Tag Archives: Discovery

News Ireland daily BLOG as told by Donie

Tuesday 23rd May 2017

The shredding of documents played a key role in downfall of FitzPatrick inquiry

Legal adviser ‘taken aback’ by Garda Commissioner’s note about witness statements

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The former chairman and chief executive of Anglo Irish Bank, Seán FitzPatrick, has been acquitted on all charges against him at the Circuit Criminal Court.

The spectacular ending of the trial of the former chairman of Anglo Irish Bank, Seán FitzPatrick, has come about in part because documents relevant to the case were shredded by a solicitor investigating the alleged offences.

The extraordinary shredding of documents led to a collapse of an earlier trial and contributed to the decision by the judge on Tuesday that he would direct the jury to acquit in this trial.

Kevin O’Connell, a legal adviser with the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement, took on a lead role in the investigation but, according to evidence he gave in the absence of the jury, shredded documents during a “panic attack” in his office in May 2015.

He informed the Director of Public Prosecutions as to what he had done, then sought psychiatric help. The first trial of FitzPatrick, then ongoing, collapsed as a result.

The collapse of one of the most significant white-collar crime cases to come before the courts in the wake of the Irish banking crisis is a huge blow to the reputation of the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement (ODCE), the agency established to investigate corporate crime. It led the inquiry. It is also a blow to the reputation of An Garda Síochána and the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions.

FitzPatrick (68), of Whitshed Road, Greystones, Co Wicklow, had pleaded not guilty to 27 charges under the Companies Acts relating to giving false or misleading information to Anglo’s auditors Ernst & Young (now EY).

In announcing his decision on Tuesday, Judge John Aylmer referred to O’Connell’s evidence that the documents he shredded were notes of phone conversations similar to other such notes he had discovered to the DPP.

However, the judge said the fact was we didn’t know what was in them and there must be a doubt about why they were singled out.

O’Connell had given evidence to the first trial of FitzPatrick, over six days, in the absence of the jury, as it was becoming evident that the investigation had been mishandled in relation to the taking of statements from two key witnesses.

In evidence heard by the court in the absence of the jury it emerged that O’Connell feared last year, at the time of the shredding, that he was going to be “hung out to dry” if the case collapsed.

Garda correspondence.

More recently, internal Garda correspondence, released to the trial by Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan, showed senior Garda officers being advised in the wake of the shredding that no members of the force were connected with the destruction of documents or with the taking of witness statements from two key witnesses.

O’Connell, in the witness box in the absence of the jury, said he was “taken aback” by the latter claim, given that Garda colleagues in the ODCE had been involved in the inquiry alongside him and had been copied in email correspondence and had attended meetings concerned with the taking of statements from the two witnesses.

Defence counsel Bernard Condon SC commented to the court that the Garda were “attempting to find a bus to put him [O’Connell] under.” An assistant Garda commissioner, the correspondence revealed, had been warned that the case might produce “adverse publicity” for the force.

Extended legal argument heard in the absence of the jury outlined how the inquiry was handled as if it was a civil case before the High Court rather than a criminal case. The process of taking witness statements from two key witnesses, the court heard, was “lawyer led”.

The two key witnesses, EY partners Kieran Kelly and Vincent Bergin, were “coached” and their witness statements contaminated, with some of the wording in both statements having been actually written by the former Director of Corporate Enforcement, Paul Appleby, the court was told. The interference included the suggested changing of key phrases in the statements. The taking of statements occurred as if they were affidavits being prepared for a civil case.

The two key witnesses, both former auditors of Anglo’s books, signed witness statements that were the product of a long engagement involving a number of individuals in the ODCE, as well as lawyers in EY and in the law firm that acts for EY, A&L Goodbody.

It was “statement by committee”, Condon told the judge, during the extended legal argument.

Potential conflict?

There was also an issue of potential conflict. Some of the lawyers acting for EY in the drafting of the statements were also acting for EY in a €50 million damages claim from the Irish Bank Resolution Corporation(IBRC). The State-owned body’s case includes matters relevant to the FitzPatrick trial.

The lawyers were also acting for EY in relation to an inquiry by the firm’s regulatory body, the Chartered Accountants Regulatory Board (Carb), which is investigating the adequacy of the audit work done by EY on Anglo’s books. Condon said the Carb inquiry could potentially lead to EY losing its licence.

One of the complaints from FitzPatrick’s defence team was that the ODCE did not seek out information that went to their client’s potential innocence as well as his potential guilt, a point that has now been accepted by the judge. The ODCE had been trying to “build” a case, the judge said.

FitzPatrick walks away an innocent man. It is the second time he has faced charges that came to trial and from which he has emerged with his innocence intact. In 2014 a jury found him innocent of charges of providing unlawful financial assistance to 10 individuals known as the Maple 10, in July 2008, so that they could buy shares in Anglo Irish Bank.

During that trial, Judge Martin Nolan directed that FitzPatrick be found not guilty of other charges relating to loans issued to members of the family of the businessman Seán Quinn.

The charges on which FitzPatrick is now to be acquitted related to the treatment of loans from the bank which were transferred each year end to the Irish Nationwide Building Society, before being transferred back to the bank. This meant they did not have to be disclosed in Anglo’s end of year accounts.

The so-called “warehousing” of the loans led to FitzPatrick’s resignation when it emerged in December 2008, and contributed to the loss in confidence in the bank that in turn led to it being nationalised in January 2009. The ODCE began investigating the matter in December 2008.

O’Connell said the documents he shredded had been overlooked when disclosure was being made to the FitzPatrick defence, and when he discovered them on a tray on the floor of his office, he realised he was going to have to go back to the witness box and give more evidence. After he informed the State legal team of what he had done, he sought psychiatric help.

Bizarre and dramatic development.

The bizarre and dramatic development turned a crisis caused by how the investigation had been conducted, into a full-blown catastrophe. Although O’Connell said he wasn’t sure what the documents he shredded were, he said he believed they were notes taken in meetings or during phone calls associated with the case. Complaints about disclosure had featured during his giving of evidence in 2015, and when he returned to the office and found more documents that had not been disclosed, he panicked, he said.

In 2015 he referred to eight or nine pages of notes, while this year he said he thought about three or four pages may have been involved. He refused to let the court have access to reports concerning his mental health.

O’Connell had played a key role in gathering evidence against FitzPatrick even though he had never played a role in investigating an indictable offence before.

The court heard that, as problems with the investigation emerged during the trial, the new Director of Corporate Enforcement, Ian Drennan, who had taken over from Appleby in August 2012, informed his staff that only Garda officers were to henceforth take witness statements.

He also said that when the details of what had happened in the FitzPatrick case emerged, it was likely that the agency would suffer “very severe reputational damage” as well as “parliamentary scrutiny”.

All of the interviews with the EY partners occurred in the presence of the solicitors from A&L Goodbody, including partner Liam Kennedy, with whom O’Connell was in regular contact.

There were up to 40 versions of the Kelly and Bergin statements in the huge discovery of documents released to the defence last year. It was after the multiple drafts were received that the defence learned of the flaws it argued existed in relation to how the investigation had been conducted.

Some of the drafts had been going “back and forth” between the ODCE and A&L Goodbody, some within the ODCE, and some within A&L Goodbody. It was “statement by committee”, Condon said. “Conspicuous by their absence were the guards.” He said standards in investigating a suspected crime could not be lowered just because it was an alleged white-collar crime. “Everyone goes to the same prison.”

The FG leadership battle & the candidates Simon Coveney v Leo Varadkar

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Simon CoveneyPersonal: Aged 44. Son of former Fine Gael TD and minister Hugh Coveney, who died in an accident in 1998.

As well as being a politician, his father was a successful surveyor and wealthy farmer. Married to Ruth Furney, an IDA executive in Cork. They have three young daughters.

Education: Clongowes Wood College. UCC, Gurteen Agricultural College, Tipperary, Royal Agriculture College, Gloucestershire, England. Holds a BSc in agriculture and land management.

Political: First elected a Fine Gael TD for Cork South Central in 1998 by-election caused by his father’s death. Was an MEP 2000-2007 but gave up Euro seat for Dáil politics. Appointed agriculture minister in 2011, took on additional defence portfolio in 2014. Housing Minister since May 2016.

Career trajectory: Began in the shadow of his late father’s reputation and later for a time dubbed “light weight”. But seen as a potential Fine Gael leader for almost a decade. Viewed as earnest and policy-driven – he has been cultivating personal support in recent years.

Strengths: Unfailingly polite, extremely hard-working and pays keen attention to policy details. A dealmaker, capable of standing his ground as well as compromising. Did heavy-lifting on Fine Gael-Fianna Fáil deal to underpin this Government.

Weaknesses: More focused on policy than people. Knockabout politics does not come naturally to him.

Lucky general? In his first job as agriculture minister in 2011, he presided over the only Irish sector doing well. Sided against Enda Kenny in 2010 ‘botched heave’ and still made cabinet.

Unlucky general? He landed the toughest Cabinet job in May 2016, leaving him a housing and homelessness crisis and the future of water charges. These just as he was trying to become taoiseach.

To be expected: From Cork’s wealthy section of society, he sails and played rugby.

A surprise: Was expelled from the elite Clongowes Wood secondary boarding school for partying and drinking, much to the anger of his parents. Specialised in human rights as an MEP.

Soundbite winner: “Whatever ministry I have, whether it’s defence, whether it’s marine, whether it’s agriculture, I’ve tried to make as big a mark as I can in taking on some big challenges and trying to overcome them. I’ve got some very big challenges at the moment to take on and overcome, and there’s a lot of people relying on me to do it,” in December 2016 on facing up to challenge of being the Housing Minister.

Soundbite gaffe: On March 1, 2016, he “dropped the ball” by suggesting abolition of Irish Water could be part of Fine Gael-Fianna Fáil government-making talks. “We need to take on board within reason, what they are looking for,” he said on RTÉ.

Unique Selling Point: Total commitment to policy achievements in whatever job he takes on.

Politician, living or dead, he most admires: Aung San Suu Kyi.

Stated hobbies: Sailing, rugby, GAA and following all sports.

Coveney’s policies

TAXATION: He would change Fine Gael’s current stance on scrapping USC. Also wants to raise bands so workers don’t hit the 40pc rate at €33,800.

INFRASTRUCTURE: A long-term strategic infrastructure plan as part of ‘Ireland 2040’. Ring-fence up to €20bn for infrastructure, mostly focused on transport.

BREXIT: With his experience as an MEP and agriculture minister, says he is best-placed to represent Ireland in talks.

HOUSING: Sticking to his ‘Rebuilding Ireland’ plan. Has committed more than 20,000 new homes a year being built.

INDUSTRIAL RELATIONS: From a policy point of view, says he agrees with Varadkar.

ABORTION: The Citizens’ Assembly recommendations go “too far” but the current laws need to be changed to recognise crisis pregnancies.

EDUCATION: ‘Action Plan for Education’ and produce specific annual targets.

HEALTH: Also cites the Oireachtas committee as an important process and plans “to substantially reduce health inequalities in Ireland”.

UNITED IRELAND: Committed to immediately drafting a white paper on possible reunification.

Leo Varadkar

Personal: Aged 38 and a qualified medical doctor. His father, Ashok, is an Indian-born medical doctor and his mother, Miriam, a nurse originally from Co Waterford. His parents met while working in England. He has two sisters – Sophia is a doctor in the neurology department of Great Ormond Street Children’s Hospital in London, while Sonia is a nurse at the Coombe in Dublin. Lived most of his life in the prosperous west Dublin suburb of Castleknock. Is unmarried and in January 2015 became Ireland’s first openly gay government minister.

Education: The King’s Hospital, Dublin, and Trinity College Dublin.

Political: Schoolboy and student Fine Gael activist. Unsuccessfully contested 1999 local elections, elected to Fingal County Council in 2004. TD for Dublin West since 2007. Minister for transport and tourism 2011-2014; health 2014-2016; Social Protection 2016 to date.

Career trajectory: Has been talked about as a potential Fine Gael leader since his arrival at Leinster House in June 2007. One of the party’s young Turks, once dubbed “Tory Boy” in his youth – has been busy dumping the right-wing rhetoric and gravitating to the middle.

Strengths: Quick-thinking and dynamic. Does a refreshingly candid “honesty-in-dishonesty line” and usually gets away with it. Very hard-working.

Weaknesses: More style than substance. For all his talk, was a “manager rather than a doer” as transport, health and finally Social Protection Minister.

Lucky general? His two full winters as health minister, 2014/15 and 2015/16, were mild and did not have a full-blown “trolley crisis”. Sided against Enda Kenny in 2010 ‘botched heave’ and still made cabinet in 2011.

Unlucky general? As tourism and transport minister, his two junior ministers were Michael Ring and Alan Kelly, two of the Dáil’s toughest characters. Had fretful two years in health when he faced high expectations as a doctor.

To be expected: As a medical student in TCD, social life was all about Young Fine Gael.

A surprise: Has been busy brushing up on his Gaeilge – came to this week’s decisive Fine Gael meeting directly after sitting a civil service Irish exam.

Soundbite winner: “It’s not something that defines me. I’m not a half-Indian politician, or a doctor politician, or a gay politician for that matter. It’s just part of who I am, it doesn’t define me,” his summation as he announced he was gay in January 2015.

Best howler: “I really can’t wait to get the keys to one of those government jets. My bowels aren’t feeling the Mae West today.” An over-sharing blog, as an opposition TD in 2009, recounting a marathon journey home from Ulaanbaatar in Mongolia, involving long waits in Moscow and Heathrow.

Unique Selling Point: Can still claim to be “an outsider” carrying a certain air of mystery and intrigue.

Politician, living or dead, he most admires: Michael Collins.

Stated hobbies: Fitness, good food and wine, and good company.

Varadkar’s policies

TAXATION: Cut high marginal income tax rates.Tax equality for self-employed. Merge USC and PRSI.

INFRASTRUCTURE: Increase capital spending over 10 years, focusing on the Dublin Metro, the M20 between Cork and Limerick and motorway access to the west and north-west.

BREXIT: Five Brexit principles, including trying to keep Northern Ireland in the single market.

HOUSING: Scrap the ‘Help-To-Buy’ scheme if it is inflating prices, and spend on ‘Housing with Care’ for older people.

INDUSTRIAL RELATIONS: Essentially strikes will be banned after a Labour Court judgment has been made.

ABORTION: Would support access to a termination in cases of rape but not on demand.

EDUCATION: Increase the Back to School Clothing and Footwear Allowance. He will also provide subsidised school books/tablets to all children.

HEALTH: “The health service of the future needs to be patient centred and about better access and outcomes”.

UNITED IRELAND: Prepare that it might happen in our lifetime but won’t agitate for it.

Fine Gael parliamentary party endorsements for leader

The Fine Gael parliamentary party makes up 65pc of the total electorate.

That makes each of the 73 members’ votes worth 0.9% of the total ballot.

Of the remaining electorate, 230 party councillors account for 10%, while the remaining 25% is rank and file members.

Leo Varadkar
Simon Coveney
Total: 45
Total: 19
Ministers: 17
Ministers: 5
TDs: 16
TDs: 5
Senators: 11
Senators: 8
MEPs: 1
MEPs: 1
Richard Bruton -Minister
Simon Harris – Minister
Frances Fitzgerald – Minister
Damien English – Minister
Michael Ring – Minister
Dara Murphy – Minister
Eoghan Murphy – Minister
David Stanton – Minister
Sean Kyne – Minister
Marcella Corcoran Kennedy – Minister
Joe McHugh – Minister
Kate O’Connell – TD
Helen McEntee – Minister
Maria Bailey – TD
Charlie Flanagan – Minister
Sean Barrett TD
Paul Kehoe -Minister
Hildegard Naughton – TD
Patrick O’Donovan – Minister
Peter Fitzpatrick – TD
Regina Doherty – Minister
Tim Lombard – Senator
Mary Mitchell O’Connor – Minister
Jerry Buttimer – Senator
Paschal Donohoe – Minister
Paudie Coffey – Senator
Heather Humphreys – Minister
James Reilly – Senator
Pat Breen – Minister
Colm Burke – Senator
Catherine Byrne – Minister
John O’Mahony – Senator
Andrew Doyle – Minister
Paul Coghlan – Senator
John Paul Phelan – TD
Gabrielle McFadden – Senator
Noel Rock – TD
Deirdre Clune – MEP
Tony McLoughlin – TD
Alan Farrell – TD
Michael D’Arcy – TD
Tom Neville – TD
Josepha Madigan – TD
Pat Deering – TD
Jim Daly – TD
Brendan Griffin – TD
Ciaran Cannon – TD
Colm Brophy – TD
Peter Burke – TD
Fergus O’Dowd – TD
John Deasy – TD
Joe Carey – TD
Neale Richmond – Senator
Catherine Noone – Senator
Paddy Burke – Senator
Martin Conway – Senator
Michelle Mulherin – Senator
Maura Hopkins – Senator
Ray Butler – Senator
Frank Feighan – Senator
Maria Byrne – Senator
Joe O’Reilly – Senator
Kieran O’Donnell – Senator
Brian Hayes – MEP

Undeclared

Enda Kenny – Outgoing Party Leader *

Martin Heydon – Party Chairman *

Michael Noonan – Minister  Michael Creed – Minister
Bernard Durkan – TD Sean Kelly – MEP
Mairead McGuinness MEP  
* Outgoing leader Enda Kenny and party chairman Martin Heydon will not make an endorsement  

Irish unemployment hits nine-year low as full-time jobs up 84,000 in first quarter

Finance Minister Michael Noonan said full-time employment had increased by more than 84,000 in the first quarter

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Ireland’s unemployment figures has fallen to levels not seen since the recession and economic collapse hit the country in early 2008.

Official figures released by the Central Statistics Office (CSO) showed 33,200 fewer people out of work at the start of this year, compared with the same time last year.

The unemployment rate is now down to 6.4%, Finance Minister Michael Noonan said, with 148,800 people classed as out of work, the lowest number in nine years.

“The labour market has begun the year in a very positive manner and I welcome the very strong employment growth that was recorded in the first quarter,” Mr Noonan said.

“Employment gains of 68,600 (3.5%) clearly demonstrate that economic growth is generating significant dividends in the labour market. Indeed, it is noteworthy that full-time employment increased by over 84,000 in the first quarter and I particularly welcome this development.

“The policies that have been implemented by the Government continue to bear fruit. The objective in the months and years ahead is to enhance the resilience of the economy in order to protect these gains and generate more jobs in the future.”

A breakdown of the labour market figures recorded in the CSO’s Quarterly National Household Survey showed an 18.5% fall in the number of unemployed people in the year to the end of March.

It said that people who are classed as long- term unemployed after being out of work for a year or more now account for just over half the total number of jobless.

The CSO also said there are 2,191,400 people in the labour market.

As many as 460,000 may be exposed to unsafe radon levels in Ireland

Irish householders urged to test their homes?

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As many as 460,000 people in Ireland may be exposed to radon levels that are deemed to be unsafe, new research has found.

Radon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas present in all rocks and soils. When it surfaces in the open air, it is quickly diluted to harmless concentrations. However when it enters an enclosed space, such as a house, it can sometimes build up to high concentrations, leading to an potentially dangerous health risk.

Globally, radon is the second highest cause of lung cancer, coming after smoking. The gas is linked to around 250 cancer deaths in Ireland every year.

A research team led by geologists from Trinity College Dublin (TCD) has produced a new ‘risk map’ using indoor radon concentration measurements and relevant geological information.

They found that including more geological data, such as bedrock and glacial geology, provided a more detailed picture of the risks posed by radon.

According to this map, around 10% of Ireland’s population is exposed to radon levels that exceed the references safe level – that is around 460,000 people who may currently be at risk.

This new analysis divides the country into three risk categories – high, medium and low. This is based on the probability of having an indoor radon concentration level above the reference level of 200 becquerels per cubic metre.

The map shows that the probability of living in a home with a concentration above this is calculated to be 19% in high risk areas (around 265,000 people), 8% in medium risk areas (160,000) and 3% in low risk areas (35,000).

This map now needs to be validated using new annually available indoor radon data.

“EU member states need to translate European radiation protection legislation into national law, and this requires an accurate definition of radon-prone areas. Our research provides one example of how national-scale radon risk maps can be produced, which is especially relevant to countries developing their national radon programmes,” explained Quentin Crowley, assistant professor in isotopes and the environment at TCD’s School of Natural Sciences.

The researchers emphasised that according to the map, even some homes in the low risk category ‘will have elevated radon levels’.

“No model, no matter how sophisticated, can substitute for having indoor radon levels tested. For this reason we advise all householders to test their homes for radon and, if high levels are found, to have their houses fixed. Further information is available on radon.ie,” commented Barbara Rafferty of the Environmental Protection Agency.

Large study uncovers genes are linked to our intelligence

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Exactly what constitutes intelligence, and to what extent it is genetic, are some of the most controversial questions in science. But now a new study of nearly 80,000 people, published in Nature Genetics, has managed to identify a number of genes that seem to be involved in intelligence.

According to a dictionary definition, intelligence is “the ability to learn, understand or deal with new situations” or “the ability to apply knowledge to manipulate one’s environment or to think abstractly”.

This is obviously quite broad. Indeed, even animals display a number of different forms of intelligence, typically critical for survival. These range from reaching or gathering sources of food and escaping predators to the sharing of duties within a group (such as in ant communities). Elephants or monkeys also possess forms of empathy and care, which strengthen their relationships and chances to survive.

Human intelligence started out as “reactive”, enabling us to find solutions to the challenges of nature. But it later became “proactive”, so that we could use the resources of nature to develop preventive measures aimed at solving problems. Ultimately, what makes human intelligence different from that of other animals is our ability to shape the environment, for example through farming. This became possible as we developed communities and started delegating tasks on the basis of talents. When the acute problem of survival was controlled, we could dedicate our intelligence to the development of arts or other higher skills.

There are many factors that enable us to shape and nurture our intelligence – ranging from access to resources and information to skills acquired through experience and repetition. But, like with most human traits, there is also a genetic basis.

The experiment?

The method used to measure intelligence in the new study was the so-called “g-factor” – a measure of analytical intelligence. Although it might appear reductive to catalogue all types of intelligence through a single test, the g-factor is often used in scientific research as being among the most unbiased methods. The authors looked at such scores in 78,000 people of European descent to search for genetic factors and genes that potentially influence human intelligence.

They carried out a genome-wide association study (GWAS). This assesses connections between a trait and a multitude of DNA markers called single-nucleotide polymorphisms, or SNPs, which might determine an individual’s likelihood to develop a specific trait. The test enabled the researchers to identify 336 significant SNPs.

Generally, the vast majority of significant SNPs that result in this way fall in non-coding regions of the DNA. In other words, they indicate portions of the DNA that may regulate gene expression even though the actual regulated gene is unknown. This makes the SNPs from GWAS hard to interpret. So the authors then complemented their analysis with a so called genome-wide gene association analysis (or GWGAS), which calculates the effect of multiple SNPs within genes and can identify actual associated genes. They then combined both kinds of study to strengthen their confidence in naming the genes associated with intelligence.

This work led to isolating 52 candidate genes linked to intelligence. Although 12 of these had been previously associated with “intelligence”, the study needs to be replicated in future studies.

What do we gather?

The researchers discovered that the genes that were the strongest linked to intelligence are ones involved in pathways that play a part in the regulation of the nervous system’s development and apoptosis (a normal form of cell death that is needed in development). The most significant SNP was found within FOXO3, a gene involved in insulin signalling that might trigger apoptosis. The strongest associated gene was CSE1L, a gene involved in apoptosis and cell proliferation.

Does this all mean that intelligence in humans depends on the molecular mechanisms that support the development and preservation of the nervous system throughout an person’s lifespan? It’s possible.

And is it possible to explain intelligence through genetics? This paper suggests it is. Nevertheless, it might be warranted to consider that intelligence is a very complex trait and even if genetics did play a role, environmental factors such as education, healthy living, access to higher education, exposure to stimulating circumstances or environments might play an equally or even stronger role in nurturing and shaping intelligence.

It is also worth considering that the meaning of “intelligence” rather falls within a grey area. There might be different types of intelligence or even intelligence might be interpreted differently: in which category would for example a genius physicist – unable to remember their way home (Albert Einstein) – fall? Selective intelligence? Mozart nearly failed his admission tests to Philharmonic Academy in Bologna because his genius was too wide and innovative to be assessed by rigid tests. Is that another form of selective intelligence? And if so, what’s the genetic basis of this kind of intelligence?

Studies like this are extremely interesting and they do show we are starting to scratch the surface of what the biological basis of intelligence really is.

Europe was the birthplace of mankind, and not Africa, scientists now say?

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An artist’s reconstruction of Graecopithecus freybergi, left, with the jawbone and tooth found in Bulgaria and Greece.

The history of human evolution has been rewritten after scientists discovered that Europe was the birthplace of mankind, not Africa.

Currently, most experts believe that our human lineage split from apes around seven million years ago in central Africa, where hominids remained for the next five million years before venturing further afield.

But two fossils of an ape-like creature which had human-like teeth have been found in Bulgaria and Greece, dating to 7.2 million years ago.

The discovery of the creature, named Graecopithecus freybergi, and nicknameded ‘El Graeco’ by scientists, proves our ancestors were already starting to evolve in Europe 200,000 years before the earliest African hominid.

An international team of researchers say the findings entirely change the beginning of human history and place the last common ancestor of both chimpanzees and humans – the so-called Missing Link – in the Mediterranean region.

At that time climate change had turned Eastern Europe into an open savannah which forced apes to find new food sources, sparking a shift towards bipedalism, the researchers believe.

“This study changes the ideas related to the knowledge about the time and the place of the first steps of the humankind,” said Professor Nikolai Spassov from the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences.

“Graecopithecus is not an ape. He is a member of the tribe of hominins and the direct ancestor of homo.

“The food of the Graecopithecus was related to the rather dry and hard savannah vegetation, unlike that of the recent great apes which are living in forests.  Therefore, like humans, he has wide molars and thick enamel.

The species could be the first hominid ever to exist?

“To some extent this is a newly discovered missing link. But missing links will always exist , because evolution is infinite chain of subsequent forms. Probably  El Graeco’s face will resemble a great ape, with shorter canines.”

The team analysed the two known specimens of Graecopithecus freybergi: a lower jaw from Greece and an upper premolar tooth from Bulgaria.

Using computer tomography, they were able to visualise the internal structures of the fossils and show that the roots of premolars are widely fused.

“While great apes typically have two or three separate and diverging roots, the roots of Graecopithecus converge and are partially fused – a feature that is characteristic of modern humans, early humans and several pre-humans,”, said lead researcher Professor Madelaine Böhme of the University of Tübingen.

The lower jaw, has additional dental root features, suggesting that the species was a hominid.

The tooth of Graecopithecus. Image result for Europe was the birthplace of mankind, and not Africa, scientists now say?

The species was also found to be several hundred thousand years older than the oldest African hominid, Sahelanthropus tchadensis which was found in Chad.

“We were surprised by our results, as pre-humans were previously known only from sub-Saharan Africa,” said doctoral student Jochen Fuss, a Tübingen PhD student who conducted this part of the study.

Professor David Begun, a University of Toronto paleoanthropologist and co-author of this study, added: “This dating allows us to move the human-chimpanzee split into the Mediterranean area.”

During the period the Mediterranean Sea went through frequent periods of drying up completely, forming a land bridge between Europe and Africa and allowing apes and early hominids to pass between the continents.

The jawbone of Graecopithecus.  

The team believe that evolution of hominids may have been driven by dramatic environmental changes which sparked the formation of the North African Sahara more than seven million years ago and pushed species further North.

They found large amounts of Saharan sand in layers dating from the period, suggesting that it lay much further North than today.

Professor Böhme added: “Our findings may eventually change our ideas about the origin of humanity. I personally don’t think that the descendants of Graecopithecus die out, they may have spread to Africa later. The split of chimps and humans was a single event. Our data support the view that this split was happening in the eastern Mediterranean – not in Africa.

“If accepted, this theory will indeed alter the very beginning of human history.” However some experts were more skeptical about the findings.

Retired anthropologist and author Dr Peter Andrews, formerly at the Natural History Museum in London, said: “It is possible that the human lineage originated in Europe, but very substantial fossil evidence places the origin in Africa, including several partial skeletons and skulls.

“I would be hesitant about using a single character from an isolated fossil to set against the evidence from Africa.”

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News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Tuesday 4th October 2016

Irish Cabinet agrees to set up all-Ireland group to prepare for Brexit next Spring

Trade unions, non-governmental organisations and business groups will meet next month

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Taoiseach Enda Kenny said an all-island civic group would meet next month to discuss Brexit after the Cabinet agreed to set up an “all-island Civic Dialogue on Brexit”, with the first meeting in Dublin on November 2nd.

It will be hosted by the Taoiseach and the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade and a broad range of “civic society groups, trade unions, business groups and non-governmental organisations as well as representatives of the main political parties on the island” will be invited , according to a Government statement issued on Tuesday.

The Cabinet also agreed to intensify a series of initiatives to prepare for the British exit, after the Taoiseach brought a memorandum to Tuesday morning’s meeting.

These include a series of discussions with interested groups in particular sectors, such as agriculture, education, etc, and measures to “Brexit-proof” next week’s budget.

The Government also reiterated its intention to continue its programme of intensive diplomatic engagement with EU institutions and other EU member states. The European Commission’s chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, is expected to visit Dublin shortly.

The decision to go ahead with the all-island dialogue flies in the face of thepublic rejection of the idea by the Northern Ireland First Minister Arlene Foster at a meeting of the North South Ministerial Council during the summer.

On Monday, the DUP MP Jeffrey Donaldson again criticised the Taoiseach’s determination to push ahead with the forum, suggesting it was driven by domestic political reasons.

It is understood that the First Minister’s office had not been briefed in detail in advance of the Government’s announcement.

The dialogue will be asked to produce a report and recommendations which will be used to help inform the Government’s position on issues related to the UK’s exit negotiations, according to the Government statement.

It is expected that business groups, trade unions, community and voluntary NGOs from North and South will be invited in the coming days, along with organisations such as the British-Irish Chamber of Commerce, the Institute of European Affairs and the European Movement.

Local authorities in Border areas are also likely to be invited, as well as some Government agencies and universities and higher education institutions. The main political parties North and South will also be asked to attend.

New Garda whistle-blower disclosures made to Tánaiste

Officers claim concerted campaign to discredit previous Garda whistle-blower?

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Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald has confirmed that disclosures have been made to her under whistle-blower provisions in recent days.

Allegations of a concerted campaign within An Garda Siochana to discredit a whistle-blower have been made by two other members of the force.

It is understood of the two Garda officers who have now come forward, one has said he took an active part in targeting the whistle-blower because he had been ordered to do so.

Tánaiste and Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald has confirmed in response to queries from the media that disclosures have been made to her under whistle-blower provisions in recent days.

However, while she has not disclosed their content, it is understood they centre on allegations of a concerted campaign to discredit a previous whistle-blower.

It is alleged efforts were made to monitor the whistle-blower, including his activity in the Garda’s PULSE database and to discredit him by negatively briefing journalists and politician and that intelligence about him was gathered.

The veracity of the claims, made last week, has yet to be tested.

However, with two Garda officers having turned whistle-blower about efforts to undermine a previous whistle-blower, questions will be raised about whether the Garda culture has absorbed the impact of recent controversies.

Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan has previously said that anybody coming forward with complaints or allegations about the Garda would be listened to and their complaints acted on.

In reply to queries on the latest allegations, which emerged in the Examiner Newspaper, Commissioner O’Sullivan reiterated that stance.

‘’I have on numerous occasions expressed my support for any employees who have issues and concerns,” she said. “As Commissioner I have actively asked employees to bring forward issues and concerns. We learn by listening.”

The Tánaiste confirmed the disclosures have been made under the Protected Disclosures Act, 2014, under which Garda members must be protected from any negative reaction to their coming forward.

A statement from her office added: “Any such disclosures will, of course, be fully considered to determine what further action may be appropriate.

“The maintenance of confidentiality in relation to protected disclosures is fundamental and, in line with the statutory obligations under the Protected Disclosures Act 2014, it is not possible to make any further comment.”

In the past when complaints or disclosures have been made they have been examined, usually by a barrister appointed by the Department of Justice, before a full investigative process has been begun.

New RTE boss to be open to working with Irish media rivals

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Dee Forbes left pic, the new director general of RTE. and Pat Kenny right pic.

RTE is to put an emphasis on creating more original Irish drama and increasing its international footprint, new director general Dee Forbes has said.

She also opened the door to working with the station’s rivals as the Irish media landscape becomes more “busy”.

“RTE has a duty to develop and encourage more great Irish talent. For me Irish drama is something we’re looking at to see how can we do more of it.” She added: “There was a time when every broadcaster had to go it alone, I don’t think that’s the case any more nor is it the prudent thing to do because there are times where partnering with your rival is the right thing to do.”

Ms Forbes was speaking at the tenth annual Women Mean Business (WMB) Awards, where she spoke of her plans for her new role.

“I hope I’ll bring a more international and external facing aspect to the role because I do think we’re a small nation, we’re a small media landscape, and really it’s getting very busy here in terms of the media landscape.”

She also touted the idea of a centralised Irish media hub, but said it was merely a thought. The Cork native will also look to capitalise on the Irish diaspora, of which she said only five million out of 40 are engaged with Irish media.

Ms Forbes has enjoyed a hectic start to life at the Montrose station with potential losses set to reach €20m this year. Last month the former Discovery executive was also told by Communications Minister Denis Naughten that she must deal with the station’s weakening finances without the help of an increase in the licence fee.

RTE has had to deal with the departure of four senior staff members over the last number of months, including former head of news and deputy director general Kevin Bakhurst.

Six awards were presented at the WMB conference in the Shelbourne Hotel in Dublin yesterday.

Complete Laboratory Solutions founder Evelyn O’Toole scooped the overall businesswoman of the year award, while Polar Ice’s managing director Alison Ritchie received the WMB entrepreneur of the year award.

Other winners included FoodCloud co-founders Iseult Ward and Aoibheann O’Brien, who received the Newstalk social entrepreneur award.

Space Technology Ireland founder Professor Susan McKenna-Lawlor picked up the FEXCO woman in technology award while Silicon republic co-founder Ann O’Dea received the Boots empowering women accolade.

Dublin Cookie Company founders Elaine Cohalan and Jenny Synnott scooped the Sodexo newcomer award.

Ben Stiller reveals how prostate cancer diagnosis (PSA Test) saved his life.

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Ben Stiller said the PSA test “saved my life”

Hollywood star Ben Stiller has revealed he was diagnosed with prostate cancer but is now cancer-free.

The Zoolander star was diagnosed with a growing tumour in 2014 and now wants to share his story in support of the controversial test that saved his life.

In an essay on the website Medium, Stiller described the moment of his diagnosis as “a classic Walter White moment, except I was me, and no one was filming anything at all”.

He wrote: ” I got diagnosed with prostate cancer Friday, June 13 2014. On September 17 of that year I got a test back telling me I was cancer free. The three months in between were a crazy roller coaster ride with which about 180,000 men a year in America can identify.”

He said straight after he was diagnosed he immediately researched high-profile men who had survived and died of the disease.

He added: ” As I learned more about my disease (one of the key learnings is not to Google “people who died of prostate cancer” immediately after being diagnosed with prostate cancer), I was able to wrap my head around the fact that I was incredibly fortunate. Fortunate because my cancer was detected early enough to treat. And also because my internist gave me a test he didn’t have to.

“Taking the PSA test (prostate-specific antigen test) saved my life. Literally. That’s why I am writing this now.”

Stiller said he was not offering a scientific point of view on the test but said without it he would not have been diagnosed as quickly as he was.

He wrote: ” The bottom line for me: I was lucky enough to have a doctor who gave me what they call a “baseline” PSA test when I was about 46. I have no history of prostate cancer in my family and I am not in the high-risk group, being neither – to the best of my knowledge – of African or Scandinavian ancestry. I had no symptoms.

“What I had – and I’m healthy today because of it – was a thoughtful internist who felt like I was around the age to start checking my PSA level, and discussed it with me.

“If he had waited, as the American Cancer Society recommends, until I was 50, I would not have known I had a growing tumour until two years after I got treated. If he had followed the US Preventive Services Task Force guidelines, I would have never gotten tested at all, and not have known I had cancer until it was way too late to treat successfully.”

The actor said the test is criticised because it can lead to unnecessary “over-treatment” but argued men should at least be given the option so they stand a chance of early detection.

Angela Culhane, chief executive at Prostate Cancer UK, said: “There are over 300,000 men in the UK who, like Ben Stiller, are living with or after prostate cancer. However, despite the numbers, it’s a disease that, due to its nature, is often swept under the carpet. We applaud Ben for his courage in talking openly about his personal experience.

“The disease kills one man every hour in the UK but if it is caught early, it can more often than not be treated successfully, which is why awareness like this is so important. It is crucial for every man to acknowledge the threat that prostate cancer can pose to his life.

“Some men in particular face a higher than average risk and so if you are over 50, black, or have a family history of prostate cancer, it’s important that you to speak to your GP about the disease.”

Irish women who reach the age of 80 are likely to live another 9 years

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Mother and daughter in the right picture?

New statistics show that if an Irish woman reaches the age of 80, she is likely to live an extra nine years. A man is likely to live another seven years.

The figures from Eurostat show that people in France have the longest life expectancy and can expect to live an extra 11 years if they reach the 80 mark.

Spanish nationals were close behind in the study with an extra 10.4 years.

Ruth Deasy of the EU office in Dublin says the Eurostat figures reveal that women across the European Union are living longer than men.

“Well it shows if you reach 80 years of age you’ve a very good chance of living several more years, almost nine if you are a woman in Ireland and almost seven if you are a man.

“But if we look at the European figures, about two thirds of the over 80s are women and just one third are men.”

Dinosaur footprint among the largest on record discovered in the Mongolia’s Gobi Desert

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Professor Shinobu Ishigaki (above left) lying next to a dinosaur footprint in the Mongolian Gobi Desert.

Scientists have unearthed in Mongolia’s Gobi Desert one of the biggest dinosaur footprints ever recorded, measuring over a metre in length.

The enormous print, which measures 106cm (42 inches) in length and 77cm in width and dates back more than 70 million years, offers a fresh clue about the giant creatures that roamed the earth millions of years ago, scientists from the Okayama University of Science said.

One of several footprints discovered in the vast Mongolian desert, the huge fossil was unearthed in August by a joint Mongolian-Japanese expedition in a geologic layer formed between 70 million and 90 million years ago  in the late Cretaceous Period, researchers said.

A drawing illustrating the dinosaur that may have left a footprint in Mongolia’s Gobi Desert.

It was naturally cast, as sand flowed into dents that had been left by the creature stomping on the once muddy ground, news agency AFP reported.

“This is a very rare discovery as it’s a well-preserved fossil footprint that is more than a metre long with imprints of its claws,” said a statement issued by Okayama University of Science.

The footprint is believed to have belonged to a Titanosaur, a group of long-necked herbivore sauropods that lived in the Late Cretaceous period, and could have been more than 30 metres long and 20 metres tall, according to Shinobu Ishigaki, a professor from the Okayama University of Science, and the leader of Japan’s research team.

“A whole skeleton of a giant dinosaur that left such a massive footprint has yet to be uncovered in Mongolia,” professor Ishigaki told the Asahi Shimbun. “A fossilised skeleton of such a dinosaur is expected to be eventually discovered.”

“Footprints are living evidence of dinosaurs,” Masateru Shibata, a researcher with the Dinosaur Research Institute at Fukui Prefectural University, told the Japanese daily.

“There is a lot of information that can be obtained only from footprints, including the shape of dinosaur feet as well as the ways in which they walked.”

Titanosaurs were the most diverse and abundant large-bodied herbivores in the southern continents during the final 30 million years of the Mesozoic Era.

Titanosaurs species range from the weight of a cow to the weight of a sperm whale or more, according to scientists.

One of the paleontologists lies next to the femur of sauropod discovered in Argentina in 2014.

Several Titanosaur species are regarded as the biggest land-living animals yet discovered.

In 2014 remains of a gigantic Titanosaur were discovered in southern Patagonia, Argentina. According to palaeontologists, the Dreadnoughtus schrani, as the species was named, was the biggest dinosaur ever to walk the planet.

News Ireland daily BLOG by donie

Tuesday 19th July 2016

Irish Government launches new Housing Action Plan

    

The Irish Government is today launching its new 84-point action plan to deal with the housing crisis.

The Rebuilding Ireland project encompasses five pillars – to address homelessness; accelerate social housing; build more homes; improve the rental sector and utilise existing housing.

The €5.35bn plan has pledged to deliver 47,000 social houses in six years. The plan also says 25,000 homes a year will be built here by 2020.

  • Pillar 1 – Address Homelessness

Provide early solutions to address the unacceptable level of families in emergency accommodation; deliver inter-agency supports for people who are currently homeless, with a particular emphasis on minimising the incidence of rough sleeping, and enhance State supports to keep people in their own homes.

  • Pillar 2 – Accelerate Social Housing

Increase the level and speed of delivery of social housing and other State-supported housing.

  • Pillar 3 – Build More Homes

Increase the output of private housing to meet demand at affordable prices.

  • Pillar 4 – Improve the Rental Sector

Address the obstacles to greater private rented sector delivery, to improve the supply of units at affordable rents.

  • Pillar 5 – Utilise Existing Housing

Ensure that existing housing stock is used to the maximum degree possible – focusing on measures to use vacant stock to renew urban and rural areas

Housing Minister Simon Coveney has said that the use of hotels and B&Bs as emergency accommodation will be brought to an end by next year.

“We know that putting families in hotels doesn’t work,” he said. “So we’re going to change that.

“And we’re setting a pretty bold ambition for this time next year to have no reliance on hotel accommodation and B&Bs accommodation for emergency accommodation for families.

“And that will be challenging and we will set targets along the way to make sure we deliver on that.”

Taoiseach Enda Kenny said that the Government is committed to dealing with the housing crisis.

“This plan, believe me, is ambitious in its vision and in its scale of investment,” he said.

“It will take engagement across Government, the involvement of Local Government, thereal involvement of Local Government, and the commitment of the entire sector to deliver on it.

“But it is well founded, and the Minister for Housing and his team have researched and consulted very widely in drawing it up, and it is realistic, addressing the housing challenge fully and finally, as a key objective of the Government.”

Meanwhile: –

Construction industry wants to be rid of Ireland’s ‘cowboy builders’

   

The Irish construction industry has called for a statutory register to get rid of “cowboy builders”,

Tom Parlon, director general at Construction Industry Federation (CIF) has also claimed that builders and developers have been “excluded” from the Government’s planning on housing.

It comes as the Government launched its new housing strategy which aims to deal with homelessness, social housing and the rental crisis.

Speaking at the MacGill Summer School Mr Parlon said the Government has been “inclined to exclude the construction industry because of the blame that they chose to give the industry”.

But he said that the CIF has been working with the Department of Environment to root out builders who do not meet the proper standards.

“There were ills within the industry in the past. There was some poor, shoddy work carried out,” he said.

“We have proposed together with the Department of the Environment a construction industry register of Ireland – a standards body, which means in the future anybody involved in construction should be competent and should have experience and the skills that they have their insurance that they have health and safety and basically that they are professional builders.

“It’s a way of getting the cowboys out of the industry.”

He said it has already been set up as a voluntary system with 850 signed up to date but the CIF is now waiting on the government to make it a statutory body.

Reacting the Government’s new “Rebuilding Ireland” housing plan announced by Simon Coveney he said numerous strategies have been published over the years which are now “on a number of shelves around the place”.

“All of these strategies are certainly big on targets but they certainly lack the focus on the capacity of the industry to deliver.

“The best time to build forestry is 20 years ago and the second best time is yesterday,” he said adding that housing is similar to planting forests.

While he said the ambitiousness of the report is “very good” he added that “we are at least five years too late with this strategy”.

Mr Parlon pointed out that last year we began building around 8,000 houses and it appears that there will less started this year.

“So when you hear the targets that are out there you begin to wonder. The industry now is going to have to reach a massive level of output, and have four times the amount of commencements in four years’ time than we are doing now, so that’s a massive ramp-up.

Child homelessness has increased by 37% in six months

  

There has been a 37% increase in the number of homeless children over the last six months.

New figures from the Department of the Environment has provided a snapshot of the homeless situation in Ireland month. The stats show that there were 2,206 children living in emergency accommodation during the course of a week in June 2016.

That’s up from 1,616 children who were living in a similar situation in a week in December.

The count was taken during the week of 20-26 June and show that 1,078 families were living in emergency accommodation. Six months previously that figure was 775.

The figure for adults in emergency accommodation was 3,625 in December. This has now risen to 4,152, a 14.5% increase over six months.

The figures also demonstrate the extent of the homeless problem is Dublin, an area which accounts for more than two-thirds of the national figure.

The figures come as the government today announced a planned €5 billion spend on social housing over the next five years along with other measures to fight homelessness.

These include the phasing out of hotels for emergency accommodation and increased rental supplements.

Richard Bruton wants lessons in coding for Ireland’s primary school pupils

Minister wants primary curriculum to include coding as it teaches creative problem-solving

      

Richard Bruton, Minister for Education and Skills, who believes an early start in coding will help children fulfil their potential.

Primary school children could learn computer coding under proposals drawn up by Minister for Education Richard Bruton. He has asked the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment to consider approaches to introducing the teaching of coding in primary schools.

“For the generation of children recently born and starting to enter primary school, creative thinking and problem-solving skills will be absolutely key to how they develop . . . and achieve their potential,” Mr Bruton said.

“In particular, their ability to think critically and develop solutions in the digital world will be vital for their prospects in life. I am determined that we should continually improve the education system in this area.”

The council will be consulting on a new framework for the primary curriculum this year and is developing a new primary mathematics curriculum. It aims to have a draft new curriculum for mathematics for junior infants to second class next spring.

CoderDojo success

Mr Bruton has written to the council in recent days to request it to consider coding as part of the review. “The success of the CoderDojo project is a fantastic example of the benefits of teaching coding to young children. Hugely popular with children, it teaches creative problem-solving skills in a manner that engages and excites them,” he said.

“I believe that we must learn from successful programmes like this to improve the experience and outcomes of the education system for our children.”

Policy makers and the technology sector say there is an acute shortage of skilled graduates to fill gaps in the tech sector. A series of measures, such as bonus points for maths in the Leaving Cert and reforms to the senior cycle curriculum, are aimed at increasing the numbers going on to study science, technology, maths and engineering.

The introduction of coding classes is likely to be controversial, however, among some educationalists who argue that narrow skills should be taught much later in the school system.

Mr Bruton said these skills could improve outcomes for children. “At the heart of everything we are trying to do as a Government is to use our economic success to create a fair and compassionate society – and ultimately to make life a little bit easier for people.

Fluctuating cholesterol linked to lower mental ability scores “A study finds”

   Greater fluctuations in low-density lipoprotein (LDL), which is linked to heart disease, have been associated with lower scores in mental ability tests (file photo)

Roller-coaster levels of “bad” cholesterol may lead to poorer mental performance in older adults, a study has found.

Greater fluctuations in low-density lipoprotein (LDL), which is linked to heart disease, were associated with lower scores in mental ability tests.

Participants with the highest LDL variability took 2.7 seconds longer on average than those with the lowest to finish one test that deliberately confused words and colours.

The test involved naming the ink colours of words describing a different colour – for instance, the word blue written in red.

Lead researcher Dr Roelof Smit, from Leiden University Medical Centre in the Netherlands, said: “While this might seem like a small effect, it is significant at a population level.”

“Our findings suggest for the first time that it’s not just the average level of your LDL-cholesterol that is related to brain health, but also how much your levels vary from one measurement to another.”

A total of 4,428 people aged 70 to 82 from Scotland, Ireland and the Netherlands took part in the Prosper study. All either had pre-existing artery disease or were at high risk of developing the condition.

More LDL variability was also associated with lower brain blood flow and bright areas showing up on brain scans which have been linked to blood vessel dysfunction. The findings are reported in the American Heart Association journal Circulation.

Scientific breakthrough after South African boy finds turtle fossil

   

A fossil discovery by an 8-year-old South African boy has helped scientists redefine why turtles have shells.

While it has generally been accepted that the modern turtle shell is largely used for protection, a new study by an international group of scientists, including those from the Evolutionary Science Institute at Wits University, suggests the broad ribbed proto shell was initially an adaptation, not for protection, but rather for burrowing underground.

The big breakthrough came with the discovery of several specimens, the oldest of which was a 260 million year old partially shelled proto turtle, Eunotosaurus africanus, from the Karoo Basin of South Africa.

Several of these specimens were discovered by two of the studies’ co-authors, Dr Roger Smith and Dr Bruce Rubidge from the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg but the most important specimen was found by 8-year-old Kobus Snyman on his father’s farm in the Western Cape.

This specimen, which is about 15cm long, comprises a well preserved skeleton together with the fully articulated hands and feet.

Rubidge thanked Snyman saying he would “shake his hand” because without the finding the study would not have been possible.

An artistic rendering shows an early proto turtle Eunotosaurus (foreground) burrowing into the banks of a dried-up pond to escape the harsh arid environment present 260 million years ago in South Africa. (Supplied, Andrey Atuchin)

Puzzled scientists

Lead author for the study, Dr Tyler Lyson of the Denver Museum of Nature and Science said that a shell for protection initially seemed like an obvious answer.

“…the earliest beginnings of the turtle shell was not for protection but rather for digging underground to escape the harsh South African environment where these early proto turtles lived”.

The early evolution of the turtle shell had long puzzled scientists.

“We knew from both the fossil record and observing how the turtle shell develops in modern turtles that one of the first major changes towards a shell was the broadening of the ribs,” said Lyson.

While distinctly broadened ribs may not seem like a significant change, scientists say it has a serious impact on both breathing and speed in four-legged animals.

Ribs are used to support the body during locomotion and play a crucial role in ventilating your lungs. Distinctly broadened ribs stiffen the torso, which shortens an animal’s stride length and slows it down and interferes with breathing.

‘Boring bones’

“The integral role of ribs in both locomotion and breathing is likely why we don’t see much variation in the shape of ribs,” said Lyson.

Lyson added: “Ribs are generally pretty boring bones. The ribs of whales, snakes, dinosaurs, humans, and pretty much all other animals look the same. Turtles are the one exception, where they are highly modified to form the majority of the shell.”

The study included authors from the United States, South Africa and Switzerland.

News Ireland daily news BLOG by Donie

Tuesday 30th June 2015

Ireland’s existing health system demands an extra €1bn to run it?

Says Leo Varadkar

  

The Minister for Health Leo Varadker says serious questions about health funding must be answered.

The Minister for Health Leo Varadkar, says serious questions about the level of funding for current healthcare must be answered if the country aspires to an adequate health system.

The health service needs as much as another €1 billion of investment to simply meet existing demands, and even more is required to cope with a growing and ageing population, Minister for Health Leo Varadkar has said.

Mr Varadkar, writing in Wednesday’s Irish Times, also says serious questions about the level of funding for healthcare must be answered if the country aspires to an adequate health system.

“Questions remain, such as whether we are willing as a society to pay for it, and whether we are willing to embrace the major organisational changes required,” he says. “This will require courage and trust, but I am confident that with the right vision we can succeed.

“No form of universal healthcare is possible unless we are willing to find the resources needed to make it work.”

Underfunded service

He says an underfunded service will be a poor service, even if it is well organised.

“With the current staffing of specialist doctors, midwives and nurses, critical care beds and other capacity, no system of universal healthcare will be able to deal with unmet demand.

“What really matters is having adequate well-trained staff, sufficient capacity and infrastructure, good organisation, management and financial control, clinical governance, quality and safety systems.”

Meeting existing, unmet needs “would cost between €700 million and €1 billion, on top of the natural increase needed every year to cope with a rising and ageing population”, an amount he says seems like a lot but would only restore health budgets to where they were eight years ago.

Mr Varadkar also outlines how he believes primary care can be achieved over five years, effectively the duration of a second term in office.

Whether the funding for future health needs comes from the exchequer or an insurance-based system like Universal Health Insurance is secondary to whether enough money is made available, and whether it is correctly spent, he says.

The Irish Times reported earlier this week that the annual cost of UHI, championed by Mr Varadkar’s predecessor Dr James Reilly, could be between €2,000 and €3,000 to cover a standard package of benefits for one adult.

External consultants also told the Government in a confidential report the estimated cost of a more comprehensive series of benefits could be between €3,000 and €4,000 per year, far higher than previously estimated

About 70% of Irish households register with Irish Water on time for grant

But we still do not know exactly how many people have paid their first bills to the semi-state body.

Richard Boyd Barrett TD and Ruth Coppinger TD, with activist Michella Russell (left), at a press conference announcing details of an anti-water charges protest outside the Dáil on Wednesday, July 1st, at 6pm

An estimated 70% of householders had registered with Irish Water by Tuesday’s deadline date to allow them claim a €100 water conservation grant from the Government.

It is still not known exactly how many people have paid their first bills to the new semi-state company.

The first quarterly billing cycle for Irish Water was for January, February and March, with the first bills landing in April. The second round of bills will be sent out from July onwards.

It is understood the board of Ervia, Irish Water’s parent company, has been informed of the level of payments but is not yet known when the figures will be released.

A Government spokesman said on Tuesday the figures will be published “in due course” and added the Coalition would have “no issue” with publication of the figures once they have been finalised by Irish Water.

Under severe pressure

The Government has come under severe pressure from the Opposition to publish the figures, and another anti-water charges protest is planned for outside the Dáil tonight.

An Irish Water spokeswoman said over 1.32 million people, or 70 per cent of those who can register with the semi-state, had done so as of earlier this week.

Registering with the company does not mean a householder has to pay their water charges, and they are entitled to claim the €100 grant even if they do not pay.

The grant will be administered and paid by the Department of Social Protection, and a separate application process for the payment of the €100 will open later this year.

Of the 1.32 million who have registered, about 80 per cent are customers who will be billed for their water, while the remaining 20 per cent have their own water services, such as group water schemes.

An estimated 1.5 million households are either connected to mains water or waste water services, which means they will be billed by Irish Water. Some 1.05 million of those – 70 per cent – have registered.

The spokeswoman said while Irish Water experienced a lot of activity on Tuesday, it was not enough to hugely change those figures.

Meanwhile, the lifting of boil water notices for thousands of people “would simply not be possible” without Irish Water, Minister for the Environment Alan Kelly has said.

He was speaking after the company confirmed the HSE had lifted boil water notices for 11,300 customers in the Killeglan and Castlerea areas of Co Roscommon.

This came after Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) inspections of related water treatment plants earlier this week.

A boil water notice for 6,000 customers in Boyle was lifted on May 1st.

“This now means that over 17,000 people can drink their water in Roscommon this year that couldn’t last year,” said Mr Kelly.

“This would simply not be possible without the creation of Irish Water. Irish Water was able to target and prioritise these vulnerable areas and bring to a close the sorry saga of boil water notices in quick fashion.

“I have no doubt that similar successes will be replicated throughout the country.”

John Tierney, Irish Water’s managing director, said dealing with the boil water notices had been a “top priority” since the utility came into existence.

“Irish Water as a national water utility has been able to fast-track and co-ordinate the completion of this and other projects in Co Roscommon so that boil water notices will be lifted for 22,700 customers in Roscommon by the end of this year,” he said.

“We acknowledge the work of the contractors and Roscommon County Council in helping us to achieve this.”

Ireland’s national house prices are up 1.7% in second quarter

Says Myhome.ie

   

The average asking price nationwide for a house is €202,000

House price growth continued in April, May and June with the national asking price rising by 1.7% in the three month period, while prices were up 6.1% on the year.

According to the latest house price survey from MyHome.ie, the rate of increase was higher in Dublin with prices up 2.3% over the three months, and 10.4% on the year.

The average asking price nationwide is €202,000, while in Dublin it is €282,000, according to today’s figures.

MyHome.ie also noted that cash buyers still account for over 50% of transactions in the housing market.

The author of today’s report, Conall MacCoille, chief economist at Davy, said the data pointed to a modest increase in house prices for the rest of the year.

The economist said that while the outlook remains uncertain, he believes house prices look set to rise by close to 10% for the calendar year.

“However as the figures for new instructions indicate, annual price inflation is likely to slow towards 5% by the end of the year. This is not a negative given that wages have not kept pace with house prices, stretching affordability,” he added.

Today’s report also found some evidence that the supply situation for housing was beginning to improve.

Angela Keegan, Managing Director of MyHome.ie, said the total number of homes listed on the site rose by 9.4% between the first quarter and the second quarter.

“The upward trend has been most marked in Dublin where we now have 5,550 properties listed, up 18.6% from March,” she added.

Ms Keegan also said that transaction levels remained strong early in 2015, but as with supply, they are coming off a low base.

In the first four months of the year for which the data is close to complete, transaction values are up 59% and by 48% in volume terms on the same time last year.

“While it is encouraging to see the market moving in the right direction the bigger picture continues to show that the Irish housing market remains illiquid. It’s clear we still have some way to go before we can say we have a properly functioning market,” Ms Keegan stated.

With a general election looming, Davy economist Conall MacCoille urged the Government to avoid introducing any measures aimed at relaxing credit constraints and inappropriately stimulating demand even further.

“The key to restoring a healthy Irish housing market is to implement sorely needed measures to alleviate planning and other bottlenecks that are holding back housing supply,” the economist stated.

BBC Three to be axed despite an outcry

   

The BBC’s director-general Tony Hall last week said the BBC needed to make some more cuts.

BBC3 has been the launchpad for hits such as Gavin and Stacey

BBC Three is to be axed from television despite evidence that moving the youth-oriented channel online will offer poor value for money.

The BBC Trust has given provisional approval to the plans, which, by its own analysis, are likely to limit the channel’s reach among young audiences and alienate viewers in ethnic-minority, lower-income and rural households.

The recommendations will disappoint actors such as Aidan Turner, Olivia Colman and Daniel Radcliffe, who joined the campaign to save the 12-year-old channel, praised as a seedbed of talent that has given many household names their first break.

The trust said the decision had

Children in Ireland who have been diagnosed with cancer

Will be issued with medical cards for five years

   

The change will apply automatically from tomorrow,

Children under 18 who have been diagnosed with cancer will be issued with a medical cards for five years.

The change will apply automatically from tomorrow, July 1st, according to Fine Gael Senator Colm Burke and TD Mary Mitchell O’Connor.

On a support page for Lucy O’Connor – a nine-year-old girl who was diagnosed with a rare type of cancer in September 2014, and was refused a medical card until February this year – her family writes “one of the positives of going public, with Lucy’s story, is that from July 1st 2015, all children under 18, diagnosed with cancer in Ireland, will receive a medical card for 5 years.”

“Delighted that no other family will have to go public with their story. In saying that, the support from you all has been amazing, so thank you,” the post adds.

Minister for Primary Care, Kathleen Lynch, says it is a key recommendation of the Clinical Advisory Group which was set up to look at medical card eligibility.

Deputy Lynch said, “this decision is welcome. It is in line with the more compassionate approach that we have adopted towards awarding discretionary medical cards.

“I support it and look forward to the HSE implementing it in an efficient and sensitive manner,” she adds.

The free GP care for children under six scheme is also set to commence tomorrow.

Northern Ireland firm 3fivetwo buys Sligo hospital 

 

A Northern Ireland’s large private healthcare firm is expanding into the Republic as part of its “multi-million pound” investment after buying a private hospital in Sligo.

3fivetwo is finalising a deal to acquire the 19-bed St Joseph’s Hospital, which is set to be rebranded as Kingsbridge Private Hospital Sligo, in a nod to the firm’s private business in Belfast.

The deal secures all 60 jobs at the hospital, and 3fivetwo has said it’s aiming to create new roles on the back of the deal.

The value has not been disclosed, but it is understood much of the “multi-million pound” figure will go towards the “expansion and development of services in the years ahead”.

And the final sale is expected to be agreed in the new few weeks.

Headquartered on the Lisburn Road in south Belfast, the group – which boasted increased turnover of more than £40m in its last set of published accounts – employs 240 staff. That’s alongside the services of a further of 400 consultants and 300 nursing staff.

St Joseph’s Hospital was founded in the 1950s and until early last year was part of the Mount Carmel Medical Group.

Mark Regan, 3fivetwo group development director, told the Belfast Telegraph: “It’s a multi-million pound investment, not in the purchase alone but in the expansion and development of services in the years ahead. You can’t put a price on the provision of healthcare to a local community.

“In addition to obvious benefits for patients, the securing of hundreds of jobs at KPH Sligo and peripheral suppliers is priceless.”

And earlier this month the firm revealed it was adding another 20 jobs as part of a £3m investment.

The company said plans for growth were in response to increasing demand for private health due to budget cuts, soaring waiting lists and pressure on public services.

It now has three facilities in south Belfast, including cosmetic surgery, dental and fertility businesses.

It also operates the Chelsea Private Clinic on King’s Road, London.

And Kingsbridge Private Hospital on Belfast’s Lisburn Road is now being extended in a £2.5m project.

Signs of human-esque communication discovered in babbler birds

A key element of the human language has been discovered in the Australian babbler bird.

 

A key element of human language has been discovered in the babbler bird.

Stringing together meaningless sounds to create meaningful signals was previously thought to be the preserve of humans alone, but the new study has revealed that babbler birds are also able to communicate in this way.

Researchers at the Universities of Exeter and Zurich discovered that the chestnut-crowned babbler, a highly social bird found in the Australian Outback, has the ability to convey new meaning by rearranging the meaningless sounds in its calls.

This babbler bird communication is reminiscent of the way humans form meaningful words. The research findings, which are reveal a potential early step in the emergence of the elaborate language systems we use today.

Lead author Sabrina Engesser from the University of Zurich said that although previous studies indicate that animals, particularly birds, are capable of stringing different sounds together as part of a complex song, these songs generally lack a specific meaning and changing the arrangement of sounds within a song does not seem to alter its overall message.

In contrast to most songbirds, chestnut-crowned babblers do not sing. Instead its extensive vocal repertoire is characterised by discrete calls made up of smaller acoustically distinct individual sounds, she added.

Researcher think that babbler birds may choose to rearrange sounds to code new meaning because doing so through combining two existing sounds is quicker than evolving a new sound altogether, said co-author Andy Russell.

The researchers noticed that chestnut-crowned babblers reused two sounds “A” and “B” in different arrangements when performing specific behaviours. When flying, the birds produced a flight call “AB”, but when feeding chicks in the nest they emitted “BAB” prompt calls.

The authors report that in the chestnut-crowned babbler, the first sound element “B” is what seems to differentiate the meaning between flight and prompt vocalisations, akin to cat and at in English, where the c represents the meaning differentiating element, or phoneme.

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.”

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Monday 17th June 2013

G8 leaders in Fermanagh call for fiscal flexibility in bid to boost global economy

Opening of two-day summit marked by tensions over Syria

 

World leaders meeting at the G8 summit in Co Fermanagh have called for flexibility in fiscal policy as they seek to overcome weak prospects for the global economy.

The call by the leaders of the Group of Eight major powers came ahead of talks tomorrow at the Lough Erne Resort near Enniskillen to tackle tax evasion by big business and aggressive tax avoidance.

The intervention backs moves already under way in the euro zone to ease the pace of tax increases and spending cutbacks in countries such as France as leaders confront concern that the years-long austerity drive is fanning recession.

“The pace of fiscal consolidation should be differentiated for our different national economic circumstances,” the G8 leaders said in a statement after their first session of talks.

The Government insists it will stick to the fiscal targets laid down by the EU-IMF troika to ensure its exit from the bailout at the end of the year.

However, Irish officials are already examining how money could be put back into the economy in next year’s budget.

With Dublin still counting on concessions from its EU partners to ease the cost of rescuing Allied Irish Banks and the Bank ofIreland, the G8 leaders urged the euro zone to push ahead with its banking union initiative and said it was “strongly needed”.

In spite of German reservations about this project, chancellor Angela Merkel was one of eight co-signatories of the statement alongside the leaders of the US, Britain,Canada, Russia, France, Italy and Japan.

The G8 leaders said actions by policy makers in the US, Japan and the euro zone have made it less likely that economic growth will slow sharply.

“Downside risks in the euro area have abated over the past year, but it remains in recession,” the leaders said.

Their statement came hours after Herman Van Rompuy, president of the European Council, said the existence of the single currency was no longer under threatened.

“There is no comparison between the current situation and the situation let’s say nine months ago, where the euro and the euro zone was under existential threat. That isn’t the case any more.”

With leaders due to discuss business taxation today, Mr Van Rompuy said fraud and evasion undermined the social contract in democratic societies. “In times of budgetary consolidation, they become more unacceptable than ever; morally, politically and financially unacceptable,” he said.

This debate has potential to raise difficult questions for the Government, give controversy over the tax practices in Ireland of companies such as Apple Computer.

On the fringes of the summit, however, Taoiseach Enda Kenny said Ireland had nothing to hide and everything to gain from the debate.

“I can’t say what other leaders might speak of, but it hasn’t been raised with me today. International leaders are very clear that a low corporate tax economy doesn’t mean anything wrong in regard to tax,” he told reporters.

“We have been very upfront about this. I said this at the European Council a number of weeks ago.”

The opening of the two-day summit was marked by continuing global tensions over the civil war in Syria, with Russian president Vladimir Putin under pressure from US president Barack Obama and other leaders to withdraw his support for the Assad regime.

This question was expected to dominate bilateral talks between the two leaders which began around teatime. Mr Obama, in a tense meeting with Mr Putin, said the two men had different views on the war in Syria but shared an interest in stopping violence and ensuring chemical weapons were not used.

Mr Putin has made it clear that he opposes moves by the US to arm the rebels and he will resist the imposition of a no-fly zone over Syria.

Mr Obama’s first engagement today was in Belfast, where he told an audience of 2,000 predominantly young people the achievements of the peace process were extraordinary.

However, he called for further resolute actions to heal the divide between the two communities. “There are still wounds that haven’t healed, and communities where tensions and mistrust hangs in the air. There are walls that still stand; there are still many miles to go.”

Irish Primary teachers vote to accept the Haddington Road deal

 

INTO executive had urged acceptance of deal

Primary school teachers have voted to accept the proposed new Haddington Road agreement on reducing the State’s pay and pensions bill.

In a ballot result announced tonight, members of the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation (INTO) voted in favour of the proposed deal by 63 per cent to 37 per cent.

Members of the INTO decisively rejected the Croke Park II proposals several weeks ago. However the Government agreed to significant changes as part of the process that led to the emergence of the Haddington road proposals.

The executive of the INTO urged members to accept the Haddington Road proposals.

The decision by national teachers to accept the new proposals represents a major boost for the Government in its plans to reduce the public service pay bill by €300 million this year and €1 billion over three years as part of an agreement with unions.

INTO general secretary Sheila Nunan welcomed the outcome of the ballot, saying it was clear that teachers viewed the Haddington Road proposals as better than the government’s alternative proposals.

“Teachers have not so much backed the Haddington Road proposals as rejected the government’s alternative,” she said.

Under the three-year Haddington Road proposals, which would come into force in July, teachers would cease to be paid the current supervision and substitution allowance .

However, salary increases of € 796 would be applied to incremental scale points in the 2016/17 and 2017/18 school years (total increase of € 1,592) in compensation for the loss of the supervision allowance.

Teachers earning less than € 35,000 would face one three-month increment freeze during the course of the agreement.

Teachers earning between € 35,000 and € 65,000 would have two increment freezes of three months each during the course of the agreement.

Teachers earning over € 65,000, along with other higher-paid public service staff, would face pay cuts. The reductions for teachers would run at between 5.5 per cent and 6 per cent.

However as part of the changes introduced under the Haddington road proposals, there is now a provision to restore original salary levels in two equal phases – on April 1st, 2017 and January 1st, 2018.

The Government has warned that it will impose cuts unilaterally on public service groups that do not accept the Haddington Road proposals.

Under legislation introduced last month, the Government can cut salaries for those earning more than €65,000 and suspend the payment of increments.

The legislation also contains measures allowing Ministers to reduce non-core remuneration or increase the working time of public servants.

The executives of two other teaching unions, the Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland (ASTI) and the Teachers’ Union of Ireland (TUI) have effectively rejected the Haddington road proposals and, to date, have announced no plans to ballot members on its provisions.

Essentially the two union executives argued that the Haddingto Road proposals were not sufficiently different to the Croke Park II proposals which were rejected by their members.

Last week public sector members of the Unite trade union became the first to reject the Haddington Road agreement in a ballot.

The union , which represents around 6,000 public service staff, opposed the proposals by 72.6 per cent to 27.4 per cent.

Following a meeting at the end of May, the union had recommended that its 6,000 public service members reject the agreement on pay and conditions.

Unite’s regional secretary Jimmy Kelly said the Haddington Road proposals were bad for the public sector as they would take €1bn out of the sector and would lead to job losses.

Obama’s Irish ancestry highlighted during first family’s visit to Trinity

 

Crowds turn out to catch a glimpse of Obama family

Genealogists can say more about the Irish ancestry of US President Barack Obama than about former presidents such as John F Kennedy, according to the genealogist who showed the Obama family tree to Michelle Obama and her daughters at Trinity College Dublin today.

In the first stop of their visit to the Republic, Mrs Obama visited the Old Library with her daughters Malia, who will turn 15 next month, and Sasha, who celebrated her 12th birthday last week. They arrived in Dublin just before noon, having flown into Belfast earlier with the US president Barack Obama. He travelled to Co Fermanagh for the G8summit.

Fiona Fitzsimons and Helen Moss of Eneclann, a university spin-out company researched President Obama’s Irish ancestry from Falmouth Kearney, president Obama’s second great-grandfather to his seventh great-grandfather,Joseph Kearney. John Kearney, who was a distant cousin of the president, went on to become the Provost of Trinity College Dublin, and later Church of Ireland Bishop of Ossory.

Scientists uncover clues to stopping cancer’s spreading

 

Scientists believe they may have discovered a key to developing drugs which could help stop the spread of cancer.

Experiments carried out by a team at University College London has uncovered clues in what causes the disease to migrate from one part of the body to another.

In many cases death is not caused by the primary tumour, but the secondary growth.

The key follows experiments carried out by a team at University College London using frog and zebrafish embryos.

Scientists identified a mechanism which called ‘chase and run’ which showed how diseased and healthy cells follow each other around the body.

“Nobody knew how this happened, and now we believe we have uncovered it. If that is the case it will be relatively easy to develop drugs that interfere with this interaction,” said Prof Roberto Mayor, who led the team.

While the team, led by Professor Roberto Mayor, have not identified what causes cancer in the first place, their research could give vital clues to mechanism which enables it to spread in a disease which claims 150,000 lives a year in Britain.

Their findings are published in Nature Cell Biology.

The key is to understand why cancerous cells attach themselves to healthy cells in the first place.

They did this by mimicking what they believe happens by using comparable types of cell and observing their behaviour.

The role of the cancer cell was taken by neural crest cell, a common form of stem cell which eventually forms animal tissue.

Meanwhile the placode cells, which eventually form part of the cranial nerve, performed the part of the healthy cell.

The experiment showed that placodes not only attracted the neural cells but were followed by them as they tried to escape.

“We use the analogy of the donkey and the carrot to explain this behaviour: the donkey follows the carrot, but the carrot moves away when approached by the donkey,” added Prof Mayor.

“The findings suggest an alternative way in which cancer treatments might work in the future if therapies can be targeted at the process of interaction between malignant and healthy cells to stop cancer cells from spreading and causing secondary tumours.

“Most cancer deaths are not due to the formation of the primary tumour, instead people die from secondary tumours originating from the first malignant cells, which are able to travel and colonise vital organs of the body such as the lungs or the brain.”

Eric Theveneau, another member of the team, added: “These cells are very similar in their behaviour to cancer cells and this could be analogous to the cancer system.”

The next step, he added, would entail medical researchers be using their findings to gain a better understanding of how cancer cells behave.

Dr Kat Arney, science information manager at Cancer Research UK, welcomed the findings but advised caution.

“This research helps to reveal some of the fundamental biological processes that might be at work as cells move around the body, but the scientists have only looked at developing frog and zebrafish embryos rather than specifically looking at cancer cells.

“So there’s a very long way to go to see whether this knowledge can be translated into new treatments for cancer patients.”

Bullying by siblings just as damaging, research finds

 

Sibling bullying is linked to worse mental health for kid and teen victims.