Tag Archives: funding

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Monday 8th August 2016

Sugar tax will damage the Irish economy, Beverage council group claims

Irish Beverage Council says planned levy will not tackle obesity

     

A sugar tax of 10c on cans of soft drink will not help tackle Ireland’s obesity problem, said the Irish Beverage Council.

A sugar tax of 10 cent on cans of soft drink will increase the average household’s annual grocery bill by €60, but won’t help tackle Ireland’s obesity problem, said the Irish Beverage Council (IBC).

The group, which represents companies that sell sugary drinks in Ireland, has produced a report arguing sugar taxes do not achieve public-health objectives, and instead cause “economic damage to consumers, business and the Irish economy”.

IBC’s pre-budget submission, called Sugar Tax: All Cost, No Benefit, suggests Irish soft drinks companies could lose sales worth about €60 million a year to Northern Ireland as a result of the planned levy, while Exchequer VAT revenues could also be hit.

It said the estimate of lost sales was based on the consumer behaviour after currency market movements created a similar price gap between groceries priced in sterling and euro.

Low-income households

Food-based “sin” taxes are regressive and have a disproportionate effect on low-income households, it also argues.

“A sugar tax may be populist, but it is simply not supported by evidence,” said IBC director Kevin McPartlan.

The organisation, which is affiliated to employer group Ibec, noted that VAT was already applied to sugar-sweetened drinks at the standard 23%.

This could be lost to the Exchequer if a separate sugar tax is introduced ahead of the UK and provides enough of an incentive for cross-border trade in soft drinks, the industry argues.

The potential lost VAT revenue could be €35 million per year, it estimates.

“Any attempt to introduce a soft drinks tax prior to the UK’s potential implementation would create a significant differential to the price of products sold north and south of the border,” said the report.

A sugar tax in the UK is not due until 2018.

Britvic Ireland chief executive Kevin Donnelly told the Irish Times business podcast last month that the combination of weak sterling and the introduction of a sugar tax in the Republic before Northern Ireland “would drive quite a wedge in pricing between the two parts of Ireland”.

Denmark abandoned a tax on sugar drinks after 15 months following a loss of VAT income, which was attributed to consumers travelling to Germany and Sweden.

The Programme for a Partnership Government, published in May, listed a new tax on sugar-sweetened drinks as one of a range of measures that would be used to fund a reduction in personal tax rates, such as the phasing out of the Universal Social Charge (USC). No date was set for its introduction.

A Department of Finance spokesman said on Sunday that the issue had been studied in pre-budget tax strategy papers which outlined the options for the Government.

It said all views would be considered in the run up to the budget. The timing of any introduction of the tax would be dealt with on budget day, he said.

A recipe change is needed

IBC said it “remains unclear” whether a sugar tax was being introduced “solely as a revenue-raising measure or as a health levy with a related strategy”.

It is lobbying the Government to abandon the tax and instead encourage changing recipes and improving labelling.

The soft drinks industry has “taken thousands of tonnes of sugar and billions of calories out of the national diet” in recent years by changing recipes and offering a wider choice, its report states.

Almost half of all non-alcoholic drinks consumed in Ireland are now low or no-calorie varieties.

In Mexico, a sugar tax of 10% introduced in 2014 prompted a fall in the consumption of soft drinks in that year, but figures from the two largest Mexican bottlers of Coca-Cola show sales began to climb again earlier this year.

The tax of one peso per litre has been a successful revenue-raising measure, however, generating more than $2 billion since January 2014, or about one-third more than the Mexican government had expected.

Social welfare deal for self-employed people being surveyed across Ireland

   

The self-employed people in Ireland are being asked if they would welcome an opt-in social welfare system whereby they would pay more to access more benefits.

20,000 surveys will be sent out to a random selection of people across a wide range of industries including agriculture, construction and hospitality.

It is part of the Government’s plan to reform the PRSI system and create a better link between contributions and the benefits received.

Mark Fielding, head of the Irish Small and Medium Enterprises Association, has said people will always think twice about setting up their own business without a safety net: “It certainly stops people, or it has the capacity to stop people setting up business because as an employee you have an immediate entitlement to benefits if you are out of a job.

“As a self employed person, you don’t have that immediate entitlement.

“Invalidity isn’t covered for the self employed and disability isn’t covered for the self employed.

“The difficulty is it will cost and that is where the crux of the matter is.”

Irish Government being urged to introduce e-cigarette liquid tax levy

Department of Finance says 50c levy on every 10ml of liquid could yield €8.3m annually

    

Four EU member states, Portugal, Italy, Romania and Slovenia – have introduced taxes on e-cigarettes, or on the liquid used in them.

The Government has been told to consider introducing a levy on the liquid used in e-cigarettes.

The Department of Finance says a levy of 50 cent on every 10ml of the liquid used in the products, which are largely used by people attempting to quit smoking, could yield €8.3 million annually.

The proposal is included in a tax strategy paper published by the department which outlines a number of options in the area of excise duty.

“However, the implementation and collection of such a tax would be difficult given the wide variety of ways in which these products are supplied to the consumer,” the department says. “Secondly, as previously stated, many sources consider e-cigarettes to be a cessation tool and certainly less harmful than cigarettes.”

Safer than tobacco?

Four EU member states – Portugal, Italy, Romania and Slovenia – have introduced taxes on e-cigarettes, or on the liquid used in them. Manufacturers of e-cigarettes say the products have been deemed to be 95 per cent safer than tobacco equivalents. Public Health England, an agency of the UK’s department of health, said e-cigarettes were not risk-free but when compared with smoking, evidence showed they carried “just a fraction of the harm”.

However, former minister for children James Reilly raised concern about their effects late last year and insisted action would be required if evidence of them being damaging to health emerged.

The licensing system?

The Department of Health is preparing the general scheme of a Bill to provide for the introduction of a licensing system for the sale of tobacco products and non-medicinal nicotine delivery systems, including e-cigarettes. The legislation will prohibit the sale of tobacco products from self-service vending machines and temporary or mobile units/containers.

It will also prohibit the sale of non-medicinal nicotine delivery systems, including e-cigarettes, by and to persons under 18 years.

The tax strategy paper says Ireland has the second-highest excise duty on tobacco-related products in the European Union.

However, the Department of Finance said: “It should be noted the Revenue Commissioners have expressed concerns that increases in excise may not lead to increased yields, as consumers are further incentivised to exit the tobacco products market in Ireland.”

Conservation measures and the preservation of our rare species in Ireland

Are we doing enough?

     

Conservation measures to protect our environment and its wildlife have in many cases proven to be ineffective, with species still declining,

The spend by the State on protecting snails, frogs, corncrakes, and freshwater pearl mussels can sometimes raise eyebrows among a disbelieving public.

Against the background of almost weekly stories of trauma for patients waiting on trollies in hospital A&E departments and the unending homeless crisis, a combined spend of almost €1m in 2015 on only two protected birds, the hen harrier and the corncrake, may appear hard to justify.

However, the Department of Arts and Heritage has pointed out on a number of occasions that there is a legal obligation under EU law to spend the money on conservation measures, warning that if the money isn’t spent Ireland would have a much larger spend on fines imposed.

An Taisce’s natural environmental officer, Fintan Kelly, makes the argument that not enough money is provided for conservation of these protected species claiming that “due to political wrangling the money available for conservation has been spread too thinly”.

He claims: “The conservation measures themselves have consistently been watered down to such an extent that by the time it comes to implementation they cannot deliver meaningfully.”

The farming lobby is also not happy with aspects of the Government’s plan for conserving protected species.

  The Natterjack toad is rare in Ireland, limited to parts of Co Kerry. Ireland spends €48,000 a year on its protection.

IFA SAC project team chairman, Tom Turley, said IFA’s view has consistently been that the implementation process for designations does not protect landowners. The process of consultation has also fallen far short of what is required.

He said: “IFA has called for a proper consultation with an effective appeals system. The main concern of the IFA centres around the restrictions imposed and the lack of a proper compensation mechanism. Management plans have not been put in place. As a result, farmers and landowners have seen their incomes affected by designations with a devaluation of their land.”

Mr Turley added: “IFA has called on Minister Heather Humphreys to initiate discussions on a new process of consultation, appeals and a proper compensation mechanism. Areas that are currently designated should be examined as to whether they should remain designated.”

However, Mr Kelly pointed out: “Many of Ireland’s most threatened habitats and species are of poor and declining conservation status. In 2013 a report by the National Parks and Wildlife Service revealed that only 9% of the 58 habitats that were assessed were found to be in ‘favourable’ conservation status, 50% as ‘inadequate’ and 41% as ‘bad’.”

The hen harrier is considered to be one of our ‘at-risk’ species but farmers in areas designated for its protection have long been calling for support

He stated: “Some of our most threatened species such as vertigo (snails), freshwater pearl mussel and hen harrier continue to decline at an alarming rate.” Even once common species may not exist as breeding species in Ireland in the near future.

There have been significant declines in their long-term breeding distribution: Corncrake (92% down), curlew (89%), whinchat (77%), grey partridge (74%), woodcock (68%), lapwing (56%), red grouse (52%), and redshank (50%).

He said: “There is no evidence that there will be any major decline in pressures over the next decade. Pollution and the intensification of the agricultural and forestry sectors are threats for species moving forward. Climate change will also bring its own challenges.”

Mr Kelly claimed: “Agri-environment schemes in Ireland have in the main failed to halt biodiversity loss. This is despite vast sums of taxpayers’ money being invested.

“For example €2.18bn has been given to farmers in Ireland under CAP environmental schemes between 1994 and 2006, these schemes, have failed to deliver sufficient protection for Ireland’s biodiversity. This situation makes a mockery of Ireland’s current branding of our food and drink sector as ‘green’ and sustainable under Bord Bia’s Origin Green marketing campaign.”

The number of calling males is down 20%?

Mr Kelly said documentation which An Taisce got access to via Freedom of information requests reveal the NPWS agrees.

He pointed out: “In the documentation the NPWS expresses understandable frustration that its past submissions to the Department of Agriculture ‘have not particularly influenced the selection of measures for Natura lands’, despite the fact that the NPWS is the responsible body with direct expertise.”

Mr Kelly said that the farmers in hen harrier designated sites have been crying out for support for years.

“It would have benefited these hill farming communities and Ireland’s hen harrier population which is undergoing a collapse in its breeding population within these protected sites due to inadequate habitat management and due to pressures such as inappropriate forestry and windfarm development.”

Brendan Dunford, BurrenLife director, in the Burren with delegates from the EUFRAS/IALB (European Forum for Agricultural and Rural Advisory Services) Conference in June. He says the BurrenLife programme has had a ‘phenomenal impact’ on the Burren landscape.

Mr Kelly claimed that there “is inadequate enforcement of environmental law in Ireland”. He said: “The NPWS are critically underfunded and have seen their budget repeatedly slashed. For example, in December 2010 it was announced that the NPWS’s budget was to be cut by a huge 56%.

“As a nation we need to wake up to the current environmental crisis we are living through.”

Select group of farmers get €641k for hen harrier preservation.

A select group of farmers received €641,000 from the State in 2015 for implementing measures aimed at conserving the protected hen harrier bird on their lands.

In total, since the scheme commenced, farmers have enjoyed a €13.6m pay-out. However, the payout in 2015 was significantly down on the €1.86m paid out in 2014.

The Department of Arts and Heritage regards the EU-protected hen harrier as “one of Ireland’s and Europe’s most spectacular yet rarest and most threatened birds of prey”.

In response to a freedom of information request, the department said it has spent a total of €729,000 on all measures conserving the bird in 2015.

A breakdown of the costs show that along with the €641,439 paid to farmers an additional €63,439 was spent on a national hen harrier survey along with a further €20,000 spent on scientific report.

According to the department figures, the highest amount received by any participating farmer was a Tipperary farmer who received €14,594; followed by farmers in Tipperary and Limerick who all received figures in excess of €12,500.

The highest proportion of farmers in the scheme are based on the Midwest, with 96 in Limerick and 86 in Clare. The breakdown shows that there are 60 farmers based in Kerry, 53 in Cork and 32 in Galway and Tipperary.

However, one of those farmers in the scheme and member of Clare County Council, Pat Hayes (FF) said that only now is the designation of lands hitting home with the devaluation of the lands in question: “The designation is having a terrible impact on land values and I believe that there should be a more long-term compensation scheme put in place.”

The largest concentration of hen harriers is in the Stacks to Mullaghareirk Mountains, West Limerick Hills, and Mount Eagle SPA where 29 pairs are located with the next highest amount located in the Slieve Aughty mountains in northeast Clare-south Galway.

The hen harrier habitat mapping work that will inform part of the State’s threat response plan for the conservation of hen harrier.

The department has stated previously that without the traditional type of hill farming in hen harrier areas being supported, “it would be expected that the hen harrier population would decline and possibly become extinct”.

It further stated: “The hen harrier is a magnificent bird of prey and a beautiful part of Ireland’s natural heritage. The Hen Harrier Farm Plan Scheme run by the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht — National Parks and Wildlife Service — has been important in helping maintain and enhance habitat for this rare and vulnerable native Irish bird in areas that have experienced significant losses in habitat and where this species faces extinction.”

The department said the scheme has supported farmers to stay on the land???.

The general trend in the absence of such a scheme has been land abandonment and rural depopulation, and without this scheme it is likely more high nature value farmland and habitat would have been lost.

The department said that “in the NPWS Farm Plan Scheme payments have been made since 2008.

The farmer is paid for works done, e.g. the creation of hedgerows, improvement of hedgerows, design of scrub habitat, management of rushy/tussocky fields, change in stocking rate, controlled burning, creation of small mammal habitat, etc.”

€2.6m Burren scheme is hailed a success?

A model scheme that has paid Burren farmers more than €2.69m over the past six years to create the conditions to grow rare and wild flowers to prosper has had a phenomenal impact.

Pointing the way forward for future interest heritage schemes reliant on farmers for their success, over the past five years, farmers participating in the BurrenLife Programme have received €5.79m in payments for their role in the improved environmental health of the Burren.

Figures provided by BurrenLife show that €2.69m of those payments were for ‘the management of species-rich grassland’ where the Burren’s famous flowers grow.

Director of the scheme, Brendan Dunford — who last year gave Prince Charles a tour of a Burren farm — said the goal of the programme is that every farmer in the Burren who wants to be included will be included.

The most recent programme involved 160 farmers participating covering 45% of the protected areas in the Burren and Mr Dunford said that it is the programme’s ambition to include 100% of protected areas such as special areas of conservation (SAC).

Mr Dunford said that the programme has had “a phenomenal impact” on the Burren landscape “and the environmental health of the Burren is increasing year by year”.

  The Burren in Co Clare remains one of Ireland’s unique protected landscapes.

The BurrenLife will leave a fantastic legacy and it proven to be a very good value for money model — and we believe is the best model around.” The programme is jointly funded between the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Arts and Heritage.

Mr Dunford said: “The programme has a lot of support at national and European level.”

He said that people can see for themselves the increasing environmental health in every Burren field under the programme. The success of the programme has now resulted in the creation of a new six-year programme entitled the Burren programme and it is envisaged 500 farmers will be included in the scheme by 2020.

  €2m to preserve the ‘iconic’ corncrake?

The State has spent €2m over the past four years in its battle to save the corncrake from national extinction and the number of calling males is down 20%.

However, divisional manager with the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS), Denis Strong, points out that a large proportion of the monies in the scheme is paid to farmers.

Last year (2015), the State spent €338,032 in the latest round of its corncrake battle — the bird is going tough times with numbers down 20% to 183 calling males.

Mr Strong pointed out that of the €338,032 spent, €177,675 was paid to farmers: “The money goes directly back into rural Ireland and to the farmers.”

The spend of €338,032 in 2015 followed a spend of €362,111 in 2014, €597,779 in 2013, and €722,237 in 2012.

Speaking on the 2015 spend, Mr Strong said: “The scheme offers good value for money to the taxpayer. The amount spent is a very, small, small contribution on an iconic species that has been here for so long.”

He added: “It is important that we maintain that and protect what we have from a biodiversity point of view. Also, as a member of the EU, we also have a legal obligation to protect and enhance species such as the corncrake.”

The protection measures are in place as mechanised farming decimated the Irish population of the corncrake which was once widespread across the country. The bird migrates here each summer from Africa to breed before returning to the warmer climate for the winter.

The numbers of the bird increased in 2013 and in 2014 to record levels of 230 calling males before last year’s census that found no sign of any corncrakes in the Shannon Callows. The bird has also disappeared from Co Sligo, North Mayo mainland and Achill Island, and Connemara since last year.

The largest concentration of corncrake in the country are the islands of Donegal where 86 calling males were detected during the summer, including 43 detected on Inishbofin and Inishdooey. The 2015 figures show that 55 corncrake males were detected in west Connacht, including 34 on the Mullet peninsula. The bird is now confined to Co Donegal, Co Mayo, and islands off Connemara.

The corncrake is an Annex I species on the EU Birds Directive, requiring that the highest conservation measures be put in place.

  €500k contracts to save pearl mussel? 

The State has entered contracts worth more than €500,000 in a bid to conserve “our panda” — the critically endangered freshwater pearl mussel.

The freshwater pearl mussel is present in 150 rivers around the country and can produce valuable perals

Figures provided by the Department of Arts and Heritage in response to a freedom of information request show that the department entered six contracts worth a total of €512,000 with a number of the contracts stretching through to 2017 and 2019.

The department confirmed that €38,176 was spent last year (2015) on freshwater pearl monitoring with a further €19,804 being spent on a separate study.

The most lucrative contract was won by Richard O’Callaghan, who is providing ongoing scientific support relating to the department’s projects concerning freshwater pearl mussel species.

The mussel has existed virtually unchanged for around 50m years and has survived in Ireland in large numbers and high densities across many rivers, and has existed in some lakes for in excess of 10,000 years.

The mussel can live to 120 years; is present in 150 rivers around the country and is not edible.

Authority on the mussel here, Evelyn Moorkens, says: “They are a very special species. The mussel is both a keystone species — if you lose it, you will lose a whole series of species and it is an umbrella species in that it offers protection to everything else around it.”

Ms Moorkens previously described the mussel as “our tiger, our panda”. The information shows that Ms Moorkens has scooped three of the six contracts with a combined value of €252,000. The work involves her providing, in one case, surveillance on 21 pearl mussel sites between 2014 and 2017 and in another, monitoring of pearl mussel sites in Co Kerry from 2014 to 2019 as part of an EU Life project.

Ninety percent of all freshwater pearl mussels — which can actually produce valuable pearls — are known to have died out across Europe during the 20th century.

The figures show that Philip Farrelly & Co Ltd was the other pearl mussel expert to scoop a large contract after he secured a €94,770 contract for a Fresh Water Pearl Mussel Farm Planning Protocol.

In July of last year, the presence of 7,000 pearl mussels on the Doonbeg river helped US billionaire and Republican candidate for president, Donald Trump, blow plans for a giant windfarm near his Irish golf resort at Doonbeg off course.

€250k on endangered toad is money well spent, says an expert

Department spending €48,000 per year for five years on native species

Ireland could face legal action and be subject to fines from the EU if we did not take action to protect the habitat of the native toad.

The State is spending €250,000 over five years in a bid to restore Ireland’s only native toad, the natterjack, to its former glory.

The endangered natterjack is confined to a small area in Kerry and one site in Wexford.

Currently, the State is committed to spending €48,000 per annum to a small group of farmers and landowners who manage new breeding sites for the natterjack in Co Kerry.

Last year, the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht confirmed that it was seeking tenders from parties in respect of a monitoring project for the natterjack until 2018.

The natterjack is protected under the EU Habitats Directive that requires member states to carry out a series of strict protective measures to ensure that the species has a favourable conservation status.

Expert on the natterjack, Prof Mark Emmerson of Queen’s University said that the spend on the natterjack toad study “is money well spent”. He said: “There is a legal requirement on states in the EU to improve the status of natterjack toads.”

Prof Emmerson said that if the money is not spent and the population of the natterjack declines, Ireland risks facing legal action and potential fines from the EU. The academic said that the chirruping of the natterjack can be heard from more than 1km away, while the mating calls of the male can be heard from great distances.

Adult natterjacks are 60mm–70mm long and are distinguished from the common toad by a yellow line down the middle of the back. They can live up to 15 years, feeding on insects.

The natterjack toad is rare in Ireland, limited to parts of Co Kerry. Ireland spends €48,000 a year on its protection

The current population of natterjack toads is estimated to be around 9,000 adults and it is the only toad species found in Ireland. Prof Emmerson said Kerry provides a great refuge for the toad.

A spokesman for the Depatment of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht stated: “Considerable efforts have been made in recent years to start restoring the toad to its historic range. This has involved the construction of approximately 100 new breeding sites for the species around Castlemaine Harbour and at Castlegregory in Co Kerry.

He said: “The ponds are dug and managed by 48 local landowners under five-year agreements with the department.

“The cost to the department of this scheme in each of the last two years has been €48,000. It is hoped to continue this scheme to the end of the current five-year agreements, subject to exchequer funds being made available.”

The origin of the long body of snakes now discovered after gene find

    

                                        A snake embryo.

For many years, researchers have been trying to understand the origin of the exceptionally long trunks that characterize the body of snakes. This is a mystery in terms of animal development that can shed light on the mechanisms controlling the tissues that form the trunk, including the skeleton and the spinal cord.

A research team led by Moisés Mallo from Instituto Gulbenkian de Ciência (IGC, Portugal) now discovered the key factor that regulates trunk development in vertebrates and explains why snakes have such a strikingly different body. These findings, published in the latest edition of Developmental Cell and highlighted in its cover, may open new avenues to the study of spinal cord regeneration.

Despite obvious differences in size and shapes observed among different vertebrate animals, they all have bodies with a head and neck, a trunk and a tail. It is the relative size of each of these body sections what makes a large part of the body differences among these animals. Still, all vertebrates develop by consecutive phases, forming each region of the body in a specific order, from head to tail.

The development is guided by genetic instructions that inform the beginning and the end of each body region’s formation. Moisés Mallo’s laboratory has been trying to crack the genetic code that controls trunk and tail development in vertebrates. In order to achieve it, they studied mice that had particularly long or especially short trunks. “We thought that the analysis of these animals could give us the key to unveil the code of trunk formation”, says Moisés Mallo.

Their experiments led to the surprising finding that the key controller of trunk development was the Oct4 gene, one of the essential regulators of stem cells. Since many other vertebrates also have Oct4, this gene could play similar roles in other animals and might even be responsible for the exceptionally long trunks of snakes. Rita Aires, first author of this study, explains:

“We had found that Oct4 is the switch that leads to trunk formation, still we couldn’t explain the different trunk length observed in vertebrates, particularly in snakes. Therefore, we tested if this switch was being turned on or off during different periods of embryonic development in snakes compared to mice.”

The researchers discovered that the Oct4 gene was indeed kept active during a longer period of time in snakes when compared to other animals. They also showed that this resulted from changes in the snake genome that happened during reptile evolution, which placed the Oct4 gene next to a DNA region that keeps this gene in an “ON” state during long periods of embryonic development.

“The formation of different body regions works as a strong-arm contest of genes. Genes involved in trunk formation need to start ceasing activity so that the genes involved in tail formation can start working. In the case of snakes, we observed that the Oct4 gene is kept active during a longer period of embryonic development, which explains why snakes have such a long trunk and a very short tail”, says Rita Aires.

Moisés Mallo further explains: “We identified a key factor that allows essentially unlimited growth of trunk structures, as long as it remains active. Now we will investigate if we can use the Oct4 gene and the DNA region that maintains its activity to expand the cells that make the spinal cord, trying to regenerate it in case of injury.”

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News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Friday 25th June 2016

IDA set to negotiate with UK companies to relocate to Ireland after Brexit vote

The agency is to begin negotiations with companies located in UK that may want to relocate to Ireland.

   

Martin Shanahan, the chief executive of IDA Ireland, says the State agency will soon begin negotiations with banks and other companies located in the UK that may want to relocate to Ireland following the Brexit vote.

Martin Shanahan, the chief executive of IDA Ireland, says the State agency will soon begin negotiations with banks and other companies located in the UK that may want to relocate to Ireland following the Brexit vote.

Mr Shanahan stressed his first preference was for Britain to remain within the European Union (EU), but he said the IDA has “done its homework” on how to maximise foreign investment for Ireland now that the UK has voted to leave.

“We have been in discussion with potential clients [who may choose to relocate to Ireland from the UK] for months. They approached us,” said Mr Shanahan. “We have a good view on the potential for Ireland.

He said discussions with potential foreign investors could begin as soon as “next week, or the week after”.

IDA’s existing 1,200 client companies are “still digesting the news”, he said. Mr Shanahan yesterday wrote to the 1,200 to say Ireland remains committed to the EU and is effectively still open for business.

He said Ireland’s “stability” would be an attractive feature when attracting new investment in the midst of the uncertainty created for the UK by the vote. Mr Shanahan also agreed that financial services and technology were two sectors where Ireland would be particularly well placed to pick up fresh foreign investment that might otherwise locate in the UK.

“But we intend to push for investment right across the portfolio, including life sciences and engineering,” he said. “Our mandate prior to Brexit was to maximise investment for Ireland, and nothing has changed in that regard.”

Terms of exit?

Fergal O’Brien, chief economist at the employers’ lobby Ibec, said the UK is now likely to “become more aggressive” in securing foreign investment to protect its economy, which could increase competition faced by the IDA.

He said a lot depends on the terms of the exit deal given to the UK, including its level of access to the EU’s internal market: “It is in Ireland’s interests to get as much stability as possible for the UK.”

Mr O’Brien suggested that while other EU states might want to impose tough measures on the UK to discourage other countries from exiting, Ireland “needs to establish at EU level that we have skin in the game” and push for leniency.

Enterprise Ireland, meanwhile, warned against the effects of exchange rate volatility for Irish exporters into the UK. It said it would also support Irish exporters to devise medium-term diversification plans.

“In addition to our team in the UK, we have put in place a dedicated email address, phone-line and team for Enterprise Ireland clients to respond to their immediate concerns and issues,” said the agency.

Ryanair and Aer Lingus could be hit by fall in passengers

International Air Transport Association says weaker sterling may cut number of UK travellers

   

IAG said it no longer expects to generate an absolute operating profit increase similar to 2015.

Ryanair and Aer Lingus parent, International Airlines’ Group (IAG), could be hit by a fall in UK passenger numbers following the Brexit vote, according to a leading industry body.

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) predicts that a weakened sterling and shrinking economy could cut UK airline passenger numbers, which hit 250 million last year, by 3 to 5% by 2020.

A report the association published yesterday shows that Ryanair and IAG, owner of Aer Lingus, are amongst the airlines that are most exposed to a fall in air travel.

The UK is one of Ryanair’s biggest markets, accounting for more than 30 million of the 100-plus million passengers that it flies every year.

This gave it a large share of the 117 million people that flew between the UK and the rest of the EU last year. It also employs 4,000 people there.

IAG’s other airlines include British Airways, which carried more than 43 million people last year. The group warned in a statement following the vote that it does not expect this year’s growth in operating profits to match that of 2015.

Ryanair’s chief marketing officer, Kenny Jacobs, said that the Irish company would campaign to have the UK remains in the EU’s Open Skies regime, which allows airlines to fly freely between member states.

However, he indicated that Ryanair is more likely to spend money on countries within the EU, such as the Republic, Germany, Spain and Italy. “It’s going to mean that when we are looking at investing, we will look outside the UK,” he said.

The vote sent travel stocks tumbling. IAG fell 22.54% to 409 pence sterling in London. Ryanair shares were down 11.77% at €12.07 in Dublin.

Shaun Quinn, chief executive of State body, Fáilte Ireland, responsible for promoting tourism to the Republic, said it was too early to speculate on the likely impact of the vote on the industry.

“Fáilte Ireland will be monitoring any short term impacts of a devalued sterling on tourist numbers to Ireland and working with businesses in the sector to develop strategies to address any arising competitiveness challenges,” he said.

The Irish Hotels Federation warned that there was a risk a risk that economic uncertainty and a weaker sterling would hit visitor numbers from the UK.

Republic attracts three million tourists from Britain every year. The hospitality industry fears that this number could decline as the Brexit fallout continues.

Sligo seeking funding as European Volunteer Capital

Sligo, Ireland, Finds Working Capital in Its Couch Cushions     

Concern has been expressed that no funding has yet been arranged for Sligo’s designation as European Volunteering Capital 2017.

The manager of Sligo Volunteer Centre Ciara Herity told councillors last week that while the supports from the Municipality were in place, no concrete funding was secured.

“We are the first non-country capital winner. It’s very exciting, for Sligo and for Ireland. The uniqueness of Sligo winning is that we are a small rural county on the periphery of Europe. It’s a privilege to have it,” she said.

Cathaoirleach of the County Council Cllr Rosaleen O’Grady said she was “concerned that they’ve no funding” but added that they had “the right woman in Marian Harkin in Europe” to help them source funding.

The MEP is Patron of Sligo Volunteer Centre and attended the presentation in person last week.

Sligo beat seven other cities in the running for the 2017 designation and previous winners include London, Lisbon and Barcelona.

Sligo Volunteer Centre celebrates its 10 year anniversary in 2017 and the designation will give due recognition to that.

M/s Herity said the designation would bring more European visitors here along with an economic boost to the town and county.

It’s hoped Sligo will host some national events: Volunteer Ireland, Special Olympics, Foroige and the Irish Girl Guides have been approached about hosting events here next year.

Cllr Sean MacManus said it was “a fantastic achievement for a small county on the periphery of Europe”. He said it was going to be difficult to match London and Lisbon “especially in view of the fact that we’ve no funding.”

“Even given Sligo County Council’s straitened financial situation to include some forming of funding to back them up,” he said.

Cllr Sinead Maguire also congratulated Sligo Volunteer Centre and said “It does reflect the spirit of volunteering that we have here in Sligo. We’re worthy winners.”

Council Chief Executive Ciarán Hayes is now tasked with designing a programme of events, actively pursuing sponsorship and raising awareness.

Marked reduction in PSA testing

 Pictured left to right at the John Fitzpatrick Irish Prostate Cancer Conference in Dublin were: Mr Killian Walsh, Prof Michael Blute, Mr Peter Ryan and Mr Andrew Fitzpatrick   

A US Task Force recommendation against PSA-based screening had a major effect, Gary Culliton heard at the John Fitzpatrick Irish Prostate Cancer Conference. Since this policy decision was made, there has been a considerable impact on rates of detection

Policy decisions are rapidly influencing primary care practice in the US. There has been a decrease in prostate-specific antigen (PSA) screening, and the urology response has been an increase in the use of active surveillance in men with low-risk disease. Recent years have also seen the advent of surgical cohorts with more intermediate and high-risk disease.

A recommendation against PSA screening may be leading to later stage disease at diagnosis, a meeting in Dublin has heard.

There has been a shift toward more advanced disease at diagnosis, and decreased use of PSA-based screening may worsen this trend.

The rapid decrease in PSA use was concerning, said Prof Michael Blute, Chief of Urology at Boston’s Massachusetts General Hospital and Professor of Surgery at Harvard. This would continue until there was a change at policy level, he said, in a talk on policy decisions and the changing face of prostate cancer at the John Fitzpatrick Irish Prostate Cancer Conference in Dublin recently. His talk dealt in particular with diagnosis and management in the US.

More surgical patients are seen with advanced or adverse pathology. “My hope is that smarter prostate cancer screening methods will be introduced,” said Prof Blute. One of his concerns centres on “reaching primary care practices.”

In 2012, the US Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommended against PSA-based screening for prostate cancer. There was moderate or high certainty that the service had no net benefit or that the harms outweighed the benefits, said the Task Force, which discouraged use of the service.

Since this policy decision was made, there has been a major impact on rates of detection. Urologists order between 7 and 10 per cent of the PSA tests in the country. The vast majority of PSA tests are ordered by primary care practices.

Dramatic reduction

A dramatic reduction was seen in the utilisation of PSA testing in primary care practices (Ahmedin Jemal, 2015). There were then conflicting results from the PLCO and ERSPC trials and the case against screening appeared to strengthen.

Following the 2012 USPSTF recommendation, there has been a 20 per cent reduction in the use of PSA testing in the United States and rates would continue to fall, said Prof Blute. “The argument about PSA screening became an ‘all or none’ debate. The ‘none’ side won out. This is having a significant impact for men diagnosed with prostate cancer at our practice.”

Overall incidence among the cohort of men aged 50 and older in the US dropped off in 2012. However, the presentation stage — for localised disease or metastatic disease — has not changed; it lags behind. For the first time in two decades, the incidence of metastatic disease among men aged 75 years or older is starting to creep up.

“My fear is that primary care practices are not listening to American Urological Association (AUA) guidelines. They are not listening to National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN) guidelines. They are listening to the USPSTF,” Prof Blute said.

Since the 2012 USPSTF recommendation, there has been a 28 per cent reduction in the diagnosis of prostate cancer in the US (Barocas DA, J Urol, 2015). Equal reductions have been seen in the diagnosis of men with low-, intermediate- and high-risk cancers. “This is an extremely rapid change and it is a real concern for men with intermediate- or high-risk disease who will experience delay in diagnosis,” said Prof Blute. Delayed diagnoses would be a feature and an increase in the incidence of men with metastatic disease at diagnosis was sure to follow, he said.

The recommendation has been associated with decreased PSA screening in all age groups, decreased rates of prostate biopsies and decreased incidence of prostate cancer. There has been no change in the distribution of low-, intermediate- and high-grade disease. There have been no changes thus far among men aged between 50 and 74. Increases in men presenting with metastatic disease 75 years and older are now seen (Ahmedin Jemal, 2015). Men in the 50-to-70 years bracket would have a similar response if there was continued reduction in the utilisation of PSA, Prof Blute predicted. An increase in absolute and relative amounts of late stage prostate cancer would be seen, he predicted.

Increased number

A hugely increased number of men with low-risk disease were identified following the introduction of PSA testing.

Seventy-to-80 per cent of the diagnoses were low-risk. Now, almost 40 per cent of men with newly diagnosed prostate cancer are placed — appropriately — in active surveillance protocols (National Cancer Database, 2004 to 2013).

Between 2004 and 2012, intermediate- and high-risk men were increasingly seen among surgical cohorts. Low-risk men may not benefit from aggressive therapy, but because of progression or repeat sampling biopsies that reveal higher grade disease in 20 per cent of cases, men may be upstaged to intermediate risk disease.

Data covering private practice urology in the US showed a drastic reduction in use of ADT monotherapy for patients with the highest risk on Cancer of the Prostate Risk Assessment (CAPRA) score after 2004 (Cooperberg, JAMA, 2009). Use of radical prostatectomy more than doubled. There was a continued reduction in primary androgen deprivation therapy as monotherapy among men aged 75 and older. There was also an increase in the utilisation of more aggressive therapy for patients who had higher-risk disease.

Pathologically, there has been a reverse stage shift: operations have been performed on more men with higher-risk disease. From 2000 to 2010, the number of men who underwent radical prostatectomies for low-risk disease, dropped drastically — from 50 to 30 per cent (Silberstein, Cancer, 2011). By contrast, the number of men with high- and intermediate-risk disease increased. More and more men with adverse pathology results would be seen following radical prostatectomy, said Prof Blute.

The number of men operated on with organ-confined disease was falling, but more men with extra-prostatic disease were seen.

However, there was a reduction in operations on men with primary pathologic Gleason Score Six disease.

Low-risk tumours are more frequently treated with active surveillance in the US, while high-risk tumours are more frequently treated with surgery. The recommendation against PSA screening is leading to a reverse Stage migration.

Prof Blute spoke about the role of MRI in surgical management of prostate cancer. There would be an increased tendency to operate on more aggressive tumours. Some cancer cells may be left behind (increased positive surgical margin rates) and there would probably be less favourable cancer control outcomes locally — particularly where surgery was used as single-modality treatment. Use of adjuvant therapies and pelvic lymph node dissection would also increasingly be considered.

Men in the high-risk cate-gory are a heterogenous group. Those with high-risk disease who have a single adverse variable do better than men with multiple adverse variables. In terms of management, surgery is included in guidelines by the National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN) for cases of resectable disease, but unlike breast or colorectal cancer, algorithm surgery has not been tested in a multimodal fashion with radiation and hormone therapy.

Where surgery is used for initial management in high-risk disease, overall 10-year cancer-specific survival is 80-to-90 per cent (Stewart, 2015). Many men do well, where their high-risk disease is managed using surgery. Fifteen-year outcomes were published on a series of men with clinical T3 disease who had operations. The complication rate among these men — who underwent wide local excision of their cancers — was studied. They had good outcomes — equivalent to T2 disease. In terms of urinary control, 80 per cent of these men were completely dry (Ward, 2005, BJUI).

MRI is used to stage these patients prior to surgery. The same techniques used in low-risk men cannot be used to operate on men with high-risk disease. Extended pelvic lymph node dissections are recommended as the node positive rate for high risk disease will be 10 to 15 per cent. There would be risk associated with dividing the lateral pelvic fascia and releasing the neurovascular bundle and not achieving negative surgical margins. Therefore, an extrafascial approach is favoured for men with high-risk disease.

An objective was to elevate the rectoprostatic fascia so there was a wide surgical margin in the patient, said Prof Blute.

Using wide local excision surgery as an initial treatment among 1,800 men with high risk disease, 57 per cent of men ultimately had pathologically organ-confined disease and did well (Boorijian, J Urol, 2008). Ten-year local recurrence-free survival was 90 per cent. Local recurrence-free survival in these men (who often had at least T3 disease) was equivalent to that in men with T2 disease.

Profiling

Increasingly, a biomarker has been used. The Decipher test is a genomic classifier. Some 545 Mayo Clinic patients with high-risk disease were selected following radical prostatectomies (Erho, Crisan, PLOS One, 2013). These men had biochemical recurrence and a test was sought that would predict metastases.

Some 192 cases developed metastases. Transcriptome-wide expression profiling was carried out to identify signalling pathways associated with metastases.

If the Deci¬p¬her score indicated a low risk, only 2.4 per cent of men ultimately demonstr-ated metastases. The genomic classifier was judged to yield independent prognostic information in a multivariable analysis. The Decipher test was found to be the only significant variable for detecting rapid metastases and it performed well, compared to the CAPRA-S and Stephenson nomograms (Klein, Euro Urology 2015).

The Decipher test provided additional stratification in terms of risk (Ashley Ross, Johns Hopkins). Molecular stratification has been needed to classify men with high-risk disease better. There is a concern about additional toxicities in these men (who have undetectable PSA, are responding well to their surgery and have good quality of life).

Multivariable analysis demonstrated that genomic high-risk men, who received ART, had higher metastases-free survival, compared to salvage radiation treatment. An 80 per cent reduction in risk of metastases was demonstrated, among the Decipher high-risk group getting ART — rather than salvage — therapy.

Metastates

This would hopefully inform the debate about the timing of radiation treatment in the post-op setting, said Prof Blute. The genomic classifier would be very helpful in men who had high risk disease. Data showed that significant numbers of men with adverse pathologies did not develop clinical metastases. They do well and do not need adjuvant therapies.

Introducing a genomic classifier for this group of men would be very valuable in stratifying who needed the therapies and when. In patients with adverse pathology and a low-risk genomic classifier result, a careful eye should be kept on the PSA results, data indicate. More prospective studies were required, said Prof Blute.

In the current era, aggressive treatment of localised prostate cancer was increasingly being reserved for those men who needed it the most, and active surveillance for men with low-risk disease.

In the future, surgical cohorts would be increasingly intermediate- and high-risk patients, and focus must be on managing adverse pathology after surgery to achieve long-term local control of prostate cancer, added Prof Blute.

Crops grown on Mars soil are safe to eat

   

Ecologist Wieger Wamelink inspecting the plants grown on soil similar to that on Mars at the Wageningen University.

Results from trials using soil like that on Mars hold promise for future settlements on planet

Dutch scientists said crops of four vegetables and cereals grown on soil similar to that on Mars have been found safe to eat, amid plans for the first manned mission to the planet.

Abundant harvests of radishes, peas, rye and tomatoes all grown on the soil were found to contain “no dangerous levels” of heavy metals, said the team from Wageningen University on Thursday.

“These remarkable results are very promising,” said senior ecologist Wieger Wamelink. “We can actually eat the radishes, peas, rye and tomatoes, and I am very curious what they will taste like.”

Future Mars settlers will have to take food supplies with them and then plant crops in order to survive.

So using soil developed by Nasa to resemble that of the Red Planet, the university in the Netherlands has been experimenting since 2013 and has managed to raise 10 crops.

There is uncertainty still about their absorbing the high levels of heavy metals such as cadmium, copper and lead present in Mars soil. Further tests are needed on the other six crops, including potatoes, in research being backed by a crowd-funding campaign.

Nasa plans a manned trip to Mars within the next 10 to 15 years or so, and similar projects are being pursued by US billionaire Elon Musk and Dutch company Mars One, tentatively aiming to set up human colonies on the Red Planet.

The Mars One project has backed the Wageningen work and is deciding on the final 40 out of 100 candidates hoping to be its astronauts.

But unlike any Nasa mission, Mars One is a one-way trip: Whoever joins this journey to the foreign world is never, ever coming back to Earth, Fox 5 News reported.

Mars One CEO Bas Landsdorp estimates the project will cost US$7 billion (S$9.5 billion). He plans to pay for it in part by turning the mission into a reality show.

But space expert Neil deGrasse Tyson is sceptical.

“I try not to get in anybody’s way who is dreaming big,” he told Business Insider after Mars One announced the project in February last year. “But I’m sceptical it can be accomplished on the timescale” given.

News Ireland daily BLOG byDonie

Sunday 29th May 2016

Crisis talks needed to patch up cracks in new Irish Government

Fianna Fail anger over Fine Gael row-back on guidance counsellors

  

Fianna Fail and Fine Gael will hold crisis talks in the coming days as the first chinks in the confidence and supply deal have emerged over plans to hire more guidance counsellors for secondary schools.

Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin is understood to be furious that Fine Gael is rowing back on what he believed was a commitment to fully restore the number of guidance counsellors in schools to pre-financial crisis levels.

The issue of guidance counsellors was a sticking point during government negotiations with Fianna Fail insisting it form part of the agreement for facilitating a Fine Gael-led minority government.

The agreement states that Taoiseach Enda Kenny’s government will commit to “reintroduce guidance counselling to secondary schools”

However, the parties are now at loggerheads over how this should be achieved.

The Fine Gael/Labour ¬Coalition abolished so called ex-quota guidance counselling hours and included counsellors in pupil/teacher ratios.

Fianna Fail is insisting guidance counsellors should be reintroduced in all secondary schools and the roles should be excluded from pupil/teacher ratios when funding is allocated.

Fine Gael believes guidance counsellors should be included in pupil/teacher ratios and schools should have the power to decide on their own staffing resources.

A senior government source said school management and principals hold a “very different view” to Fianna Fail on guidance counsellors.

“There is also a big difference in what school management would say and what the lobby for guidance counsellors say about this,” the source said.

Fianna Fail’s education spokesman Thomas Byrne is to meet with Education Minister Richard Bruton this week to discuss the issue. He said reintroducing guidance counsellors is a “priority” for Fianna Fail.

“It’s very clear in the confidence and supply agreement but more importantly this service has never been more necessary in our schools,” he said.

“Mr Bruton will simply have to deliver what Fine Gael has already agreed to in the confidence and supply agreement and I look forward to meeting him this week to get confirmation on that,” he added.

The minister’s spokesman said he is also looking forward to meeting Mr Byrne to discuss “how to best implement the commitment on guidance counselling”.

“Minister Bruton will be keen to listen to views as to how best implement this commitment through future budgets,” he said.

“In deciding the best approach, the best interests of the child and the best means of providing guidance counselling will be paramount,” he added.

In response to a parliamentary question last week, Mr Bruton said to fully restore guidance counsellors it will require an additional 300 teaching posts at an estimated cost of €19m per year.

Mr Burton is understood to have scheduled meetings with all of the opposition ¬education spokespersons.

Meanwhile, Fianna Fail is preparing a raft of new legislation which it hopes will get cross-party support in the new Dail.

The party is set to introduce up to 20 bills in the coming weeks. Last week, the party’s justice spokesman Jim O’Callaghan introduced a private members bill which will strip the power to rule on parole hearings from the ¬Justice Minister. Parole hearings would instead be heard by an independent review body.

Sinn Fein’s justice spokesman Jonathan O’Brien said he agreed in principle with the bill and said his party is likely to vote for it in the Dail.

Fianna Fail is also bringing forward legislation to clamp down on abuses of the au pair system. It will introduce a cultural exchange programme which will take in au pairs and ensure they do not work more than five hours a day and have two days off a week.

Sligo-Leitrim TD Marc MacSharry has drafted a bill to ring-fence tax from alcohol sales for mental health services, and legislation to prevent repossession of the family home.

The Government is set to discuss re-introducing bills drafted by the last administration at this week’s cabinet meeting. New ministers are also expected to draft new ¬legislation in the coming weeks.

Brendan Howlin expects this minority Government to fall within 12 months

New Labour leader says party not rewarded by voters for ‘spectacular’ economic recovery

   

Brendan Howlin (above left) now says I think we will have another general election in the next 12 months?

The Labour Party leader said on Saturday he expects the minority Government to collapse shortly and his party is preparing for another general election within 12 months.

Brendan Howlin was speaking on Saturday after meeting party councillors for the first time since becoming party leader.

Mr Howlin said what the country required was a Government that was agile and had the trust of the people to respond to crisis.

“We don’t have that now. I think we will have another general election in the next 12 months, that would be my view. We have to prepare for that.”

Addressing his party’s disastrous election performance, in which it lost 30 of its 37 seats, Mr Howlin wry observed that “if Bill Clinton had been right – and it was all about the economy stupid – we should have fared better at the last election.”

“But economic statistics are arid affairs and difficult to excite the public about. And it is the case too that the debate about the last election had a touch of survivors bias about it.”

Mr Howlin said Labour’s opponents Sinn Féin and the AAA/PBP “would have driven the economy into the ground had they been let. We didn’t let them. The economy recovered. Spectacularly.”

He said his party was not given credit for solving the big problem of the State’s solvency and could not solve all of the other problems and suffered as a consequence at the hands of the voters.

Mr Howlin pointed to data this week showing that unemployment has almost halved from 15 per cent to 8 per cent and said this was a statistic that the party should “shout from the rooftops. This is nothing to do with the new Government. It is all our work and we should be proud of it.”

Describing this as an incredible achievement which had directly led to 155,000 people and their families becoming better off, he said it was ironic that this did not work in the party’s favour during the election.

The not so clear understanding of body mass index (BMI)

Is it time to move away from a BMI-focused approach at the level of the individual?

     

Given the relationship between increased weight, and diabetes and heart disease, you would expect that a rising BMI would be associated with increasing mortality but that is not the case

“The road is long, With many a winding turn, That leads us to who knows where”

The lyrics of the Hollies hit He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother fit nicely along the convoluted road that is the relationship between body mass index (BMI) and health.

From being an accepted arbiter of whether you were overweight, obese or a member of that elusive category, normal, the emperor’s clothes have become somewhat tattered of late. Add conflicting advice on healthy eating, and the world of fitness and health has become most uncertain.

BMI, which is calculated by dividing your weight (in kg) by the square of your height (in metres), gained currency as a more accurate measure of “healthy” weight following the publication in 1972 of a paper in the Journal of Chronic Diseases by Ancel Keys.

He argued that BMI was, “if not fully satisfactory, at least as good as any other relative weight index as an indicator of relative obesity”.

Keys was prescient in describing BMI as “not fully satisfactory”. Using the ultimate outcome of mortality, the optimal BMI associated with lowest risk of all causes of mortality is no longer certain.

Given the relationship between increased weight and a greater incidence of diabetes and heart disease, you would expect that a rising BMI would be associated with increasing mortality. However, compared with normal weight, being underweight is associated with increased mortality, and a moderately elevated BMI is associated with lower mortality. This unexpected relationship is called the obesity paradox.

In a paper published earlier this month in the Journal of the American Medical Association, Danish researchers found that the optimal BMI associated with lowest mortality had increased from 23.7 to 27 over three decades. In addition, they reported the risk of all-cause mortality linked to a BMI of 30 (traditionally the cut-off point between being overweight and obese) now equates to the risk associated with having a BMI of 18.5-to 25 (underweight/ normal range).

Their finding calls into question the validity of the World Health Organisation(WHO) overweight categories, which define a BMI of 20-25 as normal, with 25-30 classified as being overweight.

“If this finding is confirmed in other studies, it would indicate a need to revise the WHO categories presently used to define overweight, which are based on data from before the 1990s,” the authors say.

Why the increase in BMI associated with lowest all-cause mortality has occurred over time is a mystery that needs further study.

Is the improved treatment of cardiovascular disease in people who remain overweight conferring a survival advantage that is independent of the person’s weight?

How is the known link between obesity and higher rates of cancer feeding into this mortality decline? Is weight gain in later life more or less life-limiting than being overweight from childhood?

It may be time to move away from a BMI-focused approach at the level of the individual patient. For example, obesity staging systems focus on overall cardiometabolic health, rather than BMI.

Better measurements of body fat, such as waist circumference, may also help. And some mechanism for incorporating a person’s exercise levels into the obesity “equation” is worth exploring also.

The publication in Britain last week of a controversial report, advocating that we eat more fat, muddies the waters even more.

The National Obesity Forum and the Public Health Collaboration called for a diet low in refined carbohydrates but high in healthy fats, saying it offers “an effective and safe approach for preventing weight gain and aiding weight loss”.

There is no doubt that, from the frontline of clinical practice, guidelines suggesting high-carbohydrate, low-fat diets were a universal panacea, did not reduce obesity levels. Looking back, dietary guidelines demonising fat were an open invitation to increase sugar and carbohydrate consumption.

Between measuring and dieting, overweight/ obesity is truly in a “terrible state o’ chassis”.

HSE group to consider funding for two new life saving cancer drugs?

        

                            The new Health Minister Simon Harris.

A special drugs group in the HSE is expected to meet on Wednesday to consider funding for two new cancer medicines.

Cancer specialists have warned that time is running out for a group of patients with advanced skin cancer and other forms of the disease who could benefit from the blockbuster drugs.

Health Minister Simon Harris said this evening he has asked the HSE group to convene this week to discuss making the drugs pembrolizumab and nivolizumab available under HSE schemes.

He said he was very concerned about the patients involved. It is unclear if the funding of the drugs will come out of HSE funds or whether the Department of Expenditure and Reform will have to make more money available.

The HSE has insisted it has a responsibility to source the most effective medicine on behalf of patients at an affordable price to the taxpayer.

“As is the case for all new medicines, the clinical benefits of pembrolizumab and nivolizumab are being carefully considered under a process of health technology assessment, in order to determine value for money and patient benefits.

It estimated if it had to pay the price demanded by Merk Sharpe and Dohme for mbrolizumab it would cost €64m over five years.

“Affordability of drugs generally, and of new medicines, is an issue globally and there are a range of other new medicines also becoming available to the market in 2016.

“The HSE must operate within its allocated budget for 2016 and within this prioritise the allocation of resources across the entire health system. In the 2016 HSE Service Plan an additional €7 million was allocated for Cancer Drugs to support the National Cancer Control Programme’s Systemic Therapy Programme.”

It has been claimed that decision on funding expensive new medicines was being removed from the HSE, and given to the Department of Expenditure and Reform , with senior Ministers having the say on whether they be made available to patients.

A spokeswoman for the HSE said the HSE will continue to assess and make decisions in relation to new medicines in the normal manner.

However, decisions that would have a substantial budget impact for will go to the Department.

The natural beauty of Inchydoney Island Lodge and Spa resort in beautiful West Cork

Des O’Dowd, owner of Inchydoney Island Lodge and Spa, tells Sean Gallagher what makes the resort so special

      

Des O’Dowd with Sean Gallagher (right Pic.) on the beach at Inchydoney.

To most of us who live here and to the millions of tourists who visit us each year, Ireland is most definitely a country of great natural beauty.

From our towns and villages, to our rolling green hills and beautiful sandy beaches, there’s something natural and unspoilt about this land we live in. Add to this the quality of our food, the uniqueness of our culture, and the warmth and friendliness of our people and it’s easy to see why tourism plays such an important role in Ireland’s economic future.

With that in mind, I paid a visit last week to Des O’Dowd, owner of one of the country’s best known holiday destinations – Inchydoney Island Lodge and Spa in beautiful West Cork.

Located just outside the heritage town of Clonakilty and overlooking the magnificent Blue Flag beaches of Inchydoney Island, this is a real gem in Ireland’s tourism offering. Built in 1998 and with an annual turnover of €7m, the resort is now a significant local employer with as many as 185 staff employed there at peak times.

“We are an Irish owned and operated four-star hotel and spa,” explains Des proudly as he shows me around the hotel’s expansive facilities which includes 67 bedrooms, 14 self-catering apartments, a seawater spa, two restaurants, a bar and a large function room.

The most striking feature of this hotel is, without doubt, its unique setting. Perched on a slope overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, the entire resort enjoys magnificent panoramic views of the sprawling white sandy beaches that stretch out endlessly in front of it.

“We recently carried out research into why our guests choose to come back so regularly to us. And what we discovered really surprised us,” explains Des. “We were sure it would be the high quality of our food, the uniqueness of our seawater spa or the high level of customer service delivered by our staff. But in fact, the answer turned out to be our unique location in West Cork, our proximity to Clonakilty – and this beautiful beach,” he adds as he leads me onto the strand.

“While it’s a gorgeous sunny day here today, the beach is seldom empty. People swim here all year round and there are always plenty of individuals and couples walking by themselves or with their dogs,” he adds.

I also notice a thriving surf school adjacent to the hotel, and further down the beach I even spot a group of women exercising as part of a summer fitness boot camp. Back in the hotel, we visit the Gulf Stream restaurant. Specialising in seafood dishes, it too enjoys the most stunning sea views. Downstairs, the more informal Dunes Bar has become a real favourite for those who enjoy their steaks.

“The quality of our food is very important – and for that reason we source from local West Cork suppliers,” explains Des.

Next, it’s on to the hotel’s award-winning spa. Back in 1998, this became the country’s first Thalassotherapy Spa (the term derives from the Greek words for ‘sea’ and ‘medical treatment’) and includes a unique heated seawater therapy pool, as well as a myriad of treatments based on sea muds and seaweed.

“Our main market is Irish people who want to get away and spend quality time by themselves or with partners, friends and family,” explains Des. “We are blessed with a very loyal customer base, with most of our business coming from repeat customers or those who have received recommendations from family or friends. Many of these have been coming here for years, which means a lot to us. While we do attract guests from the UK, Europe and the USA, these are normally individuals or small groups looking for an authentic Irish experience – rather the larger bus or tour operator type bookings,” he adds.

Des O’Dowd is no stranger to Inchydoney. In fact, he grew up only a few miles away in Bandon. After school, he spent a summer working in Waterville Hotel on the Ring of Kerry which sparked his initial interest in the hotel sector. He later joined a local accounting firm in Cork as a trainee accountant before moving to Dublin where he qualified as a chartered accountant in 1991.

After a year working in the hotel industry in South Africa, he returned home to a job as an accountant in Mount Juliet. However, his break came in 1998, when Cork developer John Fleming – who had just finished building the new Inchydoney Lodge and Spa – began looking for an operator to run the hotel. It was the opportunity Des had been looking for. Together with another colleague, whom he had met in Mount Juliet, he decided to take on the challenge.

At the time, the pair also negotiated an option to buy out the hotel at some point in the future if the opportunity arose. And in 2008 (at which point his partner had moved on to pursue other opportunities), Des decided to exercise the option himself and became the proud owner of the hotel.

“My timing couldn’t have been more off – it was right at the start of the downturn,” says Des. “One bit of advice I got at the time was that Inchydoney is a jewel and to be successful, my primary job was to keep polishing that jewel. And that’s what I’ve tried to do ever since,” he adds.

While running any hotel involves managing a lot of complex moving parts, running an Irish owner-operated hotel brings its own challenges. When Des first began running the hotel during the boom years, he found he had to compete with hotels funded by wealthy individuals, who were not as focused on commercial returns as he needed to be. When the downturn took hold, he was then faced with having to compete with hotels that were being run by receivers or Nama.

“Today, we find ourselves increasingly competing with wealthy foreign companies who have more resources than we do,” he adds.

Deciding not to drop prices and lose quality as some hotels did, Des instead took the more strategic decision of focus on his target market – loyal and repeat customers.

“You can’t be exclusive and not exclude some markets,” explains Des. “So we don’t try and be five-star or three-star. We want to be an excellent four-star. Similarly, we don’t cater for groups like hen or stag parties, as it would detract from our core market,” he adds.

Key to their ongoing success has been the commitment and loyalty of his staff, most of whom have been with the hotel since it opened or shortly afterwards. Having survived the downturn, the team is now stronger than ever before.

“I take the responsibility that comes with being an employer seriously, and I strive to make this not only a great place to visit but a great place to work. Happy staff also make for happy customers,” he adds. He recently invested over €500k on general improvement works and plans to invest the same again in the near future.

“My commitment to this business is not like that of a short-term investment by a hedge fund or an international opportunist buyer. My ambition is to be the long-term owner and operator of one of the most relevant and interesting four-star hotels in Ireland,” explains Des passionately. “I absolutely love West Cork and I’m lucky to live and work in such a beautiful and friendly place.”

Having experienced the uniqueness that is Inchydoney, together with its welcoming atmosphere and magnificent surroundings, I look forward to joining the ranks of those who come back again.

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Friday 13th May 2016

Irish 10-year bond yields falls as Moody’s upgrade is anticipated

Ratings agency due to release its latest decision on State’s debt after 9pm on Friday

   

Moody’s has maintained a B rating on Irish debt for much longer than other agencies.

Irish 10-year borrowing costs dropped as investors as weighed the increasing probability of an upgrade tonight by Moody’s on the status of the State’s debt.

With a statement expected from Moody’s after 9pm on Friday, anticipation that the ratings agency would put an A-grade on Irish sovereign bonds for the first time since 2011 drove interest rates down.

Irish 10-year bonds changed hands at 0.8439 per cent as markets opened on Friday morning. By the close in Dublin the yield was at 0.8009 per cent, a mark of confidence in some quarters that an upgrade might be imminent.

Despite prolonged post-election uncertainty over the formation of a minority government and doubt over the Brexit referendum, Irish debt has continued to trade around historically low levels.

Interventions

While investors are encouraged by the pace of economic recovery, bond market interventions by the European Central Bank have also driven borrowing costs down. The 10-year yield fell to a record low of 0.707 per cent in April. At the height of crisis in mid-2011, it reached as high as 14.1 per cent

Moody’s has maintained a B-grade on Irish debt long after rival agencies Standard & Poor’s and Fitch upgraded to A status in light of the economic turnaround. However, a one-notch increase tonight by Moody’s would be sufficient to replace its Baa1 rating with an A.

Such a move would be seen as a boost for Taoiseach Enda Kenny and his new minority adminstration, which pledged to comply fully with stringent fiscal rules even as it adopted an ambitious 160-page political programme.

A Moody’s upgrade would also expand the range of potential buyers of Irish bonds as some conservative investors insist on an A-grade from all three major agencies as the minimum requirement to take a position in any sovereign debt.

Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald calls for accessible register of company owners

The Tánaiste will introduce new anti-corruption Bill in the Dáil during the current term of the Government

   

“Ireland will work with its partners to promote good governance and a culture of zero tolerance for all corrupt practices”

A central register holding the names of those who own companies and properties should be publicly accessible in all bar a few cases, Tánaiste and Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald has said.

“There should be a good reason not to move in that direction,” said the Minister, who was speaking on the margins of a a global anti-corruption summit in London.

There, she committed to establishing a central register of beneficial ownership which could be accessed by law enforcement agencies – a proposal pushed by British prime minister David Cameron.

Hosting the summit, Mr Cameron has promised to make Britain’s register publicly accessible and a committee in the Department of Finance is considering if Ireland should follow suit.

Public registers.

France, Kenya, the Netherlands, Nigeria and Afghanistan have also announced that their registers will be public. “I certainly think we need at this point to be exploring all the issues around it. There should be a good reason not to move in that direction, if you know what I mean,” said Ms Fitzgerald.

The Tánaiste will introduce a new anti-corruption Bill in the Dáil during the current term, aimed at consolidating anti-corruption legislation and strengthening laws banning the payment of bribes in foreign countries. She said Ireland was determined to play its part in the international effort to combat the corruption which is further impoverishing some of the poorest countries on earth.

Abuse of power

“A lack of good governance, the absence of efficient and accountable institutions, the lack of transparency – all these lead to economic under performance, expose states to corruption and abuses of power and generate security risks at national and regional level. Ireland will work with its partners to promote good governance and a culture of zero tolerance for all corrupt practices. Events like this are an important opportunity to take stock of the global efforts being made and to reaffirm and reinvigorate our response,” she said.

Representatives of some of Britain’s crown dependencies, which have come under the spotlight since the Panama Papers exposed the use of tax avoidance vehicles based in tax havens, complained of double standards at the summit.

The Cayman Islands president, Alden McClaughlin, said that, while small territories such as his were being told to introduce much tougher standards, nobody was taking steps against the US state of Delaware, which is home to tens of thousands of shell companies.

The Tánaiste said that Irish citizens identified in the Panama Papers as using tax havens should consider the good of the country as well as whether such tax avoidance stratagems are legal.

Two Irish landlords convicted who have to pay €3,500 for failing to register tenancies

Residential Tenancies Board secures criminal convictions against lettors in Donegal and Tallaght

   

The Residential Tenancies Board (RTB) has secured criminal convictions against two landlords who failed to register their tenancies, despite receiving a number of statutory notices and warning letters instructing them to do so.

Two landlords have received criminal convictions for failing to register their tenancies.

The Residential Tenancies Board (RTB) has secured criminal convictions against two landlords who failed to register their tenancies, despite receiving a number of statutory notices and warning letters instructing them to do so.

In the first case proceedings were taken against Eileen Maguire of Ballydevitt, Donegal Town, Donegal, for failing to register a tenancy at Ballydevitt, Donegal. The case was heard by Judge John O’Neill on April 4th, 2016.

Ms Maguire was sent two notices ordering her to comply with the legislation but failed to register the tenancy.

The RTB’s solicitors, sent two further warning letters prior to the initiation of proceedings, offering Ms Maguire further opportunities to register the tenancy, which was not availed of.

Mr O’Neill convicted Ms Maguire of an offence under Section 144(3) of the Residential Tenancies Act 2004 and imposed a fine of €1,000. Mr O’Neill made an order for costs against Ms Maguire in favour of the RTB in the amount of €2,500. The tenancy was registered at the time of the court hearing.

The second case?

In the second case Andrew Oliver Fleming of Tymon Crescent, Old Bawn, Tallaght, Dublin 24, was convicted for failing to register a tenancy at the same address.

The judge imposed a fine of €1,000 and made an order for costs in favour of the RTB of €2,500. The tenancy was registered at the time of the court hearing.

The RTB has said further cases will be brought before the courts throughout 2016 and beyond against landlords for failing to register tenancies in breach of the Act.

A total of 22,854 letters were issued by the RTB in 2015 notifying landlords of their specific registration requirement.

Since January 2011, the fee is €90 per tenancy if registered within one month of the tenancy commencing and, a late fee of €180 applies if the tenancy is registered outside of that time period.

The registration fees also fund local authority inspections of rental accommodation to enforce minimum standards.

A landlord, if convicted under the Residential Tenancies Act 2004 for failing to comply with a notice, faces a fine of up to €4,000 and/or six months’ imprisonment, along with a daily fine of €250 for a continuing offence where the tenancy continues to remain unregistered after the court hearing.

Lack of commitment to Ireland’s mental health funding problem

New Programme for Government is low on details

   

The new Programme for Government does not contain a detailed commitment to mental health funding, it has been claimed.

According to Mental Health Reform, while the programme does state that the mental health budget ‘will be increased annually during the lifetime of this new Government’, there are no specific details on mental health funding.

Mental Health Reform is a national coalition of organisations which work towards promoting best practise and improving services for all people with mental health problems. It has 54 member organisations including Aware, the Alzheimer Society of Ireland, the Children’s Rights Alliance and the Samaritans.

According to its director, Dr Shari McDaid, the coalition is disappointed that the Government ‘has not specified an amount of development funding for mental health per year over the lifetime of its term, as had been promised in both the Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil manifestos’.

She acknowledged that a number of commitments have been made which are to be strongly welcomed, including an intention to extend counselling services to people on low incomes and an intention to establish a National Taskforce on Youth Mental Health.

“It is clear from the range of mental health commitments made, that the new Government is beginning to understand the wide impact that mental health difficulties have on Irish society. But Mental Health Reform is extremely concerned at the lack of any commitment to end the inappropriate admission of children to adult wards and the absence of an immediate commitment to 24/7 crisis supports,” Dr McDaid commented.

However, she welcomed the Government’s intention to use ‘proceeds from the sale of older assets used for mental health services for new developments in mental health’.

Previously, funds raised from the sale of lands were used solely to fund capital developments in mental health, however the Programme for Government suggests that these funds may now also be used for new developments and new services in mental health.

“We welcome the commitment to retaining money from the sale of mental health service lands within the services. The sale of the Central Mental Hospital in Dundrum in Dublin, which is prime residential land, could potentially raise a significant amount of money for investment in mental health facilities and services,” Dr McDaid added.

Gluten-free products are not always a healthy choice for most children

A paediatrician now says

    

Diet may be nutritionally deficient, high in fat and sugar, as well as costly.

A paediatric gastroenterologist is warning parents about high fat and sugar in packaged products that are gluten-free.

There is more risk than benefit to a gluten-free diet for people and especially children who haven’t been diagnosed with celiac disease or wheat allergy, according to the Journal of Paediatrics.

In a commentary that aims to separate fact from fiction, Dr. Norelle R. Reilly, of New York-Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical Center, says a gluten-free diet is not a healthy lifestyle choice.

“Parents should be counselled as to the possible financial, social, and nutritional consequences of unnecessary implementation of a gluten-free diet,” said Reilly, who is a specialist in pediatric gastroenterology.

In 2015, 25% of U.S. consumers reported consuming gluten-free foods, according to market research by the Mintel Group. The gluten-free industry more than doubled in size from 2013 to 2015.

Most people self-diagnose

Most of those consumers are eating gluten-free without checking with a dietitian or health professional, making it a fad that could be affecting thousands of children, Reilly said.

Gluten-free products are more costly than wheat-based products and lack the nutritional fortification of traditional flours, according a commentary in the Journal of Pediatrics. (John Bazemore/Associated Press)

Books like David Perlmutter’s Grain Brain and William Davis’ Wheat Belly, have helped make the gluten-free food market a multi-billion-dollar industry, but dietitians are skeptical.

Reilly expressed concern about high levels of fat and sugar in gluten-free packaged foods, saying this could lead to increased caloric intake at a time when a high proportion of the population are struggling with obesity.

She also said a gluten-free diet may be lower in nutrients than one that includes wheat products, as ingredients are not fortified, leading to deficiencies in B vitamins, folate, and iron.

Rice and rice flours often substitute for wheat in gluten-free products, increasing the risk that people are consuming serum mercury and arsenic, which rice takes up naturally from the soil.

She also points to the higher cost of food and quality of life issues for children limited to a gluten-free diet, who would not be able to eat at a friend’s home or to exchange  treats with school friends.

Nothing toxic about gluten

Reilly said there is a misconception that gluten itself is toxic, which may be leading many people to adopt a gluten-free diet when they don’t need to.

  • Gluten-free market booming, but researchers aren’t sold
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“Gluten, comprising gliadins and glutenins, is one of the many protein components of wheat and for the majority of people, gluten proteins pass through the gastrointestinal tract without leading to disease,” she said.

Reilly said parents should be discouraged from putting their children on a gluten-free diet even where one member of the family has been diagnosed with celiac disease or a wheat allergy.  Often the family will all eat gluten-free foods as a matter of convenience.

She acknowledges that celiac disease, which would warrant a gluten-free diet, is underdiagnosed in the U.S. and wheat allergy is rare. But she said there is little data about non-celiac gluten sensitivity in children.

However, putting a child on a wheat-free diet before celiac disease is diagnosed can obscure evidence of the disease, she said.

Gluten and children

Parents may resist reintroducing foods with gluten which may be necessary to get a diagnosis, she added.

“Other conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome, small bowel bacterial overgrowth, and fructose and lactose intolerance may be responsible for symptoms in those self-diagnosed with gluten sensitivity,” Reilly said in her commentary.

There is no evidence that delaying the introduction of gluten to infants has any impact on later development of celiac disease, she said. Most literature recommends introducing wheat-based products between six months and one year.

She urged people who adopt a gluten-free diet to seek the advice of a health professional.

“Health care providers may not be able to end the gluten-free diet fad, but can certainly begin to play a larger role in educating patients, excluding celiac disease, and preventing nutritional deficiencies in those choosing to stay gluten-free,” she said.

Genes can contribute slightly, to a person’s education level

A study says?

   

A study said last Wednesday they had identified 74 genes that partially determine how far someone gets in school, depending on which variant of those genes a person possesses.

Compared to environmental factors such as diet, family circumstances and opportunity, this hard-wiring has only a meager influence, accounting for less than half of one percent of the outcome.

Even when combined with all known genetic variants across the human genome, that share only rises to about three percent.

But the findings, published in Nature, are robust enough to help researchers match genetically-linked personality traits — such as grit and contentiousness — with education attainment, at least at the level of society, if not the individual.

Even a single gene, they found, could have a measurable impact.

“For the variant with the largest effect, the difference between people with zero copies and those who have two copies predicts, on average, about nine more weeks of schooling,” said Daniel Benjamin, a professor at University of Southern California and corresponding author for the consortium that completed the study.

The most common type of genetic variants — known as SNPs (or “snips”) — can show up as deletions or duplications of DNA fragments.

Earlier research by the same team of 250 scientists worldwide canvassed the genomes of 100,000 people, and only turned up three relevant genes.

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Sunday 23rd August 2015

“Coalition Government” working yet Irish voters want rid of them

 

Despite presiding over Europe’s fastest-growing economy, everything in the garden is not rosy for Enda Kenny and his inner circle,

‘For Enda Kenny and Fine Gael, being replaced as the leading party would feel like the equivalent of taking over as manager of a team that has just been relegated, winning promotion, and then being sacked the following year’

The Central Statistics Office recently confirmed that economic output in Ireland grew by a spectacular 6.5% in the first quarter of 2015, from a year earlier, as measured by Gross Domestic Product (GDP), making it by far and away the fastest-growing economy in Europe.

However, Eurostat’s ruling (issued one day before the CSO’s news) that Irish Water will have to remain on the State’s balance sheet, allied to concerns raised about the new utillity’s commercial status, stole the limelight – something that has become a feature of the current Government.

Positive developments at a macro level, the big-picture view of the economy over the last four years (resurgent economic growth, reduced unemployment, record low borrowing costs etc) have been continuously overshadowed by government mismanagement at a micro level on the provision of social services and the growing sense of inequality. The haphazard implementation of Irish Water is the classic example – a stream of negative headlines, distraction after distraction, all of which could have been avoided.

Irish Water was doomed from the outset when water charges were linked to the bailout deal with the Troika. In this context, instead of being viewed as a payment for the provision of public water and waste-water services, it came to be seen as a payment to bail out the bankers, the bondholders and the elite.

Of course, it was made worse by the Government’s lack of strategic direction and reports of excess when the utility was being set up. Hence, they were never going to be able to change opinion on the true agenda behind Irish Water, as much as a proper functioning national water utility makes sense.

I have no political bias, nor am I inspired by many of our political leaders. But it is worth remembering that when the Fine Gael-Labour coalition Government came to power in 2011, the economy was on the rocks, almost every economic indicator was flashing red and the outlook looked bleak. We were effectively on financial life support from the Troika.

After serving as Fine Gael leader since 2002, it is clear that handing Enda Kenny his debut as Taoiseach was not so much a reflection of the people’s confidence in his leadership skills, rather it was an indictment of the previous government’s failings. People had just had enough of Fianna Fáil.

Four years on, presiding over the fastest-growing economy in Europe, with GDP surpassing the pre-crisis peak, one could be forgiven for thinking the Government should be riding high.

The recovery we have seen in Dublin has not reached all parts of the country in the same way yet – but rebalancing an economy so skewed to the construction sector prior to the crash was always going to take time.

Of course, GDP has its flaws in measuring the health of an economy, but it is difficult to find one economic indicator that can encompass the inner complexities of all its stakeholders.

Looking from outside the country, the perception of Ireland as a place for doing business continues to be strong based on our ability to continue to attract multinational companies, albeit helped by our favourable corporate tax rate.

Certainly, the approval ratings from the international bond markets are high. The rate at which the State can borrow at over 10 years has fallen from near 15% in 2011 to 1.26%. The ECB has played its part – but as we saw in Greece, yields can rise sharply when a member state’s financial position deteriorates, even in an ECB-inspired low-rate environment.

Yet many people can’t wait to get rid of the current Government. What explains this disconnect between approval ratings at home and abroad? Domestically, the issue is the same issue that plagues all governments – their failure to efficiently allocate tax revenue for the provision of a sustainable and high-standard public service.

Pension levies, income levies, property taxes – and people are still wondering what is there to show for it. The healthcare system is still sub-standard, health insurance costs are soaring and public waiting lists are longer.

Private pensions were raided while our tax revenue is being used to fund massive public service pensions. Perhaps most galling of all was the recent announcement of pension increases for the likes of Brian Cowen and Bertie Ahern – the political leaders who failed in their duties leading up to the crisis.

Irish Water was just the tipping point. The explicit non-payment of water charges is simply the means by which the people of Ireland are expressing their loss of faith in the political establishment. It is not about paying for water. There is a feeling that not much has really changed under the current Government, the same old politics reign supreme: a system that bails out the banks and wealthy elite and where money and power are intertwined.

Economic utopia does not exist, but the current Government has missed a massive opportunity to set a new standard in terms of how the country is run. Can politics change? I am not convinced.

Still, if Fine Gael and Labour can shift the focus to the big picture, the improvement in the broad economy and away from the usual political shenanigans and the likes of Irish Water, they have a strong case for being given an opportunity to lead what should hopefully be the next stage of recovery.

For Enda Kenny and Fine Gael, being replaced as the leading party would feel like the equivalent of taking over as manager of a team that has just been relegated, winning promotion, and then being sacked the following year.

Think of Chris Hughton. He took over as caretaker manager of Newcastle United in 2009 following relegation, gained promotion to the Premier League by winning the Championship and was sacked the following December with the team sitting in 12th place.

However, in the case of Fine Gael, the leading replacement is Fianna Fáil – the party that led us into relegation.

Only five out of 13 homeless charities have applied for funding, says agency

   

Hundreds of millions of euros are lying unclaimed by homeless charities.

The Government’s Housing Finance Agency (HFA) claims that just five out of 13 charities registered as approved housing bodies, have applied to it for funding.

The current homeless problem has been labeled as a “national emergency” by Focus Ireland, but according to today’s Sunday Times the charity still has not sought funding from the HFA, despite qualifying as an applicant earlier this year.

Chair of the Housing Finance Agency Michelle Norris, said: “Some of the subsidies they get from Government are a bit too complicated and the Government have moved to address that.

“The rest of the problem is that some of the organisations are very go-ahead and entrepreneurial and keen to use new sources of funding. Questions need to be raised with the organisations that are not drawing down the source of funding, about what they are planning to do.

“We need a really pro-active approach and we need to ask hard questions.”

Ireland is becoming a haven of talent for Silicon Valley giants

  

As more and more of Silicon Valley’s tech giants open European operations in Ireland, one thing becomes more and more clear that Ireland is becoming a haven for tech talent.

Just last week, it was announced that Ireland is experiencing a huge surge in inbound tech talent.

And that talent is most definitely needed. In July alone, more than 2,200 tech jobs were announced, and the fact remains that there are more job vacancies than people to fill them.

It stands to reason, therefore, that Ireland would become a destination for tech talent seeking opportunities on new shores.

A vast number of those moving to Ireland for tech jobs are from countries in Eastern Europe.

And they clearly like it here.

Over the last few years, Siliconrepublic.com has been speaking to people who have moved to Ireland for work.

In those conversations, we have heard people from Eastern Europe describe Ireland as “the easiest country to emigrate to and still feel part of the community”, “a small cosy country with great opportunities”, and a country full of “charm and spirit”.

Others say “life is more simple here”, that it is full of warmth, and strangers who will greet you on the street, and that the Irish people are good and genuine.

Though there are some naysayers, if the worst that can be said about Ireland is that no one here distils their own whiskey (not publicly, at least), then maybe it’s not such a bad place.

Sweet chestnut tree leaves could be used to ‘disarm’ the MRSA superbug

   

Scientists are excited about the range of potential applications for the compound, and have already filed a patent.

As bacteria become more and more resistant to drugs, scientists are increasingly looking towards traditional remedies to help cure infections. Sweet chestnut tree leaves, traditionally used by rural people in southern Italy and other parts of the Mediterranean to treat skin infections, have been found to contain chemicals capable of taming the MRSA superbug.

The compounds “disarm” Staphylococcus aureus bacteria and stop them producing harmful toxins, say scientists – yet they do not appear to boost levels of drug resistance.

Traditional folk remedies based on chestnut leaves inspired the US team at Emory University.

Lead researcher Dr Cassandra Quave said: “We’ve identified a family of compounds from this plant that have an interesting medicinal mechanism.

“Rather than killing staph, this botanical extract works by taking away staph’s weapons, essentially shutting off the ability of the bacteria to create toxins that cause tissue damage. In other words, it takes the teeth out of the bacteria’s bite.”

The chestnut extract was even effective against the superbug Staphylococcus strain MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus), healing mice with serious skin infections.

For years the Emory team had investigated the traditional remedies of rural people in southern Italy and other parts of the Mediterranean.

Detective work by the researchers led them to the European sweet chestnut tree, Castanea sativa.

“Local people and healers repeatedly told us how they would make a tea from the leaves of the chestnut tree and wash their skin with it to treat skin infections and inflammations,” said Dr Quave.

In the laboratory, the scientists steeped chestnut leaves in solvents to extract 94 chemicals including the anti-bacterial ursene and oleanene compounds.

A single 50 microgram dose of the extract cleared up MRSA skin infections in laboratory mice, halting damage to tissue and red blood cells.

Lab dish tests showed that the compounds did not harm skin cells or bacteria that live harmlessly on the skin, the researchers reported in the online journal Public Library of Science ONE.

The university’s Office of Technology Transfer has filed a patent on the extract’s unique properties. The scientists are now looking at its individual components to see if they work best in combination or alone.

Potential applications include a protective spray for athletic equipment, coatings for medical devices and personal products such as tampons, and as a treatment for MRSA.

Dr Quave said: “Many pharmaceutical companies are working on the development of monoclonal antibodies that target just one toxin. This is more exciting because we’ve shown that with this extract, we can turn off an entire cascade responsible for producing a variety of different toxins.

“It’s easy to dismiss traditional remedies as old wives’ tales, just because they don’t attack and kill pathogens, but there are many more ways to help cure infections, and we need to focus on them in the era of drug-resistant bacteria.”

It is now official as US confirms marijuana or cannabis does kill cancer cells

    

After a series of laboratory tests and speculations, scientists from the National Cancer Institute (US Department of Health) have confirmed that cannabis, or marijuana, does kill cancer cells.

In its website, the institute wrote, “cannabis and cannabinoids may have benefits in treating the symptoms of cancer or the side effects of cancer therapies” and also that “cannabis has been shown to kill cancer cells in the laboratory.”

The website also records that “cannabis and cannabinoids have been studied in the laboratory and the clinic for relief of pain, nausea and vomiting, anxiety, and loss of appetite.”

Having said that, the researchers also stressed that marijuana has only shown these effects on mice, and are not yet ready to recommend the drug for human use in fighting cancer.

Although Cancer Research pointed out that there is not yet enough evidence to determine whether cannabis can be effectively used for cancer treatment, but this could be a big moment in the battle against the disease.

This new development could also pave the path for a nationwide legalisation of marijuana!

Doomsday not near as NASA denies Asteroid impact with Earth report

NASA makes it absolutely clear that the world ending Asteroid impact will NOT take place next month

  

Recently various web postings as well as blogs were claiming that a huge asteroid will impact Earth somewhere around 15 till 28 September 2015.

The predictions had originated from the prophesy of the much famous Reverend Efrain Rodriguez, who also claimed that on the doomsday, the impact will take place near Puerto Rico which will result in causing “wanton destruction to the Atlantic and Gulf coasts of the United States and Mexico, as well as Central and South America”.

Some blogs even blamed the U.S. government for covering up the news with an aim to prevent unnecessary panic in public.

Mid of this week, the U.S. space agency, NASA, was forced to make a statement denying the rumors that went viral on the social media predicting the occurrence of world-ending asteroid impact in September.

NASA made it quite clear that the rumors are totally baseless and they convinced public that there will NOT be any such occurrence of the world-ending asteroid impact next month. In addition NASA also provided some vital facts that supported the denial.

NASA said: “There is no scientific basis — not one shred of evidence — that an asteroid or any other celestial object will impact Earth on those dates,” said Paul Chodas, manager of Nasa’s Near-Earth Object office, in an official statement which seemed to be somewhat in anger.

He continued: “In fact, not a single one of the known objects has any credible chance of hitting our planet over the next century.”

NASA, accepted that asteroid impacts is a common thing; however it also noted that all the “Potentially Hazardous” rocks which are known to NASA have been classed and at least till next century there are rarest chances, mere 0.01 percent, that Earth should be hit by some such asteroid which would result in a ‘Doomsday’.

Chodas added: “If there were any object large enough to do that type of destruction in September, we would have seen something of it by now.”

He continued: “Again, there is no existing evidence that an asteroid or any other celestial object is on a trajectory that will impact Earth. In fact, not a single one of the known objects has any credible chance of hitting our planet over the next century.”

This is not the first time that NASA was forced to deny some such absurd rumor that indicated the “end of the world situation” which has gone viral in the world of social media. In its official website, NASA said that ‘Doomsday theorists’ had made similar predictions earlier also which were not backed by scientific facts and we can see that none of them turned out to be true.

Way back in 2011, there were rumors that Comet Elenin was going to hit Earth and NASA had to intervene and make a statement to deny this prediction.

Next, in  2012, there were various prophetic conspiracies for which NASA had to issue multiple denials and to be very frank, none of these prophesies occurred in reality including the Mayan calendar!

Chodas said: “Again, there is no existing evidence that an asteroid or any other celestial object is on a trajectory that will impact Earth.”

Some facts about asteroids:

Currently, NASA and other space agencies have confirmed that there are no such huge asteroids detected yet; however it is also a fact that the current methods and techniques which our present space agencies use to identify and track any such potentially dangerous objects in space is not enough.

It is a fact that the Nasa’s Near-Earth Object Observations Program (‘Spaceguard’) is able to track and detect the asteroids which are only within 30 million miles. Other agencies including ESA too have similar projects.

On the other hand, as per the ‘Asteroid Day project’, which was set up with an aim to increase the awareness of asteroid impacts, one can find huge asteroids which measure around one kilometer in their diameter, lying in the Asteroid Belt that falls between Jupiter and Mars. Besides, this belt also comprises of more than millions of smaller rocks and pieces of debris.

It has been estimated that there are around 1,00,000 asteroids which are large enough to cause the impact and destroy Earth on the scale of the Tunguska event.

Tunguska event is the 10-15 megaton explosion that occurred in Siberia in 1908 and destroyed the entire city. It seems with the current equipment available the space agencies all over the world can detect and track only 10,000 asteroids, so what about the rest 90,000 asteroids……is definitely a very BIG question!

It is also a fact that the 2013 major impact, which occurred above Chelyabinsk in Russia, which was accompanied with severe explosion with a kinetic force of 500 kilotons of TNT and injured about 1,500 was noticed only after it took place!

Right now, none of our space agencies have any methods to either deflect or destroy the hazardous asteroid which is coming towards Earth, nor are there any fool proof methods to track them.

For now, NASA has ensured the public that there will be NO asteroid impact between the specified dates next month. Well, that means for now people can definitely chalk out their plans for October and even beyond, smartphone lovers can wait the next release of their most favorite high tech phone while the Earth continues its existence?

Ireland daily news BLOG by Donie

Friday 15th May 2015

Ireland’s export values for March 2015 hit their highest level since 2002

    

Export-led sectors (such as technology, software, biotechnology, pharmaceuticals, medical equipment and green technology) continue to show growth

The value of exports hit their highest levels since 2002 in March, new figures from the Central Statistics Office show.

A rebound in medical and pharmaceutical exports has helped largely drive the positive figures, along with the weaker euro.

Preliminary data from the Central Statistics Office (CSO) show that Ireland’s crucial exports were valued at €9.1bn in March. The last time it broke through the €9bn barrier was in May 2002.

Analysts also hailed the fact that exports have surged since the start of the year, thanks in part to improved competitiveness gains from the weaker euro.

Davy Stockbrokers said good exports are up 17.4% in the first three months of this year compared with 2014, thanks to a rebound in pharmaceuticals, which are up 21% on the year.

“Nonetheless, excluding this sector, Irish goods exports are up 9.1% year-to-date,” said Davy economist Conall Mac Coille.

“This suggests that Irish export performance is benefitting from stronger demand and from the competitiveness gains, vis-à-vis the UK, from the weak euro.”

The CSO data shows that while exports decreased 2% in March and imports rose 4%, the trade surplus narrowed by 10% to €3.43bn.

The value of exports for March was €9. 1bn representing an increase of €1.6bn, or 21%, when compared with March of last year.

The last time the value of exports was above €9bn was in May 2002 when it reached €9.1bn.

The CSO said the main driver behind the increase was a 58% surge in exports of medical and pharmaceutical products.

“The underlying narrative is one of broad based growth in exports, propelled by favourable currency moves and the improved economic performance of a number of Ireland’s key trading partners,” said Philip O’Sullivan, economist with specialist bank Investec.

“Elsewhere, the upturn in investment and personal consumption here has led to an increased appetite for imports. We expect to see more of the same in the months

€10m Irish Government funding announced for start-ups

    

The Jobs Minister said a €10 million initiative to support more start-up businesses will be led by people in local and regional areas.

The initiative comprises of two funds, with the closing date in mid July.

A €5 million fund will be open to groups of Local Enterprise Offices, and another €5 million Community Enterprise Initiatives fund will be open to groups and organisations in every county who come together with ideas for projects to create employment.

Minister Richard Bruton said this new initiative will be driven from the bottom-up.

“They are aimed at the local enterprise offices, which are now embedded in the local authorities … there are many ways in which groups could collaborate within the regions to develop initiatives,” he said.

“This is about bottom-up growth – you can’t expect someone in government buildings at Merrion Street or Kildare Street to know the environment in Kerry, and get the best ideas and people to drive them forward.”

NTMA sells €750m of seven-year bonds

   

In February of this year, the NTMA raised €500m through the auction of a 15-year bond.

The National Treasury Management Agency has sold €750 million of seven year government bonds at a yield of 0.81%.

The total bids received amounted to €1.99bn, which was 2.7 times the amount on offer. The NTMA has raised €10.25bn in the bond markets so far this year.

In February, the NTMA raised €500m through the auction of a 15-year bond.

Some €4bn was raised by the NTMA the previous week with the issuing of the first 30-year bond. The NTMA is looking to raise €12bn-€15bn in long-term bonds this year.

Meanwhile, there was much movement on the currency front yesterday, with sterling regaining its losses in the week heading into the British general election, while the US currency has slid to its lowest levels in almost four months a day after stagnant retail sales became the latest data to undermine prospects for Federal Reserve interest-rate increase.

The greenback climbed nine straight months through March on speculation the first hike in almost a decade was looming.

The dollar’s decline brought it to the lowest level in almost three months against the Euro.

And yet across the Atlantic, not even a reduction in the Bank of England’s quarterly growth forecasts was enough to derail sterling’s rebound.

People don’t realise severe obesity is as dangerous as smoking

  •  The new study also said that 20% of people who describe themselves as healthy are in fact overweight.

 

An expert group that looks into how obesity impacts on health has said that “widespread misconceptions” about its danger persist.

The European Association for the Study of Obesity (EASO), has released a new study entitled ‘Obesity: an underestimated threat’.

In it the group shows that obesity can reduce life expectancy at a comparable level to smoking tobacco.

What are the main points of the report?

Speaking about the report, Chair of the Association for the Study of Obesity on the Island of Ireland (ASOI), Dr Grace O’Malley, highlights seven key findings within the report.

These include the fact that less than 50% of the population realise that it is a disease; that many people are unaware of the link between obesity and serious illness; that over 60% do not think obesity surgery should be paid for by the national health system; and that over 80% of individuals underestimate the importance of an overall approach to maintaining a healthy weight.

It also mentions that more than half of people asked think that obesity is less dangerous than smoking. On this Dr O’Malley, said:

Studies have shown that moderate and severe obesity (BMI 30-35 kg/m2 and >40 kg/m2 respectively) can reduce life expectancy by between 5 and 20 years which is comparable to the impact of tobacco smoking (10 years). Despite this, less than 50% recognised obesity as being as dangerous as smoking.

Interestingly, it was also found that many people who consider themselves healthy are in fact overweight.

Dr O’Malley, said, “in this study 20% of those describing themselves as a healthy weight were technically overweight and 30% of those who described themselves as overweight were technically obese.”

One positive take away from the study was that most participants thought that diet and exercise were almost always the best way to treat obesity. Dr O’Malley does make the point however, that “in certain cases – particularly for people with severe obesity – additional treatments are needed.”

A growing problem in today’s society

Recent statistics have shown that obesity is a ‘growing threat’ – with a 2014 model estimating that 89% of of Irish men could be overweight by 2030, with 48% of these being obese.

The study released today carried out by the group looked at 14,000 people in seven European countries and aimed to build a better understanding of how the public perceives obesity.

Christopher an Irish student just got an asteroid named after him

  

This Irish student above just got an asteroid named after him

Of all the things that could happen in life, getting an asteroid named after you has to be one of the coolest.

Lucky sixth-year student Christopher Carragher from Our Lady’s Secondary School in Castleblaney can say just that, after winning a major $1,500 prize in the US.

The Co Monaghan student had an asteroid named after him after he came second in the world award in the Computational Biology and Bioinformatics category at ISEF 2015 which was held in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania this week.

Carragher got to Pennsylvania after winning the SciFest 2014 national final last November. His project was about aiding people with memory loss.

Around 1,700 students from over 75 countries compete at Intel ISEF for a prize fund totaling $4million.

After becoming concerned about the signs of short-term memory loss in a family member, he decided to design an automated system called Memory Buddy.

Memory Buddy

Memory Buddy uses Google Calendar to alert the person about appointments and medication via flashing lights, sound and also via the TV.

It also includes a remotely controlled medicine drawer to give the appropriate medicine at a specific time – there’s even a feedback facility to notify a carer when medicine has or has not been taken.

An organiser for care rotas and appointments also comes with Memory Buddy.

Carragher said the whole experience has been “amazing”

I met students from all over the world, and heard speeches from famous scientists like Nobel laureates Sir Harold W Kroto and Martin Chalfie. It’s been great to see all the projects that other students from around the world have been working on and it has been brilliant to spend a week together sharing our ideas.

Sheila Porter of CEO of SciFest said that Christopher Carragher’s project “demonstrates that great science is characterised not by rote-learning and memorisation but by creativity and investigation”.

Christopher was representing Ireland at ISEF and come second in the world in his category is an impressive achievement not only for him, his teacher and school but for Ireland too, and it is testament to the very high quality of science education in Ireland. To continue producing the highest calibre of science students in Ireland, we need to celebrate their achievements more, to promote inquiry based learning and encourage students to take their learning beyond the classroom.

Music is being used to help sick children, who sometimes can’t speak, to express themselves

Huge ice shelf in Antarctica to collapse by year 2020

   

The last remaining section of Antarctica’s Larsen B ice shelf, which partially collapsed in 2002, is quickly weakening and likely to disintegrate completely by 2020, said a new study out today.

Ice shelves are permanent floating sheets of ice that connect to a landmass, such as Antarctica, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center.

When it goes, the ice shelf will shatter into hundreds of icebergs. Since it’s already floating ice, the collapse of the ice shelf will not directly contribute to global sea-level rise.

However, ice shelves are the gatekeepers for glaciers flowing from Antarctica toward the ocean, according to NASA. Without them, glacial ice enters the ocean faster and accelerates the pace of global sea level rise.

The remaining section of the Larsen B ice shelf is roughly the size of 27 Manhattan islands.

“These are warning signs that the remnant is disintegrating,” said study lead author Ala Khazendar of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, in a statement.

“Although it’s fascinating scientifically to have a front-row seat to watch the ice shelf becoming unstable and breaking up, it’s bad news for our planet,” he said. “This ice shelf has existed for at least 10,000 years, and soon it will be gone.”

The Larsen B Ice Shelf is on the eastern side of the Antarctic Peninsula, the part that looks like an arm reaching out toward South America. The peninsula has warmed 4.5 degrees Fahrenheit since 1950, making it one of the fastest-warming places on Earth.

Scientists think that the recent ice shelf collapses in both the Arctic and Antarctica are related to climate change.

Ice shelves are different from ice sheets. An ice sheet, which covers more than 97% of Antarctica, has built up over thousands of years as snow falls but never melts. As ice piles up, it slides slowly toward the continent’s edge to form ice shelves attached to the ice sheet, but are floating in the ocean.

“This is certainly a warning,” said Khazendar.

The study appeared in the journal Earth and Planetary Science Letters, and was written by researchers from NASA and the University of California at Irvine.

News Ireland daily BLOG

Wednesday 10th December 2014

Ray MacSharry seeks Ansbacher dossier from PAC

  

Ray MacSharry is one of five former politicians named in the Dáil by Sinn Féin TD Mary Lou McDonald as having been in a dossier of alleged offshore account holders. All five have rejected the claims.

Former Fianna Fáil finance minister Ray MacSharry’s lawyers have written to the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) seeking the so-called Ansbacher dossier in which he is named.

Mr MacSharry is one of five former politicians named in the Dáil by Sinn Féin TD Mary Lou McDonald as having been in a dossier of alleged offshore account holders. All five have rejected the claims.

Contacted by The Irish Times this morning, Mr MacSharry said: “My lawyers are dealing with matters”.

The law firm Arthur Cox, acting for Mr MacSharry, has written to the PAC requesting access to papers given to individual members of the committee.

However, it is understood that the Ansbacher dossier is not considered to be a committee document and therefore the committee is expected to respond that it is not in a position to hand over the dossier.

Mr MacSharry previously described the allegations as “absolutely outrageous” and last week said: “I have never had an Ansbacher account, I never was the beneficiary of one.”

He said he would be consulting his legal representatives to see what recourse he has, both against Gerry Ryan, the whistleblower who submitted the dossier about tax evasion to the Dáil Committee on Public Accounts, and Ms McDonald.

Ms McDonald last Wednesday also named under privilege on the Dáil record former PD leader Des O’Malley, former Fianna Fáil politicians Máire Geoghegan-Quinn and Gerard Collins, an ‘S Barrett’, assumed to be former Fianna Fáil TD Sylvie Barrett, and former Fine Gael minister Richie Ryan.

Mr MacSharry’s tough persona while overseeing public spending cuts while Charles Haughey’s minister for finance in the late 1980s earned Ray MacSharry the title “Mack the Knife”.

He became an MEP in 1984, before returning as a TD and minister for finance in 1987 in another Haughey-led government and he was appointed Ireland’s European commissioner in 1988.

Donegal people are most likely to die at home says IHF

   

A new report commissioned by the Irish Hospice Foundation (IHF) has found that the chances of dying at home or in hospital are dictated by where you live in Ireland, with those in Donegal nearly twice as likely to die at home than those living in Dublin.

Launched last week (December 4) by Senator Prof John Crown, the report — ‘Enabling More People to Die at Home; Making the Case for Quality Indicators as Drivers for Change on Place of Care and Place of Death in Ireland’ — sets out the case for key quality indicators on place of care and death, and calls for health policy to focus on providing more care in the home and in communities.

Supported by a paper written by social and economic research consultant Dr Kieran McKeown, the report draws on data published by the CSO that shows people living in Donegal are more likely to die at home (34 per cent), followed by Kilkenny and Kerry (33 per cent), Mayo (32 per cent), and Leitrim and Wexford (31 per cent).

Despite findings of a recent national survey showing that 74 per cent of Irish people want to die at home, only 18 per cent of people in Dublin do so, followed next by Sligo (26 per cent), and Roscommon and Galway (26 per cent — the national average).

The report finds that areas with no hospice that deliver specialist palliative care services through home care teams — including the South East, the Midlands and the North East — have a higher proportion of deaths in the usual place of residence (home or long-stay places of care) compared to areas with a hospice.

Irish Hospice Foundation CEO Sharon Foley said that quality indicators on place of care and death would show how well the health services were meeting the deepest wishes of people approaching the end of life. “It may be that those areas without hospices have better developed homecare teams. Other reasons may be at play, such as urban/rural differences in allocation of community supports. But we need to find out.”

She added: “The IHF believes that enabling people to fulfil their wish to die at home is not just a matter of effective health services and flexible, responsive, people-centred systems.

“It is fundamental to the very basis of humanity in an evolved society. Allowing choice and dignity in end-of-life care, and in the experience of dying, is a strong indication of how we care for Irish society as a whole.”

Regional airports get €2M funding boost for core services 

   

The approved funding brings the total financial support by the Exchequer under the Regional Airports Programme to just under €13 million in 2014

More than €2 million in funding is to be given to regional airports to compensate them for costs incurred in providing core services that cannot be fully recovered.

The approved funding brings the total financial support by the Exchequer under the Regional Airports Programme to just under €13 million in 2014.

Minister for Transport Paschal Donohoe said the funding is to cover so-called “subventible losses,” that is costs for services that can’t be recovered from non-core income coming from activities such as restaurants, bars and parking.

Under the Regional Airports Programme, which is due to end this year, financial support has been provided to Kerry, Knock,Waterford and Donegal airports under three main schemes, including the Public Service Obligation Scheme, which provides funding to airlines to operate essential services.

Earlier this month, Mr Donohoe confirmed that regional air services from Donegal and Kerry to Dublin would continue to be subsided under the PSO scheme. Stobart Air, the former Aer Arran, was awarded the contracts to operate the two routes until 2017. It currently runs the Kerry to Dublin-subsidised service while Loganair operates the Donegal route.

The Regional Airports Programme is due to end this year and the Government has submitted a new proposal for a replacement scheme to the EU commission for consideration.

‘The Government’s aim is to give regional airports the opportunity beyond 2014 to grow to a viable, self-sustaining position, particularly considering the contribution that they make to their regional and local economy. As a result, Exchequer support for the four regional airports will be continued beyond 2014,” said Mr Donohoe.

“The decision to continue providing these necessary supports will facilitate the airports in developing and implementing new business plans leading to self-sufficiency within a ten year period. Central to these will be the need for regional and local business investment,” he added.

Irish Men at Risk of Ill Health Because of Diet, Claims Study

   

Men often have a preference for larger portions, according to the study

A new report launched by safefood has found that Irish men’s food behaviour puts them at a disadvantage health-wise compared with women.

The safefood report, Men’s Food Behaviour, gives an overview of research on men and food behaviour across the island of Ireland and illustrates the need to help change how men interact with food.

The report highlights that men are generally less engaged with food both in terms of food hygiene and healthy eating. It also finds men have less healthy diets, eat more fat and salt, less fruit and vegetables, and tend to see food as fuel.

Men also show greater preference for larger portions of food, are less likely to be aware of healthy eating guidelines and are less likely to regard healthy eating as an important factor influencing their long-term health. And although more men than women are overweight or obese in Ireland, they are less likely to attempt to lose weight or to monitor their diet.

At present, 70% of Irish men are overweight or obese, compared with 50% of women.

Dr Cliodhna Foley-Nolan, Director, Human Health and Nutrition, safefood said: “When it comes to food skills such as planning, purchasing, shopping, cooking and cleaning, women are more likely to be skilled in this area and still do most of this work. This report identifies how men view themselves and their relationship with food and is of importance for men’s health given their levels of overweight and obesity.”

Report places Ireland 25th in Europe for drink-driving related deaths

  

Ireland has come in 25th place in Europe for drink-driving related deaths.

One in ten fatal car crashes globally are caused by alcohol, with men more likely than women to drink drive, according to a new report by Allianz.

When it comes to Europe, alcohol-related fatalities are highest in eastern countries, while Italy has the lowest number.

In most countries men are twice as likely to be killed in drink-driving crashes as women and Ireland is no exception.

Almost 20% of fatal accidents involving men are down to alcohol consumption while the figure for women is just 8%.

Fathering offspring is more than just a race to the egg

  

The chance of a male fathering offspring may not be a simple race to the egg, but is influenced by the length of the male’s sperm, say scientists from the University of Sheffield.

Using a captive population of zebra finches, the researchers carried out sperm competition experiments between pairs of males, where one male consistently produced long sperm and the other male always produced short sperm. These experiments showed that more long sperm reached and fertilised the eggs compared to short sperm. The long sperm advantage was evident even when the short sperm males mated with the females first, and were effectively given a ‘head start’.

The findings demonstrate that in birds, in a competitive scenario, the fertilisation success of a male can be influenced by the length of his sperm. The results also suggest that the final outcome of sperm competition may be partly dependent on the female bird.

Dr Clair Bennison from the University’s Department of Animal and Plant Sciences, said: “We know that in the zebra finch, long sperm swim faster than short sperm, so we might expect longer, faster swimming sperm to simply reach the egg first. However, this reasoning does not explain why long sperm outcompete short sperm in our study. Long sperm win at sperm competition, by fertilising more eggs, even when short sperm are given a head-start.”

Scientists at the University allowed each pair of male zebra finches to mate with a female bird so that the long and short sperm from the males could compete to fertilise the female’s eggs. Female birds store sperm inside their bodies for many days, and this is one way that the females themselves could influence the fertilisation success of the males. It is possible that long sperm are better at reaching and and staying inside these storage areas than short sperm. Long sperm may even be ‘preferred’ by the female, by some unknown process.

Dr Bennison, added: “Our findings are important because they demonstrate for the first time in birds, using a controlled competitive scenario, that sperm length can influence the fertilisation success of a particular male. The results also add to the body of evidence suggesting that the final outcome of sperm competition may be partly dependent on the female, and that the chance of a male siring offspring may not be an outcome of a simple ‘race to the egg’.”

Scientists believe that a better understanding of how sperm length influences fertilisation success in non-human animals such as the zebra finch may point us in new directions for investigation in human fertility research.

Researchers now plan to investigate if sperm storage duration in female birds varies according to the length of the male’s sperm, and the possible mechanisms responsible for this.

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Monday 1st December 2014

Nine staff members of a care home on leave ‘as a protective measure’ after abuse allegations

  

Nine members of staff at a centre for intellectual disabilities have been taken “off duty” following allegations made by an undercover reporter.

Nine members of staff at a centre for intellectual disabilities have been taken “off duty” following allegations made by an undercover reporter.

The Health Service Executive (HSE) took the action as a “protective measure” after receiving a letter detailing the allegations from RTE’s Investigations Unit.

The letter detailed how footage was shot by the undercover reporter at the Aras Attracta facility in Swinford, Co Mayo over a number of weeks.

It contained allegations of force feeding, slapping, kicking and physical abuse and named a number of staff.

Although the HSE has yet to view the footage, it took immediate steps.

Identified staff were taken off duty and the HSE resolved to set up an independently-led inquiry.

The Health Information and Quality Authority and the gardai are also investigating allegations of abuse and poor standards at the centre.

The HSE said actions such as those alleged were wholly unacceptable in any facility.

Gardai were already investigating the sudden death in November 2012 of a long-term resident at the home, Albert Loughney.

HSE national director for social care Pat Healy said it had taken immediate action to deal with the allegations.

Mr Healy said the measure of placing staff on temporary leave is “normal practice for situations like this” and the reports of staff mistreating residents at the Aras Attracta care unit in Mayo are “wholly unacceptable”.

“If these claims are true, it is unacceptable practice and unacceptable behaviour,” Mr Healy told RTE Radio One’s Today with Sean O’Rourke programme.

He explained that the HSE have already put several measures in place and have notified An Garda Siochana about the allegations.

“Over 59 recommendations were made as a result of audits and all of them have been put in place.

“There have been significant changes at the facility, additional staff have been appointed, as well as a number range of training programs being put in place which aim to safeguard vulnerable adults, as well as a whole range of other issues,” he said.

“Indeed we have a further report in progress at HIQA at the moment, work needs to be done but progress has been made.

“Clearly what I’ve been saying and what I’ve said in this statement – any behaviour of that nature is wholly unacceptable.”

Mr Healy said he wished to provide reassurance to the families of residents and residents at the care facility that the matters are being treated as urgent and have been brought to their attention.

The centre cares for 100 people, 95 of whom are residents and five of whom use the facility for respite care.

Mr Healy said he has not seen footage from an upcoming Prime Time programme, but acted immediately when they received a formal letter of complaint from an individual.

“The minute we got that letter we put a range of measures in place and have taken immediate actions at the centre itself to ensure appropriate services are being provided to residents there.

“As well as the fully established investigations, there is a review process to look at standards overall, to see what else remains to be done.

“It is important to say, as well, that this type of policy is being rolled out across the country,” he added.

Meanwhile, Taoiseach Enda Kenny said he expects to see the results of the independent investigations as soon as possible.

“These actions are intolerable. There are a number of independent investigations underway and I expect to see the results as soon as possible,” he told RTE News at One programme.

“Particularly for the families and patients involved, this is a situation that is truly intolerable.

“Minister Kathleen Lynch informed me of the situation last weekend and I’m satisfied it’s being independently investigated.”

UCC students awarded for bumble bee technology

  

Students created energy-neutral smart beehive using big data and mobile technology

The energy neutral smart beehive created by the UCC students can autonomously monitor the activity of the bee colony and conditions within the beehive.

A project by a group of University College Cork (UCC) students has won a global competition for using smart technology to help the plight of the humble honey bee.

The students created an energy-neutral smart beehive for the IEEE /IBM Smarter Planet Challenge 2014. The competition organisers had asked students worldwide to come up with an innovative solution to a grand challenge facing their community.

The UCC pilot project uses big data, mobile technology, wireless sensor networks and cloud computing to look at the impact of carbon dioxide, oxygen, temperature, humidity, chemical pollutants and airborne dust levels on the honey bees, using solar panels for an energy neutral operation.

The energy neutral smart beehive, currently in its first pilot phase, can autonomously monitor the activity of the bee colony and conditions within the beehive.

The data, which are stored in an active beehive, are protected through traditional methods including cryptography. The bees also help protect the data.

The students’ research will allow bee keepers to monitor their hives at times that were previously difficult or impossible such as during the night, heavy rain or in the depths of winter.

As part of the competition the student projects had to fit into one or more key areas, including: big data/analytics, cloud computing, cyber security or mobile technologies.

The prize-winning UCC project, entitled: (2B) OR!(2B): From the beehive to the cloud and back, was based on a Boolean theme and was also inspired by Shakespeare.

UCC president Dr Michael Murphy said mathematician George Boole’s theories of logic and probabilities are as powerful today as they were back in the 1800s.

“I am delighted that his work has inspired our current students to create novel solutions to an urgent global problem and helped them win an international competition in the process.”

The IEEE/IBM Smarter Planet Challenge competition is run by the largest engineering organisation in the field, the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineering, and the €5,000 prize was sponsored by IBM.

Why bowel cancer can sometimes outsmarts the treatment

  

A new study that challenges the prevailing view of how bowel cancer develops in the large intestine is published in Nature Medicine.

Cancer Research UK scientists have discovered that bowel cancer may not be restricted to starting its journey in the stem cells in the lining of the intestines as previously thought.

The researchers, based at the Wellcome Trust Centre for Human Genetics, studied a hereditary faulty gene which can cause bowel cancer in middle age. The faulty gene causes normal cells to behave like immortal stem cells and develop tumours of their own- challenging the theory that normal cells have a fixed fate and limited lifespan.

The cells lining the bowel are continuously replaced – new ‘daughter’ cells are produced by immortal stem cells to replace those that have worn out.

Many types of cancer are caused when chemical messaging goes wrong. Scientists analysed polyp samples from hereditary bowel cancer patients and found disruption of a key signalling pathway involved in stem cell control. They found the same problem in a wider selection of bowel cancer tumours. When they altered the key signalling molecule in the lab it caused daughter cells that had moved out of the stem cell zone to behave like stem cells and develop into tumours.

This could ultimately explain how some cancers become resistant to chemotherapy, as stem cells killed by the treatment may be continually replaced by cancerous daughter cells.

Dr Simon Leedham, Cancer Research UK funded researcher at the Wellcome Trust Centre for Human Genetics, said: “This study has implications for drug development and tumour treatment. If these signalling pathways are disrupted in tumours then daughter cells could revert back to behaving like stem cells and then replace any cancer stem cells killed by chemotherapy.

“This may be one of the mechanisms behind tumour resistance to chemotherapy but could also represent a potential drug target. If we can restore the disrupted signalling balance in tumours then we may be able to stop daughter cells from replacing cancer causing stem cells and increase the effectiveness of our current therapies. ”

Nell Barrie, senior science communications manager at Cancer Research UK, said: “This is an important step forward in understanding the underlying mechanisms behind bowel cancer. Mapping out how cancer cells communicate and behave in the bowel will help us find key weaknesses we can target with new treatments, to ultimately improve the outlook for patients.”

Here’s how many people have signed up to pay water charges

  

Some 900,000 people in Ireland have registered to pay water charges, meaning more than 700,000 have yet to do so.

A spokesperson for Irish Water confirmed that over 25,800 people registered from Saturday to Wednesday of last week.

This is an average of 5,000 people a day – up from 3,000 a day the previous week.

Last month, the Government announced a revised package on water charges, meaning an adult living on their own will pay €60 per year for water when a €100 rebate is included – around €1.15 a week.

People who don’t register will receive an automatic €260 bill and will not qualify for the €100 rebate.

Late payment penalties of €30 for a single adult household and €60 for other households will be added to bills three months following a  year of non-payment. Over four years of non-payment, penalties could accumulate to €1,640.

If you refuse to pay, the charges will be attached to your home meaning water bills would remain outstanding if you tried to sell your home.

Lawyers

Earlier today, the Irish Times reported that Irish Water has paid more than €5 million to three Dublin law firms since it was set up last year – working out at about €81,000 per week.

Sinn Féin’s Environment Spokesperson Brian Stanley said the money the company was spending on lawyers and consultants would be put to better use if spent on fixing leaks.

“Hardly a week goes by without another story which highlights the enormous waste of taxpayer’s money by Irish Water,” Stanley stated.

Environment Minister Alan Kelly has previously defended the amount it has cost to set up the utility, saying it was “on a par” with costs incurred to establish similar companies abroad.

Another protest against water charges has been planned for Wednesday, 10 December.

Just €5m of €20m mental health funding spent

  

IMN has learned that just €5 million of the €20 million in additional funding for mental health staffing provided in 2014 has been spent on the sector to date, with half of the funds allocated to the overall health budget.

In a statement to this publication, the HSE said that, of the €20 million allocated to mental health this year, €5 million was spent on “unfunded costs arising in mental health in 2014”, €5 million was allocated to commence hiring of new staff, and €10 million was allocated to provide support to the health budget.

According to the Executive, the €5 million spent on “unfunded costs” in mental health included the opening of additional beds and external placements for complex child and adult service users. Another €5 million was allocated to commence hiring of additional staff in the latter part of 2014, and €10 million was “allocated to provide once off support to the overall health service budget management strategy as approved within the national service plan”, the HSE said.

“It is key to note that the entire €20 million allocation in 2014 has been retained in full for spend on mental health in 2015 and all subsequent years,” the HSE added.

According to the HSE: “The €20 million allocated to mental health in 2014 provided for approximately 250/260 posts to be recruited, at a maximum cost in 2014 of €5 million with the full funding available for all posts in 2015.”

The HSE National Service Plan for 2014 stated: “The provision in Budgets 2013 and 2014 of ringfenced investments of €35 million and €20 million, in mental health, is enabling the continued strengthening of our community teams, increased suicide prevention resources and clinical programme development and implementation. The €20 million for 2014 will allow us commit to between 250 and 280 posts. New spend in 2014 related to the €35 million and €20 million will need to be phased in order to live within the overall available resource. The recruitment process for these new posts will commence in the first quarter of 2014, with all posts targeted to be in place in 2014.”

The HSE advised IMN, however, that earlier this year the Mental Health Management Team carried out a workforce analysis and approved allocations were made in September for more than 200 posts to be recruited.

According to the HSE, some of these posts may be in place before the end of the year, “however, the majority will likely not have started until the early months of 2015, requiring additional targeted recruitment campaigns, resulting in posts being in place later than planned at the outset of this year.”

Meanwhile, in the HSE National Service Plan for 2015, which was published late last week, mental health was allocated €756.8 million for 2015, along with additional Programme for Government funding of €35 million.

DNA is tougher than you and there’s Science to prove it

 

As we have heard from the Mythbusters, the only difference between screwing around and science is writing it down.

Well, kids, sometimes scientists try things just because reasons. For instance, some molecular biologists at the University of Zurich who were already sending up a sounding rocket to do gravity tests on DNA decided to smear a couple of samples on the hull of the rocket, for laughs. Except theywrote it all down and published it, which is mostly the difference between you strapping stuff to bottle rockets and what people with research grants do.

They were curious to see how much, if any, of the cells would survive low earth orbit. What they found was slightly alarming.

Not only did over half the samples survive re-entry in to the Earth’s atmosphere, over a third of the DNA was still usable.

“We were totally surprised. We never expected to recover so many intact and functional active DNA,” said Cora Thiel, lead author on the study. “Our findings made us a little bit worried about the probability of contaminating space crafts, landers and landing sites with DNA from Earth.”

Sounding rockets are used for short experiments that need to be carried out in space. The one in this test, for instance, was only out for 13 minutes. The plasmids that were sent up in this flight were of two different genes, one that provides antibiotic resistance to bacteria, and one that encodes green flourescent protein. (Plasmid DNA is not the same as chromosomal DNA, and is about 10 times smaller than bacterial DNA.)

When the samples came back they were still able to make bacteria strain resistant, and stuff glow green. The possibility that we’re sending the material to make life on other planets accidentally, by not sterilizing the hardware we send out well enough, is apparently very real.

Sequencing the DNA revealed that it didn’t contain more than a handful of mutations, which may or may not be a result of its time in space.

“We cannot say how these big chromosomal DNA molecules would react under the same conditions and this should be investigated in a separate experiment,” said Oliver Ullrich, the biochemist who co-authored the paper. “However, we speculate that small plasmid DNA molecules might be more resistant to re-entry conditions than chromosomal DNA, which is also packed with proteins.”

So this means we’re going to have to launch more rockets squirted with DNA. And that’s too much double entendre for me to deal with on a Monday.

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Sunday 4th May 2014

Higher overall Irish water fees as a €50 charge is ruled out

 

New ‘hardship measures’ agreed for some welfare claimants and pensioners

The Coalition is close to a deal to cut water charges for some welfare claimants, but many householders who do not benefit from new “hardship” measures will have to pay higher fees.

Although Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore have yet to sign off on the revised plan, negotiators from Fine Gael and Labour have settled their differences over some of the most divisive elements of the initiative. They are understood to have reached agreement in principle to eliminate a €50 standing charge, which was to be imposed regardless of usage and other allowances.

Labour, in particular, had major reservations about the standing charge, which would erode the benefit of allowances for households with children, and this had complicated the discussions. Agreement in principle on special provisions for pensioners living alone has also been reached.

Under the draft deal, such pensioners would pay between €40 and €48 a year in quarterly instalments of €10-€12. A senior Labour source said this meant certain pensioners would now pay “little or nothing” for water.

a Annual fee

At the same time, the source acknowledged that the average annual fee for householders bearing the full brunt of the new water regime will rise.

This is because the Government is still committed to raising €500 million a year from the water charge, which is one of the final outstanding elements of Ireland’s bailout deal with the troika to be implemented. The average annual fee was pitched at €240 at the outset of the latest negotiation, which followed a bitter Cabinet row between Fine Gael and Labour Ministers in the run-up to Easter. However, the extent to which the €240 will rise as a result of the new “hardship remediation package” is still unclear.

The ultimate scope of this package and the range of beneficiaries remains to be finalised, it is understood. The draft plan on the table is under discussion between political advisers and civil servants but not yet between Taoiseach and Tánaiste, it is understood. Still, negotiators are working on the basis that settled welfare entitlements – for example, for specific medical conditions – would determine whether householders have the right to benefit from the water hardship package.

Having failed to strike a definitive accord this week, the negotiators are now working to ensure all aspects of the agreement can be endorsed by the Cabinet when it meets next Tuesday. While Mr Kenny pledged many weeks ago that voters would know what fees would be charged before local and European elections on May 23rd, a Fine Gael push for an pre-Easter deal fell foul of Labour claims that the larger Coalition party was trying to railroad the deal through.

Two days ago, however, Mr Gilmore said he recognised that the lack of clarity over the water fees was making life difficult for Labour candidates. The campaign started badly this week for Labour with a call for Mr Gilmore’s resignation by substitute MEP Phil Prendergast.

Soundings from Fine Gael sources point to a willingness to provide a measure of relief to Labour over the new water charge.

Sligo County gets 10% (€908,000) of fund’s for 6 unfinished housing estates

 

Sligo has been allocated the largest share from a new fund for unfinished housing estates.

The county will receive almost €1m – close to one tenth of the total €10m Special Resolution Fund, which will tackle issues in 86 unfinished housing estates across the country.

Sligo is set to receive €908,877 to complete six estates, whilst Donegal has been approved for €851,101 to complete eight estates and Longford has been allocated €844,072 for four estates.

Wicklow secured the least amount of funding, and was granted just €43,000 for works on one development. A further €12m is also to be invested from third parties, including developers, lenders and bond-holders.

The biggest recipients of private funds for the completion of estates were counties Galway, Meath and Sligo, which between them, will account for close to €5m of the €12m.

Unfinished estates

Minister for Housing Jan O’Sullivan announced the funding while visiting the Fionn Uisce development in Galway city. It will receive €250,000 for completion works under the fund. She said there had been substantial progress in tackling unfinished estates, with the numbers of such developments dropping by 50% since 2010.

“We estimate that there are more than 2,100 families living on the 86 estates earmarked for funding,” she said. “They have had to endure many years of frustration and I am glad that this will now be at an end.”

Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore also praised the new fund. “One of the things we set out to do was complete the unfinished housing estates and get them back into operation,” he said. “We’ve about 56% of the unfinished estates completed.

“Even better news is that 72% of all of the housing units in unfinished housing estates are now completed and are now being lived in.”

Some answers to key questions on Irish rural broadband

 

So the Government says it’s going to fork out up to €512m to roll out state subsidised fibre broadband to remote rural areas. Lots of questions remain. Here is what we know, together with some of the key questions about such a service.

The “core” lines will be fibre broadband

The government swears that this is not an exercise in providing some unspecified “high speed” broadband. It is “fibre”. That means relatively high-end broadband speeds.

Every village “will get” fibre

This is important. A government spokesman has clarified to me that each of the 1,000-plus rural villages named in the Department of Communications’ will see the fibre physically arrive into the village and not some nearby hill. That means 15-strong Blacksod in County Mayo, Spanish Point in County Clare and other such far-flung places.

Rural homes and businesses may still need phone lines or roof antennae to connect to the service

Here’s a minor catch: if the fibre is simply “arriving” in each village, it won’t reach most rural-dwellers. That’s because many live in the wider townland area, often several kilometres away from a village.

A key question, then, is where the fibre goes once it reaches the village. Does it stop at a single point? Does it carry on into each business or home? (It won’t.) Or does it simply attach to an Eircom phone line cabinet?

No details as to this ‘last mile’ delivery are yet forthcoming. But it’s hard to see beyond phone lines, wireless providers or even mobile 4G signals being used to connect homes and businesses to the rural fibre. “Details of appropriate access points are to be identified as part of the process,” said a spokesman for the Dept of Communications. “These could include buildings, cabinets or base stations,” he said. “The Department will engage intensively with industry to ensure the optimum routing of the fibre for the purposes of next generation access.”

This will have a massive impact on the actual speeds the service delivers. If, for example, it becomes a fixed wireless service (connecting to the fibre pipe), it could be limited to 10Mbs. That’s still far better than many rural areas experience now. But it’s also still miles behind 150Mbs available in urban areas.

The Government has backed away from promising minimum speeds. 

The last time the Government proffered its “National Broadband Plan”, it specified a minimum speed of 30 megabits per second (Mbs) to every rural home in the country.

This was never achievable on any kind of manageable budget and the government had to conceded that it wasn’t deliverable.

Now the government has declined to nominate any specific minimum speed.

On one level, this is sensible recognition of reality. On another, it’s disappointing: the EU has based much of its continent-wide digital targets on minimum speeds being attainable.

Big questions remain over the mapping

The government insists that all listed villages will get fibre. And it has costed the venture at between €355m and €512m. But it will not say how its assessors – Prisa Consulting and New Era – came to that figure, or how many km of fibre are involved.

This information, it says, is “commercially sensitive” ahead of a tender process. But it’s a pretty crucial bit of the jigsaw and one that goes directly to the credibility of the proposed project.

It could be three to five years before it’s fully rolled out

The timeframe here involves the government spending much of the rest of the year consulting existing broadband companies such as Eircom and UPC and then getting approval from the European Commission for its state intervention.

After that, it’s a question of drawing up public tenders. And only then – perhaps in late 2015 – will the actual fibre networks begin to roll out.

Coastguard cliff rescue ends terror for Staffordshire terrier (Bella)

  

Emma Jervis with volunteer rescuer Kieran O’Connor after she was reunited with her Staffordshire Terrier, Bella. The dog fell 150ft into a ravine at Rabbit’s Cove in Glandore and was rescued by coastguard teams.

A dramatic May Day cliff rescue ended in elation as heroic coastguard volunteers returned to its owners a dog that fell 45m.

Bella, a Staffordshire Terrier adopted from a rescue shelter, plummeted to rocks at the bottom of a steep, inaccessible ravine at Rabbit’s Cove in Glandore.

The dog’s howls were heard by its owners as they searched for her on the West Cork cliff top.

Incredibly, the two-year-old Staffie suffered only a broken leg after the fall onto rocks.

She was reunited with her overjoyed owners by rescue crews as darkness fell on Thursday night.

Coastguard volunteers from the Toe Head-Glandore Unit swung into action following a frantic call for help from Bella’s owner, local photographer Emma Jervis. “We got help from a local boat at Union Hall to try and access the cove at sea level but the swell was too high. We couldn’t even see her,” she said.

Emma and her partner Clo Reddin’s hopes for their pet’s survival were dashed as they returned to the cliff in tears.

The pair could barely believe it when they heard Bella’s anguished cries still emanating from the rocky depths below.

“We couldn’t believe she was still alive,” said Emma. “But the situation was heartbreaking as there was no way we could get her out of there.”

Coastguard cliff and water rescue teams were tasked at 7.15pm. The deputy officer in charge of Toe Head Glandore Coastguard, John O’Mahony, said: “The reason we go in in a situation like this is that, if we don’t go, the owner or another civilian might put their life at risk.”

The coastguard D-class inshore rescue boat was launched from Union Hall. The crew managed to navigate the inlet’s rocky mouth to the shoreline where they scaled slippery rocks to reach the distraught dog.

Armed with treats, they gathered the whimpering Bella and carried her back to the boat. Minutes later, the dog and her owners were reunited at Glandore Harbour.

“She wagged her tail and she was so happy to see us, it was such a huge relief, they were minding her so well,” Emma said.

“Thanks especially to the coastguard for rescuing her, they were amazing.”

Statins (cholesterol reducing tablets) could increase your daily fat intake

   

The Indian Express reported a study which revealed that individuals taking statins (cholesterol-lowering drugs) tend to gradually raise their consumption of fat and calories.

It’s a 12-year study on statin use involving 27,886 men and women participating in a 24-hour dietary recall interview for cholesterol levels and body mass index. It was found that statin use increased from 7.5% in 1999 to 16.5% in 2010 in the group of participants. The cholesterol levels reduced in statin users but their daily calorie intake raised by 9%, and fat consumption increased by 14.4%.

Non-users did not show any significant changes in either measure. Body mass index raised in statin users by 1.3 compared with an increase of 0.4 in the non-user group. The effect was seen despite control over factors like age, race, education and conditions like of diabetes and high cholesterol. (Read: Is it necessary to take statins for preventing heart diseases?)

How do statins work? How they prevent heart disease?

‘Cholesterol is a type of fat made by our body. It’s essential for good health and is found in every cell in the body. However, if you have too much ‘bad’ cholesterol (low-density lipoprotein or LDL) in your blood, it can cause fatty deposits to build up on the walls of your arteries. This is known as atherosclerosis – a condition that narrows your arteries.

Statins work by reducing the amount of LDL cholesterol your body makes. They do this by blocking an enzyme in your liver needed to produce cholesterol. This slows down the production of cholesterol by your liver. By reducing cholesterol, statins can help to reduce your risk of having a heart attack, stroke or developing peripheral arterial disease.

There is some evidence to suggest that statins may also work in a number of other ways to help reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease.

One promising benefit of statins appears to be their anti-inflammatory properties, which help stabilise the lining of blood vessels. This has potentially far-reaching effects, from the brain and heart to blood vessels and organs throughout the body.

What precautions should a person take while on statins?

‘Too much of a good thing can be bad, but too little of a bad thing can be even worse. So, first of all, patients on statins should have regular blood tests to monitor their lipid levels,’ says Dr Bela Sharma, senior consultant, internal medicine, FMRI.

Other important things to remember:

•  Adherence to prescribed medication dosage is extremely essential. 

•  Avoiding drug interactions, mainly with drugs (erythromycin, simvastatin, cyclosporine) that block liver enzymes.

•  In case you experience any adverse side-effect, consult your doctor immediately.

706 people continue to fight for four one-way tickets to Mars planet

 

706 people continue to fight for four places in the Mars colonization program Mars One, a participant of the project, resident of Los Angeles, Sue Ann Pien said on Friday.

More than 202 thousand people filed applications for participation in the first stage of the selection program, which ended in September, 2013.

The first six groups of Martian colonists – consisting of four people each – should be formed in 2015; after that, they will begin their seven-year preparation for the mission.

It is supposed that at first, several robots will be sent to Mars and from 2016 to 2020, they will construct residential and service modules.

The launch of the spacecraft with colonists on board is planned for 2022, and their arrival on Mars – for 2023.

The one-way flight will take about seven months. The first group will consist of two men and two women. After that, every second year, other colonists will be sent to Mars.

According to General Director of Mars One, Bas Lansdorp, English will be the official language on Mars.

The Mars One project was launched in 2011; the idea belongs to the homonymous Dutch company.

The goal of the project is to conduct a manned mission to Mars followed by foundation of a colony and to broadcast all events on television.

Mars One expects to receive a part of funds necessary for the project from sponsors and another part – from the income from the interactive reality show featuring all the aspects of the planned mission, starting from the selection of colonists to the flight to Mars.