first time, he could climb.

That’s when Ryan fell. When he entered his new home, it was apparent he had never climbed before. But climb he did, shakily venturing up ten feet. Once he was there, he had no idea how to get down. He hung from the top, considering his options. We gasped as he let go and dropped to the floor. He got up and took a few cautious steps. His ankle was sore, but otherwise all was well. Although concerned, we rejoiced. Ryan had climbed. Yes, he fell, but he got back up again. And he bravely kept climbing until he was as agile as any other chimp.

Ryan’s recovery from isolation and trauma took nearly five years. Medications were required to help Ryan stop injuring himself. His long rehabilitation was a partnership between his caregivers at Save the Chimps, who never gave up on him, and Ryan himself, who never gave up.

Meeting other chimps was a challenge for Ryan, who didn’t understand how to navigate chimpanzee society. We kept trying to find companions for Ryan. Ryan kept trying too—over time he learned how to communicate, play, and groom others. Incredibly, Ryan ended up in one of the largest groups at Save the Chimps, Freddy’s Family.

When Ryan moved to his home in Florida, it was like nothing he had ever seen. Outside his new airy building was a hilly, three-acre island, complete with a covered bridge. Ryan had never lived anywhere but in a cage, and had never set foot on grass or sat under a tree. Would he be brave enough to walk out into this big new world?

We were so proud of Ryan, because he was and he did! It was a beautiful, breezy November day, and Ryan courageously went outdoors and into a new chapter of his life. Today, he goes out onto his island without hesitation, roaming with his friends, looking for goodies scattered in the grass. He’s even become a mediator, stepping in to stop any family disputes. He is often found next to Freddy, grooming him intently.

Ryan has gotten his happy ending, and we are grateful that no more chimpanzees live at the CDC. But there are hundreds of chimps in other labs waiting for their chance to retire. Among those behind closed doors are Ryan’s sister Chauncy and brother Martin, who are owned by the U.S. government and may reside at the Alamogordo Primate Facility in New Mexico. Two recent developments may spell a brighter future for Ryan’s siblings and other research chimps.

First, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed a rule to declare all chimpanzees endangered. Since 1990, chimpanzees have been “split-listed,” meaning that wild chimpanzees are considered endangered, but captive chimpanzees are not. Chimps are the only species with this designation. (Gorillas, for example, are considered endangered whether in the wild or in a zoo.) This split-listing allowed Ryan to be harmed in biomedical research.

If all chimpanzees had been declared endangered in 1990, it would have been difficult to scientifically justify using Ryan in invasive research. He would have been spared years of agony. You can help spare Chauncy, Martin, and other chimps from future harm by submitting comments to the government by August 12 to support the proposition to make all chimpanzees endangered.

Second, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) recently announced that they would retire all but 50 of their 360 chimpanzees. This means that Chauncy and Martin could be retired to a sanctuary, just like Ryan was ten years ago, as long as they are not among the 50 unfortunate chimps picked to stay in research. Save the Chimps and our fellow members of the North American Primate Sanctuary Alliance (NAPSA) are willing to work with the NIH to provide sanctuary for all of their chimpanzees. You can help by letting your Senators and Representatives know that you support the retirement of chimpanzees to sanctuaries.

When we compare the Ryan who first came to us to the Ryan of today—confident, relaxed, and friendly—it’s like they are two different chimps. But the Ryan we know and love today was always there, just waiting to be freed from his desperate situation. He proves that what the late Save the Chimps founder, Dr. Carole Noon, said was true: “All they need from us is a chance. If we meet them halfway, give them space and freedom, then they recover on their own.”