Tag Archives: Fraud

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Saturday 30th July 2016

Three Irish bank execs jailed (not before time) for ‘dishonest, corrupt’ and Anglo Irish fraud

David Drumm described by judge as the ‘driving force’ behind €7.2bn banking conspiracy


A judge has said the former Anglo Irish Bank chief executive David Drumm appeared to be the driving force behind the €7.2bn conspiracy that led to three banking executives being jailed yesterday.

Judge Martin Nolan made the comments as he sent the men to jail for terms ranging between two and three-and-a-half years.

Former Anglo chief risk officer Willie McAteer (66), ex-Anglo treasury executive John Bowe (52) and former Irish Life & Permanent chief executive Denis Casey (56) showed little emotion as the sentences were handed down.

Their first night in jail was spent at Mountjoy among all of Ireland’s criminals, where they were processed and kept under close observation, as is the practice with new inmates.

A decision will be made in the coming days on where each man will serve out his sentence.

McAteer, of Greenrath, Tipperary town, was sentenced to three and-a-half years; Bowe, of Glasnevin, Dublin, was sentenced to two years and Casey, from Raheny, Dublin, was sentenced to two years and nine months.

All three were convicted in June of conspiring with others to mislead investors, depositors and lenders by setting up a €7.2bn circular transaction scheme in September 2008 to bolster Anglo’s balance sheet. They had denied the charges.

The verdicts followed an 89-day trial, the longest criminal trial in the history of the State and the jury spent a total of 65 hours deliberating.

The case came to trial following a lengthy investigation, which began in 2009.

The judge said that the scheme was “dishonest, deceitful and corrupt”, as it gave a distorted impression of Anglo’s accounts to shareholders and depositors.

“From the evidence, it appears to me the driving force was Mr Drumm,” he said during the sentencing hearing at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court.

Nevertheless, the three defendants were involved in the scheme and knew that what they were doing was wrong.

Their behaviour was reprehensible, the judge said.

Drumm was not a defendant in this trial, but is due to face similar conspiracy charges next year.

 Sentencing McAteer to three-and-half years, Judge Nolan said he had held a senior position in the bank.

Although it appeared that Drumm was driving the scheme, McAteer was seen as a leader within the bank and he could have objected.

“It is grossly reprehensible what he did and a great shame on him,” said the judge.

McAteer authorised these transfers when he knew that what he was doing was “deceitful, underhand and corrupt”.

Sentencing Bowe to two years, the judge said he was “a lesser functionary in the bank”.

The judge described him as the “de facto treasurer”. He was a man of considerable experience and should have known what he was doing was wrong.

“In law, following orders is not a defence,” the judge said.

Bowe “failed to act with integrity and honesty in these matters” and had behaved reprehensibly by going along with it.

Sentencing Casey to two years and nine months, Judge Nolan acknowledged that he had become involved in the scheme as part of the so-called ‘Green Jersey’ agenda, where Irish banks were encouraged to assist others in a time of crisis.

Although Anglo was the author of the scheme, Casey authorised Irish Life & Permanent’s involvement and had behaved “disgracefully”.

“This was a grave error of judgment,” the judge said. “He should have known and did know that this was a sham transaction.”

Earlier, the judge said the crime had arisen during a period when people in the banking sector “were operating under great stress”.

The judge had taken into account submissions on behalf of the defendants that they had made no direct profit or reward from their crimes. He said all had acted in what they believed was the best interest of the companies they worked for.

A conspiracy? 

Judge Nolan had taken into account their background, what each man had achieved in life, their contribution to the community and that they had been good family men.

Each of them had been the subject of odium and ridicule, had endured a lot of stress and had lost their jobs. However, they were involved in a conspiracy where two blue-chip publicly quoted companies conspired to manipulate the balance sheet of Anglo Irish Bank.

It was decided in Anglo that it needed to hit a certain “corporate number” for banking deposits.

“It seemed Mr Drumm and the top management at Anglo decided this corporate number was important,” said the judge.

When this could not be achieved legitimately, a “dishonest, deceitful and corrupt scheme” was entered into.

The public, he said, was entitled to probity from blue-chip companies. “If we cannot rely on probity, then we lose all trust in such institutions,” he said.

“People are entitled to rely on the integrity and honesty of top firms. In this case, honesty and integrity were sorely lacking.”

How the €7.2bn scheme to boost Anglo came about

The scheme at the centre of the case was designed so that the books of Anglo Irish Bank could look much healthier than they actually were amid the global financial crisis in 2008.

The court heard that following the so-called ‘St Patrick’s Day Massacre’, when Anglo’s shares slumped by 20pc, the bank’s executive directors decided Anglo should show “a good corporate number to the market”, meaning that it needed to increase its corporate deposits.

Irish Life & Permanent (IL&P) was approached and a back-to-back transaction was arranged whereby Anglo placed €750m with IL&P and the IL&P group gave Anglo a corporate deposit from its Irish Life Assurance Corporation, a non-banking entity managed by IL&P.

In June, another deal took place, with Anglo transferring €3bn to IL&P and IL&P transferring a portfolio of home mortgages to Anglo.

Over that summer, Anglo drew up a list of 50 funding initiatives, but by September most of these had fallen away. The trial heard evidence that David Drumm asked a manager in Anglo’s treasury department if IL&P would do another set of transactions worth up to €7bn that month. These were to be included in Anglo’s year-end figures.

What resulted was a series of nine ‘rotational transactions’ between September 26 and 30, with €7.2bn moved from Anglo to IL&P, with IL&P sending the money back, via Irish Life Assurance, to Anglo. The trial heard that the transactions were arranged “with considerable difficulty”.

Judge Martin Nolan described the dishonest scheme as a “conspiracy on the public”. Shareholders and depositors were entitled to rely on public accounts, but were instead given a distorted view of the financial strength of Anglo, he said.

Does the Irish Government really have the bottle that it takes to handle the Brexit fallout? 

‘The position of Northern Ireland could create a serious stumbling block for Brexit and, if not managed correctly, could even derail it’


NI First Minister Arlene Foster, British PM Theresa May, and NI Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness at Stormont on Monday.

As the Dáil rose for the summer recess last week, there was an almost audible sigh of relief in Leinster House – and not only on the Government side.

It has been a tumultuous six months which has seen an arduous election campaign, an inconclusive result that necessitated some serious improvisation by the major parties to enable a government to be formed after a tense 10-week stalemate, and some serious hiccups as the new Government finally got down to work.

By far, however, the most dramatic event happened outside of Leinster House’s remit – namely the British vote to leave the European Union. How the Government responds to this will be the biggest challenge in the next Dáil term and perhaps in modern day Irish politics, and the interests of the EU will now play a key part in the approach Ireland takes to the Brexit negotiations.

The biggest task facing the Government is to juggle two now competing interests – our relationships with the UK and the EU. No two countries within the EU have a closer relationship than Ireland and the UK – strong cultural ties, a history of Irish emigration to the UK, and huge volumes of trade and movement of people in both directions.

Despite various changes over the past century – independence in 1922, the adoption of the new Constitution in 1937, the declaration of the Republic in 1949, the break with sterling in 1979, and Ireland joining the euro without Britain in 1999 – these ties have remained very strong. On top of all of this there is the position of Northern Ireland, which looks likely to play a central role in the post-Brexit fallout.

Given all of this, it is little wonder the two countries joined the then EEC on the same day in 1973. Back then it was inconceivable that Ireland would take a different approach to the UK on the question of membership. In the 43 years which have followed it is fair to say that Ireland has been a far more enthusiastic member than the UK, and indeed in many respects, it has enabled it to detach itself from the UK’s bosom and assert its independence.

Yet there is no doubt that the Republic would much rather not be faced with this split with the UK and there is a palpable sense of dismay – resentment even – at the UK for leaving us in the lurch. What then are the major faultlines as Ireland attempts to juggle these two competing interests?

The border with Northern Ireland

Without doubt, the biggest issue facing us is the position of the border. One cannot underestimate the positive impact that the opening of border roads has had; it was one of the most important practical impacts of the peace process during the 1990s. The reintroduction of a hard border would be unacceptable to communities in the area, not to mention the costs and complexity of enforcing it.

Yet on the other hand a desire to impose greater restrictions on immigration from the EU was one of the main motivating factors in Britain voting for Brexit. It is difficult to reconcile this with an open border. There have been some suggestions that a compromise may be reached that will entail free movement across the border but with passport checks between Northern Ireland and Great Britain. This however is hardly something Unionists will welcome.

Insider senses that the proponents of Brexit wholly overlooked this conundrum and their response to it has been incoherent and unsatisfactory. It is only now beginning to dawn on them that the position of Northern Ireland could create a serious stumbling block for Brexit and, if not managed correctly, could even derail it.

In the five weeks since the referendum, the our Government has focused heavily on the impact on the peace process. This is widely seen by observers as a clever move – at an EU level the peace process is seen as one of the European project’s successes and there is a real sense in Brussels that the EU played a positive role in it. The view is that stressing the impact on the peace process is likely to carry more weight in Brussels than in, for instance focusing on trade along the border, important and all as that is to people residing in the area too.

Making Brexit work for Britain

Another conundrum for the Government in Dublin is how to square the need to maintain free trading relations with the UK, with the likelihood that the EU will seek to conclude a single EU/UK trade agreement. The level of business done between the UK and Ireland is huge with each counting the other among its main trading partners; indeed trade with Ireland is more important to the UK than trade with countries such as Brazil, Russia, India, and China.

To have restrictions imposed in this area would be potentially calamitous for Ireland. For virtually our entire history free trade with the UK has been taken for granted and trading restrictions between the two countries would be an alien concept. Our Government must take a firm line at EU level on this point. Of course the free movement of people between the two countries and the Common Travel Area is a key part of this.

There is also a sense of urgency on this point for the Government, even ahead of formal Brexit negotiations. There is a huge degree of investment made by businesses on both sides of the Irish Sea. A period of uncertainty ahead of Brexit runs the risk of businesses postponing investment decisions – there are already signs of this – as they wait to see what happens, thereby running the risk of an economic slowdown in Ireland.

Leaving aside the key aspects of British/Irish relations that need to be weighed, at a broader level, the issue that carries most importance for Ireland, and an area of potential division with other EU member states, is whether Brexit works for the UK. From an Irish perspective, notwithstanding the disagreement with the stance Britain has taken and the sense of disappointment or betrayal even that Insider referred to earlier, it is important that it does.

At an EU level there will be a desire not to be seen to reward Britain for leaving and a sense that it needs to be seen to suffer some negative consequences from its decision. While obviously not wanting to damage its own interests by overly hampering the UK, the EU will wish to be seen flexing its muscles. From an Irish perspective however, in light of the close relations between the nations and the importance of the UK economy to the Irish economy, it is important that Britain does well outside the EU. This will be a tough circle to square.

The future, Brexit, and ‘its new politics’

The Brexit negotiations, and protecting Ireland’s interests in, among others the areas that Insider has referenced, will be the Government’s primary objective for the foreseeable future. Nevertheless, some consideration must be given to a vision for Ireland’s future in the changed circumstances that will follow Britain’s eventual exit.

As Insider noted there have been several breaks with Britain over the years, many of them resulting from EU membership. Indeed many Irish politicians – in particular from FG over the years – have viewed EU membership as a means of Ireland broadening its horizons beyond the UK. Arguably Brexit offers proponents of this a golden opportunity to put this further into practice.

On the other hand, for a considerable number of Irish people, relations with the UK will always be of paramount importance and so this is another balancing act that needs to be managed. Then there is the question of the long-term future of Northern Ireland. Recent talk of a border poll may have been premature but nevertheless reflects an acceptance that things could be about to change radically and that in the medium term everything is on the table.

Finally, we must return to events earlier this year, namely the inconclusive result thrown up by the General Election and the advent of ‘new politics’. This is a topic Insider hopes to return to in greater detail in the autumn – assuming a General Election has not derailed it all by then! – but for the time being will note that it changes the context in which we approach the challenges of Brexit and the negotiations to follow.

Clearly it will not be the Government side alone that will have an input when it comes to determining the strategy to be followed. Dáil arithmetic dictates that the Opposition parties will also have an input, but given the strategic importance of this matter, that was likely to be the way in any case. The Opposition parties have some interesting contributions to make, with FF leader Micheál Martin being an experienced former foreign affairs minister and Sinn Féin bringing some interesting perspective to the North/South dimension in particular, with its role in the Northern Executive.

Theoretically this is one area where the ‘new politics’ should thrive. Insider expects a reasonable degree of consensus but there may be some rancour about whether the Government is pushing Ireland’s interests aggressively enough on those occasions where the EU/UK tradeoffs that Insider has mentioned come to the fore.

It will be a tumultuous period ahead and a real test of the political system and the diplomatic corps. Even in the context of our changed politics it promises to leave the day-to-political dramas in the shade.

Irish car insurance premiums said to have gone up 70% since 2013


Concerns are being raised about the continued rise in the cost of insuring your car.

Insurance companies are said to be clamping down on the types of drivers and cars that they are willing to provide cover for.

Premiums are reported to have gone up by more than 70% since 2013.

The motor industry has issued a warning saying the rise in costs is showing no signs of easing.

Broker Jonathan Hehir says the sector is haemorrhaging money: “We’ll have to take the reports they give us on face value because they weren’t afraid to publish when they were making money.

“So I went through the reports recently and if we go back to 2007 they weren’t afraid to show profit in motoring insurance of around €500m at that time.

“That figure has gradually gone down over the ten years and the last time they are shown to be making money was back in 2012 and there was a slight profit on it and since then they have shown losses of hundreds of millions of losses in the motoring insurance sector.”

An hour of Exercise a day may offset a sitting’s toll on your health


An hour of Exercise a Day May Offset Sitting’s Toll on Health?

Just one hour of physical activity a day — something as simple as a brisk walk or a bicycle ride — may undo the increased risk of early death that comes with sitting eight hours or more on a daily basis, a new study suggests.

“These results provide further evidence on the benefits of physical activity, particularly in societies where increasing numbers of people have to sit for long hours for work or commuting,” said lead researcher Ulf Ekelund. He is a professor in physical activity and health at the Norwegian School of Sport Sciences in Oslo, Norway.

“Unfortunately, only 25% of our sample exercised an hour a day or more,” he said.

The study also found that watching TV for three hours or more a day was linked with an increased risk of early death, regardless of physical activity except among those who were the most physically active.

However, even among those who exercised the most, the risk of premature death was significantly increased if they watched five hours of TV a day or more, the researchers added.

It’s not TV, per se, that is associated with an increased risk of dying early; rather, TV is a marker for sitting and not being active, Ekelund said.

In their review of 16 previously published studies that included more than one million people, the researchers divided the participants into four groups: those who got about 5 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise a day; 25 to 35 minutes a day; 50 to 65 minutes a’ day; and 60 to 75 minutes a day.

The increased risk of early death ranged from 12% to 59%, depending on how much exercise the participants got, the findings showed.

“Indeed, those belonging to the most active group, and who are active about 60 to 75 minutes per day, seem to have no increased risk of mortality, even if they sit for more than eight hours a day,” Ekelund said.

“Sit less, move more, and the more you move the better,” he suggested.

The report, which did not prove that inactivity caused early death, was published online July 27 in The Lancet.

According to Dr. David Katz, president of the American College of Lifestyle Medicine, “This important analysis fortifies the increasingly clear verdict from a large and growing body of evidence addressing physical activity and health: all movement is good movement.”

Evidence is clear that moderately vigorous exercise has an array of health benefits, Katz said.

“If you don’t exercise but can stand often, do. If you can’t stand often but can exercise, do,” he added. “Better still, do both. It’s clear: all movement is good movement.”

Not only does physical inactivity increase the risk of early death, it’s expensive, according to another study published in the same journal issue.

In that study, researchers estimated the cost of being physically inactive based on the increased risk for type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and breast and colon cancer. In 2013 dollars, the study authors estimated that inactivity costs the United States about $28 billion annually.

“The current economic cost of physical inactivity is borne mainly by high-income countries. However, as low- and middle-income countries develop, and if the current trajectory of inactivity continues, so too will the economic burden in low- and middle-income countries who are currently poorly equipped to deal with chronic diseases linked to physical inactivity,” study author Dr. Melody Ding, of the University of Sydney in Australia, said in a statement.

Can this woman cure ageing with gene therapy?


Biotech boss Elizabeth Parrish (above) has tried out her company’s anti-ageing gene therapy with, she says, amazing results. Too good to be true?

‘We’re trying to hit the biggest point of suffering in the industrialised world.’ Photograph: Antonio Olmos for the Observer

Elizabeth Parrish is CEO of BioViva, a Seattle-based biotech company working to develop treatments to slow the ageing process. In April, the company revealed that Parrish herself had undergone “the first gene therapy successful against human ageing”. The treatment, it claimed, had reversed the biological age of her immune cells by 20 years.

“There are a lot of fantastic conclusions that [people] can jump to,” says Parrish – “defeating death, or people becoming immortal, or things like that. What we’re trying to do is hit the biggest point of suffering right now in the industrialised world, which is the diseases of ageing.”

In September 2015, Parrish, then 44, flew to Colombia to receive two experimental gene therapies. One was a myostatin inhibitor, a drug that is being tested as a treatment for muscle loss. The other was a telomerase gene therapy – the drug that BioViva claims has reversed her cells’ biological age, by lengthening parts of her genetic material called telomeres.

Genes are held in twisted molecules of DNA called chromosomes. At the ends of these chromosomes are stretches of DNA called telomeres. Telomeres protect the important genetic material from damage that can lead to disease-causing malfunction or cell death. Telomeres also allow the cell and its DNA to divide, but as cells divide a portion of the telomeres is lost until, after a finite number of divisions, the cell dies, a process that might contribute to the human ageing process.

If a cat has nine lives, then a dividing human cell has about 50 to 70 – unless, the thinking goes, you lengthen the telomeres to extend the cell’s lifespan and increase its ability to withstand damage. The gene therapy that Parrish received is designed to do just that by encouraging the cell to produce telomerase, a protein that repairs telomeres.

The treatment is highly controversial. Because BioViva had not done the necessary pre-clinical work to progress to human studies, the US Food and Drug Administration did not authorise Parrish’s experiment – hence her trip to an unnamed clinic in Colombia.

BioViva claims that six months after treatment the telomeres in Parrish’s white blood cells had lengthened by 9%. It was an announcement met by a mixture of derision and incredulity by many scientists, who cited the lack of proper scientific procedure. “We used third-party testing for everything,” asserts Parrish. “We used a standard telomere testing system that doctors sell and patients can buy over the internet. By that test, it said my telomeres in my [white blood cells] extended by the equivalent of 20 years.”

The scientists’ scepticism goes further than the reliability of the company’s testing systems. On its website, BioViva claims that its work builds on that of María Blasco, director of the Spanish National Cancer Research Centre. In a 2012 study, Blasco’s findings suggested that a similar telomerase gene therapy could increase the median lifespan of mice by around 20%. Her work since has focused on assessing whether the technology can improve outcomes in mice with heart and blood diseases that originate in very short telomeres.

Blasco does not associate herself with BioViva’s work and she has no relation with the company or with Parrish. “Clinical validation of our telomerase gene therapy strategy, as with any other therapies, should be achieved through rigorous trials validated and backed by the regulatory agencies,” she says.

We should be able to say: This didn’t kill mice, it doesn’t kill human cells – let’s just run a test

On her company profile Parrish describes herself as a “humanitarian, entrepreneur and innovator” and “a leading voice for genetic cures”. Absent from that list is the word “scientist”. She also describes herself as “patient zero” for these treatments – a term some would take issue with. “Patient zero” is a typically used to describe the first patient in an infectious disease outbreak, rather than the first patient to have received a treatment. A better description, some would argue, is that hers was an n = 1 study (a study on only one person).

“Perhaps she is patient zero, but only for the spread of the pseudoscience that’s going to grow from her story,” says Timothy Caulfield, a professor in the Faculty of Law and the School of Public Health at the University of Alberta. Caulfield is concerned that Parrish’s work lacks scientific rigour and is at risk of being picked up by unscrupulous practitioners aware of the selling power of anti-ageing treatments. “People forget that most clinical trials don’t pan out,” he says. “Drugs often look really promising in mice but don’t pan out in people – they’re different animals.”

But Parrish, who says she has already had people contact her to ask if they can try her anti-ageing gene therapy, argues that enough animal studies have been conducted to move to humans. “I think we are doing things wrong. We should be able to say, ‘This looks promising, it didn’t kill mice, it doesn’t kill human cells.’ So what we said [when deciding to test her company’s treatments] was, ‘Let’s just run a test; let’s see if this stuff is safe.’”

Parrish and her team say they plan to explore the effects of the gene therapy in other cells in her body, and to assess the effect of the muscle-loss treatment. Meanwhile, they are looking to test the treatments in more people, but first they need to find a country with less stringent requirements than the US. “We are still looking for a faster route,” says Parrish. “We have gone from country to country, with groups who are asking these countries to re-regulate. They will come in with new regulatory standards… with a fast track to get the most life-saving therapeutics to humans as fast as possible.”

While Caulfield admits that the drug development process is strict, he argues that it needs to be to maintain scientific rigour. “Sure, we’re all looking at ways to get effective drugs to clinics quicker but this idea of foreign shopping until you can find the regulatory framework that is most friendly to your idea about how science should be done is a terrible mistake,” he says. “Good science should be universal.”

Quick to distance himself from BioViva was George M Martin, professor of pathology at the University of Washington. Martin had agreed to be an adviser to the company after being visited at his university by Parrish but relinquished that role on hearing the news of Parrish’s self-experiment. “I resigned only weeks after accepting the invitation, I never attended a board meeting and I certainly had no inkling of her plans to carry out human interventions without any pre-clinical work,” he says.

George Church, professor of genetics at Harvard Medical School and another of the BioViva’s advisers, is wary of the idea that he has “ties” with the company. “I wouldn’t call them ties,” he says. “I advise people who need advice and they clearly need advice.” Church says he advised the company to go through proper regulatory channels and to do the required pre-clinical work. “If you just let people run loose without any advice, especially if they don’t have training in medical research, then you’re inviting consequences.”

It’s a point, he notes, that was tragically highlighted by a gene therapy trial in France that is believed to have caused cancer in two participants in 2003, and the 1999 death of Jesse Gelsinger, the first person to die in a clinical trial for the therapy. Both failures, he says, set back the whole field. “Since then, the field has improved tremendously and is much safer but new drugs have to be tested in placebo controlled trials with animal testing first.”

And it’s not just scientists who are cautious about how advanced therapeutics such as gene therapies or those that use stem cells are handled. The public and policymakers, whose attitudes can either help or hinder potential medical advances, are also twitchy about science that tinkers with the inner workings of life. If the debate around the powerful new genome-editing tool, Crispr/Cas9, is anything to go by, Parrish’s approach to combating ageing won’t roll out without significant scrutiny.

Duncan Baird is a professor of Cancer and Genetics at Cardiff University’s School of Medicine. He urges caution over Parrish’s impatient approach to unearthing treatments. “Life and ageing are too biologically complicated to start boiling it all down to these entities at the ends of chromosomes [telomeres],” he says. “To pick out one particular phenomenon of telomere length as a key determinant of ageing and say that if you’re going to lengthen telomeres you’re magically going to cure ageing, I think that’s fanciful.”

Without a much greater understanding of the biological processes that underlie ageing, such tampering can be dangerous, says Baird. One of the reasons telomeres have evolved to be the length they are, he says, is to limit the number of times a cell can proliferate and thus to limit its potential to be cancerous. “Meddling with a fundamentally important tumour-suppressive mechanism that has evolved in long-lived species like ours doesn’t strike me as a particularly good idea.”

Attempts to combat ageing, and its myriad manifestations, do not belong to Parrish alone. Around the world, teams of dedicated researchers are doing the painstakingly thorough work needed to unpick the biological mysteries of ageing and, maybe one day, figure out how to tackle it. But, as so often with science, it seems success might lie in the very thing that Parrish refuses to accept: time itself.



News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Wednesday 27th April 2016.

Central Bank of Ireland says it will not lower its mortgage rates

Prof Philip Lane says any legislation to curtail rates could deter potential market entrants?


Central Bank governor Philip Lane dismisses notion of statutory limits on mortgage interest rates despite Michael Noonan statement last year that he would introduce legislation to give the Central Bank control of variable mortgage interest rates. 

Central Bank governor Philip Lane dismissed the notion of statutory limits on mortgage interest rates as he said a “high evidence threshold” will be set to justify any move to loosen mortgage loan caps.

Asked about high home-loan rates, Prof Lane said any legislation to curtail interest rates could deter potential market entrants and change the nature of the market as banks would focus on “super-safe” customers .

“It’s a very crude instrument which has many downsides, and is really treating the symptom rather than the underlying cause,” he told reporters in Dame Street at the publication of the bank’s 2015 annual report.

A Bank surplus.

The bank reported a €2.24 billion profit or surplus for the year, €1.79 billion of which was transferred as a dividend to the exchequer.

The “overwhelming contributory factor” was income from sovereign bonds held after the 2013 deal to scrap the Anglo Irish Bank promissory note scheme, said Prof Lane.

Much of this money originated with the State via interest payments on retained bonds and capital gains realised on €2 billion in bonds sold to the National Treasury Management Agency.

The bank is selling the bonds at a faster rate than the minimum schedule agreed with the European Central Bank, but Prof Lane would not be drawn on the speed of future disposals, saying that depended on market conditions.

The bank has already indicated that the first review of mortgage caps will be published in November, but Prof Lane said that the general framework of the regime was intended to be permanent.

Mortgage caps?

He was asked whether housing supply constraints could be attributed in part to the mortgage caps.

Prof Lane said multiple, often conflicting forces, were at work in respect of supply and demand. “Anything that boosts housing demand – where the supply response is not forthcoming – is going to not be helpful.”

He called for “discipline” in addressing remaining vulnerabilities from the crash, saying this embraced fiscal discipline as well as discipline at the level of individual and corporate borrowers. “Yes, we have very good expected growth numbers this year and next year. But there are a lot of downside risks out there.”

Irish Revenue vows to pursue offshore account holders that are avoiding tax payments?

Annual report says Revenue collected some €60m from offshore investigations


Revenue has promised to step up its focus on the use of offshore locations by those seeking to avoid tax from Ireland.

Those who attempt to avoid tax with offshore accounts have been warned by the Revenue Commissioners that greater cross-border co-operation, along with better access to international financial data, will put them under an increasingly harsh spotlight over the next two years.

In its annual report, Revenue has promised to step up its focus on the use of offshore locations by those seeking to avoid tax. It said it had raised more than €60 million from such investigations in 2015.

All told, Revenue collected as much as €45.79 billion for the exchequer in 2015, up 10.6% on the previous year.

The increase was the fifth successive jump in exchequer returns and the second highest figure for net receipts in the history of the State. Only 2007 was higher at €47.5 billion.

Almost all taxes and duties recorded increases, with corporation tax up 49%, capital gains tax up 28% and Vat up 7%.

According to the report, total tax receipts were 7.8% ahead of target as exchequer returns were boosted by a strong trading performance and increased domestic consumption and investment.

Referring to white collar tax evasion, Revenue said the next two years would see developments in the automatic exchange of information with tax authorities abroad, such as the US Internal Revenue Service.

Off shore structures?

Revenue said it would be “carefully considering” how to make the maximum use of information sources to “identify possible cases of tax evasion using offshore structures”.

“If I had an offshore account and I had not declared it, I’d be thinking about it now,” said Revenue chairman Niall Cody. “We are much nicer when you knock on our door than when we knock on yours.”

Revenue conducted more than 460,000 compliance interventions in 2015, yielding more €640 million in tax, interest and penalties, Mr Cody said.

He referred to the success of Revenue’s compliance projects targeted at specific business sectors, including construction and hospital consultants.

Revenue carried out 6,612 audits, which yielded €327.9 million for the exchequer last year, as the overall return from audits and compliance interventions rose by 5.3 per cent to €642.5 million.

Revenue said it collected €63.6 million from 68 cases associated with major legacy investigations last year, including action against holders of offshore accounts.

Mr Cody referred to recent media coverage of the Panama Papers and said Revenue was “examining the implications of the developments in Automatic Exchange of Offshore Financial Information for the Audit Code of Practice.

“While we have had major successes in investigating tax evasion, the new information sources that are coming on stream will shine a light on individuals and businesses that have used offshore facilities.

Real activity?

On corporation tax, Revenue said it would continue to work to ensure that “the profits of multinational corporations are taxed where the real business activity taxes place.”

While attention was placed on the taxes paid in this jurisdiction by multinationals, Mr Cody said the corporation tax base was considerably broader than just large multinationals.

According to the annual report, 97 per cent of property owners paid the local property tax last year. There were 324,000 reminder letters to late payers and mandatory reductions taken from the salaries and pensions of 65,000 people.

Is this for real? Did only 10 TDs really show up to debate mental health issues last night?

A Fact Check does a double take on some claims that went viral last night.


The Dail heard statements from TDs on the issue of mental health last night, amid increasing anger at the government’s decision to divert part of this year’s budget for mental health to other areas. Throughout the evening, there was a negative reaction to the turnout for the debate, with many tweeting screenshots of an apparently close-to-empty Dáil chamber.

Some placed the number of TDs who showed up at 10, others at 40, while mental health awareness activists and artists the Rubberbandits posted a screenshot on Facebook which featured just seven deputies in the chamber, accompanied by the caption:

Above is a photo of how many politicians turned up to speak about mental health in the Dáil today?

Is that accurate, though?

Béibhinn O’Connor in Dublin emailed us to ask whether it was actually the case that only 10 TDs showed up, so we consulted the official record of the Dáil, and combed through video of the debate to find out the truth.

Remember, if you see a claim you want tested, email factcheck@thejournal.ie.

Claim: Only 10 TDs showed up for a Dáil debate on mental health

Verdict: FALSE by a very wide margin.

66 TDs took part in some way. 33 spoke, 30 were present, and four presided over the debate. One TD presided and listened (Marcella Corcoran-Kennedy), and one TD presided, spoke and listened (Bernard Durkan).

The Facts?

A quick note to start. The purpose of this article is just to present the facts. It’s entirely up to you whether the turnout for Tuesday’s debate was acceptable or not.

The debate lasted three hours and 16 minutes, starting at around 3.19 pm, and ending at 6.35 pm.

There were 33 speakers. Here they are, grouped by party with the figures in brackets showing the number who spoke and that party’s total number of TDs:

• Fine Gael (9/50): Leo Varadkar, Helen McEntee, Peter Fitzpatrick, Tom Neville, Pat Deering, Peter Burke, Mary Mitchell-O’Connor, Bernard Durkan, Andrew Doyle

• Fianna Fáil (5/43): Billy Kelleher, Lisa Chambers, Micheál Martin, Robert Troy, Jack Chambers

• Sinn Féin (6/23): Caoimhghín Ó’Caoláin, Louise O’Reilly, Pat Buckley, Brian Stanley, Carol Nolan, Maurice Quinlivan

• Independents (5/19): Thomas Pringle, Seamus Healy, Danny Healy-Rae, Mattie McGrath, Michael Healy-Rae

• Independents 4 Change (1/4): Tommy Broughan

• AAA/PBP (3/6): Gino Kenny, Mick Barry, Richard Boyd-Barrett

• Social Democrats (2/3): Róisín Shortall, Catherine Murphy

• Green Party (1/2): Catherine Martin

• Labour (1/7): Brendan Ryan

Four TDs acted as chairperson over the course of the debate. They were:

• Ceann Comhairle Seán Ó’Fearghaíl (FF), Alan Farrell (FG), Marcella Corcoran-Kennedy (FG), Bernard Durkan (FG)

In addition to the speakers, 30 TDs were present for at least some portion of the debate, based on our close analysis of the videos.

It is possible, of course, that other deputies may have entered and exited quickly enough that their presence wasn’t caught by cameras in the chamber. In which case, we will expand this list.

The TDs who attended, but didn’t speak, were (grouped by party as above):

• Fine Gael (7/50): Hildegarde Naughton, Maria Bailey, Simon Harris, Kate O’Connell, Noel Rock, Richard Bruton, John Paul Phelan

• Fianna Fáil (9/43): Anne Rabbitte, Fiona O’Loughlin, John Lahart, John McGuinness, Frank O’Rourke, Aindrias Moynihan, Declan Breathnach, Eugene Murphy, Pat Casey

• Sinn Féin (6/23): Imelda Munster, Peadar Tóibín, Donnchadh Ó’Laoighaire, Kathleen Funchion, Denise Mitchell, Jonathan O’Brien

• Independents (4/19): Catherine Connolly, Katherine Zappone, Noel Grealish, Dr Michael Harty

• Independents 4 Change (2/4): Mick Wallace, Joan Collins

• Green Party (1/2): Eamon Ryan

• AAA/PBP (1/6): Bríd Smith

• Marcella Corcoran-Kennedy and Bernard Durkan were also at their seats for speeches, as well as presiding over parts of the debate from the chair.

So between speaking, presiding and listening to speeches, this is the breakdown of each party and grouping’s participation in the debate on mental health.

• Fine Gael: 18 out of 50 TDs (36%)

• Fianna Fáil: 15 out of 44 TDs (34%)

• Sinn Féin: 12 out of 23 TDs (52.2%)

• Independents: 9 out of 19 TDs (47.4%)

• Independents 4 Change: 3 out of 4 TDs (75%)

• AAA/PBP: 4 out of 6 TDs (66.7%)

• Social Democrats: 2 out of 3 TDs (66.7%)

• Green Party: 2 out of 2 TDs (100%)

• Labour: 1 out of 7 TDs (14.3%)

That’s 66 out of 158 TDs (41.7%)

A conclusion?

It is quite rare for a large number of TDs to remain in the Dáil chamber over the full duration of a long debate without a vote, such as last night’s.

Typically, deputies drift in and out, delivering their remarks, supporting colleagues and opposing those on the other side of the house, and then leaving again.

The actual number of TDs in the house ebbs and flows over the course of a long debate.

This screenshot, taken during Minister Varadkar’s opening speech on mental health last night, shows at least 29 TDs in the chamber:

This one, taken at a similar stage of a similar debate – Minister Alan Kelly’s opening speech during “Statements on Housing” two weeks ago, shows only 12.

This is not to endorse standard Dáil practices, or make any claim about the relative importance of two different issues.

It is simply to point out that the distribution of attendance seen last night is far from unprecedented in Dáil Éireann.

For better or for worse, debates culminating in a vote, and formal set pieces such as leaders’ questions are often more densely packed than “statements” on a particular issue, however important.

Whatever your view on the importance of mental health, and the appropriate level of attendance and participation in last night’s debate, the facts are clear.

The claim that only seven, or 10, or even only 40 TDs showed up to debate mental health last night, is FALSE.

Some 40% of women ‘don’t feel fit enough’ to go to the gym


Most of us will have put off going to the gym at some point in our lives (let’s be honest, probably on more than one occasion).

But a poll has found two in five British women postpone their gym workout because they do not feel fit enough.

A new survey also found that 33% of women do not want to go to the gym because they feel intimidated by other fitter or more competitive people.

The survey found women feel intimidated and embarrassed at the gym which puts them off going.

A third are embarrassed what people will think of them when they exercise and 27% said they felt put off because they do not know how to use gym machines, according to the British Heart Foundation survey.

The charity polled 2,000 adults from across the UK as part of its new MyMarathon challenge. Over the month of May, people are being encouraged to run 26.2 miles – yep, that’s what London Marathon runners did in a day – while helping to raise money for heart research.

The My Marathon challenge involves running the same distance over a month that these lot ran in a day.

Lucy Wilkinson, senior cardiac nurse at the British Heart Foundation, said: “Keeping active is vital to help improve your heart health, so it is concerning that what’s putting so many women off exercise is a fear of being judged about how they look and their level of fitness, and feeling self-conscious around others when exercising. Women should feel proud to exercise knowing they are helping to keep their hearts strong.

“And now with the MyMarathon challenge you don’t have to be a slave to the gym. You decide the pace and you decide the place, so it’s a great way to get active without feeling intimidated, and help us beat heart disease.”

Scientists may have just learned how to read your mind

The University of California Berkeley team maps out how our brain responds to individual words


An image (left) showing a view of one person’s right brain hemisphere. The overlaid words, when heard in context, are predicted to evoke strong responses near the corresponding location in the brain. The colour of each word indicates its semantic category.

For example, green words are mostly visual and tactile concepts, while red words are mostly social concepts. White lines show the outlines of known functional brain regions. 

Scientists in the US have raised the possibility of reading a person’s mind aftermapping where the brain responds to individual words.

A team at the University of California Berkeley have built a “semantic atlas” that shows how the human brain organises language.

Brain experts have already defined areas that process information about the meanings of words, known as the semantic system.

This work goes far beyond that however, showing in remarkable detail exactly where in the brain the meaning of individual words is processed.

Prof Jack Gallant and colleagues from Berkeley had seven people listen to hours of stories from a radio programme.

During this time, the scientists used functional MRI scanners to “watch” what was happening in their brains and what areas responded to particular words.

This allowed them to make the connections between a given word and its meaning and where in the brain this connection took place.

They published their findings on Wednesday in the journal Nature.

Brain triggers

Words often have more than one meaning and the map shows this in beautiful detail. The word “top” triggers several parts of the brain, one associated with clothing, another with shapes and measurements and a third with buildings.

In the same way they found that associated words can group together into a single region depending on meaning.

One area dealt with the meaning of words such as wife, mother, pregnant and family, the researchers said. An adjacent area also responded to wife and family but also house and owner.

Each person has a unique semantic map but the researchers were surprised at the similarity between subjects in terms of the areas of the brain involved.

The research was not about developing a mind-reading device, yet being able to localise where a word is interpreted may open the way to such a development.

It could help patients who have difficulty communicating express what they want to say without speaking, the researchers said.

The research also serves efforts to understand how the brain organises language.

The team produced a video that helps explain how the brain responds to words.

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Saturday 20th January 2016

ANGLO Bank bosses discussed the disguising the loan of €750m in smaller amounts

A trial hears


Anglo Irish Bank management discussed disguising short-terms loans of €750m from Irish Life and Permanent (ILP) and keeping them “tight as a duck’s backside”

A trial of former banking executives has heard.

The four men (pictured above right), including former ILP CEO Denis Casey and former Anglo Head of Finance Willie McAteer, are accused of conspiring to mislead investors by using interbank loans to make Anglo appear €7.2bn more valuable than it was.

Mr McAteer (65), of Greenrath, Tipperary Town, Co Tipperary, and Mr Casey (56), from Raheny, Dublin, are on trial alongside Peter Fitzpatrick (63), from Malahide, Dublin, who had been IL&P’s former director of finance, and John Bowe (52), from Glasnevin in Dublin, who had been Anglo’s head of capital markets.

They have all pleaded not guilty at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court to conspiring together and with others to mislead investors through financial transactions to make the bank appear €7.2bn more valuable that it was between March 1 and September 30, 2008 in Dublin.

On day eight of the trial, the jury heard recordings of telephone calls made between staff at Anglo and ILP in 2008.

The interbank loans allegedly involved money being transferred by Anglo to ILP and then being put back on deposit with Anglo by their life insurance division, Irish Life Assurance. This would make it look as if Anglo had received large corporate deposits by the time it had to report its year-end figures on September 30, 2008.

The jury heard Mr Bowe told a conference call with Anglo executives in March 2008, when a similar type of transaction was being discussed in relation to the bank’s half-year figures, that the only issue they had to think about was from a regulatory point of view. He said: “And the regulator is more or less saying, ‘Look, I’m not looking’.”

In another call on March 27, Matt Cullen, a former director of treasury at Anglo, and his counterpart in ILP, David Gantly, discussed the details of the March transactions. Mr Bowe was also on this call.

Mr Gantly told Mr Cullen: “You put the stuff into us and we put it straight back through our other boys. You just need an overnight transaction through month-end, correct”.

The court heard “the other boys” referred to Irish Life Assurance.

Mr Gantly said he was purposely not using names because, he said “the walls have ears in this climate”. He later suggested it would be better to break the €750m figure into smaller transactions because “it might look better to disguise it somewhat, you know?”.

Mr Cullen, who is still giving evidence in the trial, told the court if details of the transaction got out it would affect confidence in the market so the idea was to “keep it tight inside in their own bank”.

Mr Gantly added later on the same call: “I can vouch for my own people, I know because of them, you have to be tight as a duck’s a*** here”.

In a phone call in September 2008, Mr Bowe told Mr Cullen the bank’s expectations for the year end accounts, that month, were very negative.

He said the bank’s figure for customer deposits was “about four billion less” than it needed to be.

The trial before Judge Martin Nolan and a jury will continue next week.

Raising Ireland’s  would derail investment here, A study finds

A 15% corporate tax rate could reduce foreign firms investing here by 22%, An ESRI study suggests


An increase in Ireland’s corporate tax receipts last year has been linked to a move by Apple to shift some of its intellectual property rights here in wake of global moves to clamp down on multinational tax avoidance under the OECD’s Base Erosion and Profit Shifting initiative.

Even a modest rise in Ireland’s 12.5% corporation tax rate could seriously undermine the flow of foreign direct investment (FDI) here, a study by the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) has revealed.

As a policy experiment, the ESRI simulated how FDI flows into Ireland would have changed under alternative tax rates between 2004 and 2012.

If the rate had been 15% over the period, the number of new foreign firms locating here would have been 22% lower, the study estimated.

A rate of 22.5%, which still undercuts rates in Germany and France, would have reduced the number of multinationals locating here by 50%.

  • Further scrutiny on the Irish corporate tax regime.
  • EU accused of targeting US firms in fiscal deals crackdown.

The study was conducted on behalf of the Government’s influential Tax Strategy Group, an inter-departmental group that prepares policy options for the Cabinet ahead of the budget each year.

The group’s papers from Budget 2016 were published on Friday by the Department of Finance. A 12-page paper on corporate tax issues said the State’s headline rate was “akin to a brand” for Ireland Inc and essential to securing mobile investment in an increasingly competitive environment.

It noted that while corporation tax, the fourth-largest tax heading, netted the exchequer €4.6 billion in 2014, the lion’s share was paid by a relatively small cohort of foreign-owned companies.

A surge in corporate tax receipts last year has been linked to a move by Appleto shift some of its Intellectual Property (IP) rights here in wake of global moves to clamp down on multinational tax avoidance under the OECD’s Base Erosion and Profit Shifting (Beps) initiative.

The paper said the OECD’s conclusions, which essentially seek to tax corporate profits in the jurisdictions in which they arise, presented a “significant opportunity” for Ireland.

While there is evidence of “spill-over benefits” to domestic firms, foreign-dominated sectors had lower output and employment multipliers relative to domestically dominated sectors, the paper said, underscoring the importance of the indigenous sector for employment growth. Multinationals have a lower employment footprint , accounting for just 8% of the Irish workforce.

Finance Minister Michael Noonan’s plans for the rainy day fund are undermined by the Labour Party.


Is it for a real rainy day? or just for a once only plop drop I ask?

Just hours after Fine Gael’s proposals to set aside €2.5bn from the resources available to the next government were revealed recently, now senior Labour figures claimed Mr Noonan’s figures “don’t add up”.

Labour sources said Mr Noonan will not be in a position to set aside such a significant sum over the next five years, pointing out that Fine Gael’s proposal to axe USC alone will cost €4bn.

“Fine Gael and Noonan have got their maths wrong; their plan simply can’t be delivered,” said a senior Labour strategist.

And speaking ahead of the Labour conference in Mullingar, Public Expenditure Minister Brendan Howlin said available resources over the coming five years should be used to speed up the delivery of capital projects.

While insisting the next government must be “prudent”, Mr Howlin said his party was not in favour of creating a formal ‘rainy day fund’.

“The notion that you could build up in five years something like the pension reserve fund – that can’t be done,” he said, adding the country is facing a lot of “pent up demand”.

Mr Noonan’s plans to put a quarter of the available cash into a “Contingency and Stability Fund” was described as a “positive development” by Fiscal Advisory Council chairman Professor John McHale.

However, Fianna Fáil finance spokesman Michael McGrath questioned if the Fine Gael minister’s sums added up.

Mr Noonan says there is up to €10bn available for extra spending in the next five years, including abolishing the USC and 10,000 extra public sector workers.

But Prof McHale warned that the resources available between 2017 and 2021 may be less than previously estimated. Due to demographic pressure and existing benefits commitments, it could be as low as €3.2bn, he said.

Mr McGrath said Mr Noonan “does not seem to understand” the concept of a proper rainy day fund, which he says is “put beyond the reach of government unless specific conditions are met”.

Meanwhile, Mr Howlin says too many people are “crying wolf” about the dangers of another economic downturn as he unveiled Labour’s plans to abolish the Universal Social Charge.

The party is promising a worker earning €50,000 will be €2,043 better off per year under their tax package, while somebody on €120,000 will benefit to the tune of €2 per annum.

And it was revealed last night the party also plans to reduce Pay Related Social Insurance (PRSI) for low-paid workers.This goes directly against a Fine Gael plan to bring down the entry point at which workers pay PRSI from the current €18,000 per annum down to €13,000.

Fine Gael intends to have more people pay the insurance but will promise to deliver extra dental and paternity benefits in return.

Mr Howlin said Labour would also look at returning benefits if the economic situation allows but most people “see PRSI as a tax”.

Asked whether the country’s tax base is strong enough to withstand such tax cuts, the minister said: “Because the crash was caused last time by everybody taking their eye off the ball and nobody crying wolf, there is now a whole chorus of wolf criers on the basis that if they keep crying one of them will be right.”

Up to 600 Labour Party delegates are due to attend the annual conference in Mullingar today to see Tánaiste Joan Burton deliver her pre-election pitch.

Under its tax plan, the party will abolish the USC for all workers up to €72,000.

A ‘clawback’ mechanism will kick in for workers earning between €100,000 and €120,000 to reduce their benefit.

Communications Minister Alex White said the USC had been the “single biggest whack” working people took during the recession. He confirmed the party was planning to use 75pc of available resources over the next five years to increase expenditure on public services and 25pc to cut taxes.

Mr Howlin said after a “very difficult period” people were now coming up to Labour politicians and telling them they “did a great job” in government.

Policing boss Josephine Feehily hears of morale and facility issues for Gardaí


Lack of resources, poor morale, equipment problems and, in some cases, dire accommodation are issues Gardaí have pressed home to the new police oversight boss.

Policing Authority chairperson Josephine Feehily said Gardaí she had met wanted to know what the new oversight body was going to do about it.

She said the authority’s primary job was to build an effective police organisation and improve public confidence in it.

However, she said the authority also wanted accountability to be seen “other than through a lens of blame” and was eager to be a “shop window” for good policing that was going on.

Speaking the day after the first board meeting of the authority, Ms Feehily said:

  • The critical findings of the force made by the Garda Inspectorate were “fairly stark”.
  • The authority would later this year take a stance on whether the force was being adequately resourced.
  • Garda commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan was “very impressive” and “knows her brief”.
  • The initial stronger powers for the authority — including making the commissioner “accountable” to it — had changed as a result of “concerns about constitutionality”.

The former Revenue Commissioner chief said she had spent some time in a number of Garda stations.

“They told me they didn’t have enough resources. They asked me what would the authority do about that. They did certainly indicate poor morale. They talked a lot about equipment, but that was before the recent spending.

“Some of the accommodation I saw was dire – there’s work in progress on that as well which I think is very important,” she said.

Ms Feehily said the authority was immediately working on three areas: working with gardaí on devising a strategy statement; taking over the appointment of senior officers; and devising a code of ethics.

Regarding some concerns over the authority’s powers, she said they had “significant powers”.

She said that in the week of the third anniversary of the murder of Det Garda Adrian Donohoe it was worth reminding ourselves “the risks they take every day for us”.

The west is very awake as Mayo software company CBE creates 40 mainly new R&D jobs


Local firm CBE from nearby Claremorris is to create 40 new jobs in an expansion fuelled by innovation.

Claremorris-headquartered retail tech firm CBE Software is to create 40 new jobs in an R&D-led expansion that will see the company’s workforce expand to 150 people by the end of 2017.

CBE, which was founded in 1980, CBE designs and sells point of sale (POS) solutions for the retail and hospitality sectors and is the largest indigenous retail IT player in Ireland.

CBE has grown into a serious export player with installations in Canada, Australia, The Isle of Man, and Algeria and following significant market research are preparing to enter the US market.

CBE’s client list includes; James Hall Group (UK), Sewell Retail (UK), Musgrave, SuperValu, Centra, BWG, Spar, Mace, Costcutter, Gala, Spar UK, Louis Fitzgerald Group, Aramark, Elior, Compass, IBM and Bewleys.

‘Innovation through continuous research and development has been the cornerstone of our business’

“Innovation through continuous research and development has been the cornerstone of our business and it is through this that we have increased our market share in Ireland and significantly grown in our export markets year-on-year,” explained CEO Gerard Concannon.

“The CBE solutions enable our clients to manage their business more effectively and streamline their operations. Our latest software solutions have been hugely successful, primarily in the UK, since launched last year. We have also recently formed a strategic partnership with NCR to supply self-checkout solutions to the independent retail sector in Ireland and the UK.”

Through its current expansion and development plan CBE will employ 150 people by the end of 2017.

These roles will be within software development, customer support, sales and service with the majority of the positions to be filled by graduates. The company has developed very strong working relationships with the Institutes of Technology in Galway, Sligo & Letterkenny, DCU, University of Ulster, and with NUI Galway.

R&D a key to export success

“Enterprise Ireland is committed to working with companies like CBE who utilise research and development to help them innovate and internationalise their products for global market expansion,” said Enterprise Ireland chief executive Julie Sinnamon.

“Their growth and success to date in competing in overseas markets clearly demonstrates the calibre of their software solutions and technology with the rebound effect of creating more jobs at home and importantly, in the local region.”

The investment was welcomed by Taoiseach Enda Kenny who said CBE remained loyal to its roots and has brought employment and business to Mayo and the west of Ireland.

“Gerard Concannon and the CBE team deserve enormous credit for what they have created here in Claremorris. Their export-led expansion into markets like the UK ensures that CBE will continue to grow and with plans afoot to enter the US market the future is incredibly bright for CBE which is a great boost to the local and national economy,” Kenny said.

New evidence of a 4.5-Billion-year old impact that formed our Moon


Lead researchers on this study from left to right: Paul Warren, Edward Young and Issaku Kohl. Young is holding a moon fragment used in their study. 

A recent study published in Science by Edward Young, a geologist from UCLA, found evidence for a violent collision 4.5 billion years ago that formed our moon . Evidence from lunar rocks in comparison with rocks found here on Earth suggests a giant impact was the source of the moon we know today. This further supports the common theory that the moon was formed by a major planetary collision between Earth and Theia.

The samples used in this study were collected as part of the Apollo 12, 15, and 17 missions to the moon in addition to a lunar meteorite. The study found that rocks from the Earth and Moon both have identical oxygen isotopes. Oxygen isotopic ratios are a useful way to determine origin of certain types of rocks since oxygen isotopes are differentially preferred in many chemical reactions leading to slight variations in isotopic ratios. The fact that both the Earth and Moon have identical isotopic ratios of oxygen lead to a belief that both are from a similar source and from well-mixed material. This supports a giant impact on Earth that would have formed the Moon given the mixing required to have identical isotopic ratios.

Often time’s moons will have different oxygen isotopic ratios given differing origin and size, and internal temperature compared to larger planets. To obtain the required oxygen isotope signature there is evidence that early Earth and Theia 4.5 billion years ago contained significant amounts of water with the oxygen-17 isotope. This water may have been in the form of hydrated minerals or ice. Oxygen on Earth is 99.9% oxygen-16, which is the stable form of oxygen with eight protons and eight neutrons per atom. However, there are very trace amounts of heavier oxygen isotopes such as oxygen-17 that includes one extra neutron as well as oxygen-18 with two extra neutrons.

The figure below is an example of how oxygen isotope ratios are used to determine global temperatures over hundreds of millions of years. Oxygen isotopes differentially evaporate from our oceans and fall as precipitation depending on regional and global temperature. As you can imagine oxygen-18 is slightly harder to evaporate, as it’s heavier and slightly easier to condense into precipitation, as it’s heavier. During warm periods the heat overpowers this difficulty in evaporating oxygen-18 and therefore we see more oxygen-18 in precipitation over glaciers during warmer times. When it is colder there is a larger barrier to evaporating oxygen-18 and thus we see lower oxygen-18 amounts during cold periods. This, in a very generalized sense, is how we determine past temperature variations from glaciers in Antarctica and around the world.

Phanerozoic climate fluctuations as indicated by changes in oxygen isotopic ratios (Credit: Science.com)

Given the required mixing the high-speed impact between Earth and another body had to have been a head-on collision. Previous estimates believed that the Moon was formed from a glancing blow at a high angle, swiping the side of the Earth rather than a full on impact. If Theia had merely glanced the Earth then you would expect that the Moon and Earth would have different isotopic signatures.

Indications are that Theia impacted Earth 100 million years following the birth of Earth, approximately 4.5 billion years ago . At this point the Earth would still be largely molten with a veneer or thin crust and a tremendous amount of volcanic activity. During the collision Theia was incorporated and mixed into parts of the Earth and moon. It is unclear the size of Theia during the impact, the current range of theories puts the planet between the size of Mars and the size of Earth.

The research for this study was funded by NASA , as well as the Deep Carbon Observatory and a European Research Council grant. This study was possible using state-of-the-art technology in mass spectrometry to determine very precise and extremely small measurements of oxygen isotopes.

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Friday 28th August 2015

Suspicious package sent to Alan Kelly’s office declared a hoax


The package was sent to Alan Kelly’s constituency office in Nenagh, Co Tipperary

A package containing white powder which was sent to Environment Minister Alan Kelly’s constituency office has been declared a hoax.

The alarm was raised after a letter sent to the building on Summerhill in Nenagh, Co Tipperary, was opened by a member of staff.

The Defence Forces’ bomb squad was called in by gardai and declared the scene safe within an hour of arriving.

“The Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) Team was called to deal with what is described as a letter containing suspicious material. The EOD team arrived on scene at 12.40 pm and following an examination declared the letter and material a hoax,” they said.

Mr Kelly was not in the office at the time and it was closed during the scare.

He has spoken openly about threats made against him personally since he took over the environment portfolio and pressed ahead with the roll-out of controversial water charges.

A bomb scare threat was phoned in to his constituency office last year and a death threat was also made against him, while the minister has said other threats have been made against his wife, family and staff.

Mr Kelly said sending the white powder was a deplorable act.

“It is not something any office of any occupation should have to deal with at any time,” he said.

“I will not be making any further comment other than to acknowledge the hard work and dedication of the constituency office staff who regrettably have to encounter such instances. My primary concern is for their health and safety.”

The alarm was raised at 9.05am and the bomb squad declared it safe at 1.30pm after spending under an hour at the office.

Cars, bars and home decor drive Irish economy recovery in retail

Retail sales jump by a record 11.6% in July


Retail sales jumped 11.6% in July, the largest monthly rise in 10 years, as new car sales benefitted from the introduction of 152 number plates and consumers spent more in bars and on home decor.

The latest figures from the Central Statistics Office (CSO) indicate retail sales have risen by 9.9% year-on-year.

When motor trades are excluded, the monthly rise was 0.6% and 6.6% on an annual basis.

The sector with the largest monthly increases was motor trades, which saw sales rise 22.9%. New car sales peak due to the dual registration system, which saw the 152 number plates from July 1st.

However, there were also increases in sales of furniture and lighting (+6.7%) and bars (+4.4%).

The sectors with the largest monthly decreases were hardware, paints and glass (-3.5 per cent), books, newspapers and stationery (-2.4%) and food, beverages and tobacco (-1.4%).

On an annual basis, sale in most of the 13 business sectors covered by the survey grew, with car sales (+18.9%), furniture and lighting (+13.8%), and electrical goods (+14.4%) leading the charge.

Only food and beverages recorded a year-on-year decline, falling by 2%.

“Following on from the positive employment and earnings trends, it is little surprise the Irish consumer spending recovery is continuing,” Goodbody economist Dermot O’Leary said.

Noting the jump in car sales, he said the growth in big ticket items was a confirmation of the improvement in consumer confidence and belief about the sustainability of the recovery in the labour market.

He also said the renewed buoyancy in bar sales was “a sign that discretionary spending is also on the up”.

Isme, the Irish Small and Medium Enterprises Association, acknowledged the figures reflected a broad-based recovery.

However, chief executive Mark Fielding said the continuing pressure on margins and the increase in business costs were crippling the sector.

“Irish consumers are holding back a certain amount of spend. However, they are willing to buy when they can see value. Unfortunately for our retailers, that means more sales at higher costs leading to lower profit margins”.

“The Budget could rectify this through a reduction in the tax burden for consumers and a reinstatement of the 4.25% employer’s PRSI”.

HSE investigates Lloyds pharmacy prescription payments

Lloyds denies fraud over boosting income by claiming multiple medical card prescription fees


Lawyers for Lloyds Pharmacy criticised the HSE for alleging fraud and breach of contract in a letter sent to managing director Goretti Brady (pictured) earlier this month.

The HSE is investigating the way Lloyds, the largest pharmacy chain in Ireland, has significantly boosted its dispensing fee income by claiming multiple payments from the State for single prescriptions presented by medical card holders.

Individual pharmacies in the LloydsPharmacyIreland chain could boost their fee income by 66 per cent by using a system developed within the company, branch managers were advised in an internal memo.

Lloyds has denied there was any fraud in its practice of claiming up to four fees in a month in respect of a single prescription dispensed in one visit and said its approach was no different to any other pharmacy.

Lawyers for the company criticised the HSE for alleging fraud and breach of contract in a letter sent to Lloyds managing director Goretti Brady earlier this month.

In its replying letter, Lloyds’ lawyers called on the HSE to withdraw the “entirely unfounded” allegation for which no substantiation had been offered.

LloydsPharmacyIreland operates a system known as MyMed, which, in the case of a four-week drug supply, involves putting a patient’s medication into four separate compartmentalised trays, one for each seven-day period. The drugs are all supplied to a patient in a single visit to the pharmacy.

Lloyds claims it is entitled in such a case to both the first dispensation fee of €5 and three additional phased dispensing fees of €3.27 each.

The HSE, however, contends that when all medication is dispensed to a patient on the same date, Lloyds is entitled only to the €5 dispensing fee per prescription item.

Concerns within the HSE were raised when it became aware of a notice from Lloyds head office to its pharmacies, entitled “MyMed Profitability”. The notice said: “Wondering why we’re obsessed with MyMedding?!” and included a graphic which it said “should show you why it’s so important to hit your target. And why it’s even better to hit your target early so you can make a real dent on your overall profitability for the year.”

The notice said the graphic illustrated “the difference in fees between a MyMed and normal dispensing”.

The graphic showed that for five items dispensed for the “regular fee” of €5 each, the total fees would be €25. On another line, the graphic showed that the regular fee of €5 for five items, plus 15 phased fees of €3.27, would result in total fees of €74.05. This would result in an additional €588.60 in dispensing fees for such a MyMed patient in a year, it stated.

Elsewhere, under the graphic, the notice stated: “MyMed increases our dispensing fees by 66%!”

When the HSE wrote to Lloyds about the issue, the pharmacist’s solicitors said they were instructed the MyMed system involved considerable resources and “dramatically increases the time it takes to prepare the prescribed medication for dispensing to patients”. They said Lloyds took the view the process “clearly involves the assembly of four separate weeks’ supply of medication, each of which require to be checked individually and amounts to the dispensing of medication on a phased basis, notwithstanding that all four trays may be supplied to the patient at the one time”.

They added: “It is on this basis that our client claims the additional phased dispensing fees.”

The HSE wrote to Lloyds earlier this month after receiving allegations from a whistleblower and after an inspection last July of certain pharmacies.

The HSE declined to comment on the matter as there was an investigation underway.

A spokeswoman said pharmacists were entitle to claim a fee for each tranche of medicines dispensed. They could claim an additional fee for phased dispensing “in certain narrow circumstances” relating to patient safety or the shelf-life of medicines.

25% of parents leave children alone in the car despite huge risk research reveals


Kids not able to share mp3 player

A shocking new study has revealed that a quarter of parents regularly leave their children in the car alone, sometimes for up to a half an hour.

More than 25% of parents admitted leaving children as young as four unattended in a parked vehicle for an average of 22 minutes despite the serious risks involved.

Younger couples were found to take this risk more than older parents as 42pc of parents between the age of 18 and 34 confessed to doing this at least once.

Choosing to leave children in a parked vehicle without supervision poses huge risk of endangerment particularly if they should they release the handbrake.

Mothers were found to be more conscious of the risks involved than dads, leaving children in the car for an average of 17 minutes compared to a dad’s 27 minute average.

The research, carried out by UK company Kwik Fit Insurance, found that parents often return to the car to find the interior has been damaged and alarms have been set off. Children are also found to be bickering upon their parents return.

Parenting expert Richard Curtis revealed that the study’s findings are hugely concerning.

“There are a number of hazards that could pose a risk to children left in an unattended car.

The World Is ‘Locked Into At Least 3 Feet of Sea Level Rise, And Probably More’


The world has seen three inches of sea level rise since the early 1990s and we should expect “at least three feet” more by roughly the end of the century, NASA scientists said in a press briefing Wednesday, as global warming accelerates the melting of the planet’s ice sheets and the slow but steady expansion of the oceans.

“Given what we know now about how the ocean expands as it warms and how ice sheets and glaciers are adding water to the seas, it’s pretty certain we are locked into at least three feet of sea level rise, and probably more,” said Dr. Steve Nerem, a professor at the University of Colorado-Boulder and the head of NASA’s Sea Level Change Team. “But we don’t know whether it will happen within a century or somewhat longer.”

NASA released a series of visualizations at Wednesday’s briefing that show just how much sea level rise has varied around the world over the past 23 years, based on satellite data.

While some parts of the world have actually seen sea levels drop thanks to long-term processes like the retreat of ancient glaciers, others (like some Southeast Asian nations) have seen sea levels rise by as much as 9 inches, thanks to periodic ocean cycles like the Pacific Decadal Oscillation.

“Sea level along the west coast of the United States has actually fallen over the past 20 years because long-term natural cycles there are hiding the impact of global warming,” Josh Willis, an oceanographer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) said in a press release.

“However, there are signs this pattern is changing,” he added. “We can expect accelerated rates of sea level rise along this coast over the next decade as the region recovers from its temporary sea level ‘deficit.'”

Global sea level has been measured accurately and continuously by satellites since 1993. (NASA/Steve Nerem, University of Colorado)

Scientists say the sea level rise we’re experiencing today is due to three culprits:

  • The expansion of the oceans as their water warms up. “We know this from basic physics,” NASA points out in this explainer. “When water heats up, it expands. So when the ocean warms, sea level rises.”
  • The loss of ice from the massive Greenland and Antarctica ice sheets
  • The melting of mountain glaciers around the world, such as in Central Asia

The melting of the Greenland ice sheet offers up one of the starkest scenarios of how far sea levels might rise in the future. Spanning some 660,000 square miles – nearly the size of Alaska – and with ice nearly two miles deep at its thickest point, the island’s ice holds the potential to raise global sea levels by about 20 feet.

Though it would take centuries for Greenland’s ice to melt away completely, its melting is accelerating thanks to its location in the Arctic, which is warming up at roughly twice the rate of the rest of the planet. The island’s pattern of losing ice in summer and gaining it back in winter “fell out of balance in the 1990s, and is now shedding more and more ice in the summer than it gains back in the winter,” NASA says.

What’s more, the rest of the world’s glaciers are melting faster than ever today too. Meanwhile, big changes are occurring also at the southern end of the world, where Antarctica’s two major regions have begun to experience big changes over the past decade.

The 2002 breakup of the Larsen B ice shelf on the Antarctic Peninsula served as an omnious sign of things to come. Made up of some 1,250 square miles of floating ice just off the peninsula and stable for more than 10,000 years, the ice shelf broke up that year thanks to warming air and ocean temperatures, and is now gone forever.

That loss has been followed by the breakup of additional ice on the peninsula, which has in turn sped up the flow of glaciers into the ocean. And while the complete melting away of all of Antarctica’s ice would take thousands of years, the continent contains enough ice to raise the world’s oceans by 190 feet.

It’s enough to prompt scientists to ask what could happen in the meantime – especially for the world’s coastal cities –  in the meantime. “We’ve seen from the paleoclimate record that sea level rise of as much as 10 feet in a century or two is possible, if the ice sheets fall apart rapidly,” Tom Wagner, the cryosphere program scientist at NASA Headquarters in Washington, said in a press release.

“We’re seeing evidence that the ice sheets are waking up, but we need to understand them better before we can say we’re in a new era of rapid ice loss.”

While the prevailing view among scientists who specialize in this area has been that much of Antarctica remains stable, “we don’t really know,” said Eric Rignot, a glaciologist at University of California-Irvine.

“Some of the signs we see in the satellite data right now are red flags that these glaciers might not be as stable as we once thought,” Rignot added. “There’s always a lot of attention on the changes we see now, but as scientists our priority needs to be on what the changes could be tomorrow.”

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Monday 4th May 2015

Irish State accused of covering up the cost of nursing home care


Nursing Homes Ireland (NHI) has accused the State of covering up the cost of public nursing home care.

Latest figures show the average costs for a resident in a HSE nursing home are 40% above that applied for private and voluntary counterparts.

The organisation, which represents nursing homes across the country, say that data on fees paid to HSE nursing homes have not been released since 2011.

CEO of NHI, Tadhg Daly, said the most recent figures published in March 2011 showed the average costs for a resident in a HSE nursing home was €1,245 per week.

He added that this cost was 40% above that applied for private and voluntary counterparts.

“Previous Minister for Health James Reilly publicly questioned why a 50% cost differential existed between the sectors. The reality is public nursing home costs are far beyond the average presented four years ago.

“A HSE Midlands Information Document published May 2012 provided an insight into the reality of public nursing home costs. It cited average costs per bed well beyond €1,245 and up to €2,500.

“Publication of the true cost of public nursing home care is imperative to provide a more realistic picture as to what the cost of long-term residential care entails,” said Mr Daly.

In response, the HSE said the costs of public home care are a matter of public record.

“Public nursing home costs are acknowledged to be higher, and there are good reasons for this. Public facilities have to provide care for higher numbers of complex dependency cases which require higher levels of staffing, particularly nursing staff.

“The HSE is actively working to reduce the costs of public nursing home facilities to the maximum extent possible,” they said.

New house building regulation rule to save Irish homeowners thousands


Housing extensions and one-off homes will be exempt from tough new building regulations aimed at preventing shoddy work, under proposals being considered by the Government

Housing extensions and one-off homes will be exempt from tough new building regulations aimed at preventing shoddy work, under proposals being considered by the Government.

Environment Minister Alan Kelly has ordered a review of regulations introduced a year ago, amid concerns that householders are paying up to €16,000 to have their homes inspected, which is adding to construction costs.

The move, if it goes ahead, would result in almost half of all homes built in a given year being exempt from the rules.

However, if the changes are made, it will also result in buyers of these homes being given no protection whatsoever.

Construction work has begun on 1,000 one-off homes since new regulations were introduced on March 1 last year.

These oblige an “assigned certifier” – an architect, engineer or building surveyor – to certify that building regulations have been complied with at key stages of construction.

In the event of a problem, the certifier is held legally responsible.

Making the regulations “advisory”, rather than “mandatory”, is one of the changes proposed by the Government.

This ‘opt out’ clause would give owners a choice and would mean “they need not be held to ransom by unaffordable quotes for professional services”, the documents state.

But industry sources cautioned against removing the requirement, as most one-off homes eventually come back on to the market.

One expert told the Irish Independent that without certification, buyers of those properties would not be protected.

A minimum wage rise would hit small businesses in Ireland hard


One of the leading mouthpieces for the small business community has called for a three-year minimum wage freeze to allow SMEs more time to continue their recovery and gain further certainty on labour costs.

While it has welcomed the establishment of the Low Pay Commission the Ibec-affiliated Small Firms Association (SFA) has said an increase is not needed at this point. The commission is due to deliver its recommendations on the national minimum wage to the Government during the summer.

Speaking at the weekend, SFA chairman AJ Noonan said: “The National Minimum Wage Act 2000 clearly sets out the factors which should be assessed as part of any review; namely inflation, movement in the earnings of employees, level of unemployment and employment; national competitiveness; and relevant exchange rate movements. On the basis of an assessment of these indicators, there is no rationale for increasing the national minimum wage at present.

“Looking at the profitability of small businesses, it is clear that they will have grave difficulty absorbing labour cost increases without productivity gain. From an examination of the 2012 average gross profits in small businesses, in the sectors with the majority of national minimum wage workers, it is clear that they would not be able to offset national minimum wage increases against profits.”

Mr. Noonan claimed that a higher minimum wage would have a “disproportionate” impact on small businesses outside Dublin, where the national minimum wage represents a higher proportion of the average wage.

“Given the urban/rural imbalance already being experienced in the recovery, this is of particular importance,” he said.

“Small businesses truly are the engines of our economic recovery. We have a vital role to play, in terms of employment generation, especially in regional towns and villages and rural Ireland.

“Artificially increasing labour costs will not only dampen this recovery, but will ultimately lead to both the prevention of job growth and to job losses.

“It is the SFA’s firm conviction that it is imperative for the competitive position of Ireland that wage levels are decided in a competitive labour market and are not constrained by an artificial legal instrument such as the minimum wage.

“Small businesses are taking tentative steps to recovery and, in many cases, growth. The job of government is to make sure these steps can be taken with confidence and with the necessary supports in place.”

The SFA said that it has made its case for a three-year waiting period for any alteration to the minimum wage “in order to give small businesses, which are just starting on the recovery path, certainty over their labour costs”.

“This would also ensure that job creation efforts are realisable for the low-skilled workers and young people still on the live register, who need an entry point into work and upskilling from where they can develop their skills and increase their wages relatve to their productivity levels,” Mr Noonan said.

The association said that most small businesses would have no choice but to off-set minimum wage increases against reductions in hours or jobs, job growth or capital or skills investment.

Ireland’s motorists pay €75 on premiums due to rise in fraud cases


Insurance claims from staged road ‘accidents’ are costing Ireland’s law-abiding motorists up to €75 extra on their premiums a year, according to a leading insurance company.

Insurers Aviva said it is a “growing problem” and it is concerned at “organised rings” that were planning crashes and “selling seats” in the vehicles to other people as part of the fraud.

Aviva fraud manager Robert Smyth, a retired senior detective, told the Irish Examiner that criminals were selling seats for €150 to €200 to people, who could make around €5,000 in a compensation claim.

The insurance industry has previously said fraud was costing companies an estimated €200m annually, which “ends up being paid by honest policyholders”.

Mr Smyth said the industry estimated that claims from staged accidents were resulting in between €50 and €75 extra being added to the premiums of all motorists.

He said Aviva was taking the issue very seriously and has engaged in operations with gardaí to target gangs involved in the racket.

“Staged accidents are a growing problem and is becoming a real cause of concern for Aviva and several other insurance companies,” said Mr Smyth.

“It’s the organised part of it we are concerned about. These are organised rings. They arrange the cars and the location and the drivers. They then sell seats. People can spend €150 or €200 for a seat.”

He said these individuals — there can be up to eight people, if two cars are involved — claim compensation off the driver, who is also claiming from the insurance company. He said an individual could receive €5,000 in compensation.

Mr Smyth said there was a wider issue of the time and resources of gardaí, ambulances, and emergency departments used to deal with these cases.

He said gardaí were giving “fantastic assistance” and that several investigations were ongoing.

A compensation case was recently thrown out of Cork Circuit Court, where a driver and four passengers lodged claims, after the judge said he did not believe the plaintiffs.

Last month, Patrick and Eileen Browne of Ballybeg West, Buttevant, Co Cork, were convicted in relation to a fraudulent compensation claim of more than €22,500.

World’s chocolate supply under threat from drought in Ghana and nasty fungus


The country has been hit with dry winds and a fungus that kills the delicate cocoa pods meaning the world’s chocolate supply could reduce

West Africa produces 70% of the world’s cocoa supply

Chocolate lovers everywhere, beware: the price of chocolate may rise as Ghana grapples with drought and a nasty fungus that could reduce the world’s cocoa supply.

West Africa, which produces 70% of global supply, has seen little rain this year. Ghana, the world’s second biggest cocoa exporter, has been especially hard hit, struggling with exceptionally dry seasonal winds and battling a fungus that kills the delicate cocoa pods.

“Ghana’s cocoa production is set to fall significantly in the 2014/15 season, which could drive the world market into deficit after several years of surpluses,” said Ecobank in a note last month.

“Ghana is at least 20% behind last season, and the key appears to be the lack of pesticides and fertilisers,” said Edward George, Ecobank soft commodities analyst. “That appears to be the double-whammy that they suffered.”

But Mr. George said the “huge” reduction is a bit of a puzzle, with no one giving a definitive reason as to why there is such a significant drop. “The more people you talk to, the more theories you get,” he said, “it really is a mystery; no one has a clear explanation.”

Ultimately, the lower output from Ghana could result in a rally in cocoa prices come the end of cocoa season in September. “Stocks may start to fall, traders might get nervous, and prices may go up,” said George.

In general the demand is outpacing supply for cocoa as farmers around the world fight drought and fungal diseases such as “Frosty Pod” and “Witches’ Broom,” or they abandon the finicky plant entirely for more lucrative crops.

As a result, prices are rising: over the past decade, the cost per ton of cocoa has risen from around £1,000 to £1,900, according to Nasdaq.

Over the long term, chocolate fans should expect the price of cocoa to keep going up. For West African countries, cocoa damaging droughts are expected to continue well into the future, believed to be a result of climate change.

“The yearly and monthly minimum and maximum temperatures will increase by 2030 and will continue to increase progressively by 2050 (up to 2.0C – 35.6F),” said a 2011 report on cocoa growing operations in the Ivory Coast and Ghana done by the International Centre for Tropical Agriculture.

“Suitability within the current cocoa-growing areas will decrease seriously by 2050.”

The supply issues could be further compounded by increased demand from China and India, along with consumers’ growing preference for dark chocolate, which requires more cocoa.

Secret of gaping whale mouths is revealed


When the fin whale gets ready to eat, Earth’s second-largest animal opens its mouth so wide that it can gulp an amount of water larger than the volume of its own body as it filters out meals of tiny fish and shrimp-like krill.

When their feeding this whale measuring up to about 26.8m long and 70 tons increases its swimming speed, opens its mouth and lunges in the ocean.

The force of water rushing into the mouth during “lunge feeding” turns the tongue upside down and expands the bottom of the oral cavity into a huge pouch between the body wall and the overlying skin and blubber. As it closes its mouth, the whale filters out seawater through plates in the mouth while eating huge quantities of small prey.

In other animals and humans, this would cause significant damage to the nerves in the mouth and tongue, which have a fixed length.

But scientists revealed on Monday how the fin whale and its closest cousins, including the even-bigger blue whale, do this without shredding their nerves. These nerves, they said, can stretch to double their usual length and recoil like a bungee cord without harming the nerve fibres.

“Yes, this is way cool,” said anatomist Wayne Vogl of the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. “Not only do tissues in the floor of the mouth have to adjust to dramatic expansion and recoil, but all the ‘plumbing and wiring’ to the structures have to adjust as well, hence the stretchy nerves.”

The researchers said this unusual nerve structure is present in rorqual whales, a group of filter-feeding baleen whales including the blue whale, fin whale, humpback whale, sei whale, Omura’s whale, Bryde’s whale, Eden’s whale, common minke whale and Antarctic minke whale.

They discovered this feature while examining the carcass of a fin whale, an endangered species found in all the world’s oceans. Only the blue whale, up to about 30.5m long and 150 tons, is larger.

Vogl said the nerves that supply the expandable tissues in the floor of the mouth can stretch to accommodate dramatic changes in oral cavity dimensions during “lunge feeding.”

Rorqual whales possess grooved or pleated skin on the underside of their bodies, from the chin almost to the belly button, that balloons out as their mouths fill during lunge-feeding.

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Wednesday 11th February 2015

Syriza member says the rise of Sinn Féin’s ‘is the best help’ for Greek government.


Senator David Cullinane says their party wants to lead anti-austerity government in south

The rise of Sinn Féin in opinion polls in Ireland and a similar surge of support for Podemos in Spain is “the best help” that can be given to the newly-elected Syriza government in Greece, a leading member of Syriza said tonight.

Speaking at a Sinn Féin meeting in the House of Commons, Stathis Kouvelakis said: “This shows that the political landscape can change dramatically; that Greece is not an anomaly; that what happened in Greece can happen elsewhere.”

Tens of thousands of Greeks have gathered at rallies throughout the country in support of the “perfectly reasonable” demands made by the Greek minister for finance Yanis Varoufakis at today’s meetings with his EU counterparts in Brussels.

Meanwhile, Waterford-based Sinn Féin senator David Cullinane said that Sinn Féin, unlike some people involved in the anti-austerity movement in Ireland, is preparing to be part of the next government.“We are on an election footing. The very clear message that we are articulating very clearly is that we are prepared for government. We are going to stand the maximum number of candidates that we can possibly stand to take advantage of our increasing popularity.

“We have to be prepared to want to go into government, to lead an anti-austerity government in the south. There are people on the left who won’t be part of that, but we are certainly organising,” he told the meeting.

Criticising Minister for Finance Michael Noonan’s refusal to support Greek calls for a debt conference, Mr Cullinane said: “It is crazy that a country which was forced to put into place a banking guarantee that signed us up to billions [in] debt is afraid to agree to a debt conference.

“[Ireland] has not even asked for a debt write-down. If they are not prepared to show solidarity with their own citizens, I don’t see Irish government showing solidarity with the Greeks.”

Meanwhile, Sinn Féin MP for Newry and Armagh Conor Murphy rejected a call that Sinn Féin should take up its seats in the House of Commons after the May election in a bid to ensure that the Conservatives are denied power.

Mr Murphy said: “We stand on the mandate of not taking our seats.”

Irish banks were concerned about the weakness & poor scrutiny in their sector

Some two and a half years before the collapse


Professor John FitzGerald pictured above left who gave evidence before the Oireachtas Banking Inquiry yesterday.

Irish banks were concerned about the poor scrutiny of their own sector a full two and a half years before the collapse, the Banking Inquiry has been told.

AIB got in touch with Prof John FitzGerald who was a research professor at the ESRI in early 2006 because of these concerns, he said.

A senior bank economist phoned him and “my understanding was they felt the stress-testing was not stressful enough – kind of ironic,” he added.

He described how he met with the senior economist and another staff member and he believed their approach was coming from “a more senior level than the economists” and it had “first primed me to be concerned in this area.”

Prof Fitzgerald said he had explained to the bankers that the ESRI had already put together a series of macro-economic scenarios on CD which were publicly available and he referred them to this.

He told Fianna Fail deputy Michael McGrath he was subsequently approached by Ulster Bank and PTSB for a similar assessment.

On foot of these concerned he approached the Central Bank by email in 2007 saying he wanted to talk to them about it but despite emails over several months  “for various reasons” the meeting never happened.

Of the ESRI he added “clearly we had put out our warnings. Nobody in the political system seemed to be interested.

“My impression was that people weren’t interested in taking the punch bowl away.”

“What we do know is that the Regulator and the Central Bank were asleep on the job and did nothing,” he said.

He took responsibility for not examining bank data before the “catastrophic” collapse of the financial sector at the end of 2008.

“It is regrettable” he added. “Not seeing the unsound nature of the banking sector and it was a bad mistake”

“I made a mistake.  I thought that at that stages house prices had turned the corner, they were coming down gradually and I thought the odds were that we would reach a soft landing.  I was completely wrong.”

He felt if the ESRI had properly scrutinised the balance sheets they would have detected a problem.

Referring to the property bubble as  a “tumour which grew and grew and squeezed the rest of the economy” he said the number of houses being built was running ahead of the population and this had led to the bubble.

At the time, however, “the people of Ireland did not want to change. The information was out there. You couldn’t miss what we were saying” but people went ahead and bought houses and the government behaved as if there was no tomorrow.

On the Bank Guarantee while it was not something he had researched “we now know it was the wrong decision”.

He described it as “not the best outcome for Ireland but  something had to be done”.

No-one from the Department of Finance had consulted him personally or the ESRI about the guarantee. Relations with the department were “frosty’ at the time, he added.

Prof FitzGerald’s view of Nama was: “I think it has done a pretty good job.  It looks as if the State, instead of losing money, is going to get it back.  I think it has helped in terms  of the recovery and sorting out the problem.

He also said concerns about Nama had “turned out to be totally wrong”.

The bailout was something “we have got broadly right” in that Ireland, unlike Spain had “under-promised and over-delivered”

He stressed that when it became clear that €64billion was needed by the banks “a bailout became essential”.

Luckily interest rates were so low “the burden of the debt has turned out tho be much lower than anticipated.”

His assessment of the current situation is that “we are in a structured surplus” and “we do not need further cuts”

He was concerned that there was a need to improve the method of assessing fiscal policy to provide better guidance in the future.

Asked by Sen Susan O’Keeffe if he had every considered resigning when the financial crisis hit he responded: “No I felt I had done a reasonable job over the previous 30 years I looked at the fact that nobody else had done a better job.”

IAG’s Willie Walsh to meet Minister Donohoe to discuss Aer Lingus bid


Pascal Donohoe says Government will weigh proposed offer on price and international access?

Willie Walsh, chief executive officer of International Consolidated Airlines Group is to discuss his Aer Lingus bid with Minister for Transport Paschal Donohoe.

International Consolidated Airlines’ Group (IAG) chief executive Willie Walsh will discuss his company’s €1.36 billion bid for Aer Lingus with the Minister for Transport,Paschal Donohoe, on Wednesday.

Mr Walsh will be spending the next two days bidding to convince the Government and Oireachtas members to support IAG’s proposed €2.55 a-share offer for the Irish airline.

The Government holds a 25.1% stake in the business on behalf of the State, while the Dáil has approve any sale of that interest.

Mr Donohoe confirmed earlier that he is meeting Mr Walsh on Wednesday afternoon.

The minister has already said that the Government will not only consider the price on offer, but also the implications of a takeover for the Republic’s access to international markets.

He stressed that the coalition would evaluate IAG’s proposed bid on the basis of those criteria and all the information available to it.

IAG is offering the Government and business groups a legally-binding veto over the sale of the airline’s landing and take-off rights at Heathrow Airport, which are seen as critical to international access.

It is also willing to guarantee that they will be used exclusively to service Irish routes for five years.

13% of Irish internet users have suffered some online fraud


Nearly a third of Irish respondents have discovered malicious software on their device

An estimated 40% of Irish internet users have received emails or phone calls trying to get access to their computer or personal details such as banking information, according to a Eurobarometer survey.

More than 1,000 people were interviewed in Ireland for the survey on cyber security.

Nearly a third of Irish respondents said they have discovered malicious software on their device, but just over half of them have installed anti-virus software. This compares with an EU average of 61% who have taken this precaution.

The survey found 13% of Irish Internet users have experienced online fraud where goods purchases were not delivered, counterfeit or not as advertised, a little above the EU average of 12%. Experience of online fraud was highest in Poland (19%) and lowest in Greece (4%).

Some 9 per cent of Irish Internet users say that they have experienced or been a victim of identity theft, above the EU average of 7%. Experience of identity theft was highest in Romania and Hungary (both 11%) and lowest in Bulgaria and the Netherlands (both 3%).

Sixteen per cent of Irish respondents – the third highest in the EU – said they have had experience of their social media or email account being hacked.

While internet access in Ireland has never been higher at 80 per cent, we are still behind Sweden (96%) the Netherlands (95%) and Denmark (94%).

Greece, Portugal and Romania had the lowest rates of internet access in Europe.

The overall EU-wide survey saw more than 27,000 people interviewed on the topic of cyber security, with the majority of respondents concerned their personal information is not being kept secure by public authorities and websites.

A total of 67% said they worried about information not being safely held by public authorities, while 73% said they were concerned over website security.

Approximately two in three Internet users in the EU said they were concerned about experiencing identity theft (68%) and about discovering malicious software on their device (66%).

More than half are concerned about being the victim of bank card or online banking fraud (63%); having their social media or email account hacked (60%); scam emails or phone calls (57%) or online fraud (56%).

EU Commissioner for Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship, Dimitris Avramopoulos, said cybercrime undermines consumer confidence in the use of Internet, hampering both our digital economy and our online lives.

“Our priority is to create a safer Internet for all users by preventing and combating cybercrime in all its forms, to enable users to reap the full benefits of the digital internal market and to exercise their fundamental rights online,” he added.

The figures come as EU officials call on internet telecommunication companies to share encryption keys with EU authorities as part of a wider crackdown on terrorism.

A new procedure in stroke treatment is a ‘major breakthrough’


A new stroke treatment has been shown to be so effective that Canadian researchers say they believe it will be used as part of standard stroke care.

The results of a new study, led by scientists at the University of Calgary’s Hotchkiss Brain Institute and published online Wednesday in the New England Journal of Medicine, found a clot-retrieval procedure, called endovascular treatment, significantly decreased the incidence of disability or death among those who experienced acute ischemic stroke.

The treatment, which involves removing blood clots in the brain with a retrievable stent, also nearly doubled the percentage of patients who experienced positive outcomes from 30% to 55%.

“That’s a massive jump with people going home, people going back to work, people being independent, people not having to live in nursing homes,” says the study’s co-principal investigator Dr. Mayank Goyal, a professor of radiology and clinical neurosciences at the University of Calgary’s Cumming School of Medicine. “It’s a major, major breakthrough in the disease.”

Dr. Rick Swartz, a study collaborator, medical director of the stroke program at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre and an acting spokesman for The Heart and Stroke Foundation, says he thinks “Canada will be one of the first countries in the world to incorporate this treatment into our best practice guidelines.”

Best practices for stroke care are developed by stroke experts across the country with funding from the foundation, which was one of the sponsors of the study.

The Canadian sites involved in the study, which already have the equipment and expertise, can begin using the procedure immediately, Dr. Goyal says.

In severe cases of ischemic stroke, blood clots block larger arteries at the base of the brain. Until now, the standard treatment has been to give patients a clot buster drug, known as tPA or tissue plasminogen activator, which dissolves clots and restores blood flow. For larger clots, this can be time-consuming – and in stroke care, “time is brain.” For every minute the brain is starved of fresh oxygenated blood, it’s believed about two million neurons die.

Though endovascular treatments have been evolving for two decades, the latest generation of stent retrievers are game-changers. Medical teams involved in the study – conducted at 11 sites across Canada and another 11 around the world, including the United States, Britain, Ireland and South Korea – were able to identify the blood clots and their location in the brain using advanced imaging, and then quickly extract them using stent retrievers, in some cases, within minutes.

The Canadian study, which involved 316 patients, is the first to show a decline in patient mortality: to one in 10 patients, compared with two in 10 patients when current standard treatment was used alone.

Because the results demonstrated an “overwhelming effect” during an interim analysis, the study was stopped early, Dr. Goyal says.

It closely follows a previous study showing beneficial patient outcomes from endovascular treatment, conducted in the Netherlands and published online in the New England Journal of Medicine in December, and a separate study published Wednesday by Australian researchers that also demonstrated positive results.

Performed under X-ray guidance using injectable dyes, the procedure involves inserting a thin tube into the artery in the groin area, then threading a thinner tube, about two to three millimetres in diameter, into the neck. From there, an even thinner tube, about one millimetre in diameter, is guided into the brain to the site of the clot. A retrievable stent, which looks like a tiny mesh coil attached to the tip of a wire, is then routed through the tube and captures the blood clot, collapsing as it is pulled back out.

Dr. Goyal credits the success of the treatment, in part, to the speed at which participating medical teams were able to identify patients for whom endovascular treatment was appropriate and then carry out the procedure. The goal for getting from “picture to puncture” – imaging the brain, moving the patient and inserting the tube – was a median time of 60 minutes or less.

Not everyone who experiences ischemic stroke will fit the criteria for endovascular treatment, however. The treatment is for those who experience a moderate to severe stroke, whose symptoms are recent, and whose brain images show a large clot in an artery. The imaging must also show that some blood is able to detour around the blockage, buying doctors enough time for them to carry out the procedure.

Endovascular treatment does have some risks, including a very low risk of infection and bruising, as well as the risk of scraping or pushing the blood clot along the blood vessels, Dr. Swartz says. But, he says, “we know that people who get the procedure are doing much, much better than the people who don’t. So even with those risks, the outcomes are better.”

Did giant reservoirs of CO2 locked in the oceans end the last ice age?


Scientists have discovered that oceans spewing carbon dioxide played a big part in warming up our planet tens of thousands of years ago.

Arrogant species that we are, humans tend to think global warming is a very man-made problem. But the natural world is equally capable of spewing huge amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere all by itself, as new research into the end of the last ice age recently revealed.

How was the CO2 released?

It issued forth from the briny deeps… specifically the briny deeps of the Southern Ocean.

The study shows how a vast isolated reservoir of carbon stored deep in the cold waters off the Antarctic managed to re-connect with the atmosphere.

The sudden change in CO2 levels in the atmosphere stoked an increase in global temperatures, marking the end of the last ice age.

How important is this discovery?

Scientists say this gives an important insight into how the oceans affect the carbon cycle. Joint lead author Miguel Martínez-Botí, from the University of Southampton, said: “The magnitude and rapidity of the swings in atmospheric CO2 across the ice age cycles suggests that changes in ocean carbon storage are important drivers of natural atmospheric CO2 variations.”

As humanity tries to get its head around climate change, this kind of knowledge could prove essential. It is estimated that the oceans have soaked up around 30% of the CO2 that our cars, planes and factories have been spewing out over the last 100 years.

How does this carbon-ocean relationship work then?

CO2 levels in the atmosphere fluctuate from about 185 parts-per-million (ppm) during ice ages, to around 280 ppm during warmer “interglacial” periods like today.

The oceans currently contain approximately 60 times more carbon than the atmosphere, but that carbon can exchange rapidly (at least from a geological perspective) between the oceans and the atmosphere.

During ice ages the interaction between the deep-sea and the atmosphere is reduced, locking carbon into vast reservoirs in the abyss. The opposite happens during interglacial periods.

How do scientists work out the carbon levels in oceans tens of thousands of years ago?

The answer lies in the shells of tiny marine creatures that lived near the ocean’s surface at the time.

The international team (which included academics from the Autonomous University of Barcelona and the Australian National University) studied the composition of the calcium carbonate shells of ancient marine organisms that lived thousands of years ago. These revealed the ocean’s carbon content.

Joint lead author Gianluca Marino, from the Australian National University, said: “We found that very high concentrations of dissolved CO2 in surface waters of the Southern Atlantic Ocean and the eastern equatorial Pacific coincided with the rises in atmospheric CO2 at the end of the last ice age, suggesting that these regions acted as sources of CO2 to the atmosphere.”

Does more research need to be done?

Of course! The more research the merrier – especially since this is just one part of the bigger picture that marked the end of the ice age.

Co-author Gavin Foster, also from the University of Southampton, said: ”While our results support a primary role for the Southern Ocean processes in these natural cycles, we don’t yet know the full story and other processes operating in other parts of the ocean, such as the North Pacific, may have an additional role to play.”