Tag Archives: Child sex abuse

News Ireland daily BLOG update

Monday 10th November 2014

IRELAND’S SMEs in recovery continue to find it difficult to get finance


Latest report from the Credit Review Office points to challenges facing distressed SMEs

Credit reviewer John Trethowan would like the Government to consider an expansion of the microfinance loans scheme limit to at least € 50,000, and possibly € 100,000.

Distressed small and medium sized companies which are now recovering and are potentially viable continue to find it difficult to obtain finance, according to the 14th report reviewing the accessibility of credit for small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) and farms.

The report, from the Credit Review Office, points to two main challenges: the credit requirements of the real economy as growth returns; and the challenges posed in refinancing some businesses and farms as the banking market contracts.

To date, the Credit Review Office has received 520 formal applications, of which 361 have reached final conclusion. Of these, the office upheld 56% in favour of borrowers, resulting in €29.7m credit being made available to SMEs and farms, helping to protect /create 2,091 jobs.

Credit reviewer John Trethowan did add a caveat to these figures however, noting that since the upper limit was raised to €3m, and with the weakened state of many businesses seeking new credit to grow, it has meant that reporting outcomes of the credit reviews are becoming less black and white.

“This has led me to caveat the upheld appeals number, as some lending is now being agreed on the basis of an interim amount to meet short term needs, with performance milestones agreed for the business/farm whereby further funds will be made available on achievement of these measures,” he said..

Of the aforementioned recovering distressed SMEs, Mr Trethowan said that a trend is emerging of banks tentatively supporting these businesses by offering short term and restricted credit facilities against performance milestones which, if achieved, will allow more funding for longer periods to be advanced. “Such an approach to challenged businesses is prudent and understandable,” he said, but noted that this makes the reporting outcomes of the credit reviews more difficult.

Mr Trethowan welcomed new entrants into the debtor finance market, “anything that enhances supply is helpful”, noting that debtor finance is “helpful for businesses that are recovering”.

However he did bemoan the lack of banks now lending to the SME and farm sector, noting “we couldn’t have afforded to lose Ulster Bank out of the market”.

Mr Trethowan also referred to comments by Bank of Ireland CEO Richie Boucher back in May, when Mr Boucher questioned the quality of some of the decisions made by the office in relation to BOI. Noting that the office was “surprised” by these comments, Mr Trethowan said that that they merit some further investigation by the office.

Of the current microfinance loans scheme limit, Mr Trethowan suggested that the Government should consider an expansion of the microfinance loans scheme limit to at least € 50,000, and possibly € 100,000.

“An increase in the limit will likely also need the term to be extended beyond the current three-five years to ensure that repayment levels are affordable,” he said.

Responding to the publication of the report, Patricia Callan, director of the Small Firms Association, said that it is essential that a wide variety of debt financing options is available, and that the new Strategic Banking Corporation of Ireland (SCBI) loan fund should be used “to attract new financial intermediaries into the market to provide lower cost, new and innovative products, such as longer term loans and interest free holidays, which will meet a market need.”



The burial site at the Tuam Mother and Baby Home in Co Galway may have been much bigger than previously thought.

More than 700 children died at the home between 1925 and 1961.

Evidence uncovered by local historian Catherine Corless (ABOVE RIGHT), and presented to the Children’s Minister James Reilly, points to a far more extensive burial site.

She is due to speak on the issue at a conference at NUI Galway this evening.

Meanwhile, the draft terms of reference for the Commission of Inquiry into the matter has been circulated to all of the relevant departments.

Minister Reilly has told Tipp FM that witnesses will be compelled to appear before the inquiry – which is being chaired by Justice Yvonne Murphy.

He said: “The issue of additional burial areas has been raised with me and the commission will look into all of this.

“I would like to assure people that this commission is set up under the Commissions Act and therefore Judge Yvonne Murphy and the commission will have the power to compel witnesses.”

Joan Burton wins ‘Woman of Year’ gong


Joan Burton and Joanne O’Riordan

Tánaiste Joan Burton was named ‘Woman of the Year 2014’ at a ceremony in Dublin last night, with Philomena Lee and Panti also honoured.

The Labour Party leader picked up the top trophy at the Irish Tatler Women of the Year Awards in recognition of her political achievements.

The ceremony, hosted by businesswoman and Irish Tatler publisher Norah Casey, was held at the Four Seasons in Dublin and saw 15 awards handed out to “some of Ireland’s most renowned leading business, media and entertainment women”.

Philomena Lee – whose life story was made into a film starring Judi Dench – was recognised with the Irish Tatler Woman of the Year Special Achievement Award, “for her bravery during her 50-year long search for her forcefully adopted son.

Philomena Lee is shocked to be named as winner

Panti received the Irish Tatler Woman of the Year Special Contribution Award for the passionate speech she gave in the Abbey Theatre in February of this year in response to controversial comments made on RTÉ.

Also honoured was Cork student Joanne O’Riordan, who received a Special Recognition award for her exceptional role as an advocate for the rights of the disabled.

“Now into its 14th year, these awards continue to excel in celebrating women who reach the heights of inspiration,” said Casey.

“Last year was all about marking ‘firsts’, and today our 2014 winners continue to lead in exceeding the boundaries of expectation, both in their careers and in society.”

Irish Tatler Women of the Year Awards winners:

Business – Caroline Keeling

Entrepreneur – Leonora O’Brien

Sport – Briege Corkery

Media – Ann O’Dea

Film & Drama – Deirdre O’Kane

Arts & Literature Siobhán Parkinson

Fashion – Helen Steele

Public Life – Emily Logan

Music Faye O’Rourke

Entertainment Maia Dunphy

Hall of Fame – Myrtle Allen

Special Recognition – Joanne O’Riordan

Special Achievement – Philomena Lee

Special Contribution – Miss Panti

Overall Winner – Joan Burton

Ireland the first with UPC to ban access to child sex abuse on websites 


Users who access child abuse material either mistakenly or deliberately will have their internet access restricted.

THE INTERNET SERVICE PROVIDER UPC is to restrict access to websites containing child sex abuse material,  becoming the first broadband company to do so in Ireland.

Under an agreement between UPC and An Garda Síochana, UPC will restrict access to domains or URLs containing child abuse material based on a list provided by the gardaí.

If a user access child sexual abuse material, either deliberately or mistakenly, their internet access will be restricted and an advisor message will be displayed explaining the reasons why.

Similar restrictions already exist in the UK, Australia, Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Switzerland, among other countries.

List of websites

The list of websites that are restricted by UPC are drawn up by the gardaí, with the interim Garda Commissioner Noirin O’Sullivan stating that today the number of international websites restricted are in the double digits.

She stated that the number on the list fluctuates and it is going to be constantly updated.

O’Sullivan said discussions are ongoing with other Irish internet service providers. She added that it is just one tool the gardaí are using to tackle this crime.

The Commissioner said today’s initiative is to act as deterrent to those accessing images of child sexual abuse, adding that it took several months for this initiative to be negotiated with UPC.

Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald described it as a ‘notable achievement’ and congratulated both the gardaí and UPC on the development.

“The close cooperation with law enforcement which was launched today will reduce the amount of child abuse material which will be available on the internet in Ireland,” the Minister said.

She called it a “heinous crime” and said it was important to have international cooperation between internet providers, which she said is extremely important in tackling this crime.

“It will also reinforce the message that the viewing or possession of, or indeed the trading in child abuse material, is simply not acceptable”.

Minister Fitzgerald said she hoped that other companies would follow suit.

‘Inadvertent viewing’

She added that research suggests that “inadvertent viewing may precipitate some people to pursue further such illegal material to their long term detriment and to the detriment of society as a whole”.

The minister added that Government are strengthening legislation in this area under the new sexual offences legislation that will be introduced before the end of this Dáil term.

Magnus Ternsjö, CEO of UPC said if someone tries to access websites where child sex abuse material is available a notice will appear on screen stating that the site has been restricted and the advisory message will outline the reasons why. However, he said it does not provide for any transfer of user data to the authorities.


“UPC adheres fully to the data protection legislation and does not make any data available to any external parties accept where required to do so by law,” he said, adding, that the identity of a person is not stored when the blocking notice appears.

Minister for Justice and Equality Frances Fitzgerald TD, Garda Commissioner Noirin O Sullivan and CEO of UPC Magnus Ternsjo at the announcemnet that UPC is to immediatley restrict access to domain names containing child sexual abuse material.

“We never control what our customers are watching” as UPC honour the privacy of their customers “in the extreme” said Ternsjö.

He added that it would be wrong for UPC to start acting as law enforcement agency or government stating that they are following the laws.

O’Sullivan said there are occasions where as part of a criminal investigation the gardaí can seek evidence from any service provider for data and there is legislation already in place enabling gardaí to access it.

AIB bank profitable in third quarter of this year


AIB, the State-owned Irish bank, released an Interim Management Statement Monday with margins and net write-backs the standout factors.

Lending drawdowns year to date (YTD) increased by c. 40% year on year with the bank saying its positioned for sustainable  growth; impaired loan volumes reduced by c. €4.6bn (c.16%) YTD to c.€24.3b and the number of accounts in arrears in the Irish residential mortgage portfolio down c.11% YTD.

Eamonn Hughes of Goodbodycommented – – “The net interest margin was 1.64% year to date, which implies a figure of 1.70%+ in Q3 after the H1 average of 1.60% (1.63% in Q2). Our 1.63% full year estimate is likely to move to 1.67% and our 1.80% FY15 estimate is also likely to move up 4-5bps. Lower funding costs are a key driver and new lending drawdowns are up 40% yoy (approvals of €9bn, up 39% yoy and +€3.4bn in the quarter, up from €5.6bn in H1). Net loans of €64.7bn were unchanged from June, though modestly helped by sterling. Deposits were €66bn, down from €67bn in June (LDR 98%). Funding from monetary authorities was just €2.4bn at period end (with €1.9bn of TLTRO). Elsewhere, non-interest income (helped by some additional AFS disposals) and costs look in line with our expectations.

On asset quality, impaired loans were €24.3bn, down €1.7bn in Q3, a slightly faster run rate than the €2.9bn decline in H1. Impaired loan balances were stable or lower in all loan sectors relative to June. Specific provision coverage is down from 55% to 53%. The bank is now set to record an overall net write-back of provisions in the year to date after the €92m charge in H1 given the outcome to date of its restructuring, whilst the underlying charge continues to  trend to normal levels. The core tier 1 capital ratio was up 40bps in the quarter to 16.5%.

This is a positive trading update from AIB, with the margin progression the  highlight and net write-backs year to date. Whilst the better margin figure is likely  to add about €40m to our net interest income estimate, we are likely to materially upgrade our current €691m net income forecast given a likely net write-back in the year compared with our current €210m charge.”

Stephen Lyons of Davy commented –  – “Top-line recovery ongoing, but loan book shrinkage continues: The bank’s net interest margin (NIM) excluding guarantee charges increased to 1.64% from 1.60% at the interim stage. Non-interest income continues to benefit from disposal income, including AFS gains. Operating costs continue to decline, and the group expects to meet its €350m operating costs target for 2014 relative to 2012 levels (excluding €60.5m bank levy).

Despite these positive income drivers, the loan book continues to shrink (ex-FX) although total approvals of €9bn year-to-date are c.39% higher year-on-year (yoy) and total drawdowns of €4bn are up 40% yoy. The bank’s surplus capacity to support lending is emphasised by a loans-to-deposits ratio of 98% and monetary borrowing of €2.4bn (€1.9bn TLTRO) now at more normalised levels.

Loans restructuring success boosts capital position: Total impaired loans reduced by €1.7bn in the quarter to €24.3bn, and are now down €4.6bn year-to-date. This has been driven by restructuring success, at a positive variance to loan loss provisions and a reduced flow of newly impaired loans. This success has resulted in an overall net provisions write-back year-to-date, which compares with a charge of €92m at the interim stage. The statement does not note any further impact to provisions models from an adjustment to house price assumptions, but the specific provision coverage ratio reduced by 3ppts in the quarter to 52%. In total, the provisions write-back in the quarter and pre-provision profitability resulted in an increase in CET1 capital to 16.5% (transitional basis) from 16.1%, despite a marginal increase in RWA.

No update on capital reorganisation, though LT2 issue should be next step to rebuild a market following in our view: The statement notes that considerations in relation to the €3.5bn of preference shares and the €1.6bn of CoCos are expected to continue. also that these considerations will reflect the evolving regulatory requirements and the improving operating performance of the bank. Uncertainties regarding the introduction of the SSM, Irish banks’ required capital stacks in the new capital landscape and the format of possible AT1 instruments are all obstacles to any significant near-term reorganisation. However, we remain of the view that market re-engagement, first through a LT2 capital issue, is necessary to rebuild a following and demonstrate the transformational change underway at the bank.”

Governments now agree on new protection principals for polar bears


Convention on Migratory Species meeting in Ecuador adds listings for Cuvier’s beaked-whale, and 21 shark, ray and sawfish

Polar bears are among 31 species approved for greater protections by more than 100 countries, in a move hailed by conservationists as an important step to saving the endangered mammal.

The Convention on Migratory Species conference in Ecuador closed on Sunday, with new listings for a whale capable of the world’s deepest ocean dives, and 21 shark, ray and sawfish. A proposal to list the African lion, however, was rejected due to a lack of data.

The Norwegian proposal to protect the estimated 20,000-25,000 remaining polar bears, which are threatened by melting ice, Arctic oil exploration and hunting, saw the species gain an Appendix II listing. That means countries must work together to put in place conservation plans, as opposed to the stronger Appendix I listing which requires strict protections such as bans on killing an animal.

Dr Masha Vorontsova, director of the International Fund for Animal Welfare Russia, said: “We are pleased to see the polar bear joining a growing list of threatened migratory species protected under CMS. Appendix II does not mean that sufficient conservation action will be taken to protect the well-being of polar bears.

“What gives us hope is that this listing means that 120 countries are now recognising the threats that polar bears face from the shrinking of their ice habitat to pollution and hunting. This is an important first step, but it must not be the last if we wish to save the polar bear.”

The top level of protection, Appendix I, was issued for the rarely-seen Cuvier’s beaked-whale (Ziphius cavirostris), which scientists have recorded as diving as deep as 3 km. below the water’s surface.

Cuvier’s Beaked Whale (Ziphius cavirostris) adult underwater in deep inter-island waters near Baltra Island, Galapagos Islands, Ecuador.

The meeting in Quito also agreed that the 120 parties to the convention should pass laws to ban the capture of live whales and dolphins for use in travelling shows and entertainment.

Cathy Williamson of Whale and Dolphin Conservation said: “This very positive development from CMS sends a clear message of international concern about the impact of live captures for the aquarium industry on wild whale and dolphin populations.”

Campaigners praised the new protections for rays and sharks, with countries agreeing to take steps to stop the practice of finning, where sharks are caught and their fins cut off for use as soup at Chinese banquets.

Humane Society International’s Alexia Wellbelove said: “Today’s commitment at CMS by countries to provide greater protection for shark and ray species is an unprecedented step forwards in the conservation of sharks and rays worldwide.”

Governments agreed that the use of lead shot should be cut down to stop the poisoning of migrating birds, despite the UK initially opposing the move. The resolution also called for the phasing out of the veterinary drug diclofenac, and rodenticides, insecticides and poison baits.

Martin Harper, RSPB director of conservation, said: “I would like to congratulate the UK government for its role in helping to find a way forward. The UK showed leadership on the issue of poisoning by providing financial support to set up the CMS Preventing Poisoning Working Group, which produced the guidelines that have been ratified.”

A flock of herring gulls fly pass wind turbines on the west coast of Cumbria near Workington, Cumbria,

Guidelines were also settled for the first time on how best to protect birds and bats from wind turbines and other forms of renewable energy.

Bradnee Chambers, the convention’s executive secretary, said: “Like never before in the 35-year history of CMS, migratory animals have become the global flagships for many of the pressing issues of our time. From plastic pollution in our oceans, to the effects of climate change, to poaching and over-exploitation, the threats migratory animals face will eventually affect us all.”


News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

The water charges now a symbol for Irish Government’s many failures


The water charges protests of last week showed that tens of thousands who took to the streets of Dublin mean what they say. “No Water charges”

When it comes to water charges, this Government just does not get it. The politicians in power got a drenching in last week’s two by-elections, and also from the thousands of people who took to the streets of Dublin to protest about the charges.

Water charges have become a totem for the utter failure of ministers to deliver.

Of course, the creation of Irish Water has been shockingly shambolic.

It is an arrogant and self-satisfied organisation that has completely failed to explain what it at, with its boss John Tierney keeping a disgracefully-low profile.

Why is he not telling an austerity-ravaged population why it has to put up with bonuses being paid to Irish Water staff? Why is he not telling us honestly if we really need to give our PPS number over to the company?

And this is to not even mention the scandal of consultants minting it from Irish Water.

The setting up of Irish Water has been a mess from day one, but it is more than that.

Irish Water is now a totem for the rage against austerity in general.

The rage is because of the failure to reform, broken election promises, bloated public sector pay at the top level, the prevalence of so many quangos, the private sector pensions levy, public sector waste, sky-high income tax, multiple levies and charges, a legal sector that has escaped consumer-friendly changes, misbehaving banks, cronyism and on and on.

Many of those on the streets nine days ago protesting about the water charges are those people who go to work every day, pay their way to ensure that there is money there for everyone else – including the politicians.

They don’t resent paying their share to ensure the vulnerable are looked after, but they are also aware that middle-income earners have borne the brunt of austerity.

The Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) found the bulk of the burden of tax increases over the past five years has been carried by those on middle incomes.

These people were promised radical change when the Government came to power.

Instead, they are getting water bills from a puffed-up new utility that sees fit to pay bonuses.

Why does a monopoly utility company need to pay bonuses to staff? It is not as if its engineers can go off and work for another water company in this country.

Only in Ireland do you get this nonsense, where the general populace pays for the privileges of a few.

Modest tax breaks delivered in last week’s Budget are all very well, but the middle-income earners are still likely to extract revenge in the next election over the failures of the last few years.

And when asked what influenced their vote, the answer will come down to two words: water charges.

Irish Central Bank urged to relax mortgage rules on 20% deposits


The Government is increasing pressure on the Central Bank to reduce its controversial 20% mortgage savings demand for new homeowners,

Although the Central Bank is an independent institution, there are growing calls from within the Cabinet for the rules to be relaxed.

Some people said this weekend that they agreed with Environment Minister Alan Kelly, who last week said the 20% rate was “too high”. Mr Kelly described the 20pc requirement mooted by Central Bank Governor Patrick Honohan as “excessive” and called for a “more sensible target” of 15% to be set for first-time home buyers.

A number of ministers are unhappy at the Central Bank’s intervention at a time when the Government is attempting to stimulate the housing market. Several Cabinet members stressed that a consultation process was still ongoing until December and that they were hoping changes to the rules could be made.

Sources within the Department of Finance have indicated that the new stiff laws may not be applied to all new loans, but rather to only a certain portion of the new loan books.

It is understood officials in Finance Minister Michael Noonan’s department agree with the principal of people needing higher deposits. However, how the mechanism is ultimately applied still needs to be ironed out.

A source in the Department of Finance said recently “This wouldn’t be for everyone, but what percentage of the loan book it would apply for still isn’t clear. What is clear is that there will be changes.” Mr Kelly received a lot of backing from his Cabinet colleagues last week.

A number of ministers are in favour of some relief being given to house hunters in the Dublin area, where the massive shortage of housing and spiralling prices has effectively shut them out of the market.

“Maybe it is a generational thing within the Cabinet. Some of the older ones sort of agree with it, but there is certainly a body of opinion against it. The rate is simply too high.”

The growing unease within the Government over the 20pc deposit rule is also being echoed in the banking sector.

Ulster Bank chief executive Jim Brown warns that strict new Central Bank rules on mortgage lending will prevent first-time buyers from being able to purchase homes.

Mr Brown said the “unintended consequences” of the new sweeping rules may also see first-time buyers “struggle to save a higher deposit” as rents soar.

In response to the criticism, the Central Bank said it had nothing to add to the position it laid out last week. But it is understood the bank’s viewpoint was based on detailed research and it will only listen to contrary views which are similarly based on evidence.

Mr Brown also warned the new restrictions could have the effect of pricing first-time buyers out of the market,as they would struggle to save for a deposit while paying soaring rents.

He added: “A rebound in property prices following a crisis is not unusual. However, we recognise the need for the Central Bank to take steps to avoid overheating the credit and property markets. The measures though could have unintended consequences around home ownership which go to the heart of Irish society. The proposals, as they stand, will impact the ability of many first-time buyers to acquire their home. In addition to this, other hopeful first-time buyers will struggle to save a higher deposit while paying increasing rents.”

As part of the new measures, the Central Bank also proposed that mortgages be capped to 3.5 times borrowers’ salary. Under the rigid new demands, young borrowers looking to buy a mid-range three-bedroom house in Dublin valued at €300,000 would have to stump up €60,000.

As property prices and rents continue to soar in the capital, many young borrowers now find themselves in a Catch-22 situation where exorbitant monthly rent payments nullify their ability to save up enough for a deposit.

In Tuesday’s Budget it was announced that social housing will receive a massive €2.2bn boost in capital investment over the next four years, which will result in the construction of 10,000 new housing units. However, this will not help the coping classes who do not qualify for social housing and have to search for finance for a home on their own.

Eye implants may spell the end of reading glasses


Glasses may soon be a thing of the past as corneal inlays, implanted into the eye.

Glasses may soon be a thing of the past as corneal inlays, implanted into the eye with a simple surgery, can correct vision without the need for corrective treatments, scientists say.

A thin ring which is inserted into the eye could offer a reading glasses-free remedy for presbyopia, the blurriness in near vision experienced by many people over the age of 40, according to a new study.

The corneal inlay device undergoing clinical review in the US improved near vision well enough for 80% of the participating patients to read a newspaper without disturbing far distance vision needed for daily activities like driving.

Researchers said presbyopia affects more than 1 billion people worldwide. As they age, the cornea becomes less flexible and bends in such a way that it becomes difficult to see up close.

While the most common remedy is wearing reading glasses, a host of new corneal inlay products are in development to treat the condition, with three types currently under review by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

The theoretical advantage of using corneal inlays over wearing reading glasses is that corneal inlays prevent the need for constantly putting on and taking off glasses, depending on whether the person needs to see near or far.

One of the devices is the KAMRA inlay, a thin, flexible doughnut-shaped ring that measures 3.8 millimetres in diameter, with a 1.6 millimetre hole in the middle.

When dropped into a small pocket in the cornea covering the front of the eye, the device acts like a camera aperture, adjusting the depth of field so that the viewer can see near and far.

The procedure to insert the implant is relatively quick, lasting about 10 minutes, and requires only topical anaesthesia.

To test the inlay’s efficacy, clinicians conducted a prospective non-randomised study of 507 patients between 45 and 60 years of age across the US, Europe and Asia with presbyopia who were not nearsighted.

The researchers implanted the ring in the patients and followed up with them over the course of three years. In 83 per cent of eyes with the implant, the KAMRA corneal inlay allowed presbyopic patients to see with 20/40 vision or better over the three years.

This is considered the standard for being able to read a newspaper or drive a vehicle without corrective lenses. On average, patients gained 2.9 lines on a reading chart.

Meet Dublin Zoo’s adorable new arrival who finally has a name – Samiya


The name of newest member of the Dublin Zoo elephant family has been revealed.

Samiya, meaning ‘incomparable’, arrived into the world on September 17 last, and has been officially named following a public competition on the zoo’s Facebook page.

The female weighed 68kgs when born, around the same as an adult human, and is a gentle, quiet and timid calf.

Dublin Zoo said she was in awe of her older sister, Asha, and spends the day following her around the Kaziranga Forest Trail. She only returns to her mother, Bernhardine, to feed.

It’s been a remarkably successful year for Dublin Zoo’s elephant breeding programme under the stewardship of director Leo Oosterweghel.

Samiya was the third elephant calf to be born in recent months, with three arriving over a 10-week period.

The first calf, a bull, is named Kavi and was born on July 17. Just over a month later, he was followed by Ashoka, another bull, who arrived on August 19.

Dublin Zoo is considered a world leader in animal husbandry, and such is the success of its breeding programme that researchers and keepers from other zoos travel here to learn best practice.

The zoo is home to a family of Asian elephants, which are under increasing threat with as few as 25,000 to 33,000 now believed to be living in the wild.

Smaller than their African cousins, Mr Oosterweghel says they are an “incredibly harmonious” family and are a key attraction for visitors.

The zoo’s policy is that only names from the animal’s country of origin are chosen.

Kavi means poet or wise man, and Ashoka is named after one of India’s greatest emperors.

Due to a production error in today’s Elephant supplement, a picture of assistant director of Dublin Zoo, Paul O’Donoghue, was used on page two instead of Dublin Zoo Director Leo Oosterweghel.

Ancient Scottish creature was first to ‘have sex’ some 385 million years ago


Birds do it, bees do it, and everybody else does it? And so did the early ancestors of humans that lived in Scotland as far back as 385 million years ago.

Scientists have traced the history of vertebrate sexual intercourse to an ancient armoured fish named Microbrachius dicki.

Microbrachius means “little arms” and refers to the genital limbs that locked male and female fish together when mating. And dicki, well…

The three inch long placoderm – a primitive armoured fish – frolicked in Scottish lakes millions of years before fins evolved into legs.

A study of Microbachius fossils revealed the first evidence of their primitive sexual organs.

To transfer sperm, males had grooved L-shaped claspers which were held in place by small paired bones on the female.

Lead scientist Professor John Long, from Flinders University in Adelaide, Australia, said: “Microbrachius means little arms but scientists have been baffled for centuries by what these bony paired arms were actually there for.

“We’ve solved this great mystery because they were there for mating, so that the male could position his claspers into the female genital area.”

Similar copulatory claspers are seen today in some male sharks – but most present-day bony fishes fertilise eggs externally, outside their bodies.

The new discovery implies that external fertilisation evolved from internal fertilisation involving sexual intercourse, and not the other way around.

Microbrachius also seems to have made a head start in trying out interesting sexual positions. According to Prof Long, the fishes probably “did it” sideways.

“This enabled the males to manoeuvre their genital organs into the right position for mating,” he said. “With their arms interlocked, these fish looked more like they are square dancing the do-se-do rather than mating.”

The discovery, reported in Nature journal’s online edition, highlights the importance of placoderms in vertebrate evolution.

“Placoderms were once thought to be a dead-end group with no live relatives, but recent studies show that our own evolution is deeply rooted in placoderms, and that many of the features we have, such as jaws, teeth and paired limbs, first originated with this group of fishes,” said Prof Long.

“Now, we reveal they gave us the intimate act of sexual intercourse as well.”

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Saturday 3rd May 2014

Sinn Fein leader Adams may be charged in connection with 1972 murder of Jean McConville


Gerry Adams, the leader of Sinn Fein, will learn later today whether he will be charged or released in connection with the abduction and murder of Jean McConville, a mother of 10, from her Belfast home in 1972. Mr Adams, 65, denies he was involved in the widow’s abduction and murder.

As detectives continued to question Mr Adams, Sinn Fein’s deputy leader, Martin McGuinness, claimed the arrest was politically motivated. Speaking in Belfast yesterday, he said that an “embittered rump of the old RUC” force were “cynically exploiting the awful killing” of Mrs McConville – accused by the IRA of collaborating with the British authorities in the early 1970s.

Mr Adams is alleged by former republican colleagues to have ordered Mrs McConville’s murder and secret burial in 1972. The IRA later admitted killing her and her body was found on a beach in County Louth in 2003.

Alex Maskey, a Sinn Fein Assembly member, said yesterday the party would not stop supporting the Northern Irish Police Service, but would “monitor and review” its relationship with the force.

Northern Ireland’s Justice minister, David Ford, called Mr Adams’s arrest “entirely appropriate”. “Given the scale of the concerns expressed, of the information – which I accept is not yet evidence – it was entirely appropriate that should be followed up.”

Thousands protest in Dublin against Ireland’s abortion law


Pro-Life Campaign aims to ‘dismantle’ legislation introduced by Government last year

About 4,500 people rallied in Dublin today at a Pro-Life Vigil, which organisers said would be “the first step in a campaign dismantle the abortion law”.

While gardaí on the scene put the crowd at what the organisers described as a ‘National Vigil For Life’ at about 3,000, the organisers said there were 15,000. The crowd filled about a third of one side of Merrion Square.

Organised by the Pro-Life Campaign, the rally heard recommendations that people should not vote for candidates from parties who had “broken their pro-life promise”.

There was also strong criticism of the media which, speakers said, had helped push the Protection of Life in Pregnancy Act through last summer without critically analysing it.

Cora Sherlock, deputy chairwoman of the Pro-Life Campaign, said the passage of the legislation last July was a “shocking example of the tragic breakdown in Irish politics”. There had been no honest debate about the legislation, she said.

“The politicians and the abortion lobby said there was a real need for abortion legislation to save women’s lives. We know there was never any need for this legislation. Essential life-saving medical treatment is there that was always legally available.

“The media failed abysmally to ensure the content of abortion law and the Government’s claims about it were critically examined. The media were pushing the law instead of critically examining it,” she said.

“Most seriously the tragic death of Savita Halappanavarwas misused by major players in politics and the media.”

She said they were more concerned with getting abortion legislation passed than accurate reporting.

Such journalists, she said, were more concerned with setting the agenda than reporting on it.

“There is something rotten at the heart of Irish public debate.” She said this was as a result of “corruption” and the pro-life movement could not “sit back and tolerate this any longer”.

It was important the pro-life electorate be “mindful” of the parties that had let the movement down when casting their votes, she said.

Caroline Simons, legal advisor to the Pro-Life Campaign, said after last year’s “setback”, they had no idea how many people would turnout today.

“We realise it’s going to be a difficult road back but we are massively encouraged that so many people are ready to get on board at this stage to help turn things around.

“Senior members of Fine Gael assured their backbench TDs that once the abortion bill passed through the Dáil they would have nothing to worry about because the pro-life movement would be crushed and beaten. How wrong they were.

“Your presence here today is proof that we are wasting no time in starting to rebuild. It’s going to take time, but when the public comes to realise the full horror of what the new legislation involves support for the repeal of the law will gather pace.”

Lynn Coles of the Women Hurt told the vigil that in recent weeks she had counselled a woman who had been considering an abortion. She decided to proceed with it.

“She took her own life on Tuesday. Abortion took not only her baby’s life but her own. She leaves behind a husband and grieving extended Irish family on both sides of the Irish Sea. The media will not cover her story. This is the reality of abortion.”

Over 160 new allegations of clerical sex abuse in last year


A total of 164 new allegations of sexual abuse were reported to the Catholic Church’s child protection watchdog between April last year and the end of March 2014.

This is according to the annual report of the National Board for the Safeguarding of Children in the Catholic Church in Ireland (NBSCCCI) which was published yesterday. The report notes that allegations of abuse are down from the 242 the previous year and most of the complaints relate to alleged abuse between the 1940s and 90s.

The biggest number of allegations relate to the 60s, 70s and 80s. The board said all of these complaints have also been passed to gardaí or the PSNI and where appropriate to the Child and Family Agency.

The watchdog has undertaken reviews of safeguarding practices in all 26 dioceses and initiated a three-year training programme, according to the annual report.

Teresa Devlin, who took over last year as CEO of NBSCCCI, said the board’s small team is committed to ensuring “past mistakes are not repeated”.

In its report, the board said the Church needs to have clear standards regarding support and supervision of priests and religious out of ministry.

“This means we need to develop a framework for assessment, clarity around canonical processes, good supervision, and support place so that we can reduce the likliehood of re-offending and therefore safeguard future children,” it said.

Ruairi Quinn Minister happy to take abuse from ignorant Irish teachers


Ruairi Quinn has criticised some teachers’ actions at the recent ASTI conference as “ignorant, ill-judged and bad-mannered”.

The Education Minister was commenting on the raucous reception he received at last week’s conference, and said certain members had done “a disservice” to their union as a result of their actions.

Mr Quinn was heckled and booed by a number of delegates throughout his speech at the event in Wexford, with some teachers shouting to drown out his speech.

One delegate even used a megaphone while the minister spoke, and others shouted “lies” and “rubbish”.

Mr Quinn admitted that such attacks were hurtful, but insisted it was all part of living in a democracy.

“It hurts, of course. Some people say you must have a very thick skin to which I say, yeah, but it’s still skin,” he told Galway Bay FM.

However, despite the reception he received, he insisted that the protests showed that true democracy is in place here and that everyone has a right to their voice.


Mr Quinn stressed that he had never thought of giving up politics as a result of the abuse, and that he was not facing a situation like politicians in Ukraine. “I live in a democracy,” he added.

“No matter how ignorant, ill-judged or bad mannered they were – and I think some of them were – I think that’s a price a democratic open society is prepared to pay.

“There are very few countries in the world where, not Ruairi Quinn but the Minister for Education will go to a conference where a minority of teachers in a very disrespectful way will express their anger and disgust.

“Nobody died, nobody got injured. It’s called democracy and I’m very happy to say that I live in this country.

“I’m proud to live in this Republic and I’m proud to think that citizens can come and say what they said and how they said it.”

China and US in crucial talks on cutting carbon dioxide emissions


Tentative moves to reduce pollution could be the most hopeful single development in tackling global warming for almost 20 years

“Just a patch of blue sky big enough “to make a sailor a pair of trousers”, my parents’ generation would say, may herald a break in dismal weather. Against all expectation, rather more than that seems to be opening up amid the dark clouds that have so far shrouded the prospects of the world agreeing a new treaty to combat climate change.

China and the United States – by far the world’s greatest emitters of carbon dioxide – have started far-reaching, if little-noticed, talks on how to cut the pollution, in what is being described as the most hopeful single development in tackling global warming for almost 20 years.

Both are accelerating their efforts to control their own emissions, a considerable change for the two nations, which together account for more than two in every five tons of the greenhouse gas spewed into the atmosphere worldwide each year. The US’s refusal to join the Kyoto Protocol was long the major obstacle to progress, while China – exempted from that limited treaty – has increased its emissions to exceed those of the US and the EU combined.

What’s more, it was a clash between the two countries that did more than anything to cause the 2009 Copenhagen climate summit to end in disappointment. So the prospect of them co-operating in paving the way to the next one, in Paris at the end of next year, is significant.

This week, moreover, another unexpected development brightened the skies even further. The conservative-majority US Supreme Court – which has generally opposed Barack Obama’s environmental policies – backed, by a surprisingly large 6-2 majority, his attempt to crack down on pollution from the power stations that emit 40 per cent of the nation’s greenhouse gases.

Chief Justice John Roberts and his fellow conservative, Anthony Kennedy, joined the court’s four liberals to reject a vigorous challenge by polluters to Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations designed to clamp down on smog from coal-fired plants that drifts across state boundaries, helping to cause an estimated 34,000 deaths a year.

True, the measure does not directly address global warming. But it is expected to cause the closure of the most polluting plants, which are also the biggest emitters of carbon dioxide. And, much more importantly, the court’s decision appears to endorse Obama’s strategy of making combating climate change one of the main themes of his second term of office.

Frustrated by Congress in his attempt to introduce climate legislation, the President dropped his issue in his first four years, while privately regarding it as his biggest first-term failure. Now – partly at the prompting of his daughters – he is making a much more determined bid to tackle it, this time by trying to bypass Capitol Hill.

His strategy is to rely on executive presidential orders to reduce emissions, implemented by the EPA; next month he is due to issue some to cut carbon dioxide from power plants. His opponents have been hoping the courts would stop him, hence the significance of the Supreme Court’s decision. If it had ruled against Obama, his climate strategy would have seemed severely damaged; instead it appears to have cleared the path for it to progress.

In China, too, action against conventional pollution, largely from power plants, is presaging measures on climate change. So- called “airpocalypses” in Chinese cities, with concentrations of deadly particles up to 20 times higher than international safety limits, are causing the country increasingly to move away from coal, which provides 70 per cent of its electricity. Most of the new Chinese generating capacity installed last year relies on renewable energy; old coal plants are being closed, and some experts expect national carbon emissions to peak by the next decade.

A year ago China and the US agreed to phase out production and use of hydrofluorocarbons, potent greenhouse gases used in refrigeration, and the world’s fastest-growing climate threat. The hope was that this would presage wider co-operation, and the signs that this is beginning are being hailed as the most important development since the Kyoto Protocol was concluded in 1997.

It does, however, leave Europe – hitherto leading the attack on global warming – on the sidelines, perhaps deservedly so, as its leaders have grown increasingly timid since failing to make enough of a difference in Copenhagen.

David Cameron, however, has – since the winter floods – begun to re-emphasise the importance of what he initially made his trademark issue. This September he will have a chance to show whether he means it at a special summit called by UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon to try to put momentum behind a new international treaty. And, since voters formed their first impressions of him as environmentally concerned, crucial credibility – in an election year – may hang on his performance.