Tag Archives: Genetics

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Thursday 22nd September 2016

Cash buyers In Ireland pay less for properties than those who need a mortgage?

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Cash buyers are paying less for properties than those who need to get a mortgage and first-time buyers are being squeezed out of the market.

The findings are contained in the newly revamped property price index from the Central Statistics Office (CSO) which is now based on stamp duty returns and includes cash buyers for the first time.

The CSO data now shows that the collapse in property prices was more pronounced than previously thought, while the recovery has been slightly stronger.

For example, the peak-to-trough fall in residential property prices was 54.4%, not 50.9% as recorded previously.

Similarly, the price increase from the trough to July of this year is 43.2% using the new index, whereas it was previously estimated as 37.4%.

The CSO confirmed that cash buyers — who are estimated to make up around 50% of the market — pay less for property than those who must buy their house by securing a mortgage between 2010 and 2016 and that the differential was most pronounced when the market was at its lowest and outside of Dublin.

Throughout the period 2010 to 2015, former-owner-occupiers have consistently paid the most on average for housing, followed by first-time buyers. Non-occupier households have consistently paid the least.

The CSO also found that first-time buyers have gradually been pushed out of the market between 2010 to 2015.

In 2010, they represented 53.1% of all household market transactions filed. By 2015, first-time buyers’ share fell to just 24.4% of the market. In the first seven months of 2016, first-time buyers accounted for 24.6% of household market purchases.

Across the country, residential property prices rose by 6.7% in the year to July. This compares with an increase of 4.9% in June and a rise of 6.1% recorded in the year to July 2015.

Residential prices increased by 2.5% in the month of July compared with an increase of 1% in June and an increase of 0.8% in July of last year.

Residential property prices are currently 34.7% lower than at their highest level in April 2007.

Prices declined steadily over the years 2010 to 2011, followed by a bottoming-out in 2012 to 2013.

“Since then, prices have risen again. However, the rise in prices has been uneven, with noticeable fluctuations up to the present point in time,” noted the CSO.

In the Dublin residential property market, prices increased by 3.8% in the 12 months to July. This compares with an increase of 2.5% in the year to June and an increase of 4.5% in the year to July 2015.

Dublin residential property prices increased by 1.6% in the month of July compared with an increase of 0.4% in June and an increase of 0.4% in July of last year.

Residential prices in the capital are now 58.2% higher than their lowest level but remain 35.3% below their peak price level in 2006.

The Labour Party made mistakes in office, Brendan Howlin admits

Labour Party think-in told economic implosion would have happened without party

Image result for The Labour Party made mistakes in office, Brendan Howlin admits   Image result for The Labour Party made mistakes in office, Brendan Howlin admits

Labour Party leader Brendan Howlin with Andrew Montague, Rebecca Moynihan, Ged Nash and Kevin Humphreys: “We are rightly proud of the many things we did in office. But we’re also honest enough to recognise that we didn’t get everything right.”

Labour Party leader Brendan Howlin has conceded the party made mistakes in office, but said the current Government was interested in power and nothing else.

Speaking to the Parliamentary Labour Party at its think-in yesterday, Mr Howlin said the Government was leading “a do-nothing Dáil”.

“If [it] survives at all, these will be known as the lost years,” said Mr Howlin.

“Politics is about the resolution of differences in a peaceful and civilised manner – not pretending they don’t exist.”

In the 1990s and again in 2011, Labour entered government when the country was in chaos, but twice it left office when the country had returned to economic growth.

“Had Sinn Féin or the anarchists entered government in 2011 Ireland would now have no economy to speak of. We wouldn’t have been talking about health and housing at the election just gone.

“We’d have been talking about our economic implosion, the collapse in foreign direct investment, soaring joblessness and unimaginable hardship. There would have been no debate about the scale of the recovery because things would still be getting worse.”

The liberal society

For 40 years Labour has been the parliamentary vanguard of change which has seen Ireland transformed from a narrow intolerant society to a more pluralist and liberal society.

“There are many in Ireland who only see problems as opportunities for political gain. They will always have a certain advantage over those of us that seek to solve such problems.”

Labour’s election manifesto was principled and progressive and would have helped to build a fair society: “But, frankly, I think many Irish people had stopped listening to Labour.

“Let’s be honest enough to recognise why. By the time the election came around, we faced an enormous challenge in having any of our messages heard.

“I’ve said this before – and I will continue to say it – we recognise that we made plenty of mistakes along the way; that there is a gap between what people heard us say and what they saw us do.” Mr Howlin said this was partly because governing during a crisis was messy and distracting and stopped the party from being clear about some of the things it had achieved.

“But partly also because we made some particularly high-profile promises in areas such as third-level fees. And we didn’t always deliver.

“We are rightly proud of the many things we did in office. But we’re also honest enough to recognise that we didn’t get everything right.”

Yahoo admits information from 200m accounts stolen by hackers

Hacked data may include birth dates, user names and passwords going back to 2012

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Data breach revelation would confirm reports same hacker who stole data from LinkedIn was now selling information from 200 million Yahoo accounts.

Yahoo announced on Thursday that the account information of at least 500 million users was stolen by hackers two years ago.

In a statement, Yahoo said user information – including names, email addresses, telephone numbers, birth dates, passwords, and in some cases security questions – was compromised in 2014 by what it believed was a “state-sponsored actor.”

It did not name the country involved. The company said it was working with law enforcement officials. It encouraged users to review their online accounts for suspicious activity and to watch out for suspicious emails.

The announcement comes as Verizon Communications moves forward with its $4.8 billion acquisition of Yahoo. It is unclear what effect the breach, if any, will have on Yahoo’s sale price.

That will most likely depend on what Verizon learns about Yahoo’s security controls. But security experts say the incident could have far-reaching consequences for users beyond Yahoo’s services.

“The stolen Yahoo data is critical because it not only leads to a single system but to users’ connections to their banks, social media profiles, other financial services and users’ friends and family,” said Alex Holden, the founder of Hold Security, which has been tracking the flow of stolen Yahoo credentials on the underground web.

“This is one of the biggest breaches of people’s privacy and very far reaching.”

The revelation would confirm earlier reports that the same hacker who stole data from LinkedIn was now selling information from Yahoo! accounts on a dark web marketplace.

Hacker named Peace

The data for sale includes user names, scrambled passwords and birth dates and probably dates from 2012, Motherboard reported in August, citing the cyber-attacker, who went by the name Peace.

Yahoo! said at the time it was investigating the claim. Many of the stolen accounts in a sample of data obtained by Motherboard were no longer in use and had been cancelled.

The sale of all of the data for just under $2,000 (€1,781) also suggested that the information itself was of little value, either because most of it was obsolete, made up, or useless because the hackers had already attacked legitimate accounts and exhausted their need for the data.

Whatever the scale of the alleged breach, the incident shows the danger of large datasets spilling into the hacker underground and being used for criminal purposes for years without the breached companies knowing or taking minimal action based on whatever data hackers tell them was taken.

LinkedIn said in May it was investigating whether a breach of more than six million user passwords in 2012 was bigger than originally thought, following a hacker’s attempt to sell what was purported to be login codes for 117 million accounts.

Reset passwords?

The company said it appeared more data was taken in the initial compromise and that the company was just learning about the larger amount through the hacker’s posting. Like many internet companies that have been breached, LinkedIn only reset passwords of everyone it believed was part of the breach at the earlier time, which amounted to 6.5 million users.

It is unclear what steps, if any, Yahoo has taken since learning about the alleged compromise.

Reports of the security breach come just as chief executive Marissa Mayer is about to close a deal that ends the once-dominant internet firm’s independence.

Verizon is acquiring its internet assets for $4.8 billion, bringing the web portal together with long-time rival AOL. The telecommunications company will pick up services that still draw a billion monthly users, including mail, news and sports content and financial tools.

Volkswagen investors seek compensation in emissions cheating scandal,

A court rules

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VW Making Slow Progress On Fixing Rigged Diesels In Europe
  Image result for Volkswagen investors seek compensation in emissions cheating scandal

Vera Jourova, European Union Commissioner for Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality, presents the results of the 2016 Consumer Markets Scoreboard in Brussels, Belgium on September 5. Questions mainly focused on Dieselgate and Volkswagen, due to a scandal involving the manipulated data of emission tests.

Volkswagen (VW) faces 8.2 billion euros ($9.1 billion) in damages claims from investors over its emissions scandal in the legal district where the carmaker is based, a German court said on Wednesday.

About 1,400 lawsuits have been lodged at the regional court in Braunschweig near Volkswagen’s Wolfsburg headquarters, the court said.

The Braunschweig court said it received some 750 lawsuits on Monday alone, which marked the first business day after the anniversary of VW’s diesel emissions test-rigging scandal.

It said it brought in extra staff to process suits submitted by shareholders concerned September 18 – the day VW’s manipulations were disclosed a year ago – could be the deadline to file.

Plaintiffs say the German carmaker didn’t inform shareholders quickly enough over its cheating software, which was installed in up to around 11 million vehicles worldwide.

VW, which faces lawsuits and investigations across the world, has consistently said it did not break capital markets regulations in the disclosure of its cheating.

The biggest claim at the Braunschweig court, totaling 3.3 billion euros, was filed by lawyer Andreas Tulip on behalf of institutional investors around half a year ago.

The court detailed additional complaints on Wednesday, saying they included a filing by institutional investors for 30 million euros in damages, two investor groups demanding 1.5 billion and 550 million euros respectively and an investment company that sued the carmaker for 45 million euros.

It would take about four weeks to fully process the additional claims, the court said.

Complaints have also been filed by German state pension funds.

VW has so far set aside about $18 billion to cover the cost of vehicle refits and a settlement with US authorities, but analysts think the bill could rise much further as a result of lawsuits and regulatory penalties.

VW pledged to fix all cars equipped with illicit engine software in Europe by autumn 2017, the European Commission said on Wednesday after talks with the carmaker to ensure it is doing enough for affected customers.

At a meeting with consumer Commissioner Vera Jourova, VW board member Francisco Javier Garcia Sanz committed to a plan to inform customers by year’s end of the need for a technical fix to bring diesel cars into line with EU caps on toxic nitrogen oxide emissions, Jourova’s spokesman said.

The German carmaker also committed “to have all cars repaired by autumn 2017,” spokesman Christian Wigand said, adding the carmarker would offer clients “proof of conformity.”

VW has admitted that it installed improper software that deactivated pollution controls on more than 11 million diesel vehicles that had been sold around the world.

EU officials have called on the German carmaker to do more to compensate European clients since its $15 billion settlement in the US for using the cheat software, saying it is unfair for them to be treated differently.

“Volkswagen committed to an EU-wide action plan today, which is an important step toward a fair treatment of consumers,” Jourova said in a statement.

Volkswagen has rejected suggestions it may have breached EU consumer rules and said that it does not see the need to compensate affected car owners.

Europe’s largest automaker is making slow progress on fixing cars in Europe, having repaired less than 10 percent of the 8.5 million affected models in Europe.

It said the majority of the cars in Europe can be repaired by the end of this year, but an unspecified number will have to wait.

VW group models with 1.2 liter and 2.0 liter engines require only a software update on pollution control systems, but about 3 million 1.6 liter models also require a mesh to be installed near the air filter.

Native (aboriginal) Australian DNA reveals ancient inter-breeding

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DNA from native Australians has revealed evidence of ancient interbreeding with an unknown branch of humanity their ancestors encountered as they migrated out of Africa.

Genetic traces of the mysterious early humans, whose fossil remains have never been found, are still carried by Australian aboriginal people.

The same study suggests that indigenous tribes from Australia and Papua New Guinea have one of the oldest human pedigrees on the planet.

It also points to a single “exit” from Africa by early modern humans around 72,000 years ago.

Experts disagree on whether present-day non-African people are descended from explorers who left Africa in a single exodus or a series of distinct waves of travelling migrants.

The new research supports the single migration hypothesis. It indicates that Australian aboriginal and Papuan people both originated from the same out-of Africa migration event some 72,000 years ago, along with ancestors of all other non-African populations alive today.

Tracing the Papuan and Australian groups’ progress showed that around 50,000 years ago they reached “Sahul”. This was a prehistoric supercontinent that once united New Guinea, Australia and Tasmania – they were separated by rising sea levels.

Here in “Sahul”, they met and interbred with the unknown race of humans, who may have had links with Siberian Denisovans.

If you’re wondering exactly who the Denisovans were, they were a distinct sub-species of the human family that has been extinct for many thousands of years, like the Neanderthals.

Study leader Professor Eske Willerslev, from Cambridge University, said: “We don’t know who these people were, but they were a distant relative of Denisovans, and the Papuan/Australian ancestors probably encountered them close to Sahul.”

The research addressed “fundamental questions” about human evolution, he added.

“Technologically and politically, it has not really been possible to answer those questions until now,” said Prof Willerslev.

“We found evidence that there was only really one wave of humans who gave rise to all present-day non-Africans, including Australians.”

The findings have been published in the journal Nature. And they show that aboriginal Australians are descended directly from the first people to inhabit the continent.

Once in Australia, the ancestors of today’s aborigine communities remained almost completely isolated from the rest of the world’s population.

That was until a few thousand years ago, when they came into contact first with some Asian populations followed by European explorers in the 18th century.


News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Monday 29th August 2016.

17% increase in claims involving uninsured drivers in Ireland

Warning of increased premiums as more claims recorded during first seven months

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Overall, there were 688 claims recorded in Dublin, up 78 on the 610 claims seen during the first seven months of 2015

The number of motor insurance claims involving uninsured or untraced drivers jumped by 17% between January and July, according to new figures.

The data show there were 1,644 claims involving such drivers during the first seven months of 2016, up by 235 versus the 1,409 claims lodged during the same period a year earlier.

The Motor Insurers’ Bureau of Ireland (MIBI) figures show 42% of such claims were made in Dublin with the capital also showing a big spike in general claims made compared to last year.

Overall, there were 688 claims recorded in Dublin, up 78 on the 610 claims seen during the first seven months of 2015. The next highest number of claims were in Cork (129) and Galway (92).

Between January and July, claims increased in 20 counties, with the largest percentage change being in Roscommon, which recorded an increase of 500% as the number of claims rose from 2 to 12.

A decline in four counties.

Four counties experienced a decline in the number of claims, the largest drop being in Limerick which had 80 claims, down from 95 in 2015.

The number of claims in Clare and Kildare were the same across both years.

MIBI, which was established by the Government and the insurance industry in the 1950s, pays out approximately €60 million a year on claims involving uninsured or untraced drivers. David Fitzgerald, the body’s chief executive, warned that the jump in claims involving such drivers would likely impact on premiums in the future.

“An increase of 17% represents a significant jump in the number of claims being lodged. It showcases the increased pipeline of payments facing the MIBI. While no sums are yet attached to these claims, unfortunately more claims generally means higher levels of payments coming from the MIBI and ultimately, that will impact on motor insurance premiums,” he said.

Hiqa reports critical of HSE disability services

Peer abuse, failure to investigate complaints and mismanagement among findings

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Hiqa inspectors found that some staff felt they were being troublemakers if they raised concerns about the quality of disability services.

Major patient safety concerns have been raised in a series of critical reports into HSE-run disability services around the country.

Inspectors from the Health Information and Quality Authority (Hiqa) noted incidents of peer-to-peer abuse, misadministration of medications and failures to adequately report complaints of alleged mistreatment following visits to a number of large disability centres in Cork, Kilkenny and Donegal.

During an unannounced visit to the St Raphael’s Campus in Youghal, Co Cork, it was found that a resident had not been given adequate food and nutrition for a period of more than 18 hours.

Those working at the centre said there were not enough members of staff on duty on that particular day to get the resident out of bed and feed them appropriately.

The Youghal campus, which had court-applied restrictive conditions placed on its registration last year due to previous negative findings by Hiqa, also came in for criticism for incorrect use of seizure and antimicrobial medicines which could have “potentially catastrophic” or even fatal impacts on patients.

The facility is currently in the middle of a winding-down process and is due to close next year, but inspectors recorded an ongoing “lack of clarity for staff around the reporting of allegations of abuse”.

One resident alone had made 15 complaints of physical abuse by one of his peers over the space of less than a month, but none of these incidents were properly investigated, inspectors said.

Serious failings in governance and management were identified at an unnamed disability service in Donegal during another unannounced inspection in March.

Despite initially being told by the person in charge that there had been no “incidents, suspicions, allegations or investigations of abuse” there since 2013, Hiqa officials later found that such allegations had indeed been made and investigations were instigated.

Inspectors said the person in charge subsequently handed over documents relating to the alleged incidents of abuse, and they concluded that “there was a significant risk to the safety of residents as a consequence of seriously inadequate safeguarding arrangements in the centre”.

Speaking to inspectors, some members of staff felt they were being seen as “troublemakers” if they highlighted problems with safeguarding measures or instances of possible mistreatment.

Elsewhere, Hiqa was not satisfied that the requisite improvements had been made to service provision at St Patrick’s Centre in Kilkenny which was taken over by the HSE in October 2015 following “significant failings” by the previous care provider.

Incidents of peer-to-peer aggression had continued since the handover, and there were still “significant concerns regarding the lack of suitable governance and management arrangements to oversee the quality and safety of care provided to residents” which had “direct negative outcomes for residents”.

A smaller community-based facility for six residents in Westmeath failed to demonstrate compliance for any of the nine standards tested during a visit in March, and the two-story house had no overall evacuation plan in the event of a fire.

It was also found to be deficient as regards safeguarding measures, as the member of staff designated to deal with complaints told inspectors they were “not aware that they had been assigned this responsibility” and said they did not have time to carry out managerial roles alongside their frontline duties.

The findings came in a raft of 11 inspection reports released by Hiqa on Monday. Other centres visited managed to demonstrate more consistent compliance with regulations, and there was evidence of a good quality of life for residents within these services.

The State’s health watchdog also provided an update on two autism care centres which are operated by Gheel Autism Services on behalf of the HSE after it took over control from the Irish Autism Society following negative inspection outcomes published in July.

Inspectors found that significant improvements had been made in safety and quality of life of residents at both premises.

Ireland’s retail sales up by 12.6% for July 2016

Big jump in car sales accounts for the overall boost?

Image result for Ireland's retail sales up by 12.6% for July 2016    Image result for Ireland's retail sales up by 12.6% for July 2016

The volume of retail sales increased by 12.6% in July when compared with June and there was an increase of 6.3% in the annual figure.

If car sales are excluded, there was a decrease of 0.5% in the volume of retail sales in July when compared with June and there was an increase of 2.7% in the annual figure.

The sectors with the largest month on month volume increases were motors which were up 12.5%, furniture and lighting, up 5.3%, and books, newspapers and stationery, up 2%.

The sectors with the largest monthly decreases were clothing, footwear and textiles which were down 2.5 per cent.

Other retail sales are down 2.4% and food, beverages and tobacco are down 0.9%.

There was an increase of 4.5% in the value of retail sales in July when compared with June and there was an annual increase of 3.9% when compared with July 2015.

The genetics of Type 2 Diabetes is in a mess

A recent study shows why genetic advances in medicine are so challenging.

Image result for The genetics of Type 2 Diabetes is in a mess Image result for The Human Genome Project was both a spectacular success Image result for The Human Genome Project was both a spectacular success

The Human Genome Project was both a spectacular success and a frustrating disappointment. It has revolutionized the science of biology and spawned a multi-billion dollar industry. It has alsofailed to deliver on the ambitious promise that genome science will, as President Bill Clinton stated 16 years ago, “revolutionize the diagnosis, prevention and treatment of most, if not all human diseases.”

But hype springs eternal. The human genome is now old news; today scientists study tens or even hundreds of thousands of human genomes. We now hear promises about the imminent benefits of personalized medicine, medicine that is tailored to an individual’s unique genetic make-up. President Barack Obama hopes that “10 years from now we can look back and say we have revolutionized medicine,” from cancer to Alzheimer’s. To achieve this, the White House has launched another large research effort: the Precision Medicine Initiative, which will devote hundreds of millions of dollars to advance the use of genomics and other cutting-edge science in medical practice.

It’s an admirably ambitious vision, but in 10 years we shouldn’t expect to look back and see a revolution. Scientifically, this is the right direction — over the long-term, genomic discoveries will certainly drive major medical advances. But it’s going to be a long slog. The major challenges that lie ahead are laid bare in a recent genetic study of Type 2 diabetes. This study, published inNature earlier this month, shows that the genetics of diabetes is a mess — and it illustrates why the big promises of genetic medicine won’t be realized any time soon.

Known mutations account for only 10 percent of the estimated genetic contribution to the disease. After more than a decade of large, high-tech studies, the genetic basis of diabetes remains, for the most part, unexplained.

Type 2 diabetes is one of the major diseases that biomedical scientists hope to conquer with genomics. It’s one of our most common diseases — the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that nearly 10 percent of all Americans have it. Diabetes is also expensive: It accounts for an estimated $176 billion in medical costs each year. And while most of us have the impression that diabetes is something you prevent with a healthy diet and exercise, the disease also has a strong genetic component.

By understanding the genetics of diabetes, we hope to combat the disease in three big ways. First, we’ll be able to identify people with a high genetic risk, and make them the focus of prevention efforts. Second, we might recognize and specifically treat different molecular forms of the disease — different people likely have different underlying genetic mutations, which means that not all diabetics respond the same way to a one-size-fits-all therapy. And third, genetics will help us understand the disease’s molecular underpinnings, and guide us toward better treatments that directly target those molecules. If we achieved all three goals, we would indeed revolutionize the treatment of diabetes.

And so, for the past decade, researchers have conducted large genetic studies, involving at first thousands, and now tens of thousands of diabetics. The results have been somewhat disappointing: Though researchers have linked dozens of mutations with diabetes, we’re clearly still missing much of the picture. Known mutations account for only 10 percent of the estimated genetic contribution to the disease. After more than a decade of large, high-tech studies, the genetic basis of diabetes remains, for the most part, unexplained.

To find the missing mutations in diabetes, scientists of two large international research consortia performed a deeper DNA analysis of a large set of study subjects. Earlier studies used a lower-cost, coarse-grained scan of the subjects’ DNA. These scans only had the power to detect mutations that are relatively common in the population. In this most recent study, the researchers decided to survey the subjects’ genomes much more comprehensively.

The hypothesis behind this approach is that diabetes is a bit like Leo Tolstoy’sfamous claim about unhappy families: Each case of diabetes is affected by genetics in its own way. In other words, although diabetes is a common disease, its genetic component might not be caused by a set of relatively common mutations. Rather, each person’s genetic risk could be the result of distinctly different, and relatively rare, mutations.

If that were true, this new, more comprehensive study should have turned up many of these hypothetical rare mutations. But that’s not what the researchers found. After analyzing the DNA of over 100,000 diabetics and healthy volunteers, the researchers largely re-discovered the same set of common mutations that had been previously found. They discovered few rare mutations.

The hypothesis behind this approach is that diabetes is a bit like Tolstoy’s famous claim about unhappy families: Each case of diabetes is affected by genetics in its own way.

Why is this bad news? Because it means that finding the genetic risk factors for diabetes is going to be very hard. If rare mutations were important genetic drivers of diabetes, then the task of understanding diabetes genetics would likely be easier. Rare mutations are expected to have larger effects, and therefore a person’s individual genetic risk for the disease would come down to just one or a few mutations. If we knew what mutations to look for, we could easily test for them in a routine, clinical genetic test.

Mutations that are common in the population, on the other hand, tend to have smaller effects on disease. (Mutations with large effects tend not to become common, thanks to natural selection.) This latest study suggests that the genetic basis of diabetes involved the combined effects of many mutations, each one only making a small contribution. These small contributions are statistically challenging to detect in a scientific study, and much harder to evaluate in a clinical genetic test. This is why the study authors argue that “Genome sequencing in much larger numbers of individuals than included in the current study are needed.” As one scientist put it: “Once dubbed ‘a geneticist’s nightmare,’ diabetes seems to be living up to its reputation.”

Fortunately, with today’s technologies, very large genetic studies are becoming feasible. Obama’s Precision Medicine Initiative proposes to put together a study cohort of one million Americans over the next several years. And given the hundreds of billions of dollars that diabetes costs America each year, such large studies, if successful, are clearly worth the expense.

The challenging genetics of diabetes and other common diseases, however, means that the benefits of such studies will mostly arrive in the long term. We are laying an important foundation for the medicine of the future — but people also need care today. Fortunately, even without the genetics, we understand a lot about how to prevent diabetes though lifestyle changes. Investing in large efforts to help people change their diet and exercise habits may not sound as exciting as high-tech genetic medicine. But, just as we shouldn’t overhype the near-term prospects of genetics, we shouldn’t undersell the value of the effective care we can provide today.

Putting lemon wedges in your drink is actually a bit gross

Bacteria is apparently rife there?

Image result for Putting lemon wedges in your drink is actually a bit gross  Image result for Bartender asks would you like a lemon slice with your cold drink  Image result for Putting lemon wedges in your drink is actually a bit gross

Bartender asks would you like a lemon slice with your cold alcoholic beverage? Your reply “That sounds bloody marvellous” – stick it right in. Thanks kind sir for supplying me with alcohol and a lovely bit of citrus fruit that perfectly compliments my beverage.

There’s nothing wrong with that Friday night (tad overly enthusiastic) exchange right? Wrong. According to a study published in the Journal of Environmental Health the lemons and limes given out at bars are actually rife with all kinds of bacteria. That’s just not what you want. Plus we just found out that water bottles can be pretty rank too. Can someone just cut us some slack.

The research team swabbed lemon slices that were on their drinks at 21 different restaurants, and they discovered that almost 70% of the samples had some sort of microbial growth, including 25 different microbial species. Ewwwww. But also I wonder if they got to expense all those drinks. Not a bad life despite the germs.

“The microbes found on the lemon samples in our investigation all have the potential to cause infectious diseases at various body sites, although the likelihood was not determined in this study. Restaurant patrons should be aware that lemon slices added to beverages may include potentially pathogenic microbes.”

Wow – way to ruin the humble lemon guys. Elle magazine spoke to Philip Tierno, PhD, a clinical professor of microbiology and pathology at New York University School of Medicine and author of The Secret Life of Germs who explained why they can be so gross.

“People are touching the lemon in your glass, handling it, cutting it, placing it in a container or a cup, or a glass; and then picking up those slices at a later point in time and dropping them into a drink and putting them on the rim of a glass. You can easily see how those lemon slices and lemon wedges can be contaminated.”

But here at Cosmopolitan we deal with solutions, not problems. What you’re gonna need to do is eyeball your bartender as he prepares your drink, and then send it back if you see the bartender put their fingers all over the rim of the glass or use a dirty rag to clean the glass. Thanks for the tips Tierno.

“Weather bomb” could shed new light on mysteries of the Earth’s interior

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The rarely-detected S-waves from a “weather bomb” storm may help scientists uncover the Earth’s hidden structure

Researchers from the University of Tokyo have uncovered a rarely detected type of seismic wave deep inside of the Earth stemming from a “weather bomb,” an extratropical storm that is small, fast-developing and possesses central pressure that rapidly increases in intensity. The findings could help scientists map out the hidden, deeper structure of the Earth.

Despite their rapidly intensifying central pressure – typically more than one millibar per hour for the course of 24 hours – weather bombs are fairly small storms. However, their fast-moving nature creates steep pressure gradients, leading to the formation of strong winds.

In the current study, the weather bomb occurred between Greenland and Iceland in 2014, creating a pressure pulse that spread to the seafloor and transformed into microseismic waves – tremors deep inside of the Earth that stem from natural phenomena – that rippled through both the surface and interior of the Earth.

Microseismic waves are detectable as both surface and body waves. Although it is typically not possible for surface waves to be observed past the coast, body waves make their way deep into the Earth’s interior and can be detected by land-based seismic stations, making them ideal for deconstructing the internal structure of the Earth.

Body waves can be split into two categories: P-waves and S-waves. P-waves contain particles that move parallel to the direction of the waves’ motion, whereas the particles in S-waves move perpendicular to the direction of the waves’ motion. While seismologists frequently detect P-waves, the detection of S-waves by seismic stations is not a common occurrence.

Thanks to the Atlantic weather bomb, the current study is one of the first ever to detect S-waves, a feat that was accomplished through the use of 202 wave-detection stations. These stations were able to trace the movement and direction of the microseismic waves created by the weather bomb using “Hi-net arrays.”

Hi-net arrays work by taking the information gathered by seismometers that pick up the “noise” created by microseismic waves as they move through the various layers of the Earth and transforming it into electronic data that can be charted and analyzed in the lab.

The successful detection of rare S-waves provides seismologists with a novel method of uncovering the Earth’s deeper structure. S-waves are of particular use due to the fact that they are more sensitive to liquids than other waveforms, meaning scientists can use them to determine areas of the Earth’s interior where solids turn into liquids.

“This [study] demonstrates the connection of the solid Earth to the atmosphere and ocean climate system,” said Peter Bromirski, a geophysical oceanographer who co-authored a perspective on the current study. “New discoveries of any kind are always exciting, particularly when multiple fields of study are involved.”

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Thursday 25th August 2016

Universal Social Charge the best we can hope for is a very long goodbye

Replacing universal social charge would require big tax hikes elsewhere

Image result for Universal Social Charge the best we can hope for is a very long goodbye  Image result for universal social charge budget 2016

Minister for Finance Michael Noonan has acted to freeze property tax bills until 2019.

The Department of Finance quite likes the universal social charge – or so you might conclude from various communications from senior officials to the Minister. The latest, released in a freedom-of-information request to Sinn Fein’s Pearse Doherty, outlines what would be needed to replace the €4 billion revenue if the USC was abolished.

Needless to say, all the options are horrific. The USC accounts for not far off €1 in every €10 raised in tax each year (9.1%), to be precise). And so, were it to be abolished in one fell swoop, replacing it would require big tax hikes elsewhere – for example, a sixfold increase in the property tax combined with a range of other hikes in capital taxes, or a rise in the two main income tax rates by five points each to 25% and 45%.

Everyone knows that this is not going to happen. We are never going to be able to afford to abolish the USC in a year or two, even if the tone of the general election debate might have suggested otherwise. The documents, drawn up as briefing notes for a new Minister for Finance – in the event,Michael Noonan was reappointed – look designed to drive home the point that progress in cutting the USC was going to have to be slow.

Gradual phasing out process? 

The department said the notes predate the programme for government and the plan was for the “gradual phasing out” of the USC to continue. The plan was never to abolish it in one go.

  • Property tax may need to be increased by 600% if USC scrapped
  • Department says USC advice predates Programme for Government

The statement added: “While scope is limited in this year’s budget there will be a further move to curb USC, especially for mid- to low-income earners”. The statement also noted that there was “absolutely no intention” to increase property tax in the forthcoming budget. In fact, Noonan has acted to freeze property tax bills until 2019, a move which will introduce so many anomalies that the tax could yet be wide open to legal challenge.

What we will see in the budget is some limited further relief for USC. It would be a surprise if the main rate – cut from 7% to 5.5% in the last budget – was not cut again. But the room for manoeuvre on budget day will be limited – about €330 million will be available to reduce taxes, compared with €750 million last year. A bit more may be available in subsequent years, but that depends on the ability of the economy to continue to grow at 3% plus a year, post-Brexit.

The plan of the Government – if it lasts – is to continue to use the spare resources in the budget to cut the USC year by year. This is because the alternative route to phasing out the USC – raising significant money elsewhere – is seen as unpalatable. Cash will be raised from a new tax on sugary drinks in the next few years. And it is likely that income tax credits and the standard-rate band will not be adjusted for wage inflation – effectively a sneaky tax increase on people getting wage rises, which will offset some of the gains of USC cuts. But there is no way the Government will take the potential political hit of raising a large sum elsewhere after the water charges debacle.

But there will be no big move to , say, hike property taxes or indirect taxes. And the scale of the revenue raised by the charge mean we will all be living with it for years yet. We are talking, at best, about a decade-long phase-out of the charge, if that is the route successive governments chose to take.

Political capital

Sinn Féin, whose plans were more modest in terms of USC reduction than those of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, will seek to make some political capital out of this in the run-up to the budget. Fine Gael, meanwhile, by refusing to give way on its plans to phase out the charge, will struggle to make the case that this is achievable in a reasonable time frame.

Calculations presented by the department in prebudget tax documents set out a programme which could see the USC roughtly halved by 2020. It would require all the estimated room for tax cuts to be allocated to USC reductions – and in fact for new revenue to come on stream to meet some of the cost after 2018. And remember that for the room to manoeuvre to emerge we need economic growth to continue.

So the painful USC charge on our payslips is here to stay for quite some time yet. The best we can hope for is a very long goodbye.

The number of complaints against doctors in Ireland has increased “with many blamed for poor communication”

Image result for complaints against doctors in Ireland has increased Image result for complaints against doctors in Ireland has increased Image result for complaints against doctors in Ireland has increased

The number of complaints against doctors rose last year with many patients accusing medics of poor communication.

The annual report of the Medical Council, the regulatory body for doctors, said it received 369 complaints about the profession in 2015, compared to 308 in 2014.

The number of complaints about poor communication rose by 40%..

The majority of grievances came from the public, but 25 were lodged by other health professionals and two by the HSE.

Other causes of allegations related to misdiagnosis, clinical investigations and examinations, professional skills, lack of dignity when treating patients and poor follow-up care.

There were 35 fitness to practise inquiries into serious allegations against doctors during the year, half of which were held in public.

Chief executive Bill Prasifka said the number of doctors registered here topped a record 20,473.

There were 1,200 doctors exiting the register during the year.

He said: ”I found it particularly interesting that although males continue to dominate the medical profession as a whole, since we began collating this data, there have been more Irish female graduates entering the medical profession than their male counterparts.

“The majority of those on the register between the ages of 30 – 44 are female; however from 44 years and on the number of females on the register begins to decrease.

“Data from our Your Training Counts report also found that 40% of female trainees – or tomorrow’s specialists – want to work less than full-time and this  definitely poses some questions for the health sector and all of those involved in the future planning of Ireland’s healthcare service.”

Medical Council President, Prof Freddie Wood said: “It is great to see that the number of specialists on the register has increased significantly this year as we are all too aware of the doctor shortages we have experienced in recent months and years and with this valuable data we have the power to share workforce intelligence with our stakeholders involved in healthcare planning in order to address these issues and deficiencies that have hindered our health system for too long”

The findings show:

• Exit rates of doctors have increased slightly on last year – from 5.6% in 2014 to 6.4% in 2015;

• The number of specialists on the register in 2015 increased by almost 7%;

• Reliance on international medical graduates is among the highest in the OECD with almost 38% of the workforce an international medical graduate

Excess body fat now linked to 13 different types of cancer

Excess body fat now linked to 13 different types of cancer      Image result for Excess body fat now linked to 13 different types of cancer   

Excess fat increases the risk of cell abnormalities.

“Experts have linked eight more cancers to being overweight or obese, nearly tripling the list from five to 13,

This is the latest finding of the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), a group of cancer experts from around the world that look at risk factors for cancer.

What is the basis for these reports?

The headlines are based on a report published in the peer-reviewed New England Journal of Medicine.

The report is not exactly new research, but a review of previously published studies that looked at the link between weight and cancers.

It is the result of a working group of international cancer researchers who met to review the evidence in April this year.

What’s the link between fat and cancer?

The IARC looked at research into the reasons why being overweight may cause cancer.

They found strong evidence that sex hormones and inflammation – both of which are affected by weight – are involved in cancer formation.

They also reviewed evidence from experiments on rats, which found animals fed a calorie-restricted diet were less likely to develop a range of cancers, and obese animals were more likely to get cancer.

They reviewed studies in humans, animals and basic science to see whether the group’s previous conclusions, published in 2002, needed to be updated.

The group’s new report concludes that, “the absence of excess body fatness lowers the risk of most cancers”, also saying that losing weight intentionally may help prevent cancer.

They list 13 cancers where they say there is “sufficient” evidence to conclude that being a healthy weight reduces the risk of cancer, three where there is “limited” evidence, and eight where the evidence is “inadequate”.

The cancers they identify as having sufficient evidence to link them to weight are:

  • oesophageal cancer
  • gastric cardia – a type ofstomach cancer
  • bowel cancer
  • liver cancer
  • gallbladder cancer
  • pancreatic cancer
  • breast cancer in postmenopausal women
  • womb cancer
  • ovarian cancer
  • kidney cancer
  • meningioma – a type of brain tumour
  • thyroid cancer
  • multiple myeloma – cancer of the white blood cells

The degree of increased risk ranged from an almost fivefold increase for oesophageal cancer in the highest BMI category compared with people with a normal weight (relative risk [RR] 4.8; 95% confidence interval [CI] 3.0 to 7.7), to a 10% increased risk of postmenopausal breast cancer (RR 1.1, 95% CI 1.1 to 1.2).

What is the link between cancer and weight?

Scientists have known for some time that people who are overweight have an increased risk of certain cancers compared with people of a healthy weight.

A healthy weight is usually defined as having a body mass index (BMI) of 18.5 to 24.9. People are classed as overweight if their BMI is 25 to 29.9 and obese if their BMI is 30 or over. BMI is calculated from weight and height.

Almost all of the evidence linking being overweight and cancer is from epidemiological studies, which look at large groups of people and then calculate how likely people of different weights are to have been diagnosed with cancer, compared with people of a healthy weight.

Many of these studies also try to take account of other factors that can affect cancer risk, such as whether people smoke, whether they exercise, and how healthy their diet is.

But it’s hard to account for all other factors, so individual studies can’t really show whether being overweight causes cancer.

When reviewed together, however, and when studies show that the more overweight someone is, the more likely they are to get cancer, the chances are higher that the research is showing that weight has a causal effect.

A report by the IARC in 2002 said there was enough evidence to say being overweight increased the risk of eight cancers, all of which are included in the new list of 13.

Since then other studies have strengthened the evidence, so the IARC now feels it has enough evidence to list these 13 cancers.

How does weight and cancer affect you?

Carrying excess body weight has a number of health risks, including a greater chance of having a heart attack or stroke, as well as being linked to a raised risk of the cancers listed above.

The easiest way to keep to a healthy weight is to avoid putting weight on, but if you already weigh more than you like, diet and exercise can help you achieve a healthier weight.

Talk to your GP or see our 12-week plan to lose weight through healthy eating and physical activity.

Weight is not the only factor that affects the risk of cancer. Although there’s no proven way to avoid cancer altogether?

You can lower your risk of getting cancer if you:-

  • eat a healthy, balanced diet
  • maintain a healthy weight
  • stay physically active
  • drink less alcohol
  • stop smoking
  • protect your skin from sun damage

Your daily coffee habit could be part of your genetics?

A new study now suggests

Image result for Your daily coffee habit could be part of your genetics?   Image result for Your daily coffee habit could be part of your genetics?  Image result for Your daily coffee habit could be part of your genetics?

Scientists have found a gene that appears to have an influence over the amount of coffee people drink, and how the body processes caffeine

The gene variant appears slowing the breakdown of caffeine in the body, meaning the stimulant lingers in the blood for longer and gives people a more enduring “hit” for every cup.

A gene that appears to wield influence over the amount of coffee people drink has been found by scientists who believe the section of DNA alters how caffeine is broken down in the body.

Italians villagers who carry a specific variant of the PDSS2 gene consume about one less cup of coffee per day compared with non-carriers, according to researchers at Edinburgh University.

The gene variant appears to affect people’s coffee intake by slowing the metabolism of caffeine in the body. When caffeine is broken down more slowly, the stimulant lingers in the blood for longer and gives people a more enduring “hit” for every cup.

Why drinking coffee can give you jet lag – and help you get over it.

Nicola Pirastu, a geneticist who led the study, said the discovery reinforces the idea that caffeine is one of the main drivers for drinking coffee. But he added that larger studies are needed to confirm the biological mechanism that links the PDSS2 gene to coffee drinking.

Previous searches for genes linked to coffee consumption have already thrown up more than half a dozen variants that hold sway over the metabolism and rewarding effects of caffeine. In teasing out the genetics of coffee drinking, scientists hope to learn more about the unexplained effects of the drink. “Coffee is protective against some types of cancers, cardiovascular diseases and Parkinson’s,” said Pirastu. “Understanding what is driving its consumption may help us understand what the effects on these diseases are, and so open new lines of research.”

In the study, researchers analysed the genetic makeup of 370 people living Puglia in southern Italy and a further 843 from six villages in the Friuli Venezia region in the north east. All were asked to complete a survey, which included a question about how many cups of coffee they drank each day.

The researchers found that people with a specific variant of the PDSS2 gene tended to drink fewer cups of coffee than those who carried other variations of the gene. To check the result, the researchers went to 1731 people in the Netherlands and found a similar effect, though the gene’s apparent influence over coffee consumption was weaker there.

Can drinking too much coffee kill you?

 One explanation could be that national preferences for coffee differ in Italy and the Netherlands. While moka and espresso are popular in Italy, the Dutch favour more filter coffee. And even though the concentrations of caffeine in the drinks are much the same, the difference in cup sizes means the Dutch imbibe nearly three times as much caffeine per cup as the Italians.

Published in the journal Scientific Reports, the study drew on researchers from Edinburgh, Trieste and the Netherlands. The Italian coffee company Illy participated in the project, but did not fund the work.

Many of the genes that have a role in the breakdown of caffeine also metabolise certain medicines. So unravelling the genes could help scientists understand why some patients respond differently to their drugs than others, and so help doctors to personalise their treatments, Pirastu said.

Kitten size extinct ‘lion’ named after Sir David Attenborough

Image result for Kitten size extinct 'lion' named after Sir David Attenborough Sir David Attenborough Image result for Kitten size extinct 'lion' named after Sir David Attenborough

Microleo attenboroughi was small enough to fit inside a handbag, according to Australian scientists

A miniature marsupial lion, extinct for at least 18 million year, has been named after Sir David Attenborough after its fossilised remains were found in a remote part of Australia.

Teeth and bone fragments from the kitten-sized predator, named Microleo attenboroughi, were found in limestone deposits at the Riversleigh World Heritage Fossil site in north-western Queensland.

The researchers named the new species after the British broadcasting legend because of his work promoting the famous fossil site, which provides a record of nearly 25 million years of Australia’s natural history.

When Microleo was still prowling around, in the early Miocene era (roughly 19 million years ago), the arid, outback ecosystem was a lush rainforest.

“It likely ran through the treetops, gobbling up birds, frogs, lizards and insects,” says Dr Anna Gillespie, a palaeontologist at the University of New South Wales (UNSW).

Ms Gillespie, who has been working at Riversleigh and preparing fossils for 20 years, helped recover fragments of the animal’s skull and several teeth.

The relatively tiny tooth row of Microleo attenboroughi (top), compared with the tooth row of its Pleistocene relative, the lion-sized Thylacoleo carnifex

It’s far from a complete skeleton, but it’s an important part of the puzzle.”Crucially, we have got the third premolar, which is an elongated tooth that looks like a blade,” she told the BBC.

The razor-sharp tooth, used to tear up prey, is a common feature found in all known members of the family.

“It immediately tells us it’s a marsupial lion,” she says.

A pocket-sized predator? But the tooth is by far the smallest of its kind ever recovered.

It’s about one-tenth the size of the 3cm-long “bolt-crunching” teeth belonging to the largest and last surviving marsupial lion, Thylacoleo carnifex, which went extinct about 100,000 years ago.

Thylacoleo weighed about 130kg (286lbs) and was Australia’s largest carnivorous mammal. It was a fearsome predator about the size of an African lion, with the bite strength to match, and hunted megafauna such as giant kangaroo and diprotodon.

In sharp contrast, Ms Gillespie and her team estimate that their “little guy” weighed only 600g, and was about the size of a kitten.

“We weren’t expecting to find a marsupial lion of this small size,” she says. “It might have been a bit too big to fit in your pocket, but it would have fit quite comfortably in a handbag. It would have been very cute.”

Image result for Kitten size extinct 'lion' named after Sir David Attenborough The Neville’s Garden site is renowned for the rich diversity of fossils that have been discovered there over many years

The team has ruled out the possibility that the fossils belonged to a juvenile, or a malformed member of a related species. This is due to their distinctive shape, the fact that all the molars have erupted and the presence of “very clear wear patterns”.

“This animal has been running around hunting things for quite a while. So it’s definitely an adult,” says Dr Gillespie.

The team from UNSW has described the new species in the journal Palaeontologia Electronica.

Unmatched diversity?

With this find, the researchers have determined that at least three different marsupial lions were co-existing in the ancient Riversleigh rainforest.

“This level of diversity is unmatched for the family at any other time in their evolutionary history,” the researchers note.

Sir David Attenborough has long promoted Australia’s Riversleigh World Heritage Fossil site

One marsupial lion (Priscileo) weighed about 1.8kg, and was about the size of a cat. Another yet-to-be described species (Wakaleo) weighed around 30kg, about the size of a small Labrador dog, says Ms Gillespie.

She says it indicates that they may have been co-operating, dividing up the food resources to reduce competition between themselves.

The fossil was found in a location at Riversleigh known as Neville’s Garden, which has become renowned for its rich diversity of animals.

Caption Microleo was tiny compared to other members of the marsupial lion family, which included the enormous and fierce Thylacoleo

It’s yielded bandicoots, possums, kangaroos, toothed platypuses, small koalas, thousands of bats, fish, turtles, lizards, pythons and a range of rainforest birds.

“My colleagues have been working at Riversleigh for 40 years,” says Ms Gillespie.

“In that time we have processed tonnes of limestone, and got thousands and thousands of fossils back, but this is the only specimen from this animal.

“So it’s rather enigmatic in this way,” she says. “It might have been a rare species in that ecosystem, but we still have to hunt for more.”

‘Freakishly productive’

Stephen Wroe, an associate professor of zoology and palaeontology at the University of New England in NSW, who was not involved in the study, says the discovery raises new questions about the origin of the marsupial lion family.

“Until quite recently there were only a few marsupial lion species known. Over the last decade or two evidence from Riversleigh has seen this jump to 11 subspecies,” he says.

“This most recent find doesn’t just increase the known diversity in terms of species numbers – it greatly expands the diversity of known morphologies.”

Mr Wroe says the team has done a good job estimating the body size: “No matter how you wash it, this little guy was tiny relative to other members of the family.”

He says its diminutive size may explain why only a single specimen has been found.

“In general Australia’s fossil record is very poor over this time period,” he says. “Riversleigh is a freakishly productive area in this respect.”

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Sunday 24th July 2016

Global financial firms plot Dublin opportunities in post-Brexit era

Housing, school shortages and cautious regulator may limit scale of new business


Michael Noonan, Minister for Finance, with Conor O’Kelly, chief executive of NTMA. Previous presentations by the NTMA had put a figure of €6 billion on potential investment Ireland could win on the back of the UK quitting the EU.

Overseas financial firms including private equity giant KKR, Silicon Valley Bank, insurer Beazley and Bank of New York Mellon have said in recent days that Ireland is primed to win business from London in the post-Brexit world.

BNY Mellon, which has about 1,800 employees in Ireland servicing asset managers, insurance companies and hedge funds, highlighted its Irish base on a call with analysts during the week, as clients seek to move funds from the UK.

“We think we’re in good shape operationally to help our clients deal with whatever impact Brexit offers,” BNY Mellon’s chairman and chief executive Gerald Hassell said, highlighting its operations in Ireland, Luxembourg and Belgium.

“The fund managers, when they have to think about the jurisdiction of their funds, if they want to move them to the UK to a [location where they can access the EU], we are very well positioned to help them get there.”

Ireland is home to €3 trillion of investment funds, money market funds and special purpose vehicles as of the end of 2015, according to Central Bank data. The extent to which financial services companies and funds will seek to move business from the UK will ultimately depend on the nature of its divorce agreement from the EU and whether Theresa May’s government retains its access to the single market.

Dearth of infrastructure in Ireland?

Economists at Deutsche Bank warned earlier in the week that a dearth of office space, housing, school places and other infrastructure in Ireland, amid under-investment during the financial crisis, may limit the extent to which Ireland may be able to poach investment and jobs from the City of London.

  • Brexit: What is Article 50 and why does it matter?
  • Sinn Féin ‘willing to look at alternatives to united Ireland’
  • Wider implications for Ireland of Brexit need to be brought into the open

Other observers have noted a reluctance by the Central Bank, chastened by the crisis, to approve swathes of regulated financial services business. Still,Cyril Roux, deputy governor at the bank, told industry bodies in the past 10 days it remains committed to a “clear, open and transparent authorisation process while ensuring a rigorous assessment of the application against regulatory standards”.

Beazley, a Lloyds of London insurer, told Reuters on Friday it is working to get European insurance licences for its Irish reinsurance business to allow it to operate throughout the EU, even if Lloyd’s loses access to the bloc.

Insurers are making contingency plans after Britain’s vote last month to leave the EU left them facing the risk they could lose “passporting” rights that enable them to sell their products throughout Europe.

Dublin is the favoured alternative hub to London for insurers due to its geographical proximity, similar regulatory regime, and English-speaking workforce, industry specialists say. It is already considered an insurance centre, with giant insurer Zurich having its European headquarters here.

Ahead of the UK referendum last month, Lloyd’s, which groups more than 80 insurance syndicates in the City of London, warned that the specialist insurance market would be less appealing to investors outside Britain after a Brexit vote.

KKR’s co-chief executive Henry Kravis said at an event in Hong Kong earlier this week that Ireland and Luxembourg are likely to be the main beneficiaries about 20 per cent of London’s financial sector relocates elsewhere because of the need to passport products and services across Europe.

KKR, which has $126 billion (€114.4 billion) of assets under management, bought Irish credit investment firm Avoca Capital three years ago. Last year, the firm joined forces with the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund to launch a €500 million fund to provide finance to residential property developers.

Meanwhile, Gregory Becker, chief executive of Silicon Valley Bank, the Californian tech-to-life-sciences lender, told analysts during the week he sees “plenty of opportunity” in Europe despite uncertainty created by Brexit, having established a presence in Ireland earlier this year.

IDA look to capitalise

IDA Ireland, the State agency in charge of attracting foreign investment, made it clear within hours of the UK referendum outcome last month that it will look to capitalise on the British vote.

The National Treasury Management Agency said in an investor presentation earlier this month, two weeks after the UK referendum, that Ireland may be a beneficiary from “displaced” UK foreign direct investment, particularly in financial and business services as well as information technology and new media.

Previous NTMA presentations had put a figure of €6 billion on potential investment Ireland could win on the back of the UK quitting the EU.

“Dublin is likely to compete with Frankfurt, Paris and Amsterdam for financial services, if the UK (City of London), loses its EU passporting rights on exit,” the NTMA said.

Tim Kaine, potential Vice President USA harmonica player and a pure black Irishman?

   Tim Kaine's wife Anne (center) is Virginia's education secretary and daughter Annella is an NYU student. Above, the trio celebrate Kaine winning a seat on the Senate in 2012 

Tim Kaine getting a hug from Hillary.  Above right , the trio celebrate Tim Kaine winning a seat on the Senate in 2012 

Tim Kaine, Hillary Clinton’s pick for Vice President has a secret weapon – his harmonica. When things slow down and a party needs a burst of old fashioned song and hoopla, Kaine forgets his strait laced persona and usually volunteers a tune or two – Johnny Cash numbers are a specialty, especially “Folsom Prison Blues” and gets the toes tapping again.

He picked up his harmonica at the American Ireland Fund dinner, in Washington, in March, where a lively evening was further enlivened when the new Vice President pick for Hillary Clinton took the stage.

He can do Irish, Appalachian, and southern country and he’s the most famous figure, right now, out of Virginia since New York linebacker legend Lawrence Taylor.

Senator Kaine and his wife, Virginia Secretary of Education Anne Holton, make an extraordinary political couple and if they ever make it to the Naval Observatory, the home of the Vice President, they are bound to make an incredible impression.

  Tim Kaine takes the stage playing Harmonica.

On the Irish political side of things, Kaine has been a member of The Irish National Caucus since December 2012. The Caucus is a, once controversial, group who put it up to the British on the North often more than the Irish government wanted. They sport a letter on their site from 2012 with Kaine saying he is happy to join them as he arrives in the Senate to serve his first term. They are seen as more hard-line on Ireland than the Congressional Friends of Ireland that Kaine also belongs to, which carries out much of the Irish government’s agenda.

Kaine certainly feels Ireland in his heart. During his acceptance speech for The American Ireland Fund Leadership Award, he talked about his family’s 2006 trip to Ireland, where they found the ruins of his great-grandfather’s cottage in Killashee Parish, in Longford.

He stated at the dinner: “I am about as stone Irish as you get for somebody whose family has been in the country for 150 years.”

He visited Ireland during his first year as governor of Virginia, with his wife Anne and three children. They visited the ruins of the home of his great-grandfather, PJ Farrell who later emigrated to Kansas, where he became a successful farmer.

Kaine told the dinner about how his children were unhappy with leaving “cool” Dublin to search for his family roots in County Longford.

“As we drove to Longford, which isn’t exactly the tourist zone, they continued to complain,” he said.

He also has Kilkenny root, which makes him the exception, as most Irish roots go back to the traditional Irish western seaboard counties like Mayo, Galway, and Kerry.

Here are his very moving remarks to the American Ireland Fund on finding his roots:

“All four of my grandparents were born to Irish immigrants. Three to families where both the Mom and Dad were from Ireland and one to a family where the Mom was from Ireland and the Dad was Scottish born but moved to Northern Ireland before emigrating to the United States.

“And I will say this too, I am pure black Irish, there is not a red-headed Norseman anywhere in our family.  But that makes this very, very special. Until I was 48 years old, Ireland played a huge and important role in my life but sort-of in the dreams of my life…I had never been to Ireland. So it was photos, it was genealogy and it was family stories and it was Roman Catholicism and it was music and it was St. Patrick’s Day. That’s what being Irish meant to me but I felt the deep connection to it.

“When I was Governor of Virginia in my first year, 2006, my wife Anne and I took our three children to Ireland to go find the ruins of the home where my great-grandfather, PJ Farrell, was born.  My  parents had been there before and found it.  We went to Dublin and my children were having a blast, they were all teenagers and when I said ‘we have to spend a day traipsing around in the countryside instead of hanging around in Temple Bar and Grafton Street’ they were extremely disappointed in their Father.

“As we drove to Longford which isn’t exactly the tourist zone they continued to complain.  But when we landed in Longford town my 11 year old daughter said to me, ‘Dad, why does everyone look like us?’ And they started to get it.

“And then we drove the 10 km to Killashee Parish and then we parked the vehicle and traipsed a half a mile across fields and found two still standing walls of what had been a house with windows and doors now with a tin roof stacked with hay and I told my children, ‘This is where we come from.’  And it, even with unruly and obnoxious teenagers it made a huge impact on them and since that time we have been back very, very often.”

Kaine quotes W.B. Yeats a lot, something he has in common with outgoing VP Joe Biden, most recently when talking about the Syrian refugee crisis where he pleaded that ISIS was the enemy not the refugees.

He stated “Yeats wrote a poem after World War I surveying the wreckage of these societies called, “The Second Coming”, and he expressed a real concern about the state of society at the time because what he noticed was at that time “the best lack all conviction and the worst; are filled with passionate intensity.”

He was raised devoutly Catholic so much so that his parents would rush back from wherever they were to make sure they made a Sunday evening Mass and knew all the churches that had them.

He is a new Catholic in the likeness of Pope Francis, deeply committed to social justice and reflecting the same Jesuit background and schooling the pope has.

His perfect Spanish come from his mission to South America here he lived for over a year helping with construction projects.

Finally, he is the second Irish Catholic in a row chosen by the Democrats as their Vice President pick – remarkable when you ponder there was never a Catholic VP before Biden.

Mike Pence, Donald Trump’s running mate of course was also raised Irish Catholic before he turned to evangelical but the two men have obviously much in common.

Both will become party front runners for the White House if the ticket goes down in flames. Equally both are young enough to run in eight years if their ticket takes the White House. We could see a day when an Irish evangelical faces an Irish Catholic for the top job.

“All changed, changed utterly” as Yeats might have said.

Genetic switch ‘could pave the way towards preventing asthma’


Scientists have discovered a genetic switch which could pave the way for preventing asthma at the origin of the disease.

The research carried out at the University of Southampton, published in The Journal of Clinical Investigation (JCI) Insight, analysed the impact of the gene ADAM33, which is associated with the development of asthma.

ADAM33 makes an enzyme, which is attached to cells in the airway muscles.

When the enzyme loses its anchor to the cell surface, it is prone to going rogue around the lung causing poorer lung function in people who have asthma.

The studies in human tissue samples and mice, led by Hans Michel Haitchi, associate professor in respiratory medicine, suggests that if you switch off ADAM33 or prevent it from going rogue, the features of asthma – airway remodelling (more muscle and blood vessels around the airways), twitchiness and inflammation – will be reduced.

Prof Haitchi said: “This finding radically alters our understanding of the field, to say the least. For years we have thought that airway remodelling is the result of the inflammation caused by an allergic reaction, but our research tells us otherwise.”

The first study showed that rogue human ADAM33 causes airway remodelling resulting in more muscle and blood vessels around the airways of developing lungs, but it did not cause inflammation.

When a house dust mite allergen was introduced, which is a common human allergen, both airway remodelling and allergic airway inflammation were more significantly enhanced.

In another study, remodelling of the airway was shown in mice that had ADAM33 switched on in utero.

The gene was then switched off and the airway remodelling was completely reversed.

They also studied the impact of house the dust mite allergen on asthma features in mice which had the ADAM33 gene removed.

Airway remodelling and twitchiness as well as airway inflammation rates were significantly reduced by 50% and respectively 35% in mice which did not have the rogue gene.

Prof Haitchi, whose research was primarily funded by a Medical Research Council Clinician Scientist Fellowship, said: “Our studies have challenged the common paradigm that airway remodelling in asthma is a consequence of inflammation.

“Instead, we have shown that rogue human ADAM33 initiates airway remodelling that promotes allergic inflammation and twitchiness of the airways in the presence of allergen.

“More importantly, we believe that if you block ADAM33 from going rogue or you stop its activity if it does go rogue, asthma could be prevented.

“ADAM33 initiated airway remodelling reduces the ability of the lungs to function normally, which is not prevented by current anti-inflammatory steroid therapy.

“Therefore, stopping this ADAM33-induced process would prevent a harmful effect that promotes the development of allergic asthma for many of the 5.4 million people in the UK with the condition.”

Dr Samantha Walker, Asthma UK’s director of research and policy, said: “This is a really promising avenue of research that we have already agreed to help fund to its next stage, which is to understand exactly how this gene causes the changes seen in the lungs that lead to asthma.

“This will hopefully bring us even closer to stopping asthma attacks and finding a cure for the one in 11 people with asthma in the UK.

“Each day three people die of asthma attacks. Research like this is a step in the right direction although much more investment is needed.

“There are hundreds of thousands of people in the UK for whom current treatments don’t work and they struggle to breathe every day.

“Research like this will give us better avenues to explore why this is the case and to develop treatments that work.”

This is why you shouldn’t leave your smartphone on charge overnight


It may not be a good idea to leave your smartphone to charge overnight?

You could be destroying your smartphone by leaving it on charge overnight.

That’s according to the guys at Battery University who claim if your gadget is kept charging after reaching capacity, the battery’s chemistry could damage it.

This is because it would be in a constant ‘high-stress’ state, which is not good.

Lithium-ion (Li-ion) are widely used in smartphones (Picture: Getty images)

They argue it’s actually better never to fully charge your smartphone.

Instead, they recommend you do it at intervals as this extends the Lithium-ion (Li-ion) battery’s lifespan.

These batteries are widely used in smartphones, including iPhones.

‘Li-ion does not need to be fully charged, nor is it desirable to do so,’ they wrote.

‘In fact, it is better not to fully charge, because a high voltage stresses the battery.’

So remember short bursts of charge could better than full ones.

The concept behind the argument is fully explained by the Battery University here.

Minke whale carcass washes up on the Co Down shore


The Minke whale washed up on the rocks near St John’s Point lighthouse in Co Down 

Work will begin on Monday to remove the carcass of a whale washed up on the Co Down shore. The 20ft whale is believed to be a minke whale which was washed up on the shore at Killough last Friday.

The animal was discovered on a stretch of the shore close to St John’s Point lighthouse by a passerby.

A team from Newcastle Coastguard Station was sent to the scene to measure and photograph the body.

It is believed the whale may have already been dead for a fortnight before coming ashore.

It is understood the dead whale had also been spotted by a local yacht crew on Thursday while still in the water.

Minke whales a common sight around Irish waters over the summer months.

Many of them migrate south from Scotland for food.

According to the Sea Watch Foundation, they are most densely populated along the Atlantic seaboard but are occasionally observed in the Irish Sea.

It said the animals tend to be solitary and rarely in groups of more than two or three.

Although estimates vary, it is thought there could be around 10,000 minke whales in the waters around Britain and Ireland and as many as one million worldwide.

The whale was one of two reported as stranded by the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group (IWDG) in the past week.

A pilot whale was also found beached at Cliffoney Beach in Co Sligo.

Last October, the carcass of a 43ft juvenile fin whale washed up on Portstewart Strand in Co Derry.

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Tuesday 17th May 2016

Irish Government will not initially oppose the Fianna Fáil bill to tackle mortgage rates

Concerns have been raised about the constitutionality of the proposal


The government has said it will not initially oppose a Fianna Fáil bill that would give the Central Bank greater powers to tackle mortgage interest rates.

This is despite concerns raised about the constitutionality of the proposal, which would give the Central Bank powers to force banks to reduce their standard variable rates (SVRs).

In a sign of the new political reality facing the minority government, Finance Minister Michael Noonan will attempt to move a motion in the Dáil this evening to send the bill back to pre-legislative scrutiny stage in the Oireachtas. But with Sinn Féin supporting the Fianna Fáil bill, the government could be defeated on this at which point it says it will accept the bill at second stage.

This would move it into committee stage where the various provisions of the Central Bank Variable Rate Mortgages Bill 2016 would be discussed at length by TDs and Senators. A government spokesperson said this morning that this was a sign of new politics in action.

Earlier, Noonan told reporters outside Government Buildings why he disagreed with the proposal from Fianna Fáil.

“If you have a central bank that doesn’t want the power and it is not mandatory that they should use the power it seems to me to be destined to be a very ineffective piece of legislation that would go on the statue books but would never be used,” he said.

Fianna Fáil says that the bill would effectively reduce the monthly repayments of some 300,000 people on standard variable rates. SVRs in Ireland are among the highest in the euro zone.

Hundreds of senior Gardaí protest about pay restoration

The President of AGSI says Government must ‘sit up and take notice’ of Garda concerns?


Members of the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors marched to Government buildings to protest over pay and conditions.

Several hundred senior Gardaí marched to Government Buildings on Tuesday in a protest over stalled progress on the restoration of their pay to 2008 levels.

Members of the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors, dressed not in uniform but wearing blue t-shirts, marched from Dublin Castle to highlight what they say is a lack of engagement by the Government in dealing with their pay issue.

The large group gathered near Dublin Castle from 11am and traffic came to a standstill about an hour later as they walked in near silence down Dame Street, up Suffolk Street and continuing down Nassau Street and up Merrion Street to Government Buildings.

They were briefly addressed by the organisation’s general secretary John Jacob and its president Antoinette Cunningham, who handed in a letter for the attention of Tánaiste and Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald.

“I think Government need to sit up and take notice of the 650 people that have taken to the streets today in protest at Garda pay negotiations,” Ms Cunningham said.

Group solidarity

She said she appreciated the support and solidarity of the members and their families on the march, as well as their Garda Representative Associationcolleagues and retired members who also joined them.

“We will continue this long and sustained campaign as long as it takes to get meaningful negotiation around pay,” Ms Cunningham said.

Paul McDermott of the AGSI executive said members had rejected the Lansdowne Road agreement last November because the then government had not abided by the terms of the previous Haddington Road deal.

“We brought in all the new practices they wanted on the transformation agenda. Everything was done. We have engaged with the two chairmen – one covering pay and one covering structures and the chairman covering pay resigned from it last week. We’re not sure why. We have not delayed this process at all.”

Mr McDermott said members wanted the increment freeze stopped as it had “hit members hard”.

“If we can get into meaningful talks we will be constructive and we want to see a pathway to having our money restored. Obviously it’s going to be over a period of time. But through negotiation and not through emergency financial legislation and threats. Basically it’s intimidatory – you sign up to this deal or we freeze your pay.”

Mortgages and bills.

Mr McDermott said there were members in difficulty. “We are the same as the rest of society. We live in the community and we reflect it – we have the same mortgages and bills and childcare and some of them have difficulty with their homes under threat. Not everybody, but it reflects what happens in society and there are members in difficulty and they would like to see a pathway.”

Mr McDermott said the mid-ranking roles in the force had “a lot of responsibilities”.

“We are under supervision ourselves. And we have all the different structures such as GSOC and inspectorates looking at us over our shoulders. Our members are doing an awful lot they haven’t done before.”

Separately, uniformed gardaí were policing an anti-water charges protest outside Leinster House on Kildare Street. The AGSI protest did not come into contact with that event and the members dispersed down Merrion Street shortly after 1pm.

Protesting Voices:

Sgt Donal Smyth, who is stationed in Navan, Co Meath, and who has been in the force for 34 years, said he was opposing the financial emergency measures being imposed on members from July 1st.

“We have nowhere else to go. You can’t really impose a new agreement on people where the original one is not completed yet.

“I’m in a lucky position that I’m 9 to 5, but the people on the shifts are really struggling out there and it’s not only that, it’s the extra responsibilities on Garda sergeants. The transformation agenda is coming down the line since Croke Park. We have complied with everything and it’s come to the point now that we are really struggling.”

He said there were 15 new probationer gardaí in his area earning €23,000 per annum.

“I see them coming to try and get accommodation in Navan and things are so difficult. I remember when I joined the job back in 1982 and it’s now 34 years later and we are now back to the same situation we were in when we started back then.”

Sgt Smyth said he was lucky to be at the “tail end” as two of his boys were in college and one was working.

“But I remember going back to 1991 where our job sold out the pensionability of some allowances that we sold on some young people. It’s not going to happen again – it’s unfair.”

He said 275 new sergeants who had been newly promoted this year would be on the same salaries for two years from July 1st without increments.

Sgt Paul Wallace (Letterkenny)

“I’m a former member of the executive and the last term and have been a member of AGSI for 23 years.

“We could be accused of being irresponsible or blocking up Dublin town, but we are actually being responsible and we’d ask the government to be the same.

“It’s no longer one for Garda management – the game has moved on. But it’s sad to see on a nice day in the middle of May passing Trinity College you have mid-ranking gardaí who basically are out to be responsible towards our younger people – the people who have been asked to go forward for promotion but won’t receive an increment.

“It’s a misnomer as well that people will say the guards are looking for a pay increase. “We’re not; they promised to give it back and now it’s time to start. We are not looking for the full 25 per cent and I’m not speaking on behalf of the executive but we need to have something meaningful.”

Padraig Costello

“We hope that it will bring home to Government what is happening in AnGarda Síochána.

John Moloney

“We are coming towards the end game and we need to be listened to like a lot of other groups in the country. We will do it peacefully and quietly and with dignity and we will stick together for as long as this takes. And we’ll be back here again and again.”

Arthur O’Hara

Mr O’Hara, a retired member, said he did not agree with how gardaí were being deployed, particularly with regard to policing Irish Water installations.

“I think that’s radically wrong and again we have always had the support of the vast majority of the community at large.”

“We are not there for any special cause. We are there to serve the community. And I think we have done under very difficult circumstances and with totally inadequate resources, I think we do a bloody good job.

“I lost very close to 29% of my pension. That drove all kinds of things wrong. How could you budget for something like that?”

Irish Prisons now a dumping ground for mentally ill young men

We have amongst the lowest number of secure psychiatric beds per head of population in Europe


The great majority of young men and women remanded to Irish prisons while actively unwell with diagnoses of severe and enduring mental illnesses have fallen through the net of a public mental health system which is not designed to meet their needs. 

Despite having one of the highest levels of severe mental illness when compared with other advanced European nations, Ireland has fewer adult psychiatric beds than almost any other country in Europe.

New research looking at the number of beds across the EU shows we have even fewer secure (forensic) psychiatric beds compared with other countries.

Psychiatric bed numbers in Ireland have fallen drastically, and since 2011 beds have fallen to below 20 per 100,000 people, where the European average is still over 40 per 100,000.

The beds that remain are on wards open to the public and to other wards in the same hospital. It is often difficult to care safely for young people with disturbed and challenging behaviour due to acute delusions and hallucinations in such wards.

With the closing of the old-style asylums across Europe, many countries recognised that, even with the development of community mental health services, there would always remain a significant need for some inpatient beds. They are required so the most unwell and difficult to treat patients could receive the help they need in a stable and safe therapeutic environment.

Unfortunately we have failed to plan for the needs of such patients in this country, and the most unwell and difficult to treat patients increasingly find themselves either homeless or placed in prison rather than treated in hospital and supported in the community. Strangely, these well known facts are regarded as neither a failure of policy nor a cause for shame.

In 2016 the current 10-year plan, A Vision for Change will have run its course. It is timely to wonder what policy reforms will come next. A Vision for Changehas led to considerable positive achievements. The experts who drafted the policy should be congratulated for the universal adoption of the ethos and language of recovery. However, while recovery is a commendable policy priority, it is not the same as cure, and it is increasingly obvious that people with severe, enduring and disabling mental illnesses have lost out in the recent changes that our mental health service has undergone.

Replaced asylums?

People who have complex and difficult to treat problems are excluded from a “mental health” model that struggles to include the needs of those with severe, enduring and disabling mental illnesses.

Many of the acute inpatient psychiatric units which replaced asylums lack the short-term high observation units that could provide for the complex needs of such patients. Across the modern world, such patients are provided for in acute local psychiatric intensive care units.

Typically, in other European countries there are 10-15 beds serving every 250,000 people. This contrasts with Ireland, which has only 30 such beds in the entire country. Again, in other European countries the closure of the old asylums has been compensated for by opening high quality, therapeutically secure, forensic psychiatric hospital beds.

Ireland has not developed any such system and the number of forensic psychiatric beds at the Central Mental Hospital has stayed static at about two beds per 100,000 people.

In England and Wales, by contrast, asylum closures over the last 30 years have been associated with the development of a system of more secure forensic hospital beds so that there are now 7.5 secure forensic beds per 100,000 for the mentally ill.

Scotland, Northern Ireland, the Netherlands, Germany, Austria and many other modern mental health services provide between eight and 10 forensic secure beds per 100,000 population. Not surprisingly, Irish prisons have increasingly become the emergency department “trolleys” for young men with any form of psychotic mental illness. The great majority of young people remanded to Irish prisons, while actively unwell with diagnoses of severe and enduring mental illnesses, are charged with very minor offences.

These patients have fallen through the net of a public mental health system which is not designed to meet their needs. Mental health legislation has reformed the rights of people detained for care and treatment, and further reform is needed. But reforms that exclude mentally incapable people from access to care, treatment and protection do them a disservice – it is already too difficult to intervene when a person with a severe mental illness is obviously relapsing and at risk of self-harm and neglect.

Violence is rare occurrence? 

Fortunately, Ireland is an inherently peaceful country where violence is rare and we are very tolerant of the mentally ill. Tolerance, however, is not enough when young people with the most severe, enduring and disabling mental illnesses are ill-served by policies that fail to meet their needs. To be able to engage with community services, it is almost always necessary to first have the benefit of the acute treatment needed to restore the basics of mental health.

The next Vision for Change should help to direct resources towards services that are demonstrably effective in engaging and retaining severely mentally ill people to prevent homelessness and imprisonment. Should we fail to do this we are at risk of repeating the kind of discrimination and inhumane treatment which the closure of the asylums and the development of community mental health teams were designed to remedy. Harry Kennedy is clinical professor of forensic psychiatry at the Central Mental Hospital. He is writing in a private capacity

Smoking laws will not be relaxed says new health Minister Simon Harris

Minister for Health fully committed to making Ireland tobacco free by 2025


The Minister for Health Simon Harris said the smoking ban had been a real success and he has insisted there will be no relaxation of the smoking ban legislation.

Mr Harris said he was totally committed to the Programme for Government pledge to make Ireland tobacco free by 2025.

He said the smoking ban had been a real success and it was his and the Department of Health’s position that it should remain in place.

Mr Harris was speaking after Minister of State at the Department of HealthFinian McGrath called for an easing of the workplace smoking ban to allow indoor smoking areas in pubs and restaurants.

Asked at Beaumont Hospital on Monday whether Mr McGrath said he supported Government policy on making Ireland tobacco-free by 2025, he said he had his own personal view but “of course” he would support the policy on health.

He said he also supported proposals in the Programme for Government to increase the price of cigarettes, despite having opposed previous excise hikes.

The Irish Cancer Society welcomed the comments from Mr Harris and said Ireland had “led the way in tobacco control measures, showing courage in tackling smoking rates and the tobacco industry”.

“We hope our strong record on progressive public health policies continues well into the future,” it said.

Maternity Hospital row?

Mr Harris also confirmed he would be meeting St Vincent’s Hospital and Holles Street management to dissolve the row over the location of the new National Maternity Hospital.

He said he would be asking both sides to “lower the tempo” a bit and bring a timely conclusion to the row. The expertise is excellent but the conditions were “absolutely deplorable”, he added.

“I would ask both sides to make one last push to get this resolved.”

The National Maternity Hospital is currently struggling to maintain a service in Holles Street, while St Vincent’s Hospital in Dublin 4 is seeing an increase in waiting lists and dangerous levels of emergency overcrowding.

It is proposed a new facility be built at St Vincent’s. However St Vincent’s is adamant that it must take over the governance of the facility, which has been rejected by the board of the National Maternity Hospital.

Mr Harris said governance was important but it should not prevent the facility being built.

“I will not let this hospital be lost over a bureaucratic row.”

Genetic clues reveal how Giraffes got their long necks

  Researchers discover clues on how giraffe neck evolved   

Fighting giraffes (above left) in Ithala Game Reserve, northern KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa.

For the first time ever, scientists have sequenced the genome of the world’s tallest land species, the giraffe. Surprisingly, this majestic creature required only a small handful of mutations to attain its remarkable physical stature and physiology—but these mutations packed an evolutionary punch.

With their long necks and elegant strides, giraffes have captivated humanity for thousands of years. But there’s more to these animals than their height, which can reach upwards of 19 feet (6 meters).

Adult male Masai giraffe in the Mikumi National Park, Tanzania. (Image: Doug Cavener)

Giraffes are surprisingly swift runners, capable of sprinting 37 miles per hour (60 km/h). They also need to pump blood nearly seven feet (two meters) straight up in order to supply their brains with an ample oxygen supply. To that end, giraffes have evolved a rather large left ventricle, and a blood pressure that’s about twice as high as other mammals. They’re also capable of digesting acacia leaves and seed-pods highly nutritious foods that are poisonous to most other animals.

The reasons for the giraffe’s long legs and neck are fairly obvious, and have been discussed since before the time of Darwin. Biologist Jean-Baptiste Lamarck famously argued that giraffe necks needed to get longer so they could reach food way up high (i.e. “Lamarckian evolution”). He was almost correct. As Darwin later pointed out, their necks were the result of selectional processes; only those animals with necks long enough to reach the tallest branches thrived and survived.

This much we knew, but scientists weren’t sure about the exact biology involved, and how giraffes, from a genetic perspective, evolved their panoply of characteristics. Its closest living relative, the okapi, looks more like a zebra than its lanky cousin, so there aren’t other “intermediate” species to go by.

In an effort to learn more about the genetic constitution of the giraffe—and to paint a clearer picture of its evolutionary history—scientists from Penn State University sequenced the entire giraffe genome (along with the okapi genome), making them the first to do so. The results, which now appear in Nature Communications, are offering intriguing insights into how the giraffe’s unique body shape evolved.

To isolate the genes responsible for the giraffe’s unique characteristics, a research team led by Douglas Cavener and Morris Agaba compared the gene-coding sequences of the giraffe and the okapi to more than 40 other animals, including cows, sheep, goats, camels, and humans. Despite the giraffe’s unique appearance and physiology, the researchers came up with just 70 genes that were responsible for some of the giraffe’s most distinctive adaptations.

As noted, the giraffe and okapi feature genetic sequences that are quite similar. The two species are very closely related, having only diverged from a common ancestor about 11 to 12 million years ago. Aside from their heads and hooves, these animals look almost nothing alike, but genetically, there’s very little to distinguish the two species. By studying the okapi genome, the researchers were able to use it as a kind of genetic filter to pinpoint the genes that make a giraffe a giraffe.

The researchers sequenced the whole genomes of two female Masai giraffes from the Masai Mara reserve in Kenya and the Nashville Zoo in the United States, and one male okapi from the White Oak Holdings in the United States. Among the 70 distinctive genetic mutations discovered, over half of them coded for proteins that regulate development of the giraffe’s skeletal, cardiovascular, and nervous system. Interestingly, several of these genes showed signs of multiple adaptations, meaning they confer more than one benefit, or characteristic. For example, some genes control both cardiovascularand skeletal development. The researchers speculate that the giraffe’s stature and “turbocharged” cardiovascular system evolved together through changes in a small number of genes.

An adult male Masai giraffe in Ndarakwai – West Kilimanjaro, Tanzania. (Image: Doug Cavener)

Cavener and Agaba discovered genetic clues that explain how the giraffe evolved such a long neck and legs which, despite their length, feature the same number of bones as the neck and legs of humans and other mammals.

“To achieve their extraordinary length, giraffe cervical vertebrae and leg bones have evolved to be greatly extended,” said Cavener in a release. “At least two genes are required—one gene to specify the region of the skeleton to grow more and another gene to stimulate increased growth.”

One of these two genes is called FGFRL1, and it plays an important role in the early development of an embryo. It also contributes to the rapid bone-growth phase after a giraffe is born. In fact, this gene has been associated with severe skeletal and cardiovascular defects in both humans and mice when it fails to express properly. This gene, in conjunction with four homeobox genes—which are involved in the development of body structures—provides two of the required elements for the evolution of the giraffe’s long neck and legs.

“What we think has occurred then, is the giraffe evolved a long neck, which occurred over roughly a 15 to 20 million year period, and as its neck extended out, its cardiovascular system was also changing in tandem—and that some of the same genes were actually controlling both processes in concert,” noted Cavner in an accompanying video.

Finally, the researchers also discovered a group of genes that regulates metabolism and growth. These are genes that are likely responsible for the giraffe’s ability to metabolize acacia leaves and seedpods, which many other mammals find toxic.

Moving forward, the researchers would like to fuse the FGFRL1 gene into the mice genome to see how it affects their growth, particularly in its spine and legs. This could eventually lead to treatments in humans who are suffering from skeletal abnormalities and other physiological ailments. The sequencing of the giraffe genome, it would appear, is a scientific effort that’s extending beyond the scope of just zoology and evolutionary biology.

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Monday 21st September 2015.

Government considers a budget move to boost Irish housing supply

Cabinet sub-committee examines bigger role for Nama on construction of homes in Dublin.


The construction industry has been lobbying in recent times for a major reduction in development costs for housing, including development levies.

The Government is considering a range of measures in next month’s budget aimed at boosting much-needed housing supply.

A meeting of the Cabinet sub-committee on social affairs on Monday heard that while there is planning permission for up to 21,000 homes in the Dublin area, there has been little activity on the ground.

One option discussed at the meeting involves giving theNational Asset Management Agency greater scope to facilitate construction of new houses and apartments.

Nama is already planning to assist with the construction of up to 4,500 homes in the Dublin Docklands area and other urban centres.

However, it has identified potential for land and property to yield up to five times that number of homes, according to informed sources.

Other supply-boosting matters discussed at the meeting included lowering local authority levies for developers who plan to build homes in areas of high demand.

The construction industry has been lobbying in recent times for a major reduction in development costs for housing, including development levies.

Any such move would likely involve the Government compensating local authorities for lost revenue.

The committee meeting was chaired by Taoiseach Enda Kenny and included Minister for Finance Michael Noonan, Minister for the Environment Alan Kelly and Minister of State for housing Paudie Coffey.

Another option discussed involved using the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund to enter the private residential property market by providing large loans to housing developers.

Zoned lands

Use of the fund – previously known as the National Pensions Reserve Fund –  is seen as a recognition of difficulties facing some developers in accessing finance to residential developments, according to sources.

Greater investment in infrastrucutre to make priority zoned lands usable for housing was also discussed.

A recent report estimated that land zoned in the Dublin area could provide up to 50,000 homes.

However, it found that about €165 million was needed for infrastructure such as water pipes, power lines and roads to allow the lands to be used.

The Dublin Housing Supply Task Force, set up under the Government’s Construction 2020 strategy, found that each of the capital’s four local authorities had identified the zoned land banks which could most quickly be brought into use if funding were available.

The meeting also involved ongoing discussion of ways to limited rent increases by linking rents to the consumer price index and other factors.

This “rent certainty” model is used in many European countries, and typically limits increases within a certain percentage limit of inflation.

Microsoft and Google the top Irish exporters

Kerry Group ranks number one in food and drink sector with exports of €5.2 billion


Mircosoft’s offices in Sandyford, Co Dublin. The technology giant has replaced Google as the top exporter in Ireland.

Microsoft has replaced Google as the top exporter in Ireland, after growing its export turnover by 21 per cent from €15 billion in 2014 to €18.2 billion this year.

The technology giant was named the country’s largest exporting company in the 2015 edition of Top 250 Exporters in Ireland and Northern Ireland, compiled by the Irish Exporters Association in association with Investec.

Microsoft was followed by Google Ireland with export turnover of €17 billion, while Medtronic Ireland was in third place with export turnover of €16.7 billion. Johnson & Johnson Ireland came in fourth place with export turnover of €10.5 billion and Ingersoll Rand was fifth, with export turnover of €9.8 billion.

Data from the report shows strong growth in the manufacturing and services sectors with the value of exports from the top five exporters increasing by 23.5 per cent on the previous year.

James O’Connor, managing director of Microsoft EMEA Operations, said the recognition by the Irish Exporters Association is welcomed during “this important year of celebration for the company in Ireland”.

“Microsoft is celebrating 30 years of investment in Ireland this year. Over the past three decades we have continued to invest in, and grow our operations and now have over 1,200 people working in a range of areas including R&D, engineering, finance, legal services, sales and marketing,” he added.

Tech firms featured heavily on the list, accounting for nine of the top 20 exporters, with seven of the top 20 in the medical and pharma sectors.

In the food and drink sector, Kerry Group topped the table with exports of €5.2 billion, followed by Total Produce with €3 billion in exports.

Investec equity analyst Ian Hunter said food and drink-related exports now total €10.5 billion with strong growth in the dairy and beef categories having driven a 10 per cent yearly increase over the past five years.

“Meat and livestock exports continue to account for roughly a third of all exports, while dairy products and ingredients, including infant formula, make up a further 30 % he said.

Breath test results must be in both English and Irish,

Say’s a judge

Man accused of drink driving claims statement not valid because it was in English only


Mihai Avadenei’s legal team had argued that a statement produced following the Evidenzer breath alcohol test was not valid because it was in English only.

A breath alcohol test statement is not a valid piece of evidence if it is in English only, a High Court judge has ruled.

Mr Justice Seamus Noonan said on Monday that a statement produced after a test had been performed by gardaí¬, who had arrested Mihai Avadenei (29) for a drink driving offence, had not been printed in Irish.

The judge said that under the Road Traffic Act 2010, Mr Avadenei, with an address at Lioscianan, Swords, Co Dublin, could face up to six months in jail and/or a €5,000 fine for the offence.

Mr Justice Noonan said that in April last year, a first breath test had been performed on Mr Avadenei after he had been stopped by Garda Francis McMahon for driving at 80km/h in a 50km/h zone.

The judge said in a written judgment that Garda McMahon had felt a strong smell of alcohol from Mr Avadenei’s breath and had performed an Alcotest which result had been “fail.”

Garda McMahon had arrested Mr Avadenei and had brought him to Store Street Garda station, where a further test, Evidenzer Irl, performed by another garda, revealed a concentration of 54 micrograms of alcohol per 100 millilitres of breath.

In July last year, during District Court proceedings brought by the DPP, Mr Avadenei’s legal team had argued that the statement produced following the Evidenzer test was not valid because it was in English only.

The DPP had stated it was not required to print the form in two languages, but only that it be reproduced in Irish. District Court Judge Colin Gibbons had ruled that the document had not been “duly completed,” and had asked the High Court for a confirmation of his finding.

Affirming Judge Gibbons’ decision, Mr Justice Noonan said there was no ambiguity in the Act that when performing the Evidenzer test, the garda must supply statements in Irish and in English.

“Once the breath specimen has been given which indicates a possible contravention, the person providing the specimen shall be supplied immediately by a member of the Garda Síochánawith two identical statements in the prescribed form,” the judge said.

“In my view, what arises in this case, being a failure to reproduce an entire half of the prescribed form, could not be regarded as ‘mere deviation’ from the form prescribed.

“It is not evidence at all and cannot be admitted,” Mr Justice Noonan said.

Macular Society  Charity group call to ‘eat your greens‘ for eye’s sake

Eye care charity the Macular Society has issued a call to encourage people to look after their sight by eating their greens.

Keen to highlight the relationship between diet and eye health, the initiative aims to support National Eye Health Week (NEHW), which takes place this week (September 21–27).

Many green vegetables contain lutein and zeaxanthin which are antioxidents that can help protect vision. Kale, for example, is a food source with very high levels of these nutrients.

Commenting on age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and eye health, chief executive of the Macular Society, Cathy Yelf, said: “By 2020 almost 700,000 Britons will have late-stage AMD. We are fighting for more funding for macular research because our ageing society means many more people are developing the condition. We urgently need to find a solution.

“The exact cause of AMD is unknown. However, the two most important risk factors are age and genetics. Smoking, poor diet and obesity also increase the risk of AMD.”

Irish students win EU Young Scientist awards in Italy

Cork students take prize at EU Young Scientists contest in Italy    

Eimear Murphy and Ian O’Sullivan win with alcohol project in Dublin left and right winners in Italy of the EU prize.

Ian O’Sullivan and Eimear Murphy (both centre) from Coláiste Treasa, Cork, being declared winners of the 51st BT Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition in Dublin in January 2015.

Three Irish students have been awarded prizes at this year’s EU Contest for Young Scientists in Italy.

Eimear Murphy and Ian O’Sullivan from Coláiste Treasa in Kanturk, Co Cork won the Intel ISEF prize for their project “Alcohol Consumption: Does the Apple Fall Far from the Tree?”

It examined the association between adolescent alcohol consumption and their parents’ consumption pattern and attitudes towards alcohol.

They found a liberal attitude to alcohol and increased levels of consumption by parents are linked to hazardous adolescent drinking behaviour.

The pair won top prize at the BT Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition at the RDS in January of this year.

As part of their prize, the 17-year-olds will travel to Phoenix, Arizona, in the US, to take part in the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair next year.

A second Irish project also took an award. Mark O’Dowd, from Glanmire Community School in Cork, won the Expo Milan 2015 prize.

His project examined whether injuring crop seeds could increase crop yields. He found yields increased for crops such as barley when they were rolled and perforated at seed stage.

The 16-year-old won a laptop and a chance to take part in the closing ceremony of Expo 2015 in Milan in October.

A 15-year-old US student was among three who were awarded overall first prizes at the competition. Sanath Kumar Devalapurkar’s project, entitled On the Stability and Algebraicity of Algebraic K-theory, offered a new perspective on K-theory. He is currently studying mathematics at University College Los Angeles.

The two other first prize winners were from Poland and Germany. Their projects were in the fields of physics and computing.

Scientists want to be part of the ethical debate on human genetics


Human embryos on a petri dish are viewed through a microscope.

“It is up to society to decide what is acceptable: science will merely inform what may be possible.” This statement made by Kathy Niakan, a stem cell researcher at the newly opened Francis Crick Institute in London, seems eminently reasonable, but it raises as many questions as it allays.

Niakan has applied to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority for a licence to use a powerful new gene-editing technique on human embryos that would produce the first genetically modified embryos in the UK. Such a step is currently banned for federally funded research in the US.

If Niakan is permitted to proceed, the embryos – donated from IVF treatment and modified using a method called Crispr/Cas9, which makes it relatively straightforward to snip out genes and insert new ones – would legally have to be destroyed within 14 days. The work would explore the genetic roots of repeated miscarriage by examining the layer of cells in the embryo that develop into the placenta.

Niakan refutes suggestions that the work would set us on a slippery slope towards designer babies. She is absolutely right. Regulation is very clear and tight in the UK, even while being permissive by global standards. Indeed, it’s a willingness to confront and think through the issues that has made the HFEA an admired and trusted model for regulating embryo research. There is little such oversight and clarity in China, where earlier this year a team first used Crispr/Cas9 to edit the DNA of (non-viable) human embryos. That work suggested there could be complications in efforts to correct faulty genes this way.

But if Niakan’s research is humanely motivated and legally protected against abuses, then why would it be prohibited in the US? In a statement in April in response to the Chinese work, Francis Collins, director of the US National Institutes of Health, said: “NIH will not fund any use of gene-editing technologies in human embryos. The concept of altering the human germline in embryos for clinical purposes … has been viewed almost universally as a line that should not be crossed.”

The germline here refers to the fact that any gene modification in an embryo would be inherited by future generations derived from it. One of the reasons cited for the US ban is that alterations made to the germline “affect the next generation without their consent”. If that were to be done, the ethical issues are more complex than they might seem: is it ethical to refuse the chance to eliminate a serious genetic disease in a future individual “without their consent”? The moral philosophy of hypothetical people yet to be conceived (or not) is itself highly contentious.

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Wednesday 18th February 2015

Ireland ‘ignored EC advice’ to stop economy overheating


Marco Buti and Dónal Donovan speak at Banking Inquiry. Dónal Donovan, the former Deputy Director at the IMF, appears before the Oireachtas Banking Inquiry.

Ireland ignored advice from the European Commission to take measures to prevent the economy overheating prior to the banking collapse, according to the commission’s director general for economic and financial affairs.

Marco Buti said the commission issued a critical opinion on the 2001-2003 stability programme highlighting Ireland’s failing to contain its public expenditure.

He said the commission also recommended that the Government be asked to take countervailing measures on February 12th, 2001.

“As some of you may remember, the recommendation was not very well received in Ireland; it was not implemented,” Mr Buti told the Oireachtas Banking Inquiry.

“Also many in the economic profession derided the Commission accusing us of focussing more on decimals rather than acknowledging the strength of the Irish economy,” he added.

Ireland’s economy started to “overheat” in the early 2000s but Europe did not have the authority to enforce responsible budgetary policies at the time, Mr Buti said.

“At the time we had a very limited set of tools within the stability and growth pact,” he said. “We called on the Irish authorities to behave responsibly but we did not have the authority [to enforce this].”

He said he agreed with those who concluded that the domestic financial supervisor did not acknowledge and address the risks associated with the credit and housing boom.

Mr Buti said economic growth became increasingly reliant on construction in the 2000s. Interest rates had declined and access to credit increased with Ireland’s entry into the EMU, which helped trigger a boom in investment and commercial property.

“House price inflation surged in Ireland. It rose by more than four-fold between 1993 and 2007, amongst the highest of any advanced economies,” Mr Buti said. “The supply of housing also rose sharply, but eventually beyond the needs of the population. The idea that house prices would increase forever turned into a recurrent and dangerous motive,” he added.

He said expansionary budgets negatively affected the Irish economy. Revenues became overly reliant on the property market but a shrinking tax base due to tax cuts left the budget exposed to the downturn in the property market.

He said “we saw the risks related to the housing market and we signalled that in a number of documents”. He said the commission used the tools at its disposal at the time to “ring the bell” but he added that this set of tools was “incomplete”.

Later the committe heard that the International Monetary Fund’s surveillance programme failed in Ireland during the years 2000 to 2007.

Former deputy director of the IMF Dónal Donovan said although the organisation noted some vulnerabilities in Ireland during the time leading up to the banking collapse, its assessments “gave no inkling” that a financial disaster was in the making.

He said the IMF got it more badly wrong in Ireland than he had seen in any other country. “I cannot recall in my experience a situation where the rosy picture turned so negatively in such a short period of time.”

Mr Donovan told the Oireachtas Banking Inquiry assessment of Ireland’s and other countries’ economies during this time were “overly positive”.

He said the IMF did believe house prices were “somewhat overvalued” during the construction boom but added that IMF staff and Irish officials implicitly “agreed to differ” over this question.

Enterprise Ireland-backed firms to create 1,500 new jobs

New report states


State body supported 81 early stage businesses last year.

A total of 43 new female-led start-ups were supported by Enterprise Ireland last year, the highest number ever

As many as 1,500 new jobs are expected to be created over the next three years by start-up companies backed by Enterprise Ireland, according to a new report from the State agency.

Enterprise Ireland said it supported 102 so-called High Potential Start-Up (HPSU) companies last year. A high-potential start-up is defined as a company that is export oriented, focused on technological innovation and likely to achieve growth of at least €1million per annum over a three-year period, and led by an experienced team.

The majority of the firms to be backed by Enterprise Ireland were in areas such as software and services, cleantech, engineering, medical devices and pharmaceuticals.

The State body said it also backed 81 new early stage businesses under its Competitive Start Fund, which provides seed funding for start-ups.

A total of 43 new female-led start-ups were supported by Enterprise Ireland last year, the highest number ever. The number of female-led firms to receive funding more than doubled 16 in 2012 to 41 in 2013 on the back of a number of women-specific initiatives. Additional programmes launched last year included the development of a dedicated female accelerator programme and the launch of Enterprise Ireland’s first peer-to-peer online networking platform for female-led companies.

Sixteen of the firms to receive funding last year were spun out of third-level institutions, compared to ten in 2013.

Twelve new food and drinks start-ups received backing last year, the highest number ever.

In addition, 14 new start-ups established by entrepreneurs from overseas, involving a range of sectors and with founders who have moved to Ireland to establish their businesses from Singapore, India, Switzerland and Germany.

Elderly Donegal woman faces 250km journey for cancer treatment


An 89-year old cancer patient has been forced to find her own way to travel 250km to receive cancer treatment.

The elderly woman, from North Donegal, contacted a local charity which operates a volunteer bus service transporting cancer patients the four-hour journey to Galway or Dublin.

Donegal has no specialist cancer care services, leaving people diagnosed with cancer to travel significant distances for radiotherapy and chemotherapy.

The woman, who do not want her name published, sought help from Eamonn McDevitt, and runs the cancer bus service entirely on donations.

“We have a saying in our charity that, if you’re diagnosed with cancer in Donegal, you’ve two options: you can travel, or you can die,” Mr McDevitt said.

“The lady contacted us to say she has to go to Galway for treatment.

“Believe it or not, the husband is still driving, and while he’s not able to drive to Galway, he said he would be able to drive (20 miles) to Letterkenny to meet up with the bus.

“They don’t have a family, it’s just themselves.”

Mr McDevitt criticised the Irish Cancer Society which, he said, had never provided funding for the charity bus service because, he said: “They don’t (fund) buses”.

“We’re very disappointed with the Irish Cancer Society,” said Mr McDevitt.

“They come to Donegal every year and they do what’s called a ‘Relay for Life’.

“It’s a fundraiser and they announced before Christmas that they picked up €820,000 here in Donegal alone.

“We’ve have talked to them in the hope they might give us something, and each time they have come straight out and tell us they ‘don’t do buses’.”

As part of a detailed statement the Irish Cancer Society said: “In 2015, we will fund a number of…local cancer groups with over €500,000 of direct financial support for their services.

“What these groups have in common is that they are affiliated to the Irish Cancer Society’s network of cancer groups and have signed up to a shared code of practice for good governance.

“This gives us confidence that we can stand over any funds we redistribute to support our vision of a future without cancer.”

“We invited (Mr McDevitt’s charity) to become part of this network and they have chosen not to engage.

“They are aware that this is the first step to take when seeking funds from the Society. It remains open to (them) to join the affiliated network of cancer support groups and seek funding through this mechanism.”

The Irish Cancer Society said it would “not compromise” on its policy of providing funds to affiliated local cancer services.

One third of DNA-tested pork ‘not sourced in Ireland’

Is very misleading 


The Irish Farmers’ Association has created a pig DNA database through which pork products can be traced back to the individual animal

Almost a third of pork meat products tested in an Irish Farmers’ Association survey were not of Irish origin, even though they were sold as Irish produce.

The IFA carries out DNA testing on pork as part of its “DNA-certified pig meat traceability programme”.

A total of 91 retail pork products were subjected to DNA tests in December and 26 of those checked (29%) were not assigned to the Irish boar database.

The IFA said the “misleading of consumers remains a serious issue”.

Its national pigs and pig meat committee chairman, Pat O’Flaherty, said the Republic of Ireland was the “first country in the world” to introduce a nationwide DNA traceability programme for pork.

‘Informed choice’

He said boar stud farms on both sides of the Irish border had signed up to the Republic’s DNA database.

“We can test any pig meat and tell if the daddy was Irish or not,” Mr O’Flaherty said.

The County Kildare-based pig farmer has worked in the industry for 15 years and believes consumers should be given an “informed choice” when buying food, as production standards vary greatly from country to country.

He said the IFA introduced its DNA-certified pig meat traceability programme about two years ago “to stop the blatant misleading of consumers”.

Mr O’Flaherty said food suppliers had a wider responsibility to be honest and transparent with consumers on how and where their food is produced

Its most recent set of tests were carried out at shops in Wexford, Galway, Cork and Cavan.

In every store surveyed, an IFA representative posed as a shopper and asked the salesperson to confirm if the pork products on display were Irish goods.

“Not one butcher admitted that the products were imported,” Mr O’Flaherty said.

“We are horrified that fresh pork is being imported into this country. This is a new development and one which the consumer would never expect”.

‘Labelling fraud’

The IFA has a vested interest in promoting Irish farmers’ goods above all others, but Mr O’Flaherty said there is a wider responsibility to be honest and transparent with consumers on how and where their food is produced.

He said there was nothing to stop imported food from being labelled as “produced in Ireland” even if it was only processed or packaged in the Republic, which he felt was misleading to customers who want to buy Irish goods.

He said most Irish consumers knew little or nothing about food production regulations in some of the countries they were unwittingly buying meat from.

Mr O’Flaherty also complained about the lack of prosecutions for food labelling fraud in the Republic of Ireland and said rules must be tightened to promote greater consumer confidence in the food chain.

The BBC asked the Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) about the latest pig meat survey results but a spokeswoman said her organisation had no involvement in the IFA’s testing process and could not comment on the findings.

‘Horsemeat scandal’

Meanwhile, Sinn Féin has called on the European Union to introduced mandatory ‘country of origin’ labelling for processed meats.

The party’s Dublin MEP, Lynn Boylan, was among a group that brought forward a resolution to the EU Parliament last week, calling on the European Commission to propose new food labelling legislation.

“We should not wait for another scandal on the scale of the horsemeat scandal before we act on this issue. Consistent studies have shown that the vast majority of consumers want this labelling,” Ms Boylan said.

Penguins are not able to taste fish,

Says a new study


Penguins may love devouring fish, but it turns out they might not be able to taste them.

While analyzing the genetic data of five penguins, each of a different species, researchers at the University of Michigan discovered that all the birds were missing three of the five basic taste genes. “Based on genetic data, penguins are believed to have sour and salty tastes, but have lost sweet, umami, and bitter tastes,” researcher Jianzhi Zhang told the BBC, adding that the birds likely lost these taste genes when they evolved millions of years ago.

Zhang said that penguins may be unique in this deficiency. He told the HuffPost that “no other bird is known to have lost three tastes. As far as we know, most birds have both umami and bitter taste receptor genes.” Most, however, cannot taste sweetness.

Without this ability to taste umami, or a savory, meaty flavor, it’s possible that penguins — who are also believed to lack taste buds on their tongues — are unable to taste the seafood that makes up their diet.

“Penguins eat fish, so you would guess that they need the umami receptor genes, but for some reason they don’t have them,” Zhang said in a news release. “These findings are surprising and puzzling, and we do not have a good explanation for them. But we have a few ideas.”

The researchers speculate that the cold environments in which penguins evolved may have played a role in their changing tastes, as the taste receptors for sweet, umami and bitter are said to function poorly in cold temperatures.

Still, though it might strike some as odd that a carnivorous animal can’t taste meat — or perhaps anything at all, given penguins’ reduction in taste function both at an anatomical and sensory level — researchers say that a lack of taste is likely not such a big deal for the birds: penguins swallow their food without chewing.

“Their behavior of swallowing food whole, and their tongue structure and function, suggest that penguins need no taste perception,” said Zhang, “although it is unclear whether these traits are a cause or a consequence of their major taste loss.”

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Monday 19th January 2015

Outrage expressed at provisions of the Magdalene Bill


Advocates for women say Bill is unacceptable paring back of redress package promises

The entrance to the former Magdalene laundry on Stanhope Street, Dublin. The Redress for Women Resident in Certain Institutions Bill, published last month, proposes survivors of the laundries be entitled to GP care, prescription medicines, nursing and home-help as well as dental, ophthalmic, aural, counselling, chiropody and physiotherapy services provided by the HSE.

The draft legislation to assist survivors of Magdalene laundries has been described as “unacceptable, unfair and full of broken promises” by advocacy groups.

Advocates for the women say the Bill published last month represents an unacceptable paring back of what the Government promised as part of the women’s redress package.

After Taoiseach Enda Kenny’s apology to the Magdalene women last year, Mr Justice John Quirke was tasked with designing a restorative justice scheme, which the Government accepted.

The Redress for Women Resident in Certain Institutions Bill, published last month, proposes the women be entitled to GP care, prescription medicines, nursing and home-help as well as dental, ophthalmic, aural, counselling, chiropody and physiotherapy services provided by the HSE.

‘Paring back’

This was described at the press conference as “an obvious and unacceptable paring back” on what Justice Quirke recommended, as well as possibly being open to legal challenge.

It was also claimed that of approximately €60 million allocated for spending on redress for the woman, just €18 million had been spent so far.

Dr Katherine O’Donnell of Justice for Magdalene Research(JFMR) said the Bill represented “a massive claw back” on the Quirke recommendations. She felt it may be open to legal challenge as, on receiving redress, women signed a waiver agreeing not to sue the State. This was on the understanding all the Quirke recommendations would be fulfilled, she said.

“Justice Quirke could not have been clearer in recommending that each woman should receive a card entitling her to the full range of health services provided to state-infected Hepatitis-C survivors under the HAA card scheme,” said Maeve O’Rourke, of JFMR.

“Instead, the Bill promises little more than the regular medical card, which most of the women [91 per cent] already have.”

Health issues

She said 14 per cent of the women were over 80, while the average age of the approximately 500 involved was 70, 66 per cent of them with serious health issues.

The Bill also failed to provide care representatives for Magdalene women in nursing homes whose full capacity to address their affairs may be limited, or to implement fully the recommendations on the women’s pension entitlements.

Orla O’Connor, of the National Women’s Council, said the Bill was “a further denial of the rights of women survivors of the Magdalene laundries”.

Amnesty International’s Colm O’Gorman described the Bill as “outrageous” and asked “what did the Taoiseach apologise for?” He described Government assertions that the interdepartmental McAleese inquiry was “a comprehensive investigation” of the laundries as “shocking”.

‘Enhanced’ medical card

Responding to the criticism, a Department of Justice spokesman said the women would “receive an enhanced medical card on the same lines as the HAA card”.

On the women with reduced capacity, he said this was being dealt with through separate legislation expected to be enacted in the first half of this year.

He also said: “Justice Quirke’s recommendation regarding top-up pension-type payments is being fully implemented.”

Six out of seven Irish maternity units have “deficits” in tests rolled out after Savita’s death


The I-MEWS system was established in the wake of the death of Savita Halappanavar.

THE HEALTH SERVICE Executie (HSE) says it can give “reasonable assurances” that a patient safety system that monitors pregnant women and their vital signs is operational in six of the seven hospitals it audited last year.

The warning system, established in the wake of the death of Savita Halappanavar is not being operated properly in six of seven maternity wards audited, the HSE found.

The Irish Maternity Early Warning Score (I-MEWS) was developed as part of the HSE Clinical Strategy Programme’s plan for managing acutely ill patients in obstetrics and gynaecology.

It reads vital signs such as temperature, pulse, respiration and blood pressure and is designed to trigger an escalation of care if the readings are abnormal.

In a series of audits carried out last July and August, the HSE found that while six of the seven maternity units (The Coombe, UHG, CUMH, Cavan General, South Tipperary General and Midlands Regional) had the system, all were found to be lacking.

The audits tested whether an escalation of care was ordered in cases where there had been detected maternal septicaemia (DMS).

The main deficits in compliance identified by the audit team were in relation to initialling and scoring of observations.

“Compliance in relation to the consistent completion of accurate scores when taking sets of observations needs improvement,” states the report.

Excluding the Rotunda, the audit team found deficits in all hospitals in relation to the completion of repeat observations within the recommended timeframes following a trigger. However, the majority of hospitals demonstrated a high level of compliance in relation to escalating the necessary clinical care in cases of red and multiple yellow triggers.The audit team found that in the cases of DMS the escalation of care directly attributable to I-MEWS was positive where the escalation of care resulted from a trigger with the appropriate response required as per the I-MEWS guideline.

The audit team recommend training on the system and the use of midwifery metrics across the board. They say that this will lead to “safe, effective care”.

The HSE said that the audits were not designed to pass or fail hospitals.

“The purpose of the audit is not to pass or fail the maternity hospitals. Many aspects of good practice were identified by the audit team and some deficiencies were noted, which will guide the actions required in the hospitals to fully implement the policy.”

New research has shown that some types of cancer just “bad luck”

  Types of cancer

Eat well, wear sunscreen, trim the fat….

TEN ways to keep cancer at bay..why take the chance? Last week researchers said apart from breast cancer and pancreatic cancer – the disease is not in the genes so sit up, take notice and look after yourself

Scale down

A landmark study by the World Cancer Research Fund found “convincing evidence” that being overweight is a cause of six different types of cancer, including colon and breast cancer. The review found that gaining weight can also boost your risk, even if you are within a healthy weight range (BMI 20-25).

Get moving

Exercise is not just about managing your weight. It can also help reduce your risk of cancer. What’s more, should you get cancer, if you are fit, you are much better placed to fight the disease.

Butt out

Smoking is the single biggest cause of ill-health and death in Ireland. Aside from lung cancer, smoking can raise your risk of oral cancers, as well as kidney cancer, pancreatic cancer and more. If you smoke, stop now. Help is available from the HSE QUIT service- Freephone 1800 201 203.

Don’t go against the grain

Two or more servings of wholegrain, which you can get from breads, cereals and pastas, could cut your risk of developing pancreatic cancer by 40%. In pre-menopausal women, fiber in wholegrain cereals could cut the risk of developing breast cancer in half.

Trim the Fat

The more fat you eat, the greater your risk of developing pancreatic cancer. Limit fat to 20-35% of your calorie intake.

Don’t scrimp on sunscreen

Most people already know that sun exposure increases your risk of skin cancer but do not know how much sunscreen to put on. When in the sun, you should wear the equivalent of two tablespoons worth to cover your body and a teaspoon’s worth for your face. Always reapply after swimming and do not go out in the midday sun. Never use sun beds.

Arm yourself with nature’s anti-cancer arsenal

Fruits and vegetables contain phytochemicals and antioxidants which research suggests help to protect you against cancer. Different foods offer different protective benefits, so be sure to eat a variety of different colours. Broccoli and kale may reduce the risk of colon cancer, while tomatoes can help to protect you against cancers of the stomach and pancreas.

Be the designated driver

Besides the fact that being the designated driver will make your weekends more affordable, evidence suggests drinking increases your risk of cancers in the bowel, esophagus and liver. Alcohol is also linked with an increase breast cancer risk for women taking hormone replacement therapy (HRT) or with a family history of the disease.

Be on the lookout

Cancers such as breast cancer, testicular cancer and skin cancer sometimes have symptoms that you can see and feel. Get to know your body so that you know what is normal for you. If something changes, go to your GP to get it checked out. It may be nothing, but your GP can tell you for sure.

Say “yes” to the test

If you are invited to participate in screening programmes such as BreastCheck, CervicalCheck or BowelScreen, say “yes.” These are government-funded programmes designed to keep you healthy. They usually involve quick, often painless health checks that will see if you have abnormal cell growth and, if so, will mean doctors will catch any problems at any early stage when they are easy to solve.

Speaking about the Your Health, Your Choice Cancer Prevention Tips for 2015 was Helen Forristal, Nurse Manager, Marie Keating Foundation. She said, “The New Year is a time when many of us reflect on how we want our lives to be different, especially our health and our waistlines. The Marie Keating Foundation wants to help people make small, simple changes to their lifestyle that will help them life happier, healthier, longer lives that are hopefully free from cancer. It is never too late to make changes to your lifestyle, no matter what age or weight you are or no matter how long you have been smoking.”

Forristal added, “The Your Health, Your Choice Cancer Prevention Tips for 2015 are all available on our website alongside our free Ask the Nurse service where people can send us questions that they may have about cancer prevention, cancer symptoms and cancer treatment. We are here to help.”

The long-delayed climate change Bill now published & to mixed reaction


Promises a low carbon economy by 2050 without binding targets for emissions

The Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Bill 2015 was published on Monday afternoon by the Minister for the Environment Alan Kelly.

Three years behind schedule, after a myriad of consultations and drafts, the Government has finally published the State’s first climate change Bill to a very mixed reaction.

The Bill has changed little from the draft prepared by Mr Kelly’s predecessor in Environment, Phil Hogan, whose decision not to include any specific targets for emissions reductions was widely criticised by environmental groups and opposition parties.

Instead the Bill sets out a more generalised purpose of enabling the State make a transition to a low carbon economy by 2050. There is no specific definition of “low carbon economy” in the legislation.

The Bill sets out that the manner in which the transition towards a low carbon economy will be achieved will be through a National Mitigation Plan (to lower Ireland’s level greenhouse emissions) and a National Adaptation Framework (to provide for responses to changes caused by climate change). These two plans will be renewed every five years, and will also be required to include tailored sectoral plans.

While there are no explicit targets set out, the legislation obliges the State to “take into account any existing obligation of the State under the law of the European Union or any international agreement”.

In effect, Labour and Fine Gael Deputies have said, the Bill formally obliges the State to adhere to EU targets such as a 20 per cent reduction in emissions by 2020 over 1995 levels.

The other major feature of the Bill is the establishment of an expert advisory council of between nine and 11 members which will advise and make recommendations to the Minister for the Environment.

Its chair will be independent but it will include the top officials from the EPA, Teagasc, Sustainable Energy Irelandand the ESRI. The Minister will not be compelled to follow its advice although he or she will be required to make an annual transition statement to the Dáil.

In a statement Mr Kelly said: “In bringing forward this proposed national legislation, Ireland will also contribute – and be seen to contribute – its fair share of mitigation effort.”

He said it was important that developed countries such as Ireland provide leadership in terms of their contribution.

There was sharp criticism of the absence of any specific target for emissions reductions in the draft legislation. Opposition parties and environmental groups also chided Mr Kelly for not including some of the key recommendations made by the Oireachtas Committee on the Environment into the final Bill.

They included providing a definition of low carbon, as well as guaranteeing the independence of the Expert Advisory Council, as is the case with the Irish Fiscal Advisory Council.

Green Party leader Eamon Ryan charged that the Bill had neither targets nor ambition. “The Bill contains noting but vague aspirations,” he said adding that the first mitigation plan would not be prepared in the lifetime of the Government. “Fine Gael and Labour have no ambition when it comes to tackling climate change . . . they don’t give a damn.”

Oisín Coghan of Friends of the Earth said it was deeply disappointing the Bill had ignored the proposals of the Oireachtas Committee. “The Bill does not include a definition of low carbon, it doesn’t guarantee the independence of the Council, and it doesn’t include the principles of climate justice,” he said.

Independent TD Catherine Murphy said it “watered down” previous efforts to put forward climate legislation.

Our Immune system is shaped by the environment more than genetics


Immune systems are shaped by environment more than they are by genetics, according to a new study from Stanford University. 

Immune systems in humans are shaped more by environment and behavior than by genetics, according to a new study. Past exposure to pathogens, as well as a record of immunizations, appears to hold a greater influence over health and wellness than genes, according to the new study.

The human immune system is incredibly complex, including a wide variety of white blood cells, as well as messenger proteins to coordinate attacks on microbial invasions. The overall makeup of immune systems can differ greatly from person to person, based on both genetic and environmental factors.

Twins were studied in the experiment, in an effort to determine the relative roles played in illness and health by environment versus heredity. Identical twins share an almost identical set of genes, whereas about half of the genetic code matches in fraternal twins. This allows researchers to isolate which aspects of a subjects health are due to genetic inheritance, as opposed to environment.

Mark Davis of Stanford University led the research team, which studied blood samples from 210 twins, both fraternal and identical, between the ages of eight and 82. These were then examined, searching for 200 factors related to health, including 51 varieties of proteins and 95 forms of immune cells. Investigators found that the immune systems of identical twins were too varied to be explained by genetics. In three quarters of the experiments performed, environment was found to be the predominant factor over genetic inheritance.

“Moreover, younger twins were more similar than were older twins, evidence that as the twins aged and were exposed to different environments, their immune systems diverged over time,” Emily Conover wrote for Science magazine.

Flu vaccines were studied as part of the research, as identical twins should have nearly-identical immune responses if genetics were the dominant factor in fighting illness. The study found that there were significant differences in how bodies of identical twins responded to the vaccines. The degree to which antibodies, forms of protein used to fight off disease, are created in a body appeared to be primarily related to environment. This difference is likely related to the strains of influenza to which a person had become exposed during their lifetime.

Cytomegalovirus (CMV) is a highly-contagious, but usually harmless, virus related to chicken pox and infectious mononucleosis. Between 50 and 80 percent of the U.S. population carries the microbe in their systems. Some of the identical twins in the study were pairs where only one of the siblings carried CMV. Researchers found great variation in those pairs, highlighting the role of environment in shaping immune system responses.