Tag Archives: current-events

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Sunday 20th December 2015

Ireland’s retail sales to rise by up to 5% this Christmas,

Panic Saturday’ is expected to be one of the busiest days in festive shopping calendar


There has been an “exponential increase” in on-line sales, according to Retail Excellence Ireland.

Retail trade is expected to be up by three to five% this Christmas, according to a new survey.

Retail Excellence Ireland, the group representing retailers, said the poor weather in recent weeks has “very negatively impacted” on-street retail across the State, but that shopping centre retail has been “less affected”.

It reported an increase in convenience grocery sales as consumers “shop local” rather that travelling longer distances to supermarkets.

The weather has also contributed to an “exponential increase” in online sales with many retail operators commenting that Christmas 2015 has marked “a milestone” in how Irish consumers shop.

The survey noted that despite the upturn in some regions, provincial Ireland is “lagging behind” with many operators observing “weak footfall and underwhelming consumer activity”.

It said the Dublin evening economy was “robust and trading exceptionally well”, while the Dublin day-time economy was “performing well”.

The survey also said the Black Friday weekend had been “very robust” for retailers, but that gains were offset by a “very sluggish” two-week period before and after the event. “Many are questioning its continued existence in the Irish retail landscape,” it added.

Panic Saturday

The last Saturdaybefore Christmas is one of the busiest festive shopping days. In the UK panic-buyers and bargain-hunters are expected to flood stores on the busiest day in the Christmas shopping calendar , as high street shops slash prices in an attempt to coax consumers down the aisles.

Retailers including River Island, H&M, Sports Direct, Argos and Sainsbury’s are already offering huge seasonal discounts, with many more sales due to kick off early instead of after Christmas. Discounts are expected to average 45% on what some see as the most stressful shopping day of the year, according to Deloitte.

Around 12.6 million Britons are expected to hit the sales in search of cut-price buys, according to the Centre for Retail Research. A mild autumn and unexpectedly low Black Friday sales have left businesses desperate to shift a build-up of stock, industry experts said.

And thanks to Christmas falling on a Friday this year, ‘Panic Saturday’ is expected to kick off a £6 billion (€8.2bn) six-day spending spree — 23% more than the same period last year when Christmas Day fell on the Thursday.

Recent data shows 55% of Irish people are financially illiterate

We are financially illiterate.Ten years on and we still don’t know what a tracker mortgage is, despite all the financial water under the bridge, and the collapse of the banking system.

We know this because of recent, unflattering financial data and rankings, which got almost no media coverage.

Rankings are funny. Some rankings get headline news.

Thus, the PISA rankings, which look at science and maths ability, are always good for a headline on how poorly our education system serves us.

With 15% of the 15-year-olds last examined being ‘illiterate’ in science and maths, there is a problem.

It’s not as big a problem as in the US, which scored a 25% share, but it’s still a problem.

Then, there are the university rankings, in which the failure of Irish universities to meet an arbitrarily selected and methodologically protean target is regularly decried.

Again, we are subjected to editorialising and sermonising on how our system fails us.

The questions on financial literacy hardly involve quantum mechanics.

Can the respondent calculate a percentage, differentiate between compound and simple interest, differentiate between spreading and concentrating risk in making decisions about savings, and understand inflation?

Getting three out of four answers correct makes the respondent financially literate.

The study was conducted, by the World Bank and Standard & Poor’s, on more than 150,000 people in 144 countries.

It is a global snapshot of financial literacy.

Globally, a third of the survey respondents were deemed financially literate; in Ireland, it was 55%. In other words, 1.6m adults in Ireland were deemed financially illiterate.

This is pretty serious stuff.

If half the adult population were literally illiterate, there would be a massive government and social outcry and a plan put in place to remedy it.

Little has been done to improve the situation.

Wealth and financial literacy, both on a national and on an individual basis, are fairly reasonably linked.

However, what is not at all clear is the cause of financial illiteracy.

Although older people have a lower actual literacy, they also display greater confidence in their knowledge, which perhaps suggests how easy it is for the elderly to fall prey to financial scams.

There is a gender issue, too, perhaps related, in that levels of financial literacy tend to be lower among women.

The 2012 PISA study included an examination of school students’ financial literacy and found that, at age 15, there was little gender difference.

Unfortunately, this module of the PISA study was not administered in Ireland, so, again, we find ourselves making policy without evidence.

In fact, earnings are obviously linked to literacy, with rural communities, lower education, and regional impoverishment all being associated with not just lower income outcomes, but also lower financial literacy.

So, does it matter? A lot of research suggests that lower financial literacy, not surprisingly, is associated with poorer financial decision-making in daily life.

In particular, lower financial literacy is associated with lower participation in financial products and with lower forward financial planning, particularly in pension provision or precautionary savings.

Those who are financially less literate tend to have costlier loans and to be more prone to finding themselves in financial difficulties.

They take out costlier loans from costlier borrowers and do not manage these as well as they might.

This happens, regardless of earnings or education or gender — it is the literacy aspect that seems to drive them.

Financial literacy programmes tend to be shoehorned into second-level schools, with little regard for the need to individualise and contextualise.

Those done by financial institutions and advisers, typically in workplaces, are bedevilled by perceptions of marketing.

One thing is clear — financial illiteracy is a problem and one that is being swept under the carpet.

‘We won’t let floods sink Christmas’ vow defiant locals in Carrick-on-Shannon


Carrick-on-Shannon’s residents take the high road in their on-going battle of the floods.

DSN Fitness Gym owner Siofra O’Connor stands outside her apartment in the Inver Geal apartment complex in Carrick On Shannon last Wednesday. Photo: Tony Gavin

They missed the premiere of the new Star Wars movie due to the three-feet-deep flood in front of the cinema, but the force remains strong with the people of Carrick-on-Shannon.

From assembling make-shift bridges over flooded carparks, organising shuttle bus services across both sides of the river, to sharing toilet facilities with neighbouring businesses and setting up social media groups, natives living along the weir of the marshy bridge say: “We are staying afloat”.

Standing in a newly formed lake outside her apartment block, located in the colourful Inver Geal complex on the Roscommon side of the Shannon, Siofra O’Connor said people are frustrated, but that “there is no point getting down or being depressed”.

“Yes, it’s a ridiculous situation, but we have to focus on solutions,” she said.

“It’s been like living on a movie set for the last two weeks, our apartment complex is surrounded by floods at the front and the Shannon at the back, but the water hasn’t come in, so we have to look at the bright side,” she said.

In 2009, Ms O’Connor, a fitness instructor who runs three businesses in town, was forced to evacuate her old apartment in the same complex – just four doors down.

“The water came up through the floorboards, we were flooded out of it and had to be moved,” said Ms O’Connor, pointing to a car submerged up to the steering wheel in front of her former residence.

“We’ve been lucky, it’s starting to recede. We can’t park outside but that’s minor compared to last time,” she said.

“The whole community is rowing in behind each other; we all understand, we know what people are going through so we’re coming up with new ideas to salvage Christmas and make the best of this situation,” she said.

Although the vast majority of businesses, on both sides of the Shannon, are trading and open for business, parking is a major problem for shoppers and staff.

Mary McEvoy, who works at Enhance Health and Beauty, says so far people are still making the trek for their Christmas beauty treatments, but “we’re not getting much passing trade”.

“There isn’t a lot of footfall and people think we’re closed because of the massive flood outside. It might affect us in voucher sales, but we won’t know that until the end of the month,” said Ms McEvoy, adding that the Roscommon side of the bridge, where Supervalu, Lidl and Mulvey’s Toymaster are based, is the worst hit area.

“The flood has stopped traffic going up the one-way street of the town, and that’s causing a huge bottle-neck at the bridge and preventing people from coming out this side,” she said.

“This place was a flood plain to begin with; businesses shouldn’t have to deal with this. We’re joined up with the Shannon right now, we’re part of the flow,” she said.

“Everybody has an opinion on the floods, but you need experts to look at this and to stop it from happening again. At the moment we have a lot of chiefs and not enough indians,” she said.

Standing behind a wall of sandbags, Rachel O’Malley, manager at Victoria Hall Restaurant, said that, although they’ve remained open, it’s been impossible to access deliveries.

“There has been a big visual impact on us, we’re surrounded by water so people think we’re closed. We’ve had Christmas party cancellations and it’s a tough to swallow. This is usually our busiest time of year,” she said.

Joe Dolan, owner of The Bush Hotel, said flooding on main roads into the town is their biggest problem.

“A lot of our revenue comes from the by-pass, so that’s certainly a blow. But we’re a resilient bunch and we’re remaining upbeat about Christmas week,” he said.

A survey by Retail Excellence Ireland revealed a sharp divide in Christmas shopping between Dublin and the rest of the country, with strong trade in the capital but weak business in provincial stores.

As water levels drop, Leitrim County Council said it will continue to operate a flood management process, but clean-up will not be considered until floods recede.

Flood defences are being maintained and diversions and road closures remain in place at the N4 – between the Townspark and Tesco Roundabout, Park Lane, Quay Street – and the main route from Carrick-on-Shannon to Manorhamilton is closed. Routes to and from Leitrim village are also closed.

Despite limited access to Carrick-on-Shannon, shoppers are being encouraged to buy local this Christmas instead of journeying to Dublin, Sligo and Galway.

However, the children of Carrick-on-Shannon can rest assured that Santa Claus will make it through the floods this Christmas Eve, as local girl, Heidi Caldbeck (11) has asked Saint Nicholas to intervene.

Unknown to her parents, Grainne and Derek, Heidi was fully aware of the anxiety over the Shannon floods while on a trip to the heart of the Arctic Circle in Lapland last week.

Heidi penned a special wish, ‘Make sure Carrick stops flooding’ and placed it in Santa’s ‘Drum of Dreams’.

Santa has told her that he will use “all his powers to help”.

Christmas can be a stressful time but here are five ways to mind your mental health

With so much going on, it’s no surprise so many people find the festive period so stressful.


With so much going on, and so many demands on your time and attention it’s no surprise so many people find the festive period so stressful.

To manage that stress, the people at St Patrick’s Mental Health Services have come up with some ways people can nurture their mental health.

As Clinical Nurse Manager Debbie Van Tonder notes:

“In the run up to Christmas, many people find themselves swept away and overwhelmed by the presents, the cooking, the wrapping, the decorating… But by attempting to take a more mindful approach to festivities, stress-levels can be hugely reduced.”

What is ‘mindfulness’ you ask?

Essentially, it’s derived from a belief of ‘living in the moment’. It’s the practice of purposefully paying attention moment by moment, in a non-judgmental way to the things you do: learning to make time for yourself, learning to slow down and nurture calmness and self-acceptance.

In other words – it’s the opposite of everything going on in this photo…

Here are five tips from St Patrick’s you might like to make note of, in the run-up to Christmas:

1. Make a mindful list

  • Instead of writing the usual ‘to do’ list that will inevitably include some needless activities, it may be a good idea to sit quietly and ask yourself what activities are going to benefit and nurture ourselves and others and what activities are more avoidable. Focus on what matters.

2. Mindful shopping

  • Mindfulness accepts that some experiences are unpleasant, including Christmas queues. See if you can become aware of your reactions when something holds up your progress.
  • Take a moment to ask yourself: What is going through my mind? What sensations are there in my body? What emotional reactions and impulses am I aware of?

3. Walk

  • Physical activity lifts your mood and can reduce stress. Go for a walk and pay attention to the sights, sounds and smells at this time of year. Walk with as much awareness as you can.

4. Breathe

  • When anxiety or stress gets on top of you, it can be difficult to remember why you should remain calm. By taking three minutes by yourself to meditate, stress-levels can be vastly reduced. Sit quietly and focus on your breathing, in and out.

5. Have compassion for yourself and others

  • Kindness can change an experience completely. The desire in all of us to alleviate suffering is part of what we celebrate at Christmas, the opportunity to share and give. With 1 in 4 people experiencing a mental illness at some point in their life, there is bound to be someone on your Christmas card list who is not feeling festive. Reach out to them. Be kind to yourself and others.

NASA astronauts to go for Monday spacewalk outside ISS


A pair of NASA astronauts on Monday morning plan to exit the International Space Station in an effort to secure a rail car that is stuck in the wrong place.

The Mobile Transporter, which is holding the station’s 58-foot robotic arm and other equipment, last week stopped rolling on rails just four inches from a work site near the center of the station orbiting 250 miles up.

NASA and its partners want the transporter locked down before the planned Wednesday morning arrival of a Russian Progress resupply ship, which will require the station to maneuver into position and then absorb the force of the docking Progress vehicle.

Scott Kelly, the Expedition 46 commander, and Tim Kopra, who just arrived at the station last week, are expected to begin a minimum three-hour spacewalk around 8:10 a.m.

Watch it live on NASA TV.

SpaceX rocket launch, landing postponed to Monday night.

Kelly will be the lead spacewalker and wear a suit with red stripes. Kopra will wear an all-white suit.

The spacewalk will be Kelly’s third since he began a yearlong mission in March, and the second of Kopra’s career. It will be the 191st supporting assembly and maintenance of the orbiting research laboratory.

The latching of the Mobile Transporter is not expected to present much difficulty. If it is done quickly, the two astronauts will tackle additional tasks.

Launch of the Progress cargo ship is scheduled for 3:44 a.m. EST on Monday from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, and also can be seen on NASA TV.


News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Wednesday 16th December 2015

Irish State coffers in balance for first time in decade

A €1.64bn sale of AIB preference shares coupled with better than expected exchequer returns means that the exchequer will be close to balance for the first time since 2007.

AIB will today pay the state €1.64bn in cash from the total bailout funds it received since the financial crash.Finance Minister Michael Noonan is expected to signal today that by the end of the month Ireland will be taking in more than it is spending for the first time in a decade.

Its major capital reorganisation plus the surge in €3bn more than expected in tax receipts so far this year will be added to by the end of year figures.

The increased revenue intake means that Ireland’s borrowing costs will also be reduced while Ireland’s debt ratio will be cut by almost 1% of GDP in 2016.

It is understood the Cabinet discussed the expected end of year returns at its meeting this week.

The AIB transaction marks its first meaningful return of funds to the state after €21bn was pumped into the bank.

Irish taxpayers will still retain 99.8% of the shares in AIB, an investment with a value currently estimated at €11.7bn.

At the beginning of this month, the Government had collected just below €42bn in taxes, almost €3bn more than it expected to collect at the start of the year.

The further income for the exchequer that is expected to be collected by the end of this month will leave the exchequer close to balance —for the first time since the end of the boom in 2007.

Ireland’s debt is now also forecast to fall to 92% of GDP, in line with the euro area average.

AIB to repay Irish State €1.87bn after approval for reorganisation

Bank says it has already paid €3bn to the Government in various fees so far.


AIB chairman Richard Pym told shareholders the bank has paid about €3 billion to the State in fees related to the Government’s guarantees.

AIB will pay the State €1.866 billion tomorrow after receiving shareholder approval for a major capital reorganisation that also puts it on the path back to private sector ownership.

This will mark the first repayment by AIB of the €20.8 billion in bailout funds that it received from the State following the global financial crash in 2008.

AIB will pay the Government €1.7 billion in to redeem 1.36 billion of the 3.5 billion preference shares held by the State. It will also pay a dividend of €166.4 million relating to these shares.

In addition, the balance of preference shares will be converted to ordinary stock for the State and will be admitted for trading on the junior ESM market in Dublin on December 18th.

AIB will also press ahead with a consolidation of its share base, issuing one new share for every 250 held by investors. This will have the effect of reducing the number of shares in issue to 2.7 billion. The new shares will begin trading at 8am on December 21st.

AIB has agreed to the potential issue of warrants of up to 9.99% of the bank’s issued ordinary share capital to the minister for finance at the time of any re-admission of its ordinary shares to a regulated market. And the minister has agreed to redeem the EBS promissory note.

With the State owning 99.8 per cent of the bank, approval for the capital reorganisation was never in doubt but AIB was required to hold an extraordinary general meeting in Dublin to put 12 resolutions to all shareholders.

At the meeting in the RDS, AIB’s chairman Richard Pym said the capital reorganisation would “both strengthen and simplify” its capital structure and position the bank to transition from State to private sector ownership.

Mr Pym told shareholders that since the global financial crash in 2008 and its bailout by taxpayers, AIB has paid about €3 billion to the State in fees related to the Government’s guarantees, and coupon payments on the preference shares and contingent capital notes held by the State.

“Today marks the start of our repayment of the capital and we remain grateful to the Government and taxpayers for their continued support,” Mr Pym said.

Mr Pym told shareholders that he intended to take a poll on each resolution at the end of the EGM, even though the proposals were supported by the Minister for Finance Michael Noonan, who holds 99.8 per cent of the shares.

AIB received a bailout of €20.8 billion from the State post the crash in 2008. In response to a question from a shareholder, AIB chief executive Bernard Byrne said he expects the bank would repay “all of its money (to the State) in a reasonable timeframe”.

Mr Byrne indicated to media after the meeting that this could be a period of five to 10 years.

Mr Pym said the resolutions being voted on at the EGM would give the company a “market-standard capital structure” and would prepare the bank for a main stock market listing.

He said that the timing of an IPO would be subject to market conditions but he expects “very strong investor appetite for the stock” whenever it is brought to the stock exchange, highlighting how two recent debt issuances by the bank were oversubscribed.

Mr Byrne rejected criticism from investment adviser Brendan Burgess that AIB was overcharging its non-tracker mortgage customers. Mr Burgess argued that average mortgage rates across the EU amounts to about 2 per cent while AIB’s average rate is closer to 3.5%.

He said that whenever competition comes back into the Irish market, AIB’s profits would be hit. Mr Byrne responded by saying the bank, unlike its rivals, had reduced its standard variable rate three times over the past 12 months.

Mr Pym rejected a suggestion from TD Shane Ross that AIB should suspend its shares as they were “grossly overvalued” and people who have bought the shares recently stand to lose a lot of money when the capital reorganisation is completed.

The shares are currently trading at about 3.5% while the bank is proposing to convert some of the preference shares held by the State to ordinary shares for 1.7% each as part of the capital reorganisation being voted on at the EGM. This effectively puts a new floor on the bank’s share price.

Mr Pym said the company had repeatedly warned investors that the shares were overpriced and, as such, there is no more information that it can place in the market.

He said the bank would not be seeking a suspension of its shares as it would “mean that no-one in this room could deal in the shares if they wanted to” and “I don’t think it’s up to the company to deny you that opportunity to sell your shares”.

Irish developers slow to build so they can boost their profits

Developers can earn some €20,000 on newly built home that sells for €300,000?


Nama chief executive Brendan McDonagh (pictured above left) says that many of the developers are “not satisfied” with a profit of €20,000 per house and want to wait until prices rise to the point where it reaches €50,000 or more?

Developers are stalling on building new houses so that they can boost potential profits, National Asset Management Agency (Nama) chief executive Brendan McDonagh told TDs and Senators on Wednesday.

Responding to questions from an Oireachtas committee on Nama’s role in tackling the housing shortage, Mr McDonagh said that developers can now expect to earn a profit of €20,000 on a newly built home that sells for €300,000.

However, he said that many of them are “not satisfied” with a profit of €20,000 per house and want to wait until prices rise to the point where it reaches €50,000 or more.

“It’s profitable to build houses,” Mr McDonagh said. “It’s a question of how much profit people want to make.”

Commercial return

The Government wants Nama to fund the construction of 20,000 new homes between now and 2020, but the legislation establishing the agency demands that it must earn a commercial return from this.

Mr McDonagh said that it has taken a 35 per cent rise in property prices since 2013 to make residential construction viable again. A three-bed home in Dublin, which sells for €300,000, costs €260,000 to €280,000 to build.Central Statistics Office figures show that, as recently as April 2014, the same house would have sold for about €240,000, well short of break-even. Nama chairman, Frank Daly, stressed that the agency could not fund residential building on that basis, as it would not have been confident of getting a commercial return.

A Nama review of its borrowers’ residential sites showed that it can now develop 13,200 new homes on a number of them. It can provide the remaining 6,200 once it gets other sites serviced.

Nama expects to earn more than €1 billion in profits this year, more than double the €473 million it generated in 2014. Mr Daly told the Oireachtas Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform that it expects to pay a €2 billion surplus to the State once its work is finished in 2020.

Second letter to Cushnahan

Mr Daly also confirmed that he has written a second letter to former adviserFrank Cushnahan, one of those at the centre of the row over Nama’s sale of its Northern Ireland loans to US company Cerberus for €1.6 billion last year.

The chairman wrote to Mr Cushnahan last month, asking why he did not declare that he, former Northern Ireland first minister Peter Robinson and lawyer Ian Coulter met a potential bidder for the Northern loans, US fund Pimco, in May 2013, while he was still a member of Nama’s Northern Ireland Advisory Committee.

Mr Daly said that Mr Cushnahan has yet to reply to his first letter and added that he wrote to him again this week.

FF leader criticises lack of funding for drug treatment

Micheál Martin says cystic fibrosis patients will need help to pay for the new drug Orkambi.


The Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin’s bottom line was there was no extra provision for a high-tech drug scheme.

Decisions on the reimbursement of the cost of medicines were neither political nor ministerial, Taoiseach Enda Kenny has said.

He said they were made on objective, scientific and economic grounds by the Health Service Executive on the advice of the National Centre for Pharmacoeconomics (NCPE).

Mr Kenny was replying to Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin, who said a ground-breaking drug, Orkambi, had arrived on the market to treat cystic fibrosis (CF).

“The response of the authorities in the health service plan, and that of the Government, is that no funding will be made available in 2016 to provide the drug for patients,” Mr Martin said. “The HSE is clear that if the Government wants to fund it, it will have to provide it with additional money.”

Mr Kenny said last month the manufacturer of the drug had submitted a rapid review application to the NCPE as the first step in a pricing and reimbursement application.

The HSE estimated the cost could be about €90 million annually, he said.

“Given the significant budgetary impact, the NCPE is likely to require a full technology assessment of the drug to be carried out before making any recommendation to the HSE on reimbursement, in keeping with the normal procedure.”

Mr Kenny said the Department of Health and the HSE had made significant improvements to the facilities for CF sufferers around the country, particularly isolation units.

“This matter is part of the application process which has a journey to travel,” he said.

Mr Martin said the bottom line was there was no extra provision for the high-tech drug scheme next year, despite the escalating cost of treatment.

Tourist visits to Ireland in 2015 rise to a new record

Tourism Ireland plans to capitalise on the popularity of Star Wars The Force Awakens


Tourism Ireland is basing its new publicity campaign around the filming of part of the new Star Wars on Skellig Island.

It’s official – 2015 has seen a record number of people visiting the country.

At an end-of-year review this morning Tourism Ireland estimated that by December 31st, 7.9 million people will have visited Ireland during the year – beating a previous record set in 2007.

Minister for Tourism Paschal Donohoe said he wants to add another 50,000 jobs in the industry by 2025.

Mr Donohoe said he was particularly pleased with this week’s release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens which features scenes shot on Skellig Michael in Co Kerry.

Mr Donohoe, a keen sci-fi fan and collector of Star Wars and other sci-fi figurines, is anticipating further growth next year on the back of the movie.

Tourism Ireland will launch the first phase of its Star Wars campaign on Thursday which aims to encourage fans of the science fiction franchise to visit Ireland.

Niall Gibbons, chief executive of Tourism Ireland, said: “A hugely popular name like Star Wars filming here will bring the magnificent scenery of Skellig Michael and the Wild Atlantic Way to the attention of millions of people around the world.

“It’s a really effective way to reach mass audiences, helping to significantly boost awareness of the Skelligs, the South West and Ireland in general, providing a global platform for Ireland as a holiday destination and whetting peoples’ appetites to come and visit.”

Mr Gibbons said the all-island body was also buoyed value for money indicators which showed holidaymakers’ spending had increased by 29 per cent since the recession.

He also said whereas 43% of visitors from Britain had viewed Ireland as offering poor value for money in 2009, that figure was now around 10 per cent.

Over the period the euro has become weaker against sterling.

“Beyond the negative the figures show most people think Ireland is good value for money”, he said. The second phase of Tourism Ireland’s Star Wars campaign will be unveiled in early 2016.

Dog has been man’s best friend for some 33,000 years, An DNA study finds

First domesticated dogs came about 33,000 years ago and migrated to Europe from south east Asia, rather than descending from domesticated European wolves 10,000 years ago as had previously been thought

Man’s best friend came about after generations of wolves scavenged alongside humans more than 33,000 years ago in south east Asia, according to new research.A new study finds Dog has been man’s best friend for over 30,000 years.

Dogs became self-domesticated as they slowly evolved from wolves who joined humans in the hunt, according to the first study of dog genomes.

And it shows that the first domesticated dogs came about 33,000 years ago and migrated to Europe, rather than descending from domesticated European wolves 10,000 years ago as had previously been thought.

Scientists have long puzzled over how man’s best friend came into existence but there is conflicting evidence on when and where wild wolves were first tamed.

First domesticated dogs came about 33,000 years ago and migrated to Europe from south east Asia.

So in one of the largest studies of its kind Professor Peter Savolainen and colleagues sequenced the genomes of 58 members of the dog family including grey wolves, indigenous dogs from south-east and north-east Asia, village dogs from Nigeria, and a collection of breeds from the rest of the world, such as the Afghan Hound and Siberian Husky.

The DNA analysis published in Cell Research found those from south-east Asia had a higher degree of genetic diversity, and were most closely related to grey wolves from which domestic dogs evolved.

Prof Savolainen, of the Royal Institute of Technology, Solna, Sweden, said this indicates “an ancient origin of domestic dogs in southern East Asia 33,000 years ago.”

It is possible an “ecological niche unique in southern East Asia” provided an refuge for both humans and the ancestors of dogs during the last glacial period, with a peak between 26,500 and 19,000 years ago.

Prof Savolainen said: “The mild population bottleneck in dogs suggests dog domestication may have been a long process that started from a group of wolves that became loosely associated and scavenged with humans, before experiencing waves of selection for phenotypes (mutations) that gradually favoured stronger bonding with humans, a process called self-domestication.”

So the history of dogs may involve three major stages including loosely engaged pre-domesticated scavengers, domesticated non-breed dogs with close human-dog interactions, and breed formation following intense human selection for diverse sets of traits.

Prof Savolainen said: “The study of Chinese indigenous dogs thus provide missing links that connect these three major stages.”

The researchers said around 15,000 years ago, a subset of ancestors began migrating towards the Middle East and Africa, reaching Europe around 10,000 years ago.

Although this dispersal is believed to have been associated with the movement of humans, the first movement of man’s best friend out of south-east Asia may have been self-initiated.

This may have been owing to environmental factors, such as the retreat of glaciers, which started about 19,000 years ago.

Dogs from one of these groups then travelled back towards northern China, where they encountered Asian dogs that had migrated from south-east Asia. These two groups interbred, before spreading to the Americas.

Prof Savolainen said the domestic dog, one of our closest companions in the animal kingdom, has followed us to every continent of the world and, as a single species, embodies one of the largest collections of DNA diversity for any on earth.

He said due to their cognitive and behavioural abilities, it has been selected to fulfil a wide variety of tasks including hunting, herding and companionship with the genetic and historical basis of these gene changes intriguing the scientific community, including Darwin.

But despite many efforts studying dog evolution, several basic aspects about the origin and evolution of the domestic dog are still in dispute including several different geographical regions as the proposed birthplace of domestic dogs, and estimations of the date of divergence between wolves and dogs of between 32,000 and 10,000 years ago.

The researchers said around 15,000 years ago, a subset group began migrating towards the Middle East and Africa.

His team analysed the complete DNA of 12 grey wolves, 27 primitive dogs from Asia and Africa and a collection of 19 diverse breeds from across the world to show south east Asian dogs “have significantly higher genetic diversity compared to other populations.”

Prof Savolainen said: “Our study, for the first time, reveals the extraordinary journey the domestic dog has travelled on this planet during the past 33,000 years.”

Chinese indigenous dogs live in the countryside and were sampled across rural China, including many remote regions in Yunnan and Guizhou in southern China.

The breeds include dogs from Central Asia (Afghan Hound) and North Africa (Sloughi), Europe (eight different breeds), the Arctic and Siberia (Greenland dog, Alaska Malamute, Samoyed, Siberian Husky, and East Siberian Laika), the New World (Chihuahua, Mexican and Peruvian naked dog) as well as the Tibetan Plateau (Tibetan Mastiff). These dogs were chosen to cover as many major geographic regions as possible.

Earlier studies have suggested wolves may have been domesticated by the first farmers about 10,000 years ago in the Middle East or Asia, possibly to guard livestock.

But the latest study has found it began much earlier, long before the development of agriculture.


News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Saturday 5th December 2015

The Garda should bring Irish officers home, An inspectorate says

Current system of finding staff is highly inefficient’ as many lose interest in the long process.


A Garda graduation ceremony at the Garda College in Templemore. The Garda Inspectorate report recommends that the force should, for the first time, put a concerted effort into recruiting police officers currently serving in other countries.Gardai

An Garda Síochána should, for the first time, put a concerted effort into recruiting police officers currently serving in other countries, the Garda Inspectorate report recommends.

Robert Olson, the author of the report, also says Garda management should begin to actively consult with Government ministers and departments about the force’s budget allocation, a process which it currently has no direct involvement in.

Following the HSE’s attempts to entice Irish nurses employed abroad to accept posts at home, the report advises the Garda to employ a similar strategy given the number of fully-trained Irish ex-pats serving in police forces around the world.

An Garda Síochána does not currently have a targeted programme for overseas recruitment, points out former Minneapolis chief of police Mr Olson, who also brands the current recruitment system as “highly inefficient” as many applicants lose interest or find employment elsewhere during the months or years-long selection process.

Skills deficits

The report also identifies “skills deficits” among gardaí due to a lack of training and continuous professional development afforded to members over recent years, and recommends that a programme of “ongoing continuous professional development” should be made available to all personnel.

The Garda College in Templemore should have its own ringfenced budget, and there should be a review of the 32-week residential training course for gardaí at the college “with a view to reducing the duration” of that programme in favour of more time in operational settings and on independent patrol for trainees.

“The majority of Garda training takes place at the college. This is expensive and inefficient,” says the report.

It adds that volunteers with the 1,000-member Garda Reserve could be put to better use, and divesting some time and labour-intensive duties currently carried out by rank and file gardaí such as custody services and healthcare for people in custody to other agencies could also free up additional operational capacity.

Members of the reserve were recently given more powers, meaning they could perform duties including foot patrol and road traffic checkpoints if accompanied by a full-time Garda.

Event policing

Elsewhere, the report says that in order to optimise cost recovery An Garda Síochána should consider addressing the situation whereby the full costs of policing public events are not met by promoters.

Regarding responses to false alarms, an increased call-out fee for the property owner in such circumstances would also lead to greater efficiencies in cost recovery and could free up “thousands of Garda operational hours” if the deterrent is successful.

There are currently no policies in place detailing how to deal with “high-risk” issues such as potential substance abuse and corruption among gardaí, and this should be addressed by developing clearer policies and providing training in those areas it says.

As opposed to the existing policy, Mr Olson suggests that all uniformed gardaí should be issued with a name badge so individual on-duty officers could be more easily identified by members of the public.

Fiasco as up to half of housing offers are rejected

Kelly to review high rate of housing refusals


Environment Minister Alan Kelly is now considering the introduction of new rules surrounding the provision of social housing.

Hundreds of families on council housing waiting lists are turning down homes because they don’t like the area.

In several parts of the country, well over a third of offers made by councils have been turned down in the last year.

The Department of the Environment is now closely monitoring rejection rates.

In Dublin City – where the homeless crisis is most severe – almost one in five families turned down offers of homes.

The refusal figure is as high as 49% in Cork county, 46%c in Waterford, 42% in counties Roscommon and Donegal and 40pc in Cork City.

Families turn down offers of homes for a wide variety of reasons, including poor access to facilities such as schools and other important services.

But councils are now telling the Department of the Environment of their frustration over so-called ‘serial refusers’.

Officials say offers are being turned down in many cases simply because people don’t like the area or the house.

Under the current system, those on the list give three preferred options for a new home – but often turn down an offer if it isn’t their first choice.

Environment Minister Alan Kelly is now considering the introduction of new rules surrounding the provision of social housing.

The housing offer rejection figures are contained in a Department of Environment survey of the country’s housing departments, which has been seen by the Irish Independent.

The figures relate to the 12-month period until the end of September.

In feedback to the department, officials have warned that in many cases, families are rejecting offers because they say they do not feel suited to the area.

“We do have to address the fact that people turn down homes because they don’t like the property being offered,” a senior Government source said.

At the moment, if a family fails to provide a legitimate reason for turning down an offer of a home, they become ‘blacklisted’ for a 12-month period. In cases where a council receives three refusals from the same applicant, they can be struck off the list entirely.

Mr Kelly will now consider new rules aimed at tackling the rate of refusals.

These include reducing the number of refusals families can make before being struck off the housing list.

The minister is also examining the introduction of a ‘choice-based letting’ system whereby applicants have greater say over the areas in which they are accommodated.

One of the country’s leading housing experts called for a overhaul of the waiting list system.

DIT lecturer in housing Dr Lorcan Sirr warned the issue is far more complex and said further studies are required into why families are refusing homes.

But Dr Sirr said the figures show councils, in some cases, are dealing with families who reject offers for non- housing related reasons.

He said that these include “tribal reasons” – families not wanting to live near each other – as well as a lack of suitability of the property being offered.

“In times of depleted resources, this is obviously very frustrating for local authorities dealing not alone with issues of allocation of resources, but also with the sociological side of dealing with families and their non-housing issues that relate to where they want to live,” he said.

Three hours of watching TV could destroy your brain


A new study showed that watching TV in just three hours a day with little to no physical activity can rot the brain.

The data was based on a analysis of three tests answered by the participants involved in the study. Researchers Hoang and Dr. Kristine Yaffe, professors at the University Of California School Of Medicine found that these volunteers are all inclined to watching a lot of TV.

Many people practice watching too much TV and oftentimes fail to do any physical activity. Doing both things for a long span of time leads to the impairment of the brain, as researchers found in their study performed at the Northern California Institute for Research and Education.

Initially, the researchers did not include the cognitive function of the participants for them to have a baseline for comparison of the progress. And on the 25th year of the study, they assessed the cognitive function of the participants with three different mental tests that focus on speed, verbal memory and executive function.

There were 107 volunteers involved in the study who exercised least and at the same time had the habit of watching TV for more than three hours a day. Results show that these people are twice as much likely to perform poorly on the cognitive tests,; given as compared to those who limit their TV use but exercised more.

The researchers said that it is still never too late for adults to change their habits that could lead them to illnesses like Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia that usually start with impaired brain and damaged brain cells. Other studies have categorized these diseases due to old age, but there are ways where people can avoid it.

Result show that TV addicts were found to be 64 percent more likely to have poor cognitive performance than others. Same results were obtained when the researchers accounted for several other factors such as age, gender, educational level and body mass index (BMI).

They took note of some possible limitations due to the way the data were gathered because answers were only self-reported by the participants through the questionnaires.

Adolescents who practice little exercise but watch TV frequently had the worst obvious cognitive function 25 years later in their life. In this part of the study, the participants were surveyed at the beginning of the study and every two to five years about their exercise routine, or if they do exercise at all.

Those who watch little TV with high physical activity routine had twice as better cognitive performance than those who did little exercise with too much TV during their midlife.

But the researchers found no link to the verbal memory of the participants with regards to TV use.

Guidelines for tattoo and piercing parlours to be drafted by Irish Government

Varadkar says no specific rules on hygiene and infection control in place in the sector


Official guidelines for tattoo and body piercing parlours are being drawn up for the first time..

Official guidelines for tattoo and body piercing parlours are being drawn up for the first time.

The Department of Health says the draft guidelines, to be published next week, will make recommendations on minimising the risk of infection, protecting the health and safety of tattoo artists and their customers and the operation of parlours within recognised rules and laws.

Hundreds of tattoo and piercing shops have opened across Ireland in the past decade as the popularity of body art soars. However, the sector is largely unregulated, with no registration requirements, operating standards or basic training requirements for staff.

The department says its guidelines will aim to ensure that high standards are “maintained” in the sector. A consultation process is planned before the draft guidelines are finalised.

“Tattooing and body piercing has become increasingly popular as a fashion statement and the number of premises offering these services has multiplied,” says Minister for Health Leo Varadkar.

“However there are currently no specific guidelines on hygiene and infection control for this particular sector, beyond the general guidelines that already exist. High standards of hygiene are vital when performing body piercing and tattooing in order to protect the health of clients, and the practitioners.”

Specific issues to be covered in the guidelines include good practice for infection control and the use of template consent forms and aftercare advice, as well as the need to provide training and supervision for staff and the avoidance of local anaesthetic injections of prescription only topical creams.

The department says the majority of tattoos and piercings occur without incident, but risks arise with the procedures involved and customers need to be briefed in advance.

As well as the dangers of infections and blood-borne viruses caused by poor hygiene, other problems include allergic reactions to ink or pigments, scarring and rejection of jewellery by the body.

Half of Irish people believe climate change is a serious issue

More than 50% say they have a role in tackling the issue ahead of businesses


Less than half of the Irish population believe climate change is a serious problem, a new survey shows.

Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI) carried out the poll asking 1,000 people for their views on climate issues facing Irish society as the UN Climate Change Conference (COP21) continues in Paris.

The figures showed 49 per cent of the people who responded thought climate change was a serious problem.

However, 53 per cent said they a role to play in tackling the problem ahead of businesses and environmental groups.

Dr Eimear Cotter, head of the low carbon technologies at the SEAI, said the scientific analysis was indisputable and urgent action was needed.

“However, we still have to convince half of the population of the seriousness of climate change,” she said.

“Increased awareness will mean we can have an informed debate about our options and choices that we need to make if we are to take fossil fuels and carbon out of our energy system.”

Dr Cotter said the research showed there had been a large increase in children’s perceived knowledge of saving energy and the influence they have on family attitudes.

“This knowledge and influence will hopefully in time translate into wider societal awareness,” she said.

The figures showed seven out of 10 said energy was an important consideration buying a car, while 60 per cent said power use was significant factor for kitchen appliances and lights .

John Gibbons, a spokesman for An Taisce said low public awareness of climate change risks could be explained by lack of coverage.

“Taken at face value, the SEAI finding that only one in two Irish people is aware of the profound environmental crisis that threatens all our futures is both a wake-up call for Ireland and also an indictment of a collective failure to grasp the scale and gravity of the threats posed by climate change to our way of life,” he said.food production to reduce the carbon intensity of food production and to contribute to both food security.nd


News Ireland daily BLOG by donie

Thursday 3rd December 2015

White Paper to address concerns over Ireland’s wind power

Minister Alex White denies ministerial rift with Alan Kelly over wind turbine regulations


Minister for Energy Alex White warned Opposition TDs they could not reduce energy policy to the legitimate concerns that local communities have on the issue

The Government’s White Paper on energy will be published next week and will address “tension” between energy policy and the “genuine concern” local communities have about wind turbines, according to the Minister for Energy.

Alex White also warned Opposition TDs they could not reduce energy policy to the legitimate concerns that local communities have.

They had to match that to “what we need to do as a country to have a renewable energy policy that meets the challenges of the future”.

Mr White has denied a ministerial rift between himself and Minister for the Environment Alan Kelly over draft wind energy guidelines, published two years ago but still not decided on. A final decision had been expected in 2014.

The guidelines deal with turbine size, their shadow flicker, noise levels and the setback distance from dwellings. Planning applications for wind turbines are currently operating on guidelines from 2006.

Fianna Fáil’s Robert Troy had asked if talks between himself and Mr Kelly had broken down.

He said Mr Kelly favoured a distance of between 600m and 1.5km from dwellings but that Mr White was on record in disagreeing with long distances from housing because it would wipe out onshore wind energy in Ireland.

Mr White insisted: “Nothing has broken down between Ministers in relation to it. The departments are continuing to consider what would be the best set of guidelines. But we have guidelines in place at the moment.”

The Minister said there was a good argument to make the guidelines statutory with a very strong case for changing them to deal with the issue of noise and shadow flicker.

However, he said “the issue of having a setback distance that’s unconnected to the issue of noise or shadow flicker is more problematic in my view and I’ve been very honest about that.

“If we put in place a setback distance of the kind some people are advocating, it would wipe out onshore wind in this country as a renewable.”

International best practice

Mr Troy said Fianna Fáil had published its alternative policy and had visitedDenmark to consult the experts in a country that is held up for international best practice.

He said Denmark had moved away from onshore to offshore wind energy. His party was committed to meeting the European Union targets but the wind issue was one of huge concern.

“It might not be a big issue in the centre of Dublin but it is in my constituency of Longford-Westmeath,” he said in reference to Mr White’s Dublin South constituency.

Confirming the White Paper would be published next week, Mr White said a central element would be addressing the genuine tension between what needed to be done with renewable energy and the genuine concerns of citizens.

New draft provisions to regulate wind energy were published two years ago, which included noise limits of 40 decibels and a setback distance of 500m.

Over 3,500 HSE public patients waiting three months for colonoscopy

Irish Cancer Society warns disease will have advanced in some due to delay in diagnosis


More than 3,500 public patients have been waiting at least three months for a colonoscopy. Private patients can access the test within 12 days.

Some of the 3,510 patients currently waiting more than three months for a colonoscopy will have a cancer that may have advanced because diagnosis was delayed, the Irish Cancer Society has warned.

The number of patients waiting that long for the test peaked in October at 4,235 before dropping back to 3,510 by the end of November. This is an increase of 954 people on the same time last year.

The society said that colonoscopy waiting times are unacceptable and highlight the health gap between those who can pay and those who cannot. Private patients can access the test within 12 days.

The consequence of a person waiting more than three months for a colonoscopy could be that if they have bowel cancer, it may be diagnosed at a later stage. This means that there may be fewer treatment options available than if it had been caught earlier and the treatment prescribed could be more invasive. The survival rates also decrease the later the stage of the cancer at diagnosis.

“The Irish Cancer Society is deeply concerned by the large number of people waiting longer than three months for a colonoscopy,” the society said. “The HSE is a long way off meeting its target of performing 100 per cent of colonoscopies within 13 weeks.

“Currently, 41 per cent of patients are waiting longer than three months for the cancer test. The tragic reality is that we can expect some colorectal [bowel] cancers to be diagnosed when the patients on waiting lists eventually receive their colonoscopy.”


The organisation’s head of advocacy Kathleen O’Meara added that long-term solutions were required to solve the ongoing issues and called for investment to ensure enough radiographers and gastroenterologists were working in Irish hospitals.

“We also want GPs to have clear guidelines for when they should refer a patient for a colonoscopy and when another investigation is better suited,” she said.

“Additionally, we are hopeful that hospitals working within the same hospital group will co-ordinate their colonoscopy workloads so that a situation where endoscopy suites in one hospital are under-utilised while a hospital in the same group is overburdened, is avoided.”

The November waiting list figures show an overall drop of 725 patients in the past month. “It is certainly a move in the right direction but given no one should be waiting more than 13 weeks and the fact that there are still 3,510 public patients waiting more than this time, the drop needs to continue and the underlying problem solved,” Ms O’Meara said.

Separately, research from the Lancet Oncology shows the price of new cancer drugs varies by 28 per cent to 388 per cent between high-income countries in Europe and Oceania .

The study reveals that overall the UK and Mediterranean countries such as Greece, Spain, and Portugal pay the lowest average unit manufacturer prices for a group of 31 originator cancer drugs (new drugs under patent), whereas Sweden, Switzerland, and Germany pay the highest prices.

The trial of mother for cruelty to eight children collapses

Jury told technical difficulties were to blame as video link evidence had not been recorded


The trial of a mother who faces charges of cruelty and neglect towards eight of her children (Not the above family) over a six-year period has collapsed due to technical difficulties at Galway courthouse.

It was discovered late on Wednesday evening that a live video link facility, which was used to allow a child give evidence from another room in the courthouse that afternoon, was not recording her evidence to the trial.

Judge Karen O’Connor explained to the jury on Thursday morning that, by law, evidence heard by video-link “shall” be recorded, but unfortunately, in this case, she said, this did not occur in relation to the girl’s evidence on Wednesday afternoon.

Judge O’Connor said she had no alternative but to discharge the jury “with regret”.

She told jurors a new trial will begin with a new jury in due course.

Judge O’Connor then listed the case for trial on January 12th.

The woman, who cannot be named in order to protect the identity of the children, pleaded not guilty to 44 charges before Galway Circuit Criminal Court.

The charges include child cruelty by wilfully assaulting, ill-treating, neglecting, or abandoning the children, or causing or allowing the children to be assaulted, ill-treated, neglected, or abandoned, in a manner likely to cause unnecessary suffering or injury to their health or well-being.

The offences, contrary to section 246 (1) and (2) of the Children Act 2001, are said to have occurred on dates between September 1st, 2006, and May 12th, 2011.

Shane Costelloe SC, prosecuting, told the jury on Wednesday some of the children would be giving their evidence for the prosecution by either live videolink from a separate room in the courthouse or, in the case of the younger ones, by previously taped interviews with specially-trained Garda interviewers.

Physical abuse

Mr Costelloe said it would be the prosecution case that after the children were taken into care in May 2011, and were placed with foster parents, they began to tell of how their mother physically abused them over the years.

They recounted stories of how she used to assault them with wooden spoons, a leather belt and a bamboo back-scratcher, and hit their heads off the furniture. She would also pour washing-up liquid down their throats if they said a bad word.

Two of the boys recalled their mother threw them out of her car one day because they were messing and had spilled icecream in the back seat. They said she then drove the car at them and they had to jump up on a hedge to avoid being hit.

The eldest child gave evidence by videolink telling the court “she was not a proper mother”.

“She abandoned her children,” the girl said. The girl said that when her mother started drinking sessions in the house it would always end in violence for the children. “There would be violence towards me too. My mother came home from a concert once very drunk … her partner told her I said a bad word and my mother dragged me off the couch by my hair. She dragged me into the kitchen and put my face down into the sink.

“She started to choke me and she began filling the sink with water to drown me – just because of one word,” the girl said.

She recalled her mother leaving the home to go drinking around the time of her 14th birthday. She said the mother returned home the next day and slapped her across the face while saying “that is your birthday present”.

Urgent need now to educate Irish youth as HIV cases skyrocket


Deirdre Seery (above left), Cork Sexual Health Clinic, said a new generation of young people had not been targeted by safety campaigns.

A marked rise in the number of people being diagnosed with HIV has prompted calls for new information campaigns and a nationwide introduction of free test kits.

So far this year, there have been 427 new cases of HIV, compared to 342 this time last year, figures from the HSE’s Health Protection Surveillance Centre show.

The statistics were discussed yesterday as part of a meeting of the Oireachtas health committee, held to mark World Aids Day.

“The age group of people most at risk of HIV is getting younger,” said Tiernan Brady of the Gay and Lesbian Equality Network. “There is a real and urgent need to educate a new generation of young people, and young gay and bisexual men in particular, about HIV and the importance of knowing your HIV status.”

r Brady tsaid that, since 2005, the number of gay men diagnosed with HIV had increased by 210%.

“It is clear from the latest figures that HIV remains an issue of critical concern for gay and bisexual men,” he said. “The figures for 2015 show that gay and bisexual men are the group most likely to acquire HIV.”

CEO of the Cork Sexual Health Clinic, Deirdre Seery, called for a rise in rapid, free, community-based tests and new information campaigns.

“There are new, younger generations of people becoming HIV positive who would not have been exposed to the old safer sex and safer drug use campaigns,” she said.

Also yesterday, Health Minister Leo Varadkar unveiled HIV Ireland, formerly the Dublin Aids Alliance.

“This rebranding is a positive step which can only build on all the good work the organisation has performed so far,” he said, adding the Government would pilot a rapid HIV test service.

“Early detection allows treatment to start early, it minimises the long-term health implications, and reduces potential new infections,” he said.

Taller or bigger people might live shorter lives, according to scientific research


Bad news for big people – you might have a shorter lifespan than your smaller counterparts, research suggests.

A new study on wild house sparrows showed how changes in DNA that are linked to ageing and lifespan take place as body size gets bigger.

The research centred on telomeres, a special DNA structure which all animals, including humans, have at the ends of their chromosomes and are said to function like “the protective plastic caps at the end of shoelaces”.

Who needs such a good view anyway?

Growing a bigger body means cells divide more and part of our telomeres are eroded, making cells and tissues function less well, researchers say. So, you may be able to reach the milk at the back of the top shelf at the supermarket, tall people, but your DNA isn’t happy about it.

The study, conducted jointly by the University of Glasgow’s Institute of Biodiversity, Animal Health & Comparative Medicine and the Centre of Biodiversity Dynamics at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, found that skeletally bigger house sparrows had shorter telomeres.

Pat Monaghan, regius professor of zoology at the University of Glasgow, who supervised telomere analysis, said: “The reason why the bigger individuals have shorter telomeres might also be related to increased DNA damage due to growing faster. Being big can have advantages, of course, but this study shows that it can also have costs.”

Those tiny birds have nothing to worry about, really (Tomas Belka/birdphoto.cz/Univers)

Thor Harald Ringsby, associate professor in population ecology at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, said: “The results from this study are very exciting and broad-reaching. It is especially interesting that we obtained these results in a natural population.

“The reduction in telomere size that followed the increase in body size suggests one important mechanism that limits body size evolution in wild animal populations.”

The findings are published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B journal. The study was funded by the European Research Council and the Research Council of Norway.


News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Wednesday 25th November 2015

Ireland in ‘A coalition of devils’

Says an alleged Islamic State video

Department of Justice says terror threats being monitored as group vows it will ‘burn’ enemies


A new video allegedly from ISIS is asking the world to ‘bring it on’. The video features the Irish flag among what the booming American voice over describes as the ‘coalition of devils’.

A video claiming to have been issued by the Islamic State group has included Ireland as part of “a coalition of devils” that has formed against it, before threatening to “burn” its enemies.

The authenticity of the video – which models itself on a Hollywood film trailer – cannot be vouched for, but it bears a strong resemblance to others issued by the group over recent months.

Flags from a host of countries, led off by the United States and the United Kingdom, but including Ireland, are displayed, though no specific reference to Ireland is made in the accompanying voiceover.

“There’s your coalition of devils with Iran, Turkey and Russia joining the fray. That’s because the Millah of Kufr [unbelievers] will also unite you to fight the truth. So bring it on – all of you. Your numbers only increase us in faith.

“We’re counting your banners, which our prophet said would reach 80 in number and then the flames of war will finally burn you on the hills of death,” the American-accented voice declares.

On Wednesday, the Department of Justice said international terrorism threats were kept under constant review: “The Minister and the Garda Commissioner maintain regular, ongoing contact on security matters,” said a spokesman.

People before Profit said the threat showed the need to block American military from using Shannon.

Labour party to seek a cross-party consensus on abortion legislation

Proposal to repeal eight amendment to be key demand for party after general election


Sinead Ahern, chair of Labour Women, and Senator Ivana Bacik during the launch by Labour Women of the General Scheme of the Labour Women Repeal the 8th Amendment Bill in Buswells Hotel,Dublin.

The Labour Party has published plans to scrap Ireland’s Eighth Amendment ban on abortion – which will form a key demand of the party in post-election coalition negotiations.

The 1983 amendment, which governs Ireland’s abortion laws, enshrined the equal right to life of the mother and the unborn in the Constitution.

Labour Senator Ivana Bacik said Labour’s proposals would allow for abortion under four medically-certifiedgrounds: risk to life; risk to health; cases of rape; and fatal foetal abnormality.

It would also decriminalise abortion.

“The Labour Party is the party of social change and we are including a commitment in our manifesto to hold a referendum to repeal the eighth amendment if returned to Government,” Ms Bacik said.

“Labour Women have produced this framework for the scheme of a Bill which would be introduced by the Labour Party if the eighth amendment is repealed by way of referendum.”

Labour is seeking to build a cross-party consensus, she said. Consultant Obstetrician Dr Peter Boylan, former Supreme Court Judge Catherine McGuinness and former Senator Dr Mary Henry attended the launch.

The chairwoman of Labour Women, Sinead Ahern, said an average of 12 women travelled from Ireland to the UK for abortions every day.

“Abortion is already a reality for women in Ireland and we cannot continue to export this issue. Nobody under the age of 50 has had a chance to vote on whether the eighth amendment should be in our constitution. It’s time we let the people have their say,” Ms Ahern said.

She insisted public opinion on abortion was changing, “and we know that the majority of voters want to repeal the eighth amendment”.

Describing Labour’s stand as “blinkered”, the Pro-Life Campaign’s deputy chairwoman Cora Sherlock said she believed some parents are coming under pressure to abort following the diagnosis of a life-limiting condition.

“The thing that stands out about today’s launch by the Labour Party is the complete absence of any mention of the unborn child’s right to life,” she said.

Ms Sherlock said abortion had “devastating effects” on many women.

Referring to Labour, she said: “Do they seriously think they can run and hide and ignore the grave injustice that abortion involves and its long-lasting effects?”

IFA to challenge former chief of on €2m severance package

IFA President Eddie Downey is stepping down   

Under deal Pat Smith (right pic) received the sum of €1m upfront and €100,000 a year for 10 years.

Eddie Downey (above left), president of the Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA), has resigned just hours after it emerged the organisation would legally challenge a €2 million severance package he is understood to have agreed with its former general secretary Pat Smith.

The executive council of the Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA) has voted unanimously against paying a severance package to its former general secretary Pat Smith.

The vote was taken during an all-day meeting of the national executive in Dublin which heard IFA president Eddie Downey had agreed a €2 million exit package with Mr Smith last week.

The deal, which involved €1 million up front, followed by €100,000 per year for 10 years, was agreed when Mr Smith resigned amid controversy over the size of his pay package.

The association was thrown into crisis this month by revelations Mr Smith received a total two-year pay package of nearly €1 million in 2013 and 2014. He resigned as general secretary in the face of outrage from many farmers at the scale of his pay, which the IFA had not previously made public.

Mr Downey last night announced his resignation as IFA president. He had earlier stood aside from the role pending a major review of corporate governance at the IFA, which is to be carried out by its former chief economist, Con Lucey.


Mr Lucey resigned last year as chairman of the IFA’s audit committee, claiming the committee was being frustrated in its work by Mr Smith.

In a statement, Mr Downey said he was stepping down in the best interests of the association. “I have always demanded the highest levels of governance and accountability within IFA and my clear understanding was that governance and management of IFA was a clear function and responsibility of the senior executive leadership with oversight from elected officers.”

He said it was well known he was determined to be a reforming president. He had worked to get an audit committee up and working.

He had met Mr Lucey and agreed with his proposed solutions to issues to be addressed by the committee, but unfortunately its work had been “frustrated.”

At an emergency meeting of the IFA’s executive council in Dublin yesterday, members were told Mr Smith’s severance agreement was signed by Mr Downey and Mr Smith, but not by IFA treasurer Jer Bergin, financial controller Ken Heade or deputy president Tim O’Leary. The latter three are understood to have opposed the deal.

Mr Smith had been general secretary for six years, but had worked for the IFA for 25 years in a variety of posts.

The IFA confirmed to The Irish Times it would mount a legal challenge to the severance package. Members at the meeting were also informed Mr Smith’s pension pot was worth €2.7 million 12 months ago when he transferred it out of the IFA and into his own possession.

At the meeting, the second in a week, members vented their anger at the board of the IFA over the ongoing pay controversy. Four resolutions from county executives in Galway, Mayo, West Cork and Cavan calling for the entire seven-man board to resign were tabled.

Earlier, the association announced its review of corporate governance, including remuneration, would be carried out by Mr Lucey, who will report back to the council with his recommendations on December 15th. The 53-member council unanimously welcomed Mr Lucey’s involvement, noting it was an “important step forward in rebuilding the trust of farmers”.

Mr Lucey said his recommendations would “reflect the fact that times and corporate governance standards have changed; businesses and organisations are now subject to greater scrutiny as regards how they operate”.


Mr O’Leary, who will undertake the functions of the IFA president during the review, confirmed Mr Lucey had agreed to examine all aspects of the remuneration package of the former general secretary from his appointment in 2009 until his resignation last week. “He will do the same for the president and the deputy president, in order to provide the membership with full transparency,” Mr O’Leary said, adding that the IFA would make all financial data available to Mr Lucey.

Mixing alcohol with diet soft drinks will “get people drunk faster”

According to a new study

  Intoxicated: When men and women were given vodka mixed with either ordinary lemonade or sugar-free lemonade, they became inebriated more quickly with the diet version   

On a boozy night out, many of us reach for diet mixers in the hope it will keep the calorie count down.

But while the artificially-sweetened drinks may not be as bad for our waistlines, experts now warn they could get us drunk faster – even taking us over the drink-drive limit.

US researchers from the Northern Kentucky University studied 20 men and women, breathalysing them after drinking either a vodka and lemonade or vodka and diet lemonade. While the amount of alcohol was the same, the readings were up by 25 per cent for those who’d had diet mixers.

It’s such a big difference that scientists want bars to warn staff and punters of the dangers of going diet.

As for why the readings were so different, it’s believed sugary mixers could act in the same way as food, slowing the passage of alcohol to the bloodstream, claims the research in the Drug and Alcohol Dependence journal.

The same US team has carried out similar research before, finding that diet mixers could take someone over the drink-drive limit. As test subjects who’d had the low-calorie drink didn’t feel any more inebriated, it could result in people accidentally drink-driving.

Their biggest worry is women, who are often the people who opt for diet drinks.

“While all alcohol consumers should be aware of this phenomenon, it appears more likely that women would select alcohol beverages with a diet mixer given that they are more likely to be conscious of calories in their drinks,” study author Dr. Cecile Marczinski warned.

“Young women may be particularly vulnerable as they frequently use diet mixers with alcohol and they also restrict food intake when drinking to control calorie consumption and, ultimately, body weight.”

Remember though it’s safer not to drink at all on nights when you’re driving.

Those from less well-off areas less likely to beat cancer


The rich-poor divide is continuing to leave people in the least well-off areas of the country facing lower odds of surviving cancer after five years.

Worrying new figures reveal a stark difference in survival rates for two common cancers.

The early data from the National Cancer Registry of Ireland, due to be officially published early next year, shows the five-year survival rates for bowel cancer is 56pc in poor areas. This compares to 64pc for patients with the same disease in more affluent regions.

Poorer patients with lung cancer have a 16pc survival rate.

But survival for the better-off who have lung cancer stands at 22pc.

“Where you live has a significant impact on how long you live,” said Kathleen O’Meara, head of advocacy and communications at the Irish Cancer Society.

The organisation will unveil the sharp divide in cancer survival rates at a conference in Dublin today.

“Cancer affects all parts of Irish society, but some people are more at risk than others,” she pointed out. “The data shows that those in the poorest communities in Ireland have a reduced chance of surviving their cancer diagnosis.

“The new data highlights again that, if you come from a poorer community, you are less likely to survive cancer.

“This is hugely unfair. All communities and backgrounds should have equal access to diagnostics and fast treatment.”

She suggested one of the contributory factors is the ongoing risk of delayed diagnosis by those who cannot afford to pay for scans themselves to find out if their symptoms are cancerous.

This is one of the barriers which is helping to maintain the ‘cancer gap’, where those from the most deprived communities are twice as likely to be diagnosed and die from cancer as those who are the least deprived, she warned.

“The reasons for the gap are multiple, but often the people in these communities have the greatest difficulties in accessing healthcare. Late diagnosis can lead to late treatment and to worse outcomes. In some deprived Dublin areas, there are not enough primary care resources – for instance, in North Dublin there is one GP for every 2,500 people. Nationally, this figure is one for every 1,600.

“It’s going to take a big effort on the part of government, the HSE and organisations like the Irish Cancer Society to take action in closing this worrying divide. But it can be done.”

Betrayals forced early humans to spread across the world


Moral disputes motivated by broken trust and a sense of betrayal motivated early humans to put distance between them and their rivals

Betrayals of trust resulting from moral disputes were a significant reason for such risky dispersals into apparently unwelcoming environments with a desire to avoid physical harm from disgruntled former friends and allies being a key motivation. Photo: iStock

London: Betrayals of trust resulting from moral disputes forced early humans to cross major geographical barriers, including deltas such as the Indus and the Ganges, and spread across the world about 100,000 years ago, a new study has found.

Penny Spikins from the University of York in the UK said that the speed and character of human dispersals changed significantly around 100,000 years ago.

Before that movement of archaic humans were slow and largely governed by environmental events due to population increases or ecological changes. Afterwards populations spread with remarkable speed and across major environmental barriers. Spikins relates this change to changes in human emotional relationships.

Researchers said that neither population increase nor ecological changes provide an adequate explanation for patterns of human movement into new regions which began around 100,000 years ago.

They suggest that as commitments to others became more essential to survival, and human groups ever more motivated to identify and punish those who cheat, the ‘dark’ side of human nature also developed. Moral disputes motivated by broken trust and a sense of betrayal became more frequent and motivated early humans to put distance between them and their rivals.

Larger social networks made it easier to find distant allies with whom to start new colonies, and more efficient hunting technology meant that anyone with a grudge was a danger but it was human emotions which provided the force of repulsion from existing occupied areas which we do not see in other animals.

Early species of hominin were limited in distribution to specific environments such as grasslands and open woodland.

The expansion of Homo erectus out of Africa into Asia around 1.6 million years ago appears to have been caused by the need to find more large scale grasslands.

By contrast, Neanderthals occupied cold and arid parts of Europe. All archaic species adapted slowly to new opportunities for settlement and were often deterred by environmental and climatic barriers.

After 100,000 years ago, dispersal into distant, risky and inhospitable areas became relatively more common compared with movements into already occupied regions. Humans moved into cold regions of Northern Europe, crossed significant deltas such as the Indus and the Ganges, deserts, tundra and jungle environment and even made significant sea crossings to reach Australia and the Pacific islands.

Spikins said that betrayals of trust resulting from moral disputes were a significant reason for such risky dispersals into apparently unwelcoming environments with a desire to avoid physical harm from disgruntled former friends and allies being a key motivation.


News Ireland daily BLOG update

Wednesday 15th April 2015

Irish Water bills show 46m litres of water leaks per day

  • Leaks see 150 customers use in excess of €1,000 worth of water over three months

Image result for Irish Water bills show 46m litres of water leaks per day  

Irish Water says an estimated 46 million litres of water per day & that’s enough to fill 18 Olympic size swimming pools, water that is leaking each day.

More than 30,000 Irish homes have been identified as having suspected water leaks with more than €1,000 worth of water draining from the pipes of some homes in just three months, according to Irish Water.

The leaks were detected during the utility’s first meter readings covering the period January to March this year.

It has now contacted 2,500 of the worst affected customers offering them a free leak investigation under its interim First Fix Scheme.

Water charges: Full coverage

The utility said the leaks identified were wasting an estimated 46 million litres of water per day – enough to fill 18 Olympic size swimming pools, or fulfil Limerick City’s water needs for 24 hours.

According to the meter readings, 2,500 customers were losing more than 2,000 litres of water every day through leaks.

Almost half of the water lost each day, at around 20 million litres per day, is as a result of leaks at just 1,100 properties.

That is enough water to meet the daily water demand of 70,000 homes.

“Our national metering programme is well ahead of schedule and is already of huge benefit in tackling leakage,” said Irish Water’s Head of Asset Management Jerry Grant.

“Customers who have a meter can see their usage on the reverse side of the bill.”

In the first week of billing 150 customers were found to have leaks that meant they used in excess of €1,000 worth of water over the three months.

While information on how much water is being used in a property is detailed on bills, no-one will be charged more than €65 for water in the first quarter.

In each case where significant amounts of water usage were identified, a constant flow alarm on the customers’ meter was activated.

This entitles the householder to a free leak investigation as part of Irish Water’s First Fix Scheme.

If the leak is found on the customer’s external supply pipe; which connects the meter box and the point of entry to the house, it will be fixed by Irish Water at no cost.

If the leak is inside the house then customers will have to arrange and pay for the repair.

Meanwhile, an Irish Water contractor carrying out a leak investigation on St Laurence Rd in Clontarf in north Dublin was briefly blocked in by up to 10 protestors on Wednesday afternoon.

Gardaí were called to the scene and the van was allowed leave.

About 6% of nurses in Ireland bullied on a daily basis,

  • A study finds
  • INMO survey says workplace bullying has increased by 13.4% in four years


A new Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation survey has found that almost 6 % of nurses and midwives are bullied on a near daily basis.

A large-scale survey carried out among nurses and midwives suggests that about 6% are being bullied on a daily basis.

The study findings indicate that the level of perceived bullying involving nurses and midwives has worsened significantly since a previous study undertaken in 2010.

The new study found that almost 6% of respondents reported that they were bullied on a near daily basis and that the percentage of non-union members who experienced this bullying was almost double that of union members.

It also found that over the past 4 years there had been a 13.4% increase in perceived incidences of bullying.

The survey suggested that Government cutbacks were a probable explanation for the significant rise in reported bullying between 2010 and 2014.

About 2,400 nurses and midwives took part in the survey, which was undertaken by theIrish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO), in partnership with NUI Galwayand the National College of Ireland.

‘Very disturbing’

Prof Maura Sheehan of NUI Galway, who headed the study, said: “The finding that almost 6% of respondents perceive to be bullied on an almost daily basis is very disturbing.

“The personal consequences in terms of health, well-being and family relationships of people who experience workplace bullying are extremely serious.

“Almost all organisations have a formal anti-bullying policy in place. Clearly there is a significant gap between the presence and implementation of such policies.

“There needs to be a fundamental culture change in hospitals and care facilities – a zero tolerance policy for any bullying must be implemented. This must apply to all employees, no matter how senior, specialised and experienced.”

INMO director of industrial relations Phil Ni Sheaghdha said the results set out in the survey did not come as a surprise, as they confirmed some of the information which had been reported to the organisation by members.

“[Members] believe the problem has been accelerated due to the effects the cutbacks in healthcare have had in the workplace as hospitals are constantly overcrowded and staffing levels are reduced.

“Employers need to be proactive now and become aware of trends and intervene early to ensure policies are fit for purpose and managers are trained to intervene early and appropriately.”

Irish Banks lose millions in way they treat distressed borrowers

  • Each personal-insolvency rejection costs banks €100,000, says insolvency service

  Image result for Irish Banks lose millions in way they treat distressed borrowers 

Banks are losing more than €100,000 every time they reject a personal insolvency application but many continue to “defy commercial logic” by forcing distressed borrowers down the bankruptcy road, it has been claimed.

Banks are losing more than €100,000 every time they reject a personal insolvency application but many continue to “defy commercial logic” by forcing distressed borrowers down the bankruptcy road, it has been claimed.

In a new report published by the Insolvency Service of Ireland (ISI), Permanent TSB is exposed as the bank least likely to come to an arrangement with a borrower trying to reach a debt repayment agreement.

Since the ISI began accepting insolvency applications in September 2013, banks have exercised their controversial vetoes in one in four cases, with the number of cases rejected climbing to almost 30% when mortgage debt is involved.

Using case data provided by Personal Insolvency Practitioners (PIPs) covering the last quarter of 2014, the ISI highlighted 47 rejected cases involving debt of more than €30m.

In all circumstances the financial return for both secured and unsecured creditors was higher in the arrangements rejected than the alternative available if the applicant declared themselves to be bankrupt.

Proposals drawn up by PIPs involving mortgage debt would have seen creditors recover just over 68% of their loans from borrowers compared to just fewer than 45% if the borrower entered bankruptcy.

Unsecured creditors meanwhile stood to recover 8.6% of their debt through insolvency compared with less than 1% after bankruptcy proceedings were issued.

The overall potential loss for creditors voting down potential agreements was put at almost €5m in a single quarter which worked out at more than €100,000 per case.

“This is why I have always thought the voting system [which requires 65% of creditors back a deal] would work,” said the head of the ISI Lorcan O’Connor. “It seemed to me to be a no-brainer. I have always been of the view that commercial logic would win out.”


Sub-prime lender Start Mortgages rejected 80% of the Personal Insolvency Arrangements (PIA) put to it. All told it vetoed eight deals and accepted only two. Permanent TSB, meanwhile, voted down 46 deals – a rejection rate of 48%.

Bank of Ireland vetoed 21% of debt deals, Ulster Bank rejected 19% of deals while AIB and EBS combined voted against 14% of arrangements brought forward by PIPs.

Mr O’Connor said the ISI was in the process of arranging meetings with the individual banks to try and establish what are their perceived stumbling blocks when it comes to doing deals. “Once you have statistics and facts at your disposable it is a lot easier to have a conversation,” he said.

The ISI report shows continued growth in applications month on month with activity across all debt solution categories. Growth has been particularly strong since the launch of the ‘Back on Track’ information campaign last October which coincided with the waiving of application fees.

400 arrangements

The ISI’s latest raft of statistics shows that over 400 arrangements involving unsecured debt and mortgages had been reached.

There were 101 Debt Relief Notices involving debts of less than €20,000 A further 43 Debt Settlement Arrangements for unsecured borrowings over that amount were put in place while 129 Personal Insolvency Arrangements which typically involve mortgage debt were done. And 162 bankruptcies were processed.

Since it started processing applications in September 2013, 821 approved arrangements have been put in place while 610 bankruptcies have been declared since the term was reduced to three years from 12. All told the cases involved debt of almost €2 billion. Mr O’Conner accepted the level of applications was still some way off the 7,000 he would expect the ISI to handle annually.

“I can’t deny that the numbers using the insolvency service remain low relative to the scale of the personal debt problem,” Mr. O’ Connor said. However he suggested that many of the 100,000 restructured mortgage deals that banks have now down with borrowers had come about directly as a result of the establishment of the ISI.

He said the number of people using the ISI was “creeping up” and pointed out that in the last applications grew at its fastest rate since the service started 18 months ago.

New Beginning welcomed the ISI figures which, it said, confirmed that the system continues to get traction. “The figures show that in over 75% of cases creditors are agreeing to massive debt write down,” said its spokesman Ross Maguire.

However David Hall of the Irish Mortgage Holders Organisation was less upbeat. “The Insolvency Service press release tries to present what are pathetic figures in as positive a way as possible, but they are fooling no one,” he said.

Irish company hopes to find gold in the hills of Donegal


Samples suggest that there could be a considerable amount of gold in the north-west of Ireland.

Tellus boarder survey – darker shades indicate areas where gold is more likely to be found.

Connemara Mining has announced that it has acquired five new prospecting licences covering 187 sq km on the Innisowen peninsula in Donegal.

The company’s geologists believe that the area is a chance of making a high grade gold find in the region – and that there is also the potential for other base metal deposits to be discovered.

The release of the the most recent Tellus geochemical field survey data confirmed the presence of elevated gold in the area – rock samples containing up to 104g/t gold were identified in 2011 by a previous licence holder.

After studying the available data 16 target areas have been identified by Connemara.

The company’s chairman, John Teeling commented on the deal, he says that the company is taking an “aggressive stance” in targeting Ireland’s next gold discovery.

He adds, “It is worth noting that the new licence block is located within the Scottish-Irish Gold Belt along trend from the discovery by Dalradian Gold where they have recently announced an inferred gold resource of 3.5 million ounces.”

Gold has also been found on the Monaghan-Cavan boarder, Easky in Sligo, Killashandra in Co Cavan and Co Tyrone.

Sligo, Ireland on the trail of W. B. Yeats

  • To mark 150 years since the birth of WB Yeats, Fionnuala McHugh revisits Sligo, her childhood holiday destination which inspired the great poet’s works


Ben Bulben mountain in Co Sligo, Ireland.

By Fionnuala McHugh

As children in 1960’s England, we dreaded summer trips to Sligo.

  My grandmother’s old house was spidery (we had a relative in the town actually called Miss Moffitt) and filled with In Memoriam cards – photos of other children, mostly drowned in the Atlantic, with the words Jesus, Mercy! Mary, Help! printed above their dead heads.

The milk tasted funny, the back-roads induced car-sickness, it rained or was about to. My grandmother attempted to teach us a poem with tricky Irish words: “When I play on my fiddle in Dooney/ Folks dance like a wave of the sea/My cousin is priest in Kilvarnet/ My brother in Moharabuiee”. William Butler Yeats, she said. Which meant nothing.

Circumstances changed. Sligo became the one constant in our lives.

The wild, glaciated land gripped our imaginations. When such a place clasps you, there’s no release however far you wander; I’m always measuring, say, the South China Sea or the mountains of Ladakh against the peaks and strands of that far western Irish corner. Yeats, born in Dublin 150 years ago this year, spent his childhood summers with Sligo relatives and he carried the force of it within him all his life. He wrote The Lake Isle of Innisfree (“I will arise and go now”) in grey-pavemented 1888 London to express a homesick yearning for somewhere that he heard “in the deep heart’s core”.

  Lough Gill. Truth to tell, Innisfree – the very word so internationally evocative it’s now the name of a South Korean cosmetics company – is an unremarkable piece of scrubland on Lough Gill. In 1992, I wrote a story for the Telegraph’s Saturday magazine about a group of British artists, including Maggi Hambling, who’d travelled to Ireland to paint it. They were fairly underwhelmed by its appearance. On the shoreline, Hambling had said, “It looks like a sponge”. But they understood the concept of a peg on which to hang your creativity.

“Actually, the prettiest island on the lake is Beezie’s,” said George McGoldrick, when I visited Inisfree one recent luminous weekend. “A lot of people would say that’s the one he meant. But Innisfree sounds better.” McGoldrick does tours of Lough Gill on his boat, The Rose of Innisfree, on which his wife Christina serves home-baked scones. Rose was resting, however, prior to the season’s Easter start, so we circumnavigated the lake by car. Every now and then, McGoldrick recited some poetry.

In this inclination, he was not alone; Ireland has declared 2015 the year of Yeats, the first time one individual has been so honoured, and all over Sligo people were leaping into Yeatsian mode at the smallest excuse. I’d already re-visited Lissadell House, where Yeats used to call on the Gore-Booth girls, Eva and Constance (later to become Countess Markievicz, an Easter 1916 heroine – or traitor, depending on your view – and the first woman elected to the British House of Commons), “both/ Beautiful, one a gazelle”. Back in the 1980s, anyone walking through Lissadell woods could see that the Ascendancy had declined into a huddled clutter in a damp back kitchen.

  Sligo on a summer’s day.

Now, however, there’s a new family of seven children in the house, a Yeats gallery, a cheerful tea-room. In Hargadon’s pub in Sligo town, built the year before Yeats was born, people were ringing up to book the daily 1pm slots for reading aloud one of his poems. The Blue Raincoat Theatre Company were planning this summer’s performances of three Yeats plays on Streedagh beach, where the Spanish Armada was wrecked in 1588 (and we used to look hopefully for doubloons). If there’s half-decent weather, that will be one of the most memorable stage-sets, lit by a divine expert, you’ll ever see.

And everyone will be heading to Lough Gill. With its monastic ruins and woods, Beezie’s Island – named after the woman who lived there until 1949 – is certainly a more spacious, not to mention picturesque, spot for nine bean-rows and a cabin in a bee-loud glade. But Innisfree is what the punters want, and in this Land of Heart’s Desire that’s what they get.

“The amount of times we’ve had to drop off ashes or roses on it… ” mused McGoldrick. “Didn’t Yeats bring his wife on a boat and he couldn’t find it? Not that he was good at rowing.” We both laughed. (Sligonians have a tendency to view the Nobel laureate as simultaneously brilliant and slightly dim, a classic product of the Celtic Twilight. To honour this mystic side, the anniversary festivities include having a Harp Festival on every full moon; as 2015 happens to be a blue-moon year that’s 13 of them.)

At Glencar waterfall, someone had stuck a placard into the lower reaches that read ‘From the river to the sea/Irish water will be free’ – not a minor verse by Yeats but an outraged reference to the Irish government’s introduction of water charges. In Ireland, using the landscape to make a point isn’t confined to poets; in the 1970s and 1980s, the spectacular pleats of Sligo’s Ben Bulben became a limestone billboard on which unseen hands would spell Brits Out or – during the Long Kesh hunger strikes – H-Block, with whitened rocks.

  Glencar waterfall near Sligo.

That particular script has gone, and the only words lingering under Ben Bulben’s head are Yeats’ own, carved over his grave in Drumcliff churchyard: Cast a cold Eye/ On life, on Death/Horseman pass by. I used to think (watching, with a frozen eye, the hailstones hop off the tombstones) that it was the bleakest spot in Sligo but nowadays there’s a pleasant tea-room here too. Having died in France in 1939, however, Yeats wasn’t interred in Sligo until 1948, and there’s ongoing debate as to whether the transported bones are really his.

“People fret about the right body,” said Damien Brennan, over an excellent lunch (cooked by his wife, Paula Gilvarry, a retired doctor). “I don’t care. We’ve got the right spirit.”

Damien Brennan is President of the Sligo Yeats Society, in which capacity he’s been to Japan three times. (Yeats’ fascination with Noh drama is heartily reciprocated by Japanese fascination with Yeats.) He lives, bathed by light, in a truly envy-inducing house with floor-to-ceiling windows, and a terrace, overlooking Lough Gill.

This is where you can sample the Yeats Experience evenings – food by Paula, expert blarney by Damien wearing one of his 85 bowties. Ideally, he likes at least 10 people but it’s worth ringing to see if you can make up numbers last-minute. If you’re not up to speed on Yeats when you arrive, don’t worry.

  Parkes Castle in Dromahair Co. Leitrim.

“I start with the premise that people know nothing”, he said, and the chat is wide-ranging, from Sligo’s geology to its archaeology. “I talk about tombs, about how Yeats as a boy, asked about passage tombs and was told not to go near those places because that’s where the fairy folk live . . .”

And I remembered the ancient magic seeping out of Sligo that surely fed a poet’s mind.

One night, I stayed at lovely Coopershill, the 18th century home of the O’Haras, where the air’s so pure, the trees on the 500-acre estate look as if they’re clad in lichen jackets. Simon O’Hara, the seventh-generation to live in the house and a perfect host, organised a dinner deliciously cooked by his fiancée, Christina McCauley; the guests’ subsequent Yeatsian singing and recitations by the fire were spontaneous. For this year’s anniversary, he’s also arranging paddle-board trips to Innisfree, where visitors can have a Coopershill picnic. Luckily, Yeats’ birthday is on June 13, a convenient season for summer outings.

O’Hara talked about it in the car the following morning as we drove to Carrowkeel, one of Sligo’s passage-tomb cemeteries that’s older than the Pyramids. The wind’s ferocity had contorted the trees into goblins (haptotropism, my Sligo school-teacher father used to explain) and we had to air-wrestle our way to the top. Amidst the cluster of 5,000 year-old chambers, we looked down onto the long, piercing gleam of Lough Arrow. You couldn’t measure that land against anywhere else in the world. Not a living soul stood near but the past grew close and the earth felt as if it were singing.

Why us humans have chins?


The Wicked Witch of the West can thank facial evolution for her iconic, pointy chin, new research suggests. And so can everyone else.

Compared with other human relatives such as Neanderthals, modern Homo sapiens have particularly prominent chins. Some researchers have hypothesized that the modern human chin helps the jaw stand up to the forces generated by chewing, said Nathan Holton, an anthropologist at the University of Iowa.

In a new study, Holton and his colleagues find that the chewing theory doesn’t hold water.

“The development of the chin doesn’t seem to have anything to do with resistance to bending stresses,” Holton told Live Science. “They’re just not related.” [The 10 Biggest Mysteries of the First Humans]

Instead, he said, the prominence of the chin may simply be a side effect of the rest of the face evolving to be smaller.

Chin mystery

To determine whether chin prominence protects the jaw from bending while chewing, Holton and his colleagues examined X-ray images from the Iowa Facial Growth Study, which tracked children’s skull development from age 3 into adulthood. Using 292 measurements from 18 females and 19 males, the researchers tracked jaw development and bone distribution associated with protecting against various types of stresses.

Chins become more prominent with age, but the scientists found no consistent links between chin prominence and resistance. In fact, jaws are relatively better at resisting some types of forces at age 3, when chins are not well developed, compared to adulthood, Holton said.

The findings appeared online April 11 in the Journal of Anatomy.

Shrinking faces

If chins don’t confer jaw protection, the reason for the pointy human chin is something of a mystery, Holton said. Overall, the Homo genus (which includes humans, Neanderthals and other ancestors) has experienced an evolution toward smaller faces over time, with Homo sapiens showing the greatest reductions in size. Among features on the modern human’s face, the lower jaw stops growing last, making it relatively more prominent compared with the rest of the face.

The prominent chin “is a secondary consequence of faces getting smaller,” Holton said.

So why have faces shrunk? One possibility is that hormonal changes associated with reduced violence and increased cooperation had the side effect of “domesticating” the human face, thus shrinking it, Holton said. He and his colleagues are also exploring evidence that points to the nose as the culprit. As overall body size shrank, Holton said, the nasal cavities did not need to grow as large to provide enough air for survival. The face then did not have to grow as large to support the nose.

“It really seems like a lot of changes in the modern human face are really due to a reduction in size, so if we can explain that, we can explain a lot,” Holton said.

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Thursday 26th March 2015

Government’s legacy of defending children destroyed by new Bill, says Ronan Mullen


The Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald insists legislation in children’s best interests

Senator Ronan Mullen: legislation facilitates fundamental attack on child’s rights.

Independent Senator Ronan Mullen has warned the Government and Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald that legislation updating family law will destroy their legacy as defenders of children’s rights and best interests.

He said there were features of the Children and Family Relationships Bill which were unobjectionable and indeed desirable. “But the legislation contemplates and facilitates a very fundamental attack on a child’s rights by allowing some children to be deprived of the right to be brought up by their own mother and father or, in any event, by a mother and father,’’ he added.

Senator Mullen said important questions merited detailed and careful consideration. “We should be guided by values and sober reflection when faced with making major changes to our society,’’ he added.

He said the Bill would be central to the debate about the marriage equality referendum.

“The timing of this radical Bill today is all about pretending that the change in the constitutional meaning of marriage has no implications for children’s rights to a father and mother,’’ he added.

‘Adult-centred purposes’

“That is yet another way in which children’s rights are being subverted, for other more political, adult-centred purposes.’’

Introducing the Bill, which has been passed by the Dáil, M/s. Fitzgerald said the legislation was in the best interests of children. It set out, she said, new and updated provisions on guardianship, custody and access for children living with their married parents, their unmarried parents, with a parent and the parent’s partner or with a grandparent or other relative.

She said it also set out the rules under which parentage of a child born through donor-assisted human reproduction might be established. It made provision for a step-parent, a civil partner or a parent’s cohabitant of not less than three years’ duration to apply to the court to become a guardian where he or she had co-parented the child for two years, she added.

“The Bill does not alter in any way the parentage of children conceived naturally or through fertility treatment which does not involve the use of donor gametes,’’ she said.

Averil Power, Fianna Fáil, said Irish family law was out of date and did not reflect the diversity of modern families.

“For too long, Irish family law has treated non-marital families as invisible and, as a result, has denied children the legal protection and support they deserve,’’ M/s Power added.

Mary Lou McDonald calls Tánaiste a ‘wimp’ in Dáil water debate

The Sinn Féin deputy leader asks Joan Burton if she supports moves to collect unpaid water charges?


During a heated exchange in the Dáil Mary Lou McDonald TD has referred to the Tánaiste Joan Burton as a ‘wimp’.

Sinn Féin deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald described Tánaiste Joan Burton as a “wimp’’ after claiming she failed to say if she supported the deduction of unpaid water charges from people’s wages or social welfare payments.

Amid heated Dáil exchanges on Thursday, M/s McDonald insisted that M/s Burton was not answering the question.

“I wish the Tánaiste to answer ‘yes’ or ‘no’,’’ said M/s McDonald. “Do you support the plan for attachment orders….?’’

The reply from M/s Burton, who was seated, was inaudible.

“You’re a wimp,’’ said M/s McDonald.

M/s McDonald said it seemed Labour was to become Irish Water’s debt collector, “sticking your hand into the pockets of families who are struggling to provide for their children or to pay their mortgage or rent’’.

She asked if that was the way Labour helped cash-strapped families.

M/s McDonald asked the Tánaiste if she supported Minister for the Environment Alan Kelly’s proposal “to raid people’s wages, social welfare and pensions’’.

M/s Burton said she supported Mr. Kelly’s work “in actually bringing a proper investment plan and structure for water development in this country’’.

Aer Lingus and Ryanair rules require two people in cockpit at all times

Now Easy-Jet is changing its policy in the wake of this week’s German-wings crash tragedy and disaster in the French Alps Mountains.


Aer Lingus and Ryanair have now confirmed that both airlines always require two people to be in the cockpit at all times when a plane is in the air. This is clearly stated in their manual.

The Irish Aviation Authority (IAA) said it approved procedures with Irish airlines a number of years ago to ensure a minimum of two people are in the cockpit at all times. This was as a result of the 9-11 terrorists attacks.

It comes in the wake of today’s revelation that the co-pilot of the German-wings flight that crashed in the French Alps on Tuesday appeared to want to destroy the plane.

A French prosecutor said today that on the basis of information from the “black box” flight recorder, the Co-Pilot had been alone in the cockpit and intentionally started his descent while the Pilot was locked outside the cabin after using the planes toilet.

“If a Cockpit Crew member needs to leave the cockpit, a Cabin Crew member is required to remain in the cockpit, with the door closed, while the Cockpit Crew Member is absent,” an Aer Lingus spokesperson said.

“Pilots and Cabin Crew are trained in cockpit door procedures during initial training and during annual recurrent training.”

“Ryanair requires two people to be in the cockpit at all times,” a spokesperson for the budget carrier said.

“If a pilot needs to visit the bathroom the cabin crew supervisor is required to stand into the cockpit for these brief periods.”

British airline Easy-Jet said today it would enforce a new policy for two crew members to be in the cockpit at all times from tomorrow.

“Easy-Jet can confirm that, with effect from tomorrow they will change its procedure,” the airline said in a statement.

Similar decisions have been announced by Canada’s Air Transat, Norwegian Air Shuttle and Iceland air but Easy-Jet is by far the biggest airline to take action.

The low-cost carrier transported nearly 65 million people around Europe over its last financial year and has 8,000 employees.

Report calls for better accessibility for child mental health services

Nearly 90 children and adolescents in need of support admitted to adult wards in 2014


Dr Shari McDaid, director of mental health reform, has called for the State’s Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) to be made more accessible to young people and their families.

Nearly one third of children and adolescents in need of support from mental health services were admitted to adult wards last year, while waiting lists for youth mental health services increased by 8% to 2,818 young people.

Speaking at the launch of the Children’s Mental Health Coalition report into the mental health needs of Irish children and adolescents, Dr Shari McDaid, director of Mental Health Reform, called for the State’s Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) to be made more accessible to young people and their families.

“This report has found that there are a bewildering number of agencies involved in children’s mental health care, which can cause confusion at what is already a stressful time for young people and their families,” said Dr McDaid. “When we consider that one in three young people are likely to have experienced a mental disorder by the age of 13, it becomes clear just how urgent the need for good quality services and support is.”

Dr McDaid warned that in 2014, 89 children and adolescents suffering from mental health issues were cared for in adult wards, adding that 405 young people were on a waiting list for services for over the year.

The recommendations laid out by the coalition highlight the importance of “meaningful participatory” mental health structures where young people have a voice in decisions that affect their lives.

The report calls for “accessible, developmentally appropriate and specialist inpatient services” for children or young people with acute mental health difficulties, including those with a dual diagnosis of mental health with learning difficulties or substance misuse.

It recommends appropriate training for GPs and primary care professionals across the State to ensure early detection and appropriate intervention. The coalition also found that a national framework was needed to support children and adolescents who may need to transition from CAMHS to adult mental health services.

The coalition also called for an increase in staff numbers working with young people, an issue Anne O’Connor, director of Mental Health Services for the HSE, also highlighted.

“We have challenges – the one at the top of the list is recruitment,” said M/s O’Connor.

“We have money, we have the authority to go out and recruit staff, and we just can’t get them. This is particularly a challenge in relation to consultants, nurses and psychologists.”

Dr. Niall Muldoon, Ombudsman for Children, voiced concern at the number of “vulnerable children” who were receiving care in adult psychiatric wards.

“These are wards where violence, tension and threats are not uncommon and I would suggest that such an environment is an upsetting place for an adult,” said Dr. Muldoon.

“Therefore one can only imagine how it must leave a child or adolescent feeling when they are already struggling with negative feelings about themselves.”

“The way our children and young people feel within an adult psychiatric unit will stay with them forever,” he said.

The Children’s Mental Health Coalition report would act as a vital aid in erasing the “prevalent gaps” that exist within the State’s child mental health services.

Kerry people love cucumbers? Now what’s your county’s favourite fruit or veg?


Kerry people love their cucumbers … What’s your county’s favourite veg?

Ireland’s favourite fruits vegetables vary wildly from county to county.

While the people of Offaly eat potatoes and swedes, Sligonians prefer chillies and fresh herbs and in Donegal they at berries, oranges and sweet potato.

Supermarket chain Tesco have revealed the most purchased greens in their stores, with Dubliners plumping for kale and avocado over cabbage and apple.

With nearly 70 million sold in stores every year, bananas top the charts in most counties and just slip to second place in Clare, Donegal, Galway, Kildare and Mayo which favour fresh berries over bananas at the top of the fruit and vegetable charts.

Cauliflower and kale are the least popular across the country but that could all change this year with cauliflower tipped as a food trend for 2015.

Nutritionist Elsa Jones said that getting your fruit and vegetables will still help you be big and strong.

“It’s encouraging to see that Irish people are buying a wide variety of fruit and vegetables. Getting your five-a-day is one of the most important things you can do for your health. It’s also important to eat a variety of different coloured fruit and vegetables as each colour provides a unique set of nutrients. For optimal health, aim to eat the five colours of the rainbow every day – red, orange, yellow, green and purple.”

Bats observe strict flight code to navigate the skies


Scientists have discovered that bats use an “airway code” to avoid collisions when they fly.

The sonar-based traffic rules ensure there are no accidents as they dive and turn at high speeds while chasing food.

Researchers from the University of Bristol studied pairs of Daubenton’s bats (Myotis daubentonii) foraging over low water for stranded insects in Somerset.

Researchers simulated the creatures’ sonar view on a computer and it showed that the bats swapped leader-follower roles as they flew.

Lead scientist Dr Marc Holderied said: “The bats seem to have adopted a simple trick: once another individual is close enough for your biosonar to pick up its echo, copy this individual’s flight direction within four to five of your own wingbeats.”

Co-author Dr Luca Giuggioli, also from the University of Bristol, said: “Quantifying the movement decisions that bats adopt to forage has implications well beyond animal ecology.

“By employing movement strategies that nature has optimised over millions of years, engineers may be able to improve the efficiency of search and rescue missions, monitoring tasks, and surveillance operations in the emerging market of flying drones and autonomous moving vehicles.”

The animals performed chases or coordinated manouver’s by copying the heading their leader was using a blink of an eye-500 milliseconds-earlier.

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Wednesday 25th September 2013

Mater hospital to comply with legislation


Hospital says it has carefully considered Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act

Fr Kevin Doran, who sits on the Mater’s board of directors and the board of governors, would not comment on the hospital’s decision.

 The Mater Hospital in Dublin has said it will comply with the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act 2013.

In a brief statement issued yesterday the hospital said it would comply with the Act, which sets out the circumstances where a termination of pregnancy may be performed.

The statement says: “The Mater Hospital has carefully considered the Act. The Hospital’s priority is to be at the frontier of compassion, concern and clinical care for all our patients. Having regard to that duty, the Hospital will comply with the law as provided for in the act.”

The hospital’s compliance with the legislation came into question during the summer when a member of its board of directors said it could “not comply” with the legislation as it ran counter to its Catholic ethos. Fr Kevin Doran, who sits on both the board of directors and the board of governors would not comment this afternoon on the hospital’s decision or his future involvement in it.

The Mater Misericordiae University Hospital is a Catholic voluntary hospital and was founded by the Sisters of Mercy in 1861. In its mission statement, the hospital says that by caring for the sick, “we participate in the healing ministry of Jesus Christ”.

Though it is named in the Act as one of 25 “appropriate institutions” for the termination of pregnancy, Fr Doran said during the summer: “The Mater can’t carry out abortions because it goes against its ethos. I would be very concerned that the Minister [for Health, James Reilly] seesfit to make it impossible for hospitals to have their own ethos.

“The issue is broader than just abortion. What’s happening is the Minister is saying hospitals are not entitled to have an ethos.”

A spokesman said the hospital’s board and management had consulted “widely across the hospital” since the enactment of the legislation in July. The issue had also been discussed at board level.

When asked yesterday about the hospital’s decision, Fr Doran said: “I’m not going to comment on anything. This has just happened.”

Asked if he was going to remain on as a member of the hospital’s boards of governors and directors, again said: “I am not going to comment on anything.”

He had said in August that if the hospital were to decide to comply with the legislation he assumed there “would be very serious discussion between the Archbishop [of Dublin Dr Diarmuid Martin] and the management of the hospital.”

The Mater hospital is a single-member company.

Its parent company is the Mater Misericordiae and the Children’s University Hospitals (Temple St) Ltd.

Its website says the majority of the members of the parent company are Sisters of Mercy and the remaining members represent the Catholic Archdiocese of Dublin, the Catholic Nurses’ Guild of Ireland, the Society of St Vincent de Paul and the medical consultants of Mater Misericordiae University Hospital and the Children’s University Hospital.

Irish planning permissions up 37% in second quarter


Planning permissions for apartments jump 79% in the second quarter of 2013

New Central Statistics Office figures show that planning permissions were granted for 1,926 dwelling units in the second quarter of 2013, up 37% on the same time last year.The CSO noted the 37% increase was off a low base in 2012.Planning permissions were given for 1,496 houses in the three months from April to June, up 28.3% on the 1,166 the same time last year.The number of planning permissions for apartment units soared by 79% to 430 apartment units from 240 units in the second quarter of 2012.

Today’s figures show that one-off houses accounted for 35.5% of all new dwelling units granted planning permission in the three month period.

Twitter to create 100 new jobs at its new Dublin office


Microblogging website Twitter is to double the number of employees at its Dublin office to 200 by the end of next year.

The announcement was made as the company marked the second anniversary of the opening of its European headquarters in Dublin.

The company currently employs 100 staff at its new Pearse Street offices.

Managing Director Stephen McIntyre said the company had a positive experience in finding specialised and experienced staff to fill vacancies, as had other social media companies with a presence in Ireland.

The new jobs will be in a variety of business areas, including sales, legal, HR, finance, marketing, engineering and user services.

Recruitment for the first 30 of the new positions has already begun.

Twitter has more than 200 million active users around the world, with more than 500 million tweets sent daily.

The Twitter service is available in more than 30 languages, with 70% of its users based outside the US.

Earlier this month, the company announced it is to sell its shares on the stock market.

The announcement has been welcomed by the IDA.

Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation Richard Bruton also welcomed the news.

He said: “ICT is a key sector targeted in the Government’s Action Plan for Jobs, and in recent years we have seen significant jobs growth in the area as world-leading internet companies decide to establish and expand operations in Ireland.

“Twitter is one of the biggest names on the internet and one of the fastest-growing companies in the world.

“Twitter’s decision in 2011 to establish its European HQ in Dublin was a major coup for Ireland and further confirmation of our status as the internet capital of Europe.”

Many cases of blindness can be prevented through early diagnosis and treatment


People over the age of 50 are being warned to watch out for symptoms of AMD (age-related macular degeneration) Ireland’s leading cause of registered blindness.

The call was made to coincide with AMD awareness week, which runs until September 29.

AMD (age-related macular degeneration) affects central vision, making it blurry. Central vision is necessary for everyday activities such as reading, driving and watching television. The condition affects one in 10 people over the age of 50.

However, the majority of cases of blindness associated with AMD can be prevented through early diagnosis and treatment.

“As the leading cause of blindness among people over the age of 50, it is likely that AMD will continue to affect vision loss in this older age group. However it is reassuring to note that 75% of blindness is preventable through early diagnosis and treatment.

“In the case of AMD, prevention is aided by maintaining a healthy lifestyle with a balanced diet and blood pressure control, quitting smoking and by having regular eye tests,” explained Patricia Quinlan, an eye doctor and member of the Irish College of Ophthalmologists (ICO).

A framework report recently launched by the National Coalition for Vision Health in Ireland revealed that 224,000 people in Ireland are affected by severe vision loss. However, this figure is expected to jump by 21% – to 272,000 – by 2020 as a result of this country’s ageing population and changing lifestyle factors.

According to Lynda McGivney-Nolan, an optometric advisor with the Association of Optometrists Ireland (AOI), it is important that people over the age of 50 undergo regular eye tests.

“In fact it is advised that you should undergo a test at least every two years. We encourage this age bracket to stay vigilant for the early signs of AMD,” she commented.

Early signs include a sudden onset of vision distortion and blurring in the centre of a person’s vision. The test for AMD is simple, quick and non-invasive – it can take place as part of a routine eye exam at any optician.

“Because eyesight can start to deteriorate gradually in old age, too many older people put up with it, seeing the deterioration as just part of the ageing process. In so many instances that is not the case,” warned Des Kenny of the National Council for the Blind of Ireland (NCBI).

He added that to lose your sight unnecessarily because of failing to visit an optician ‘is one of the saddest mistakes a person can make’.

“This is all the worse when eyesight can be saved through prompt diagnosis and treatment,” he added.

AMD Awareness Week is supported by the NCBI, the ICO, the AOI and the charity, Fighting Blindness. As part of the event, free AMD testing will be available at a number of venues nationwide. For more information, click here

For more information on eye health, see our Eye Clinic here

Global warming and “What the leading scientist’s say”


The UN panel looking at the impact of human activity on the planet is about to release its latest report. Representing the peer-reviewed work of hundreds of leading climate scientists, it offers no cause for scepticism or complacency

A lot has changed since the world’s leading climate scientists last gathered in the name of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in 2007, to put the finishing touches to their fourth landmark assessment of the state of global warming.

Since the release of that report in Geneva, the world has been through a prolonged and continuing economic downturn. This was arguably good for the environment in the short term, because the resulting slump in manufacturing had the effect of curbing the growth in damaging carbon emissions.

But in the longer term, the recession has been profoundly damaging, because it has knocked green issues firmly off the political agenda. While renewable technologies such as wind and solar power can benefit from free sources of energy, the initial investment is huge and the rewards will not be felt until much further down the line.

The cause of reducing emissions was dealt a further significant blow at the annual UN climate change conference in Copenhagen in December 2009, when the world’s governments failed to agree on legally-binding targets to reduce their CO2 emissions.

This failure to forge a treaty to replace the 1997 Kyoto protocol, which was rejected by the US and which placed no obligations on big developing countries such as China, was hugely disappointing to many and took much of the wind out of the sails of the campaign to reduce emissions.

Climate sceptics have effectively exploited the opportunities provided by the recession and the disappointing Copenhagen summit to push their case, arguing that the last thing people need is expensive and unnecessary renewable energy pushing up their utility bills.

According to a recent survey from the UK Energy Research Centre, they have been effective. The proportion of people living in Britain who do not believe in climate change has more than quadrupled since 2005 – from 4 per cent to 19 per cent.

But the prospect of the world’s leading governments agreeing dramatic and co-ordinated action to tackle climate change has brightened considerably in recent months.

China and the US, the world’s biggest emitters of CO2 by far, have lately made a series of positive noises about the prospect of cutting their carbon footprint and have even agreed to team up to tackle the matter.

It is against this backdrop that the fifth IPCC assessment will be published in Stockholm tomorrow. With its synthesis of thousands of peer-reviewed papers put together by hundreds of leading scientists, it will be the most authoritative document ever produced about climate change.

It will therefore play a central role at the next significant UN Climate Change Conference in Paris in 2015. This is when governments have agreed to try and negotiate legally-binding emissions reductions targets that, they hope, will be sufficient to keep global warming to 2C – the level beyond which the consequences become increasingly devastating.

1. Atmospheric observations 

  The report will say there is a 95 per cent chance – which it defines as “extremely likely” – that humans are responsible for the majority of climate change through their greenhouse gas emissions. This compares with the 90 per cent figure given by the previous IPCC assessment in 2006. This, in turn, was a significant increase on the 66 per cent certainty reached in the 2001 assessment and just over 50 per cent in 1995.

The report will say that the “global combined land and ocean temperature data” show an increase of about 0.8C between 1901 and 2010 and of about 0.5C between 1979 and 2010.

It is also expected to slightly reduce the minimum temperature increase that is “likely” (defined as a greater than 66 per cent chance) to result from climate change in the long term, to 1.5C, compared with 2C in 2006. The upper end of the “likely” temperature increase remains at 4.5C.

The report is also like to reference the fact that, in May, the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere breached the symbolic level of 400 parts per million for the first time in five million years, after rising at its fastest rate since records began.

The elevated carbon emissions reading harks back to the Pliocene period, of three to five million years ago, when global average temperatures were 3C or 4C hotter than today; the Arctic was ice-free, sea levels were about 40m higher than today, and jungles covered northern Canada.

2. Ocean observations 

The report will say “it is virtually certain that the upper ocean has warmed since 1971 and that ocean warming dominates the change in the global energy content”. This is because warming of the ocean accounts for more than 90 per cent of the extra energy stored by the Earth between 1971 and 2010, it will say.

The largest warming is found near the sea surface, with the top 75 metres recording a 0.1C increased per decade, between 1971 and 2010, decreasing to about 0.015C per decade by 700 metres. In terms of sea levels, the report will find it to be “virtually certain” that over the 20th century the mean rate of increase was 1.4-2mm a year, rising to 2.7-3.7mm a year from 1993.

It will also forecast that, by the end of the century, sea levels could rise by up to 81cm – largely as a result of an expansion in the volume of the oceans as they warm, and from the melting of glaciers.

It will say it is “virtually certain” that the oceans have absorbed huge amounts of carbon dioxide that have resulted in the gradual acidification of seawater. Estimates of the global oceanic content of anthropogenic (human-sourced) carbon range from 93bn to 137bn tonnes in 1994 to 125bn-185bn in 2010.

3. Cryosphere 

  This term collectively describes those parts of the Earth’s surface where water is in solid form, including sea, lake and river ice, snow cover, glaciers and frozen ground, or permafrost.

There’s not much good news here. The overarching conclusion of the draft report is: “More comprehensive and improved observations strengthen the evidence that the ice sheets are losing mass, glaciers are shrinking globally, sea ice cover is reducing in the Arctic, and snow cover is decreasing and permafrost is thawing in the Northern Hemisphere.”

It notes that global glacier mass has declined by between 210bn and 371bn tonnes since 2003. It also finds that the Greenland ice sheet is diminishing at an accelerating rate – the average annual ice loss from Greenland was between 101bn tonnes and 145bn tonnes between 1993 and 2010, rising to 174bn to 282bn tonnes a year in the period 2005-2010.

The report will also show that the Antarctic ice sheet is losing mass at an accelerating rate, and that the overall decrease in Arctic sea ice between 1979 and 2011 has been about 3.9 per cent per decade.

The state of the cryosphere is seen as a barometer for the extent and fallout from climate change because it is so clearly (though not exclusively) influenced by global temperatures. Its demise also has the added effect of speeding up climate change because snow and ice curb warming by reflecting the sunlight back into space.

4. Carbon allowance 

  The report is likely to say that the world has already burned more than half the maximum amount of fossil fuel that can be consumed if catastrophic levels of global warming are to be avoided. Scientists estimate that if global warming is to have an above-average chance of remaining below the crucial 2C level, the total amount of carbon burnt since the industrial revolution must not exceed one trillion tonnes.

This is because CO2 can remain in the atmosphere for more than 200 years, giving the greenhouse gas a cumulative impact. Scientists calculate that about 570bn tonnes, or 57 per cent of that one trillion tonnes maximum, has been burnt in the past three centuries and these, or similar, figures are expected to be included in the final report.

The report is also expected to warn that we are on course to use up our entire remaining global carbon allowance of 330bn tonnes within 30 years, unless drastic action to curb emissions is taken. This is because rapid economic growth in developing countries is accelerating the increase in carbon emissions.

Experts have blamed much of the increase on rising emissions from China and India, which still rely heavily on coal for their energy, although it is not known whether the latest IPCC assessment will single them out. Reduced absorption by shrinking forests is another factor.

About 50bn tonnes of CO2 is emitted globally each year, with the average global citizen producing seven tonnes, compared with about ten tonnes per person in the UK. Scientists estimate global emissions need to come down to about 20bn tonnes a year if the world is to have a fair chance of limiting global warming to 2C.

5.The warming hiatus

   The most contentious part of the report will probably be how it deals with the “hiatus” in warming, with signs that the rate of increase in global temperatures has slowed dramatically. In a development that climate sceptics have seized upon as evidence that the threat of climate change is greatly exaggerated, the temperature rise has slowed from 0.12C per decade since 1951, to 0.05C per decade in the past 15 years. It is understood that some governments are pressing the report authors to be clearer about the reasons behind the slowdown in the report, in a bid to head off the climate change sceptics.

While the precise wording and prominence of the “hiatus” section are still being hammered out, the gist of it is that it is unlikely to last. It will say factors such as a haze of volcanic ash and a cyclical dip in the energy emitted from the sun are likely to have contributed to a slower warming trend since 1998. It will also point out that the decade to 2012 was the warmest since records began in the mid-19th century.

The IPCC forecasts a resumption of the higher level of warming that it will say is likely to cause ever more heatwaves, droughts, floods and rising sea levels. “Fifteen-year-long hiatus periods are common” in both historical records and computer models, the report will say. “Barring a major volcanic eruption, most 15-year global mean surface temperature trends in the near-term future will be larger than during 1998-2012.”

Heated debate: Publishing an IPCC report

The publication of any Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report is always preceded by several days of intense debate, as hundreds of scientists descend on the launch city – in this case Stockholm – to agree the final wording of the first instalment of a three-part report that is likely to weigh in at more than 3,000 pages in total, released over the next 14 months.

One rather prominent member of the proceedings in particular, the IPCC’s vice-chair, Francis Zwiers, could put a few noses out of joint.

While most climate scientists are likely to be wrangling over just how bad climate change is – and why it seems to have slowed down recently – Mr Zwiers, the director of the Pacific Climate Impacts Consortium at the University of Victoria in Canada, is likely to be focusing more on the inadequacy of established climate models, for failing to predict the warming “hiatus”.

Published in the journal Nature Climate Change, the study he recently co-authored was scathing about these models. It found they have “significantly” overestimated warming over the past 20 years – and by even more over the past 15 years, the period which coincides with the warming hiatus.

IPCC vice-chair Francis Zwiers: climate models failed to predict ‘hiatus’

“Recent observed global warming is significantly less than that simulated by climate models. This difference might be explained by some combination of errors in external forcing, model response and internal climate variability,” the study found.

However, Lord Stern, the author of the influential Stern Review into the financial implications of climate change, said that climate-change models significantly underestimated the extent of global warming.

Mr Zwiers’s stance on the effectiveness of climate models will feed into the reasons for the slowdown in climate change in the past 15 years.

IPCC panellist Shang-Ping Xie, a professor of climate science at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego, said: “It’s contentious. The stakes have been raised by various people, especially the sceptics.”

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Saturday 14th September 2013

Estimated €250,000 raised in Majella O’Donnell cancer appeal

Mrs O’Donnell reacts after having  her hair shaved live on RTE’s Late Late show. Photograph: Andres Poveda/The Irish Cancer Society

‘Phenomenal response’ to TV appearance by Majella O’Donnell who had her head shaved for charity

The Irish Cancer Society has received an estimated €250,000 in donations following last night’s appearance on The Late Late Show by cancer sufferer Majella O’Donnell.

Viewers saw Mrs O’Donnell – businesswoman and wife of the singer Daniel – have her head shaved to raise funds to combat the disease. Mrs O’Donnell was diagnosed with cancer earlier this year and started a course of chemotherapy treatment last week.

Calling on the public to donate to the Irish Cancer Society, Mrs O’Donnell said: “I would love it if anyone who would like to contribute to this most worthwhile cause, couldstart donating today”

Mrs O’Donnell received a standing ovation from audience members who watched as she had her head shaved.

The scale of the response was described by the Irish Cancer Society as “phenomenal.”

Gráinne O’Rourke, communications manager with the Irish Cancer Society, said: “We are absolutely thrilled. We are taken aback at the generosity of the Irish people again. The volume of respondents has just been enormous and needless to say we are incredibly grateful to them.”

Ms O’Rourke said donations are still being made and by this afternoon was “around the €250,000 mark”.

“We are so grateful to Majella. It is such a generous thing for her to have done”.

Viewers of the show were invited to make donations through the cancer.ie website but a surge of traffic caused it to crash several times last night. These problems have since been rectified and the site is now fully operational.

The public can donate in three ways. The fundraising phone number is 1850 606060, the website is http://www.cancer.ie and the text number 50300 which accepts a €4 donation.

Michael D Higgins says economic stress in Europe leading to high suicide risks


Irish president Michael D Higgins

82 per cent of all Irish suicide cases in 2010 were men.

Irish people are under greater pressure and are much more at risk of suicide because of ‘new insecurities’ in employment, Irish President Michael D Higgins has claimed.

The ‘stripping away of security of employment’ through a new job market of ‘increased temporary and part-time work is causing greater stresses,’ he told the press after speaking to a conference to mark world suicide prevention day which falls today, September 10.

Increased financial pressure on people has created ‘new obligations’ for institutions in ‘the way that people are spoken to,’ he said.

‘Looking right across not just the European Union but the western world we are stripping away the security of employment where it exists and we are introducing far greater stresses of casualization in both temporary work, in relation to part-time work, in relation to the structure and definition of work itself,’ President Higgins said.

  More people are now at risk of suicide in Ireland because of economic factors he said. ‘What research suggests internationally is that an increase in the at-risk, the pre-disposing factors, are related to economic factors.

‘Certainly in Ireland at the present time there is a great deal of additional distress on people in relation to unemployment in relation to poverty and particularly in relation to mortgage distress,’ he said.

According to the Irish Times the president said that peer pressure, new technology and a lad culture which involved alcohol abuse and homophobia were other factors in suicide rates.

Stigma over mental health practices also needs to be tackled since it ‘keeps people from seeking help,’ President Higgins said.

Last week the National Office for Suicide Prevention published a report showing 495 people took their own lives in Ireland in 2010 and 82 per cent were men.

Over 40 per cent were reportedly men under 40 years while there were 12,000 incidents of self-harm recorded in hospital emergency departments.

Big protest demonstrations over closure of acute mental health unit in Galway


HSE plans to shut €2.8 million unit in Ballinasloe despite local opposition

Opposition to HSE plans to close a new €2.8 million acute psychiatric unit in east Galway is set to intensify with two demonstrations planned over the coming days.

A rally is due to take place in Ballinasloe tomorrow over the proposed closure of the unit, while there will also be a demonstration outside the Dáil next Wednesday.

A delegation from the locality has sought a meeting with Minister of State for Mental Health Kathleen Lynch to convey serious public concern over the plans.

The Psychiatric Nurses’ Association (PNA) says that the removal of acute beds from St Brigid’s Psychiatric Hospital in Ballinasloe without appropriate community facilities having been put in place first was “never envisaged” under the Government’s Vision for Change strategy on mental health.

Controversial decision
Senior mental health service managers in Co Galway have already appealed directly to national director of mental health services Stephen Mulvany to review the controversial decision, which involves referring patients who would use the Ballinasloe unit on to an older unit at Roscommon.

The managers told the director in a letter during the summer that they could not understand how a facility which has just been refurbished, at a cost of €2.8 million, could be seen as less modern than the unit at the department of psychiatry at Roscommon County Hospital, which was last fully refurbished more than 20 years ago.

Roscommon’s hospital has no 24-hour emergency unit, unlike Portiuncula in Ballinasloe, which maintains a close relationship with St Brigid’s.

At a public meeting last month, Roscommon Independent TD Denis Naughten described the Ballinasloe unit as “state of the art – the most modern in the country”, and said that the scoring system used by the HSE to arrive at the decision made no sense. “Over the summer mental health patients in Roscommon were being sent to Galway because there was no room for them in Roscommon or in Ballinasloe. This decision to close Ballinasloe is simply crazy,” he said.

Cut beds
PNA national secretary Noel Giblin said that the HSE was using the Vision for Change strategy to cut beds without having the community supports in place to meet thedemand for services.

HSE West said that the closure is part of a transition towards community-based alternatives and that there are sufficient resources in Galway and Roscommon to meet the needs of the patients under Vision for Change.

Anti-bullying plan for Irish schools by Easter 2014


For the first time, every school must have a policy to deal with cyber-bullying
Every primary and secondary school in the State will be legally obliged to have strong, clear procedures on bullying established by Easter, Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn has warned.

For the first time, every school must have a policy to deal with cyber-bullying.

Introducing his department’s “anti-bullying procedures for primary and post-primary schools” yesterday, Mr Quinn said prevention, rather than simply responding to incidents of bullying, would now have to be an integral part of every school’s policy.

He said bullying often had a devastating and lifelong impact on children and young people. The procedures were a step towards “putting an end” to it.

Template provided
While many schools already dealt well with bullying, some did not. For these, a template will be provided, which must be used and included as the core of every school’s anti-bullying policy,

The template defines bullying as “unwanted negative behaviour, verbal, psychological or physical, conducted by an individual or group against another person or persons and which is repeated over time”.

It includes deliberate exclusion, malicious gossip and other forms of relational bullying, cyber-bullying and identity-based bullying perpetrated on an individual, for example, because of their sexual orientation, ethnicity, social class or special education needs.

Hubert Loftus, principal officer at the Department of Education, said the new procedures replaced and updated guidelines issued in 1993 “to reflect modern forms of bullying”.

They would ensure greater transparency to parents and guardians. A school’s anti-bullying policy, its procedures and contact points would have to be published on its website.

The best way to address bullying in any school was by creating a “positive school culture, in terms of being respectful in pupil to pupil relationships, teacher to teacher and how adults behave as role models”, he said, adding that there was a strong focus on a school’s culture and environment in the procedures.

Positive school culture
There are tips for schools on creating a positive school culture, including on how to build pupils’ self-esteem, raising awareness about appropriate online behaviour and staying safe online, inclusion of LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) posters on noticeboards and holding discussions on identity, relationships and sexual identity.

“The primary focus when you are investigating and dealing with bullying is not on apportioning blame but on dealing with the underlying issues and doing as much as possible to restore the relationship between the pupils,” said Mr Loftus.

“These are mandatory procedures. There is a legal framework . . . under the Education and Welfare Act.”

Parents could be confident the procedures would be implemented as oversight had been strengthened.

“The school principal will be reporting to the board of management on a regular basis and the board of management will conduct an annual review [of its policy] against a standardised checklist . . . Our department inspectorate will have a greater focus as part of school inspections [as to] how well schools work in developing their positive climate and culture and dealing with bullying.”

If they were unhappy with implementation, there was a complaints procedure, he said.

British pub chain Wetherspoon set to open up to 30 pubs in Ireland


Improved returns in nine NI pubs influenced decision to enter Republic
British pub chain JD Wetherspoon is set to open 30 pubs in the Republic. Group chairman and founder Tim Martin says the company intends to open between three and four pubs this fiscal year with a view to eventually expanding this up to 30 in the longer term.

Wetherspoon is already set to buy the Tonic House in Blackrock, Co Dublin. Mr Martin said that the improved performance in their nine Northern Ireland pubs influenced the decision to enter the Republic.

In addition to Dublin, it is also expected that the group will open in Cork over the coming months.

Furniture warehouse
Wetherspoon almost opened in Dublin about a decade ago when it acquired the freehold on a furniture warehouse in Capel Street for more than €2 million.

However, due to the high costs of doing business in Ireland at the time, the company reportedly sold on the premises at a loss.

The group said it believed property prices in the Republic were no longer so prohibitive.

The British group is expected to remodel the Tonic House pub under its own brand and, according to sources, could spend up to €1 million to pay for the freehold on the property and fit-out costs.

Wetherspoon announced yesterday that its preliminary after- tax profit increased by £7.9 million. The group, which opened its first pub in north London in 1979, added another 29 pubs during the year and sold three.

It plans to open another 30 pubs in the year to the end of July 2014. Revenues grew 7 per cent to £1.28 billion during the 52 weeks, compared with a 53- week financial year in 2012.

Profits before tax and exceptional items were 6.3per cent stronger at £76.9 million, but they fell 3per cent to £57.1 million once exceptional items such as impairment and onerous leases were included.

Mr Martin said this performance was in spite of paying £32.2 million in taxes.

“It is unsustainable to have far higher taxes for the pub industry than those for supermarkets,” he said. “Already, 10,000 pubs have closed and many others are suffering, through insufficient investment.”

Pubs closing
In May, the Campaign for Real Ale (Camra) said that statistics indicated up to 26 pubs a week were closing in the UK, up from 18 per week in 2012.

Earlier this week the Drinks Industry Group of Ireland (Digi) announced that almost one pub in the country closed every day.

Leitrim has second highest rate of suicide in Ireland


At the Launch of the Mental Health Survey:   Back row (l-r): Geri Bruce, Sligo Leader Partnership, Alan Gregory, Dept. of Education, Tom O’Grady, St. Angela’s College, Mike Rainsford, HSE, Mark O’Callaghan, HSE, Mary Hough, Sligo Education Centre, Carol Duffy, GP Front row (l-r): Catherine Martin, Carrick Education Centre, Ursula Gilraine, St. Angela’s College, Eadaoin Ni Challarain, The Crib Youth Doctor, Trevor Sweetman, Mayo, Sligo & Leitrim ETB, Anne-Marie Regan, Forige, Michele Glacken, St. Angela’s College.

Leitrim has the second highest rate of suicide in the country according to last week’s HSE National Office for Suicide Prevention figures.

Although the report says that the 2012 figures suggests a “stabilisation in suicidal behaviour” it shows Leitrim’s rate of suicide just behind Kerry nationally. The counties with the lowest rates are Longford, Dublin and Donegal.

The report showed 495 deaths by suicide in 2012, 405 of them were male. Hanging was the most common method for suicide, with drowning, poisoning and guns also used by a large number. The highest rate of suicide is still among 20 to 24-year-old males.

Michelle Fox, Counsellor at STOP Suicide said she felt the HSE stats “don’t show the full picture” she said over the last 14 months STOP Suicide have “saved 75 lives” through intervention and counselling.

She said that is positive and that the majority of people who contact their service get through the low point in their life. Michelle said mental health needs more funding and awareness, but also that we all play a part and must move away from judging people and instead help each other out. She also reminded readers that September 8-14 is National Suicide Awareness week.

It was revealed that the rate of self harm was high in Leitrim last year. The report said there were 12,010 deliberate self-harm presentations to hospitals by 9,483 individuals in 2012. Mary McTernan, mental health professional with Grasp Life said sadly that for “each one that presents at hospital, five don’t.” The most common method of self-harm was overdose, followed by cutting.

The peak rate for self-harm for females is 15-19 years and for males is it is 20-24 years. She said Leitrim has a high level of unemployment, emigration, isolation and many turn to alcohol or drugs, they may have also experienced the death of a loved one or friend by suicide. Mary called for a “drastic overhaul of the mental health services.” She said funding is needed in outreach services.

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Saturday/Sunday 31st & 1st September 2013

A great, great poet who changed my life says Bono about Seamus Heaney


Bono described Seamus Heaney as “a great, great poet” who “changed my life”

“In so many things he was a gentle genius, whose words challenged us with the grit and beauty of life as much as they gave us solace. He wrote with a brevity that strangely spilled to the brim,” he said.

“We all envied how he made that most complicated of things, the balancing of work and family, appear so simple. In Marie he found his other whole. And it is a joy to be around his kids. . . Michael, Chris and Catherine Ann. They have all of his humility in their sharpness.”

And Bono revealed he carried Heaney’s poetry with him, including on a recent trip to Liberia. “I’m bewildered to think Seamus is no longer with us. Because his words will be around forever, it seemed so would he.”

Actor Liam Neeson also said: “He crafted, through his poetry, who we are as a species. By doing so, he defined our place in the universe. May he rest in peace.”

Fretting about money can make you stupid, A study finds


Financial worries create cognitive deficit equivalent to 13-point loss in IQ, research shows

Finding it hard to make ends meet can impoverish the brain and reduce your ability to think, say scientists. Financial worries tax the brain so much they create a “cognitive deficit” equivalent to a 13-point loss in IQ, a study found.

The problem is distinct from the effects of stress and results from too much “mental bandwidth” being used to fret about money. Someone overwhelmed with worries about rent, feeding and clothing children, and paying household bills can suffer a genuine mental handicap, the research shows.

This in turn may lead to poor decisions, such as racking up debt, creating even more difficulties in a vicious cycle. Economics professor Sendhil Mullainathan, from Harvard University in the US, said: “Our results suggest that when you’re poor, money is not the only thing in short supply. Cognitive capacity is also stretched thin.

“That’s not to say that poor people are less intelligent than others. What we show is that the same person experiencing poverty suffers a cognitive deficit, as opposed to when they’re not experiencing poverty.

“What happens is that your effective capacity gets smaller because you have all these other things on your mind. You have less mind to give to everything else. “Imagine you’re sitting in front of a computer and it’s just incredibly slow. But then you realise that it’s working in the background toplay a huge video that’s downloading. It’s not that the computer is slow, it’s that it’s doing something else, so it seems slow to you. I think that’s the heart of what we’re trying to say.”

Prof Mullanathan’s team carried out a series of experiments in the US and India to highlight the mental cost of poverty. In the first, conducted in a shopping mall inNew Jersey, around 400 people were randomly chosen and asked to ponder how they would solve hypothetical financial problems, such as paying for a car repair. Some problems were easier, that is, cheaper, to sort out than others. For instance, the car repair bill could be either 150 dollars, or 1,500.

At the same time, the volunteers had to undergo simple computer tests of IQ and mental performance. They were split into “poor” and “rich” groups based on their income which ranged from 20,000 dollars per year to around 70,000 dollars. The results, reported in the journal Science, show that when the financial problems were not too severe, both groups performed equally well in the tests. But when they were forced to consider difficult, costly problems, people with lower incomes had significantly worse scores.

In fact, the effect was so strong that for those generally preoccupied with money, merely thinking about a tricky financial problem led to a 13-point dip in IQ. That is on the same scale as losing an entire night’s sleep.

The scientists followed up their study with a visit to rural India where they tested a group of sugar cane farmers who rely on the annual harvest for at least 60 per cent of their income. Since the harvests occur once a year, the farmers find themselves poor before a harvest and rich after it. Given the same tests as the New Jersey shoppers, they did significantly better when they sat them after the harvest.

The impact of poverty on mental capacity reflects a more general phenomenon related to scarcity, say the researchers. Lacking something, whether it be money, time, social ties or even calories, puts a strain on the brain. Co-author Jiaying Zhao, from Princeton University in the US, said: “These findings fit in with our story of how scarcity captures attention. It consumes your mental bandwidth. “Just asking a poor person to think about hypothetical financial problems reduces mental bandwidth. This is an acute, immediate impact and has implications for scarcity of resources of any kind.”

Professor Eldar Shafir, another member of the Princeton team, said: “When you’re poor you can’t say, ‘I’ve had enough, I’m not going to be poor any more, or ‘forget it, I just won’t give my kids dinner, or pay rent this month’. “Poverty imposes a much stronger load that’s not optional and in very many cases is long lasting. It’s not a choice you’re making, you’re just reduced to a few options. This is not something you see with many other types of scarcity.”

Services to the poor should take account of the mental effect of poverty, for instance by providing simpler forms and making it easier to seek assistance, said Prof Shafir. “The poor, who our research suggests are bound to make more mistakes and pay more dearly for errors, inhabit contexts often not designed to help.”

Permanent TSB is on course to get back to profit by 2017


Permanent TSB remains on course to return to profitability — on a group basis — by 2017, with its so-called ‘good bank’ core element likely to make a profit as early as next year, management said yesterday.

On the back of an improving set of interim results showing an annualised reduction in pre-tax losses from €587m to €131m, group chief executive Jeremy Masding said “great progress” had been made this year and PTSB’s core banking element was on track to be profitable, on a pre-provision basis, “in the next 12 months”.

Management’s ‘Bank plus Two’ restructuring strategy, which will see a ‘good’ core lending bank split from a non-core division, and a specialist asset management unit, is expected to be approved by the European Commission by early December.

In the six months to the end of June, PTSB showed an operating loss, before exceptional items, of €449m, down from a figure of €457m a year earlier.

The after-tax loss was €141m, as opposed to €565m last year.

The pre-tax loss figure includes provisions for impairment of €430m and net exceptional items of €318m.

The ‘good bank’ alone made a pre-impairment loss of €12m and a post-impairment/underlying loss of €39m, leading management to say “it’s getting to where we want it to be”.

Mr Masding said PTSB’s recent financial performance had been “firmly in line” with its restructuring plan.

He said the performance showed the bank could, at its core, be a viable business and “an asset of value” to the Irish taxpayer.

Current management had, earlier this year, considered shutting the bank down in order to deal with its problems.

“We are achieving what we said we would achieve,” Mr Masding said, although he did admit that the reduction in group losses was “flattered” by technical accounting issues.

However, he also noted there had been “a modest improvement” in the bank’s like-for-like operating performance, “despite an ongoing prudent approach to impairment provisions”.

PTSB had signed up nearly 30,000 new current account customers to date, this year, and he said it would add “a lot more customers” over the rest of the year.

“We’ve made a good start in re-establishing ourselves as a competitive force for mortgages, deposits and current accounts and we’re very much open for business,” Mr Masding said.

Men lose their desire for physical challenges over the years “a research shows”


The desire for adventure and thrilling activities has decreased in men over the past 35 years, according to research.

A team from the school of psychology and neuro-science at St Andrews University discovered men are less willing to take part in physical challenges such as skydiving than before.

The findings of the research led by Dr Kate Cross which was published in the journal Scientific Reports and was co-authored by Dr De-Laine Cyrenne and Dr Gillian Brown.

Researchers focused on the sensation-seeking personality trait which has been described by the university as the desire to pursue novel or intense experiences even if this involves risk.

A sensation-seeking scale, version V (SSS-V) questionnaire was used to find out if people were willing to try various activities.

In the late 1970s more men were more likely to try parachuting, scuba diving or mountaineering than women, but over the years their desire for thrills has decreased.

The male average is now closer to the female average, backing up the argument that some sex differences in behaviour have decreased which is linked to cultural changes. It is thought the reason for this decrease could be because people are less fit.

Dr Cross said: “The decline in the sex difference in thrill and adventure-seeking scores could reflect declines in average fitness levels, which might have reduced people’s interest in physically-challenging activities. Alternatively, the questions were designed in the 1970s, so could now be out of date.”

The activities suggested in the 1970s may be viewed as less intense now – such as skiing.

Ancient monastic find could be next ‘Clonmacnoise’


Archaeologists have uncovered an ancient monastic settlement of ‘huge national importance’ during project work for a church car park.

The treasure trove of discoveries in just 48 hours is set to put a boggy field beside an old rural parish church on the archaeological map of Ireland.

Expert Mick O’Droma compared the find in Co Donegal this week to the settlement at Clonmacnoise.

The field beside the Drumholm Church of Ireland graveyard, near the village of Ballintra, is set to be classified a national monument as a result of just two days’ excavation work.

Archaeologist Mick moved onto the site on Monday after being commissioned by the Anglican parishoners to survey the one-acre plot as part of a planning application for a car park and cemetery extension.

“We had mapped the area from above ground, taking pictures and readings and I could see then that it could be exciting,” said the expert from Wexford-based Wolfhound Archaeology.

“When we cut five exploratory trenches to take a closer look it became clear very quickly that we were standing on the remains of a early Christian settlement, probably from around the 7th century.

“The exterior walls of the site are clearly there and there is what could be the remains of a round tower on one part of it. I can’t over-state the national importance of this, it is very very exciting.”

Legend has it that St Ernan, nephew of the late 6th century St Colmcille, was buried in the Drumholm area.

“It is very likely we have found the monastic site where Ernan was based,” said Mick.

A Neolithic axe was discovered two fields away in the 1920s close to an ancient cairn.

“This site beside the old church and graveyard dates back 1300 years and we know from previous discoveries in the area that there has been human activity going back to at least 5,800BC,” he said.

And yesterday he made another discovery in the church field which had this archaeologist even more excited.

He produced two pieces of pottery found in one excavated trench – one from the gaelic tradition and one from the Anglo-Norman tradition.

“We know from the Annals of the Four Masters that the English arrived here at Drumholm and settled with the O’Connors from Munster in 1242 in pursuit of the chieftains here in Donegal,” said the archaeologist.

“And here in my hand is pottery from that time, that was made between around 1200 and 1350.

“This whole site is like a time capsule of a period from the 7th century until the 16th or 17th century.”

Yesterday afternoon as his work was coming to an end, he said he now believes there was a ‘cathedral-style’ church at one end of the plot, the foundations of the outer walls visible under the boggy earth.

He also found ancient animal bones, evidence of a woven wooden footpath and areas used to make iron ore implements.

“Our work is finished here now,” said Mick.

“Our job was to check the site to see if it was of any archaeological importance before any development went ahead.

“I will be reporting the discoveries here to the National Museum of Ireland and to the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht so that it can be declared a national monument and protected.

“Perhaps some day there might be funding for a project or a university project that can come back and explore further but there is no doubt that this is one of the most important discoveries here in many years,” he added.

A spokesman for the Church of Ireland said the parishoners had met yesterday to discuss the find and would now withdraw the car park planning application.

“We will work now with the authorities to have the site protected,” he added.

Freshwater Jellyfish Discovered In Fermanagh’s Lough Derg lake


One angler’s disbelieving discovery in Lough Derg has led to a surprise new marine wildlife find for Ireland’s inland waterways.

Pat Joyce from Caslteconnell in Limerick nearly fell off his fishing stand when, in early August, he spotted what looked like a single small jellyfish pulsing in the water in front of him.

The jellyfish disappeared and Joyce thought that perhaps he was mistaken since, as everyone knows, ‘there is no such thing as a freshwater jellyfish’.

Two weeks later, again angling for bream in the tranquil surrounds of Scarriff Harbour, just off Lough Derg, Joyce noticed not one but hundreds of tiny jellyfish moving on and below the surface.

He immediately contacted the Environment Protection Agency (EPA) to seek clarity, and they put him on to Inland Fisheries Ireland (IFI). Staff from the Clare region of IFI’s Shannon River Basin District sped to the scene and collected up to 20 live specimens. They really did exist!

IFI’s Colum Walsh and Dave Germaine contacted Dr Joe Caffrey, invasive species specialist with IFI, who immediately organised a site visit to Lough Derg with a team of marine science experts. These included Dr Tom Doyle, a jellyfish expert from the Coastal & Marine Research Centre in UCC, and Dr Dan Minchin from the Lough Derg Science Group.

The survey revealed small numbers of the jellyfish at Scarriff Harbour, but specimens were also recorded from two other locations within the lake – at Rossmore Harbour and at Dromineer.

So what is this jellyfish, where did it come from and why was it never spotted in Ireland before?

As soon as specimens were collected IFI forwarded them to Dr Doyle, who identification them as the free-swimming life stage of a species called Craspedacusta sowerbii. This marks the the first official record for this species in Ireland.

This freshwater jellyfish hails from the Yangtze River Valley in China but currently has a worldwide distribution. It was initially discovered in exotic aquatic plant tanks in Regent’s Park, London in 1880 but has since spread to widely throughout the globe.

The jellyfish is about the size of a euro coin and broadly resemble their marine cousins. It is more or less transparent with a distinctive white/greenish cross and a white/cream circular outline, and possesses in the region of 250–300 small tentacles.

These jellyfish have two distinct life stages; one is a tiny attached polyp and the second is what we know as the jellyfish or medusa stage. The polyp buds off medusa under warm water conditions, generally when water temperature reaches 25 degrees centigrade.

The species is known to occur in single sexed populations, and Dr Doyle confirmed that all of the specimens he examined from Lough Derg were female.

It is probable that the discovery of this jellyfish relates to the wonderfully warm summer that we experienced in Ireland this year, when water temperatures in many watercourses exceeded 25 degrees for prolonged periods. This probably stimulated the budding off of the medusae or jellyfish, which pulsed in the warm water in search of plankton prey. It is noteworthy that jellyfish were also reported from Lough Erne in recent days.

Experience in other countries suggests that blooms of such freshwater jellyfish occur only sporadically and that they last, in any one year, for only a few weeks. So it is possible that we may not see such a sight again for many years.

It is important to state that the freshwater jellyfish is not harmful to humans and that, while they do capture their tiny prey by stinging, the stinging cells are not sufficiently powerful to harm humans.

In addition, the jellyfish do not appear to have any significant effect on the biology or ecology of the waters they are recorded in, probably due to their sporadic occurrence and the short period that the jellyfish blooms are in any water body.

“Anglers are the eyes and ears on our rivers and lakes,” said Minister of State Fergus O’Dowd following this amazing discovery. “I ask all anglers to continue to assist in the protection and conservation of this resource, reporting any invasive species they come across to the IFI Hotline immediately.”

One serious cause for concern relates to the pathway whereby this jellyfish – and many other non-native and potentially harmful or invasive species – was introduced to Ireland.

The fact that the two watercourses from which the jellyfish was recently recorded (Loughs Derg and Erne) are both internationally renowned navigation waterways suggests that boating and perhaps ballast water from newly introduced craft may represent an important causative agent.

Boats and cruisers are commonly imported from abroad and are introduced into our waters without having to prove that they were cleaned and disinfected before leaving their country of origin.

“This practice is unacceptable and poses a significant threat to biodiversity in our waters and to their functionality, be it as recreational, amenity or municipal waters,” said Dr Caffrey. “It is imperative that boats being imported into this country carry certificates of disinfection prior to being granted entry if we are to stop the ever-increasing spread of harmful invasive species.”