Tag Archives: Central Bank

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Tuesday 5th April 2016

Irish Water the elephant in the room of government talks

Healy-Rae says public has waited for 40 days for a government and was getting frustrated

     

Michael Healy Rae (left) and his brother Danny. Michael Healy Rae has said that Irish Water is the ‘elephant in the room’ during the government formation talks.

An Independent TD has said the issue of Irish Water is the “elephant in the room” in all the negotiations with Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil.

Independent TD for Kerry Michael Healy-Rae said “our Lord spent 40 days in the desert” and said the Irish public had waited for a similar period for a government and that patience was now wearing thin.

Mr Healy-Rae said it was unhelpful that Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny and Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin have still not spoken to each other, he told Newstalk Breakfast.

On the same programme, Independent Alliance TD for Galway East Sean Canney, also called on the two largest parties to talk directly.

He said it would be wrong to spend another €40 million on a second election and said this money could be spent on tackling homelessness or employing more hospital consultants

Mr Canney said a lot of newly elected TDs, including those in Sinn Fein, had not engaged in the process of government formation and said there should be more focus on them. “What were they elected to do?”

Another Independent Alliance TD, Kevin ‘Boxer’ Moran says his group would make a collective decision on Wednesday on who they will back during a second vote in Dail on the election of a new Taoiseach.

The Longford Westmeath TD’s comments follow the suggestion that a number of non-party deputies may abstain from Wednesday’s vote.

A number of Independent TDs yesterday expressed anger about a tweet posted by Minister for Health Leo Varadkar on Sunday, in which he said his posters were ready for a second election if necessary.

The Panama Papers simply explained even a 5-year old can understand

    

The Panama Papers leak has pretty much been big news around the world. The scandal however has not been the easiest to understand for many people. A Reddit user here tries to ‘Explain it in simple terms Like I’m 5’ (ELI5) type of post that has since gone viral.

ELI5 is exactly what it sounds like – how you would explain a certain thing to a five-year-old. So how do you explain secret banking, offshore accounts and tax evasion to a five-year-old?

Here’s how Dan Gliesack explained the Panama Papers leak to five-year-olds:
When you get a quarter you put it in the piggy bank. The piggy bank is on a shelf in your closet. Your mom knows this and she checks on it every once in a while, so she knows when you put more money in or spend it.

Now one day, you might decide “I don’t want mom to look at my money.” So you go over to Johnny’s house with an extra piggy bank that you’re going to keep in his room. You write your name on it and put it in his closet. Johnny’s mom is always very busy, so she never has time to check on his piggy bank. So you can keep yours there and it will stay a secret.

Now all the kids in the neighbourhood think this is a good idea, and everyone goes to Johnny’s house with extra piggy banks. Now Johnny’s closet is full of piggy banks from everyone in the neighbourhood.
One day, Johnny’s mom comes home and sees all the piggy banks. She gets very mad and calls everyone’s parents to let them know.

Now not everyone did this for a bad reason. Eric’s older brother always steals from his piggy bank, so he just wanted a better hiding spot. Timmy wanted to save up to buy his mom a birthday present without her knowing. Sammy just did it because he thought it was fun. But many kids did do it for a bad reason. Jacob was stealing people’s lunch money and didn’t want his parents to figure it out. Michael was stealing money from his mom’s purse. Fat Bobby’s parents put him on a diet, and didn’t want them to figure out when he was buying candy.
Now in real life, many very important people were just caught hiding their piggy banks at Johnny’s house in Panama. Today their moms all found out. Pretty soon, we’ll know more about which of these important people were doing it for bad reasons and which were doing it for good reasons. But almost everyone is in trouble regardless, because it’s against the rules to keep secrets no matter what.

Irish Central Bank handed out severance payment of €32k to a person who did not work for it?

Another two exit packages worth €61k each were made to staff who had worked at the bank for less than two years

  

The Central Bank in Dublin (above left)

The state spending watchdog has criticised the Central Bank for handing out a severance payment worth €32,000 to an individual who had not even begun to work for it.

The bank suffered costs of €73,000 as a result of the case as it had to cover its own and the recruit’s legal fees.

Another two exit packages worth €61,000 each were made to staff who had worked at the bank for less than two years.

The Comptroller and Auditor General said the three payments “suggest that the Central Bank needs to review its procedures for managing recruitment and probation”.

It also noted that a long-term contractor who had never been an employee of the bank was awarded €60,000.

The report identified 14 expensive discretionary severance payments, amounting to nearly €1.5m, that were made by public sector bodies between 2011 and 2013.

The Central Bank made six of these payments, which amounted to over €540,000 including legal costs.

Between 2011 and 2013, the report said the bank had “more recourse” to termination agreements and severance payments than the other public sector bodies it examined.

“The frequency of payments could imply weaknesses in the Central Bank’s procedures for managing performance or addressing other human resource issues,” it said.

The bank clocked up its own legal costs and the costs of the employee in all but one case, but details of the legal advice it received were not documented in some cases.

The report noted that such severance payments are often made when the employment relationship breaks down “irreconcilably”.

It also says severance payments may be made to attract desirable candidates to short-term jobs.

An examination of formal severance payments awarded between 2011 and 2013 under six public sector schemes, found they had a value of €17.9m. It said nearly €11m of this was related to pension enhancements. like added years.

It found broad compliance with scheme rules in most cases, except for a scheme for chief executives of state bodies.

The report found two state bodies, who are not named, made severance payments in the form of pension enhancements worth over €1m without the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform’s prior approval.

According to the report, the governor of the Central Bank said the cases it was taken to task over arose in a period of unprecedented renewal and growth at the bank, as staff numbers grew by one third between 2009 and 2013.

A spokesman for the Comptroller and Auditor General said the Central Bank was the only public body named in the report, aside from the departments responsible for signing off on severance payments, because of the high number of discretionary payments it made.

Most Irish beaches meet water standards but six fail to make the cut

  

Bathers will have to think twice before taking the plunge at six of the country’s beaches after they failed basic water quality tests.

Among the six is Youghal in Co Cork, which continued its poor performance for a second year.

Untreated sewage in the water was the main culprit for the failures, with e. coli and other bacteria, making swimming and other water sports inadvisable and, in some cases, prohibited.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Irish Water are working to see what can be done to ensure that the beaches are given a clean bill of health before the summer season, but there are concerns they could remain no-go areas this year.

Matt Crowe, director of the EPA’s Office of Evidence and Assessment, said: “The relevant local authorities, in conjunction with Irish Water, have management plans in place to tackle the main pollution risks at these beaches and these plans are designed to return these beaches to at least ‘sufficient’ quality in the next year or two.”

The EPA also warned, however, that in some cases significant investment in infrastructure will be needed to get standards up to acceptable levels.

Some of the beaches are repeat offenders — Youghal, Co Cork; Duncannon, Co Wexford; and Ballyloughane, Galway City, failed for the second year in a row, while Rush, Co Dublin, failed for the third time in the last four years.

Newcomers to the bathing blacklist are Merrion Strand in Dublin Ccity and Loughshinny, which is close to Rush in north Co Dublin.

EPA inspectors who carry out the quality survey annually stressed the vast majority of the country’s most popular beaches and lakes were clean and clear of harmful pollutants.

Of the 137 inspected, 101 were rated as ‘excellent’ quality, as measured by EU standards, while a further 13 were classed as ‘good’ and 14 were ‘sufficient’.

Two that failed the previous year, Clifden, Co Galway, and Lilliput, Lough Ennell, Co Westmeath, improved enough to escape the blacklist this year, but further tests are awaited before they get a final rating.

The rest are rated as ‘poor’, which under EU regulations means they haven’t met the minimum standards required to give a green light for bathing and recreation.

Trá Inis Oirr in the Aran Islands was inspected for the first time last year and has not been tested enough to be ranked, but the EPA said sampling so far showed excellent results.

Failing the inspections does not automatically mean the beaches are off limits. Peter Webster, EPA senior scientist, said it meant there was “a risk of periodic microbiological pollution”.

“Local authorities are required to put in place notifications for the entire bathing season advising the public against bathing, which could include a bathing prohibition if a serious pollution incident occurs,” said Mr Webster.

During the bathing season, June 1 to September 15, current water quality information and details of any restrictions on bathing are displayed on the national bathing water website, splash.epa.ie, as well as on local beach notice boards.

Bathing restrictions applied on 131 out of 14,659 ‘beach days’ last year, but most suspected pollution incidents resulted in precautionary, short-term restrictions and no evidence of pollution was subsequently discovered.

Bereaved people at greater risk of developing irregular heartbeat,

Growing body of research suggests stressful life events boost risk of heart attack or a stroke.

    

People who suffer the death of a partner have a heightened risk of developing an irregular heartbeat for up to a year after the event, according to new research.

People who suffer the death of a partner have a heightened risk of developing an irregular heartbeat for up to a year after the event, according to new research.

The risk of an irregular heartbeat, also known as atrial fibrillation, is greatest among the under-60s and when the loss of the partner was least expected, the findings indicate. Atrial fibrillation is a risk factor for stroke and heart failure.

A growing body of evidence suggests that highly stressful life events boost the risk of a heart attack or stroke, but up to now it has not been clear whether this might also be true of atrial fibrillation.

The study, published in the online journal Open Heart, collected data on 88,612 people newly diagnosed with atrial fibrillation and 886,120 healthy people between 1995 and 2014.

The factors?

Danish researchers looked at factors that might influence atrial fibrillation risk. These included time since the bereavement; age and sex; underlying conditions, such as heart disease and diabetes; the health of the partner a month before death; and whether they were single.

Some 17,478 of those diagnosed with atrial fibrillation had lost their partner as had 168,940 of the comparison group.

Underlying illnesses, such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes, and associated treatment for these conditions, were more common among those who had been diagnosed with atrial fibrillation.

But the risk of developing an irregular heartbeat for the first time was 41 per cent higher among those who had been bereaved than it was among those who had not experienced such a loss, the findings indicated.

This heightened risk was apparent, irrespective of gender and other underlying conditions.

The risk seemed to be greatest eight to 14 days following a death, after which it gradually subsided until after a year the risk was similar to that of someone who had not been bereaved.

People under the age of 60 were more than twice as likely to develop atrial fibrillation if they had been bereaved.

Those whose partners were relatively healthy in the month before death were 57 per cent more likely to develop atrial fibrillation. No such increased risk was seen among those whose partners were not healthy and who were expected to die soon.

As an observational study, the research does not permit firm conclusions to be drawn about cause and effect.

Researchers suggest acute stress may directly disrupt normal heart rhythms and prompt the production of chemicals involved in inflammation.

Further research looking at whether the association found applies to more common, but less severe life stressors, is warranted, they say.

Seagulls are 10 times more polluting to beaches than people?

Merrion Strand (below left) in Dublin is polluted with human sewage and bird droppings, An EPA report finds.

   BEACHES_0016_LKM.jpg Rose Feerick and David Strohm pass through hundreds of seagulls as they walk along Venice Beach in Half Moon Bay. The beach has some of the most polluted water in the state, which could partially be caused by large number of seagulls that gather there. (Laura Morton/Special to the Chronicle) *** Rose Feerick
 *** David Strohm Photo: Laura Morton   

“The droppings of a seagull in a single day carried about ten times more concentrated bacteria than the waste from a human in a single day,” said EPA senior scientific officer, Peter Webster.

Seagulls are 10 times more polluting to the country’s beaches than people, according to the latest water quality report from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

The birds have been blamed as one of the reasons for the EPA’s decision to brand water quality at Merrion Strand in Dublin as poor, since they have taken to resting in large number on a sandbar.

“The droppings of a seagull in a single day carried about 10 times more concentrated bacteria than the waste from a human in a single day,” said EPA senior scientific officer, Peter Webster.

Six beaches, including Merrion, have been given “poor” grades, which means that local authorities will put up warnings to swimmers, but will not ban them from swimming there.

However, the EPA report found three-quarters of sites it inspected were “excellent” and 93.4 per cent met minimum EU standards – roughly in line with last year’s numbers.

Those classed as “poor” were Youghal, Co Cork; Duncannon Co Waterford; Rush south beach. Co Dublin and Ballyloughane, Co Galway all of which were first classed as “poor” in 2014, as well as Merrion Strand and Loughshinny in Dublin which were classified as poor for the first time in 2015.

No inland bathing areas were classified as having poor water quality.

EPA senior scientific officer Peter Webster said problems at Merrion Strand in south Dublin were “complex, on-going and difficult to resolve”.

Two factors had been identified. First was the presence the Trimleston and Elm Park streams which were found to be polluted with sewage. Mr Webster said this could be a result of “poor housing connections” from anywhere as far as the M50.

The second issue was an offshore sandbar which had become home to populations of seagulls and wading birds. The droppings of a seagull in a single day carried about ten times more concentrated bacteria than the waste from a human in a single day, he said.

The EPA said where bathing waters were classified as poor, the advice was not to bathe. Where such a classification was made, local authorities must publicise the advice, or in more extreme cases close the beach.

In a statement on Monday evening Fingal County Council said it had agreed a management plan for Loughshinny Beach bathing water with the EPA, “who are satisfied that the measures set out in the plan will achieve an improvement in water quality”.

In relation to the other coastal areas, remediation measures are being put in place by agreement between the local authorities and the EPA.

Mr Webster said a complicating factor in the report was that data was compiled over a four year period, so the data applying to 2015 was collected between 2012 and 2015.

In the case of Loughsinny a once-off event in 2014 had caused a major pollution leak, but previous years had pulled the overall result up. Since 2015 was marginally worse than 2011, “the data tipped” into the poor classification this year, he said.

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News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Monday 17th August 2015

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

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

  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Payment’s.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Researchers target early warning system signs of concussion

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

  

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

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

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

Early warning system

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

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

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

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

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

Brain trauma

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Owls use a ‘stealth technique’ to capture their prey

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Wednesday 29th April 2015

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fiscal consolidation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • new figures reveal

  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • A study says

  

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

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

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

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

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

DOES YOUR JOB PROTECT YOU?

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

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

Memory and thinking abilities were also studied.

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

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

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

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

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

‘CHALLENGES AT WORK MAY INDEED BE A POSITIVE ELEMENT, IF THEY BUILD UP A PERSON’S MENTAL RESERVE IN THE LONG-TERM,’ SAID MR. THEN.

Dublin Zoo announces birth of baby monkey

    

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s another opportunity for Ireland Food Corporation?

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Monday 20th April 2015

Strong growth for Ireland sees national debt fall to 109% of GDP

 

The Managing director of the International Monetary Fund, Christine Lagarde, with Minister for Finance Michael Noonan at Government Buildings Dublin.

Figures show Government debt stood at €203 billion in 2014, down from €215 billion the previous year

Government debt as a percentage of gross domestic product (GDP) fell to 109% last year on the back of better-than-expected economic growth.

Figures from the Central Statistics Office (CSO) show Ireland’s national debt stood at €203 billion at the end of 2014, down from €215 billion or 123% of GDP the previous year.

The improvement was put down to a combination of increased GDP and the early repayment of a portion of IMF loans.

The Irish economy grew by 4.8% in 2014, outstripping even the most optimistic predictions. At the same time, the Government secured permission from its bailout lenders to pay off €18 billion of its €22.5 billion IMF debt early.

Minister for Finance Michael Noonan has stated he now expects the State’s debt to be fall below 100% of GDP by 2018, bringing Ireland close to the European average.

Under the terms of the EU’s fiscal compact treaty, Ireland is committed to eventually reducing its ratio of debt to GDP to 60% over the longer term.

The CSO figures show the general Government spending deficit was -€7.6 billion or -4.1 per cent of GDP in 2014, down from the -€10 billion (5.8% of GDP) recorded in 2013.

Government revenue increased by over 6% from €60.9 billion million in 2013 to €65 billion last year, while expenditure increased by 1.7% from €71 billion to €72.3 billion over the same period.

The changes in revenue and expenditure were driven by increased tax and social contribution revenues and increased capital expenditure, the CSO said.

Taxes and social contributions continue to form the largest component of revenue over the period, representing 88% of total government revenue in 2014, with social benefits, the biggest expenditure category, accounting for almost 39% of government spending in 2014.

Tánaiste Joan Burton favours role for local authorities as mortgage providers

  • However, Joan Burton said there had been no discussion at Government level of €5,000 grants for first-time buyers

  

The Labour Party leader says that home ownership being available to young people is a “valuable” part of Irish society.

Tánaiste Joan Burton has said she might favour a return to a situation where county councils acted as low-cost mortgage providers for some households.

Ms Burton said yesterday that county councils in the past had offered different mortgage products to families who were not in a position to get full bank financing.

She said her own preference was that local authorities would explore the possibility of providing such products again.

She was responding to solutions put forward to overcome difficulties with mortgage distress cases, as well as reported difficulties of new home owners in meeting the more stringent deposit requirement of 20 per cent of value.

First-time buyers’ grant

Asked about a suggestion by her colleague Joe Costello that the first-time buyers’ grant be reintroduced, with a value of between €3,000 to €5,000, she said there had been no detailed discussion on the subject at Government level.

“There is agreement about the value to Irish society of home ownership being accessible to young people,” she said on the This Week programme on RTÉ Radio One.

She said the Government had to be prudent in how it approached this issue and that her own preference was for county councils to offer low-cost mortgage products for new home owners, as had been done in the past.

When it was pointed out that local authorities do not have the finances to do that at present, she responded that some of those solutions would become available as the economy continued to recover.

Local authority approval

Some local authorities have continued to approve mortgages during the recessions. Those who cannot obtain a loan from a bank or building society can apply for a mortgage from the local authority.

A total of 110 such approvals were made in 2012, with 174 in 2013.

The loans are available to a maximum value of €220,000. Under the rules, joint applicants must be earning €75,000 or less.

On demands for pay restoration in the public service, Ms Burton said those working in that sector had taken three reductions in pay and there was a case for this issue to be addressed as the economy came into recovery.

She said she did not want to preempt any discussions. On the question of pay increases being linked to productivity, she said more productivity made sense as it would lead to more efficiency and more money for services.

Most Irish SMEs can’t process online sales

   

More than 90% of SMEs cannot process online sales while six in every 10 cannot take orders online either.

The research carried out by Iedr — which manages Ireland’s .ie domain registry — found that the majority of businesses are not equipped to take and process consumer sales online.

Companies are putting themselves at a huge disadvantage in not tapping into the massive online marketplace, according to Iedr chief executive David Curtin.

“What stands out most is the mismatch between business owners’ acknowledgement of what’s important and their actions. Business owners know it’s important, but they haven’t yet acted to sell online, with 73% saying their website is “important/very important” as a driver of generating sales, yet 62% cannot take sales orders via that website,” Mr Curtin said.

“In an ever-more global economy, the absence of an online sales presence puts Irish businesses at a huge disadvantage to competitors. It acts as a major disincentive to attracting customers, for whom buying online is now the norm,” he said.

The report also finds that half of companies lack the capacity to interact directly with customers through social media or web chat; 54% don’t have responsive website designs for tablet or smartphone; and two-thirds don’t host any video content online.

Furthermore, just 4% of those surveyed have the capacity to run analytics on their website’s performance, meaning the vast majority are foregoing huge amounts of valuable information into the effectiveness of their online presence and behaviour of their customers.

501 Irish SMEs — across all domain names, not just those on the .ie registry — were surveyed to examine their online presence, including their e-commerce capabilities.

Mr Curtin was speaking as Iedr launched its €150,000 Optimise Fund 2015 aimed at supporting SMEs and micro-enterprises in enhancing their online presence.

The fund is designed to help drive businesses’ sales offering online. Since its inception in 2011, the optimise Fund has provided funding to 60 SMEs and micro enterprises to improve web and online sales capabilities.

Francis Brennan, owner of The Park Hotel, Kenmare and Ambassador for the Optimise Fund 2015, said “online sales are critical to our hotel business. They are now a significant and growing part of most successful Irish businesses’ sales strategy.

“While having a website is an important shop window for every business, it’s not enough if your customers can’t use it to buy your goods and services online.”

Galway Fine Gael TD slams Taoiseach over Hospice funding

   

Fine Gael TD Brian Walsh has slammed the Government for its continued failure to provide funding to Galway Hospice.

The Galway West Deputy said that provision of monies would also be the first step to addressing the ongoing issue of ‘bed blockers’ at University Hospital Galway.

He branded Taoiseach Enda Kenny’s failure to allocate funding to the Hospice as a “longstanding injustice”.

“There has been much talk in recent weeks about the provision of additional funding for measures to tackle delayed discharges from hospital, in order to free up acute beds and reduce waiting times for admission.

“There is a compelling argument for some of this funding to be used to expand and enhance the services provided by Galway Hospice in order to reduce occupancy of acute hospital beds by patients in the later stages of cancer.

“The acute hospital setting is entirely inappropriate in such cases, both from the perspective of the patient and the health service. Yet, at present, approximately 50% of all deaths that occur at University Hospital Galway (UHG) are cancer related.

“If even a portion of these patients were cared for by Galway Hospice as either inpatients or through the organisation’s home-care service, it would free up a large number of beds at UHG that could be used to increase surgical activity and slash waiting times.

“The cost of providing an acute hospital bed is around €1,000 per night. A care package could be provided at a fraction of this cost by the Hospice, which would allow the patient to be looked after in their own home.

“The recent allocation of delayed-discharge monies, therefore, represents opportunity to address the longstanding injustice in relation to the funding of Galway Hospice; which has constrained its capacity to provide its invaluable services.

“It is another opportunity for the Government to do the right thing, and – after four years of failure on this issue – its last.

“I have fought long and hard for the Hospice to win political support for its bid to secure fair funding for its service and financial aid for its expansion.

“We’ve had some success, but it’s time that the Government stopped dragging its feet and put its money where its mouth is.

“We’ve heard declarations of support from successive health ministers, but we have yet to see the action that’s required to put our hospice on a par with those in other counties.

“There is a common-sense solution to our hospital-overcrowding crisis right in front of us now in the form of Galway Hospice. If this Government fails to see this opportunity or fails to support it, then I think it would raise serious questions about this administration and its commitment to health-service reform in Galway.

“We have heard enough talk, we need to see action and tangible progress in relation to this issue right now,” Deputy Walsh said.

Colour helps our body clock adjust time

  

Ever wondered how animals know when to call it a day and return to their shelters? The colour of light has a major impact on how the brain clock measures the time of the day and on how our physiology and behaviour adjust accordingly.

“This is the first time that we have been able to test the theory that colour affects our body clock in any mammal,” said lead researcher Timothy Brown from the University of Manchester in Britain.

The research can be applied to humans too.
“So, in theory, colour could be used to manipulate our clock which could be useful for shift workers or travellers wanting to minimise jet lag,” Brown pointed out.

The researchers looked at the change in light around dawn and dusk to analyse whether colour could be used to determine the time of day.

Besides the well known changes in light intensity that occur as the sun rises and sets, the scientists found that during twilight, light is reliably bluer than during the day.

The researchers next recorded electrical activity from the brain clock while mice were shown different visual stimuli.

They found that many of the neurons were more sensitive to changes in colour between blue and yellow than to changes in brightness.

New species of frog’s organs are visible through its belly

   

A new species of frog discovered in Costa Rica has such translucent skin on its underside that it’s possible to see its internal organs.

The species, named Hyalinobatrachium dianae, is a type of glass frog, which are only found in regions of South and Central America. In this case, six specimens of the species have been found in the tropical wet forests of Costa Rica’s Caribbean foothills. The nocturnal creature is distinct from other species thanks to skin texture, colouring and the sound of its call.

The glass frog was discovered by zoologists working at the Costa Rican Amphibian Research Centre and has been detailed in a study published in the online journalZootaxa. While bright green on top, the delicate frog’s transparent underside allowed the researchers to study the arrangement of the frog’s internal organs in detail. “The bulbous liver and digestive organs are covered in white peritonea. The heart and ventral vein are blood red. Lungs transparent, but with a network of red blood vessels. The gallbladder is transparent Sulphur Yellow,” they write.

The frog has been named in honour of the senior author Brian Kubicki’s mother Janet Diane Kubicki, and also Diana the Roman goddess of the hunt, wild animals and woodland. “This being in relation to our own ‘hunt’ among Costa Rica’s mountainous forests to better understand the amphibians dwelling within,” the authors explain.

Glass Frogs can be difficult to observe as they tend to inhabit vegetation high above streams and at sites with tough-to-navigate topography. The last glass frog described from Costa Rica was in 1973. The researchers believe the creature faces very limited human threats in the foreseeable future thank to the fact that very few roads grant access to the area it inhabits.

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Monday 8th December 2014

Irish Government asks Central Bank to ease mortgage deposit rules

  

The Irish Government wants the Central Bank to ease the introduction of strict new rules on mortgage borrowing by introducing the changes gradually.

In a submission to the Central Bank which will be lodged today, the Department of Finance will offer broad support for the regulator’s controversial plan to tighten the lending rules while calling for more flexibility in some areas. The regulator asked for suggestions after stunning the property market by revealing that it wants most first-time buyers to save at least 20pc of the cost of a house.

Finance Minister Michael Noonan will specifically say that he wants the Central Bank to introduce a transition period for the changes, rather than forcing borrowers to raise more money from next month. Mr Noonan also wants more people to be exempt from the rules. The Central Bank has said it believes 15pc of people should be exempt from the ban on borrowing more than 80pc of a mortgage.

Submission: Finally, the submission urges the Central Bank to focus more on loan-to-salary ratios and less on loan-to-value ratios. The Central Bank said in October than it wants to ban loans of more than three-and-a-half times salary

The Central Bank will begin sifting through submissions tomorrow, but Governor Patrick Honohan has already signalled that he may water down some of the measures.

The Department of Finance has waited until the last moment to issue its submission on the Central Bank proposals; the deadline for submissions closes today.

A group campaigning against the changes will deliver a petition to the Central Bank today. The new group, called Uplift, claimed yesterday the rule will cause more problems than it solves.

The Professional Insurance Brokers Association warned last week that the consequences of the Central Bank’s proposals to restrict mortgage lending will be “far more far-reaching than many realise”. Rachel Doyle of PIBA said: “It will impact young people’s ability to make any other contribution towards their financial future, including prudent pension planning, quite apart from using up, at a very early stage, tax-free family inheritances.”

Ms Doyle said the way in which the Central Bank consultation document is framed “leads one to become suspicious, despite recent indications from the governor, that the regulations are already drafted and are, in fact, a fait accompli”.

A spokeswoman for the Central Bank said the proposed requirements on deposits and the proposed stipulation that lending cannot exceed 3.5 times income are part of a consultation process. “When the consultation closes we will review all submissions and we will not comment on responses until after that time,” she added.

One in three 33% of trainee doctors in Ireland report bullying

 

Survey of junior medics finds bullying rates three times higher than the UK

The first national survey of trainee doctors has found most are happy with their training, but in one-in-three has suffered bullying.

The ’Your Training Counts’ report was commissioned by the Medical Council and involved 1,636 trainee doctors who responded to approximately 100 questions. The number who responded constitute approximately half of the trainee doctors in Ireland.

There was a dramatic difference in incidences of bullying between the UK and Ireland. Some 33.7% of Irish trainee doctors reported bullying or harassment in their post in comparison with 13.4% in the UK.

Medical Council chief executive Caroline Spillane said the UK had been dealing with bullying in the medical workplace for many years. “The UK has taken a number of measures to address the problem but that only happened after they decided to measure the prevalence first.”

The Minister for Health Leo Varadkar said he did not personally experience bullying as a trainee doctor but he acknowledged hospitals can be stressful places. “Senior colleagues are not always as supportive as they might be, but that is not peculiar to medicine.”

Some 85% of trainees reported the quality of care provided at the clinical site as “good” or “very good”.

Areas of the clinical learning environment rated highly were “consultants/GPs role”, “teamwork” and “peer collaboration”.

Weaknesses included the attributes of “feedback”, “professional relations between consultants” and “role of the educational supervisor”.

However, the research found levels of satisfaction with training and supervision lagged behind levels in both the UK and the Netherlands where similar surveys have been carried out.

Though nine in 10 trainees completing speciality training felt they had been well prepared for their next role, approximately three in 10 interns reported that their previous medical education and training did not prepare them well for intern training.

The prevalence of this issue among trainees in Ireland is two to three times greater than among their UK counterparts.

The survey found 55% of trainees who are going on to intern in hospitals said there was either a minor or major lack of preparation for their intern year. The equivalent figure in the UK is 26%.

A second Your Training Counts report will be published early in 2015 and will look in detail at career intentions, emigration and the health of trainees.

Seanad reform group to report to Government by March

 

Body tasked to come up with reforms which would not require a constitutional referendum

The group will examine submissions and proposals for reform which have already been made and will look at the role of a reformed Seanad within the political process.

A new group established by Taoiseach Enda Kenny to examine proposals for Seanad reform is to report back to the Government by March.

The membership of the group has been formally announced and it will be chaired by former Fine Gael Senator Maurice Manning.

It also includes Mary O’Rourke, Pat Magner and Maurice Hayes, former members of the Upper House on the Fianna Fáil, Labour and Independent benches respectively. The remaining members are Tom Arnold, who chaired the Constitutional Convention, Dr Mary Murphy, a politics lecturer in University College Cork and Elaine Byrne, a commentator and author on public policy.

The working group has been tasked with coming up with ideas for Seanad reform which would not require a constitutional referendum.

A Government statement said the group will “examine submissions and proposals for reform which have already been made and will also look at the role of a reformed Seanad within the political process, the powers and functions of a reformed Seanad” and other relevant issues.

It will also be entitled to receive new proposals if needed and will report back to the Government by the end of March 2015.

Water protester charged with letting air out of Tánaiste’s car

 

Teenager was arrested in connection with incident in Tallaght

A teenager arrested in connection with a incident in Tallaght when the Tánaiste Joan Burton was stuck in her car, has appeared before Tallaght Court.

Glen Carney is alleged to have to let air out of the tyre of a garda car that Ms Burton was transferred to during the heated incident in west Tallaght a month ago.

The 19-year-old, from Cloonmore Park, Tallaght, is charged with damaging the tyre of a car belonging to a Garda Superintendent at St Thomas’ Church, Kiltalown, Tallaght, on November 15th.

Sergeant Bernard Jones gave evidence of arrest, charge and caution by certificate for Kearney to District Judge Bridget Reilly.

Sgt Jones asked Judge Reilly to remand the case for DPP’s directions. He indicated to the court that DPP’s directions may be required in the matter.

Carney’s defence lawyer, Kevin Tunney, made an application for legal aid.

Judge Reilly granted bail and remanded Carney on bail to February for DPP’s directions.

The genetic secrets of Ancient Parchments

  

There are not a lot of new stories to be found by the humanities in ancient parchments, but millions of documents stored in archives could trace agricultural development across the centuries, thanks to increasingly progressive genetic sequencing techniques.

Thanks to sequencing, vital information can be derived from the DNA of the parchment on which they are written.

Researchers extracted ancient DNA and protein from tiny samples of parchment from documents from the late 17th and late 18th centuries. The resulting information enabled them to establish the type of animals from which the parchment was made, which, when compared to genomes of their modern equivalents, provides key information as to how agricultural expansion shaped the genetic diversity of these animals.

 An imaged parchment document from Yarburgh Muniments Lancashire Deeds YM. D. Lancs Jan. 13-14, 1576/7.

To conduct their research, geneticists at Trinity extracted DNA from two tiny (2x2cm) samples of parchment provided by the University of York’s Borthwick Institute for Archives. Meanwhile, researchers in the Centre for Excellence in Mass Spectrometry at York extracted collagen (protein) from the same parchment samples.

The first sample showed a strong affinity with northern Britain, specifically the region in which black-faced breeds such as Swaledale, Rough Fell and Scottish Blackface are common, whereas the second sample showed a closer affinity with the Midlands and southern Britain where the livestock Improvements of the later 18th century were most active.

  This shows a sewn repair in Archbishop’s Register 7 Greenfield, 1306-1311. By permission of The Borthwick Institute for Archives.

Professor of Population Genetics at Trinity College Dublin, Daniel Bradley, said, “This pilot project suggests that parchments are an amazing resource for genetic studies that consider agricultural development over the centuries. There must be millions stored away in libraries, archives, solicitors’ offices and even in our own attics. After all, parchment was the writing material of choice for thousands of years, going back to the Dead Sea Scrolls.

“Wool was essentially the oil of times gone by, so knowing how human change affected the genetics of sheep through the ages can tell us a huge amount about how agricultural practices evolved.”

If other parchments show similar levels of DNA content, resulting sequencing could provide insights into the breeding history of livestock – particularly sheep – before, during and after the agricultural improvements of the 18th century that led to the emergence of regional breeds of sheep in Britain.

Professor Matthew Collins, of the Department of Archaeology at York, who heads the University’s BioArCh research centre, said, “We believe the two specimens derive from an unimproved northern hill-sheep typical in Yorkshire in the 17th century, and from a sheep derived from the ‘improved’ flocks, such as those bred in the Midlands by Robert Bakewell, which were spreading through England in the 18th century. We want to understand the history of agriculture in these islands over the last 1,000 years and, with this breath-taking resource, we can.”

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Friday/Saturday 28th & 29th November 2014

Ireland set to repay the first installment of €9 billion to IMF next month

 

Money will be paid from cash balances held by the National Treasury Management Agency.

Minister for Finance Michael Noonan: “All bilateral lenders have now confirmed the waiver in respect of their loans to us”.

The Government expects to repay €9 billion of the State’s loans with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in December, in what will be the first instalment of the early repayment of our bailout funds from the Washington DC-based body.

This has been confirmed by Minister for Finance Michael Noonan in a reply to a question from Fianna Fáil’s finance spokesman Michael McGrath.

“The early repayment [of the IMF loans] will take place in tranches, with the first tranche of approximately €9 billion planned for next month,” Mr Noonan said.

It is understood this money will be paid from existing cash balances held by the National Treasury Management Agency on behalf of the State.

Ireland intends to repay €18.3 billion of our €22.5 billion IMF loan, which dates back to the financial assistance programme agreed with the fund and the EU in late 2010.

Mr Noonan said this is the portion of the loan subject to the highest rate of interest. The intention was to replace it, in a “measured way”, with “less expensive market funding”.

A clause in our loan agreements with the European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF), the European Financial Stabilisation Mechanism (EFSM), and with bilateral lenders the UK, Denmark and Sweden meant that waivers from them were required to repay the IMF loans early.

“All bilateral lenders have now confirmed the waiver in respect of their loans to us, in accordance with their national approval procedures,” Mr Noonan said.

“The most recent of these was the Swedish government’s agreement on November 20th … following the Swedish parliament’s approval the previous day. The EFSF and EFSM can now complete the waiver process, which will facilitate the first early repayment.”

Garda Reserve close to full strength 10 years after inception

 

Journalists absent from Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan first passing-out ceremony at Templemore

The Garda Reserve is on course to achieve its target strength next year, some 10 years after the part-time unpaid element of the force was established.

It was intended that the reserve would reach 10 per cent of the full-time Garda number. But nine years after the first intake, that figure is yet to be reached.

The latest class of reservists graduated at the Garda College, Templemore, Co Tipperary, yesterday when 62 men and women from home and abroad were officially welcomed into the reserve after completing their training.

In total, 62 reservists passed out: 41 men and 21 women. While most were from the Republic, there were also reservists fromFrance, Poland, Latvia and Lithuania.

Target in sight

The passing out brought to 1,173 the full strength of the reserve, with 1,091 fully attested and 82 in training.

If current intake trends continue, the number of reservists will reach some 1,250 next year, or 10 per cent of the full-time force.

The reserve was introduced under theGarda Síochána Act 2005, with the first intake of reservists inducted the following year.

Some organisations that represent full-time Garda members were dissatisfied with what they considered efforts by then minister for justice Michael McDowell to introduce free policing.

Yesterday’s ceremony was the first passing-out event at Templemore over which Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan has presided since her appointment this week.

However while the ceremony is usually open to journalists, who are afforded an interview opportunity with the commissioner and minister for justice of the day, only photographers were invited to yesterday’s passing out.

Media absence

Senior sources said the commissioner had already taken questions from the media at several events since her appointment on Tuesday. And they added that there was “little point” in another media event just days into her term.

The same sources said the commissioner remained committed to creating a more open and transparent force and the exclusion of journalists “should not be misinterpreted in any way”.

In September, Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald and then interim commissioner O’Sullivan faced a barrage of questions at a passing-out in Templemore relating to allegations that gardaí continued to cancel penalty points without reason.

Senior sources at the time believed the allegations had been leaked just before the event in an effort to put Ms O’Sullivan at a disadvantage.

Ireland’s GPs ‘unaware of their medical card powers’

Says the HSE

  

The ability of doctors to extend a medical card for four months was one of the measures included in the package announced earlier this week

Some GPs in Ireland have not been made fully aware they could temporarily save a patient from losing their medical card in special cases, the Health Service

A spokeswoman was commenting after the National Association of General Practitioners said doctors encountered a wide range of problems with this facility.

Others were unaware they could extend a card via the HSE computer system even though it has been in place for two years, the GP body said.

The HSE spokeswoman said the HSE and GP representatives worked collaboratively to develop the facilities which are available to family doctors today. “It is clear that not all GPs are fully aware of all of the facilities available and the HSE will be writing again to clarify the situation with them.

“However, many GPs are aware of the facilities and currently reinstate medical cards, extend the expiry date for sensitive renewals and add babies to medical cards.

Sensitive

“To date GPs have reinstated 2,008 medical cards, completed 384 sensitive renewals, removed 19,189 medical cards and added 21,770 babies to the GMS register,” she added.

She pointed out there are “controls in place”. In instances where a family has been fully assessed and it has been established that they are not eligible for a medical card, this decision cannot be overturned by a GP. “However, if a family did not engage with the review process, for reasons of illness for instance, the lapsed eligibility for this family can be re-instated by their GP.

“The HSE will work with GPs to strengthen the facilities available to them.”

The ability of doctors to extend a medical card for four months was one of the measures included in the package announced earlier this week to reform the discretionary medical card scheme.

If the patient has a mental illness, it may be extended by the GP for a year after notifying the HSE.

Ireland records second highest fertility rate in the EU

 

Significant developments and trends noted in 2012 CSO Vital Statistics report

A report on Vital Statistics 2012 published by the Central Statistics Office notes that France had the highest fertility rate at 2.01, Ireland was next at 1.99.

Ireland recorded the second highest fertility rate in the EU in 2012, the figures released by the Central Statistics Office show.

A report on Vital Statistics 2012 published by the Central Statistics Office notes that France had the highest fertility rate at 2.01, Ireland was next at 1.99 followed by the UK with a rate of 1.94. Portugal had the lowest rate at 1.28.

Referred to as the Total Period Fertility Rate (TPFR) the fertility figure represents a theoretical average number of children who would be born alive to a woman during her lifetime.

A 2.1 score is considered to be the population replacement rate – the number of births necessary to maintain current population levels.

Ireland’s TPFR has fallen by 33 per cent in the last 30 years, from 2.96 in 1980 to 1.99 in 2012. It has been below the replacement level since 1991.

The number of births to women aged 30 to 34 in 2012 was 26, 028, the highest number of all 5-year age groups and representing over a third of all births (36.3 per cent).

The percentage of births to teenage mothers remained the same in 2012 as in 2011, at 2.3 per cent (1,616) of births to mothers under 20 years of age.

Excluding 2011, it was 1963 since the percentage of births to mothers below 20 was this low.

As the decline in the rate births to mothers under 20 might suggest, Irish women are choosing to have their babies later in life and the rate of births to mothers over 40 is increasing.

In 2012, 5.6 per cent (4,007) of births were to mothers over 40. This was the highest percentage of births to this age group since 1971 when it was 5.7 per cent.

In 2012, 7 per cent of females in their 20s gave birth while 11 per cent of those in their 30s gave birth.

The average age of mothers at maternity in Ireland in 2012 was 32.0 years. This compares with 30.0 in Northern Ireland and 29.8 in England and Wales.

In 2012, 71,674 children born in Ireland. This represents a fall of 3.2 per cent (2,359)from 2011. Despite recording a fall, 2012 still saw the fifth highest number of births in Ireland since 1980.

The birth rate was 15.6 per 1,000 of the population compared with 16.2 in 2011 and 15.5 in 2002.

The report also highlights some other significant developments and trends. In 2012, just over 23.2 per cent of births were to mothers of non-Irish nationality.

The number of births outside marriage/civil partnership in 2012 was 25,179 or 35.1 per cent of all births.

Wednesday the 4th of July saw the highest number of babies born on one day (269). The lowest number of babies born on the one day was 107 on April 22nd.

There were 29,186 deaths recorded in Ireland in 2012, of which 14,945 were males and 14, 241 were females. This equates to 6.36 deaths per 1,000 total population compared with 6.22 in 2011 and 7.58 in 2002.

There were 541 deaths due to intentional self-harm in 2012 of which 445 were male and 96 female.

The risk from extreme weather is set to rise

  

The UK is comparatively resilient to extreme events – but vulnerable because of high population density

Climate change and population growth will hugely increase the risk to people from extreme weather, a report says.

The Royal Society warns that the risk of heatwaves to an ageing population will rise about ten-fold by 2090 if greenhouse gases continue to rise.

They estimate the risk to individuals from floods will rise more than four-fold and the drought risk will treble.

The report’s lead author Prof Georgina Mace said: “This problem is not just about to come… it’s here already.”

She told BBC News: “We have to get the mindset that with climate change and population increase we are living in an ever-changing world – and we need much better planning if we hope to cope.”

The report says governments have not grasped the risk of booming populations in coastal cities as sea level rises and extreme events become more severe.

“People are increasingly living in the wrong places, and it’s likely that extreme events will be more common,” Prof Mace says.

“For most hazards, population increase contributes at least as much as climate change – sometimes more. We are making ourselves more vulnerable whilst making the climate more extreme.

“It is impossible for us to avoid the worst and most unexpected events. But it is not impossible to be prepared for an ever-changing world. We must organise ourselves right away.”

The report’s team said the UK was comparatively resilient to extreme events – but still vulnerable because of the high density of people living in areas at risk.

The report says governments have not grasped the risk of booming populations in coastal cities

The report advises all levels of society to prepare – from strategic planning at an international and national level to local schemes by citizens to tackle floods or heatwaves.

Its scenarios are based on the assumption that the world stays on the current trajectory of emissions, which the authors assume will increase temperature by 2.6-4.8C around 2090. It assumes a population of nine billion.

They say they have built upon earlier work by calculating the effects of climate change coupled with population trends. They warn that the effects of extremes will be exacerbated by the increase in elderly people, who are least able to cope with hot weather.

Urbanisation will make the issue worse by creating “heat islands” where roads and buildings absorb heat from the sun. As well as building homes insulated against the cold, we must also ensure they can be properly ventilated in the summer, the report says.

The authors say cutting greenhouse gas emissions is essential. But they argue that governments will also need to adapt to future climatic shifts driven by climate change.

They suggest threats could be tackled through a dual approach. The simplest and cheapest way of tempering heatwaves, they say, is to maintain existing green space. Other low-cost options are planting new trees, encouraging green roofs, or painting roofs white to reflect the sun.

The authors say air conditioners are the most effective way of keeping cool – but they are costly, they dump heat into city streets and their use exacerbates climate change.

Flooding is another priority area, the report says. It finds that large-scale engineering solutions like sea walls offer the most effective protection to coastal flooding – but they are expensive, and when they fail the results can be disastrous.

Urbanisation creates heat islands which can exacerbate the effects of hot weather

The ideal solution, the authors think, may be a combination of “hard” engineering solutions like dykes matched with “soft” solutions like protecting wetlands to hold water and allow it to seep into the ground.

A scheme at Pickering in Yorkshire previously featured by BBC News is held as an example. The report concludes more research is needed to measure the effectiveness of these ecosystem solutions.

It insists that governments should carefully prioritise their spending. They should protect major infrastructure like electricity generation because of its knock-on effect on the broader economy. They should expect some lower-priority defences to fail from time to time, then work to minimise the consequences of that failure .

The authors identify excess heat as another potential threat to economies and agriculture if temperatures climb too high for outdoor workers.

They examine projected rises in the “wet bulb” index used by the US Army and others to measure the temperature felt when the skin is wet and exposed to moving air.

Some areas may experience many weeks when outdoor activity is heavily restricted, they fear – although the trend of agricultural labour loss may be offset through the century as more and more people move to cities.

It puts a figure on those at greatest overall risk: populations in poor countries make up only 11% of those exposed to hazards but account for 53% of the disaster deaths.

Some economists argue this shows that poor nations should increase their economies by burning cheap fossil fuels because that will allow them to spend more later on disaster protection.

The authors also call for reform of the financial system to take into account the exposure of assets to extreme events.

They say: “Unless risks are accurately evaluated and reported, companies will have limited incentives to reduce them. And valuations and investment decisions will continue to be poorly informed.”

One author, Rowan Douglas, from the Willis Research Network, said he suspected this might be the most significant contribution of the report.

The authors want organisations to report their maximum probable losses due to extreme events, based on a 1% chance of the event on any given year.

“The 1% stress test is not as extreme as it might sound – it implies a 10% chance of an organization being affected once a decade,” they say.

They say decisions made over the next few decades as the world builds vast urban areas will be key to the resilience of people by the end of the century.

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Saturday/Sunday 8th & 9th November 2014

Honohan says 20% mortgage deposit rule may not happen

  

Central Bank Governor not in favour of Government home loan insurance plan

Central Bank Governor Patrick Honohan has hinted that there could be an easing of the rules that will require mortgage applicants to save a 20% deposit.

Last month, the Central Bank announced new mortgage rules requiring homebuyers to put down a 20% deposit on the value of a property and that banks will be restricted to lending three-and-a-half times a borrower’s gross income.

“The Central Bank’s recent consultation paper pointedly raises the question of whether adequately insured mortgages should be allowed to exceed the general 80% rule which has been proposed – this might cover up to 90%, for example,” he said.

The regulations were due to come into effect on January 1st 2015.

“While we point out that too liberal a use of such insurance can have the effect of neutralising the effectiveness of a ceiling on loan-to-value ratios as a mechanism for preventing house price bubbles, and while it typically provides no protection to the borrower, this would be less a concern if limited, for example, to relatively small loans and/or first time buyers,” he said.

Mr Honohan was speaking at the annual National Management Forum, held by the Money Advice and Budgetary Service, in Portlaoise.

He also indicated he was not in favour of the Government mortgage insurance plan which will involve the State taking responsibility for 10–15% of a loan’s value, the deposit covering approximately 5%, and the bank being liable for the remainder.

“Of course, mortgage insurance would achieve relatively little if it merely shuffled systemic risk around within the domestic economy: external insurance from solid insurers would be needed,” he said.

Mr Honohan also said that limiting high loan-to-income mortgages will ensure consumer protection in the future and reduce the re-emergence of over indebtedness.

“We do envisage continuing to allow high LTIs – just not too many of them,” he said.

He said the Central Bank would do all in its power to protect the new generation of households and the nation at large, from the risk of repetition of what happened before.

Mr Honohan said while the implementation of personal insolvency framework had some “teething problems” it has helped to address “the imbalance of power that is often inherent in the creditor-debtor relationship.”

Mr Honohan referred to the “stigmatisation” of debtors and said “judgmental language or attaching blame is usually not the most constructive way of dealing with the acute practical problems” associated with debt.

He added that some of the writing on financial literacy “smacks of blaming the victim”.

“Many of the most acute household financial problems come from misfortune and lapses of judgement. Probably some of this could have been avoided if individuals, lenders as well as borrowers, had been informed to make good financial decisions under conditions of uncertainty,” he said.

Waves of emigration from Ireland leave a legacy of love and loss behind it

 

‘The report is a reminder that behind all the emigration statistics over the past 200 years, and despite the modern revolution in technology, certain things remain constant’

‘During its various waves it is not just parents who have experienced loss, but also siblings who could not or would not leave for a variety of reasons.’

Above, Irish emigrants leaving the West of Ireland for America in 1880. Original Publication:

Occasionally, research findings that appear to highlight the blindingly obvious are published. Earlier this week, Trinity College Dublin’s longitudinal study on ageing (www.tilda.tcd.ie) highlighted the hardly surprising reality that some mothers have suffered from depression following the emigration of their children between 2009 and 2013.

Research for the Tilda report reveals “general and robust evidence of mental health declines for the mothers of emigrants … by comparing the parents who saw at least one child emigrate with those whose children remained in Ireland, we have the potential to produce strong statistical evidence of a causal relationship between emigration and mental health”.

The authors of the report stress that what is novel in their approach is that “while emigration is often discussed in terms of the people who leave, this paper shows that there are real impacts on the people left behind … While the suffering of parents as their children leave is often referred to, this is the first time that the effects have been identified in a nationally-representative dataset.”

Again, it is hardly revelatory that those left behind feel the effects, but it is fair to highlight that such feelings have not traditionally been explored in depth and to that extent, at least the report encourages reflection on the impact of emigration on those people.

The report is a reminder that behind all the emigration statistics over the past 200 years, and despite the modern revolution in technology, certain things remain constant and unchanging.

In 2010, Philip Lynch from Westmeath, who emigrated to Melbourne in the 1980s, offered this powerful and moving recollection in a contribution to this newspaper: “On the June morning I left, I found my mother in an upstairs bedroom. She was already well past the point of consolation .. . the surprise and shock of seeing my mother so upset that morning stayed with me for a long time.”

Those who benefited

This is only part of the complex history of Irish emigration. During its various waves it is not just parents who have experienced loss, but also siblings who could not or would not leave for a variety of reasons, but there were always those who benefited materially by staying at home, whether through inheritance or the money sent home from abroad; emigration created its own hierarchies.

In the 19th century, for example, it was convenient for commercial farmers who were doing well to blame Irish emigration on British colonial rule and thus to divert attention from their own role in evictions, farm consolidation and market-oriented farming.

Irish historian Kevin Kenny points out that “there was a strong element of expediency in the invocation of banishment and exile by those who stayed at home”. But on the other side there were also those who felt they had lost much by not leaving.

When he was interviewed for an RTÉ Prime Timeprogramme in 2003 that dealt with the experiences of Irish emigrants who had fallen on hard times, Fr Jerry Kivlehan of the Camden Irish Centre in London insisted: “Ireland hasn’t even begun the debate about emigration. In the same family you can have two brothers – one forced to emigrate, the other forced to stay. Both end their lives feeling bitter, both feeling they got the bad end of the stick.”

Since then, owing to the most recent wave of emigration, it is fair to assert that some of the debate that Kivlehan identified as absent has begun, at least in relation to the emigrants.

When occasionally referred to historically, Irish emigrants were often spoken and written about in the abstract, or religious and charitable organisations would speak on their behalf, but the displaced individuals remained invisible.

Contemporary emigrants, partly due to their level of education and developments in communications and social media are much more vocal and in touch with Irish news and current affairs, but those who are grieving their absence rarely get much attention beyond the annual snapshots of them tearfully embracing their loved ones as they embark on their journey or return for holidays.

At least the Tilda report highlights some of the psychological implications for those enduring loss. Reading it, I was reminded of Seán Keating’s 1936 painting Economic Pressure which depicts a stationary, gaunt, immobile man standing between two worlds; the barren Aran islands and the world of opportunity beyond, where a younger man embracing his female relative, probably his mother, is heading to.

We know from accounts written by emigrants, including the writer George O’Brien, that the journey for such young emigrants was not straightforward; in O’Brien’s words, it often involved handling identity and integration issues by “sliding from one self to another, which seemed part of the swing of things”, or in the words of another writer and former journalist with this newspaper, Donal Foley, “clinging to the comradeship of adversity”.

Perhaps the Tilda report will make us think about how such mental sliding and clinging works for those left at home, bereft. Such feelings do not just belong to the pre-Skype decades.

Michael Ring launches an Ireland tourism drive

  

The Minister of State for Tourism and Sport, Michael Ring, joined Tourism Ireland and 70 tourism enterprises from across the island of Ireland at World Travel Market (WTM) in London last week, heralding the beginning of the promotional drive overseas for the 2015 season.

Now in its 35th year, World Travel Market is the largest B2B event in the global travel and tourism calendar, with about 50,000 travel industry professionals from around the world and 3,000 influential international media in attendance.

According to the organisers of WTM, more than £2.2 billion (approximately €2.8 billion) worth of business was transacted at the event in 2013. This year, some 70 Irish tourism enterprises – including hotels, visitor attractions, ferry companies, coach companies, incoming tour operators, hostels and activity providers – exhibited at the Tourism Ireland stand.

Over four days, they engaged in thousands of meetings with British and international tour operators as they negotiated and exchange vital contracts for 2015.

Minister Ring said: “I am highly impressed with the level of business done by the tourism industry at this year’s World Travel Market, particularly at the Ireland stand, where I saw tourism enterprises from all parts of the country conducting hundreds of business meetings and doing a great job of selling tourism to the global travel trade.

“The government believes strongly in the importance of tourism as a vehicle for Irish economic recovery and we are committed to supporting the tourism industry’s efforts to increase Ireland’s export earnings from overseas tourism.”

Latest CSO figures for overseas visitors to Ireland are very strong, confirming growth of 9.3 per cent in overseas visitors to Ireland for the January to September period – more than 500,000 additional visitors when compared with the same nine-month period in 2013.

Benjy the gay bull faces the slaughterhouse because he’s ‘more interested in other bulls than heifers’

Benjy has now been replaced on the Co Mayo farm.

A bull with seemingly no interest in cows, but a liking for other bulls, is facing the slaughterhouse.

Benjy, the breeding bull, has been chasing other bulls as opposed to heifers.

He is now facing the slaughterhouse as his owner has been forced to bring in a replacement bull to inseminate his herd.

The farmer, who wishes to remain anonymous, said he is resigned to the animal’s sexuality.

“The bull is now too old to castrate and turn into a bullock so I will keep him for the factory,” he told the Irish Daily Mail.

The farmer bought the pedigree Charolais bull last year and let it run among his herd of cows.

However, he was disappointed when scans showed that none of the herd were carrying calves.

“Benjy had already been tested and everything was normal, so it became apparent that the problem lay elsewhere,” he told the Mail.

The farmer thought he might have been a “discreet chappie” who didn’t want to be “doing the business in public”.

On closer observation, the farmer noted that Benjy seemed more interested in other bulls as opposed to cows.

“At first I didn’t take seriously that the bull could be gay but after seeking advice I know this can happen,” he said.

A number of the herd are now expecting after a replacement bull was brought in to the east Co Mayo farm.

Short-beaked dolphins frolic for first time in Strangford lough 

  

One of the dolphins caught up close

Two research scientists gathering seaweed have captured the startling moment a pair of dolphins decided to start frolicking in the waters near the mouth of Strangford Lough.

The marine mammals were captured breaching the surface and leaping into the air repeatedly close to the Minesto sea kite underwater turbine – also a popular spot with the local porpoises.

Dr Karen Mooney managed to take six minutes of gripping footage on her mobile phone after the alert was raised by Dr Louise Kregting, her colleague at the Queen’s University Marine Lab in Portaferry.

The Irish Whale and Dolphin Group later revealed that it was the first validated sighting record of the short-beaked common dolphin in Strangford Lough and only the second record of the species appearing in the waters off the Co Down coast.

Dr Mooney, project manager of the QUB section of the international EnAlgae research project investigating uses for seaweed, said she was on her way to the longlines where the weed is cultivated when the dolphins put on their magnificent show.

“We were heading out in the boat on Wednesday morning to check the lines round Jackdaw Island when Louise saw a bit of splashing in the lough,” she told the Belfast Telegraph. “We went out in the boat and just circled round the area for about six minutes.

“They seem to like playing in between the sea kite turbine and Audley’s Castle on the shore.”

Queen’s marine team film Dolphins playing in Strangford Lough in rare sighting

The pair were captured on film breaching the water, leaping, rolling onto their backs and belly-flopping.

“We sent the footage to the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group and they said it was the first recorded footage of a sighting of this species in Strangford Lough and only the second sighting of the common dolphin on the Co Down coast,” said Dr Mooney.

“The first time they were seen was off the Copeland Islands.

The video can be viewed on YouTube at http://youtu.be/C9IWQM206rk   

Background: Short-beaked common dolphins are gregarious and live in herds ranging from a few tens to several thousands. They are active and boisterous and often bow-ride boats, ships and even large whales. Breaching and surface slaps using the flippers are not uncommon.

They are highly vocal, producing a wide range of whistles and pulsed sounds. The most useful field identification features of the short-beaked common dolphin are the yellowish/ochre patches on the sides in front of the dorsal fin and the V formed by the intersection of the different colours just below the dorsal fin.

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Wednesday 18th June 2014

Higgins raring to get his teeth into his old foes in Irish Banking inquiry

  

There was no sign of eggs frying on the sun-soaked plinth of Leinster House, but temperatures were running a little high inside the building.

The Technical Group were in conclave. It should’ve been a short meeting, simply a procedural rubber-stamp of Joe Higgins’s candidacy to replace Stephen Donnelly on the banking inquiry committee, as the Socialist Party TD’s nomination was unopposed.

But Joe’s former comrade, Clare Daly, took exception to the notion that her one-time ally had been selected unanimously by the group. A bemused John Halligan asked if she was opposing the choice, but the Dublin North deputy wasn’t. However, she was objecting to the use of the ‘unanimous’ word.

A lengthy wrangle ensued but in the end – as planned all along – Joe was selected unopposed in a sort-of unanimous way.

What is it about this infernal banking inquiry which seems to spark more shemozzles than the Football Championship?

First it came to pass (eventually) that the Government announced it would hold an official inquisition into how our banking sector scampered over the cliffs like a cartoon roadrunner. It was surely a no-brainer, providing an admiring electorate with the edifying spectacle of all sorts of toppled masters of the financial and political universe being summoned to account for their movements in front of a democratically selected cross-party committee of gimlet-eyed TDs and senators.

What could possibly go wrong?

Having proved themselves in recent months to be experts at the art of porcine couture (the ability to fashion a sow’s ear out of a silk purse), the Coalition didn’t disappoint this time either. A serious outbreak of faffing about by government senators led to them losing their majority on the committee – a cock-up which the Coalition promptly compounded by drafting in two extra Fine Gael and Labour recruits to restore the status quo, thereby causing opposition uproar in the Upper House.

And this hoohah led to Independent TD Stephen Donnelly throwing a strop over the inequity of it all and throwing his hat at it, declaring the Taoiseach was “treating democracy in a cavalier manner” as he headed for the door.

In steps Joe Higgins: Out on the plinth after the Technical Group pow-wow, the newest kid on the committee block was doing his damnedest not to lick his chops in anticipation of another chance to sink his fangs into his same old foes.

“I am sure that the Taoiseach who was in charge of the country when the property bubble was being blown up, Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, will be brought before the inquiry,” Joe reckoned with relish. “And that Taoiseach Cowen, who presided over the initial bailout, and I also believe that Taoiseach Kenny, who continued the bailout, should be among those who would be called.”

He was clearly raring to get started, and while he may not have the in-depth knowledge of banking arcana like financial whizz-kid Stephen Donnelly, Joe has a PhD in winding up the great and the good.

“I am prepared to sit and to quiz and question in the inquiry those individuals who were central to the political and economic events of the time, and interrogate them very strenuously,” he vowed.

However, a short time later during Leaders’ Questions, a gloomy Clare Daly was determined to rain on the committee’s parade. “It’s quite clear that the toothless banking inquiry is not going to expose anything, except maybe a few politicians to a bit of badly needed publicity,” she sniped.

“It has dawned on many citizens now that the Oireachtas inquiry into banking has about as much chance of getting to the bottom of what happened in the banking sector as Billy Bunter would have in finding out who robbed the school tuck shop. It is a joke,” she sneered.

Across the chamber the Taoiseach looked a bit weary. He must be fatigued from all his recent travelling (San Francisco, Guernsey and Lebanon) and recent U-turns (banking inquiry and discretionary medical cards). “I am glad to note the political policy regulatory structures on banking governance will be examined by the Oireachtas committee free of any direction from the Government,” he began, before being drowned out by cackles from the far side.

Finian McGrath comforted Enda. “Don’t worry – Joe will sort it out,” he assured the Taoiseach, but there was general agreement among the Opposition. But it wasn’t unanimous.

Irish Central Bank issues warning on crowdfunding (peer to peer) regulations

  

The Irish central bank has issued a warning to consumers over the unregulated status of crowd-funding and peer-to-peer lending.

The two cash-raising techniques have become increasingly widespread as small businesses find it hard to raise traditional bank finance.

  They involve businesses raising funds by amalgamating small sums invested by non-experts, often through third part platforms.

The Central Bank’s warning details concerns about risks specific to lending money through crowdfunding platforms, including the risk of the investor company or indeed the platform itself failing.

It also flags “the risk of misleading or insufficient information disclosure, unfair contract terms of misleading commercial practices, and the absence of dispute resolution and redress mechanisms”.

The bank’s statement does acknowledge that crowd-funding or peer-to-peer lending “is a type of market-based finance that could help stimulate funding to small and medium sized enterprises as well as personal lending”.

Read: Borrowing without banks – here’s how you’ve done it.

While the Central Bank told TheJournal.ie this morning that it is not hitting the ‘red alert’ button on crowdfunding and peer-to-peer lending, it considers it important nonetheless that consumers know its regulatory status.

Industry response

A spokesperson for peer-to-peer platform linkedfinance.ie said that the company wanted to see the industry regulated.

“We want it regulated…we’ve engaged with the Department of Finance and the Central Bank from the start on this. We’re lobbying to get the industry regulated.”

He added that much of the transactional activity around crowd-funding took place through ordinary bank accounts, which are themselves regulated.

Gardai Commissioner O’Sullivan announces overhaul of penalty points system

  

The Garda Commissioner, Noirin O’Sullivan, has announced an overhaul of the controversial penalty points system.

The changes to the fixed charge penalty scheme are designed to strengthen oversight of how it operates and make it easier for the public to apply for cancellations.

The moves follow an examination of the system by the Garda Inspectorate, which found widespread breaches in policy.

The inspectorate’s probe came amid allegations by Garda whistleblowers regarding the cancellation of points for some motorists.

Ms O’Sullivan announced that the authority to cancel fixed charge penalty notices will now be centralised at the processing office in Thurles, Co Tipperary.

A guide explaining how the cancellation system works will be published on the force’s website, garda.ie, while a special form for cancellation requests will be made publicly available on the website, or through the Thurles office.

Regular audits will be undertaken to keep a watch on the operation of the system and a revised internal manual outlining the changes to policies and procedures will be published.

Ms O’Sullivan said: “These and other ongoing changes of the Fixed Charged Penalty System demonstrate An Garda Siochana’s commitment to improving the effectiveness and transparency of the process.

“We will continue to work with the Criminal Justice Working Group to examine how best to implement the short, medium and long-term recommendations set out in the inspectorate’s report.

SAFETY

“An Garda Siochana’s primary focus is in ensuring that the system continues its success in improving road safety and reducing road deaths,” she added.

Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald last night welcomed the announcement.

“They are very important steps in ensuring that we 
have an efficient fixed charge penalty system in which people can have full confidence,” she said.

Ireland to lift top rate tax for offshore oil groups to 55%

 

The Irish government is to raise the maximum amount of tax levied on offshore oil and gas production to 55 per cent but has stopped short of setting up a national oil company along the lines of Norway’s Statoil.

Amid public controversy over the potential of oil and gas deposits in Irish waters, and the amount of tax companies pay on any profits any commercial fields would generate, Pat Rabbitte, Ireland’s energy minister, said on Wednesday that the new fiscal regime would increase the state’s tax take at an earlier stage in the production process.

The arrangements mean that the overall amount of tax oil companies will pay on commercial production would rise to a maximum 55 per cent, depending on the size of the field, from 40 per cent currently. The new higher rate will apply to new licences only; existing contracts are not affected.

The changes follow a report by Wood Mackenzie commissioned by the government into the fiscal regime surrounding oil and gas exploration and production in Irish waters. The consultants compared Ireland’s fiscal arrangements with those in marginal production countries such as South Africa and Spain and recommended the changes based on the potential for commercial oil and gas discoveries.

The UK and Norway were also included in the comparisons because of the frequency with which their experiences are cited by both proponents and opponents of exploring for oil and gas in Irish waters.

Mr Rabbitte said that by acting now to clarify future licensing terms, “it is my intention to communicate a clear message in relation to the stability of Ireland’s fiscal regime for the oil and gas exploration sector”. He said that would allow them to “focus on effective and timely exploration effort”.

Oil and gas companies have been prospecting in Irish waters for more than four decades. The Wood Mackenzie report says that only four commercial gasfields have been discovered, and no commercial oilfields. One industry executive estimates that up to €4bn has been spent on exploration in the waters of the Atlantic and the Celtic Sea so far.

Controversy over the financial returns from Irish oil and gas has been sparked by the delays that have plagued the Corrib gasfield off the northwest coast. It was discovered in 1996 but production is not expected to come onshore until 2015 after public protests against the building of pipelines led to arrests and the jailing of protesters that sparked public outrage.

Industry executives say comparisons of Ireland with Norway are inappropriate and premature. The Wood Mackenzie report said: “The essential point is that . . . offshore Ireland remains a very high risk, very high cost province for exploration.”

Fish do feel pain as well says an expert

   

Fish do have feelings and intelligence on a par with other animals and deserve better consideration of their welfare, according to a behavioural biologist at Australia’s Macquarie University.

DR Culum Brown came to the conclusion after reviewing the scientific evidence on fish capabilities.

He found that fish have good memories, lived in social communities, co-operated, and learned from one another.

They displayed behaviours normally seen in primates and were even able to build complex structures and use tools.

While their brains differed from those of other vertebrates, they contained structures that performed similar functions seen in other animals.

There was also mounting evidence that they felt pain in the same way humans do.

Brown believes fish are just as likely to be sentient as other animals.

He wrote in the journal Animal Cognition: “Although scientists cannot provide a definitive answer on the level of consciousness for any non-human vertebrate, the extensive evidence of fish behavioural and cognitive sophistication and pain perception suggests that best practice would be to lend fish the same level of protection as any other vertebrate.

“We should therefore include fish in our ‘moral circle’ and afford them the protection they deserve.”

People rarely thought about fish other than as food or pets, said Brown.

He pointed out that fish were second only to mice in terms of the numbers used in scientific experiments.

With more than 32,000 known species, fish far outweighed the diversity of all other vertebrates combined, he added.

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

Saturday 22nd March 2014

AIB bites the bullet and its time for other banks to wake up?

  

AIB has taken a refreshing approach to the problem of mortgage arrears

For five years, politicians have been carping about the slow learning banks not writing off mortgage debt for homeowners in arrears. Now AIB is doing just that. But its actions are not being met with universal approval from public representatives.

Fianna Fáil’s Michael McGrath said whether a family gets a sustainable solution to its mortgage headache depends on which bank provided them with their loan.

Independent TD Stephen Donnelly said he “welcomed” the development but called for a more “systemic” approach. He remarked that although AIB restructured their mortgage, in one case the family involved still had problems with other unsecured debts to credit card companies or credit unions.

This was what the Insolvency Service of Ireland was originally established to achieve – agreements to deal with all debts. Next month the organisation will produce figures for the numbers of people who have gone down the insolvency route. The figures will be low but the organisation is likely to stress that the pipeline of deals is growing.

The individuals who have secured Personal Insolvency Arrangements (which cover mortgages and unsecured debt) have won significant write-offs. The problems is that numbers using the service remain very low. But the service’s existence may be forcing banks to become more realistic.

One answer is for the Central Bank to introduce a uniform system for dealing with mortgages arrears and force the banks and unsecured lenders to implement it. But the Central Bank’s policy has been to leave it to the banks to decide how they will solve the problem.

AIB has taken a refreshing approach, bitten the bullet and put the rest of the banks to shame. Its split mortgage sees a portion of debt written off and a second part of the mortgage being put to one side or warehoused. This leaves the borrowers with a new loan which is no more than 80% of the current value of the home.

If the borrowers make an attempt to pay off some of the warehoused portion of the loan, the bank will write off more money from that loan. The smart part of this arrangement is that while AIB does write down some debt there is a clear incentive for people to make a contribution to the warehoused portion of their loan. These arrangements will only apply in a minority of cases where borrowers are in arrears.

The bank has broken away from other members of the Irish Banking Federation which has remained curiously silent on AIB’s innovation.

The attitude of the remaining members of the industry is that the danger of write-offs being exploited by unscrupulous borrowers is so large as to justify not writing off debt as a policy. That has resulted in the problem dragging on for years.

The Governor of the Central Bank. Patrick Honohan. does not want to micro manage the lenders – instead he wants them to come up the solutions. So the Central Bank has ordered the banks to sort out 25% of mortgage accounts which are in arrears by the end this month.

AIB’s mortgage book is not the worst in the Irish market, but it still has decided that writing off debt is one possible solution to take to clean up the mess.

How long will it be before the other banks stop wasting time and follow suit?

50% of European women have needless operations for early breast cancer?

 A European study finds

Preparing for a mammography    

‘Needless surgery’ for half of women who have mastectomies for early breast cancer

50% European women having mastectomies for early signs of cancer & who have to endure needless surgery, a major study suggests.

Experts said the figures from a national audit of UK care were a “terrible” indictment of the treatment received by patients – with too many enduring extra procedures or unnecessary mastectomies because the extent of disease was not detected accurately.

The study presented to the European Breast Cancer Conference in Glasgow examined the treatment of women with Ductal Carcinoma In Situ (DCIS) – an early sign of cancer.

Of more than 8,000 patients, about 2,500 ended up having a procedure to remove their breast.

  However, the study found that in 49% of such cases, the mastectomy was either unnecessary or was being carried out because a previous operation had failed.

Researchers said the failure to accurately chart the extent of disease meant doctors were carrying out too many mastectomies when women did not need them – while carrying out more minor procedures on those who needed full breast removal.

The study found that in almost one third of cases, the women undergoing mastectomies had already undergone a lumpectomy, which is a more minor procedure which should only be used for small lumps.

In most of those cases, further surgery was required because the extent of disease had been underestimated, researchers said.

Conversely, 21% of the mastectomies were carried out on women whose lumps were small enough that such major surgery could have been avoided, the study found.

Researchers said the figures provided a “stark” warning that thousands of women were receiving the wrong treatment, and highlighted enormous variations between hospitals.

Experts said that the problems arose when pathologists and radiologists failed to accurately plot the spread of disease – over and under-estimating the extent of disease.

Dr Jeremy Thomas, a consultant pathologist at the Western General Hospital, Edinburgh, UK, who led the study, said “It is a terrible figure, and it is quite clear that there is significant variation between hospitals.”

He said it appeared that the extent of disease was not being properly mapped by some teams, while others might benefit from taking more biopsies to measure the size of tumours more accurately.

“It would appear from our data that, in some hospitals, the discussions in the multi disciplinary teams are not looking in enough detail at the results from the mammograms and pathology in order to make the right decision about the best surgical treatment for these women,” Dr Thomas said.

Each year, around 5,000 women in the UK are diagnosed with Ductal Carcinoma in Situ (DCIS) – a condition where non-invasive cancerous cells are contained within the milk ducts of the breast.

Without treatment, around half of cases are likely to develop invasive breast cancer .

However, doctors are unable to accurately identify which of the patients will do so, meaning all are offered treatment, the scale of which varies depending on the size of tumours.

Researchers said the study uncovered “very wide variations” in practice between different hospitals.

At some, no mastectomies were carried out on women found to have only small tumours. In others as many as 60% of operations were found to involve small lumps which could have been safely removed without a mastectomy, the research found.

Experts said that in some cases, women might opt for mastectomy, even if they were told a lumpectomy was sufficient, but said the scale of the differneces could not be put down to patient preferences.

Baroness Delyth Morgan, Chief Executive of Breast Cancer Campaign, said: “These results highlight a variation in practice which needs to be addressed to ensure that all patients who are given a diagnosis of DCIS receive the highest possible standard of care and most appropriate treatment, regardless of the hospital they are in. We look forward to seeing how these results can inform practice to ensure that these variations are no longer an issue.”

DCIS accounts for around 20 per cent of cancers which are detected by breast screening.

The study’s authors said that management of DCIS was “one of the most challenging parts of breast screening practice” and pointed out that 80 per cent of all mastectomies are carried out on larger tumours, which cannot be managed via lumpectomy.

Activist Margaretta D’Arcy the 79 year old warrior released from Mountjoy prison on Friday

 

Margaretta D’Arcy is seen during her release from Mountjoy prison in Dublin today.

Aosdána member served nine-and-a-half weeks of her three month jail term.

Activist and Aosdána member Margaretta D’Arcy (79), who was released from prison in Dublin this morning, described Shannon airport as “a place of murder, assassination and complicity”.

Speaking at a press conference in the city-centre, she said the Government, by allowing US military planes to land in Shannon airport, was complicit in murder and asssination.

M/s D’Arcy served nine and a half weeks of a 12-week sentence for refusing to sign a bond to uphold the law and keep away from unauthorised zones at Shannon airport. She was arrested in Galway on January 15th and taken to Limerick to serve a three month sentence for illegal incursion of the runway at Shannon airport on October 7th, 2012.

The sentence had been suspended when served at Ennis District Court last December, but was activated when she refused to sign the bond.

She said today she could not have signed the bond stipulating she keep away from Shannon, she said, because to do so would have enabled the Taoiseach Enda Kenny and the Minister for Justice, Alan Shatter to say: “Oh she is just like us, we knew in the end.”

She explained today that by going onto the runway “we alerted the aviation world that Shannon is not a proper airport but a place of murder, assassination and complicity”.

She said she had received “thousands of letters of support from all across the world. Somehow all over the world it has triggered something.

“The Government is willing to put somebody who speaks the truth in to jail. There is a growing awareness of truth. We have to speak the truth. We cannot be complicit, we cannot compromise with the truth. If something is wrong we have to go and say it is wrong. And it is completely wrong for the Government to allow a civilian airport to be used as a military airport. It is a crime for the military to be able to hide behind a civilian airport. It is something that we should not tolerate.”

Referring to the vindication of Garda whistle-blowers Sergeant Maurice McCabe and retired Garda John Wilson, along with the support she has received for her actions, she said she had a sense that things were changing in Ireland.

“I don’t think we are going to put up anymore with complicity. We can change the world. The world is changing.”

She plans to return home to Galway tomorrow, and is due to be admitted to hospital early next week, where she has been treated for bladder cancer.

During her detention, she was visited by close friend Sabina Coyne, wife of President Michael D Higgins, and by Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams. Mr Arden said that his mother had received many messages of support.

She is due to appear in court again on June 24th in relation to a separate charge of an incursion on Shannon airport’s runway on September 1st, 2013.

During her detention, she was visited by close friend Sabina Coyne, wife of President Michael D Higgins, and by Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams. Mr Arden said that his mother had received many messages of support.

Limerick tot Theo meets the hero who found him wandering on a roadway

  

Explorer Theo Costelloe with his mother, Christine, and dad, Keif, at the Castletroy Park Hotel, Limerick, yesterday with UL student James Ryan who found him wandering along the roadway in the early hours of the morning.

A two-year old boy has met his hero who found him wandering along a roadway in the early hours of the morning after the toddler walked out of his home while his family slept in their beds.

Theo Costelloe gave student teacher James Ryan a high-five after meeting up with him along with his mother, Christine, and father, Keif.

Theo climbed out of his cot at 2am last Wednesday, walked down his stairs and managed to open his front door before being found a mile away by Mr Ryan.

The intrepid toddler was clutching his baby sister’s pink sleep blanket and was only wearing a blue one-piece sleep suit when he was found “shivering” by gallant James.

Kilkenny native James Ryan, who’s studying Irish and French in University of Limerick, was walking home from his nightclub job when he saw Theo crossing the Dublin Road in the dead of night.

James said: “He’s the nicest child. To be honest he was happy out. He wasn’t phased at all. He was a little nervous after first meeting him, but then after a few seconds he was grand. When the Gardaí pulled up he hid between my legs.”

Theo and his parents were thrilled to meet the man who saved their son from possible death or serious injury.

“When the Gardaí pulled up . . . He was saying ‘Nana’ and stuff like that. I thought he was staying at his granny’s house because he was saying ‘Nana’ over and over, and I thought maybe something had happened to his granny. So I tried to walk him back towards the house and he seemed like he knew where he was going to be honest. So, he more or less led me to where he was going.”

Keif Wynne, 35, praised James for his gallantry: “He’s an absolute legend. You can tell he’s a gentleman. The right man found him, being honest. The right man did find him. It could have ended so nasty.”

Looking at Theo, he added: “Just look at him. He went from such a tiny child and now look at him . . . he’s just a lunatic running everywhere. He’s always been a small bit shy, but obviously he’s pushing the boundaries now.”

Asked if the family would be investing in a new bolt lock, he joked: “Don’t mind buying a lock, we’ll be buying a new door.”

Christine Theo’s mother, who was panic -stricken when Gardaí called to her home at Aspen Gardens to inform her that Theo had been found a mile away, threw her arms around James as they met for the first time.

James had flagged down taxi driver, Noel Flanagan, who waited with him and Theo until Gardaí arrived.

James added: “Noel deserves praise too because he was half of it too.”

He said: “I hailed a taxi and Noel stopped. Theo was cold so we just sat into the front seat. It turned out I knew Noel because he has dropped me home from work once or twice.”

After giving his hero a high five, little Theo presented James with a ‘thank you’ card and returned the T-shirt he had given him on his first unforgettable trip away from home alone.

Wild bee hives hit by killer bug parasite to Ireland

 

Hives for wild bees have been decimated by a bug the Varroa parasite (pic above right) introduced to Ireland accidentally.

The varroa parasite, nicknamed ‘destructor’ because of its impact on bee colonies, attaches itself to a bee’s body and then feeds on its blood.

Between 2011 and 2012, Irish honey production was slashed by almost 70pc due to the combination of bad weather and the damaging impact of the varroa mite.

If it is left untreated it can wipe out a hive in a matter of weeks, according to the international federation of beekeepers, Apimondia.

The parasite was first introduced 20 years ago. But now, struggling honey producers have received a major boost in the form of a temporary EU ban on three controversial crop chemicals.

And Ireland’s 3,000 beekeepers are hoping that record numbers of queen bees produced last summer will help kick-start honey production this season.

“Irish beekeepers really didn’t have a decent honey crop for a number of years,” Apimondia chairman Philip McCabe said.

“But this year will hopefully tell a lot if we can get some decent weather and we see just what impact the ban will have.”

Ripples of Big Bang open new theories and questions

Scientists, from left, Clem Pryke, Jamie Bock, Chao-Lin Kuo and John Kovac smile during a news conference at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Mass., Monday, March 17, 2014, regarding their new findings on the early expansion of the universe. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)    

Scientists, from left, Clem Pryke, Jamie Bock, Chao-Lin Kuo and John Kovac smile during a news conference at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Mass., Monday, March 17, 2014, regarding their new findings on the early expansion of the universe. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)

No one was around 14 billion years ago when all of existence was compressed into a single point so small that it would not have been visible to the human eye.

Most scientists believe that pressure within this single dot built to such an extent that, when it exploded, the resulting wave of super-heated particles spread out like a hot, dense soup trillions of times hotter than anything that can be manufactured on Earth. Space, time and the laws of physics came into existence after the Big Bang.

It took roughly 380,000 years for the hot particles from that primordial explosion to cool down enough to form atoms, the building blocks for everything from dust to stars and galaxies. Planets began to form from the gas and dust that circled the stars a few billion years later.

Flash forward to the 21st century, and scientists who have been working together for three years and using a telescope at the South Pole to look for a specific pattern of light waves within the faint microwave glow left from the Big Bang announced Monday that they’ve uncovered evidence of this cosmic expansion.

Researchers from the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, the University of Minnesota, Stanford University, the California Institute of Technology and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory are confident that they have spotted ripples in the fabric of the cosmos that followed the Big Bang.

Like all big scientific claims, it has to be confirmed by other teams of scientists following their methodology. If it turns out to be correct, as many suspect it will, it will be celebrated as one of the most momentous discoveries in astronomy.

Even so, finding evidence of what happened a split second after the Big Bang doesn’t mean that there are not other big questions to be answered. Humans have only begun to understand the nature of the universe. This discovery represents the first step in a long march to understanding far more.