Tag Archives: Crows

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Wednesday 10th August 2016

The cost of borrowing continues to fall for Ireland


Ireland’s cost of borrowing has continued to fall, after the yield on Irish 10-year bonds hit record low levels yesterday.

Peripheral euro zone bonds have become popular recently as economic uncertainty has led to an easing of monetary policy globally

A scarcity of bonds – highlighted by the Bank of England’s (BoE) inability to meet its bond-purchase target – has driven interest rates on government debt to record lows across the board.

In the week prior to the Brexit vote on 23 June, the interest rate on Irish 10-year bonds stood at 0.84%.

Yesterday that yield on Irish debt fell to a record low 0.37%, and today it is lower again at 0.34%.

Peripheral euro zone bonds have become popular recently as economic uncertainty has led to an easing of monetary policy globally.

Now further demand has been placed on euro zone bonds after the BoE failed to find enough willing sellers to meet its bond purchase target for the first time since it started buying government bonds in 2009.

German 10-year yields have fallen further into negative territory at -0.1%, while the Netherlands bond yield rate is also negative at -0.01%.

This has seen investors move towards peripheral euro zone bonds, such as Ireland, which would have a relatively higher rate of return.

Investors seeking alternatives

Spooked by the end of a 30-year bond bull run and bouts of money printing which have pushed stock values out of kilter with economic reality, high-profile investors are turning to fine wines, classic cars and jewels, research and index data show.

Even legendary bond investor and ex-Pimco boss Bill Gross said last week that he now favoured real assets like land and gold over more traditional investment classes.

This growing interest saw rare coins, collectable jewellery and classic cars join fine wine among the top performers in the year to end-March, the latest Knight Frank Luxury Investment Index showed.

A record breaking six months for Irish tourism with half a million extra visitors to Irish shores

More than half a million extra visitors to Irish shores for first half of the year…


Playing host to the likes of Game of Thrones and Star Wars helped Ireland achieve massive tourism growth in the first half of the year, with 507,400 extra visitors descending on the Emerald Isle than the same period in 2015.

Irish tourism’s best ever first-half performance saw the island welcome 4.4 million tourists, marking a mammoth 13% increase year-on-year.

Aside from the lure of screen tourism, air access, positive publicity and a global marketing campaigning were cited as contributing to the boom.

Tourism Ireland confirmed that revenue was also up 18% for the first quarter. The majority of tourists came from Britain and North America, while trips from mainland Europe were also on the rise.

Ireland now accounts for one in 10 of all American visitors to Europe.

There are 40,000 additional people employed in the tourism sector compared with five years ago.

Niall Gibbons, CEO of Tourism Ireland, said that hotels and other service providers have to continue to do their part to attract people here:

“The industry have to offer excellent value for money. Not be as good as our competitors; we have to be better.

“The good news is that if you look back at the actual statistics, in 1999… 3% of[British visitors] said Ireland was poor value for money. By 2009 that was 43%, and by 2015 that was back to single digits.

“I think we have to sustain and maintain those very positive value for money numbers.”

There were 16% more visitors from the UK in the first half, and Tourism Ireland is set to target that market with an extensive programme of promotions this autumn to boost off-peak business and mitigate for a weakened sterling following the Brexit vote.

Currency movements mean that Eurozone trips are now roughly 10% more expensive for British holiday makers.

Data protection chief Dixon must not distance herself from complainants

Disengaging from individuals could open Ireland to a sanction by European courts


In a recent speech, The data Protection Commissioner Helen Dixon referred to some solicitors as “digital ambulance chasers”.

In a recent speech, Irish Data Protection Commissioner Helen Dixon set out her perspectives on data protection supervision – putting her on a collision course with the European Commission and the Court of Justice of the European Union.

At the Irish Centre for European Law annual Data Protection Conference, Commissioner Dixon expressed frustration at the lack of clear objectives for data protection and a failure to detail the harms it is designed to mitigate.

The commissioner went on to criticise the large number of complaints received by her office which, she said, were really proxies for disputes between different parties and had only a marginal connection with data protection issues.

Solicitors were singled out as “digital ambulance chasers” for bringing volumes of complaints of little apparent merit and using subject access requests for fishing expeditions in litigation.

Ms Dixon made it clear that she doesn’t think she should be obliged to consider every complaint received by her office and that she thinks the resources currently committed to investigating individual complaints would be better used examining systemic data protection issues.

So, should – or indeed can – the commissioner distance herself from individual complainants?

In my view, she cannot and should not.

Missed opportunity

To do so would not only require an amendment to European law, which guarantees such a right, it would also be a missed opportunity to engage with individuals in order to close the apparent gap between the general nature of data protection rules and the public’s understanding of the protections that it offers.

In disengaging from individuals, the commissioner would miss an essential aspect of data protection supervision, inevitably resulting in a standard of data protection supervision in Ireland below that set by European law.

Consequently, such a move could open Ireland to a sanction by the European courts.

To see why, it must be understood that data protection touches on every aspect of our lives – as consumers buying goods and services, citizens participating in a democratic society and as neighbours in our communities.

Data protection owes a lot to the experience of many millions of Europeans who lived in authoritarian communist regimes.

It values individual protection over pure self-interest, by setting moral boundaries to how our personal data may be used.

However, these boundaries are always specific to individual circumstances and can change over time. Crucially, data protection law doesn’t lend itself to absolute rules or codified, measurable objectives.

As such, the progressive nature of data protection law brings it into conflict with the conservative free market view that personal data is just another commodity that can be traded for profit.

There are similar conflicts with state bureaucracies looking for easy ways to exert control or deliver privatised public services.

The obligations on data protection supervisors, when hearing individual complaints, were spelled out by the Court of Justice of the European Union in the well-known Google Spain case, which concerned the so-called right to be forgotten, (i.e. the right of individuals to have certain links removed from internet searches on their names).

The court first noted that everyone has a right to make a complaint to an independent supervisor, such as our Data Protection Commissioner.

It then went on to find that interference with data protection rights, if sufficiently serious, cannot be justified on purely economic grounds but only with reference to other fundamental rights such as the right to freedom of expression.

The law is very vague?

Critically, in making a complaint, an individual is not required to demonstrate that they have been prejudiced.

Finally, the court stressed the importance of context. It noted publication by a search engine of personal data already legally published on the internet may nevertheless interfere with an individual’s rights.

Similarly, publication of personal data may cease to be justified with the passage of time.

So, if the law is vague and context dependent, how can the use of personal data be regulated and why are individual complaints so important?

Data protection places a high value on individual protection balanced only against other fundamental rights.

To regulate at the standards demanded of European law, a data protection supervisor must embrace the progressive ideals of this moral framework and engage in empathic dialogue with individuals to build a common shared understanding of data protection norms.

It is only through stepping into the shoes of individual data subjects that data protection supervisors can really give effect to the individual balancing of interests that is demanded.

Trivialising complainants and attacking their advisors is not the way forward.

If resources are truly an issue then Ms Dixon needs to press the State to fullfil its obligation to provide them.

Dialogue with individuals rather than distance is what is required.

It would be a serious mistake to remove the individual right to complain to the commissioner’s office.

This is the amount of exercise you should be doing every day


Reduce the risk of breast and bowel cancer, diabetes, heart disease and stroke with more exercise, 

The minimum recommended amount of exercise should be increased, researchers have said after a new study found that more exercise can drastically lower a person’s risk of five serious diseases.

Exceeding the current recommended minimum levels of exercise each week can significantly reduce the risk of breast and bowel cancer, diabetes, heart disease and stroke, experts found.

At present, the World Health Organisation recommends that people conduct at least “600 metabolic equivalent minutes (MET minutes)” of physical activity – the equivalent of 150 minutes each week of brisk walking or 75 minutes per week of running.

Researchers from the US and Australia looked into how much exceeding these levels can reduce one’s risk of the five common chronic diseases.

Their study, published in the British Medical Journal, examined 174 studies published between 1980 and 2016 which looked at the associations between total physical activity and at least one of the diseases.

Having higher levels of physical activity was significantly associated with a reduced risk in the diseases.

The study found two phased reductions in the risk of the five conditions – quick drops in the risk from 600 to 4,000 MET minutes of physical activity per week followed by slow but steady reductions from 4,000 to 10,000 MET minutes each week.

Most health gains occurred when people conducted 3,000 to 4,000 MET minutes per week, they found.

The authors said that 3000 MET minutes each week can be achieved by climbing the stairs for 10 minutes, vacuuming for 15 minutes, gardening for 20 minutes, running for 20 minutes, and walking or cycling for transportation 25 minutes on a daily basis.

“The findings of this study showed that a higher level of total physical activity is strongly associated with a lower risk of breast cancer, colon cancer, diabetes, ischemic heart disease, and ischemic stroke, with most health gains occurring at a total activity level of 3000-4000 MET minutes/week,” the authors wrote.

The crow who amazed the world by bending wire was simply using natural behaviour, 

Remember that crow who astonished the world by bending a straight piece of wire back in 2002?


Scientists finally have an explanation for that. They say the bird was simply acting out behaviour in her species’ natural repertoire.

Betty bent a straight piece of garden wire into a neat hook to lift a food-baited bucket from a vertical tube in a laboratory at the University of Oxford in 2002.

At the time, it was known that New Caledonian crows manufacture tools from twigs in the wild, but it seemed highly unlikely that this involved bending.

The resulting paper from the experiment suggested that Betty had spontaneously come up with a clever solution after understanding the experimental task.

This shook the field of comparative cognition and was regarded as one of the most compelling demonstrations of intelligence in a non-human animal.

But recent field experiments by biologists at the University of St Andrews have found that tool bending is part of New Caledonian crows’ natural behaviour.

Dr Christian Rutz was leader of the project, the findings of which are published in Royal Society Open Science.

“We couldn’t believe our eyes,” Dr Rutz said.

“Most birds trapped sticks underfoot before bending the tool shaft by bill, but one also pushed tools against the logs to flex them, and another wedged them upright into holes before pulling the shaft sideways, just as Betty had done.

“It turns out, the twigs that wild crows select for making their tools are pliable.

“Our study is a powerful reminder of the importance of basic natural history research.

“When my Oxford colleagues studied Betty’s cognitive abilities almost 15 years ago, very little was known about how these birds make and use tools in their natural tropical habitat.

“Our discovery of tool bending in wild New Caledonian crows has come as a complete surprise, and was the result of patient field research.”

The researchers provided the wild-caught crows with juicy treats hidden in wooden logs, as well as their preferred plant material to manufacture tools.

New Caledonian crows live in the remove tropical archipelago of New Caledonia, South Pacific, where the research for the study took place.

Birds were briefly kept in field aviaries before being released back into the wild.

Dr Rutz said the researchers were “absolutely over the moon” when the birds began making and using tools in their field aviaries.

Some of the crows vigorously bent their twig tools during processing in the same manner as Betty had bent wire in the Oxford experiment.

This time, however, bent tools were not required to solve the task.

James St Clair, report co-author, said: “Our observations raise the question of why wild crows would bend their stick tools as a matter of course.

“We believe a curved tool is advantageous, because the bird can position it in its bill so that the tool-tip is bang in the middle of the field of binocular vision.

“This should improve tool control during foraging.”


News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Thursday 4th December 2014

“Bailout of €680m” for HSE the biggest in its 10-year history


The Minister for Health Leo Varadkar.

Department says overrun will not reduce funds available to health service next year

The Department of Health is seeking a €680 million supplementary budget for the Health Service Executive next month, the largest in the history of the health service, the Department of Public Expenditure has confirmed.

The figure includes a €510 million minimum overrun on the cost of running the health service, as well as increased costs incurred by the State Claims Agency as a result of a rise in claims.

The larger-than-expected bailout for the Department of Health will mean the equivalent sum is carried forward into next year’s account, though Minister for Health Leo Varadkar insists it will have no impact on the funding available next year.

The amount sought demonstrates the intense pressure on the health budget, and the task ahead for Mr Varadkar should demand for services continue to rise.

A number of other departments have also sought supplementary budgets.

The Department of Health said the extra money sought for the HSE reflected increased levels of activity, such as more emergency admissions, more demand for bed days and more elderly patients with complex needs.

Mr Varadkar said the extra money for the HSE has already been included in the base for next year’s expenditure.

Some €54 million is being sought for payments by the HSE to the State Claims Agency. “The timing of income collection and working capital requirements associated with prior years contributes a further €108 million cash requirement in 2014,” the Department said.

Mr Varadkar said these were once-off costs and would not recur next year.

The supplementary budget also includes €5 million for an early access programme to drugs for high-risk patients with Hepatitis C and €3 million to allow an initiative to tackle delayed discharges start this year. through the release of 300 additional places on the Fair Deal scheme.

“The supplementary budget will have no impact whatsoever on the budget for the Department of Health for next year and the HSE Service Plan announced last week is unaffected and the figures remain unchanged,” the Minister said.

The Department says savings of €4 million will reduce the cost to the Exchequer of the supplementary estimate.

The HSE has required a supplementary estimate in all but two years of its 10-year history but this bailout is the largest since it was set up in2005. In 2010, a €595 million supplementary budget was required to shore up its finances.

HSE secretary general Tony O’Brien has argued that half of this year’s overrun is due to issues beyond its control, such as unspecified pay savings and a pensions excess. However, hospital overspending is projected to hit €273 million by the end of the year.

Bishops say same-sex marriage would be

‘A grave injustice’


Bishop Kevin Doran, Bishop of Elphin, and Bishop Liam MacDaid, Bishop of Clogher and chair of the Council for Marriage and Family of the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference at the media launch of The Meaning of Marriage, a pastoral statement by the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference.

The leaflet highlights ‘uniqueness of the role of husbands and wives’

Allowing same-sex marriage would be a “grave injustice” and a disservice to society, according to members of a representative body for Catholic bishops in Ireland.

Speaking at the launch of a leaflet entitled “The Meaning of Marriage” in Maynooth, high-ranking clergy from the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference set out the church’s stall in the run-up to an expected referendum on same-sex marriage next spring.

“The view of marriage as being between man and a woman and for life, that’s not something which is particular to Catholics and Christians. There are people of all kinds of other religious beliefs, and of none, who believe in that,” said Bishop Liam MacDaid of Clogher, who is chair of the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference council for marriage.

“To put any other view of marriage on the same level as Christian marriage would be a disservice to society rather than a service,” added Bishop MacDaid, who was flanked by fellow bishop Kevin Doran of Elphin following the organisation’s two-day winter conference in St Patrick’s College.

“While there’s sort of an assumption that this referendum [passing] is a no-brainer, in some societies the legislature has legislated for same-sex marriage, but in other societies- almost everywhere there has been a same-sex referendum- it has been rejected… Our hope would be that the referendum would be defeated,” saidBishop Doran, who courted publicity last week for his concessionary stance on inheritance rights for same-sex couples.

The bishops’ remarks came upon the release of the eight-page leaflet on marriage, which contends that “it is a grave injustice if the State ignores the uniqueness of the role of husbands and wives, and the importance of mothers and fathers in our society”.

Placing a heavy emphasis on the responsibility of a functioning, heterosexual relationship in the child rearing process, the publication states that the “upbringing of children is uniquely possible” through conventional, church-endorsed marital relationships.

It goes on to say that “the union of marriage provides for the continuation of the human race and the development of human society”, and that “marriage of a woman and a man is a fundamental building block of society which makes a unique and irreplaceable contribution to the common good and to society as well”.

It is thought that today’s comments from church officials marks the opening salvo in a concerted effort to sway public opinion against same-sex marriages ahead of next year’s referendum. According to the latest Irish Times/Ipsos MRBI poll, 67 per cent of Irish people support the notion of same-sex marriage being constitutionally enshrined, with just 20 per cent of respondents opposed to such a move.

Sligo hospital issues apology to Sally Rowlette family


Saolta hospital group says services have improved in maternity unit since her death.

Sean Rowlette and his children who’s wife, Sally Rowlette (36), died in child birth at Sligo Regional Hospital.

Sligo Regional Hospital and the Saolta hospital group of which it is a member have apologised to the family of Sally Rowlette, who died in the hospital last year.

In a statement offering their condolences, they said they were apologising “for the events related to her care that contributed to her tragic death”.

Maternity and ICU services in the hospital have improved over the past number of years, according to the statement, and the delivery of quality safe patient care continues to be a priority.

The national maternity early warning score has been implemented for all pregnant women attending the hospital and will help ensure the early detection of any deteriorating patient, it says.

A post-natal communication process has been established for women with severe Hellp syndrome, an acute form of pre-eclampsia, and all incident reports are analysed as part of a risk management process.

On Wednesday, a jury returned a verdict of death by medical misadventure in the case of Ms Rowlette, who died in February 2013 a day after giving birth to her fourth child. The inquest heard evidence that she was a victim of a “broad systems failure”

UPC to acquire wi-fi provider Bitbuzz for some €5-€6 million


Bitbuzz managing director Shane Deasy above

Telecoms provider snaps up Irish-owned wi-fi company

Broadband provider UPC Ireland is to acquire Irish-owned wi-fi company Bitbuzz for an undisclosed sum thought to be in the region of €5-€6 million.

Bitbuzz, which is headquartered in Dublin, specialises in offering wifi to the tourism, retail and leisure sectors, notably hotels and cafes in Ireland and Britain.

It recently won contracts with stores operated by the Cork-based wholesale group Musgrave, Insomnia and Costa Coffee.

UPC Ireland chief executive Magnus Ternsjö confirmed the deal at a media lunch hosted by the company on Thursday.

He declined to disclose further details of the acquisition but said it would be a cash deal and that the wifi service would continue to operate under the Bitbuzz brand.

Bitbuzz founders Shane Deasy and Alex French are to leave the company following the acquisition.

Providing internet services via wifi has become increasingly competitive with a number of high-profile companies vying for market share.

UPC’s move is designed to strengthen the company’s presence in the hospitality, health and education markets, where Bitbuzz is prominent.

With Bitbuzz’s market position and UPC’s fixed-line capacity, the deal is perceived to deliver significant synergies.

Bitbuzz passed something of a milestone when revenues break the €1 million mark in the first half of this year.

Its managing director Shane Deasy said recently the company planned to hire about a dozen more staff by the end of the year as part of an expansion of its activities in Ireland and Britain.

Crows show tendency to be left or right beaked after a study of skills put to the test


Scientists have been examining the tool skills of crows

Crows famous for their tool-wielding show a tendency to be left or right beaked that mirrors handedness in humans, scientists have found.

Individual New Caledonian crows display a preference for holding a stick tool on the right or left side of their beaks.

Researchers believe the birds may be trying to keep the tip of the stick in view of the eye on the opposite side of their heads.

Lead scientist Dr Alejandro Kacelnik, from Oxford University, said: “If you were holding a brush in your mouth and one of your eyes was better than the other at brush length, you would hold the brush so that its tip fell in view of the better eye. This is what the crows do.”

New Caledonian crows have surprised experts with their ability to use sticks to extract larvae from burrows and, in captivity, retrieve food placed out of reach.

The new study, published in the journal Current Biology, also suggests that the birds’ unusually wide field of vision actually helps them to see better with one eye.

Co-author Dr Antone Martinho, also from Oxford University, said: “We thought that their binocular fields would facilitate binocular vision, perhaps allowing the birds to judge the distance from tool tip to target. It turned out that, most frequently, they only see the tool tip and target with one eye at a time.”

Dr Kacelnik added: “Birds and humans face similar problems in tool use and many other activities. Studying similar problems across species helps to put all of them in perspective.”

Stegosaurus skeleton to give up its dinosaur secrets


Scientists have begun the most detailed analysis ever carried out on a stegosaurus skeleton.

Although stegosauruses are one of the most well-known dinosaurs, it is among those scientists know the least about.

There are only six partial skeletons of the creature, which lived around 150 million years ago.

This specimen, nicknamed “Sophie”, has been acquired by the Natural History Museum in London.

A UK team has scanned each of its 360 bones into a computer and has digitally reconstructed the animal.

Professor Paul Barrett, who is leading the research, told BBC News more about what they were hoping to find out.