Tag Archives: Evolution

News Ireland daily BLOG by DONIE

Wednesday 14th December 2016

It was obvious that Simon Coveney would play hardball with Fianna Fáil over the rent cap issue

Tensions with Fianna Fáil tackled as Minister for Housing attempts to call their bluff

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Minister for Housing Simon Coveney has published his strategy for the private rental sector but the proposals could already be in jeopardy as party sources in Fianna Fáil have indicated that they will not support the strategy.

It was a fight that was coming, but it brought a cargo of subplots and consequence upon its arrival.

For weeks, if not months, resentment has been building in Fine Gael because of the belief of many in the party that Fianna Fáil has had it too good.

Thanks to the confidence and supply deal, Fianna Fáil has been able to dictate the shape of government policy while acting as a curious and at times appalled bystander.

Many in Fine Gael felt it was time Micheál Martin and his spokespeople were reminded who actually is in government, having cowered for so long. They were spoiling for the fight.

“We need to show some balls,” said one female member of the Cabinet at lunchtime in Leinster House yesterday.

When Simon Coveney outlined his plan for maximum annual rent increases of 4 per cent, to apply immediately for a three-year period in Dublin and Cork city and possibly be extended to other pressure points nationally, Fianna Fáil raised objections within hours.

Where the Minister for Housing wanted a maximum 4% annual increase, Fianna Fáil favoured 2%.

A further rollout of coverage?

Fianna Fáil also wanted the initial rollout of the rent caps to be extended beyond Dublin and Cork, and to take in Galway, Limerick, Waterford and commuter areas around the capital.

It seemed that the usual give and take between the minority Government and Martin’s party would apply. One wants 4 per cent, one wants 2 per cent: split the difference and move on.

Yet the Government had a different idea. The great irony was the person who put it up to Fianna Fáil was not the aspirant Fine Gael leader many expected to be at the centre of major disputes between the two parties.

Leo Varadkar is known to have little love for the current governmental arrangement and some in Fianna Fáil suspected it would be the Dublin West TD who would cause them most grief.

They had not anticipated that Simon Coveney would be the one to play hardball. Fianna Fáil TDs around Leinster House looked rattled for the first time in months.

So many issues were at play: the rental strategy itself and its core proposals, the dynamic in the Fianna Fáil-Fine Gael relationship and Coveney’s leadership prospects, and his standing in the parliamentary party.

A leadership challenge?

He is considered to be behind Varadkar among TDs, but should Coveney stand up to Fianna Fáil and win, his leadership chances will surely be enhanced.

He has staked his ambitions on tackling big issues like housing and water and the rental plan is a huge element of what he hopes will be his calling card as a serious contender.

The Cork South Central TD has expended a huge amount of political capital on rent predictability, overcoming the concerns of the most significant players around the Cabinet table: Enda Kenny, Michael Noonan, Paschal Donohoe and Varadkar himself.

As he prepared to attempt to face down Fianna Fáil, the only question yesterday was whether Coveney had the backing of the Taoiseach.

Kenny gave his clear answer at the outset of the weekly meeting of the Fine Gael parliamentary party, amplifying Coveney’s tactic by telling TDs and Senators in his leader’s statement that the Government would withdraw the strategy unless Fianna Fáil backed it.

Fine Gael had called the bluff of Martin and Barry Cowen, his housing spokesman, gambling that Fianna Fáil would be blamed if private rental tenants suffered. Even if that gamble fails, Coveney has still won in one crucial way: he has given his TDs the fight with Fianna Fáil they were pining for.

Irish fishermen now face wipe-out unless fishing rules are changed

Analysis: Ireland should use Brexit as basis to renegotiate EU fish policy, The industry says?

Image result for Irish fishermen now face wipe-out unless fishing rules art changed  Image result for Irish fishermen now face wipe-out unless fishing rules art changed

Fishing boats as seen in Cobh harbour in Co Cork. Fishermen’s representatives have called for a review of EU fishing rules.

Ireland’s fishing industry has breathed a sigh of relief, after Minister for Marine Michael Creed and his negotiating team in Brussels secured an overall six per cent increase for 2017 on last year’s share of quotas.

The outlook had been “dire”, as one representative said, with an initial 68 per cent cut in cod and nine per cent cut in prawns averted.

It was Creed’s first “red-eye” council, where EU fisheries ministers use sleep deprivation as a tactic to haggle for quotas for their fleets.

However, sleep may be in even shorter supply at such negotiations in years to come if Britain leaves the EU.

Oblivious to Brexit, fish know no boundaries, with some 40 different stocks moving between these two islands.

Creed acknowledged on RTÉ Radio’s Morning Ireland on Wednesday that British withdrawal would have a serious impact on the Irish fishing industry – “38 per cent of volume and 36 per cent of value of Irish fishing is in British territorial waters”, he said.

If Britain “attempts to establish a wall around their territorial waters”, this would pose “a significant challenge” he said.

“It would mean the entire fishing network will be displaced to a smaller area,” he said – as in Irish waters, already under severe pressure from Spanish, French and Dutch fleets.

“We will raise questions with the Commission about Ireland’s unique position,” he added, but industry organisations don’t believe the Government has given that “position” sufficient punch.

With 22% of all EU waters off Irish coast, and just two per cent of EU fleet capacity to catch it, Killybegs Fishermen’s Organisation chief executive Sean O’Donoghue has stressed the urgency of taking a strong stand.

The Irish South and West Fish Producers Organisation, whose members have felt the impact for years of Spanish and French fleets, says Ireland should use Brexit to renegotiate the entire Common Fisheries Policy, or face a “wipe-out”.

There are already ominous rumblings about the near future. Britain did not support Ireland at the talks in defending the “Hague Preferences”, which recognise the particular case of coastal communities in allocating quotas.

Also, British Secretary of State James Brokenshire recently reasserted London’s claim over Lough Foyle in response to a parliamentary question in the House of Commons last month. After the Belfast Agreement peace deal, a cross-border body known as the Loughs Agency took responsibility for the Foyle, which was a key strategic naval base during the second world war.

The Department of Foreign Affairs immediately rejected Mr Brokenshire’s assertion that “the whole of Lough Foyle is within the UK.”

A recent Supreme Court decision held that Northern Ireland fishing vessels could not legally fish or harvest mussel seed in the Republic’s territorial waters – under an arrangement known as “voisinage”.

However, it is understood that the Government wants to introduce legislation which would effectively reverse the Supreme Court ruling. At a recent seafood conference hosted by Bord Iascaigh Mhara, British National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations (NFFO) chief executive Barrie Deas forecast three possible scenarios in relation to Brexit.

The first was unilateral action by Britain to set its own quotas and control its own waters, the second involved bilateral and trilateral negotiations on shared stocks with coastal states, including Ireland and Norway.

The third was a move to a regional management structure by coastal states, a type of “super-regional advisory council”, expanding on the regional councils established as part of the revised Common Fisheries Policy, he said.

This latter scenario could benefit all EU coastal states, he suggested. The rights of coastal states to manage their own stocks – a type of regional management recognised in the most recent EU fish policy – is likely to gain greater currency as those stocks come under event greater pressure.

World demand for seafood is only going up, and the Irish industry is worth 1 billion euro in annual landings. However, foreign landings, transhipped back to Spain with no added value, are also on the increase here.

In an interview with The Irish Times in 1996, then EU fisheries commissioner Emma Bonino gave the most honest description of the community’s vision for “fewer, larger vessels”, spending longer periods of time at sea – such as the Dutch factory ships filmed in Irish waters for the recently released documentary Atlantic (italicss) directed by Risteard Ó Dómhnaill. This would fulfil the European Commission’s aim of providing cheaper fish for the consumer, but at the expense of coastal communities depending on the activity.

Birdwatch Ireland’s representative Sinéad Cummins, who was in Brussels for the fish talks, has urged EU ministers to think of the long term future of communities on the coastline by sticking to scientific advice – and allowing greater public access to the late night deliberations behind firmly closed doors.

Armed units will not change the Garda image, says Nóirín O’Sullivan

A new 55-strong unit will tackle terrorism and serious organised crime in Dublin. Says Tánaiste and Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald TD as she inspects the new Garda Armed Support Unit (ASU) for the Dublin region, at Garda HQ in Phoenix Park.

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A new command structure for armed Garda units is to be rolled out early next year, but Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan has insisted it will not undermine the force’s unarmed status.

Speaking at the launch of the new Dublin armed support unit, Ms O’Sullivan accepted the manner of its deployment may further marginalise some communities if not managed properly.

“No, I don’t believe people want to see armed police,” she said, when asked if an armed unit would be welcomed on residential streets.

“I think when the units are deployed in their normal operating mode, it’s a softer approach. But when they have to deploy in overt mode they can do that as a tactical deployment.”

The new 55-strong unit will combat the threat from terrorism and serious organised crime in the capital. Plans for its establishment were accelerated when the Kinahan-Hutch feud erupted in Dublin during the general election campaign in the spring.

The gangland activity?

As well as providing an armed Garda presence at Dublin Airport and port, it will also conduct patrols and checkpoints in areas with significant gun feuding or other gangland activity.

The unit represents the final strand of rolling out armed support units in all regions of the country to complement the work of the Emergency Response Unit.

Ms O’Sullivan said all the units specialising in providing an armed response to flashpoint incidents as well as back-up for uniformed unarmed gardaí would now be drawn under a more centralised command.

The new structure represents the first time the armed response specialisation in the Garda has been considered large enough to warrant a dedicated command and training structure.

The commissioner said the establishment of regional support units around the country, and now the armed response unit for Dublin, was “the first step towards allowing us develop the armed response capability that we need right around the country.

“By the first quarter of next year we will establish a National Firearms Command which will mean the Emergency Response Unit and all of the armed response units in the regions will be trained [centrally].”

She said she would be making the case to Government for the creation of a number of senior posts to command the armed teams, all headed by a detective chief superintendent.

A proud tradition?

However, she did not believe the developments represented a move away from the Garda as an unarmed force. “It’s something we’re very proud of; it’s a tradition and a legacy we’ll never give up.”

However, the Garda also needed to “recognise the challenges” of modern policing in the Republic and “have a response commensurate with that”.

The new armed response unit for Dublin will work in the same way as the regional support units around the country. They will patrol in high-powered vehicles – new BMWs and Audi Q7 utility vehicles – dressed in uniforms unique to their unit.

When the need to switch to armed mode arises, they will switch into tactical clothing, comprising black overalls and ballistic vests, helmets and goggles and other protective wear.

They will unlock the firearms secured in the boots of their vehicles and arm themselves with MP7 machine guns, stun guns or a range of pepper sprays. The sprays vary in size and can be used to overpower one suspect at close range or a large group of people over a greater distance.

The vehicles are also kitted out with telescopic ladders, battering rams for breaking in doors and hooligan bars for taking doors off hinges.

The armed units were first recommended by the Garda Inspectorate, led by Kathleen O’Toole, 10 years ago, and the first two were rolled out in Limerick and Cork cities in 2008.

The inspectorate reviewed the report of the Barr tribunal of inquiry into the fatal shooting of John Carthy by the Emergency Response Unit (ERU) in Abbeylara. Its review concluded that second-tier armed response teams were needed to contain incidents involving firearms pending the arrival of the ERU

A decline in top three male cancers as lung cancer rates continue to rise among our women

Image result for A decline in top three male cancers as lung cancer rates continue to rise among our women  Image result for A decline in top three male cancers as lung cancer rates continue to rise among our women

One in three men, and one in four women, will get invasive cancer during their lifetime?

Prostate, colorectal, and lung cancer rates amongst Irish men are falling or steadying off, latest figures from the National Cancer Registry show.

These three cancers are the most common in Irish men and from 1994 until now, the likelihood of developing them had been increasing steadily.

However the research, completed by analysing data over 21 years, also shows lung cancer rates amongst women continue to rise “significantly”. Lung cancer is now the second most common cancer in Irish women, says the National Cancer Registry 1994-2014.

According to the NCR, current lung cancer rates reflect the prevalence of smoking in previous decades.

“Lung cancer incidence rates in males declined steadily over 1994-2014, while the female rate increased significantly over the same period. As in other developed countries, it is likely that the period of peak smoking prevalence in females occurred some years later than that in males, which would help explain the contrasting lung cancer trends,” the report said.

The chances of men being diagnosed with any kind of cancer has also plateaued however, after nearly 20 years of increases.

But overall, the risk of developing cancer still remains higher for men than for women. There have been significant decreases in breast cancer rates in women, since 2008. The latest figures show this fall continuing in 2014.

Overall, the number of cancers continues to rise nationwide because of an ageing and growing population. Up to 37,600 new tumours were registered annually in 2012-2014. Of these, 30,700 were malignant. There were 16,800 cases of non-melanoma cancer of the skin which, while the most common cancer, is rarely fatal.

Despite improving survival rates, cancer is the second most common cause of death in Ireland, after diseases of the circulatory system — 30% of deaths in Ireland are due to cancer. About 8,700 cancer deaths per year occurred during 2011-2013.

Lung cancer was the most common cause of cancer death, about 21% of the total.

The risk of dying from cancer was about 36% higher for men than for women.

Over four consecutive periods, five-year net survival for all cancers (excluding non-melanoma skin cancer) increased. Between 1994 and 1998, 44% survived. Between 1999-2003 that rose to 51%, by 2004-2008 to 57% and by 2009-2013 to 61%. Ten-year survival figures show a similar trend. At the end of 2014 there were 139,526 persons still alive whose cancer had been diagnosed over the previous 21 years (1994-2014), equivalent to 3% of the Irish population.

The largest number of cancer survivors over the past 21 years had been diagnosed with breast, prostate, bowel cancer, and melanoma of the skin.

Director of the registry and professor of cancer epidemiology at University College Cork, Kerri Clough-Gorr said: “ The incidence trend in male cancers is encouraging, as we no longer see an increase in rates for the three main male cancers. Whether these improvements will be sustained remains to be seen. There is a large and growing number of cancer survivors in our community which will need to be facilitated by expansion of cancer support services.”

Some cancer facts?

– The risk of an invasive cancer diagnosis, aside from non-melanoma skin cancer, in anyone aged up to 75 is one in three for men and one in four for women.

– The invasive cancer rate in Irish men was 10% higher than the EU average — partly due to increased diagnosis of prostate cancer. Our diagnosis rate is 52% higher.

– The top five most common invasive cancers in men were prostate, colorectal, and lung cancer, lymphoma and melanoma.

– The top five cancers in women were breast, lung, colorectal cancer, melanoma and uterine cancer.

‘A devastating loss to everyone’ As Tributes paid to man as he dies in a landslide incident

The Gardai and the HSA are investigating the man’s death?

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Patrick McCaffrey & his beloved wife Helen. 

The entrance to the property where the man lost his life on a as a result of a landslide at the construction of a wind farm in Ballyfarnon, Co. Sligo.

Investigations are underway after a man died in a workplace accident.

The victim, who worked for Tralee based firm Moriarty Civil Engineering, has been named locally as Patrick McCaffrey (37) from Co Leitrim.

His manager Colin Scott told Independent.ie that everyone connected with the firm is devastated by his tragic death.

He said: “It is absolutely devastating the tragedy which occurred last night.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with Mr McCaffrey’s family. Nothing like this has ever happened before.

“It’s a devastating loss to everyone.”

Local reports indicate that the man died after a landslide incident in the Ballyfarnon area on the Roscommon Sligo border.

The man in his 30s was working on a site in the area when the accident occurred at 6.30pm yesterday evening.

He was pronounced dead at the scene.

Search and rescue operations were hampered by the adverse weather. The coastguard were unable to respond to a request for helicopter assistance shortly before 9pm last night due to foggy weather conditions.

The Gardai and the HSA are investigating the incident.

A seahorse gene study reveals evolution of bizarre features?  like male pregnancy

 Image result for A tiger tail seahorse, which has evolved several unique traits, including male pregnancy  Image result for A tiger tail seahorse, which has evolved several unique traits, including male pregnancy  Image result for A seahorse gene study reveals evolution of bizarre features?  like male pregnancy

Seahorses have evolved at a galloping pace compared with their close relatives, a study has now shown.

As a result the creatures have acquired a bizarre body shape, eyes that can look in different directions at once, toothless snouts for sucking in prey, and – strangest of all – male pregnancy.

Scientists who mapped the complete genome, or genetic code, of the tiger tail seahorse, Hippocampus comes, identified numerous unique features that had evolved within a short time.

Both the loss and duplication of genes contributed to the rapid changes, said the researchers led by Professor Byrappa Venkatesh from the Agency for Science Technology and Research (ASTAR) in Singapore.

The seahorse owes its unusual appearance to bony plates that reinforce its body and allow it to stand and swim vertically.

A key feature is the absence of pelvic fins, which share the same evolutionary origins as human legs.

The scientists found that an important limb gene called tbx4, common to nearly all vertebrates, was missing from the seahorse genome.

When the same gene was deactivated in zebrafish, the fish also lost their pelvic fins.

Gene duplication, that can give genes entirely new functions, was thought to be how male pregnancy developed in the seahorse.

Males carry developing embryos in a “brood pouch” from which the offspring eventually hatch.

Regulatory elements of DNA that control gene activity are also believed to have played a key role in shaping the seahorse.

Loss of regulatory elements may have taken the brakes off evolution and allowed the seahorse skeleton to be so greatly modified.

Writing in the journal Nature, the authors concluded: “Our genome-wide analysis highlights several aspects that may have contributed to the highly specialised body plan and male pregnancy of seahorses.

“These include a higher protein and nucleotide evolutionary rate, loss of genes and expansion of gene families, with duplicated genes exhibiting new expression patterns, and loss of a selection of potential … regulatory elements.”


News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Wednesday 13th July 2016

Ireland should now plan to cut 12.5% corporation tax rate & steal a march on Brexit


Michael Noonan Minister for finance and Ibec policy chief Fergal O’Brien.

The Irish Government should go on the offensive and consider cutting the 12.5% corporation tax rate, and prepare an “aggressive” strategy in the budget to prepare for any fallout from the decision of the UK to quit the EU, business group IBEC has said.

In a new policy document, the business group also advises the Government to temporarily secure a break on the EU spending rules and splash €1bn in building social housing next year.

It says a massive programme to build new social homes – the largest in the history of the State – is the only way to start to address the housing crisis.

Ibec said its new document, called ‘IBEC priorities for budget 2017’, represents a call to arms for the Government to respond in a new way to the threat of the Brexit on Irish businesses.

“The most important thing about this budget is it is seen as a Brexit response. A real aggressive drive is required.

“The Government has sat on its hands – but we have already seen [UK chancellor] George Osborne setting the terms for the UK government what they want to do with corporation tax cuts to 15%, possibly lower,” said Ibec policy chief Fergal O’Brien.

“The UK has laid down the gauntlet on its business tax ambitions, Ireland must now respond,” he said. “We are looking for a more aggressive approach”.

Ibec said a corporate tax rate cut should be part of the Government’s armoury, the budget should address the immediate challenges of the Brexit vote.

It said it was most concerned about the Irish indigenous companies which now face financial pain because of the slump in the value of sterling against the euro since the Brexit vote on June 23.

Ibec urges more favourable tax terms for the self-employed to match and compete with the incentives the UK offers its entrepreneurs, in capital gains and in the taxing of share awards.

“Sterling is a massive issue. This budget has to be about reacting to Brexit and addressing those competitive concerns which will help Irish business to be more competitive,” Mr O’Brien said.

“We think it would be completely illogical for example to increase our minimum wage to impact on those sectors such as food processing, tourism, retail and indigenous exporters, who are trying to cope with an exchange rate,” he said.

Mr O’Brien said Irish companies were already suffering after the plunge in sterling and it was up to Government to control business costs.

“Not that many companies are hedging. The majority of the smaller companies are going to be exposed really quickly,” he said, adding that proposals to introduce a sugar tax and raise excise duties on tobacco would hurt retailers.

“The UK is going to take out the bazooka. If they are outside the EU, they are going to act on state-aid issues.

“We are going to have to react. The budget is the first opportunity for the Government to show what they can do for indigenous companies,” Mr O’Brien said.

Ibec said that cutting the USC rate would not help businesses. It said its tax measures would cost €469m and its recommendations for spending on infrastructure and research and development would cost an extra €250m.

Spending on social housing would be covered by the Government securing a derogation from EU spending rules, Ibec said.

Ex-Nama ‘big player employee’ used inside knowledge to buy Dublin site, 

The Wexford TD Wallace asks Taoiseach why Harcourt Street Garda premises was sold to ‘vulture fund’


Independents4 Change TD Mick Wallace has claimed that a former ‘big player’ in Nama used insider knowledge to purchase the site of the Harcourt Street Garda control centre.

A former “big player” in Nama used insider knowledge to purchase the site of the Harcourt Street Garda premises, Independents 4 Change TD Mick Wallacehas claimed.

Mr Wallace called on Taoiseach Enda Kenny to explain why the State allowed Nama to sell the location of the Garda “command and control centre” for the entire country to a vulture fund.

Hibernia Reit later said the claims about it were “ill-informed, inaccurate and without foundation”.

Hibernia Reit is now taking a court action to have An Garda Síochána removed from the Harcourt Street premises, Mr Wallace told the Dáil.

“The company that now owns Hibernia Reit was set up by a guy who was a big player in Nama where he was a portfolio manager for three years,” the Wexford TD said.

Asking why Nama was allowed to sell the site to a vulture fund, rather than keep it in State ownership, Mr Wallace said: “Had it anything to do with the fact that the people to benefit from it were insiders?”

Mr Kenny told him “the advice given to me by the authorities is that loan portfolio was sold following an open process to the highest bidder”.

“I’ll find out the answer for you why Harcourt station was sold to a vulture fund,” Kenny said.

An objection lodged?

The Taoiseach said an objection had been lodged to the Hibernia Reit court action. He also said that if there was an allegation being made about an individual or entity the Comptroller & Auditor General was “perfectly entitled to investigate that completely independently”.

Mr Kenny said “there are a lot of rumours going around, a lot of speculation, a lot of allegations”.

He said that if Mr Wallace had any evidence “this will be treated seriously as it was in other areas where commissions of investigations have been involved”.

Speaking about the buyer, Mr Wallace said that “when he joined Nama he moved his 30 per cent shareholding in his father’s company to an offshore trust. Did he declare that to Nama?”

The same company “then benefited from some very lucrative work from Nama”.

‘Inside knowledge use’

Mr Wallace said the portfolio manager left Nama in December 2012 and “used his inside knowledge regarding Nama assets to line up investment funds that would provide the finance for this new company Hibernia Reit which he manages”.

Mr Wallace said “it wouldn’t require forensic knowledge to establish that Hibernia Reit did remarkably well in purchasing assets from Nama, many of which this gentleman was involved with”.

He said “the public interest would be best served if we examined the internal workings of Nama”.

“At this stage the majority of people believe Nama is rotten to the core,” he added.

Project Aspen

In a statement after Mr Wallace’s comments, Hibernia Reit said the claims about it were “ill-informed, inaccurate and without foundation”.

Hibernia REIT did not purchase Harcourt Square from Nama, the company said. Harcourt Square was sold by Nama to Starwood Capital in 2013, as part of a large portfolio of assets called Project Aspen. Hibernia acquired the property from Starwood Capital in February 2015.

“Hibernia REIT is an Irish listed and regulated public company that is investing in Ireland for the long term,” the statement said. “It is disappointing that Deputy Wallace has used the protection of Dail privilege to make a range of untrue allegations.”

Financial strain, overcrowded housing and deprivation and young people have it tougher nowadays, says the ESRI

Research finds over-65s have fewer quality-of-life problems than younger adults


Financial strain, overcrowded housing and deprivation were among the most serious problems for young adults, according to ESRI research.

Younger people are having a tougher time of it in modern Ireland than the over-65s, new research has suggested.

Far more of those aged 18-30 have multiple quality-of-life problems than people over 65, the research from the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) has found.

Financial strain, overcrowded housing and deprivation were among the most serious problems for young adults, while poor health and feeling unsafe were among the worrying issues for older people.

Differences between social classes were also identified, with poorer adults significantly more likely to have “multiple problems” than wealthier people. Their problems include poverty, financial stress and housing quality and health.

The recession?

The findings pointed to the harsher impact the recession had on young people and on lower socioeconomic groups, said its author Dorothy Watson.

Published today by the Department of Social Protection, the research goes beyond income to measure Irish adults’ quality of life. It used 11 indicators to examine not only economic wellbeing, but also physical and mental health.

Drawing on 2013 survey data from the Central Statistics Office, the indicators used were income poverty, inability to afford basic goods and services, financial strain, poor health, mental distress, housing quality problems, neighbourhood problems, crowded accommodation, mistrust in institutions, lack of social support, and feeling unsafe in one’s local area. The findings apply to adults over 18.

Just over 70% of all adults had experienced at least one of the issues, while 25.5% had faced three or more of them.

The ESRI found that while 31% of those aged 18-30 faced problems in relation to three or more of the issues, only 20% of those aged 65-70 and those aged 71-85 reported a similar level of problems.

The social class in Ireland?

In relation to social class, it found 36% of those in the manual skilled and semi-skilled sector experienced multiple problems compared with 14 per cent in the professional-managerial sector.

Ms Watson said the findings were consistent with those of other studies, with evidence of younger adults contending with multiple social stressors less likely to impact on older people. These included the cost and availability of housing, childcare costs and increased precariousness of work.

In contrast, successive budgets had protected pensions.

She said better public services in other societies helped to mitigate some of these stressors, particularly on the poor and younger adults.

This teacher’s letter praising a pupil with autism is the nicest thing you’ll read today

Ruth Clarkson decided to pen a letter praising the student for qualities not examined in academic tests


The mother of 11-year-old boy Ben Twist, who has autism, has shared a heart-warming letter his teacher penned detailing all his qualities that academic tests could not measure.

Ben’s teacher Ruth Clarkson decided to write the uplifting letter after he failed his stats which he sat earlier in the year.

Gail, Ben’s mother, posted the letter on Twitter and it has already been retweeted 3,500 times.

In tears. A letter to my 11 yr old autistic son from his school. “These tests only measure a little bit of you”

The letter reads: “A very important piece of information I want you to understand is that these tests only measure a little bit of you and your abilities. They are important and you have done so well but Ben Twist is made up of many other skills and talents that we at Lansbury Bridge see and measure in other ways.”

She then lists some of his qualities including his kindness, abilities in sport and artistic talents.

She continues: “We are so pleased that all of these different talents and abilities make you the special person you are and these are all of the things we measure to reassure us that you are always making progress and continuing to develop as a lovely bright young man. Well done Ben, we are very proud of you.”

Ben’s emotional mum told the Liverpool Echo: “Ben worked so hard and sitting the tests was a massive achievement. We knew the results were coming but to get a letter like that – I got part-way through it and I burst into tears.”

“He is all of the things they wrote about him – he is an amazing person. I think their words will stay with him if we keep reminding him what they said about him. When I told him he said: ‘Wow, do they really think all those things about me?’ It’s just a beautiful thing to do.”

New Benthic Underwater microscope lets scientists watch corals as they boogie on down

   Researcher Andrew Mullen uses the underwater microscope to examine coral off the coast of Maui.   

Using the newly released Benthic Underwater Microscope, scientists observed coral polyps off the coasts of Israel and Maui eating, dancing, and even kissing.

New underwater microscope technology allows scientists to get an up-close and personal look at the secret lives of dancing coral, according to a study published in the July 12 issue of the journal Nature Communications.

Scientists say that the new microscope, called the Benthic Underwater Microscope (BUM), allows them to explore the underwater world in an unprecedented way. The microscope features an extremely high-resolution camera, an underwater computer with a diver interface, bright LED lights for fast exposure images, and a flexible, tunable lens that allows scientists to view underwater structures in 3D.

“To understand the evolution of the dynamic processes taking place in the ocean,” said study lead author Jules Jaffe in a statement, “we need to observe them at the appropriate scale.”

First on the list of underwater life forms to observe using the new microscope? Coral. The magnificent invertebrates may look stationary, but they are built by tiny creatures called polyps, which look similar to upside down jellyfish attached to the bottom sides of coral reefs.

Millions of polyps work together to build coral reefs by secreting calcium carbonate, with the tiny animals providing nutrients and color to the reef.

The new microscope allowed a team of scientists to observe the tiny polyps as they gently swayed, ate, and, apparently, danced.

Using the microscope, scientists were able to position themselves two inches away from the polyps and watch them as they captured tiny plankton and brine shrimp with tiny swaying tentacles.

Scientists left the microscopes out overnight in order to observe the polyps over an extended period. The images and footage gathered show the polyps’ gentle “dancing” and post-meal kisses that scientists say could be a way for polyps to share nutrients throughout the coral colony.

Images from the Benthic Underwater Microscope also revealed a more violent side to the secret lives of polyps, showing coral of different species conquering weaker specimens. In order to win more reef space, the conquering coral will emit filaments that secrete stomach enzymes to destroy the tissue of their competitors.

Researchers have used the BUM in two places thus far – the waters off of Maui and the coast of Israel. With some of the largest coral bleaching events ever recorded taking place this year, scientists were especially interested to study the hard hit coral reefs off of Maui.

With the help of their new microscopic tool, scientists discovered that in bleached areas, there is a honeycomb pattern of algal colonization (like underwater squatters, algae move in when coral is weak from bleaching) and algal growth around individual polyps on the coral.

When coral are weak, scientists found, algae are able to outgrow and smother the already struggling reefs.

Scientists are enthusiastic about the future of underwater exploration with this new microscope, which they say is a great leap forward in the tools available for seafloor study.

“This underwater microscope is the first instrument to image the seafloor at such small scales,” said Dr. Jaffe’s co-lead author Andrew Mullen of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography.

“This instrument is a part of a new trend in ocean research to bring the lab to the ocean, instead of bringing the ocean to the lab,” said fellow lead author Tali Treibitz of the University of Haifa.

Next up for the microscope: close-up study of coral surfaces and tiny particles in the water around them in an effort to understand how coral breathe through gas exchange.

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Wednesday 2nd September 2015

Irish tax revenues €1.4bn ahead of target for first eight months of 2015

Latest exchequer returns benefit from spike in corporation tax payments.


Minister for Finance Michael Noonan is likely to face more calls for tax cuts on foot of the latest exchequer numbers

Tax revenues are now running €1.4 billion ahead of target thanks to a surge in corporation tax payments.

Exchequer returns for the first eight months suggest the Government is on course to end the year with €2 billion more in tax than anticipated.

The better-than-expected performance is likely to increase the clamour for tax cuts ahead of October’s budget.

The figures show total tax revenue stood at €27.3 billion in August, which was €2.4 billion or 10% higher than last year.

The main driver was corporation tax, which came in at €3.3 billion, some 38 per cent or €912 million above profile.

The Department of Finance linked the strong out-turn in company tax receipts to improved trading conditions here and abroad.

Income tax, the biggest tax heading, generated €11.2 billion, which was €146 million or 1.3% ahead of target.

The figures show VAT, which reflects consumer spending, also came in ahead of expectations, taking in €7.96 billion, which was €107 million or 1.4% ahead of forecasts.

Excise duty, which benefitted from car sales linked to the new 152 registration plates, was €3.3 billion, some €24 million or 0.7% up on projections.

The figures pointed to a budget deficit of €1.3 billion between January and August, compared with a €6.3 billion deficit for the corresponding period last year.

Overall, the exchequer deficit stood at €1.3 billion at the end of August, down from €6.3 billion at this stage last year.

On the spending side, the figures show total net voted expenditure of €27.3 billion, which was €297 million or 1.1% below profile.

The cost of servicing the Republic’s national debt was €4.6 billion, which was down €293 million or 6 per cent on last year, reflecting the impact of the early loan repayments to the International Monetary Fund.

The planet’s total tree cover down 46% since the arrival of humans

Ireland has lowest level of forest cover in Europe at 11%, says State forestry firm Coillte


A logging site at Nesset, Mau Forest, Kenya. Humans are clearing a net 10 billion trees a year from the surface of the Earth.

The Earth fairly bristles with trees, with new research showing it has an estimated 3.04 trillion of them.

Although this is almost 10 times more than expected, equating to 422 trees for every man, woman and child on the planet, the total has plummeted from 5.6 trillion trees – a 46% fall – since the dawn of human civilisation.

No other factor has had such a profound impact on the world’s stock of trees.

Human activity, including deforestation for agriculture, land-use change and forest “asset stripping”, carries away away more than 15 billion trees a year.

The planting of about five billion trees helps offset this, but the research study led by Dr Tom Crowther of Yale University puts global forest cover loss at about 190,000 sq km each year.

Youth initiative

Details of the research are published on Wednesday in the journal Nature. Dr Crowther was asked to conduct the study after an approach by Plant for the Planet, a youth initiative that leads the UN Environmental Programme’s Billion Tree Campaign, an effort to ensure the planting of a billion trees.

“This seemed like a reasonable goal,” Dr Crowther said, but people still needed baseline figures.

At the time the planet was estimated to have about 400 billion trees, but the study showed the Earth has a multiple of that amount. “They have remade their goal and will attempt to plant a trillion trees,” Dr Crowther said.

The study combined satellite data with almost 430,000 ground-sourced measurements of tree density to establish its estimates. The data also allowed them to provide a country-by-country guide to the most forested places on Earth.

The largest share of trees, almost 1.4 trillion, are found in tropical and subtropical forests, while 740 billion trees are in boreal regions in the far north. Another 610 billion are in temperate regions around the world.

The research provides total tree numbers per country, along with per square kilometre averages and per head of population.

Sweden has the most trees per square kilometre at 69,161, with Brunei second at 62,333. Ireland has 10,088 trees per square kilometre. If measured as trees per head of population, Sweden has 3,200, Brunei 856 and Ireland 154.

Forest cover

Ireland has the lowest level of forest cover in Europe, at 11 per cent, compared to a European average of 20%, said Pat Neville of Coillte, the State forestry company.

The Department of Agriculture oversees policy on forestation, and the current 2016-2022 forestry programme calls for 5-6,000 hectares of new forest cover and a similar amount in reforestation of cut forest, he said.

Trees carry out a range of important functions, including locking up huge amounts of carbon, supporting water and air quality, and providing food and timber. They also produce vast amounts of oxygen and are hotbeds of genetic diversity. They are an essential part of the planet’s environment.

It is therefore frightening that humans are clearing off a net 10 billion trees a year. If unchecked, that rate would see a whole planet clear-out of trees within 300 years, with human activity the cause.

Three Irish sisters give birth to three babies on the same day


Three Irish sisters have given birth to three babies on the same day at Mayo General Hospital.

The three sisters welcomed the three tots into the family yesterday, and another new arrival is expected in the coming hours as a fourth sister is waiting to give birth.

Speaking to RTE News at One, Mairead Fitzpatrick, one of three sisters – from Cloonfad on the Mayo-Roscommon border said no one was expecting the multiple births on the same day.

“We just never realised it would all happen on the one day,” she said.

“I was the first one to go at 3:25 am and then my sister had her little girl, Sorcha, at 11 am.

“Then Bernie’s boy Phelim was born last night at about half 8.

“The two girls that delivered my little boy delivered Bernie’s boy as well… so two women delivered two cousins in 24 hours,” she added.

“It was my first (Thomas Og), and Jolene’s second, Bernie’s third, and Christina, this will be her fourth,” Ms Fitzpatrick told News At One, saying that the family were keeping their fingers crossed that Christina would give birth today, or early tomorrow morning.

“There’s four girls, there’s five of us altogether in the house, and one brother,” she said.

““It was just so funny the way it happened.

“I was due on Friday the 28th of August, Jolene was actually sectioned, she was booked in for a section yesterday, it was her second baby.

“And Bernie was due today. Christina is still waiting for her little one, she was due on Sunday, the 30th of August.”

She added that she was not sure which counties the new babies will shout for ahead of May’s replay against Dublin on Saturday – as their dads are from Mayo, Galway and Roscommon.




There are technological crimes that we all commit— repeatedly checking our phones, scrolling again through already-read Twitter feeds, and mindlessly swiping through app pages without opening anything. They’re all indicators of one thing: boredom.

If anything, we’re looking to technology to help us with this problem, but not finding the stimulation we require. In an effort to identify and banish smartphone boredom, researchers from Telefonica Research in Spain have developed Borapp, a boredom testing tool, and its sibling Borapp 2, a boredom curing tool.

The researchers found that males were bored more often than females, and when people are bored, they specifically check Instagram and their email, and fiddle with settings. Also, the more the phone was being used, the more bored the participants felt. Researchers now have cold, hard data on how we use phones specifically to kill time.

The authors wrote that this research should be taken as a “quasi-experiment,” and preliminary, because the sample size of 54 is small. Boredom also can’t be randomized, which complicates trial design.

Borapp tracks users’ interactions with their phones through 35 parameters, like battery level, whether the screen was turned on, and if music was playing. Over the two-week study, researchers collected more than 40,000,000 data points and 4,000 self-reports of boredom from 54 users. (From an original set of 61, seven users were filtered out because researchers didn’t think they were taking the study seriously.) The app would send a push notification in intervals greater than 60 minutes, more likely when the participant was using their phone. It would ask how energetic, positive, or bored the participant was on a five-point scale, and continuously log how the phone was used. This data allowed the Borappto predict boredom with 82 percent accuracy, according to the study.

Researchers developed free Android app Borapp to track user boredom.

While Borapp is mainly for data gathering, researchers built Borapp 2 to actually remedy listlessness. If the app thinks a user is bored, it will send a notification suggesting a place on the internet designed to kill time with cat GIFs and digestable news: BuzzFeed.

Researchers write that when bored, people are more likely to click on suggested content. The study sees potential for mobile developers to use this information, so they can design experiences that engage users at their moments of boredom to talk with friends or clear their to-do lists.

The apps were free to download on the Google Play Store (and still are), and researchers recruited initial volunteers via email with the promise of 20 Euro gift cards. The researchers will present their findings at theUbiComp conference in Japan.

The same team has another research app in the Google Play Store namedCall Me Maybe, which connects two phones and displays a widget predicting whether messages will be looked at or ignored.

Why thinking you’re overweight can make you gain weight


Thinking you’re fat can be a self-fulfilling prophecy.

It makes sense that if you think you’re overweight, you’ll work hard to lose weight. But scientists have discovered that just the opposite is true.

New research published in the International Journal of Obesity found that people who think they’re overweight are more likely to gain more weight than those who don’t think they’re overweight.

For the study, researchers analyzed data from three longitudinal studies of 14,000 adults in the U.S. and the U.K.: the U.S. National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health, the U.K. National Child Development Study, and Midlife in the United States.

Scientists studied the participants’ perception of their own weight once they reached adulthood, whether it was correct, and their weight gain over time. The British study had data that followed participants from ages 23 to 45, but the other two studies followed participants for up to 10 years.

Researchers discovered that people who said they were “overweight” were more likely to say they overate due to stress and, as a result, gained weight.

But this happened regardless of whether a person was actually overweight or not, creating a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Adults are classified as “overweight” when they have a body mass index (BMI) within the range of 25 to 29.9, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (A person who is 5′9″ and weighs between 169 and 202 pounds would be considered “overweight.”) According to data from the National Institutes of Health, more than 33 percent of adults in the U.S. meet this classification.

Study co-author Jeffrey Hunger tells Yahoo Health that he was surprised by the findings at first since “there is this assumption that people need to see themselves as overweight in order to engage in weight maintenance behaviors.”

However, he now says it makes sense that thinking you’re overweight can have a poor impact on your health because there are negative health effects that come with the stigma of being overweight — among them exercising less and eating more.

According to Peter LePort, MD, medical director of MemorialCare Center for Obesity at Orange Coast Memorial Medical Center in Fountain Valley, Calif., it’s all tied in to a person’s stress mechanism.

“People react to stress in different ways, but for some, eating is a stress relief,” he tells Yahoo Health. “Even if they’re a normal weight to begin with, if their method of dealing with stress is to eat, they’re going to gain weight.”

While general life stressors can come into play, LePort says the concept of being overweight is very stressful for some people, which further complicates what can become a vicious cycle: They are stressed out because they think they’re overweight, they eat more to cope with that stress, and consequently become or stay overweight.

“Instead of taking that stress, they ignore it and just use what has worked in the past to make them feel better eating,” says LePort. “But that stressful feeling is back as soon as they’ve finished eating, and they haven’t solved the problem.”

Unfortunately, Hunger says, this phenomenon can apply to anyone who thinks they’re overweight, because they think they need to lose a few pounds.

Luckily, it’s possible to break the cycle, Shenelle Edwards-Hampton, a clinical psychologist who specializes in weight management at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center, tells Yahoo Health.

The first step is to essentially give yourself a break. Edwards-Hampton recommends trying to think more positively about your body and to focus more on the things you’ve done well, like having eaten a nutritious meal or exercised recently. That can help make stress eaters less inclined to use food as a coping mechanism, she says.

She also suggests distraction, e.g., going for a walk, reading a book, or doing anything other than eating if you feel stressed out about your weight.

Edwards-Hampton says counseling can also be very effective. However, she points out that changing the way a person deals with food doesn’t happen overnight: “I tell patients all the time, ‘You’ve been eating this way for a long time. It’s going to take time and practice to change these eating habits.’”

Us humans went through four stages of evolution


The evolution of the human body’s size and shape has gone through four main stages, a study of 430,000-year-old fossils collected in northern Spain has found.

A large international research team studied the body size and shape in the human fossil collection from the site of the Sima de los Huesos in the Sierra de Atapuerca in northern Spain.

Dated to around 430,000 years ago, this site preserves the largest collection of human fossils found to date anywhere in the world, researchers said.

The researchers found that the Atapuerca individuals were relatively tall, with wide, muscular bodies and less brain mass relative to body mass compared to Neanderthals.

The Atapuerca humans shared many anatomical features with the later Neanderthals not present in modern humans, and analysis of their postcranial skeletons (the bones of the body other than the skull) indicated that they are closely related evolutionarily to Neanderthals.

“This is really interesting since it suggests that the evolutionary process in our genus is largely characterised by stasis (i.e. little to no evolutionary change) in body form for most of our evolutionary history,” said Rolf Quam, anthropologist at the Binghamton University in New York.

Comparison of Atapuerca fossils with the rest of the human fossil record suggests that the evolution of the human body has gone through four main stages, depending on the degree of arboreality (living in the trees) and bipedalism (walking on two legs).

The Atapuerca fossils represent the third stage, with tall, wide and robust bodies and an exclusively terrestrial bipedalism, with no evidence of arboreal behaviours.

This same body form was likely shared with earlier members of our genus, such as Homo erectus, as well as some later members, including the Neanderthals.

Thus, this body form seems to have been present in the genus Homo for over a million years.

It was not until the appearance of our own species, Homo sapiens, when a new taller, lighter and narrower body form emerged, resaerchers said.

The authors suggest that the Atapuerca humans offer the best look at the general human body shape and size during the last million years before the advent of modern humans.

News Ireland daily BLOG

Tuesday 18th August 2015

Renua Ireland not copying Fianna Fáil’s policies


The Renua Ireland deputy leader Billy Timmins has denied the party is “ripping off” Fianna Fáil policies.

Responding to accusations from Fianna Fáil’s jobs spokesperson Dara Calleary that Renua was sneakily repackaging the party’s ideas as its own, Mr Timmins said the two organisations could work together in government as they had such similar outlooks.

Making light of the allegations of plagiarism as he launched Renua’s drive to open up the pre-budget process, Mr Timmins declared: “I was going to say we are now going to launch policy number 41 belonging to Fianna Fáil! Fianna Fáil were in government for a long period in time. I thought they would have had all progressive policies implemented.

“When we launched the party on March 13 we had 16 policies. Three of them have been launched since in a fanfare by government. It may have been coincidental or it may have been otherwise but we don’t care once it’s progressive and once policies are implemented,” Mr Timmins said.

He said he would not close the door on a post-election coalition with Fianna Fáil, stating: “And according to Dara Calleary we are singing off the same hymn sheet anyway.”

Mr Timmins also joked about his party’s poor showing in the opinion polls, saying the rise from 1% to 2% in the latest survey showed a “100% increase”. “Maths wasn’t always my strong point but we were 1%, we went to two, so that’s 100% increase. If it goes up incrementally then we’ll be up to 4% next month and we’ll be somewhere around 16% come the election.

“On a serious note the way I look at it is politicians are unpopular at the moment, particularly political parties.

“Until such a time as the election is called — be that this October, be it next February — the public’s mind won’t concentrate on what they’re going to do with their vote,” Mr Timmins said.

The Wicklow TD said that voters had not fully engaged with how to vote in the next general election, as on current polling the most likely outcome would be a Sinn Féin/Fianna Fáil coalition, but he did not expect that to happen on polling day as the electorate would be more focused on the future then.

The TD was speaking as he launched Renua’s ‘Better Budgets and Modern Governance’ policy which includes a four-point plan to improve the “amateur” budgetary process.

Under the proposed changes, Dáil committees would be given legal powers of budgetary scrutiny as well as an oversight role.

Branding the current budgetary process as a “seasonal soap opera”, Mr Timmins called for a major overhaul of procedures.

“The budgetary process is a rubber-stamping exercise in which neither government TDs nor the opposition have any opportunity to contribute or exert influence. It does not serve the public interest and it needs to be modernised,” the TD said.

Renua also wants training and technical advisory support to help Oireachtas members carry out their duties more effectively on committees.

Mr Timmins said Renua would rule out any post-election deal with Sinn Féin.

Aer Lingus joins IAG as shareholders approve deal

End of an era as airline waves goodbye to Irish ownership


Aer Lingus will continue to fly with a shamrock on its tail but it will no longer have an Irish owner as it joins the British-Spanish group IAG.

It’s the end of an era as more than 95% of Aer Lingus shareholders vote in favour of an acquisition by British Airways owner IAG, thus formally bringing to an end almost 80 years of state involvement in the airline.

In a statement on Tuesday evening, IAG said that its €1.5bn acquisition of the Irish airline “is now wholly unconditional”, following the submission of Ryanair’s acceptance. The significance of this announcement is that the sale of Aer Lingus is now irreversible.

Willie Walsh, IAG chief executive, said: “We’d like to welcome Aer Lingus into IAG. It will remain an iconic Irish brand with its base and management team in Ireland but will now grow as part of a strong, profitable airline group. This means new routes and more jobs benefiting customers, employees and the Irish economy and tourism”.

On Tuesday, the deadline by which shareholders had to vote, Ryanair submitted its form of acceptance, bringing shareholder approval for the deal above the 95% mark. IAG can now enforce compulsory purchase of the remaining amount.

Shareholders who accepted the offer by Tuesday’s deadline of 1pm, will be paid on or before 1 September 1st 2015. Shareholders will receive a cash payment of € 2.50 for each share held, and a cash dividend payment of 5 cents per share.

Those shareholders who have still not accepted the offer, can do so before the final closing date of 15.00 on September 1st 2015. They will be paid within 14 days of acceptance.

“Aer Lingus shareholders who have not yet accepted the offer are encouraged to do so without delay,” IAG said.

But there are still some steps remaining before Aer Lingus can claim to be owned by IAG. Firstly, the shareholders must receive payment, a process which is expected to take about two weeks. In addition, IAG will move to delist Aer Lingus from both the Dublin and London stock exchanges. IAG said that this will take effect “no earlier than 0800 (Irish time) on 17 September 2015”. The board of Aer Lingus must also officially resign.

AERL Holding, a subsidiary of IAG, will now acquire compulsorily any outstanding Aer Lingus shares and will then re-register Aer Lingus as a private company.

IAG first launched a €1bn bid for the airline in December 2014, which was rejected on the grounds that it “fundamentally undervalued” the airline. The group later upped its bid to €2.55 a share and ultimately succeeded in getting approval from the major shareholders in the airline, including the Government’s 29.7% stake.

The accuracy of evidence from drunk sex assault victims is not affected by intoxication

A study says

Rate of sexual assault on women between 16 and 24 four times higher than any other age


Drinks were labelled either “vodka and tonic” or “tonic water” and participants were not told the amount of alcohol they received.

The accuracy of evidence given by victims of sexual assault is not affected by alcohol intoxication, according to a British study.

Researchers at the University of Leicester found that participants who were drunk, reported fewer pieces of information about an assault but the information provided was as accurate as that of those who were sober.

Results from the research by the university’s Department of Neuroscience, Psychology and Behaviour are now being applied in Britain in conjunction with the Crown Prosecution Service and Leicestershire police to develop national guidelines about the conduct of police interviews with intoxicated victims of sexual assault.

Eighty eight women aged between 18 and 31 were involved in the study after responding to an advertisement for “female social drinkers”.

According to the researchers the rate of sexual assault on women aged between 16 and 24 is four times higher than on any other age group

The study “Alcohol and remembering a hypothetical sexual assault: Can people who were under the influence of alcohol during the event provide accurate testimony?” was published in the journal Memory.

The research involved a placebo controlled trial to investigate the effects of alcohol on memory.

Drinks were labelled either “vodka and tonic” or “tonic water” and participants were not told the amount of alcohol they received.

A hypothetical rape scenario was described and participants read introductory information about the male portrayed including a physical description and photograph, and details about his occupation and possessions.

Participants were then presented with 24 sentences which appeared one at a time on a computer screen and they responded each based on whether or not they wished to remain in the hypothetical encounter.

The research team examined the influence of alcohol on remembering the interactive hypothetical sexual assault scenario in a laboratory setting.

All the participants completed an online memory test 24 hours later and four months later 73 per cent completed a recognition test.

Sober participants

The study indicated that participants reported less information if they were “under the influence” compared to women who were not.

But researchers found the accuracy of information from those who had been drinking did not differ from that of sober participants.

Study leader Dr Heather Flowe said “when a victim is intoxicated during the crime, questions about the accuracy of testimony are raised in the minds of criminal investigators.

“Out of these concerns, the police might forgo interviewing victims who were intoxicated during the offence. On the other hand, almost always in sexual offences, the victim is the only one who can provide information about the crime to investigators.”

Dr Flowe said a crime was unlikely to be solved without victim testimony.

“If they take into account that their memory has been impaired by alcohol, they should report information only when they believe it is likely to be accurate.

“Accordingly, intoxicated victims should report less information overall, but the accuracy of the information they do report might not be different from sober victims.”

The study was funded by Britain’s Economic and Social Research Council.

Couples trigger hunger hormone during fights,

A new study finds


Arguments are followed by a peak in the hormone that fuels hunger.

Couples are driving each other to the fridge, according to scientists who discovered an appetite-triggering hormone is released after hostile marital arguments.

A US study of “hostile” couples has revealed arguments are followed by a surge in the “I’m hungry” hormone ghrelin, as well as a link to poor food choices in period after their fighting.

The results of the University of Delaware research add weight to theories of why rejection and relationship difficulty can make people hungry.

Assistant Professor Lisa Jaremka said hostile couples had significantly higher amounts of ghrelin after -arguments, however there was no difference in levels of the appetite-suppressing hormone leptin.

Writing in the journal Clinical Psychological Science, Prof Jaremka said the hunger ¬hormone only rose in people with a healthy weight or deemed overweight, but not in those who were obese.

“Right now, it’s one-size-fits-all — diet and exercise,” she said.

“I hope this will help us start to tailor interventions … a personalised approach would be beneficial in the long run.”

World’s oldest human-like hand bone sheds light on our evolution


Scientists have discovered the oldest known fossil of a hand bone to resemble that of a modern human, and they suggest it belonged to an unknown human relative that would have been much taller and larger than any of its contemporaries.

This new finding reveals clues about when modern humanlike hands first began appearing in the fossil record, and suggests that ancient human relatives may have been larger than previously thought, researchers say in a new study.

A key feature that distinguishes humans from all other species alive today is the ability to make and use complex tools. This capability depends not only on the extraordinarily powerful human brain, but also the dexterity of the human hand.

The OH 86 hominin manual proximal phalanx in (from left to right) dorsal, lateral, palmar (distal is top for each) and proximal views. Scale bar, 1 cm. M. Domínguez-Rodrigo

“The hand is one of the most important anatomical features that defines humans,” said study lead author Manuel Domínguez-Rodrigo, a paleoanthropologist at Complutense University of Madrid. “Our hand evolved to allow us a variety of grips and enough gripping power to allow us the widest range of manipulation observed in any primate. It is this manipulation capability that interacted with our brains to develop our intelligence.”

Past analysis of fossils of hominins — the group of species that consists of humans and their relatives after the split from the chimpanzee lineage — has typically suggested that ancient hominins were adapted for a life spent in the trees. For instance, ancient hominin hands often possessed curved finger bones that were well suited for hanging from branches. Modern humans are the only living higher primates to have straight finger bones.

Scientists have often suggested that modern hands evolved to use stone tools. However, recent hominin fossil discoveries have suggested a more complex story behind the evolution of the modern hand. For instance, the hand bones of some ancient hominin lineages are sometimes more similar to modern hands than those of more recent lineages are.

To learn more about the evolution of the modern hand, scientists analyzed a newly discovered hand bone dated to more than 1.84 million years ago, dug up from Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania. Previous excavations at Olduvai helped confirm that Africa was the cradle of humanity.

The new bone was probably part of the little finger of the adult left hand of an unidentified hominin lineage similar to Homo erectus, the first hominin known to regularly keep tools it made. The bone is about 1.4 inches (3.6 centimeters) long — “the same size as the equivalent bone in our hand,” Domínguez-Rodrigo said.

The straightness and other features of this new bone suggest adaptations for life on the ground rather than in the trees. It adds to previous findings suggesting that several key features of modern human body shape emerged very early in hominin evolution. (This unknown hominin was not, however, a modern human.)

Before this oldest known hand-bone fossil was discovered, scientists weren’t certain when hominin hands began looking like modern hands and became specialized for manipulation. “Our discovery fills a gap — we found out that such a modern-looking hand is at least 1.85 million years old,” Domínguez-Rodrigo said.

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Wed/Thrs. 26th & 27th March 2014

Moneypoint Co Clare power station could meet Ireland’s 25% of renewable energy goal

   Moneypoint power station

Malcolm Brown of BW Energy (left) and Paddy Massey of ReThink Pylons (above left) at a press conference in Dublin today outlining their plans for a pylon-free alternative to Grid25.

Converting Clare plant from coal to biomass would help deliver 40% of target, 

Ireland’s target of having 40% of energy needs met by renewable sources by 2020 could be met in a single stroke if the Moneypoint power station in Co Clare was converted from coal to biomass, according to a UK-based energy analyst working for ReThink Pylons, one of the groups opposing EirGrid’s Grid25 pylons project.

Malcolm Brown of BW Energy today said converting Moneypoint’s three coal-fired boilers, one at a time over an extended period, would cost €380 million. Electricity generated from burning biomass (mainly wood pellets) at Moneypoint would add 25% to the existing 19.6% of renewable energy already produced in the State.

The two together would exceed the 40% target Mr. Brown said.

Converting Moneypoint would also cut out the need for the €3.8 billion cost of increasing Ireland’s windpower capacity necessary under government plans to meet the 40% target, he argued.

In a report prepared for Re Think Pylons, he also argued that converting Moneypoint station would remove the €2.3 billion cost of the Grid25 pylon project and the €600 million cost of the interconnector with the UK to stabilise the power network due to its planned reliance on wind.

Grid25 is a project by Eirgrid, the company that runs the electricity transmission network as opposed to the power stations that generate the current, to upgrade transmission lines in the northwest, the south and southeast, and between Northern Ireland and the Republic. Interconnector capacity between Ireland and the UK is also to be upgraded.

The plans have garnered significant opposition from local groups, however, and in January, amid fears the issue would impact on the June local and European elections, the Government asked former Supreme Court Judge Catherine McGuinness to examine whether underground cabling was a feasible alternative to pylons.

Opponents argue that the pylons, in most instances 60 metres tall, would damage the landscape and reduce the value of their property. Some opponents also cite health fears for people living close to high voltage electricity transmission.

Speaking today at the launch of his report in Dublin, Mr Brown based much of his argument on an analysis of the operation of the Drax power station at Drax in North Yorkshire in England. It is the largest power plant in western Europe and provides some 7% of the UK’s energy needs but is also the single largest emitter of CO2.

Starting in 2004, Drax began a gradual conversion to biomass, burning locally sourced willow in parallel with coal. In 2012, the process of changing three of the plant’s six units to biomass began – the first of which was fired last June. A second unit is due to go fully biomass this year, and the third by 2017.

Mr Brown argued that recent advances in technology had made biomass electricity production both feasible and cost-effective. Security of biomass fuel supply, generally wood pellets, was guaranteed from US timber sources willing to enter nine-year fixed term contracts.

Most Irish consumers against Supermarkets vegetable price wars


Support for legislation to protect food producers from sharp practice by supermarkets

When asked by the Ipsos/MRBI survey if the below-cost selling of vegetables before Christmas was good for consumers in the long term, some 64% said it was not. Some 66% of those surveyed said retail multiples did not treat farm families fairly when buying their produce.

Just three in 10 people believe the sale of cheap vegetables has long-term benefits for consumers, new research by Agri Aware, the agri-food educational body, has found.

When asked by the Ipsos/MRBI survey if the below-cost selling of vegetables before Christmas was good for consumers in the long term, some 64% said it was not. Some 66% of those surveyed said retail multiples did not treat farm families fairly when buying their produce.

In December, Lidl, Aldi and Dunnes Stores were carrots and onions for as little as 5 cent a kilo. They insisted they were covering the cost of the promotion, but the Irish Farmers’ Association claimed farmers would pay for it and it staged protests.

However, National Consumer Agency chief executive Karen O’Leary described the price war as positive.

The Agri Aware survey of more than 1,000 people also found almost 88% of people think legislation should be introduced to ensure food producers get a fair price from supermarkets. A Bill expected to address this issue has been promised by the Government.

Agri Aware chairman Bernard Donohue said it was clear the public was very much behind the introduction of new legislation to ensure that retailers pay a fair price to farmers for quality produce.

“Following the vegetable price war at Christmas, the National Consumer Agency described this as positive, yet this Agri Aware survey clearly demonstrates that the Irish public expect retailers to treat farm families fairly,” he said.

The Agri Aware study also asked if quality or price was the most important consideration when buying groceries. Some 79 per cent cited quality. There was a difference between the importance of quality for those working and those unemployed. Some 83% of those working cited quality first compared with 63% of the unemployed.

Irish Dairy Board secures €420m syndicated loan to fund global expansion


The Irish Dairy Board (IDB), which owns Kerrygold along with brands such as Dubliner cheese, has secured a five-year syndicated loan of €420m to fund dairy businesses expanding overseas as milk quotas end in 2015.

The new loan replaces an existing three-year €350m facility, the IDB said yesterday. It includes a €165m syndicated loan facility to fund IDB’s own working capital requirements and its growth strategy.

The remaining €255m will be used for syndicated reverse invoice discounting for members.

The money comes from Allied IrishBank, Bank of America Merrill Lynch,Barclays, HSBC, Rabobank and Ulster Bank.

Reverse invoice discounting was first introduced in 2012 and allows members to discount their sales invoices to IDB, receiving funds up front, with IDB providing security of payment to the banks.

It was set up to help companies and individuals as they look for new markets in the wake of theEuropean Commission’s decision to liberalise the milk industry.

“The successful refinancing demonstrates the strong support that exists amongst our participating banks for both the IDB and the Irish dairy industry generally,” said group finance director Donal Buggy.

“This strong support was clearly voiced in recent meetings with all of our banks and is evidenced by our new facilities being significantly over-subscribed,” he added.

The Irish Dairy Board markets and sells dairy products on behalf of the country’s dairy processors and farmers.

The board has sales of around €2bn and employs about 3,100 people globally. It is responsible for exporting about 60pc of Ireland’s dairy products to more than 100 countries. It does this by sharing the story of Irish farming and explaining how Irish dairy products are produced.

By building markets for dairy products, it aims to increase the value of Irish milk and to deliver strong returns for farmers.

With pre-packing and blending facilities located in Germany, the UK, the US and the Middle East the board also develops specialist food ingredients for many of the world’s major food manufacturers.

Former Anglo director said he was ‘not instrumental’ in Sean Quinn deal


William McAteer denies helping to orchestrate plan to unwind Quinn’s holding in bank

William McAteer, the former director of finance at Anglo Irish Bank, told gardaí he “was not instrumental” in a deal to unwind businessman Sean Quinn’s holding in Anglo Irish Bank in July 2008, the Dublin Circuit Criminal Court heard this morning.

In a Garda interview in November 2011, Mr McAteer denied he was an integral part of the plan to dispose of Mr Quinn’s holdings, that he helped to orchestrate the plan, and that he was aware at all times of the details of the plan.

His interviews with gardaí at Irishtown Garda Station in 2010 and 2011 were read into the record by Paul O’Higgins SC, for the prosecution, and confirmed by Detective Sergeant Glenn MacKessy and Detective Sergeant Michael Prendergast.

Mr McAteer (63) of Rathgar, Dublin; Seán FitzPatrick (65) of Greystones, Co Wicklow and Pat Whelan (51) of Malahide, Dublin, have been charged with 16 counts of providing unlawful financial assistance to 16 individuals in July 2008 to buy shares in the bank, contrary to section 60 of the Companies Act.

Mr Whelan has also been charged with being privy to the fraudulent alteration of loan facility letters to seven individuals.

All three men have pleaded not guilty to the charges.

The court had heard, by July 2008, Mr Quinn’s contracts for difference – investment products based on share value – involved more than 28 per cent of the bank’s shares.

As part of a deal to unwind them, the Maple 10 businessmen borrowed €45 million each from Anglo to buy 1 per cent of the bank’s shares and the Quinn children borrowed €170 million to buy almost 15 per cent of the shares.

The unwinding deal was carried out in the week of July 14th, 2008.

In his interview with gardaí, Mr McAteer said he had no involvement in the lending to buy the shares. When asked by gardaí Mr McAteer had said he did not recall a series of emails from around the time the deal closed.

Mr McAteer agreed he did play a part in trying to find institutional buyers for the Quinn CFDs. He also said he was broadly aware of the unwind deal but there were meetings and telephone calls he was not a party to.

Asked by gardaí if he had instructed others in Anglo to implement the unwind deal, he said he was sure he “instructed people to make sure it was properly executed”.

When asked by gardaí if he had anything to add, Mr McAteer said the Quinn CFD position was “unacceptable” and the financial regulator had been “very anxious” to get the holding unwound.

Also giving evidence this morning, house builder Seamus Ross, one of the Maple 10, said he had been a client of Anglo for more than 15 years and had a “very strong relationship” with the bank.

He was surprised when he was asked to meet Mr Whelan and former chief executive of the bank David Drumm on July 10th or 11th 2008.

He said he was asked if he would buy shares in the bank and was told about the Quinn CFD holding and that the financial regulator had approved a deal to unwind it.

He told the court he didn’t ask “that many questions” and was a bit surprised by the discussion. He thought what he was told was “bad news” and “he didn’t like to hear there was a problem”.

He also said he was surprised the terms involved a loan in his “own personal name” and it was to be a “private venture”.

Asked by Mr O’Higgins if he understood the recourse – what would have to be paid back if there was an outstanding balance – he said he believed the recourse was only to the value of the shares and there was no personal recourse.

The meeting didn’t take long, he said and he agreed to “go ahead and give the helping hand to the bank”.

“I was delighted to do that,” he said. The bank had helped him in the past.

Mr Ross said the documents had already been prepared.

“I signed whatever documents was put down and I left,” he said. He did not vet the documents, he said.

He also told the court that at the time he was fighting a court action which lasted three and a half years related to the presence of pyrite in people’s homes. He said he had “hundreds of people knocking on my door, their houses falling down”.

“This was in the middle of all this, so all I can do from memory is to help you the best I can,” he said.

Three-quarters of Ireland’s SMEs not giving pay rises in 2014


Up to 75% of small and medium businesses say they will not be handing out pay rises this year, according to a survey by office supply company Office Depot.

That is despite confidence in the sector continuing to grow.

The business survey also found that 51% of companies reported that positive media stories on the industry does not reflect the tough reality for most of the companies.

Stephen Ireland’s (dead?) grandmother asks Roy Keane to put him into the Republic of Ireland squad


Republic of Ireland assistant manager Roy Keane has been urged to recall Stephen Ireland – by the Stoke City midfielder’s grandmother he once falsely claimed was dead.

Ireland has not played international football since 2007, when he pulled out of the squad ahead of a match, saying that his grandmother had passed away.

When it was revealed that his story was false, Ireland said it was his grandfather’s second wife who had passed away, but once more this was proven to be fake.

Eventually he admitted that he left the Ireland squad to visit his girlfriend, who had reportedly had a miscarriage.

Keane revealed in the Irish Independent that by a quirk of fate he recently shared a flight with Ireland’s “dead” grandmother, who asked him whether he pick her grandson again.

“Well, I spoke with the grandmother this morning, she was on the flight coming over – and she asked me would he get back involved,” Keane told the paper.

“I couldn’t lie to her. I said he’d have a chance if he’s playing well. I think [manager] Martin  [O’Neill] had a conversation with him, and all that needs to fall into place.

“We all know how talented Stephen is and Martin will look at that.

“We wouldn’t be shutting the door on any player.

“What is important for any player, and Stephen is the same, is it does help to be playing week-in week-out.

“He’s obviously had a difficult spell. He’s only just got a run of games at Stoke now. So I certainly wouldn’t be ruling anyone out.”

Ireland spoke of his “regret” at the lie at the time, and suggested last year that he would be willing to return to international football.

Clever Crows smart like children with causal reasoning


New Caledonian crows were tested with tasks based on Aesop’s Fables

A new study of the intelligence of New Caledonian crows suggests that the birds have reasoning powers roughly equal to those of a five to seven-year-old child.

The research, which was published in the journal Plos One, subjected six wild crows to a range of tests including a “water displacement” tasks based on one of Aesop’s fables, ‘The Crow and the Pitcher’.

In the test (and the fable) the thirsty crow has to drink out of narrow container filled with water. The bird cannot reach the liquid but works out that it can raise the water level by dropping stones into the pitcher.

When the crows were faced with this task they not only completed it, but did so in the most efficient way possible, choosing containers with higher water levels and choosing objects that were solid, rather than hollow, to raise the water level.

The tasks asked for crows to raise water levels to reach food.

However, it wasn’t all easy for the crows, and birds were stumped by more difficult tasks involving a U-shaped container with hidden connections. In this the birds were supposed to drop stones into one of the pipes to raise the water level in the other but “showed no signs of learning which tube would bring the reward.”

“These results are striking as they highlight both the strengths and limits of the crows’ understanding,” said Sarah Jelbert from University of Auckland, who led the study.

“In particular, the crows all failed a task which violated normal causal rules, but they could pass the other tasks, which suggests they were using some level of causal understanding when they were successful.”

The study concluded that the birds’ understanding of causal and effect was roughly equal to that of a five to seven-year old child. Caledonian crows, a species well known for their intelligence, have been observed making and using tools in the wild as well as placing nuts on busy roads so that they will be cracked by passing cars.

Any doubts about crows’ intelligence? Watch the video below of a crow solving a eight-stage puzzle from a recent BBC documentary.

Giant shrimp sheds new light on our evolution


Ancient shrimp-like creature (like artists impression above right) that lived 500 million years ago was not a SAVAGE predator?

A savage predator or a gentle vegetarian? For years an ancient shrimp-like creature that lived 500 million years ago had a fearsome reputation as an apex predator. New research from the University of Bristol suggests, however, that the creature was far more placid, avoiding meat and living on plankton.

The free-swimming creature Tamisiocaris borealis lived during the Cambrian period between 485 and 540 million years ago. This was a particularly important time for life on Earth, with an explosion of radically new animal designs evolving.

The dangerous-looking met re-long T borealis swam about eating all before it, according to original assumptions made about it. These were largely based on fossil remains showing grasping-like appendages near its mouth that are common in other animals in its group, the Anomalocarids.

Dr Jakob Vinther and colleagues from Bristol dug up a number of fossils from early Cambrian sediments in northern Greenland and they proposed an alterative view of what the creature had for dinner, in their research report published this evening in the journal Nature .

They suggest the appendages on T borealis were used as combs to collect plankton by sweeping it up off the seabed or filtering it out of the water. The appendages had a series of closely placed spines with longer ones and shorter ones and the scientists argue that at least with T borealis , they were used to collect vegetarian fare in the same way as anyfilter feeder.

The proposal is of interest to palaeontologists studying the emergence of animals during the Cambrian. If this large animal could survive on plankton, there must have been plenty of it about in the seas at the time, something that tells us more about the local food web, the authors say.

It also tells scientists that filter feeding was present at least as far back as the Cambrian era.

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Friday 17th January 2014

Ireland regains investment grade rating from Moody’s

The Minister for Finance Michael Noonan, who said ahead of Moody’s decision that “before too long, there will be funds flowing from China to the Irish sovereign”. Photograph: Eric Luke / THE IRISH TIMES  

Agency upgrades rating by notch to Baa3 in a major post-bailout boost for the Government

The credit rating of the Irish Government has been raised to investment grade by Moody’s the most influential of the international credit rating agencies.

In a statement tonight, Moody’s said that it was upgrading Ireland’s credit rating by one notch to Baa3, the lowest investment grade.

Prior to the financial crisis Ireland held a AAA or “triple A” rating. The highest possible.

New York-headquartered Moody’s also changed the outlook for Ireland’s credit rating from stable to positive, holding out the prospects of a further upward re-rating later in the year.

Moody’s said the reasons for the upgrade were the growth potential of the economy and the Government’s exit from the EU-IMF bailout.

“The first driver of the upgrade is the recent acceleration of economic growth, which indicates an increased likelihood of securing the sustained long-term growth needed to achieve a turnaround in Ireland’s public finances. A key positive signal is the faster pace of employment creation, with the unemployment rate having dropped 2.7 percentage points from its Q2 2012 peak, despite a rise in the participation rate,” it said in a statement tonight.

It also noted the Government’s ability to exit the bailout without a precautionary credit line, which it said “reflects that the government’s reform agenda stayed largely on track throughout the programme, despite weaker than expected domestic and external economic conditions”.

It said that it expects Ireland will hit its target of reducing its exchequer deficit to below 3 per cent of economic output by 2015. Other factors included the regaining of market confidence through the restructuring of the banking system. “As a consequence, our baseline expectation is that the government will need to provide very little, if any, of the capital that the Irish banks may need following the upcoming EU-wide stress tests, consistent with its Baa3 rating.” it said.

The only sour note was struck over the slow pace of the clean-up of the banking system . Moody’s warned that the pressure being brought to bear on the banks by the Central Bank is “ likely to increase foreclosures, impairing profitability and potentially dampening the housing market recovery”.

The positive outlook was attributed to an expectation of a sustained recovery in the Irish economy and signs of stronger growth coming through from the rest of Europe. If the economy grows rapidly enough to put Ireland’s debt to GDP ration “on a firm downward path”, then a further upgrade is likely.

“Downward pressure would develop… should the country’s fiscal consolidation process falter,” pushing the debt ratio significantly above its current level of roughly 100 per cent.

Moody’s is the last of the main credit rating agencies to give Ireland an investment grade. All three – including Standard & Poor’s and Fitch – had cut Ireland to sub-investment or “junk” status in the aftermath of the 2010 financial bailout from the IMF and EU.

The re-rating by Moody’s clears the way for more conservative investors, particularly in the Middle and Far East, to buy Irish Government debt. Many of these funds are precluded from investing in Government debt if it does not have an investment grade rating from all three of the big credit rating agencies.

Speaking earlier yesterday at the launch of a new $100 million joint-venture investment fund between Ireland and China, Mr Noonan said: “A lot of Asian funds would like to invest in Irish government bonds, but they need all the ratings agencies to have Ireland at investment grade first. But I have no doubt that, before too long, there will be funds flowing from China to the Irish sovereign.”

The yields on Irish bonds – a measure of investor appetite – have fallen steadily since it became clear late last year that Ireland would successfully exit its the bailout. The yield on the benchmark 10-year bond was 3.17per cent at the close of trading last night. The impact of the Moody’s re-rating will not be clear until markets reopen again on Monday.

The National Treasury Management Agency – which raises and manages debt for the Government – raised €3.75 billion last week in its first foray into debt markets since Ireland exited the bailout on December 15th. The NTMA is not expected to look to raise more debt in the short term.

“I am pleased to note that one of the main drivers for today’s upgrade was Ireland’s restored market access,’’ the NTMA chief executive John Corrigan said last night. “The change to the ratings outlook represents a positive context for future rating reviews.”

Moody’s also upgraded the debt ratings of the National Asset Management Agency, whose debt is guaranteed by the Government, to investment grade and its outlook to positive.

Irish economy will be a Euro star performer says Goodbody


Ireland will be among the top performing economies in the eurozone in 2014, Goodbody has forecast as the stockbroker raised growth forecasts for the year.

Goodbody’s upbeat assessment of the economy says 2014 will be a landmark year as the Budget returns to a primary balance for the first time since the crisis began.

It is projecting gross domestic product to grow 2.6pc, strengthening in 2015 to 3.2pc.

This is more ambitious than the Government’s own projections and is similar to those put forward by the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI).

Goodbody economist Dermot O’Learysaid Irish GDP data was failing to capture some of the most encouraging trends in the economy since before the crisis.

“The phrase ‘the devil is in the detail’ is particularly apt when looking at indicators of the health of the Irish economy,” Mr O’Leary said.

“A casual glance at GDP growth data over recent years would suggest that the economy, after a sharp contraction in the 2008-2010 period, recovered in 2011 and faltered again over the 2012/2013 period.

“This does not tell the full story. It is true to say that Ireland’s recovery is slow and protracted, but the GDP data hide some more encouraging trends in 2013.”

Mr O’Leary said a broad- based recovery in investment is taking place in the domestic economy.


He said that excluding the aircraft sector, which contracted last year, investment grew by 17pc year-on-year in the third quarter of 2013 — its fastest pace on record, albeit from very low levels.

Construction investment is also expected to grow strongly over the coming years on the back of rising prices and supply shortages in the greater Dublinarea in particular, Goodbody said.

The company forecasts that, at 2.6pc, Ireland will be the third-fastest growing economy in the euro area, behind Latvia at 4.1pc and Estonia at 3pc.

Irish charity regulatory board will be set up by Easter?

says Alan Shatter

   Column: The charity sector needs a legal and regulatory body – immediately

All registered charities will have to provide reports to the authority each year on their activities.

The board of a new Charities Regulatory Authority will be in place before Easter, Justice Minister Alan Shatter said today.

The Minister for Justice and Equality said this evening that he will issue a call next week for expressions of interest from suitably qualified persons who wish to be considered for appointment to the board of a new Charities Regulatory Authority.

He said this will be taking place with a view to making appointments before Easter to allow the authority to come into operation at that time.

This announcement followed a comment from Minister for Health James Reilly today that a charities regulator will be appointed by October/November 2014.

Shatter said that arrangements are also being made to fill the post of CEO of the new authority on an interim basis by the end of February this year.

He made reference to the recent top-ups scandal, saying:

The recent revelations about certain organisations in the charitable sector have understandably damaged public trust and confidence. The commencement of the key measures in the Charities Act will provide the increased transparency and accountability that will allow this trust to be rebuilt.

He said that he has recently received sanction from the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform to appoint an interim CEO and a number of other staff “from within existing resources”.

According to Shatter, an early priority for the new authority will be the creation and publication of a statutory register of charities.

“All registered charities will be required to provide reports to the authority each year on their activities and these reports will be made available to the public,” said the Minister.

“This will provide a much needed increase in transparency and accountability in the charitable sector, and will support the good practice in charity governance and management that is critical to a vibrant charity sector that commands the trust and confidence of donors and beneficiaries alike.”

The news was welcomed by The Wheel, which represents 930 Irish charities, welcomed the new, describing it as a “breakthrough”.

Deirdre Garvey, Chief Executive of The Wheel said: “We would like to congratulate Minister Shatter on making good on his commitment to bring the Charity Regulator into operation in  2014.”

Concern also welcomed the news, saying it has been “calling for this on a consistent basis since 2009″.

Meanwhile, Anne Hanniffy, CEO of Fundraising Ireland, said that the first job of the Regulator should be to introduce mandatory financial and operational standards so that donors can determine immediately where their money is going.

She said that the CRC revelations “have betrayed not just the hard-working staff, the families and the clients of CRC but the entire charity sector in Ireland”.

Boardmatch, the national corporate governance charity of Ireland, said it “broadly” welcomes the Minister’s announcement, but it is “cautious about the impact in the short term of the establishment of the Charity Authority”.

Earlier this week, the Central Remedial Clinic appeared before the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) on the top-ups scandal.

It emerged that the former CRC chief executive Paul Kiely received a retirement pay-off of more than double what he had previously disclosed to TDs.

Share the internet plan to give users free access to other people’s Wifi?


Irish customers with UPC will be able to use smartphones and tablets to hop on to each other’s broadband connections in a new initiative to “share the internet”.

The company insists that the so-called ‘Horizon Wi-Free’ initiative, which is set to be rolled out to 150,000 homes by the summer, would not compromise the security of UPC customers’ accounts.

UPC’s broadband customers will get the added service for free — they will have to register on the operator’s website and get a secure pin number to use the service.

If they are in the home of another UPC customer, or in the vicinity, they will be able to effectively hop on to their internet connection and access online services.

However, a different channel is used to the main user, so that their internet security is not compromised.

“One of the things we locked down first was the security and quality of enabler-homes’ broadband accounts,” said UPC’s head of consumer products Ronan McEvoy.

“So the channel used to allow other UPC users to access the home’s broadband is completely separate and is limited to 2.5 megabits per second.”

Mr McEvoy said that the service was only available to other customers of UPC.

He said that around half of UPC customers have the necessary modem to allow others to use their broadband freely, and that those who owned the account could opt out of allowing the service to activate.

“Frankly, we don’t expect many to opt out as we think it’s a beneficial service,” he said.

Mr McEvoy said that the service was typically targeted at people who were visiting friends’ homes and who needed to access an internet service but did not want to ask for their host’s wifi password.

He said that up to five people could use the service at any one time and that any internet-enabled device would be capable of using the service, including smartphones, tablets and laptops.

UPC recently increased its business users’ broadband speeds to 250Mbs.

“Our network has the potential to go far beyond the speeds we currently have in place,” said Mr McEvoy. “But Horizon WiFree is a way of giving secure broadband access to UPC customers outside their own homes.”

Did dogs really evolve from grey wolves?

New evidence suggests otherwise.


New genetic research seemingly overturns the long-held notion that dogs evolved from the gray wolf.

It turns out that today’s dog breeds may not have evolved from the gray wolf, at least not the kind of gray wolf that exists today.

A study in the current issue of PLoS Genetics suggests that, instead, dogs and gray wolves share a common ancestor in an extinct wolf lineage that lived thousands of years ago.

An international team of researchers generated genome sequences from three gray wolves – one each from China, Croatia, and Israel, the three countries where dogs are believed to have originated. They then sequenced the genome of a basenji dog from central Africa and a dingo from Australia. Both the regions have been historically isolated from wolf populations, according to a press release by The University of Chicago Medical Center.

Analysis of these genomes from the wolves and the dogs showed that the dogs were more closely related to each other than they were to the wolves. The wolves, too, were closely related to each other than to the dogs.

Additionally, the scientists did not see a clear evidence linking dogs to any of the living wolves that were sampled.

“One possibility is there may have been other wolf lineages that these dogs diverged from that then went extinct,” said John Novembre, associate professor in the Department of Human Genetics at the University of Chicago and a senior author on the study.

This shakes up the popular belief on domestication of dogs that are considered to be these “few docile, friendly wolves” which later became dogs after they were adopted by early farmers. Instead, the earliest dogs might have started out among hunter-gatherers before adjusting to an agricultural life later, Adam Freedman, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) and the lead author on the study, told the Monitor.

There does exist some amount of genetic overlap between some modern dogs and wolves. But this is thought to be the result of interbreeding after dogs were domesticated, not a direct line of descent from one group of wolves, according to the press release.

“If you don’t explicitly consider such exchanges, these admixture events get confounded with shared ancestry,” he said. Admixtures are hybrids produced due to interbreeding between two different population groups.  “Dog domestication is more complex than we originally thought,” said Dr.Novembre.

This findings, says Dr. Freedman, will help them to study the genes involved in making dogs more dog like, and understand the history of evolution among the canines “We’re trying to get every thread of evidence we can to reconstruct the past,” Novembre said. “We use genetics to reconstruct the history of population sizes, relationships among populations and the gene flow that occurred. So now we have a much more detailed picture than existed before, and it’s a somewhat surprising picture.”

News Ireland daily news BLOG by Donie

Thursday 17th October 2013

Budget farce as James Reilly doubts medical card €113m HSE savings


Plans for massive cuts to the medical card scheme have descended into farce after the health minister cast doubt over the target figure outlined in the budget and the HSE said it will have to be independently verified.

The target of €113m through medical card “probity” was foisted on Health Minister James Reilly on Sunday, without any verification or assessment of how it could be achieved.

The embattled minister told the Oireachtas health committee yesterday the figure was “allocated” by Public Expenditure Minister Brendan Howlin.

  “I am speaking frankly and I am concerned about what can be achieved here,” said Dr Reilly. 

He said the figure was based on Mr Howlin’s “deliberations” of a consultancy report by Price Waterhouse Cooper that said €60m to €200m could be achieved through identifying waste from ineligible cards.

“That report is from 18 months ago and obviously a lot of action has been taken since then,” said Dr Reilly.

He has asked the departments of the Taoiseach and public expenditure to carry out a validation of the figure and the impact it would have on the health service.

Tony O’Brien, head of the HSE, said the executive is carrying out an “independent verification process” before the figures are included in its service plan for 2014.

He said if the savings could not be made through probity — or flushing out dud cases — then cuts will hit other health services.

Fianna Fáil has estimated that about 100,000 medical cards would have to be withdrawn in order to reach the €113m figure.

Mr. O’Brien insisted there would be no change to people’s entitlement or the way medical cards are assessed, as a result of the target.

“Therefore, if that €113m cannot reasonably be achieved through probity measures, then an alternative way of meeting that shortfall will have to be found.”

Sources close to Dr James Reilly said €113m was imposed “from the top down” rather than than from the “bottom up” approach of identifying the waste, and then determining what could be saved from its elimination.

They said that James Reilly was given the figure and told to find the savings within it.

The Irish Examiner can also reveal that the HSE raised concerns 18 months ago about the accuracy of the potential savings in the PWC report. A disclaimer by the report’s authors said the savings were “indicative only and cannot be relied on for any purpose other than providing a broad understanding” of the issue.

A further €25m in health savings will be reached by removing medical cards from 35,000 over-70s. The Irish Senior Citizens Parliament who are organising a protest march next Tuesday against the budget “attacks” on Irish elderly people.

Mr O’Brien also raised concerns about changes to tax reliefs for private health insurance in the budget.

The HSE depends on income provided by private patients in public hospital beds, he said. “If there were to be a significant impact on the number of insured patients, that would have a knock-on impact on the funding of the health servicesnext year,” he said.

HSE West group meets over HIQA report on death of Savita Halappanavar


A special board meeting of the HSE West/North West Hospital Group has ended after four hours of talks at Galway University Hospital.

The 12-member board considered the findings and recommendations from three reports following the death of Savita Halappanavar last October.

The findings from the inquest into her death and the recommendations that emerged from the Coroner’s Court were discussed, along with the HSE Clinical Review into the treatment she received and last week’s HIQA report into issues relating to her care at GUH.

The board is not releasing details about decisions made at the meeting until it has communicated with the staff involved tomorrow morning.

It is expected the measures to be taken will then be made public.

Mrs Halappanavar died from an infection caused by sepsis almost a week after she was admitted to hospital on 21 October 2012.

The special board meeting was called following the publication of third report into her care last week.

The master storyteller that was the great cyclist Lance Armstrong


To his millions of fans, American cyclist and cancer survivor Lance Armstrong was more than just a great sportsman, he was an inspiration. To the film-maker who documented his spectacular fall from grace, he was a master storyteller. But were his supporters too ready to believe the fairytale?

The story of the charismatic Texan cyclist who recovered from life-threatening cancer and went on to win the Tour de France a record seven successive times was one of the greatest tales in sporting history.

In 2009, Lance Armstrong attempted to write another chapter into the legend by coming out of professional retirement to compete in the Tour again at the age of 37. He granted Oscar-winning filmmaker Alex Gibney rare access to his inner circle to chronicle the comeback.

For Gibney, the experience was akin to being embedded with the military in a warzone.

“When you’re with a group of soldiers in Iraq or Afghanistan you’re going to end up feeling part of their unit,” he told me.

“I don’t think that’s necessarily wrong. The trick is how to come out of that with some broader perspective – but it’s intoxicating while you’re in the middle of it.”

Gibney admits the “them and us” mentality inside Lance Armstrong’s Astana cycling team encouraged a kind of Stockholm syndrome. Anyone who questioned his repeated denials that he had used performance-enhancing drugs came to be viewed as the enemy.

“I did begin to feel that some people on the outside were a bit fanatical about the subject of whether Lance had doped,” he says. “You can’thelp but take on the vibe of the team.”

Through the media and in the courts, Armstrong aggressively pursued critics who continued to question whether he was riding clean. Alex Gibney watched as his subject attempted to maintain control over the powerful and lucrative myth he had constructed.

“I think the truth in the mind of someone who is a master storyteller does become elastic,” he suggests.

“There’s a moment in the film when Lance loses in Verbier to Alberto Contador (on stage 15 of the 2009 Tour de France) and he says to me ‘I’m sorry I screwed up your documentary.’

“I don’t think that was just banter. I think that was Lance’s way of saying ‘you came to me to deliver the fairytale that everyone’s come to believe that I can deliver and I failed. I’m not going to win. I’m not going to be first and I’m sorry.'”

Armstrong behind eventual 2009 Tour winner Alberto Contador

After Armstrong’s 2009 comeback, in which he finished third, the myth began to disintegrate.

  • Tour de France victories: 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005 (22 individual stage wins)
  • Battle with cancer: Diagnosed with testicular cancer in 1996. The disease spreads through his body. Launches Lance Armstrong Foundation for Cancer. Declared cancer-free in 1997 after brain surgery and chemotherapy
  • Retirement: Announces he will retire after the 2005 Tour de France. Angered by drug allegations against him, he returns to professional cycling in 2009. He finishes third. His accident-filled 2010 Tour is his last

Former teammates went public with allegations of drug use. The US Anti-Doping Agency accused Armstrong of running the most sophisticated and extensive doping scheme in professional sports history.

He finally came clean in an interview with talk show host Oprah Winfrey last January, in which he admitted taking banned substances and undergoing prohibited blood transfusions during all of his victorious Tour de France campaigns.

In earlier films such as Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room, Taxi to the Dark Side and Mea Maxima Culpa, Alex Gibney has explored the abuse of power by big businesses, the military and the Catholic Church.

In his latest film, it’s Armstrong’s rewriting of his own personal life story, a story that inspired and gave hope to cancer patients around the world, that Gibney finds particularly difficult to accept.

“It’s an abuse of storytelling power,” he says. “He told a story that everyone wanted to believe in too much. He knew how much everybody wanted to believe in it.

“He made the lie so enormous, so all-encompassing, that he couldn’t dial it back. His only choice was to go forward and make it even bigger.” So he carried on cheating, winning Tour after Tour.

Armstrong was engaged to musician Sheryl Crow and travelled by private jet

Stripped of those seven titles, pursued by lawyers seeking to reclaim prize and sponsorship money, Lance Armstrong’s reputation as a sportsman is now in ruins. He has been banned from competitive cycling for life.

Alex Gibney, director of The Armstrong Lie

For Alex Gibney, Lance Armstrong’s epic downfall should serve as a cautionary tale. Even heroes, he argues, need to accept their flaws. “There can be inspirational stories that are messy,” he says.

“Spiderman to me is a more intriguing tale than Superman because you reckon with Peter Parker’s dark past and to some extent his deep-seated anger rather than the pure hero that Superman is.

“When we’re told stories that seem too good to be true we should say to ourselves, ‘Hey, maybe this is too good to be true.'”

Life style changes for humans can save millions from diabetes


MILLIONS of people at risk of developing diabetes could avoid the disease with simple lifestyle changes, say researchers diabetes is preventable with simple lifestyle changes.

A major review of scientific evidence concluded that diet and exercise are vital for staving off the illness, which affects 3.8 million people in Britain.

  Combined with stopping smoking and regular checks on blood pressure and glucose levels, Type 2 diabetes can be prevented altogether, the team from the University of Alberta, Canada, said.

Last month, Diabetes UK said losing weight, eating more fruit and vegetables and taking regular exercise is all people need to do to significantly slash their chance of developing Type 2.

It’s particularly important for people who are already at high risk to talk to their GP to make the diet and lifestyle changes that can help

Dr Matthew Hobbs, Diabetes UK’s head of research

But chief executive Barbara Young said people were not taking the risks seriously and that the country was “sleepwalking towards a public health disaster”.

Dr Matthew Hobbs, the charity’s head of research, said of the findings: “This shows again that it’s particularly important for people who are already at high risk to talk to their GP to make the diet and lifestyle changes that can help.”

Children are drawn to our colourful cigarette packets, A study shows


Children find colourful cigarette packets appealing but are repelled by products that have plain packaging.

The Irish Cancer Society studied pupils from third class in Scoil Aonghusa primary school in Tallaght, Dublin, who were shown branded cigarette packs and asked what they thought of them.

“The children found the packs appealing and were particularly positive about the bright colours and rainbow-coloured effects used on some packs,” it found.

“They felt that the pink slimline packs would appeal to young girls. They also liked the ‘fancy writing’ used on the packs.”

The findings are featured on a new video on YouTube from the Irish Cancer Society.

“Young people are a key target market for the tobacco industry, which needs to recruit 50 new smokers a day to replace those who have either died or quit, in order to keep making profits. Most of these new smokers are children.

“Around 80pc of smokers start before the age of 18 and children in Ireland began smoking at an earlier age than in any other country in Europe,” said a spokeswoman.

The children who were shown examples of what plain packaging may look like responded negatively and called them “disgusting and gross”.

“One of the boys remarked that he did not know how people could buy the cigarettes in plain packs. They felt that plain packs show what it (smoking) does to you and were shocked by the images of the health effects of smoking used on the plain packs.”

Health Minister James Reilly has secured the agreement of the Cabinet to introduce standardised packaging for tobacco products in Ireland, and he welcomed the video.

Drought in East Africa dictated how the brain changed the evolution of human intelligence


Scientists show shifts from dry to wet and back in East Africa’s Rift Valley caused the development of the human brain

Humans evolved their very large brains in response to the dramatic shifts in the climate of East Africa, the cradle of humanity where man’s ancestors are thought to have originated about two million years ago, a study has suggested.

Scientists have matched exceptionally wet periods and very dry periods in the East African Rift Valley to sudden spurts in the evolution of the hominid ancestors of Homo sapiens, which resulted in the evolution of the modern human brain.

Academics have long argued about what led to the unusually large brain of humans with its capacity for language, abstract thought and consciousness. The latest theory suggests it was triggered by the need to adapt to dramatic changes in the local environment of early man.

“It seems modern humans were born from climate change, as they had to deal with rapid switching from famine to feast – and back again – which drove the appearance of new species with bigger brains and also pushed them out of East Africa into Eurasia and South Africa,” said Professor Mark Maslin of University College London, the co-author of the study published in the on-line journal Plos-One.

The Rift Valley is an extensive geological fault marked by mountains, lakes and fertile valleys. Many of the most important fossil remains of early humans have been unearthed in the region, leading to suggestions that it was the most important place for the early origins of man.

The study looked at climate change over the past 5 million years, where there have been large fluctuations between wet periods where lakes were far higher than they are today and dry periods where sand dunes formed in former lake beds.

The scientists found that there were relatively short periods lasting about 200,000 years when East Africa became very sensitive to the cyclical changes in the Earth’s orbit around the Sun – known as Milankovitch cycles – which lead to global-scale changes to the climate, such as ice ages.

In East Africa, these orbital changes to the Earth led to rapid shifts between very dry and very wet periods of about 20,000 years, when typically the lake valleys repeatedly filled up with freshwater and then dried out several times, forcing the human inhabitants to move north or south.

“Due to these changes in orbit, the climate of East Africa seems to go through extreme oscillations from having huge deep freshwater lakes surrounded by rich, lush vegetation to extremely arid conditions, like today, with sand dunes in the floor of the Rift Valley,” Professor Maslin said.

“These changes resulted in the evolution of a new species with bigger brains, and also forced early humans to disperse out of East Africa,” he said.

The study found that there were three time periods in particular when this kind of climate change corresponded to important stages in human evolution.

The first occurred about 2.6 million years ago when the Rift Valley dwellers were pushed into southern Africa and a new species called Homo habilis emerged. The second happened about 1.9 million years ago when an important species called Homo erectus emerged from Africa to colonise much of Asia, while the third occurred about 1 million years ago when Homo heidelbergensis emerged.

Professor Maslin said that the technique is not accurate enough to deal with the past 150,000 years, when Homo sapiens first evolved, but that it nevertheless could explain the earlier evolutionary transition leading to Homo erectus, which is the first large-brained hominid with truly human-like skeleton showing a distinctive adolescent growth-spurt.

Susanne Shultz of Manchester University, the co-author of the study, said that climate change can be linked directly to the evolution of this important human species at a time when there were several species occupying the same geographic region at about the same time.

“We found that around 1.9 million years ago a number of new species appeared, which we believe is directly related to new ecological conditions in the East African Rift Valley, in particular the appearance of deep freshwater lakes,” Professor Shultz said.

“Among these species was early Homo erectus with a brain 80 per cent bigger than its predecessor,” she added.

The present-day lakes of the Rift Valley are much smaller than they would have been at the height of a wet period. Lake Logipi at the northern end of the Kenyan rift valley, for instance, once occupied the entire Suguta Valley, which is presently littered in sand dunes, and was about 300 metres deeper than it is today.

Ireland daily News BLOG by Donie

Tuesday 21st May 2013

Mortgage lending in Ireland plunges by 66% in first quarter of 2013


The mortgage market slowed dramatically in the first three months of the year.

The number of new home loans approved by banks and the amount that was borrowed both dropped by around two-thirds from the levels seen in the previous three months.

The latest figures from the Irish Banking Federation (IBF) and accountants PwC show that in the early part of this year lending was running at lower levels than at any time in 2012.

There were just over 2,000 mortgages approved in the first three months of the year and the amount borrowed was €331m. It is down from 6,000 mortgages approved in the final three months of 2012, when the total borrowed was €999m.

In the first three months of 2012, which is a better comparison, 2,600 mortgages were approved and the total amount borrowed was €450m.

It’s the second recent blow to hopes that the housing market was emerging from a five-year slump. Data published at the end of April showed house prices declined nationally in the early part of the year, though they were up in Dublin.

The IBF’s Felix O’Regan said the latest lending figures reflect the decision to end mortgage interest relief for house buyers at the end of 2012. Earlier data showed a surge in mortgage lending at the end of last year as buyers snapped up houses before the tax break was scrapped. The latest figures also reflect the more normal slowdown in house sales at the start of each year, Mr O’Regan said. But while the first three months of the year are traditionally a quiet time for house sales, the 2013 figures show a 20pc drop even compared to the same period last year.

WORRYING: Conall Mac Coille of Davy Stockbrokers said the end of mortgage interest relief had distorted the market. But he said taking in the whole six-month period from the start of October to the end of March, mortgage approvals were up about 20pc compared to a year earlier.

Yesterday Trevor Grant, who is the chairman of Expert Mortgage Advisors, which represents brokers, said the latest decline in mortgage market activity is “really worrying.”

Irish Credit unions struggling to get a reasonable return on investments


Lending is down and interest rate on savings is dropping

The low level of loans being issued by the credit union movement was identified as a key point at a recent conference in Dublin held to discuss the sector.

Credit unions are putting a lot more money into investments, including bank deposits, than they are directing towards new loans. And the low returns on money not being loaned out to members is a problem.

Yet any move to increase the return from investments will inevitably carry with it a heightened level of risk.

Lack of expertise 
Many credit unions do not have the expertise necessary for entering into such waters and so the sector is faced with the possibility of an extended period of low returns.

The issue feeds into the overall debate about the restructuring of the sector and the change that is coming down the tracks. New forms of control could allow some credit unions look at different categories of loans and services that they could offer.

Asked about the loans issue, Irish League of Credit Unions chief executive Kieran Brennan is anxious to put it in perspective.

“Better to be in our position than the one the banks are in. At least we didn’t lend out multiples of our deposits.”

And if the banks were lending out at the sort of ratio to assets the credit union sector is, he adds, the economy as a whole would be a lot better off. Point made, Brennan is prepared to accept that the ratio of the credit union loans to total assets is not as healthy as it needs be.

At the end of 2012, the league’s member credit unions in the Republic had assets of €12.23 billion, essentially the same as at the end of 2011.

The figure for total loans was €4.25 billion, 2.6 per cent down on the figure for the end of the previous year.

At the Dublin conference, economist Alan Ahearne produced figures showing that, for credit unions overall, the loan to asset ratio had fallen to 36.6 per cent last year from 52 per cent in 2008.

The reasons behind it are easily identified. A lot of people are overburdened with debt, and many are finding it hard to get by in an environment of increased unemployment, reduced incomes and higher taxes. Concern about how the economy will perform over the coming years is persuading people to hold off taking out sizeable loans.

“It is the size of the average loan that is down, rather than the number of loans overall,” says Brennan. The fall in the ratio has been steady, and steep for the sector overall since 2008, according to Ahearne’s figures, though Brennan says that, for league members, the fall has eased somewhat in more recent times.

Red Carnation UK buys Ashford Castle the priciest Hotel in Ireland


Red Carnation Hotels U.K. Ltd. agreed to buy Ashford Castle, Ireland’s most-expensive hotel per night, for an undisclosed price.

The landmark 83-room property, where parts of “The Quiet Man” starring John Wayne were filmed, was sold on behalf of receiver Ernst & Young Ltd. through broker Savills Plc (SVS), according to a statement by E&Y today.

The average room rate was about 315 euros a night last July, Tom Barrett, head of Savills’s hotel and leisure unit in Ireland, said in October, citing data compiled by STR Global. Income-producing properties in Ireland have lost about two-thirds of their value on average since 2007, according to Investment Property Databank Ltd.

“Ashford Castle is the jewel in the crown of Irish hospitality,” Savills’s Barrett said in the statement. “It is a strong vote of confidence in the future of the industry from a leading international hotel and travel group.”

Ashford Castle, about 240 kilometers (150 miles) west of Dublin near the village of Cong, attracted bidders from the U.K., Europe, Asia, the U.S. and Australia, according to the statement. Carnation is a closely held hotelier that runs 14 four and five-star properties including the closest hotel to London’s Buckingham Palace, according to its website.

A plan to develop 13 penthouse bedrooms, 30 lodges and extend the 9-hole golf course to 18 holes at Ashford Castle was drawn up and never completed, London-based Savills said in a statement when the hotel was put up for sale in October.

Irish developer Gerry Barrett bought the hotel, on 365 acres (148 hectares) of land, in 2007 for 50 million euros, according to the Irish Times.

Lloyds Banking Group Plc’s (LLOY) Bank of Scotland (Ireland) unit appointed a receiver to Ashford Castle Properties Ltd. and Ashford Castle Estate Ltd. in November 2011, according to Iris Oifigiuil, the Irish State Gazette.

Half of all young suicide deaths in Ireland may be part of a cluster


Up to half of young men under the age of 18 who commit suicide may have known someone else who ended their own life.

So-called ‘suicide clusters’, particularly among younger people, are becoming a worrying issue in this country, according to a new report.

The new Suicide In Modern Ireland survey has identified, for the first time here, the possible true extent of suicide clusters, which involve a number of cases of suicide deaths in a particular area.

The report, authored by Professor Kevin Malone of UCD, has identified “very fragmented communities in the aftermath of a suicide event or events”.

Across all ages, it found as many as 10pc of suicide deaths in this country may be part of a cluster.

Ireland has the fourth highest rate of suicide amongst young males in the EU and now Turn The Tide On Suicide is calling for a Suicide Prevention Authority to reverse this trend.

On average, every 18 days, a child under 18 in Ireland dies by suicide.

In total, over 500 people a year commit suicide, with men accounting for 84pc.

Younger men are particularly at risk, which prompted Kerry teenager Donal Walsh, who died from cancer last week, to publicly appeal to young people not to end their lives.

ANECDOTES: According to Prof Malone, their findings have identified the possible true extent of suicide clusters.

“I think this has been previously under-estimated. If you just rely on anecdotes, you will only see part of the problem. We systematically examined for clustering in every case,” said Prof Malone.

“Our findings suggest that up to 50pc of our under 18 suicide deaths in Ireland may be part of couplets or clusters.

“A young suicide death is a very powerful and destabilising social force. It can reverberate intensely in smaller closed communities, such that the whole community is at increased risk for at least a year, and also at anniversaries,” he said.

“We have to place cluster-busting in our suicide prevention agenda. We need a national, year-round real-time early-warning system – it can’t just be in schools, as several of these young suicide deaths occur in kids who have left the school system,” he said.

Meanwhile, the report has called for an early detection adolescent depression screening programme to be considered.

Alcohol, mental illness and bullying are all highlighted as factors contributing to suicides among young people

The report urged that there should be a “deeper understanding of the role and culture of alcohol and its consumption in teens and young adults”.

Letterkenny Gardai say they are winning the war on crime


Crime in the Letterkenny area has fallen by 15 per cent in the last year, new figures suggest.

The figures were presented to the Letterkenny Joint Policing Committee by Supt. Vincent O’Brien and show that most types of crime in the Garda district are indicating a fall in the first quarter of the year compared to the same period last year.

Robberies from the establishment have fallen by 33 per cent while robberies from the person fell by 100 per cent. Aggravated burglary increased by 300 per cent though Supt. O’Brien stressed that the figure has increased from four incidents to seven.

Burglary fell by 2 per cent and theft fell by 10 per cent although theft from shops increased by 34 per cent which Supt. O’Brien said was a significant increase for Letterkenny.

Theft from vehicles increased by 15 per cent while other theft fell by 18 per cent.

The figures also showed that assaults causing harm fell by 52 per cent while assault was down by 13 per cent.

Supt. O’Brien said Gardaí in Letterkenny had targeted key offenders and three of them “are out of commission because they are in prison”. He also said recent robberies could be connected to a number of high dependency drug users who had moved into the Letterkennny area. He said they had been detected, arrested and charges were being brought.

Penguins evolution from wings to fins saved them energy


 A study of winged and diving birds shows there was an advantage to learning to swim underwater and abandoning flight: less energy expended. 

Flight might make some aspects of penguins’ Antarctic life much easier. The grueling march of the emperor penguins, for example, might take only a few easy hours rather than many deadly days. Escaping predators like leopard seals at the water’s edge would also be easier if penguins could take flight, so scientists have often wondered why and how the birds lost that ability.

The march of the penguins seems to mock evolution. If Emperor penguins just got up and flew 40 miles, they could get to their mates in no time flat. Why would evolution abide a tedious waddle across the ice?

It turns out there’s method in the seeming madness of these blubbery short-winged pedestrian birds. Penguins long ago faced a steep trade-off between the high calorie costs of flight and low energy expenditure of using their wings to swim. They dived into an “adaptive fitness valley” of evolution that fly-and-dive ocean birds such as murres and cormorants still straddle, according to a team of Canadian and American zoologists.

This biomechanical theory for winged flightlessness emerges from a study that measured energy efficiency in thick-billed murres – seabirds also known as guillemots, in the Auk family – and in cormorants.

Murres resemble penguins in their diving and swimming – “flight-based” propulsion by strong wings. But murres can still fly.

That lingering multi-tasking costs murres and other diving sea birds in ways that penguins don’t pay. The metabolic cost of flight for murres is the highest ever recorded for vertebrates, according to the study published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science. Murres operate at 31 times their base metabolic rate while flying, placing them at the outer edge of energy efficiency among vertebrates.

Dive costs for murres were lower than those for cormorants, another fly-dive species that uses a “drag-based” paddle, like ducks. But the penguin still beats both in diving energy efficiency.

“Like many people, I have been fascinated by films of penguins walking across the Antarctic ice, and wondered, why on earth they lost the ability to fly?” said University of Aberdeen zoologist John Speakman, a member of the research team. “The lack of flight in penguins has been an enigma, because it leads to some seemingly poorly adapted behavior.”

But penguins are well adapted for finding food in water – adaptions that progressively made flying impossible: Their wings became shorter, with stouter bones. Their body mass increased, both to optimize muscle contraction rates for the slower wing beats, and to allow them to store more energy for longer dives.

These compromises are lacking in the murres, a chubby-bodied flier that has the highest wing loading of any flying bird, according to the study. It needs a whopping 146 watts per kilogram of weight to take flight, more than the record held by a bar-headed goose. A cormorant needed 87 watts per kilogram.

And dive costs increase rapidly with body mass for flying divers such as the murre, compared with flightless divers, such as the penguin. That places the murre at the edge of the “fitness valley” separating winged fliers and their flightless swimming avian cousins, the researchers suggest.

The penguins, however, pay a price for their efficiency: they became the favored prey of leopard seals while in the ocean.

That should be motivation enough for penguins to become even better swimmers.