Tag Archives: Eircom

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Monday 27th July 2015

Adopted people in Ireland to gain right to information on their birth parents

The Minister for Children James Reilly says planned legislation is ‘major breakthrough’


The Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Dr James Reilly and Michelle Shannon the director of the Department of Children and Youth Affairs pictured at Government Buildings.

Planned legislation that would offer up to 50,000 adopted people a legal right to information about their birth parents for the first time has been described as a “major breakthrough” by Minister for Children Dr James Reilly.

The Adoption (Information and Tracing) Bill will operate retrospectively and will also apply to all future adoptions.

The publication of the general scheme and heads of the Bill took place today.

People who were the subject of “informal” or illegal adoptions, or who were wrongfully registered, will also be able to avail of the information and tracing services planned under the legislation.

Many adoptees have faced difficulties accessing their birth cert, due in part to a constitutional right to privacy on the part of the birth parent.

Dr Reilly said officials had sought to strike a balance in the draft bill between the desire of adopted people to know more about their identity and the right to privacy of birth parents through a new statutory scheme.

In order to access records, adopted people would be required to sign a statutory declaration obliging them to respect the wishes of birth parents in cases where they do not wish to be contacted.

There will be no criminal sanction in the bill for failing to comply with this declaration.

The release of birth certs will, however, be subject to some conditions.

While there will be a presumption in favour of the disclosure of a birth cert, this will not apply if there are “compelling reasons” for the refusal, such as a person’s life being placed in danger.

In these cases, an adopted person could appeal the decision in court.

In addition, any additional identifying information – such as medical records – may only be disclosed with the consent of the birth parent.

‘Major breakthrough’

Overall, Dr Reilly said the bill marked a “a major breakthrough in dealing with the complex challenge of providing a statutory entitlement to identity information for adopted persons”.

Tánaiste and Minister for Social Protection Joan Burtonsaid the denial of birth certs and identifying information in the past was associated with an era when adoption in the State happened “very much in the shadows, with little or no regulation and great secrecy”.

She said: “As an adopted person myself who discovered the true identity of my parents only after an exhaustive and deeply emotional search in the late 1990s, by which time they were dead, I always thought that this was grievously wrong.

“This is why I welcome the publication of legislation today.”

A mixed response.

The 200-page bill drew a mixed response from adoption groups.

Paul Redmond, chair of the Coalition of Mother And Baby Home Survivors, said it was a “very good day” for the adopted community in the State.

“Finally after years, decades and generations of secrecy, we’re finally coming out and joining the rest of the international community,” he said.

“We’ve been assured that substantial information from our files including our medical information is going to be released in the future pro-actively.”

But the Adoption Rights Alliance said the legislative proposals would impose “statutory discrimination” against adopted people.

Susan Lohan, the alliance’s co-founder, said adopted people should have unconditional access to their birth certificates and files as a basic right, rather than having to sign a statutory declaration.

“We cannot possibly endorse what we have seen of the proposals as outlined by the Minister and his officials, as in some circumstances adopted people will be forced to sign away their rights in a way that further marginalises them on a statutory basis,” she said.

Claire McGettrick, also of the Adoption Rights Alliance, said it was important to separate the issues of information and tracing.

She said that adopted people are seeking a statutory right to information, as opposed to a statutory right to a relationship with their natural mothers.

“Adopted people can already navigate the civil records in the General Registrar Office to obtain their birth certificates, and additional barriers, such as an information veto and a statutory declaration that one will respect one’s natural mother’s privacy, are wholly unnecessary and offensive to adopted people,” she said.

But the alliance said it intended to “fully engage” with the upcoming committee hearings on the legislation.

“We are happy to work with Dr [James] Reilly and we wish to stress that the only statutory provisions we are in a position to endorse is where adopted people are given unconditional access to their birth certificates and files,” she said.

Mr Redmond said his group’s only issue of contention was a one-year lead-in to enacting the legislation.

Mr Redmond said a key breakthrough was the fact that “illegally and informally adopted people” would be given equal status with legally adopted people in terms of tracing and searching, as this was a very important matter for the community.

Court finds Eircom and Vodafone guilty of overcharging Irish customers


Eircom and Vodafone have today been convicted and fined for continuously sending customers over-charged bills.

Following an investigation by industry watchdog Comreg, the telecom giants along with Three Ireland pleaded guilty at Dublin District Court today to charges under Section 45 of the Communications Act.

Vodafone was fined €10,000 and eircom received fines totalling €21,000 after they each pleaded guilty to seven charges.

Three, which pleaded guilty to three charges, will be spared a conviction and will get the Probation Act if they donate €15,000 to charity by September 28 next.

Judge John O’Neill singled out Eircom for criticism branding their code of practice a joke and he said that when customers complained they were “pushed from Billy to Jack and they were ignored”.

He said customers would have been upset, petrified and “worried sick” when they received letters from debt collectors chasing them for money on behalf of eircom. In one case, they used debt collectors to pursue an elderly man living in a nursing home after he had already cancelled his account, the court was told.

Vodafone over-charged another man who had suffered a serious injury in a fall and had cancelled his account, the court heard.

The customers were only refunded after Comreg got involved, the judge was told. Prosecution counsel Christian Keeling said the aggravating factors were the phone companies’ failures to deal with customer complaints a timely and courteous manner.

Comreg compliance analyst Miriam Kilraine told the court there were seven customer complaints in relation to Eircom. One reported that they asked to cancel their account in January 2014 but they continued to be billed in the following months and a debt collection company pursued them.

In another instance, an elderly man living in a nursing home had also cancelled his account in 2013 but continued to get bills and a debt collection company engaged by eircom.

Eircom had also failed to deliver a service to another consumer who had money debited from their account. Another Eircom customer was over-charged for broadband after his debit details were got mixed up.

Judge O’Neill was told that another customer signed up for a €35 a month package but was instead billed at €50 a month for several months. The court was also told another customer signed up for an Eircom loyalty bundle but never received the €25 a month deal.

Ms Kilraine said that in November 2014, a man emailed Vodafone to cancel the account of his son who had suffered a serious injury in a fall. Despite numerous calls to the company he still ended up paying for two extra months.

The court heard the company failed to cancel broadband accounts of two customers and one of them was pursed by a debt collection company. One of their customers upgraded to “e-fibre” high-speed broadband but it never worked and another was put on the incorrect plan.

Judge O’Neill was told that a Vodafone customer opted for an unlimited calls and texts plan but it was never applied to her account. Another Vodafone user ended up overpaying by €705 after she was erroneously double billed.

The Comreg analyst told the court that Three Ireland which took over O2 accounts last year kept billing and getting paid by two customers who had cancelled accounts.

Another customer got a phone upgrade and was offered a package by shop with a Three franchise. She accepted a deal where she would get 300 minutes of free calls to the UK if she paid an extra €2.99 on top of her €55 a month package.

However, she ended up getting billed for €300. She repeatedly went back to the shop and got no explanation and the sales assistant hid from her, the court was told.

The court heard the phone company’s customer service team had worked out of Mumbai in India but they have set up a new call centre in Limerick to deal with complaints.

Lawyers for all the companies said the cases related to human and system error and the court was to note that they have all set up new remediation plans to ensure these problems won’t happen again.

Counsel for Vodafone and eircom also asked the court to note they had 2.3 million and two million customers respectively.

The court was also told they have agreed to contribute to prosecution costs.

Enda Kenny’s first director of elections now joins Lucinda Creighton’s Renua party as candidate


Leader Lucinda Creighton at the launch of Renua in Trinity College, Dublin, back in March.

ENDA Kenny’s first director of elections has joined Lucinda Creighton’s Renua party.

Frank Durcan was Mr Kenny’s director of elections for the 1975 by-election which saw the Taoiseach successfully contest his late father Henry’s Dail seat.

Mr Durcan also worked closely with Mr Kenny on other election campaigns until 1984 when he fell out the Taoiseach and quit the party.

Since then Mr Durcan has served as an Independent councillor on Mayo County Council.

Speaking to Independent.ie, Mr Durcan said he joined Renua because he believes it is the only “credible political party”.

He also paid tribute to his new party leader, Ms Creighton, who he described as “another Mary Robinson in the making”.

“She has something that the rest of them don’t. She has common morality and civic morality, and she is an able debater. She is educated and has proven herself in both Europe and Ireland,” he said.

Mr Durcan said he was impressed by Ms Creighton’s “very courageous” decision to step down as a minister and leave Fine Gael over the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act.

“She walked away from a very substantial amount of money. It is not everyone that would have that type of courage. We don’t have got enough people like Lucinda in Irish politics,” he added.

Mr Durcan does not intend to run in the next general election but will serve as a Renua councillor on Mayo County Council.

He will also assist the party in finding a candidate to run against the Taoiseach.

Meanwhile back in Sligo ?

Finbarr Filan of Shafin Developments fame confirmed to run for Renua Ireland


The brother of Westlife singer Shane Filan will run for election in Sligo-Leitrim as a Renua candidate.

Finbarr Filan, brother of former Westlife singer Shane Filan, is to run for Renua Ireland

Mr Filan has confirmed he will be the general election candidate for the party headed by Lucinda Creighton. He will run in the Sligo-Leitrim constituency.

Mr Filan was a property developer and set up Shafin Developments with his brother Shane during the boom.

The firm took out a series of loans to construct a 90-home estate in Dromahair, Co Leitrim. The company went into receivership in 2012 and the pair were left with debt of €23 million.

Mr Filan said he welcomed the opportunity to be part of a political change.

“From my work in town and city centre management, I have experienced firsthand the frustration of the real time environment of retail business dealing with a monolith of a local authority.

“We need change and I would welcome the opportunity to be part of and help lead this change,” he said.

“I believe I have the character, personality, ability and life experience to win a seat for Renua in Sligo Leitrim.”

Ryanair reports a 25% rise in profits, and raises traffic forecasts


Passenger numbers up 16% to 28m in the first quarter of this year.

Ryanair said it is to raise its full-year traffic target by 3 million to 103 million.

Ryanair has reported a profit after tax of €245 million for its first quarter, up 15% on the €197 million recorded for the same period a year earlier.

Passenger numbers were up 16% to 28 million from 24.3 million and the airline said it was raising its full-year traffic target by 3 million to 103 million.

The airline said its full-year profit would be at the higher ends of its earlier guidance of between €940 million and €970 million due to strong bookings.

“This guidance, which is 12% ahead of last year’s profit, is heavily reliant on the final outturn of second-half fares over which we currently have almost zero visibility,” said chief executive Michael O’Leary.

Revenues were up 10% for the quarter from €1.49 billion to €1.65 billion while earnings per share increased from 14.22% to 17.90%.

Unit costs excluding fuel fell 7% in the three months under review.

The airline said it is now 70% hedged as far ahead as fiscal 2017 at an average price of $66 a barrel. It said it is 90% hedged at $91 a barrel for the 2016 financial year.

Ryanair said it intends to cut fares by between 4% and 8% over the winter months. It also plans to ground 40 planes between October to March as against 50 last year.

The airline said that fares for the first half of the financial year will be broadly flat.

“Our faster capacity growth and lower oil prices may lead to an aggressive pricing response from competitors who will try to defend their market shares,” said Mr O’Leary.

Having unanimously voted to accept IAG’s offer for its 29.8% stake in Aer Lingus earlier this month, Ryanair said that if the deal proceeds it would expect to receive the proceeds from the sale in September.

The Vatican hosts world leaders to fight climate change


More than half of the world’s population resides in cities, where 80% of all greenhouse gases are emitted. Citizens of large cities are directly affected by local decisions regarding ‘going green.

Cities across the world are developing policies and sustainable practices in efforts to provide healthier local environments and contribute to the global ‘green’ effort.

65 mayors recently visited the Vatican to discuss climate change with Pope Francis, giving cities a role in debates that previously only took place on the global and national level, where it is just not possible to deal with urban issues. National legislatures, whose debates are shaped more by financial interests than the everyday needs of local citizens, often get stuck in a state of paralysis regarding such policies.

Cities are in the perfect position to tackle issues such as air quality, energy efficiency, and conservation.

Depending on their geological location, cities are experiencing different effects of the same global pollution problem. Coastal cities, especially those in the developing world, are more vulnerable to natural disasters but do not have the massive sums of money needed to upgrade their infrastructure to better withstand flooding. Drier regions are experiencing intense summer heat waves and droughts that can cause health problems and strain water supplies for agriculture.

Residents who feel the effects most are the urban poor, infants, and the elderly.

As the effects of pollution are publicized and felt by individuals, communities, and nations, the world’s cities are setting into motion a bottom-up movement to push for a better quality of urban life.

Curitiba, Brazil has passed many successful policies, including integration of urban green spaces, reduction of waste, and a widely used public transportation system. Chicago has developed policies anticipating a hotter and wetter climate by repaving its roads with permeable materials, planting more trees, and offering tax incentives to encourage green office roofs.

Many cities have initiated environmental legislation that exceeds US Environmental Protection Agency standards.

An important organization in the movement, the C40 Cities Climate Leadership is a group of the world’s largest cities committed to reducing carbon emissions and increasing energy efficiency. In 2006, 40 cities were signed up–now there are more than 75 cities committed to the project with a combined population of over half a billion.

As grassroots, bottom-up movements spread, so does the inspiration and aspiration to care for the planet–for the Earth’s sake, the community’s sake, and the sake of the future generations.


News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Saturday 6th June 2015

Eircom ordered to reveal identity of the anonymous Emailer


Letterkenny waste firm plans defamation action over letter sent to media and politicians

The High Court has ordered Eircom to disclose the name and address of an anonymous emailer who distributed an allegedly defamatory letter about a waste collection company.

James Ferry and his company, Ferry’s Refuse Collection Ltd, Letterkenny, Co Donegal, obtained the order for an intended defamation action against a person who, for the moment, is referred to as “John Doe with a username of concerneddonegalresidents@gmail.com”.

The order was sought under the 2011 Communications (Retention of Data) Act which allows service providers divulge information on foot of a court order.

Mr Justice Paul Gilligan said he was satisfied to grant the order after Eircom had said its attitude to the application was neutral. There was no allegation of wrongdoing against Eircom or Google Ireland, the judge said.

The court heard Ferrys has been in the waste business since 2003, and in 2013, a letter containing allegedly defamatory statements against the company was sent toDonegal County Council officials, elected representatives, a government department and national and local media.

The judge was told Eircom will comply with the order within a week.

Lucinda Creighton rules out coalition with just about everybody


None of the four main parties would suit Renua, according to its leader.

Lucinda Creighton has ruled out Renua going into coalition with any of the four main political parties after the next election.

Creighton does not believe her party would be available to support the existing Fine Gael/Labour coalition if it falls short of an overall majority at the next general election.

In an interview with TheJournal.ie this week, the former Fine Gael minister said that she could not see any circumstances where Renua would be available to “prop-up a government that’s been rejected by the people”.

I just think it’d be very difficult. What we intend to do is publish very clear and very explicit red line issues before the general election and we will only negotiate on that basis and we will only enter government on that basis.

On Fianna Fáil, she said there was no difference between Micheál Martin’s party and her former colleagues in Fine Gael. She described them as “Tweedledum and Tweedledee”.

Creighton added that her party has “nothing in common” with Sinn Féin.

William Butler Yeats silver proof coin launched in Dublin by Central Bank

of Ireland


As a tribute to William Butler Yeats, one of Ireland’s best known poets, playwrights, authors as well as a Nobel Prize winner for literature, the Central Bank of Ireland launched on the 3rd June, their latest collector coin very fittingly at the Abbey Theatre in Dublin, which was co-founded by Yeats in 1904. As the portrait of Yeats was seen in the backdrop during the presentation, guests were reminded of the great impact Yeats had on the country’s awareness on national identity and consciousness during the years leading up to an independent Irish state.

William Yeats is credited with making a significant contribution to this achievement through his writings and as the country moves ever close to celebrations marking Ireland’s 100th anniversary of nationhood, the contributions of many of its noteworthy personalities are gaining in importance.

The latest silver proof coin which honors the 150th anniversary of the birth of the great Poet & playwright William B. Yeats.

The coin is pictured along with the previous £20 banknote which was also issued with Yeats’.

Born in 1865 in Dublin, the coin is issued in honor of Yeats’ 150th anniversary of birth and is partly released in tribute to the man whose birth anniversary will not only be celebrated in Ireland but in many countries around the world. Yeats’ plays, poems and stories were translated into many languages not just during his lifetime but almost continuously since their publication, his many works still widely admired internationally.

William B. Yeats was nationally honored in 1980 when his image was included on the £20 banknote. This note remained in circulation until 1992 with the issue of the country’s third and final series. The Punt was replaced with the Euro single currency in 2002.

The launch was opened by Dave Fleming of the Abbey Theatre who welcomed invited guests to the landmark theatre in Dublin. Previously known as the National Theatre, the original structure was badly damaged in a fire in 1951. As a result, the theatre was re-located to another location until 1966 when the Abbey Theatre was rebuilt on its original site and has enjoyed success as one of the city’s premier performance venues since. Mr. Fleming also introduced Des Geraghty, Central Bank Commission Member who hosted the event. Mr. Geraghty spoke admiringly of Yeats by highlighting his many accomplishments in both the literary world as well as service to the Irish state as a new nation.

Mr. Geraghty was happy to remind his audience that Yeats’ special connection with the Bank of Ireland span back to the very early years of Ireland’s independence since Yeats played a significant and influential part on Ireland’s first coinage advisory board and whose recommendation to depict barnyard animals was a suggestion by Yeats himself.

Invited guests were addressed by Simon Harris, Minister of State whose department oversees the issuance of Ireland’s coinage – both circulation and commemorative. Mr. Harris also spoke of Yeats’ contribution to both literature and in service to the nation during the critical early years of statehood. As Yeats was appointed a Senator for two terms in 1923, his connection and contributions to the government were substantial and still remembered.

The coin’s launch was hosted by Central Bank of Ireland Commissioner Des Geratherty who also made presentations of the first three coins produced.

It was pointed out during the evening’s launch that the coin would have not been issued had it not been for the efforts of and a suggestion by current Senator Susan O’Keefe whose constituency includes County Sligo, a part of the country which Yeats had a very close bond with and where his resting place is.

Senator O’Keefe, a great admirer of Yeats and his work highlighted the connection of the Yeats family to County Sligo and also spoke of the influence the region had to both his life and works. Senator O’Keefe was pleased to introduce a short video of poetry verses and short stories entitled “The song of Wandering Aengus” which was narrated by actor Michael Gambon and produced as part of the national celebrations of the 150th anniversary of Yeats’ birth.

Poet Declan Collinge recites some of Yeats’ more well-known works during the launch which delighted his audience.

Included in the evening’s program, was a recital of some of Yeats more well-known and recognizable stories and poems were read by Irish poet Declan Collinge who read both in English and in a very moving moment also in Gaelic much to the sheer delight of invited guests.

Singer Noel O’Grady performs a song synonymous with Yeats’ memory during the launch and receives a rapturous applause from the audience for his rendition of “The stolen Child”

A tribute to Yeats was also performed by award-winning singer Noel O’Grady who performed the song “The stolen Child” composed by Yeats himself while the audience were spell-bound by his emotional and sentimental rendition.

Artist Mary Gregoriy arrives to receive the second strike and describes her latest coin to invited guests.

Commissioner Geraghty then proceeded with presentations of the coin during the event with the first strike being presented to Caitriona Yeats, Granddaughter of William Yeats who accepted the coin on behalf of her family. Ms. Yeats, a concert harpist traveled from Copenhagen, her home to receive the first strike and to represent the Yeats family.

The second strike of the evening was presented to the talented designer of the central Bank’s latest silver coin, the artist Mary Gregoriy, a COTY winner for her James Joyce collector coin who spoke of her inspiration in the design, mentioning his “run-away” poet’s hair which is a feature of the design but also of the birds present on the design and their symbolic meaning to Yeats during his lifetime.

The third strike coin was presented to Fiach MacConghail, the Director of the Abbey Theatre.

The third coin was presented to the Yeats society whose activities include a scholastic program now in its 55th year as well as a comprehensive library where the works of Yeats are read and recited daily. The society is located in county Sligo, where the Yeats has a very close connection with the area.

Simon Harris Minister of State along with Caitriona Yeats and Des Geragherty pose after the presentation with the new silver Yeats coin.

Commissioner Geragherty also took a moment to specially thank the makers of the coin, the Pobjoy Mint and to Taya Pobjoy who was present for the occasion representing the Mint. Ms. Pobjoy took the opportunity to speak with Ms. Yeats as well as meet with Central Bank officials who were present for the presentation. This is the third coin produced by the Pobjoy Mint, the first two are part of the Irish Science and Inventions series introduced last year.

Senator Susan O’Keefe is pictured during the presentation along with Caitroina Yeats, artist Mary Gregoriy and Pobjoy Mint Director Taya Pobjoy with the backdrop of the Yeats promotional placard.

The presentation was concluded with many guests commenting on the jovial approach to Yeats’ portrayal and many in attendance purchasing the coin for their own collection or as a gift. The Central Bank confirmed the very positive reaction from collectors to the coin with an above average level of pre-orders placed. The coin is currently available direct from the Collector coin department of the Central Bank of Ireland.

Dunne’s Stores protest hears calls for a new collective bargaining Bill


Dublin rally attended by about 3,000 hears calls for Government action to help workers

Some people taking part in the protest rally in Dublin on Saturday last in support of a campaign for improved conditions of employment for workers at Dunne’s Stores.

Dunne’s Stores workers have promised to continue their campaign for improved conditions of employment and have called on the Government to introduce planned new legislation on collective bargaining rights without delay.

About 3,000 people took part in a protest rally backed by the trade union movement outside the head office of the retailer in Dublin city centre on Saturday in support of the workers’ campaign.

Staff from more than 100 Dunne’s Stores outlets, who are members of the Mandate trade union, staged a one-day strike just before Easter as part of campaign which seeks secure hours and incomes, job security, fair pay and the right to representation.

Dunne’s Stores has said it does not engage with trade unions. In February it accused Mandate of engineering a row on issues that did not exist to pursue an agenda of securing union representation rights.

Last month Dunne’s Stores granted staff a 3% pay rise. The company has also said that staff has received two other salary increases in recent years.

Mandate said at the time that the retailer would also need to put in place secure, banded hour contracts for staff if the pay rise move was to be “meaningful”.

‘Staff were punished’

Addressing the rally, Dunne’s Stores worker Muireann Dalton said staff had been “punished” for taking part in the recent strike. She said people who had held posts for 20 or 30 years suddenly had been moved to other areas.

She said workers had faced a backlash after the work stoppage and had to hold a march to show Dunne’s Stores management that they were not backing down.

M/s Dalton urged politicians to pass the planned collective bargaining legislation.

“We don’t have to wait on (Dunne’s Stores chief ) Margaret Heffernan to change things for us. We can change the world around Margaret Heffernan,” she said.

“We are not numbers. We are people. We are people who want to earn a decent wage, a living wage. We want to pay our bills. We want to send our children to school. I want to pay for my son to go to college. I want to pay my taxes. I want to work . I want 40-hours per week. I want a wage.”

M/s Dalton urged politicians not to “fob off” workers by delaying the introduction of the collective bargaining legislation until October or November.

“A day in day in Dáil Eireann is a lifetime on a Dunne’s Stores shop floor.”

A shameful low standard.

The general secretary of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions Patricia King strongly criticised directors of Dunne’s Stores and argued that by any moral measurement, they had descended to a shameful low.

“No human being deserves to be treated in the manner in which you instruct on a regular basis.”

She said Dunne’s Stores used its power to own and control the lives of its workers.

“If those workers do not comply with those demands, they threaten disciplinary action or re-assignment and they deny those workers trade union representation.

Mandate said on Saturday that thousands of workers in Dunne’s Stores “do not know what hours they’ll have on a week-to-week basis and consequently their income can fluctuate from approximately €144 per week to €400 per week. Mandate said workers need certainty of earnings.”

Gerry Light, Mandate assistant general secretary said: “It is totally unacceptable that a local manager in Dunne’s Stores can pick and choose which individual members of staff will be able to provide for their families at the end of a week.

“There are many Dunne’s workers who have been with the company for up to 10 years doing 35 hours per week, only to have their hours slashed overnight and the company then hires new staff on lower wages. This is a complete abuse of power and it must be stopped.”

Healthy profits at Dunne’s?  Mr Light said that Dunne’s Stores generated up to €350 million in profit annually and the owners had accumulated an estimated €1.78 billion in wealth.

“This is not about the inability of Dunne’s to treat their workers fairly; it’s about their unwillingness to do so. Today, Dunne’s workers, members of the wider trade union movement and the public will send a strong message to Dunne’s Stores and all other unscrupulous employers.

“We want decent work and a living wage for all.”

Dunne’s Stores has not commented publicly on its dispute with Mandate. The retailer employs almost 10,000 workers in 114 stores in the Republic of Ireland.

How an escaped lioness in Dublin became world news


Fortune’s Wheel tells the story of a celebrated incident in Fairview Dublin in 1951

Lion tamer Bill Stephens: keep three lions in a cage at the back of a suburban Dublin garage

In our health and safety obsessed age it seems implausible that anybody would keep three lions in a cage at the back of a suburban Dublin garage.

In the early 1950s there was no prohibition in Ireland on keeping wild animals so Bill Stephens kept his lions in a Nissen hut off Merville Avenue, Fairview. He lived in a caravan on site.

Stephens was a lion tamer at a time when they were an integral part of every circus and circuses were big business. Dublin was also world-renowned for breeding lions in captivity especially ones with luxuriant manes – most famously the MGM lion which came from Dublin Zoo.

Stephens would take his lions for a walk on a chain through Fairview Park. At first locals were astonished but they soon became used to it.

On Sunday November 11th, 1951, one of his lionesses escaped from her cage and roamed around Fairview. The incident became world-famous after it was picked up by the Reuters News Agency, the 1950s equivalent of Twitter.

The story of the escaped lioness has been made into a documentary Fortune’s Wheelby filmmaker Joe Lee.

His friend Bill Whelan, who produces the documentary documentary and grew up in the area, was haunted by the folk memory of the incident though he was just a toddler at the time. As a child he dreamt of being eaten by a lion.

The escaped lioness mauled a teenager, Anthony Massey, who was fixing the wheel of a car. “It was a lion,” he told a Radio Éireann reporter. The reporter was puzzled: “I thought it was a lioness?”

Massey replied: “Listen mister, if you were putting up a wheel and something hit you, you wouldn’t care if it was a lion or a lioness.”

Stephens rescued the teenager by hitting the lioness with a lump of horse meat, but she escaped down Merville Avenue. By now news of the incident had spread.

Her owner tried to corner her but the lioness mauled him severely and jumped a high wall just as children were coming out of the local cinema. They had been to see, of all films , Jungle Stampede about a lion mauling a hunter. The children were locked into the cinema.

By this time the Gardaí had arrived. Stephens pleaded with them not to shoot her as “it’s my main source of livelihood”.

He cornered and tried to tame her. She lay down for him, but the lioness was startled by youngsters shouting and jeering. The lioness attacked her trainer and dragged him eight foot with his legs in her mouth. Stephens knew the game was up as the lioness had now scented blood.

She was shot with a Lee Enfield. 303, but it took seven shots to kill her. Later a photograph appeared in the newspapers with dozens of excited children gathered around the dead animal. Many snipped off her hair to take away as souvenirs.

Stephens was taken to Jervis Street Hospital where he was photographed sitting up in bed reading The Irish Times account of the incident.

After he recovered, he was determined to cash in on his fame. He bought himself a notoriously unpredictable lion from Dublin Zoo called Pasha, but Stephens believed the whiff of danger would make his show more popular. His circus act included sticking his head in a lion’s mouth.

He dreamed of making it in the United States. While auditioning for two American visitors, he was killed by Pasha in January 1953. He was just 29. His funeral was attended by the Lord Mayor of Dublin Alfie Byrne and much of the Irish showbiz and circus fraternity at that time.

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Thursday 4th June 2015

Eircom will connect almost 2 million homes and firms in Ireland with fibre broadband by 2020


Eircom is ratcheting up its high-speed fibre broadband rollout and will increase its footprint from a targeted 1.6m homes and businesses by 2016 to 1.9m across Ireland by 2020.

The operator said the additional 300,000 homes and businesses are spread across 1,070 communities in all 26 counties, and include 300 communities not currently served with high-speed broadband.

Speeds of up to 1Gbps will be available through the use of ‘end-to-end’ fibre to the home (FTTH) technology. This expanded footprint means eircom will invest €400m in fibre over the next five years.

This is a critical development as we build a future-proofed network using a best-in-class technology to deliver the highest broadband speeds to many rural communities right across Ireland Eircom CEO Richard Moat

The homes and businesses to be served are largely ribbon-style developments across rural Ireland in communities such as Fybagh, Co Kerry; Blacksod, Co Mayo; Goleen, Co Cork; Maam, Co Galway, and Ring, Co Waterford.

Today, half of Ireland, 1.2m homes and businesses, already has access to high-speed broadband on Eircom’s network and the company remains on track to reach 70pc of the country by the end of 2016.

By 2020, that will rise to 80% of the country, with 35% of all homes and business accessing broadband speeds of up to 1Gbps when construction completes.

“This is a critical development as we build a future-proofed network using a best-in-class technology to deliver the highest broadband speeds to many rural communities right across Ireland,” said Eircom CEO Richard Moat.

Last month Eircom revealed how high-speed fibre was transforming a community in Belcarra, Mayo, and said that it has so reached nearly 1.2m of the 1.6m homes and businesses it plans to pass with fibre broadband by the end of this year.

The company also launched its new 1Gbps service, which will use more than 90,000km of fibre optic cable to connect 66 communities with these speeds.

“By making high-speed broadband available to as many people as possible, today’s announcement also reduces the intervention footprint under the Government’s National Broadband Plan, thereby reducing the burden for the taxpayer at a time where there is enormous demands for Exchequer funding,” Moat said.

Irish banks repossess four homes a day on average


Banks are seizing an average of four homes a day in Ireland, latest figures show

Banks are seizing four homes every day across Ireland, latest figures reveal.

During the first three months of this year, 351 houses were repossessed by lenders after homeowners were forced to walk away from the property or ordered by the courts to give it up.

The figure relates only to houses classed as someone’s main home, and does not include more than 200 investment or buy-to-let properties also repossessed by financial institutions during the same period.

Also from January to March this year, banks launched legal actions against another 2,788 homeowners struggling with arrears in an attempt to force them to pay up or hand over the house.

More than 1,000 other cases were finalised in the courts at the same time, with repossession orders being granted to lenders for an additional 468 homes.

The new figures from the Central Bank show various banks in Ireland currently have 1,588 repossessed homes on their books they are awaiting to dispose of or sell off.

Of the 351 homes repossessed between January and March, 156 were on the back of court orders sought by the banks.

Almost 200 families or individuals chose to walk away from their home at the start of the year.

The Central Bank report also shows more than 100,000 homeowners remain in mortgage arrears in Ireland.

Of the 104,693 (nearly 14% of all mortgages) who are falling behind in their repayments, 74,395 were in arrears for over 90 days. That translates as one in 10 mortgage holders who haven’t made a repayment in more than three months.

Although the overall number continues to fall, the number of homeowners in arrears for more than two years is still rising.

Fianna Fail finance spokesman Michael McGrath said the latest figures reveal an alarming escalation in the loss of family homes.

“There is still considerable doubt about the quality of (mortgage) restructurings that are being offered to families – many of these are little more than a sticking plaster solution,” he said.

“Innovative arrangements such as split mortgages are only being offered in a small number of cases.

“There is a continuing need for a complete culture change on the part of the banks in how they deal with customers and an independent mortgage resolution process to ensure that fair treatment is given to families.”

Sinn Fein finance spokesman Pearse Doherty said: “These figures never fail to shock.

“Almost four family homes a day are now being lost to the banks.

“The Government has promised action but, as these figures show, for many it is far too late.”

What’s the correct amount of cream to put on your strawberries?


Believe it or not but research in the UK has found that there is a perfect ratio of strawberries to cream and that there is an ‘ideal’ time frame to eat them in!

Research in the UK has found that a serving of strawberries and cream should be eaten in under three minutes; two minutes and 50 seconds to be precise.

The research also found the ideal strawberries-to-cream weight ratio is 70:30 or one tablespoon of single cream per two fresh medium-sized strawberries.

Why? The research found that strawberries shrink after two minutes 50 seconds of being covered in cream.

This week, June 1 to June 7, marks National Strawberry Week 2015 which is a week-long campaign to celebrate Ireland’s strawberry sector.

Strawberry sales in Ireland are valued at €55m, and Bord Bia says that there was a 14% increase in the retail value of strawberry sales to consumers in the 35-44 year old category in the last 12 months compared to the previous year, to reach €8m.

Mike Neary, Manager of Horticulture, Bord Bia said that the growth in consumption by this age group is important, as they often tend to have young children, which sets the industry up well for the future.

“Strawberries are an increasingly popular choice among consumers as a tasty, low calorie, convenient snack,” he said.

National Strawberry Week is organised by the Irish Soft Fruit Growers Association in conjunction with Bord Bia and the IFA.

The week aims to encourage consumers to enjoy more strawberries as the summer season approaches and Irish crops are at peak production, Bord Bia says.

National Strawberry Week is a consumer information campaign which includes primary school activities and an interactive website that includes seasonal recipe suggestions, it says.

Gary McCarthy of the Irish Soft Fruit Growers Association, said that fresh fruit and vegetables are a vital part of a healthy diet.

“The cold start to the year means the strawberry crop is a little later, but slow grown and sweeter than ever.

“We expect the Irish crop this year to total 5000t, in an industry that employs over 1,000 people,” he said.

The pain and stigma of dementia is a reality for Irish people

The Alzheimer Society of Ireland has launched a campaign to address the stigma that adversely affects thousands of people living with dementia and their carers often preventing individuals from seeking or sharing a diagnosis.

The nationwide campaign, entitled Forget the Stigma, will continue until the middle of this month and urges the public to sign up to a simple, three-step challenge to fight stigma.

The challenge involves learning the facts of the condition, listening and empathising, and linking in with those with dementia to prevent isolation.

 The campaign was launched by the Minister of State at the Department of Health Kathleen Lynch.

“Dementia really challenges the values we hold as a society and what it means to be human,” said ASI chief executive Gerry Martin.

“We need to stop avoiding this disease and start to think how we interact with people with dementia.

“Only by understanding the facts and talking more openly about it can we face our own fears and support the thousands of individuals and families living with dementia,” he added.

Stigma is an everyday reality for the 50,000 people in Ireland living with dementia. It is also an added hardship for their family carers. Yesterday, members of the ASI’s Irish Dementia Working Group joined family carers to speak openly of the stigma they have faced.

“People with dementia have a neurological condition which affects our memory, behaviour, relationships etc but we are still ourselves.

“People have turned their back to avoid me in my local supermarket. I understand this is to do with people being uncomfortable, but I want people to know it is extremely hurtful.

“A person living with dementia can date; go out to dinner, to the cinema. We need to be socially engaged like everyone else,” she said.

Ronan Smith, 56 from Wicklow, who also has early onset Alzheimer’s said: “When I first began to tell people I had been diagnosed with dementia I got this wholly inappropriate feeling like I was ‘coming out’.

“There is nothing to fear when it comes to meeting a person with dementia. I have faced up to it, can you?”

Kerryman Sean Donal O’Shea, 30 who has cared for his mother, Debbie, 58, since her diagnosis with early onset Alzheimer’s, said that people talk about her as if she is not in the room.

“Yes, she has dementia but she is still my mom. We need to open up and talk about dementia now.”

Mr Martin added: “For a long time there was a stigma about cancer. There is still a very real stigma about dementia. People hide it from their friends and from themselves, but that’s all changing: people living with dementia are bravely speaking out and writing about it. It is the subject of films and plays and novels.

“It is in everybody’s world now and we need to face up to it. We would urge everyone to support our campaign and help make Ireland truly dementia friendly.”

Why the difference in making a will costs? €50 to €150 in various counties of Ireland


Kildare, Kilkenny and Donegal pay 58% more than the average when making a will according to a recent nationwide IFA survey.

Inputs Project Team Chairman of the IFA, James McCarthy, says that the survey on legal costs for making a will “ranges from €50 in counties such as Roscommon, Limerick, Wicklow and Galway to €150 in Donegal, Kildare and Kilkenny. This represents a 300% difference and IFA members should ensure that their legal charges are not excessive”.

James McCarthy added, “While we acknowledge that it does take time to create a will, the price difference is very significant. The price range seems unjustifiable, with some firms even saying they may do wills at no cost, if the clients are regular ones or if they were in financial difficulty”.

James McCarthy said, “Each person has their own affairs and circumstances, but it appears to be worth shopping around when choosing which solicitor to use”.

Fish which can walk out of water and breathe on land for six days


A bizarre and seemingly super-powered fish which can walk out of water and breathe on land for up to six days could spell a ‘major disaster’ for wildlife, scientists have warned. 

A bizarre and seemingly super-powered fish which can walk out of water and breathe on land for up to six days could spell a ‘major disaster’ for wildlife, scientists have warned.

The aggressive climbing perch, which has lungs as well as gills, has been discovered in northern Australia.

And according to James Cook University researchers, the creature could cause a ‘major disaster’ for Australian wildlife if it thrives there.

The fish, a native of Papua New Guinea, can kill birds and larger fish by swelling up inside their windpipes and choking them, Metro reported.

Only a few have been sighted on land in Australia so far, but scientists are said to be monitoring their progress.

Ecologist Nathan Waltham warned: “When they populate an area they’re not commonly found in, they can disrupt the balance of that habitat.”

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Tuesday 19th May 2015

Mortgage lending soars as Ireland’s recovery goes from strength to strength


Recovery could hit a speed bump as figures don’t yet reflect Central Bank lending rules

First-time buyers continue to dominate the property market although latest figures show a slow return of property investors

Mortgage lending rose by 73% in the first quarter of 2015 to € 983m, as first-time buyers continued to dominate the market.

However, both the value and volume of mortgage lending was down on the last quarter of 2014, and the impact of tighter lending requirements from the Central Bank, which came into force on February 11th, has yet to be fully observed.

According to data published on Tuesday by the Banking and Payments Federation Ireland, some 5,618 new mortgages worth €983m were drawn-down in the first quarter, up by 64% on the same period in 2014, but down by 26% on Q4 2014, traditionally the strongest period for mortgage lending. This compares with Q1 2007 when 7,919 loans worth some €7.8bn were drawn-down.

First time buyers accounted for more than half (53.6%) of these loans, followed by those trading up (31.9%). Just 320 buy-to-let mortgages were drawn down during the period, accounting for 5.7% of the total. While down on Q4 (395), the figure is up 74% on Q1 2014, suggesting that investors are looking to take advantage of strong rental growth.

The average loan size rose to € 175,016 in Q1 2015, up 5.5% on Q1 2014.

Central Bank rules

Davy economist Conall MacCoille expects total new mortgage lending to reach €4.5bn in 2015, up from €3.7bn in 2014 and €2.4bn in 2013. However, growth rates have slowed, and Mr MacCoille said that the new lending rules from the Central Bank “will constrain credit availability as the year progresses”.

As of yet, the figures reveal little about the impact the new rules might have.

Juliet Tennent, economist with Goodbody Stockbrokers, says that while it is difficult to quantify the incidence of those who received mortgage approval under the “old” regime accelerating home purchase in the aforementioned figures, the Q1 numbers are encouraging as is the strong approvals figure for March, noting that the recovery has some “momentum”.

Ireland will struggle to meet its EU GHG emission reduction target


Figures released by the EPA on Monday show that significant effort will be needed for Ireland to meet its EU greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets

Figures released by the EPA on Monday show that significant effort will be needed for Ireland to meet its EU greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets.

The EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) has predicted that Ireland will struggle to meet its EU greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) reduction targets, which demand a 20% reduction by 2020 on 2005 levels.

The latest figures show that annual emissions from Ireland’s non-Emissions Trading Scheme sector, in which agriculture and transport dominate, are projected to be 9% to 14% below 2005 levels by 2020, which compares unfavourably to the 2020 target.

The EPA does add, however, that overachievement of annual limits in the period 2013-2017 under the best case scenario will allow Ireland to cumulatively meet its compliance obligations over the period 2013-2020.

This best case scenario assumes that ambitious policies and measures out to 2020 will be implemented in full, including reducing energy consumption in our homes and businesses and increasing renewable fuels in transport and heating.

Commenting on the latest figures, Laura Burke, EPA Director General said, “Our economy is now beginning to grow again and we must balance our focus on growth with a focus on becoming more sustainable and reducing emissions. Considerable effort will be needed between now and 2020 to implement key policies and measures in order to deliver projected emissions reductions. These include improvements in energy efficiency across the industry, commercial and residential sectors and reducing emissions from transport.”

Agriculture and transport dominate the non-Emissions Trading Scheme sector. Together they account for approximately 75% of Ireland’s non-Emissions Trading Scheme sector emissions in 2020, with agriculture at 46% and transport at 29%. For the period 2013-2020, agriculture emissions are projected to increase by 2%.

The EPA added that even if Ireland complies with its 2013-2020 obligations there will be as yet undefined new obligations for the years 2021-2030.

A starting point for post-2020 obligations in excess of the range of expected outcomes for 2020 (i.e., 9 – 14% below 2005 levels) will inevitably lead to severe compliance challenges early in the following decade and beyond.

Eircom needs more fibre to keep pace with new competition


What do Eircom’s results really tell us about its prospects in the near future? Has it turned itself around?

By the standards of recent years, the results are good.

Quarterly revenue growth, even taking into account seasonal factors, is a decent achievement.

If such growth continues, as executives are guiding, confidence will increase.

The company is a lot leaner than it was two or three years ago, too, and appears to have successfully changed its focus to high-speed broadband, an area it largely ignored until it almost collapsed two years ago.

But it still has some big decisions ahead. The biggest one is whether, and to what extent, it is prepared to walk the walk in terms of rolling out fibre broadband.

Directly piped to houses broadband?

That means proper fibre broadband that is piped directly into homes and businesses, not the type that only connects to old-fashioned copper phone lines from half a mile away. (Such ‘eFibre’ lines may be perfectly adequate for most of today’s uses, but are not long-term solutions.)

Eircom would undoubtedly prefer to ‘sweat’ its existing infrastructure – its copper landlines – for as long as it possibly can before having to invest several hundred millions more. That would mean relying on ‘eFibre’ DSL copper-hybrid infrastructure.

But rival entities such as the new ESB-Vodafone fibre broadband firm Siro are set to plough ahead with a €450m investment to connect 500,000 premises to direct fibre by 2018. And UPC, whose broadband speeds are over twice what Eircom can achieve with its current technology, has hoovered up a huge percentage of broadband subscriptions in urban areas. So if Eircom is to keep pace, it needs to invest hundreds of millions in new fibre infrastructure, even if it forestalls a return on investment for shareholders.

Is it prepared to do this? So far, it has indicated that it will match fibre roll-out plans in 50 towns by the ESB-Vodafone’s Siro company. And it could get a big boost if it wins the Government’s upcoming National Broadband Plan tender, which is likely to prioritise fibre to 700,000 rural premises. But it needs to keep investing to keep its momentum going.

New study on brain exercises for healthy ageing in people with Down syndrome


Researchers specialising in ageing in persons with an intellectual disability at Trinity College Dublin have just begun a new study to examine if cognitive training for adults with Down syndrome can have a protective effect for healthy ageing. The study is being conducted in the context of a growing concern by the researchers involved regarding levels of dementia in an ageing Down syndrome population in Ireland and varying standards of care, support and diagnostic pathways around the country.

The BEADS study (Brain Exercises for Adults with Down syndrome) will investigate the feasibility of using existing brain training games with a cohort of older adults with Down syndrome without dementia, and measure the effectiveness of the training in positively influencing levels of executive functioning such as planning, attention and memory.

Dementia is a critical issue for adults with Down syndrome, both in terms of rates of occurrence and the early age of onset in this particular group pf people. In a recent report by IDS-TILDA, the Intellectual Disability Supplement to The Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing, the researchers found that in the three year period since the first wave of data collection was conducted in 2010, the prevalence of dementia among people with Down syndrome had almost doubled from 15.8% to 29.9%. These are much higher levels than the 1.5% seen in the general population. Other Trinity studies have found that the average age of onset of dementia for people with Down syndrome was 55 years of age with some cases presenting in their early 40’s. By comparison, onset for the majority of people with dementia in the general population was at over 65 years of age.

In the general population there has been a lot of research conducted on the protective value of cognitive stimulation, or brain training, and its importance in healthy ageing. This is even more vital in a population of adults with Down syndrome as typically fewer opportunities for cognitive training and development were presented throughout their lives. As of yet, there has been little work in Ireland or indeed internationally on cognitive training and its influence on executive functioning for older adults with intellectual disabilities.

Speaking about the importance of conducting new research which will address the challenges with increasing levels of dementia in people with Down syndrome in Ireland, Dean of the Faculty of Health Sciences in Trinity and Principal Investigator of IDS-TILDA, Professor Mary McCarron said: “Dementia has become such a significant challenge to the successful ageing of people with Down syndrome and we must do more than simply provide care. Other successes in the lives of people with Down syndrome occurred because we found new ways to increase opportunities; we can do no less as we confront the challenge of dementia.”

“In tandem with new studies such as BEADS which hope to help with improved levels of healthy ageing for people with Down syndrome, the Irish healthcare system must also urgently address the specific diagnostic and care needs of this group of people in a comprehensive, systematic and consistent way,” Professor McCarron concluded.

Sea lions get their teeth brushed at Scottish safari park

  • Part of an oral national health campaign


Poppy the sea lion gets a kiss from head sea lion keeper Frances Reid at Blair Drummond Safari Park near Stirling.

It is National Smile Month, so some of the sea lions at Blair Drummond have been having their pearly whites brushed. They’ve been trained to have it done from an early age.

Poppy the sea lion has her teeth cleaned by head sea lion keeper Frances Reid at Blair Drummond Safari Park near Stirling.

A group of sea lions at Blair Drummond Safari Park have been getting their teeth cleaned to help mark the start of a national oral health campaign.

The animals lined up to get their gnashers polished at the park near Stirling as National Smile Month got under way around the UK.

Poppy the sea lion has her teeth cleaned by head sea lion keeper Frances Reid at Blair Drummond Safari Park near Stirling.

The campaign aims to raise awareness of health issues and improve the oral health of millions of people throughout the country.

And while brushing a sea lion’s teeth might seem an odd thing to do, park bosses insist it is vital to their welfare.

Head keeper Frances Reid said: “Sea lions will live a lot longer in captivity then their wild counterparts, so their teeth need to last a lot longer.

“Just like our own teeth, we need to control the amount of plaque building up on them and reduce the amount of decay.

“Also if our sea lions get something stuck in their teeth, we can remove it easily without the need to put them under general anaesthetic and call the vet in.”

One of the sea lions, 10-year-old Poppy, was trained at an early age to get her teeth cleaned.

Trainer Sam Clark said: “We achieved it through positive reinforcement, so lots of encouragement and food rewards until she had complete trust in us and was confident to have her teeth brushed.

“A sea lion has 18 teeth on the bottom jaw and 18 on the top, and they only have one set of teeth in their lifetime, so we need to be able to inspect them daily.”

Planet Earth now has a flag for interplanetary relations


Let’s imagine for a moment that we’re on the cusp of the next great space race.

With private space enterprise a reality, the possibilities of incredible new spacedrive technologies, and a plan to colonise Mars in the next decade, it’s a wonderful time to be a space nerd.

But when humankind reaches Mars, what flag will we plant proudly in the surface?

There is actually an Outer Space Treaty (part of Space Law, which is also a thing) that bans countries from claiming celestial bodies as territory.

And so, a Swedish designer has taken it upon himself to create the International Flag of Planet Earth.

Designed by Oskar Pernefeldt as a graduation project at the Beckmans College of Design, it’s not yet an “official” flag for Earth – however that would be decided – but NASA is thanked on the contributors page for the project.

It’s not known how they were involved, though.

“Current expeditions in outer space use different national flags depending on which country is funding the voyage,” Pernefeldt wrote about the project.

“The space travelers, however, are more than just representatives of their own countries. They are representatives of planet Earth.”

As a design student, he set out to design something that not only reflect humanity’s existing flags – rectangular, wider than it is tall – but also has some meaning in the symbol.

Our little pale blue dot is unique in our survey of the known universe so far for its large quantities of liquid surface water – and so Pernefeldt chose a deep, rich blue as his primary colour – to offset a pure white flower.

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Friday 29th August 2014

Five-day Irish trade mission to Australia gets underway

Minister Bruton leading visit by 32 Irish companies to Melbourne, Canberra and Sydney


Richard Bruton said the economic relationship between Ireland and Australia is stronger now than at any time in our history

A five-day trade and investment mission to Australia by more than 30 Irish companies has begun.

Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Investment Richard Bruton is leading the joint Enterprise Ireland/IDA mission, which will include more than 40 high-level meetings and events.

A total of 32 companies from the financial services, elearning, telecommunications and IT for Healthcare sectors are participating on the mission to Melbourne, Canberra and Sydney.

Australia is the world’s 12th largest economy, with an estimated US$1.5 trillion GDP.

“The economic relationship between Ireland and Australia is stronger now than at any time in our history. It is a relationship based on delivering two-way trade of more than $2.8billion per annum,” said Mr Bruton ahead of the mission.

“There are over 140 Enterprise Ireland client companies actively doing business in Australia as well as 35 Australian companies in Ireland employing over 1,600 people. I am confident that during the intensive programme of activities this week we can build on that strong relationship and support more trade and crucially more jobs in Ireland,” he added.

Irish Distillers Jameson whiskey exports soar but spirits dip at home


An employee passes American oak barrels containing Jameson whiskey, produced by Irish Distillers Ltd., at the Pernod-Ricard SA distillery in Midleton, Co Cork

Irish Distillers’ successful Jameson brand is powering ahead in export markets including the US, but the industry is slowing at home.

Sales of Jameson reached 4.7 million cases in the full year 2013-2014, the company said. That is 9pc higher than the previous year, both globally and in the US, its biggest single market. By price, the gain was 12pc.

However, the company said sales of all spirits are down 11.5pc in the home market.

Pub sales, the so-called “on” trade, is down 6pc and off-trade sales have declined by 13.9pc in terms of volume, Irish Distillers said, citing research from Neilson.

“The sustained progress of Jameson within the Pernod Ricard family of brands has been one of the group’s most eminent success stories, growing from 466,000 cases when Irish Distillers joined Pernod Ricard in 1988, to approaching 5 million cases in 2014,” Irish Distillers chairman and chief executive Anna Malmhake said.

But she warned that Ireland is now one of the most expensive countries in the world in which to buy Irish spirits.

“The penal excise increases on alcohol accumulated in the last two budgets endanger the export success of indigenous products such as Irish whiskey as well as the 92,000 jobs being supported by the drinks industry in every county throughout Ireland,” she said.

Meanwhile Pernod Ricard, which owns Irish Distillers, said it plans to cut 900 jobs globally to cut costs following a slump in demand from China.

But the world’s second-largest distiller said the Chinese market is improving following a 23pc slump in sales in the last fiscal year.

International drinks brands were hit last year by a clampdown in China on corporate gift giving and entertainment of government officials.

“The flavor of the start of this year seems better” in China, CEO Pierre Pringuet said.

Mrs Brown makes a right monkey of critics with hit


Mrs Brown’s Boys has emerged as the biggest hit of the summer in Irish cinemas.

New figures confirm that Brendan O’Carroll’s flick is not only the hit of the summer, but the highest performing box office smash this year to date.

“Its distributor, Universal, expected Mrs Brown’s Boys D’Movie to do well but I think they were even take aback by the phenomenon it has become,” said Niall Murphy, who is Managing Editor of Scannain, the Irish film blog.

The Irish Film Board has listed the highest grossing films of the year so far, which shows that Dawn of the Planet of the Apes was the second most popular film with Irish audiences this summer, bringing in €243,430,803 to date globally.

“It has received much better reviews than Mrs Brown and certainly appears to have benefited from word of mouth, it also brought more in at the box office than its previous instalment, Rise of the Planet of the Apes,” said Mr Murphy.

Other releases that have performed well this summer in a season which is usually the preserve of action-hero flicks, include American comedy 22 Jump Street and British production The Inbetweeners 2.

Unsurprisingly, children’s films were one of the strongest performing genres.

“It has been a huge year for animation in general with two or three animated films appearing in the top 10 every week.”

In terms of flops this year, Mr Murphy highlighted how unreceptive Irish audiences where to superhero offering Captain America: The Winter Soldier, which was a smash in the States but only just made it into the Irish top 20 at 18.

The science-fiction film Edge of Tomorrow, which was released at the end May, under-performed, suggesting that outside of the Mission Impossible franchise, Tom Cruise’s name does not have the same draw it once had.

“Seth McFarlane’s A Million Ways To Die In The West also under-performed when you consider how well his directorial project Ted did, and June’s Transformers 4 did not make nearly as much as the first three instalments,” he added.

Eircom to expand E-Fibre rollout across the country


Eircom is to expand the rollout of its eFibre broadband product to 1.6m homes and businesses, the company has said.

The operator’s previously stated target for its eFibre services was 1.4m premises by the end of 2016.

The telecoms group also said that its revenue has fallen to €1.28bn – down €85m or 6pc – despite having 1.8 million landline and mobile phone customers.

Annual results for the year to the end of June show its operating profit remained stable, down 1pc or €3m to €479m, before storm costs of €10m.

The operator is currently considering a sale or a public flotation.

Herb Hribar, chief executive, said the past twelve months underline real and sustained progress in the transformation of eircom’s financial performance and product offerings.

“We have now had eight consecutive quarters of EBITDA (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortisation) stability, slowing decline in our revenues and an improved cost base,” he said.

The results come as 3 Ireland and Eircom sign a new network sharing agreement, fulfilling one of the commitments 3 Ireland entered into as part of receiving EU Commission approval for its €750m acquisition of O2 in Ireland earlier this year. The new agreement will run to 2030 and commits funding to create a shared network of over 2,000 sites within the next three years.

3 Ireland and Eircom will share site equipment, power supply, towers and transmission throughout the country. Existing sites of both operators will be consolidated and new sites will be jointly built.

In a statement, the companies said that the partnership will help facilitate the introduction of new technologies to roll out 4G services and “provide data coverage to every part of the country”.

Elsewhere, eircom said sales in its fixed telephone line sector fell 8pc for the year to €980m, but its expanding broadband market recorded a 7.5pc increase, with 718,000 broadband connections over the year to the end of June.

Operating profits in its mobile phone business more more than doubled to €36m despite sales dropping by 2pc to €347m.

Bondholders recently approved the company’s proposed corporate re-organisation – easing the way for a sale or stock market floation of the company.

Richard Moat, chief financial officer, said there are early signs of commercial momentum, as more and more fixed and mobile customers are directly and indirectly using its network.

“In addition, the strategic review of the group’s capital structure continues,” he added.

Is any amount of Alcohol good for us or not?


To drink or not to drink? That is the question that is not easily answered, at least when it comes to our health.

Although we’ve heard for years that moderate drinking is good for our hearts, several recent studies have questioned that long-held belief. And earlier this year, the World Health Organization issued a dire warning about cancer and alcohol. No amount of alcohol is safe, the report said.

So, if any alcohol raises our cancer risk, and if it might not offer a real benefit to our hearts, should we be drinking at all?

Cardiologist Michael Shapiro, DO, is not convinced that any amount of alcohol is good for us.

“It’s a common perception that alcohol, and red wine in particular, is helpful for the heart, but that perception is not based on any particularly good evidence,” Shapiro says. “If there is any benefit from alcohol — and that’s not entirely clear — it’s probably modest.”

Shapiro, who practices at Oregon Health and Science University in Portland, says that much of the research touting alcohol’s heart health benefits doesn’t show cause and effect. Does alcohol itself protect against heart attacks, or does the lower risk stem from some other factor or combination of factors? It’s not known.

“People who drink moderately also may have certain socio-economic factors and behavior patterns that promote health, and we’ve never been able to tease that out,” he says.

A recent BMJ review of more than 50 studies on alcohol and heart health supports Shapiro’s view. Researchers found that people with a form of a gene tied to lower levels of drinking had healthier hearts. That suggests that cutting down on drinking — even for light or moderate drinkers — benefits the heart.

Another recent study found that people who have as little as one or two drinks of wine or liquor may raise their odds of atrial fibrillation, a potentially dangerous form of irregular heartbeat.

Bright Side to ‘Healthy’ Drinking?

Like Shapiro, geriatrician Alison Moore, MD, MPH, is skeptical of studies about light to moderate drinking that tout health benefits but don’t show cause and effect. But she says research has shown that this amount of drinking may play a positive role in numerous conditions, from heart health to diabetes to dementia.

Recent studies continue to support alcohol’s benefits. In June, the authors of a study in the journal Circulation reported that men and women who have four to six alcoholic drinks (i.e. 5-ounce glasses of wine or 1.5-ounce cocktails) per week were, respectively, 20% and 44% less likely to develop a potentially fatal ballooning of the aorta.

And in April, early findings presented at a meeting of the National Kidney Foundation suggested that a little wine a day lowers the risk of chronic kidney disease. People who drank less than one glass of wine per day had a 37% lower risk than those who drank no wine at all.

“The data is convincing that truly moderate alcohol [drinking] does offer many health benefits,” says Moore, a professor of medicine and psychiatry at UCLA’s David Geffen School of Medicine. She researches alcohol’s effects on older groups of people. “For your average healthy person, it is not a bad thing.”

the Cancer Risk

There’s less debate among researchers about the role alcohol plays in cancer risk. The WHO declared alcohol a carcinogen in 1988, and the U.S.government health agencies have reached the same conclusion.

Alcohol is known to cause several types of cancer, including cancers of the mouth, pharynx, larynx, esophagus, colon-rectum, liver, and femalebreast. According to the National Cancer   Institute, the more you drink,the greater your risk of these types of   cancer. For example, people whohave three and a half or more drinks a   day double or even triple their odds of head and neck cancers.

For two cancers, though — renal cell, or kidney, cancer and non- Hodgkinlymphoma.

Some studies have shown that drinking can result in a lower risk. Still an estimated 3.5% of U.S. cancer deaths can be traced to alcohol. Unfortunately, says oncologist Cary Presant, MD, few people get the  message.

“There’s a very low level of awareness of the risk,” says Presant, a  clinical professor of medicine at the University of Southern California’s  Keck School of Medicine.   “We have to counsel our patients on the risks of alcohol.  It’s something I talk about with my patients all the time.”

Alcohol requires a balancing act, he says. It may offer some protection  for the heart, but, because alcohol affects many other organ systems,  Presant says, it also raises the risk of other diseases, including cancer.  For example, he says, two drinks a day raises a woman’s risk of breast  cancer by 15%. The risk is much lower for women who have one or fewerdrinks per day.

Presant advises people who drink to consider potential risk factors,  such as a family history of certain cancers, that may help determine whether  or not to abstain.

“Talk to your doctor about your family health history, your health  habits,  and,  if  necessary,  about  how to correct unhealthy drinking  habits,  ”Presant says. He adds that all forms of alcohol appear to  carry  the  same  risks.

Shapiro says the health benefits are likely to be quite limited, especially  when weighed against the potential for abuse. “If you drink, make sure  you know what healthy drinking looks like,” he says.

One drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men is a mostly  safe and potentially healthy way to unwind. But if you don’t drink now,  don’t reach for the bottle.

“The medical community still does not advise people to start drinking,  ”Moore says.

How your diet can lower the risk of Prostate Cancer


Tomato and bean consumption helps prevent the disease

Consuming more than ten servings a week of tomatoes and beans lowers the risk of prostate cancer, according to a new study from researchers at the University of Bristol.

The findings expand on previous research and suggest that men should consume foods rich in lycopene and selenium, which are found in tomatoes and beans respectively, to help prevent the onset of a disease that kills about 30,000 men in the United States each year.

The study compared the diets of more than 1,800 men between the ages of 50 and 69 who had prostate cancer to the diets of more than 12,000 of their cancer-free peers.

While the study’s conclusions provide some dietary guidance, researchers say more work needs to be done to develop further dietary guidelines.

“Our findings suggest that tomatoes may be important in prostate cancer prevention. However, further studies need to be conducted to confirm our findings, especially through human trials,” said Vanessa Er, a researcher at the University of Bristol who led the study. “Men should still eat a wide variety of fruits and vegetables, maintain a healthy weight and stay active.”

Our Sun’s power is stable and steadfast, says scientists


Experiment sees energy of the sun being created. Detector deep under an Italian mountain sees neutrinos created deep in the sun in a fusion furnace.
The fusion reaction that powers our sun has been detected in real time for the first time with an instrument buried deep beneath a mountain in Italy detecting the resulting neutrinos.

Before this, measurements of solar energy output relied on photons reaching the earth from the sun from the same kind of fusion reactions, but those reactions happened one hundred thousand years ago — the amount of time the photon energy takes to make its way through the sun’s dense interior to burst from its surface and begin the journey toward Earth.

In the new experiment conducted by an international team of researchers working with the Italian National Institute for Nuclear Physics, solar energy has been measured almost from the moment of its generation, because the neutrinos detected need just 8 minutes to travel from the very core of the sun to Earth.

The amount of energy produced by the sun today, as measured using the neutrinos, is identical to what was determined by photon measurements which looked a hundred thousand year’s into the sun’s past, proving the energy output has remained the same for all that time, the researchers say.

“This is direct proof of the stability of the sun over the past 100,000 years or so,” says team member Andrea Pocar of the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

Within the sun’s core, protons of hydrogen atoms, the sun’s major constituent, collide with such force they undergo a fusion reaction, producing a nucleus of heavy hydrogen, an antielectron (a positron) and a neutrino.

Further reactions produce helium and other elements and more kinds of neutrinos, although the majority of neutrinos streaming out of the sun are from that initial proton-proton reaction initiating fusion.

They have proved the hardest of all the various solar neutrinos to detect on Earth, the scientists explain, because they have low energy levels that are similar to that of many radioactive decays that occur on Earth.

This causes detectors to have trouble, confusing a radioactive decay with a solar neutrino event.

That’s why the Italian detector instrument, dubbed Borexino, is buried more than 4,500 feet below the Apennine Mountains.

The overlying rock can shield it from decay energy, while neutrinos pass easily through it and into the detector.

After 18 months of collecting data and a full year of analyzing it “to show it was not background [radiation] or a detector effect,” the team came up with a figure for neutrino flow of 66 billion per square centimeter per second, very close to model predictions of 60 billion,

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Wednesday 16th October 2013

Troika led Budget cuts unkind to the heart & soul people of Ireland


* Pensioners, savers, working mothers hit 
* Boost for business, tourism, job creation 
* Family health insurance costs set to rise

THE Government waited for the final Budget under the troika to implement some of the unkindest cuts of the entire bailout period.

Pensioners, medical card holders, working mothers, the young unemployed, savers and families with health insurance were all targeted in a series of painful cuts and tax increases totalling €2.5bn.

Low- to middle-income families with sick children are in danger of losing their medical cards as a result of a widescale ‘review’.

The cull of more than 150,000 medical cards is emerging as a potential flashpoint of the Budget – overshadowing the move to give a GP-only card to every child aged under five.

   The shock measure came on top of one in 10 pensioners over the age of 70 losing their medical card due to a change in income thresholds.

Health insurance costs for families could prove explosive. Premiums are likely to rise after the move to reduce the tax relief on policies and charge insurers more for using public hospitals. The measure is expected to indirectly affect 90pc of health insurance premiums.

Pensioners are also set to lose their telephone allowance, which will cost them €114 a year.

But the Budget did contain measures designed to stimulate the economy, create jobs and boost tourism, the construction sector and the property market.

The Coalition also began to crack down on the black economy and pledged to tackle the contentious issue of tax avoidance by multinationals.

Finance Minister Michael Noonan said the purpose of the Budget was to continue the progress already made, reinforce policies to grow the economy, establish the conditions to create jobs “and to prepare for exiting the bailout programme”.

He added: “We are well along the recovery path and it is time now, as a nation, to begin to look forward.”

But Fianna Fail finance spokesman Michael McGrath picked out the scrapping of the bereavement grant as an example of the cruel cuts in the Budget.

“Even the dead, Minister, are not safe from this Government,” he said.

Budget 2014 contained a series of savage cuts, which the Government had previously avoided carrying out. The Coalition aims to push people out to spend by hiking up the tax on interest on savings from 33pc to 41pc.

And it was confirmed that PAYE workers will have to pay PRSI on any interest they earn. This means that almost half of every €1 earned in interest on savings will now end up with the taxman.

No change was announced to child benefit, but it had already been signalled that the rate for the fourth child and subsequent children will fall by €10 a child to €130.

Workers escaped a hike in income tax and there is no change to the controversial universal social charge.

But homeowners are facing a full year of property tax. This will effectively mean a doubling of the tax from January. The average home faces a bill of €300 for property tax next year.

Pension savers were also hit with a higher levy on private schemes next year and another levy in 2015.

Mr Noonan said he was lowering the tax relief on health insurance premiums, but he insisted this would only affect “gold-plated” policies.

However, the body that represents health insurers said the change to tax reliefs for policies would affect 90pc of all health insurance products.

Insurance Ireland’s Michael Horan said the change would not just hit the more expensive policies.

The cost of a pint and a measure of spirits will rise by 10c each. Mr Noonan also announced a rise of 20c in the excise duty on cigarettes.

Wine was hit again this year. The cost of a bottle rose by 50c last night, a year after €1 was imposed on the tipple.

Women who have babies from next January will see the maternity benefit “standardised” at €230 a week for 26 weeks.

Most women get a higher rate of €262, so there will be a huge loss for new mums.

And the bereavement grant of €850 goes.

Mr Noonan promised to crack down on moves to “aggressively” lower corporation tax by multinationals.

A host of measures was announced to encourage people to set up in business on their own.

Some 26 “pro-business and pro-jobs” initiatives were announced.

And all the retail banks in the country will be hit with an annual bill of €150m every year for three years – a cost that it is feared will be passed on to consumers.

Homeowners will be incentivised to renovate their homes with a tax credit if they use a builder who is paying VAT.

The Home Renovation Incentive will give up to €4,050 for renovations and maintenance and can be claimed on home improvements costing between €5,000 and €30,000.

But the medical cards clampdown will have wide-ranging consequences.

More than 155,000 people are at risk of losing their full medical cards amid warnings that 2014 could be the toughest year yet for the health service.

Under the measures announced in the Budget, the income thresholds for the over-70s will see 35,000 lose their eligibility for a medical card and downgraded to a GP-visit card in a bid to save €25m.

Another 22,000 people who were unemployed and promised they could hold on to their medical card for three years after they got a job are also to be reduced to GP-visit cards as part of an €11m crackdown.

The Health Service Executive (HSE) has also been ordered to shave €113m from its medical card spending next year by pursuing people who are no long eligible for reasons such as employment, emigration or death.

Health Minister James Reilly, pictured, was unable to say how many this “probity” measure would remove, but Fianna Fail has estimated it could see 100,000 lose their medical cards on the basis that each card costs an average of €1,000.

Ryanair targets new routes after the abolition of Irish air travel tax


Ryanair is discussing plans to add new routes or additional frequencies on existing routes

Ryanair has said it aims to increase its traffic at Irish airports by one million passengers a year after the Irish government scrapped an air tax.

The airline said its move was in “direct response” to the scrapping of the travel tax,announced in the Irish budget on Tuesday.

The Irish air travel tax is three euros (£2.50) per passenger, per flight, but will be abolished from April 2014.

Ryanair said the abolition helped to “restore Ireland’s competitiveness”.

The tax was introduced at Irish airports almost five years ago.

The airline said that that during that period, “traffic at the main Irish airports had declined from 30.5m passengers in 2008 to 23.5m in 2012”.

The period also coincided with the international economic downturn, with the Republic of Ireland suffering one of the deepest recessions in the eurozone.

In a statement, Ryanair said it believes that much of the Republic’s lost airport traffic “can now be recovered thanks to the abolition of the travel tax, which makes Ireland a more competitive and attractive destination for inbound visitors, particularly those on short flights from the UK and Continental Europe”.

The airline has invited staff from airports in Dublin, Cork, Shannon, Knock and Kerr to meetings in the Irish capital on Thursday and Friday to discuss its growth plans.

Michael Cawley from Ryanair said they would discuss “how and where we can add new routes or additional frequencies on existing routes” from next April, in an attempt to achieve their targets.

Irish prescription charges now up by 66% after Budget


Charges for prescription medicines for medical card holders are to increase by as much as 66%.

Currently people with medical cards pay €1.50 for every item dispensed to them, subject to a cap of €19.50 per month. But under the new rules, they will have to pay €2.50 per item, with the monthly cap increased by 28% to €25.

The charges are scheduled to come into effect on Dec 1 and are expected to raise €43m for the Department of Health next year. Prescription items were dispensed free to medical card holders up to 2010, when a 50c charge was introduced, capped at a monthly total of €10, so yesterday’s hike represents a five-fold increase in four years.

The Irish Patients’ Association criticised the move, saying many people who were reliant on a variety of drugs could not afford the extra burden and may try to ration their medication.

Charities working with the homeless have also repeatedly criticised the charges, arguing they force people to choose between medication and food or finding a hostel for the night.

The Carers Association described the move as “deplorable”. “This charge disproportionately impacts on the sick and older people, many of whom have ongoing, complex medication regimes”.

Nursing Homes Ireland was also highly critical and called for nursing home residents to be exempted from having to pay the charges. CEO Tadhg Daly said: “The imposition of further charges on nursing home residents who already contribute significantly towards the cost of their care is incomprehensible and unfair.

“The Health Amendment Act 2010 provided for a number of categories of persons to be exempt from the prescription charge and it is incumbent on Minister Reilly, who promised to abolish the charge prior to election, to add nursing home residents to the listing of exempted groups of persons.”

Health Minister James Reilly said around 65mprescription medicines and other medical items were expected to be dispensed under the medical card scheme this year.

“The prescription charge is intended to address rising costs in the medical card scheme and to influence to some degree demand and prescribing patterns.”

The Irish Medical Organisation criticised the move, noting the minister in opposition in 2010 had expressed concern that the introduction of charges could act as a disincentive to people to take necessary medicines.

The minister also announced another plan to make savings on drugs for medical card holders by delisting certain products from the list of approved items for reimbursement. He is aiming to shave €10m off costs in this way.

Gene mutation speeds up brain decline in Alzheimer’s


This is the first study to use brain scans to show what this gene does?

A rare genetic mutation associated with Alzheimer’s disease has been found to accelerate the loss of brain tissue and lead to quicker mental decline, researchers said.

People with the TREM2 gene variant lost brain tissue twice as fast as healthy elderly people, according to research published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

“This is the first study to use brain scans to show what this gene variant does, and it’s very surprising,” said co-author Paul Thompson of the University of Southern California.

This gene speeds up brain loss at a terrific pace.

Thompson and colleagues did MRI scans on 478 adults, whose average age was 76, over the course of two years.

They found that mutation carriers lost 1.4 percent to 3.3 percent more of their brain tissue than non-carriers, and the deterioration happened twice as fast.

Brain tissue loss was concentrated in memory centers of the brain, including the temporal lobe and hippocampus.

The TREM2 variant was first described in January as rare mutation, existing in about one percent of the North American and European population, that could triple a person’s lifetime risk of Alzheimer’s disease.

The genetic mutation has also been linked to an increased likelihood of Parkinson’s disease and a rare form of early brain decline called Nasu-Hakola disease.

Eircom now enters the television market to compete with the other two Sky and UPC


And now we have three?

EIRCOM has launched a new television service which places the firm in direct competition with Sky and UPC.

Similar to its rivals, the product – entitled eVision – offers packages of television channels with add-on options such as Sky Sports, Sky Movies and Setanta Sports.

The basic package includes 34 stations and costs €10 per month.

New customers who sign up before the end of this year will receive the first half-year free of charge.

Speaking after a demonstration of the new service, Communications Minister Pat Rabbitte welcomed Eircom’s decision to enter the market.

“The new television service the company is launching today is a good illustration of the benefits that this investment can bring,” he said. “This innovation should provide more choice for TV consumers, more competition driving down prices and a boost in demandfor broadband services that are becoming available.”

Big clawed fossil had spider-like brain

  This is the fossil of the megacheiran Alalcomenaeus, a distant relative of scorpions and spiders

close up of the head reveals where the creature’s two claws would have protruded from

Scientists have discovered the best-preserved nervous system in an ancient fossil.

Dating back 520 million years, the clawed spider-like fossil shows clear evidence of a brain and of nerve cords running through the creature’s trunk.

The specimen now confirms that the ancestors of spiders and scorpions were related, but branched off more than half-a-billion years ago.

A team of international scientists present their work in Nature.

The “great appendage” arthropods, are an extinct group of joint-legged creatures with large claw-like appendages – or growths – protruding from their heads.

The nervous system tends to be similar between major groups of animals, which helps palaeontologists work out how they are related, explained Greg Edgecombe from the Natural History Museum in London.

“The nervous system is one of the more reliable tool-kits we have. We were trying to investigate whether there was evidence for the preservation of neural tissues from very early parts of the animal fossil record,” he told BBC News.

  The nervous systems of the Alalcomenaeus fossil (L), a larval horseshoe crab (M) and a scorpion (R)

“What we’ve been working with is fossils with very fine anatomical preservation from the Cambrian period. These have given us information about brains, the nerve cords and the neural tissue that goes into the eyes.”

New to science, the fossil was recently discovered in South China and is part of the genus Alalcomenaeus. This group had segmented bodies equipped with about a dozen pairs of appendages which enabled the creatures to swim or crawl.

It was placed in a CT scanner and compared with other arthropods in order to understand its evolution. The team then used 3D software to see structures not visible on the surface of the fossil.

“People like myself who are mad keen on creepy crawlies want to understand how very strange early arthropods relate to living ones,” added Dr Edgecombe.

“By having access to the nervous system it allows us to study the evolutionary relationships of very ancient fossils using the same kind of information that we would use for living animals.”

Co-author, Xiaoya Ma, also from the Natural History Museum, said: “It is very exciting to use new techniques to successfully reveal such a complete central nervous system from a 520-million-year old fossil, and in such detail.”

She told the BBC’s Science in Action programme that the high resolution of the reconstructed image allowed the team to see “the concentrated neural structures in the head region”. They could also observe the segments of the brain associated with the claw-like appendages.

The fossil belongs to an extinct group of marine arthropods known as megacheirans, Greek for “large claws”.

To infer the evolutionary relationships between species, the fields of palaeontology and neuroanatomy together.

Nicholas Strausfeld was from the anatomy side of the team at the University of Arizona, US.

“We now know that the megacheirans had central nervous systems very similar to today’s horseshoe crabs and scorpions,” said Prof Strausfeld.

“This means the ancestors of spiders and their kin lived side by side with the ancestors of crustaceans in the lower Cambrian.”

He added that their prominent appendages were clearly used for grasping and holding.

“Based on their location, we can now say that the biting mouthparts in spiders and their relatives evolved from these appendages.”

The team says they expect to find more fossils dating even further back, which will shed new light onto the ancestors of many of today’s arthropods.