Tag Archives: gender equality

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Friday 20th November 2105

Irish Water staff vote to strike in row over job cuts

Unions balloted for industrial action after utility revealed plan for up to 1,500 job losses


Unions decided to ballot members for industrial action after Irish Water said it intended ‘to reduce the local authority workforce in the company by up to 1,500 by 2021’.

Local authority workers providing services for Irish Water have voted for industrial action in a dispute over proposed staffing cuts.

In ballots counted on Friday members of Siptu and the Technical Engineering and Electrical Union (TEEU) in local authorities, working under the management of Irish Water, supported industrial action up to and including work stoppages by 91 per cent and 84 per cent respectively.

The unions said they decided to ballot members for industrial action following an announcement by Irish Water in a new business plan last month that it intended “to reduce the local authority workforce in the company by up to 1,500 by 2021”.

unions said the unilateral move by Irish Water was in breach of a service level agreement reached between them and the company in 2013 which obliged it to consult in relation to any proposed changes in staffing numbers.

The unions maintained that the proposed move by the company could lead to existing water service staff being displaced by private contractors.

Siptu sector organiser Brendan O’Brien said: “The result of this vote represents a very strong mandate from our members to fight the creeping privatisation of the public water service. The concerns of local authority water workers about the threat to public water services has led their decision to take industrial action when and if necessary.

“We do not accept that the public water service can be adequately delivered with the planned reduction of frontline staff numbers which is in the order of 40 per cent.”

Teeu official, Paddy Kavanagh, said that union representatives would hold talks with Irish Water management next week.

“At this meeting we will set out the position of our members and depending on the response of the company, and following further consultation, decide on what course of action will be taken.”

Separately the trade union Impact is balloting its members for industrial action at Irish Water on the same issue of potential job losses.

“The local government and local services and municipal employees’ divisions of Impact have commenced a ballot for industrial action at Irish Water, following the announcement by the water utility that it will shed 1,500 jobs as part of its business plan published in October”, an Impact spokesman said.

The union said that only members involved in the direct provision of services to Irish Water, including those who worked in non-domestic water billing and water metering, were being balloted.

Impact national secretary Peter Nolan said the union would extend the ballot to other workers in the local authority sector if it became necessary.

In a letter to Impact members Mr Nolan said the company’s proposals constituted “clear breaches of understandings and agreements, negotiated by the union, that have facilitated the transfer of ownership, control and operation of water and sanitation services from local authorities to Irish Water”.

“The decision of both divisions to ballot members on industrial action is a prudent precautionary step. Industrial action will not take place as long as Irish Water and the local authorities abide by these agreements”, he said.

In a statement, Irish Water said they “noted the outcome of the SIPTU ballot of staff of local authorities that provide services to Irish Water through a Service Level Agreement with local authorities. There has been no breach of the Service Level Agreement.

“Any proposed action by local authority staff must comply with recognised practices and national agreements. There is a meeting of the consultative group next week which will be attended by union representatives, local authority management, DECLG and Irish Water.”

A national DNA database for Irish criminals is now launched


DNA samples will be stored within Forensic Science Ireland at Garda headquarters in the Phoenix Park.

A national DNA database has been launched that will see genetic samples kept for all criminals who receive a sentence of five years or more.

The database is launched under the Criminal Justice (Forensic Evidence and DNA Database System) Act 2014, which was enacted today.

Similar databases already exist in the UK and many other European countries.

The genetic samples will be stored within Forensic Science Ireland, currently located at Garda headquarters in the Phoenix Park.

Former minister for justice Alan Shatter has welcomed the launch.

Speaking after its commencement, Mr Shatter said “the DNA database will provide enormous help to the gardaí and will revolutionise the investigation of crime in this State, in particular, homicides, rape and other sexual offences, assaults and burglaries”.

“Based on experience elsewhere, DNA samples can help identify the perpetrators of up to 40% of all burglaries,” he added.

How long more until women are treated as equals?

A report from the World Economic Forum finds that true gender equality is still more than a century away?


There’s a name for why we give too much weight to the opinions of others? 

In 2006, the World Economic Forum developed the Global Gender Index—a means of measuring a country’s gender disparities for health outcomes and educational, political, and economic opportunities. After collecting a decade of data, the Forum has released a progress report on global gender equality—or rather, inequality, given that a gender gap remains in every single one of the 145 countries included in the report.

Globally, the disparity in health outcomes—a catch-all term for sex ratio and life expectancy—between men and women is 96 percent closed, and the gap in educational attainment is 95 percent closed. But the inequality in indices of political empowerment (measured by the ratio of men to women in high-level decision-making positions) and economic participation and opportunities (the number of women in the labor force and in high-level positions therein) remains wide. Just 59 percent of the economic gap and less than a quarter of the political gap has been closed.

A gender gap remains in every single one of the 145 countries included in the report.

That is not to say no progress has been made: Twenty-five countries fully closed the gap in educational attainment, 40 closed the gap in health outcomes, and a full 10 have closed the gap in both. But no country has fully closed the economic or political gaps. Pushback from men in the workplace may partly explain why it has proven more difficult for women to gain an equal number of spots in the highest-ranking positions of the labor force. Alana Massey reported for Pacific Standard earlier this year on several studies that found even men who outwardly support gender equality were inwardly threatened by female leadership:

A study published earlier this month in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin found that, across three separate experiments, even men ostensibly committed to gender equality in the workplace often feel threatened by female bosses and act accordingly. In a simulation of salary negotiation from a starting offer of $28,500, male participants dealing with a male manager counter-offered a mean figure of $42,870. In contrast, men dealing with a female manager counter-offered a mean figure of $49,400. Because it was unlikely that participants would admit to feeling threatened by a female manager, all participants took part in an assessment wherein words flashed on a screen for under a second and then reported on the words they saw. Men dealing with female managers were more likely to see words like “risk” and “fear” than those who dealt with male managers. “We found that men exhibited higher implicit threat, indicating that even if committed to equality in theory, they felt threatened by a female manager,” says Leah Sheppard, a co-author of the study.

There are innumerable reasons why closing the gender gap should be a top priority around the globe. Among them, a study covered by Tom Jacobs that found the countries with the most gender equality won more medals at the 2012 Summer and 2014 Winter Olympics, indicating that “equal rights for women may also boost the competitive prospects of men,” he wrote.

At the current rate of progress, however, it will be another 118 years before the gender gap is closed. At least my great-great-granddaughters will have something to look forward to.


IRELAND is ranked fifth in EQUAL PAY SURVEY

According to the latest survey, the world has seen only a small improvement in equality for women in the workplace over the past nine years     

In a report commissioned by the World Economic Forumit was revealed that Ireland has placed 5th out of 145 countries surveyed in terms of wage equality between men and women. 

The report stated that: ‘No country in the world has achieved gender equality. The highest ranked countries—Iceland, Norway, Finland, Sweden and Ireland —have closed over 80% of their gender gaps, while the lowest ranked country—Yemen—has closed a little less than half of its gender gap.’

It was also noted in the report that women are now being paid the equivalent of what their male counterparts were being paid 10 years ago, essentially meaning women are a DECADE behind men in terms of how much cash they make for the same amount of work.

The report called for businesses to make more of a concerted effort to create changes in their companies that would lead to more women employed, in higher leadership positions, and a better work life balance particularly in terms of childcare and maternity leave.

‘Leaders need to take a holistic approach that often leads to fundamental reforms on how to recruit and retain employees; how to mentor and sponsor high-potential women; how to sensitize managers to different leadership styles; how to manage work-life balance policies so that they don’t disadvantage women.’

Shockingly, it’s going to be another ONE HUNDRED AND EIGHTEEN YEARS until the gender gap is closed at the current rate we are going.

In some countries such as Iran, progress has stalled completely at 58%, the same figure as 2006. Croatia, Sri Lanka and Mali have also shown disappointing figures.

Have we finally found the ‘happy’ region of our brain?


Happiness is a subjective experience for most of us.

It could be anything from receiving that highly anticipated bonus, to finding love or even listening to Taylor Swift.

But one thing we’ve struggled to figure out is… which part of the brain is responsible for processing our joyous emotions?

Happiness is a subjective experience (Thinkstock)

It seems scientists at Kyoto University may have the answer.

According to their study, overall happiness is “a combination of happy emotions and satisfaction of life coming together in the precuneus – a region in the medial parietal lobe that becomes active when experiencing consciousness.”

But they haven’t been able to identify how the neural mechanism works to facilitate the feelings of happiness.

Scientists say the neural mechanism behind how happiness emerges remains unclear at present

Study leader Wataru Sato believes understanding that mechanism could help scientists quantify the levels of happiness objectively.

Researchers scanned the brains of research participants with MRI.

The volunteers were then asked about how happy they are generally and how satisfied they are with their lives as part of a survey.

The yellow area showing the precuneus region

Results revealed that those who scored higher on the happiness surveys had more grey matter mass in the precuneus.

“Over history, many eminent scholars like Aristotle have contemplated what happiness is,” said Sato.

“I’m very happy that we now know more about what it means to be happy.”

Meditation is associated with increased grey matter in the precuneus (Jillian/Flickr)

So how does it help us. Does this mean we will be able to train ourselves to be happy in future?

“Several studies have shown that meditation increases grey matter mass in the precuneus,” Sato adds.

“This new insight on where happiness happens in the brain will be useful for developing happiness programs based on scientific research.”

“Yes that’s correct” We now have got the first ever photo of a new planet LkCa15  being formed


The first ever photo of a planet being formed has been captured, even though the planet in question is a staggering 450 light-years away from Earth.

Using the world’s largest telescope, the aptly name Large Binocular Telescope, and the University of Arizona’s Magellan Telescope, graduates from the university took a “direct picture” of the forming planet.

LkCa15 is a young star with a protoplanetary disc around it – a disc of dense gas and dust created from the star’s left over materials, which then go on to create planets which will orbit the star. LkCa15′s disc contains a gap, usually created by forming planets. It was this that drew the researchers towards it.

“This is the first time that we’ve imaged a planet that we can say is still forming,” said Stephanie Sallum, a UA graduate student who, with Kate Follette, a former UA graduate student now doing post-doctoral work at Stanford University, led the research.

“No one has successfully and unambiguously detected a forming planet before,” Follette says. “There have always been alternate explanations, but in this case we’ve taken a direct picture, and it’s hard to dispute that.”

To make an already very impressive find even more impressive, of the 2,000 or so known exoplanets in the universe, only 10 have ever been imaged – and they were all fully formed.

“The reason we selected this system is because it’s built around a very young star that has material left over from the star-formation process,” Follette said.

“It’s like a big doughnut. This system is special because it’s one of a handful of discs that has a solar-system size gap in it. And one of the ways to create that gap is to have planets forming in there.”

The two graduates’ advisers verified the findings using Magellan’s adaptive optics system to capture the planet’s “hydrogen alpha” spectral fingerprint – the specific wavelength of light that LkCa15 and its planets emit as they grow.

Cosmic objects are extremely hot as they’re forming and because they’re forming from hydrogen they all glow dark red, which is a particular wavelength of light referred to as H-alpha by scientists.

“That single dark shade of red light is emitted by both the planet and the star as they undergo the same growing process,” Follette said.

“We were able to separate the light of the faint planet from the light of the much brighter star and to see that they were both growing and glowing in this very distinct shade of red.”

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Wednesday/Thursday 24 & 25th June 2015

Patrick Honohan says troika deal terms were ‘unsatisfactory


Outgoing Central Bank governor makes third appearance before inquiry.

Outgoing Central Bank of Ireland Governor Patrick Honohan.

The Central Bank found the terms of the trioka programme “unsatisfactory”, the Governor Patrick Honohan has said.

Prof Honohan told the banking inquiry the deal had “high interest rates and a lack of an insurance mechanism against tail risks in the banks”.

He said the programme was necessary and said without it the cutbacks would have been more severe.

Prof Honohan said: “Nevertheless, having set out these concerns, I advised the Government in writing that it should proceed on the basis of the programme, given that the alternative of struggling forward without access to market finance would have been more economically damaging.

“If the programme proved unable to deliver a sustainable debt path as seemed possible, even likely then it could be renegotiated. The spending and tax adjustments that would have been needed if programme funding was not available would be much more severe.”

The Central Bank Governor said the question of whether the guarantee was the best decision is the least important and yet the most over analysed.

He said: “What if an alternative path had been tried, following prior consultation with EU partners during an interval covered by ELA [emergency liquidity assistance] involving a more limited guarantee, excluding some or all existing senior bonds and subordinated debt, and in conjunction with an attempt to get agreement that Anglo and INBS [Irish Nationwide] bondholders would be bailed-out only on the basis of cost-sharing with EU partners? How much in net national economic terms might have thereby been saved?

“This is not a question susceptible of any precise quantification: could a cost-sharing deal have been successfully negotiated?”

Prof Honohan said the institutions were “very resistant to the losses” the Central Bank were suggesting.

He said officials wrote letters to the “very top” but the bank held its ground.

The governor said: “Rather than knowing something and not wanting to tell they were living in a state of denial.”

Mr Honohan said banks were still living in denial about the state of the losses in the institutions in 2010.

Mr Honohan told the inquiry he received a call out of the blue from the International Monetary Fund in May 2010 offering a precautionary line of credit.

The Governor said Ashoka Mody phoned him and suggested this method but the Department of Finance rejected it.

He said: “I said ‘try it, it might be a good idea. They [the Government] might not like it but try it’. It did not go anywhere.”

Professor Honohan said the European Central Bank would never have withdrawn funding from Ireland.

Asked if the European Central Bank could have, Prof Honohan said it could but it would not have done that.

Fianna Fáil Senator Marc MacSharry asked if that was a big gamble for the then Government to take. Mr Honohan said: “No.”

In his third appearance before the banking inquiry, Prof Honohan this morning said the focus on the night of the guarantee has been “excessive”.

He said nothing had changed his view that emergency liquidity would have bought the Government some time.

Prof Honohan said Anglo Irish Bank and Irish Nationwide should have been dealt by nationalisation.

He added: “It should not have included Subordinated debt nor existing senior term debt.”

The morning session focused on the period of Prof Honohan’s tenure from his appointment in September 2009 to October 2010. The afternoon session is focusing on developments in the period from November 2010 to December 2013.

He will be asked to give evidence on the appropriateness of the regulatory regime and other related matters.

Irish households paying twice as much for broadband as the rest of EU


Study shows Ireland failing when it comes to digital skills.

In terms of integration of digital technology by businesses, Ireland came in 3rd place overall, up 1 place compared to 2014

Irish households are paying close to double the EU average for broadband access, according to a new report that shows Ireland is lagging behind its European counterparts when it comes to digital skills.

Ireland ranks 8th out of 28 Member States in the European Commission’s Digital Economy and Society Index, which was published on Friday. This places Ireland in the ’medium-performance’ category, meaning it performs slightly above the EU average. Last year, Ireland was ranked in 11th place in the index.

Irish businesses are ranked 2nd in the EU for use of social media and for e-commerce turnover and also in addition Irish SMEs rank 5th in the EU for selling online, and for use of E-invoices.

In terms of integration of digital technology by businesses, Ireland came in 3rd place overall, up 1 place compared to 2014. This is above the EU average but the report’s authors added that businesses in Ireland could better exploit the possibilities offered by electronic information sharing and RFID.

In other areas, Ireland underperforms when ranked against its neighbours. In terms of broadband value, for example, the country ranks in 23rd place with households paying significantly more than the EU average for access. Ireland also ranked poorly for digital skills, coming in 20th place with only 53% of people having the required skills to operate effectively online.

At 76%, Ireland exhibits a rate of internet use amongst its population similar to that of the EU average.

With regard to internet connectivity, Ireland ranked 16th among EU countries. According to the index, 96% of Irish households are now covered by fixed broadband – a type of high-speed Internet access where connections to service providers use radio signals rather than cables – and take-up of fixed broadband is at 62%, below the EU average of 70%. This places Ireland in 19th place in terms of fixed- broadband use. Mobile broadband take-up increased from 67% to 82% between 2014 and 2015.

Online news, music, video and games, video calls, social networking, banking and shopping consumption all saw increases over the last year. Music, video and games, rose 20 percentage points from 23% to 43%. Video-on-demand (VOD) declined by 2 percentage points from 70% to 68%. However, VOD use is still very high in Ireland compared to the EU average of 41 per cent, placing Ireland 5th out of 28 countries.

1Gbps broadband speeds are coming to Ireland this September


Eircom is to go live with 1Gbps fibre next September, it emerged after Pure Telecom became the first operator to sign up for the wholesale service.

A €20m deal agreed between Eircom Wholesale and Pure Telecom will see Pure’s customers access 100Mbps broadband and also become the first to access Eircom’s 1Gbps fibre-to-the-home service when it launches in September.

The partnership means Pure Telecom customers can connect to Eircom Wholesale’s high-speed fibre broadband, which offers speeds of up to 100 Mbps to 1.2 million homes and businesses nationwide, a figure which represents approximately 50% of the total premises in Ireland.

This will rise to 70% by 2016, and 80% by 2020, by which time 35% of all premises will have broadband speeds of 1Gbps.

Pure Telecom’s customers will be amongst the first to access Eircom Wholesale’s 1Gbps ‘Fibre to the Home’ (FTTH) service when it launches later this year.

Fibre up the nation?

Paul Connell, director, Pure Telecom, Peter Clarke, director of sales, marketing, international and customer service, Eircom Wholesale and Alan McGonnell, director, Pure Telecom

“With 1,000Mbps (1Gbps) speeds launching in September, Pure’s customers will have access to the fastest broadband speeds available here, ensuring they remain at the cutting edge of broadband developments in Ireland,” Peter Clarke, director of sales, marketing and customer services at Eircom Wholesale said.

Eircom recently announced plans to extend access to high-speed fibre broadband in rural Ireland by extending its fibre network from 1.6 million homes and businesses to 1.9 million nationwide premises.

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

Speeds of up to 1Gbps will be available to these additional 300,000 premises through the use of end-to-end fibre to the home technology.

“Our industry is changing,” said Paul Connell, director of Pure Telecom. “Our business customers need faster broadband so they can compete competitively both domestically and internationally.

“Furthermore, consumer demands are increasing. Smartphones, Netflix and social media are among the tools that are redefining the way people communicate and resetting needs and expectations, and not just for city dwellers.”

Ireland above EU average for gender equality


A new gender equality report out ranks Ireland at eighth in Europe when it comes to gender equality.

The European Institute for Gender Equality places Ireland 17 points behind Scandinavian countries, but 4 points ahead of the EU average.

We come eighth when it comes to gender quality in work; sixth in money; second in health and at 15 in power.

The Gender Equality Index provides a comprehensive measure of gender equality, tailored to fit the EU policy context. Following the importance of cohesion across EU Member States, the Gender Equality Index ensures that higher gender equality scores can only be obtained in societies where there are small gender gaps and high levels of achievement.

The present update includes scores for 2005, 2010 and 2012, for the first time allowing for an assessment of the progress made in the pursuit of gender equality in the European Union and individual Member States over time.

Moreover, the present update makes a first attempt at populating the satellite domain of violence by providing a composite indicator of direct violence against women, based on the data on violence against women collected by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights through the EU-wide Survey on Violence against Women.

The results of the Gender Equality Index show that there have been visible, albeit marginal, improvements between 2005 and 2012 in the domains covered by the Gender Equality Index. With an overall score of 52.9 out of 100 in 2012, the EU remains only halfway towards equality, having risen from 51.3 in 2005. Progress needs to increase its pace if the EU is to fulfil its ambitions and meet the Europe 2020 targets.

Lovebirds can rotate their heads at lightning fast speeds


High-speed flight recordings of lovebirds making quick in flight turns reveal how these birds improve sight and shorten blur by rotating their head at speeds of up to 2,700 degrees per second, as fast as insects, enabled by fast neck muscles.

The rosy-faced lovebird (Agapornis roseicollis).

Lovebirds are any of the nine species of the parrot genus Agapornis (family Psittaculidae).

One species, the grey-headed lovebird (Agapornis canus), is native to Madagascar, and eight species are native to the African continent.

These birds were called lovebirds because of their monogamous pair bonding.

They are small, compact parrots around 5 – 6 inches (12.5 – 15 cm) in length 40 – 60 grams in weight.

According to a new study published in the journal PLoS ONE, during flight, turning lovebirds rotate their head at up to 2,700 degrees per second, faster than any other vertebrate recorded to date.

The authors of the study – Dr Daniel Kress and his colleagues from Stanford University discovered this super-fast behavior by filming the maneuver at 2,000 frames per second during a goal-directed task.

For flight recordings, they trained five rosy-faced lovebirds (Agapornis roseicollis) to turn on a dime in a custom-built flight arena.

“The first step was to train the birds to fly between two perches. In the second step, one perch was removed and birds were trained to fly away, turn and return to the remaining perch. During the third step, the width of the perch was decreased to about 21 cm, after which the birds were ready for the experiment,” the scientists wrote in the paper.

Analysis of high-speed recordings revealed that rapidly turning lovebirds execute extremely fast head turns during turning maneuvers.

The birds time these head turns precisely when their wings are covering their eyes, this minimizes the time of obscured sight.

Consequently, they shorten phases of blurry and obscured sight into a fraction of the actual turning time, resulting in stable and clear vision during the rest of the maneuver.

“The lovebird’s rapid head turn probably enables them to make split second decisions during rapid turns,” the scientists said.

They also hope that the accuracy and speed of these visually guided flight-maneuvers may inspire camera rotation design in drone to improve imaging.

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Monday 6th April 2015

Most Irish fires start in bedrooms and cigarettes are the main cause


Ten years of data, of 366 deaths from 326 fires, shows often the cause is unknown.

Cigarettes were the suspected cause in a quarter of cases, electrical appliances were suspected in 18 per cent of cases and electric blankets in 3 per cent. Matches, candles and chip pan fires were the next most likely causes

Cigarettes were the suspected cause of a quarter of fatal fires an analysis of a decade of statistics shows.

A total of 366 deaths connected to 326 fires were recorded across Ireland from 2005 to 2014, according to statisticsprovided by fire services across the countryand published by the Department of the Environment.

In many cases, the cause of the fire is unknown or was passed on to the Garda to investigate. However, in the 158 instances where the cause of the fire was identified, cigarettes were the suspected cause in a quarter of cases. Electrical appliances were suspected in 18 per cent of cases, while a further 3 per cent were attributed to electric blankets.

Chip pan fires

Matches, candles and chip pan fires were the next most likely causes of fire fatalities during the time. Four people died after falling into an open fire, one of whom was a man thought to have had a heart attack beforehand. Self-immolation using petrol was recorded in one fatality which occurred in 2013.

More fires began in a bedroom than any other room of the home. Bedrooms were the suspected place a fire started in 99 incidents, or three in 10 fires.

The livingroom was the second most likely site of a fatal fire, with over a quarter starting there, with cigarettes again the most likely cause.

Irish primary schools class sizes largest in the EU


Irish primary schools have some of the largest class sizes in Europe, with almost one quarter of pupils enrolled in classes of 30 or more.

The average class size in Ireland is 25, which compares with an average of 21 across the developed world, the Irish Independent reports.

A new survey studying the number of enrolments by local authority areas based on data by the Department of Education, revealed that almost one in four (24%) of 532,993 pupils are in classes of 30 or more.

The most crowded classrooms are found in the Dublin commuter regions of Carlow, Meath, Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown and Wicklow.

The survey also found that just 10% of students are in a class with 20 or less.

The new findings are set to be one of the main topics of discussion at the annual conference of the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation (INTO) which opened in Ennis, Co Clare on Monday.

Over 850 delegates representing 32,000 primary teachers are expected to attend the three-day event at the West County Hotel.

Teachers’ pay, funding of schools, class sizes, special education, school leadership, lack of promotion and increasing workload top the conditions on the agenda.

Speaking to delegates on Monday, director of the economic think tank NERI, Tom Healy, cited data from the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD) which found that in 2012, Irish teachers were paid less well than higher education graduates.

“Although the comparison is for teachers at what OECD calls ‘lower secondary level’, the comparison holds true at primary level as well given the common pay scale in operation at first and second levels.

“Moreover, the ratio of salaries of Irish teachers to higher education graduates in Ireland is significantly lower than is the case on average across OECD,” he said.

He said that while primary schools are “brighter, better and possibly happier than was the case a few generations ago”, the “democratic revolution and programme promised and believed in 100 years ago was never born or delivered”.


He also suggested three “fundamental and non-negotiable principles” in order to achieve this:

  • No further cuts to public services and goods including health and education
  • Protection of living standards of households and the beginning of a gradual process of reversal of wage cuts in the past with priority for the young, the vulnerable, the precarious and those working but still in poverty.
  • The protection of children from the ravages of the tax-cutting mania.

NUI Galway ‘out of step’ on gender equality, say internal reports

Greater transparency called for in appointing professorships


University management should give “serious consideration” to the “very disappointing” outcome for women seeking senior lecturerships, noted a report by a group representing NUIG’s arts, business and law faculties last September.

Two internal reports on NUI Galway’s (NUIG) promotion systems warned last year the university was “out of step” in advancing women, and that greater transparency was required in appointing professorships.

University management should give “serious consideration” to the “very disappointing” outcome for women seeking senior lecturerships, a report by a group representing NUIG’s arts, business and law (ABL) faculties said last September.

Its report was completed two months before the university became embroiled in controversy over gender equality among academic staff, due to the publication of Equality Tribunal findings in favour of Dr Micheline Sheehy Skeffington.

Dr Sheehy Skeffington, a respected botanist, had taken a discrimination case against the university after she was turned down for promotion in 2009. She was awarded €70,000 by the tribunal.

In what is described as a “feedback report” on NUIG’s senior lecturer promotion scheme, the ABL group noted that several women who had been unsuccessful in applying for higher posts were “truly altruistic and dedicated to the areas of university business that are not show-stopping headlines, but essential bricks and mortar”.

“There is something unenlightened about a university process that does not capture more of these essential abilities,” the report said.

It noted that this had led to situations where there were several male professors and just one senior woman, or none at all, in some departments.

Two months later, the university’s promotion system was described as “ramshackle” in the Equality Tribunal ruling in favour of Dr Sheehy Skeffington.

The Higher Education Authority also found NUIG late last year to have the most pronounced gender divide among Irish universities, with almost four in every five (79 per cent) senior academic staff members being male and with women accounting for just 13 per cent of associate professorships and 14 per cent of professorships.

A separate internal study by a working group for the NUIG governing authority on the operation of the personal professorship scheme at NUIG dated December 2014, notes that “men report that they are encouraged more than women to make an application for promotion”.

Men also “plan to apply sooner than women” for professorships, even though a substantial proportion of women believed they were close to meeting requirements, this report says.

An analysis of six rounds of promotion to personal professor from October 30th, 2009 to March 23rd, 2013, found that 34 men and seven women applied, with 18 successful male applicants and two successful female applicants.

A survey conducted among staff for the report elicited calls for greater transparency and clearer guidance on measurement of achievement.

The report notes that several women surveyed felt “discouraged by a range of factors”, citing the “gargantuan effort” required to achieving senior lecturer promotion.

The women also cited previous unsuccessful efforts at promotion, “feelings of tiredness” with the politics of the university, and “zero expectation of success after a challenging and time-consuming process”.

A big disappointment: 

The university has set up a task force on gender equality, which has promised to report no later than Spring 2016, but Siptu has criticised what it describes as its lack of independence. The union has directed its members not to co-operate with the task force on these grounds.

In a related development, Dr Sheehy Skeffington has expressed disappointment at what she describes as a “threatening” letter sent to her by NUIG in relation to her use of data.

The university warns that it will take “any appropriate action” if she does not give assurances that she will “no longer reference data relating to other employees of the university in future”.

Dr Sheehy Skeffington says she drew on information already available on the university’s website to highlight gender discrimination.

NUIG said in a statement that “it is standard practice in the university to review a promotion scheme once a promotions round has been completed, as part of a continuous process of change and enhancement”.

“The review of the 2013-14 senior lecturer promotion round is currently taking place,”it said.

“Both boards of assessors provided feedback on the scheme ahead of an initial feedback meeting, which was held at the end of February 2015. Follow up meetings are due to be held shortly to finalise feedback on the 2013-14 scheme before announcing a new scheme for 2016.”

“In a completely separate process, the appeals board for the 2013-14 senior lecturer promotion round made recommendations to the governing authority on the outcome of appeals made by a number of candidates,”it said, and it “did not have sight of the feedback from the ABL panel, which came after the appeals process”.

“The appeals board’s report included recommendations for future promotion schemes, relating to procedural aspects of the scheme. These recommendations have been included in the currently ongoing review of the scheme,”it said.


It said that NUIG “considers the 2013-14 senior lecturer scheme to be a fair and robust scheme in respect of gender equality.”

“Between 2008 and 2013, the university made a number of very significant changes to its senior lecturer promotion scheme to ensure greater gender equality including making provision for affirmative action, whereby at least one third of all promotions were guaranteed to go to women, gender awareness training for all board members and gender balanced boards of assessors,”it said.

“ The outcome of the 2013-14 senior lecturer promotion scheme was that 39 per cent of promotions went to female candidates,”it said.

“ NUI Galway is completely committed to achieve gender equality across all of its processes and procedures,” it concluded.

Blood test using sound to detect cancer could replace biopsies


The device uses acoustic waves to separate circulating blood-borne tumour cells from white blood cells

A simple blood test using sound to detect cancer could soon make biopsies a thing of the past, new research found

The device uses acoustic waves to separate circulating blood-borne tumour cells from white blood cells.

Currently oncologists wanting to know if a tumour is malignant taken cell samples from the tumour which can be painful, require a stay in hospital for a few hours and stitches or a dressing.

But a new prototype has an advanced microfluidic chip that uses sound waves to separate circulating tumour cells (CTC) from white blood cells, to be up to 20 times faster than prior attempts.

And for the first time in experiments on breast cancer samples found it to be as effective as current approved technique to detect CTCs.

Carnegie Mellon University President Subra Suresh said: “Using computer modelling, we were able to significantly improve the chip’s throughput. With further refinements, this device could enhance our ability to diagnose and treat cancer.

“The current gold-standard for finding CTCs requires scientists to tag the cells using antibodies.

“Our technique has the added advantage of being label-free, without the need for any tagging that could chemically alter the cells.

“Our new approach would allow scientists and clinicians to gain more information on cell pathology and cancer metastasis than is currently possible.”

CTCs offer the promise of a much less invasive option, often referred to as a “liquid biopsy” as they can provide more information about metastasis, treatment response and the genetic nature of a patient’s cancer than cells taken directly from a tumour.

But in many cases CTCs are too rare to be detectable because there might be only one CTC among hundreds of thousands of white blood cells.

Currently, most researchers find and isolate the travelling tumour cells either by using fluorescence and magnetic techniques or by mechanical means which might damage cells.

While the techniques allow researchers to count the number of CTCs they cannot use the altered cells to reliably perform any additional functional tests.

The refined device uses gentle mechanical force created by sound waves to recover whole, unaltered CTCs that can be used for further testing, somewhat similar to the gentle way in which ultrasound has long been used in medical imaging and diagnostics.

Although the new prototype is faster than previous attempts, it still takes five hours to process a 5-milliliter sample.

Researchers hope to get it down to half an hour and not need to take out red blood cells first so it can be used in surgeries.

Currently red blood cells are removed and the remaining blood passes through a channel in a chip.

Sound waves angled across the channel creates a gauntlet of pressure nodes that push the cells away from the centre of the channel.

Since cancer cells have different size and compressibility than normal white blood cells, they are propelled at different trajectories by the sound waves allowing them to be siphoned off.

Fear of spiders became part of our DNA during evolution, say scientists


Arachnophobia could be a product of human evolution, according to new research.

Spiders presented such a great danger to humans during the early evolutionary stages that a fear of the species became part of our DNA.

In Africa, early in human evolution, those with a keen ability to spot the creatures outlived their less wary counterparts, according to The Sunday Times.

Joshua New of Columbia University in New York said:  “A number of spider species with potent, vertebrate-specific venoms populated Africa long before hominoids… and have co-existed there for tens of millions of years.”

“Humans were at perennial, unpredictable and significant risk of encountering highly venomous spiders in their ancestral environments.

“Even when not fatal, a black widow spider bite in the ancestral world could leave one incapacitated for days or even weeks, terribly exposed to dangers.”

The study tested how quickly people could spot a spider when presented with a number of other images.

Of the 252 people reviewed in the study, most recognised the spiders much quicker than other images known to induce fear, such as flies and needles.

There are, however, other theories that have been suggested to explain human fear of spiders.

Plymouth University Psychology professor, Jon May, suggested that it is their angular legs, dark colours and unpredictable movements that make archnids so unpalatable to humans.

Professor May said: “Spiders just tick all these boxes, and like any phobia, when it builds up in someone’s mind they can become scared even seeing a picture.

”We like bright-coloured butterflies and ladybirds, but spiders are dark coloured with long angular legs – and the shape and colour both have strong negative associations.

“We are also very sensitive to seeing things moving out of the corner of our eye and immediately notice it, and insects move quickly and unpredictably.”

In contrast to the research from Columbia University, May has also suggested that this fear is developed through social conditioning , as children are much more likely to become arachnophobic if they see parents or siblings reacting to the creatures in a certain way.