Tag Archives: government

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Saturday 30th July 2016

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

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

   

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Their behaviour was reprehensible, the judge said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A conspiracy? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How the €7.2bn scheme to boost Anglo came about

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

   

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The border with Northern Ireland

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

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

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

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

Making Brexit work for Britain

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

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

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

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

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

The future, Brexit, and ‘its new politics’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

   

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

   

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Can this woman cure ageing with gene therapy?

    

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Wednesday 20th April 2016.

Ireland’s budget deficit higher than the Government’s official forecast

Eurostat ruling means State recorded deficit of 2.3% of GDP

      

The Government was obliged to comply with a 2010 European recommendation to bring the deficit to a maximum of 2.9% by the end of 2015. 

Ireland’s year end budget deficit came in higher than the outgoing Government’s official forecast due to an unexpected ruling by Eurostat, the EU statistical agency.

The 2015 figure was still low enough to ensure Dublin will no longer be subjected to stringent fiscal oversight from Brussels for running an excessive deficit.

However, Eurostat’s ruling led to the State recording a general government deficit of 2.3% of GDP. The figure was almost 1 percentage point higher than foreseen by the Government, which was proceeding on the basis that the surge a surge in tax receipts and GDP growth last year would bring the deficit to 1.3%.

At issue in Eurostat’s ruling was its formal classification of a one-off share transaction in the nationalised Allied Irish Banks.

Contrary to expectations in Dublin, the Luxembourg-based organisation designated the conversion last year of AIB preference shares to ordinary shares as a general government expenditure. The redemption of the preference shares by AIB yielded €1.6 billion for the State.

The year-end debt-to-GDP ratio came in lower than anticipated at 94%, down from 107.5% in 2014.

“The outturn data and future forecasts demonstrate that the excessive deficit has been corrected in a durable manner,” said the Department of Finance.

“ This performance together with the forecast reduction in the deficit in 2016 to 1.1% of GDP means that Ireland should exit the Excessive Deficit Procedure as expected.”

The Government was obliged to comply with a 2010 European recommendation no bring the deficit to a maximum of 2.9% by the end of 2015. The 2.4% of deficit means this condition was met on time, clearing the way for Ireland to exit Europe’s “excessive deficit procedure” in coming weeks.

Member state which are subject to procedure face a tougher form of fiscal scrutiny by the authorities in Brussels, so one particular set of oversight rules will no longer apply to Ireland. Still, the strengthening of the euro zone rulebook during the sovereign debt crisis means Dublin will be obliged to comply with another set of onerous targets.

“The underlying general government deficit of 1.3% of GDP and the reduction in the debt to GDP ratio to under 94% demonstrates strongly the continued improvement in Ireland‘s public finances,” said Minister for Finance Michael Noonan.

“Indeed, the strength of the performance is such that impact of the treatment of the AIB preference share transaction by Eurostat leaves the headline deficit at 2.3%,” he added.

“This is still well within the excessive deficit procedure limit of 2.9% that Ireland had to achieve last year. The one-off nature of the transaction affecting the 2015 figures has no further implications and my Department is forecasting a deficit of 1.1% of GDP for 2016.”

The Department said the end-2015 debt figure was in line with the euro zone average, adding that the forecast for 2016 was a “further reduction” in the ratio to just under 89% of GDP.

This figures and the projection of 1.1% deficit reflects a “provisional forecast” by the Department. The forecast will be updated in the “stability programme update”, which is a formal submission the State must make to Brussels by the end of this month.

The document typically embraces an update on the fiscal situation six months since the budget, as well a new economic forecast for the current year and an initial forecast for the following year. However, the filing is likely to be delayed due to prolonged political wrangling over the formation of the next government.

‘I know Irish people are frustrated with Government talks’  Say’s Varadkar

     

Leo Varadkar left photo.

Health Minister Leo Varadkar said he understood people were “frustrated” as his party’s talks with Fianna Fail ended without agreement tonight.

Negotiations to facilitate a minority Fine Gael Government will continue tomorrow again in Trinity College – a neutral venue for both sides.

“The process is slow and we have to refer back to our party leaders. But I think it is fair to say we have made progress today,” Mr Varadkar said.

“It’s almost two months since the election and I know members of the public as well as politicians are frustrated but I think it’s moving in the right direction.”

Discussions finished yesterday on Irish Water – an issue both sides disagreed on.

However, Fianna Fail’s Michael McGrath said progress had been made on the issue this evening after an hour and half in discussion.

“(Negotiations) continued across a range of areas and we continued to make progress across the main policy areas such as housing, homelessness,” said Mr McGrath.

“We’re very focused on supporting families, people with cost of living issues and of course Irish Water.”

Cut sitting time in office by 71 minutes to live longer

    

Office goers should take note! Reducing sitting time at workplace by 71 minutes per day may lower the risk of heart diseases, diabetes and all-cause mortality, a new study has claimed.

Researchers conducted a multi-component work-based intervention to reduce sitting time and prolonged sitting periods.

The results, which were followed up at one month and three months, showed a reduction of 0.61 percentage points in body fat percentage. This was as a result of 71 minutes shorter sitting time during working hours after one month.

“A reduction in sitting time by 71 minutes per day and increases in interruptions could have positive effects and, in the long run, could be associated with reduced risk of heart diseases, diabetes and all-cause mortality, especially among those who are inactive in their leisure time,” said Janne Tolstrup from University of Southern Denmark.

As many as 317 office workers in 19 offices across Denmark and Greenland were randomly put into the intervention or control groups. The intervention included environmental office changes and a lecture and workshop, where workers were encouraged to use their sit-stand desks.

By wearing an accelerometer device, researchers were able to measure results across a five day working week.

After one month, participants in the intervention group sat down for 71 minutes less in an 8 hour work day than the control group. This reduced to 48 minutes after three months.

The number of steps per workday hour was seven per cent higher at one month and eight per cent higher at three months, researchers said.

Relatively few people complained of any pain as a result of standing more, with less than six per cent of people reporting negative consequences, they said.

The findings were published in the journal International Journal of Epidemiology.

With Parkinson’s disease ‘Many patients hide their symptom’s

   

More than a third of people in the UK with Parkinson’s disease feel the need to hide their symptoms or lie about having the condition, a survey for a charity suggests.

They feel the symptoms are not socially acceptable and may embarrass those close to them, Parkinson’s UK said.

It added it was concerned that too many people were struggling alone with their diagnosis, affecting emotional health.

The disease affects 127,000 people in the UK – about one in 500 people.

The main symptoms are tremor, slowness of movement and rigidity.

The charity surveyed 1,868 people with the disease to find out how they dealt with their diagnosis.

The fear of stigma?

One in three with the condition said they had delayed telling friends and family about their diagnosis with some of the main reasons including the fear of being stigmatised.

The charity said the findings also revealed a worrying level of emotional repercussions for people diagnosed with Parkinson’s.

Younger people reported being hardest hit by the diagnosis to the extent that many said they felt “like their world had ended” and said “they didn’t know who to turn to”.

Steve Ford, chief executive at Parkinson’s UK, said not getting help for the degenerative neurological condition was having a devastating impact on people’s emotional health.

“We are determined that each and every person with Parkinson’s is aware of the support available so they can feel equipped to have these difficult conversations.

“We know that the right support, whether through family, friends or Parkinson’s UK, is vital for those with the condition, to help them come to terms with their diagnosis and know that they’re not alone.”

He added: “We are here to help people find the support they need, when they need it.”

800,000 get drinking water from inadequate plants Says EPA

Cork city and south county Dublin among places on agency’s remedial list

    

Water supplies to 800,000 people were affected by issues such as inadequate treatment for cryptosporidium, inadequate disinfection, and poor control of trihalomethanes.

The number of people getting their drinking water from inadequate water treatment plants has grown to 800,000, according to the latest report from the Environmental Protection Agency published on Wednesday afternoon.

Water supplies to 800,000 people were affected by issues such as inadequate treatment for cryptosporidium, inadequate disinfection, and poor control of trihalomethanes – the chemical compounds which have been linked to cancers.

The figure applies to the first three months of 2016, up 21,000 from the last three months of 2015.

On the remedial action list are large scale supplies such as that serving a population of 106,000 people in Cork city and a supply serving more than 21,000 people in central Kerry. In Dublin the Ballyboden reservoir which serves south county Dublin is on the list, requiring the reservoir to be covered by 2017.

The remedial action list is used by the EPA to prioritise the most serious deficiencies in public water supplies. It is compiled form audits and audits and investigations of drinking water quality failures.

Inclusion on the list does not necessarily mean the drinking water is unfit for consumption, but that the infrastructure is not adequate to prevent such an occurrence.

The primary issues identified by the EPA include: effective disinfection, ineffective barriers to cryptosporidium, and inadequate control of trihalomethanes.

A spokesman for the EPA said the “continuing high numbers of people getting their drinking water from schemes listed on the EPA remedial action list highlights the need for a sustained increase in investment in our water services. Without this investment the risk of new water restrictions and boil water notices continues”.

Scientists say 93% of the Great Barrier Reef is now bleached

    

Footage taken at Australia’s Great Barrier Reef shows what authorities are calling the worst coral bleaching in 15 years.

The conclusions are in from a series of scientific surveys of the Great Barrier Reef bleaching event — an environmental assault on the largest coral ecosystem on Earth — and scientists aren’t holding back about how devastating they find them.

Australia’s National Coral Bleaching Task Force has surveyed 911 coral reefs by air, and found at least some bleaching on 93 percent of them. The amount of damage varies from severe to light, but the bleaching was the worst in the reef’s remote northern sector — where virtually no reefs escaped it.

“Between 60 and 100% of corals are severely bleached on 316 reefs, nearly all in the northern half of the Reef,” Prof. Terry Hughes, head of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at James Cook University, said in a statement to the news media. He led the research.

Severe bleaching means that corals could die, depending on how long they are subject to these conditions. The scientists also reported that based on diving surveys of the northern reef, they already are seeing nearly 50 percent coral death.

“The fact that the most severely affected regions are those that are remote and hence otherwise in good shape, means that a lot of prime reef is being devastated,” said Nancy Knowlton, Sant Chair for Marine Science at the Smithsonian Institution, in an email in response to the bleaching announcement. “One has to hope that these protected reefs are more resilient and better able to [recover], but it will be a lengthy process even so.”

Knowlton added that Hughes, who led the research, is “NOT an alarmist.”

  Here’s a map that the group released when announcing the results, showing clearly that bleaching hit the northern parts of the reef the worst:

Hughes tweeted about the map, writing, “I showed the results of aerial surveys of #bleaching on the #GreatBarrierReef to my students, And then we wept.”

“This is, by far, the worst bleaching they’ve seen on the Great Barrier Reef,” said Mark Eakin, head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Coral Reef Watch, which partners with the Australian National Coral Bleaching Taskforce. “Our climate model-based Four Month Bleaching Outlook was predicting that severe bleaching was likely for the [Great Barrier Reef] back in December. Unfortunately, we were right and much of the reef has bleached, especially in the north.”

Responding to the news Wednesday, the Australian government’s Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority put out a statement from its chairman Russell Reichelt. “While the data is incomplete, it is clear there will be an impact on coral abundance because of bleaching-induced mortality, mainly in the far north,” the statement said in part.

Coral bleaching occurs when corals are stressed by unusually high water temperatures, or from other causes. When this happens, symbiotic algae, called zooxanthellae, leave the corals’ bodies. This changes their color to white and can also in effect starve them of nutrients. If bleaching continues for too long, corals die.

There already have been reports of mass coral death around the Pacific atoll of Kiribati this year — and widespread coral bleaching worldwide, a phenomenon that scientists attribute to a strong El Niño event surfing atop a general climate warming trend.

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Sunday 6th March 2016

Fianna Fáil very unlikely to bridge gap in vote for Martin as Taoiseach.

Independents and smaller parties set to abstain or vote against FF and FG

    

The Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin is unlikely to bridge the gap of 13 votes between him and Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny when the vote for Taoiseach takes place on Thursday.

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin is unlikely to bridge the gap of 13 votes between him and Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny when the vote for Taoiseach takes place on Thursday.

Notwithstanding a big effort by Fianna Fáil to muster support from Independent TDs backing Mr Martin’s attempts to become Taoiseach, the likelihood is that the 30 Independents and smaller parties will either abstain or vote against the nominations of the two biggest parties.

A senior Fianna Fáil source said last night the likelihood was that Mr Kenny would get the backing of 57 TDs and Mr Martin would get the support of the 44 Fianna Fáil TDs.

The source said it was essentially a “box-ticking” exercise and the real negotiations on a new government would not begin in earnest until after Easter.

That would suggest a new government, in whatever shape, might not be formed until late April or early May.

However, the Fianna Fáil source said the average time it took to form a government in most European countries was between 28 to 32 days.

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The Labour Party

As well as the 50 Fine Gael deputies, Mr Kenny is assured of the support of the seven Labour Party TDs in Thursday’s vote.

This is despite strong misgivings about that strategy voiced at the Labour central council meeting held this weekend.

Some members said the party should abstain or vote against the nomination after its defeat in the election, and as it was going into opposition.

Some members also criticised Labour for being too closely aligned with the Fine Gael message during the campaign.

However, the parliamentary party, which will make the decision on the vote, is of the view that it fought the election as a government and it will support Mr Kenny’s nomination this week.

But that support will be a once-off and the party will then adopt its own position on each issue.

The Ceann comhairle?

Independent TD for Dublin Central Maureen O’Sullivan is seen as a strong favourite for the position of ceann comhairle should she decide to contest the election, which will be the first item on the agenda when the Dáil reconvenes on Thursday.

As contact intensifies in the run-up to Thursday, Mr Martin will meet the Independent alliance group in Dublin this morning, ahead of a parliamentary party meeting this afternoon at which its strategy for the first day of the new Dáil will be decided.

Mr Kenny and Mr Martin have both scheduled meetings with Independent, non-aligned and small parties this week.

No talks or contacts have taken place between any of the three bigger parties.

None of the parties expect them to take place until after the vote on Thursday.

As Mr Kenny is not expected to win a majority of the Dáil, he will remain on as Taoiseach in a caretaker capacity, representing the Government at the shamrock ceremony in the White House next week and presiding over the State’s formal commemorations of the 100th anniversary of the 1916 Rising.

Separately, Sinn Féin’s ard chomhairle will meet tonight to decide if the party will nominate Gerry Adams for the position of taoiseach.

The Right 2 Change group will also hold a press conference tomorrow outlining its position on government-formation.

Rush for Irish passports brought on by Brexit fears

Desire to remain an EU citizen after a possible leave vote is cited by many British-born applicants as motivating factor

  

The number of British-born people applying for Irish passports on the basis of their ancestry has risen sharply in the past year.

Last weekend, shortly before he sat down to watch Ireland play England in the rugby Six Nations championship, Kevin Warnes posted the application form to renew his Irish passport. Though Warnes was born and has always lived in England and considers himself “completely English”, his mother is originally from Ireland, which allowed him to obtain dual citizenship as a young man in the 1980s when he was doing a lot of travelling in Europe.

Brexit would negatively affect lives of millions, official UK report says

A teacher from Shipley in West Yorkshire, he had allowed his Irish passport to lapse. But the prospect of Britain potentially voting to leave the EU in June“propelled me into action”, he says.

“I have two children and I want them to retain their EU citizenship. I want them to be able to travel, live and work freely in a Europe of open borders, to explore their near world with as much liberty as possible.” As soon as he gets his own passport back, Warnes will apply for Irish citizenship for his teenage daughters as well. “I certainly wouldn’t have done that if it wasn’t for Brexit.”

Figures obtained by the Guardian suggest he is far from alone. According to Ireland’s Department of Foreign Affairs, the number of British-born people applying for Irish passports on the basis of their ancestry has risen sharply in the past year, just as the debate over the UK’s potential withdrawal from the EU has intensified before June’s referendum.

Between 2014 and 2015, the number of adults born in England, Scotland or Wales applying for their first Irish passport on the basis of having an Irish-born grandparent increased by more than 33%, from 379 to 507. Applications from those with one or more Irish parent rose by 11% in the same period, from 3,376 to 3,736. In the previous year, the total applying in both categories fell slightly.

Ireland offers automatic citizenship to anyone with an Irish parent, regardless of where they were born, while the grandchildren of citizens are also entitled to claim a passport once their births have been recorded in the country’s foreign births register. Great-grandchildren may also be eligible if their parents had registered by the time of their birth. It has been estimated that as many as six million Britons can claim an Irish-born grandparent.

Northern Ireland is a special case, with anyone born north of the border having the same rights to claim Irish citizenship as elsewhere in the island. There, too, first-time adult applications for Irish passports rose by 14% from 10,672 to 12,159 between 2014 and 2015. Both Britain and Ireland allow citizens to hold dual citizenship.

An Irish government spokeswoman said applicants were not asked their reasons for applying for a passport and so the rise could not be attributed to a single cause.

But anecdotal evidence suggests that the risk of a British leave vote has been a decisive factor for many. Ireland is one of the most pro-European countries in the EU and would be highly unlikely to vote to leave, despite harsh austerity conditions imposed by Brussels as part of a multibillion-euro bailout in 2010.

Siobhan Mooney from London has never even been to Ireland but told the Guardian she decided to apply for citizenship through her Irish-born grandfather because she was getting “quite panicky” at the prospect of a British withdrawal. “I thought, well, if I get my Irish passport then at least if the UK is kicked out I’ve got some legal protection if I want to go and enjoy free movement in Europe.” She said she knew at least two other people who were considering doing the same thing.

Rarely has a UK election been of greater interest to Ireland: a Tory win could be catastrophic for the Irish economy if it triggered Britain’s exit from the EU

Glen O’Hara, a professor of modern and contemporary history at Oxford Brookes University, said he hadn’t absolutely decided to claim citizenship through his Northern Irish-born grandfather “but it’s nice to know that there’s a fallback position in case Britons really do prove willing to give up their rights as European Union citizens”.

He said he was less concerned with the practicalities of free moment after a potential Brexit – “I should think we’ll join the EEA [European Economic Area] and there’ll be few if any more border controls anyway” – but with the principle of “maintaining my European-ness”.

“I am a European Union citizen as things stand, I regard myself as a European and I don’t see why anyone else has the right to drag me out of that. So I’m thinking of taking a relatively painless joint citizenship route to ensure that I can keep my EU identity and rights, whatever other UK citizens decide.”

Homeless people given laptops in effort to improve access to jobs market and on-line connectivity

The initiate wants to help people who are cut out from the job market because they have no access to computers.

    

Homeless people were given refurbished laptops in London this week, as part of a new scheme aimed to help people get jobs on-line.

Access to computers and the internet is often taken for granted and this initiative wants to create more digital inclusion.

Eight people using homelessness services in London were the first recipients of ‘Laptops for Homeless Initiative’.

The scheme is the brainchild of social enterprise company SocialBox.Biz in partnership with the charity Thames Reach. The chairman of SocialBox.Biz Peter Paduh said:

Thousands of disenfranchised members of society are cut out from the job market by having no access to computers or the Internet.

“How can we expect the homeless to work past their situation when they have no ability to apply for jobs or learn new skills and trades? Our Laptops For Homeless Initiative was launched to provide the UK’s homeless with a chance to rejoin society and step out of the shadows.

It’s about bettering our communities and societies by taking the laptops some deem as no longer needed and giving them to the people who need them the most.

Camden Deputy Leader Councillor Patricia Callaghan said, “Too many people do not have a home that is decent, affordable and secure.

“Government benefit cuts and changes to the way charities are funded are causing sharp increases in homelessness and rough sleeping.”

Former Sligo Mayor Matt Lyons sold €8.2 million winning Lotto ticket last Saturday

Fine Gael member owns shop in Sligo where winner of €8,244,501 jackpot bought ticket

   

Fine Gael may not be on a winning streak, but party member and former Mayor of Sligo, Matt and son Alan Lyons pictured above with customers, is feeling lucky after selling the €8.2 million winning lotto ticket his second jackpot winner in six years.

The well-known councillor now retired confirmed his shop “Shop & Stop” sold the winning ticket last Saturday.

Now he is wondering whether it is a Sligo Rovers fan who will no longer be feeling too downhearted at last night’s 2-0 defeat at the hands of Shamrock Rovers.

“We were very busy yesterday ,” said Matt who described the jackpot as “serious money”.

“Sligo Rovers were playing in the Showgrounds. We also had a stag party in and a lot of them bought tickets”.

The former councillor sold a €4m winning ticket in December 2009 but he says this is the biggest Lotto win so far in Sligo.

“I did not win unfortunately – I would be very happy if I did”, he said. As a stream of well wishers called to the busy newsagents he explained the shop caters for a mix of local and passing trade.

“On Saturdays we tend to get a lot of visitors, especially if there is something on in town. There was a big crowd in for the Sligo Rovers match. During the week we tend to get more locals and people who work on the street,” he said.

He said a €20 splurge was not that unusual when the jackpot is so big. “When it gets up to €5m a lot of people would spend that.”

Mr Lyons revealed when he sold the winning €4m ticket in 2009 his son guessed who it was and the new millionaire confirmed his good fortune. “It didn’t change him at all. He kept coming in playing Lotto. He never went public so I can’t say who it was.”

Mr Lyons is hoping yesterday’s winner is from Sligo – or at least not a Shamrock Rovers fan.

“I have no idea who it was. It was just so busy in the shop yesterday.We had hundreds in. But we have the champagne on ice,” he said.

The winning numbers in Saturday’s draw were 2, 8, 16, 24, 33 and 42. The bonus number was 47.

Scientists trying to clone Ice Age cave lion after finding two near-perfectly preserved cubs

   

The prehistoric big cats were found last year in the Sakha Republic in eastern Siberia, where the freezing temperatures kept them in good condition.

SCIENTISTS in Russia are trying to clone an Ice Age cave lion after finding two near-perfectly preserved cubs.

The prehistoric big cats were found last year in the Sakha Republic in eastern Siberia, where the freezing temperatures kept them in good condition.

Dr Albert Protopopov, head of the mammoth fauna studies department of the Yakutian Academy of Sciences, said the cubs were found “complete with all their body parts — fur, ears, soft tissue and even whiskers”.

Researchers at the Russian-South Korean project — the Joint Foundation of Molecular Paleontology at North East Russia University — hope they can extract enough DNA from the remains to recreate the extinct animals.

One of the team members, Semyon Grigoriev, is also working on cloning a woolly mammoth using the same process.

Dr Protopopov said he believed the cubs were only a week or two old and may have perished after being hidden in a cave by their mother to protect them from hungry lions.

“This find, beyond any doubt, is sensational,” he said.

One of the cubs will be used to attempt cloning, while the other is destined for a museum.

Researchers are due to return to the cave where they were found this summer to search for the remains of more cubs, or even a lioness.

Cave lions once roamed the planet from Britain to the far east of Russia, until they died out around 10,000 years ago.

It is thought they became extinct because of a decline in large prey like deer and cave bears.

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Friday 5th February 2016

The rating agency Fitch upgrades Ireland credit prospects from A- to A

Move follows a positive reassessment of the prospects for strong economic growth

 

Investors use ratings agency standings to guide decisions on where to put their money.

Ratings agency Fitch has given the Coalition parties a pre-election boost, upgrading its rating on Ireland’s national debt.

The agency said late on Friday it was changing Ireland’s rating from A- to A, with a stable outlook.

The move follows a positive reassessment by Fitch of the prospects for strong economic growth in Ireland and steady improvements in the public finances. At the end of a week in which the unemployment rate fell to 8.6%, the agency also cited a strong projection for further employment growth.

Investors use ratings agency standings to guide decisions on where to put their money, so an upgrade in Ireland’s rating should help to hold down the cost of raising new debt.

Although the assessments of Fitch and its rivals are crucial, Ireland’s borrowing costs have also been compressed by the European Central Bank’s bond-buying campaign.

Irish’s 10-year bond yields are trading at a low level, and the 2026 bond had an interest rate of just under 1 per cent on Friday, having traded around 0.85 per cent during the week.

However, some nervousness ahead of the general election has led to a small increase in the gap between Irish bonds and those of other EU countries such as France and Belgium over the past week or so. The NTMA is due to raise new funds next week, so the Fitch move will be welcome.

Fitch, in a statement, referred to the strong macroeconomic performance and an improving budget picture. It particularly noted the move to a so-called primary budget surplus – a measure of the national borrowing position before repayments on the national debt are included.

Fitch is forecasting a 4% rise in GDP this year and believes Ireland’s debt to GDP ratio is now on a firmly downward path.

The agency has been very positive in previous assessments of the Coalition’s performance, saying after the October budget that some fiscal easing ahead of the election was not a surprise.

Fitch said then the overall budget package was consistent with improving public finances, although it said the stimulus was “pro-cyclical and therefore likely to increase economic volatility”.

At the same time, it said this year’s budget did not change its expectation of further deficit narrowing.

“The sovereign’s fiscal credibility has been underlined by its meeting of the original excessive deficit procedure deadline set nearly five years ago, after reducing the headline deficit by nearly 10 [percentage points]\.”

The upgrade from Fitch came as US bond investor Michael Hasenstab of the Franklin Templeton fund, who bought 10 per cent of the Irish bond market after the State was bailed out, said he had exited his Irish position.

He added, however, that the bonds should continue to perform well. Mr Hasenstab said the recent underperformance of Irish bonds was “short-term noise”, praised the State’s “strong” economy and dismissed any lasting fallout from the “Brexit” debate.

“Irish yields deserve to be more in line with core European yields,” said Mr Hasenstab, who made big profits on his 2011 Irish bet, which he made when the State was locked out of financial markets and its 10-year bond yields peaked around 15%.

Renua Ireland will & could form part of the next government says Lucinda Creighton

  

Renua Ireland have claimed they will hold the balance of power after the Election.

Lucinda Creighton’s party are convinced they will enter coalition with Fine Gael despite remaining “wary” of the party, she said today.

Ms Creighton said her party is adamant it will form part of the next government, whatever that may be.

“It is important for us and indeed it is important for the Irish people that Renua Ireland will be a part of the next government,” she said.

“You have to look at the numbers and at the moment the likelihood is; it’s not a certainty, but the likelihood is that the next Government will be led by Enda Kenny as Taoiseach.”

However she added that there is “no difference” between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael who have played “Punch and Judy politics” over the past decade.

“Anything can happen. It’s going to be a long campaign. We will be mounting a serious challenge and we are just focusing at the moment on winning as many seats as we can,” she said.

She said the party was still wary of Fine Gael considering the length of time it took Mr Enda Kenny to rule out doing a deal with Tipperary Independent TD Michael Lowry.

Speaking on radio this morning, Mr Kenny said he would not consider doing business with Mr Lowry after the General Election.

Mr Creighton said: “I was delighted after 13 opportunities, the Taoiseach finally 10 days later ruled out Michael Lowry. I think it was important…But I think we have to be wary of that.”

Speaking outside Dublin Castle this afternoon, the party outlined their red-line issues which they claim will not be sacrificed in any negotiations for a new coalition after the General Election.

Renua want to establish a public commission on a flat tax which would report in nine months.

They would also introduce a Fiscal Responsibility Bill to prevent “the boom-and-bust politics that has plagued our economy”.

INMO calls off planned industrial action by the nurses

  

Nurses have called off planned industrial action at seven of the country’s emergency departments.

Members of the INMO have accepted revised proposals to tackle overcrowding and staffing at emergency departments in hospitals around the country.

They have voted 71% in favour of the revised proposals from the Workplace Relations Commission.

The INMO has said: “(We) will now insist that all of the hospital and group level structures, involving engagement between hospital management and INMO ED members continues on a weekly basis.

“This is necessary to ensure continuous implementation of the, now agreed, System Wide Escalation Policy which places the pressures on Emergency Departments at the centre of all health service activity.

“In accepting these revised proposals our members have reaffirmed that this dispute was always about patient care and ensuring a save working environment which must minimise overcrowding and maximise the ability of nurses to practice safely with manageable workloads.”

INMO General Secretary Liam Doran added: “Our members constantly stated, in all of the information meetings held recently, that this was never about pay and conditions but it was all about ensuring the unacceptable situation, in Emergency Departments, was prioritised, by management.”

Minister for Health Leo Varadkar has welcomed the outcome of the vote.

“I welcome this decisive ‘yes’ vote by Emergency Department INMO members who voted by a margin of 71% to accept the measures proposed by the Workplace Relations Commission,” said Minister Varadkar.

“I can assure staff of my personal commitment to seeing that the agreement is implemented in full.

“We are making progress in reducing ED overcrowding. The number of patients on trollies today is 20% lower than it was this day last year, in spite of the influenza outbreak.”

Lifetime bans proposed for horse doping in Ireland

Horse Racing Ireland welcomes Anti-Doping Task Force recommendations

    

Horse Racing Ireland chief executive Brian Kavanagh (centre pic)

A lifetime ban for any horse who has been illicitly administered prohibited substances and increased frequency of out of competition testing are two of the main recommendations from a report published on Thursday by Horse Racing Ireland.

The Irish Thoroughbred Industry Anti-Doping Task Force was set up following the disqualification of trainer Philip Fenton in 2014 after he was found to have banned animal substances, including anabolic steroids, in his possession.

In response the HRI board, in conjunction with the Turf Club, established a 16-member industry-wide Anti-Doping Task Force, chaired by HRI vice-chair and now senior steward of the Turf Club, Meta Osborne, to assess the issues.

The findings of the report have now been made public with the main recommendation being a lifetime ban from Irish racing for horses administered a banned drug at any time, anywhere in the world.

They also advocate no automatic therapeutic use exemption for anabolic steroids, while underlining the need for the Irish racing and breeding industries to have access to a laboratory which meets the best international standards, is based in Ireland and operates under either a permanent relationship with, or a long-term support from, the Irish racing authorities.

Augmented out of competition testing and a significant increase in the number of samples collected and analysed each year to achieve operational and cost efficiencies are two other key points.

A single national equine drug control laboratory should be considered, according to the report, with the need for the Turf Club to establish a dedicated Anti-Doping Unit also underlined.

Educational programmes and clear guidelines as well as ongoing research into the issue of doping are also recommended, with the Task Force reconvening in six months to review progress.

HRI has approved expenditure of over €1.8 million to purchase new laboratory equipment and ensure appropriate facilities while it will also support the cost of additional sampling, higher levels of out of competition testing and the creation of a new the anti-doping unit through its integrity budget.

Brian Kavanagh, HRI chief executive, said: “Setting up the Anti-Doping Task Force was vital in order to protect the reputation of our racing and breeding industry, and Horse Racing Ireland welcomes the consensus reached and the strong recommendations that have been set out.

“The industry is worth over €1 billion annually to the Irish economy, and our international position as a world leader must be maintained.

“HRI will support the recommendations of the Task Force through the significant and continuing investment that is being announced today.

“The issue of illegal performance-enhancing drugs is one that needs to be addressed worldwide and Ireland is now to the fore in tackling this problem head on. Our primary concern is to ensure that Ireland’s racing and breeding industries have drug testing systems that meet the best international standards.”

Osborne was pleased to see the recommendations being implemented so swiftly in the sport.

She said: “I am delighted that the Anti-Doping Task Force has produced an agreed consensus statement and report which the industry has been able to support and unite behind.

“The key objectives are to eliminate cheating and to ensure that horse welfare is paramount.

“The announcement of a lifetime ban for any horse found to have been illicitly administered any substance “prohibited at all times“ including anabolic steroids is an unequivocal statement that cheats will not be tolerated within Irish racing.

“The Turf Club will continue to work with Horse Racing Ireland in this vital area to ensure that we have the resources and structures in place to maintain the highest levels of integrity in our sport, and thereby to safe-guard the international reputation of the Irish thoroughbred industry.”

DNA evidence unearths major population shift at the last Ice Age-end

DNA evidence from the ancient bones and teeth of people who lived in Europe near the end of the last Ice Age shows a major shift in the population around 14,500 years ago during a period of severe climatic instability.

    

DNA evidence from the ancient bones and teeth of people who lived in Europe near the end of the last Ice Age shows a major shift in the population around 14,500 years ago during a period of severe climatic instability.

“We uncovered a completely unknown chapter of human history: a major population turnover in Europe at the end of the last Ice Age (Late Pleistocene to the early Holocene),” said lead author Johannes Krause of the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History in Germany.

The researchers pieced this missing history together by reconstructing the genomes of 35 hunter-gatherer individuals who lived in Italy, Germany, Belgium, France, the Czech Republic, and Romania from 35,000 to 7,000 years ago.

“There has been a real lack of genetic data from this time period, so consequently we knew very little about the population structure or dynamics of the first modern humans in Europe,” Krause added.

The new data show that the mitochondrial DNA of three individuals who lived in present-day Belgium and France before the coldest period in the last Ice Age belonged to haplogroup M.

This is remarkable because the M haplogroup is effectively absent in modern Europeans but is extremely common in modern Asian, Australasian and native American populations.

The absence of the M haplogroup and its presence in other parts of the world had previously led to the argument that non-African people dispersed on multiple occasions to spread across Eurasia and Australasia.

The researchers say the discovery of this maternal lineage in Europe in the ancient past now suggests instead that all non-Africans dispersed rapidly from a single population, at a time they place around 50,000 years ago.

Then, at some later stage, the M haplogroup was apparently lost from Europe.

The biggest surprise, however, was evidence of a major turnover of the population in Europe around 14,500 years ago, as the climate began to warm.

“Our model suggests that during this period of climatic upheaval, the descendants of the hunter-gatherers who survived through the Last Glacial Maximum were largely replaced by a population from another source,” explained Adam Powell, senior author at the Max Planck Institute in a paper published in the Cell Press journal Current Biology.

The next step is to construct a more comprehensive picture of the past by analysing the complete genomes of these ancient individuals along with additional specimens representing more times and places.

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Friday 29th. January 2016

Irish Labour party promises to slash taxes by a third if returned to power?

    

The Irish Labour has promised to reduce taxes for workers on €25,000 by as much as a third as part of a €3bn tax reform package if it is returned to power.

Workers on up to €50,000 would also see their taxes reduced by up to 15% under the promised reforms.

Public Expenditure Minister Brendan Howlin unveiled the tax-cut promise yesterday evening in Mullingar, ahead of Labour’s conference here today.

The plan would put more than €1,000 a year back into the pocket of a worker on €25,000. However, a high earner on €120,000 or more would not see any reductions in their tax obligations.

As part of the pre-election promise, Labour says USC would be abolished on incomes up to €72,000. Workers would also pay less PRSI once their income amounts to less than €704 a week.

Any gains under the changes for higher earners would be clawed back by adjusting their tax.

Announcing the changes, Mr Howlin said the USC was the “most draconian of the charges” introduced during the recession. However, Labour still wanted to keep a broad tax base and would limit reductions.

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Under the proposals, a worker on €25,000 would see joint reductions in USC and PRSI result in a €1,132 saving annually, or €22 per week.

A worker on €50,000 would see €2,043 saved a year or €39 per week . Someone on a salary of €72,000 makes a saving of €3,302 or €63 per week.

Labour stressed that higher earners would see gains clawed back.

Someone on €120,000 might see USC reductions of €3,302 but these would be cancelled out by income tax-related increases.

Mr Howlin also responded to calls for the next government to have a “rainy day” fund, saying that Labour had financial plans, though this was an unallocated amount, if Ireland faced future economic challenges.

The minister would not be drawn though on what exactly these funds were, or how much.

The Irish Fiscal Advisory Council yesterday warned that the projections for increased spending by the next government were incorrect, and were several billion euro short of what was being promised by parties wanting to be in government.

With just days to go before the expected announcement of the election, Labour TDs and delegates will today discuss jobs and healthcare, among other issues, before party leader Joan Burton gives the main address at the conference tonight.

Minister Lynch rows back on inquiry into a contentious HSE sexual abuse case

Circumstance involves woman allegedly abused in southeast care home

  

Kathleen Lynch: “The setting up of a commission of inquiry would require a Government decision and a vote by the Oireachtas.”

Minister of State Kathleen Lynch has pulled back from apparently conceding that a commission of inquiry should take place into how the HSE handled allegations of serious sexual abuse at a foster home in the southeast.

In a statement last night she said serious consideration must be given before any decision was made about establishing a commission of inquiry to look at all aspects of what happened.

The Minister with responsibility for social care said a definitive judgment on this should not be made in advance of seeing a report by barrister Conor Dignam who she formally appointed on December 7th to undertake a review of two reports already completed on the matter.

“The setting up of a commission of inquiry would require a Government decision and a vote by the Oireachtas,” said Ms Lynch.

The Minister pointed out that, on first hearing of this matter in April 2014, her immediate concern was to ensure that no person was currently at risk. She received that assurance and was informed that no new admissions had been made to this private foster home since 1995, with the last resident being removed in 2009.

“The critical question of why this young vulnerable person was left in the foster home until 2009, even though the most serious concerns had been raised about her, remains the central issue.

“It is important to note that the Devine and Resilience Ireland reports, once published, may answer some of the questions that currently remain unanswered.

“The ongoing Garda investigation since 2010 has prevented publication of these two reports. It has not, however, prevented the HSE from implementing the recommendations in the Conal Devine report including a national foster care audit, which is welcome.”

In relation to the controversy about the issuing of an apology to this vulnerable person, Ms Lynch said the confusion and lack of clarity was very regrettable, and that it was important now to clearly establish the facts of what had occurred.

An in-depth investigation?

Earlier yesterday, in a radio interview, Ms Lynch said an independent inquiry into the issue might be required. She said that when she received correspondence from the Public Accounts Committee she had commissioned a “desktop review” by Mr Dignam.

Ms Lynch told RTÉ’s News at One that, after this review, Mr Dignam had suggested a more in-depth investigation take place. “I have never ruled out an independent inquiry and I do believe that’s where we are heading,” she said.

The controversy centres on how an 11-year-old girl with disabilities was placed in a foster home, despite the facility being subject to serious sex abuse allegations.

During the week the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) accused the HSE of lying to it in correspondence last December when it said a meeting had been arranged at which the alleged victim of over a decade of abuse in the foster home was to receive an apology.

HSE director general Tony O’Brien yesterday promised to give a comprehensive answer to PAC on Tuesday. Mr O’Brien said he had asked the HSE’s social care division to look very carefully at the accusations so it could “get to the bottom of it” and give a comprehensive answer to the committee.

Minister Donohoe refuses to rule out Fine Gael relying on Lowry to support a new Government

High Court found Tipperary TD engaged ‘a litany of falsification and deception’

   

The Minister for the Environment Alan Kelly said he rarely saw the Tipperary TD Michael Lowry in either the Dáil or their shared constituency.

Minister for Transport Paschal Donohoe has again declined to rule out the possibility of relying on Independent TD Michael Lowry for support to form a coalition government.

Speaking on Thursday, following a High Court ruling that dismissed the former minister’s appeal against a decision by the Moriarty Tribunal to only award him one-third of his legal costs, Mr Donohoe said the Government’s position was that it did not want to have to do a deal with any independents after the general election.

Reports last week suggested that initial talks had been held by Fine Gael with a number of Independents , including the TD from Tipperary, about the possibility of supporting the next government.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny has repeatedly declined to rule out the possibility of a post-election agreement with Mr Lowry.

On Wednesday, the High Court found that Mr Lowry engaged in “a litany of falsification and deception” – including the falsification of a solicitor’s files – in his failure to co-operate with the tribunal.

On Thursday Eoghan Murphy, The Fine Gael TD for Dublin South East, said he is not contemplating requesting the support of Independents. Mr Murphy said he agreed with Taoiseach’s belief that returning the Fine-Gael and LabourCoalition was the best option for the country.

Earlier in the week, Fine Gael Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagansaid his party should not deal with any Independents, while Labour Minister for the Environment Alan Kelly launched an attack on Mr Lowry, saying he rarely saw the TD in either the Dáil or their shared constituency.

Mr Kelly said he did not believe it would be necessary to do any business with Independent TDs after the general election. “My ambition is to see this Government re-elected and I believe it will be re-elected,” he said.

Asked what his objection to Mr Lowry was, Mr Kelly said: “I don’t pay much attention to Deputy Lowry. I note I rarely ever see him in the constituency and I rarely ever see him in the Dáil, so I don’t pay much attention to him whatsoever.”

Tánaiste Joan Burton of Labour said earlier in the week that she believed Mr Lowry’s involvement in supporting the next government was “not appropriate”.

Our attitudes to ageing are impacting on our health

Negativity linked to poorer cognition.

    

How people feel about ageing appears to have a direct impact on their health, a new Irish research has shown.

According to the findings, those with a negative attitude to ageing have poorer mental and physical health.

The research was based on the latest data from the Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing (TILDA) in Trinity College Dublin. TILDA is an ongoing study of people over the age of 50 in Ireland.

The study found that over a two-year period, those with a positive attitude to ageing had better cognitive abilities. However, those with a negative attitude had worse cognitive abilities and a slower walking speed.

These results stood even when others factors were taken into account, such as health changes which took place during the two years, medication, mood and other changes in life circumstances.

The study also found that a negative attitude towards ageing affected the interaction of different health conditions. The researchers pointed out that frail older adults have an increased risk of many health problems, including cognitive issues.

However, they found that among participants in this study, frail adults with a negative attitude had worse cognition compared to non-frail participants, but frail participants with a positive attitude had the same cognitive abilities as their non-frail peers.

“The way we think about, talk about and write about ageing may have direct effects on health. Everyone will grow older and if negative attitudes towards ageing are carried throughout life, they can have a detrimental, measurable effect on mental, physical and cognitive health,” commented lead researcher, Dr Deirdre Robertson.

How our plastic planet waste is the scourge of the whole World

Scientists warn that the ability to plaster the planet in plastic is alarming

   

Humans have made enough plastic since the Second World War to coat the Earth entirely in cling film, an international study has revealed.

This ability to plaster the planet in plastic is alarming, say scientists – for it confirms that human activities are now having a pernicious impact on our world.

The research, published in the journal Anthropocene, shows that no part of the planet is free of the scourge of plastic waste.

Everywhere is polluted with the remains of water containers, supermarket bags, polystyrene lumps, compact discs, cigarette filter tips, nylons and other plastics. Some are in the form of microscopic grains, others in lumps. The impact is often highly damaging.

“The results came as a real surprise,” said the study’s lead author, Professor Jan Zalasiewicz, of Leicester University.

“We were aware that humans have been making increasing amounts of different kinds of plastic – from Bakelite to polyethylene bags to PVC – over the last 70 years, but we had no idea how far it had travelled round the planet. It turns out not just to have floated across the oceans, but has sunk to the deepest parts of the sea floor. This is not a sign that our planet is in a healthy condition either.”

Marker for a new epoch?

The crucial point about the study’s findings is that the appearance of plastic should now be considered as a marker for a new epoch.

Zalasiewicz is the chairman of a group of geologists assessing whether or not humanity’s activities have tipped the planet into a new geological epoch, called the Anthropocene, which ended the Holocene that began around 12,000 years ago.

Humans causing catastrophic ecosystem shifts: study.

The hot topic of climate change.

World’s oceans clogged by millions of tonnes of plastic trash.

Most members of Zalasiewicz’s committee believe the Anthropocene has begun and this month published a paper in Science in which they argued that several postwar human activities show our species is altering geology.

In particular, radioactive isotopes released by atom bombs left a powerful signal in the ground that will tell future civilisations that something strange was going on.

In addition, increasing carbon dioxide in the oceans, the massive manufacture of concrete and the widespread use of aluminium were also highlighted as factors that indicate the birth of the Anthropocene. Lesser environmental impacts, including the rising use of plastics, were also mentioned in passing.

But Zalasiewicz argues that the humble plastic bag and plastic drink container play a far greater role in changing the planet than has been realised.

“Just consider the fish in the sea,” he said. “A vast proportion of them now have plastic in them. They think it is food and eat it, just as seabirds feed plastic to their chicks. Then some of it is released as excrement and ends up sinking on to the seabed. The planet is slowly being covered in plastic.”

In total, more than 300 million tonnes of plastic is manufactured every year, states the paper, The Geological Cycle of Plastics and Their Use as a Stratigraphic Indicator of the Anthropocene.

“In 1950, we virtually made none at all. It is an incredible rise,” added Zalasiewicz. “That annual total of 300 million tonnes is close to the weight of the entire human population of the planet. And the figure for plastic manufacture is only going to grow. The total amount of plastic produced since the Second World War is around 5 billion tonnes and is very likely to reach 30 billion by the end of the century. The impact will be colossal.”

As the paper makes clear, plastic is already on the ocean floor, remote islands, buried underground in landfill sites and in the food chain.

Even the polar regions, generally considered still to be pristine zones, are becoming affected. In 2014, researchers found “significant” amounts of plastic granules frozen in the Arctic Sea, having been swept there from the Pacific Ocean.

In some cases, wildlife adapts to the spread of plastic. For example, on islands such as Diego Garcia, hermit crabs have taken to using plastic bottles as homes. However, most of the impact on wildlife is harmful.

Creatures ranging from seabirds to turtles become entangled in plastic and drown or choke to death. “The trouble is that plastic is very slow to degrade, so we are going to be stuck with this problem for a long time,” said Zalasiewicz.

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Monday 21st December 2015

Almost all private sector staff will get a 2% pay increase next year according

To Mercer consultants

   

Almost all private sector staff, no matter where they work, can expect a salary increase of just over 2% next year, according to a major report published this morning.

The findings from consultants Mercer signal that after the long years of contraction and recession, pay increases are definitely back on the agenda.

Mercer said that surveyed 135 firms and almost all — 97% of the sample — have budgeted to pay out salary increases in 2016.

Workers can expect an average pay rise of 2.2% across most pay grades, and pay in the construction industry, which was particularly battered during the deep recession, is increasing too.

The average pay increases mask a wide range of pay increases which could in time open up big pay differentials for employees, depending on the profitability and growth prospects of their employers.

The survey found that the big winners are likely to be staff working for firms in life-science, high-tech and some non-banking service industries, who may strike pay increases of between 2.4% and 2.8%.

Possibly reflecting longer working hours and a pick-up in retail sales, retail and warehousing firms have “budgeted” for salary increases of 2.4%.

With salary increases of 2%, people working in the energy, consumer goods and manufacturing may fare less well.

Banking and financial services firms have budgeted to pay a 1.9% increase next year.

Noel O’Connor, a consultant at Mercer, said that the fall in unemployment was helping to push up pay.

“After a number of years of consolidation in the jobs market, we are beginning to see more activity as employees are increasingly tempted by new opportunities.

“The competition for talent seems to be particularly aggressive in the high-tech, life science and construction industries.”

CSO figures for average earnings and labour costs published late last month suggest pay may already be rising — but probably from a low base.

Average weekly earnings across many employment sectors rose in the third quarter 2.7% from a year earlier.

The CSO reported average weekly earnings increased in 11 of the 13 main sectors in the year with the largest earnings increases posted in the administrative and support services area, where weekly earnings rose 7.6%.

Over five years, average weekly earnings had fallen 10.6% in human health and social work, and had risen by almost 10% in administrative and support services.

Mr O’Connor said staff will likely also seek other non-income incentives to stay with an individual employer.

Unemployment has fallen sharply from its peak of over 15% in early 2012, but remains high.

The CSO said 191,700 people, 8.9% of the labour force, didn’t have jobs in November.

There are also many thousands of people on training courses who do not count toward the unemployment total.

In Britain, workers’ pay grew at a slower than expected pace in the three months to October, figures published last week by its Office for National Statistics showed.

Regular earnings of British workers — excluding bonuses — rose by 2% in the three months to October, its slowest since the three months to February.

PTSB to offer loans and overdrafts to small businesses

Move marks entry into new market as it seeks to diversify income stream

        

PTSB chief executive Jeremy Masding said its aim was to offer “simple banking solutions” to small business owners.

Permanent TSB has launched a new offering targeted at small businesses with fewer than 50 employees and turnover of less than €10 million.

It marks the entry of the bank into the owner-managed small business market, a move that is aimed at diversifying its income stream away from personal lending and residential mortgages.

And it is the first suite of business banking products launched by PTSB since the financial crisis blew up in 2008.

The business products include overdrafts, loans and mortgages. Overdrafts will attract an interest rate of 8 per cent, loans will be available at 6.5 per cent and mortgages at 4.5 per cent.

PTSB has also launched a Visa business debit card for SME customers and an enhanced BUSINESS24 internet banking service, which will be available from the New Year. Killian O’Flynn has been appointed as head of business banking.

The services were launched today by the Minister for Finance Michael Noonanat its new branch and business centre on O’Connell Street in Limerick.

PTSB chief executive Jeremy Masding said its aim was to offer “simple banking solutions” to small business owners. “We now offer competitively-priced overdrafts and loans, specifically focused on small businesses, and our intention is to expand on these in the coming months,” he said, adding that advisers would be available in each of its 77 branches, supported by SME business managers and a central SME banking team .

Mr Noonan welcomed PTSB’s decision to expand its product range to support small businesses. “With the addition of Permanent TSB as a new lender to this sector, I welcome the benefits that increased banking competition will offer SMEs throughout Ireland,” he said.

PTSB is spending €1.7 million to reconfigure its Limerick branches, including a second new outlet in Castletroy.

New Cross-Border Garda/PSNI task-force will investigate organised crime

Body will tackle tobacco smuggling, fuel laundering, fraud, cyber crime, human trafficking

    

The Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald said issues of tobacco smuggling, fuel laundering, fraud, cyber crime and human trafficking will be dealt with in a more focused way by a new cross-Border taskforce.

A new cross-Border taskforce is to be established to investigate organised crime on both sides of the Border, including paramilitarism.

The new body will be funded by Governments in Dublin and Belfast and will be led by senior officials within An Garda Síochána and the Police Service of Northern Ireland.

Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald said issues of tobacco smuggling, fuel laundering, fraud, cyber crime and human trafficking will be dealt with in a more focused way by the taskforce.

She said: “This arises from the Fresh Start agreement. This is a particular initiative to tackle cross-Border crime.

‘Criminals don’t respect borders’

“We know criminals don’t respect the borders, whether we are talking about in Ireland or internationally, and it is to deal effectively with the disruption to communities.”

The taskforce will work with the Revenue Commissioners and HM Revenue and Customs and will seek to end the exploitation of the borders between the two jurisdictions.

First Minister Peter Robinson said the taskforce will begin its work next month.

He said criminal gangs have used the Border for their benefit, adding that the taskforce would assist in ending paramilitarism.

Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness said the activities of those who attempt to “plunge us back into the past need to be confronted”.

He said: “Criminality is a scourge on our communities, North and South, and we must be both united and relentless in our pursuit of these criminals.

“This Joint Agency Task Force provides renewed energy, focus and additional mechanisms for us to work collectively for the greater good of people across the island of Ireland.”

SuperValu retains Irish grocery market share top spot

Dunnes closes gap on Tesco as Lidl continues to enjoy growth

   

Supervalu has 24.7% of the market compared to the 24.1% which Tesco has. Dunnes Stores has 23.8%.

Tesco is now just 0.3 per cent ahead of Dunnes Stores in the Republic’s grocery share wars and the retailer that once had a commanding lead of more than 5 per cent is now dangerously close to slipping into third place.

The latest supermarket share figures from Kantar Worldpanel show that SuperValu will be Ireland’s largest grocery retailer when Christmas Day dawns although less than 1 per cent now separates first and third.

Supervalu has 24.7% of the market compared to the 24.1% which Tesco has. Dunnes Stores has 23.8 per cent.

“It hasn’t all been plain sailing for SuperValu – over the past six months the retailer has seen falling shopper numbers, but in the past 12 weeks it has managed to get that issue under control,” said David Berry, director at Kantar Worldpanel .

“This has allowed SuperValu to strengthen its position at the top, posting impressive sales growth of 3.7% and increasing its share of the grocery market to 24.7% Alongside a strong performance in its traditional heartland – fruit and vegetables – the grocer also posted excellent sales in confectionery, crisps and snacks and soft drinks during the past quarter.

He said that while value sales may have dipped in Tesco there has been growth in the number of items shoppers are picking up on each trip. “The reduction in value sales is linked to the fact that these items are at a lower price point than last year, leading to a dip in the retailer’s value share of the grocery market.”

Dunnes’ sales continue to grow, with an increase of 3.6% this period to cap off a strong year – the retailer has seen non-stop sales growth for the whole of 2015 and has continually managed to encourage shoppers to spend more per trip, with its Shop and Save campaign helping to create a more loyal customer base and increase its market share to 23.8%.

Elsewhere, Lidl continues to post the strongest growth with sales increasing by 10.6% as 37,000 more shoppers visited the retailer compared with the same time last year.

Dublin has proved a particularly strong region for Lidl, with shopper numbers in the nation’s capital increasing by 10% this quarter. Aldi’s performance remains ahead of the overall market, with sales growth of 2.6% and market share holding at 8.4%.

“While the big Christmas shop has yet to take place there are signs that shoppers may have begun their preparations for the festive season earlier this year,” Mr Berry said.

“Confectionery, crisps and snacks have all seen double digit growth in shopper spend when compared with last year, helping to increase overall grocery sales by 2.5%. Such strong growth is an early indicator that Ireland’s retailers could be in for a bumper Christmas, and we’re sure to see grocers competing eagerly for the biggest slice of festive sales.”

Secret of why birds never grey revealed raising prospect of clothes that never fade

Scientists have disclosed for the first time why birds’ plumage never fades leading to hopes that ‘fade-proof’ clothes could be on the horizon

     

A jay (Left) with not even a hint of grey.

Scientists have discovered why birds never go grey – and the secrets of how our feathered friends fine-tune their plumage could be used to prevent our clothes fading in the wash.

New research has revealed birds use sophisticated changes to the structure of their feathers to create a multi-coloured appearance.

The discovery by Sheffield University could now pave the way for the creation of paints and clothing colours that retain their colour over time.

Examination of the blue and white feathers of the Jay showed rather than dyes and pigments that fade, the birds use well-controlled changes to the nanostructure to create their vividly coloured feathers.

The Jay is able to pattern these different colours along an individual feather barb – the equivalent of having many different colours along a single human hair.

“If nature can assemble this material ‘on the wing’, then we should be able to do it synthetically too.”

The Jay’s feather, which goes from ultra violet in colour through to blue and into white, is made of exactly the same kind of material as human hair and fingernails.

The researchers found that the Jay is able to demonstrate amazing control over the sponge-like structure, which determines the colour when exposed to light.

A flock of goldfinches, with their colourful plumage, will lighten up any garden  Photo: ALAMY

So birds never go grey as they age – unlike humans whose hair is coloured by pigments, which is not produced in the same quantities as we grow older.

If the colours were formed using pigments created from the bird’s diet, the feather colour would fade over time.

Dr Andrew Parnell, from Sheffield’s Department of Physics and Astronomy said: “If nature can assemble this material ‘on the wing’, then we should be able to do it synthetically too.

“This discovery means that in the future, we could create long-lasting coloured coatings and materials synthetically.

“Now we’ve learnt how nature accomplishes it, we can start to develop new materials such as clothes or paints using these Nanostructuring approaches.”

“By adjusting the size and density of the holes in the spongy like structure – that determines what colour is reflected.

“Current technology cannot make colour with this level of control and precision – we still use dyes and pigments.

“Now we’ve learnt how nature accomplishes it, we can start to develop new materials such as clothes or paints using these Nanostructuring approaches.

“It would potentially mean that if we created a red jumper using this method, it would retain its colour and never fade in the wash.”

The research was carried out in France and also used feathers selected from the extensive collection at the Natural History Museum in London.

The findings are being published in Nature Scientific Reports.

Researcher Dr Daragh McLoughlin of AkzoNobel, which makes Dulux paint, added: “This exciting new insight may help us to find new ways of making paints that stay brighter and fresher-looking for longer, while also having a lower carbon footprint.”

 

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Sunday 20th December 2015

Ireland’s retail sales to rise by up to 5% this Christmas,

Panic Saturday’ is expected to be one of the busiest days in festive shopping calendar

     

There has been an “exponential increase” in on-line sales, according to Retail Excellence Ireland.

Retail trade is expected to be up by three to five% this Christmas, according to a new survey.

Retail Excellence Ireland, the group representing retailers, said the poor weather in recent weeks has “very negatively impacted” on-street retail across the State, but that shopping centre retail has been “less affected”.

It reported an increase in convenience grocery sales as consumers “shop local” rather that travelling longer distances to supermarkets.

The weather has also contributed to an “exponential increase” in online sales with many retail operators commenting that Christmas 2015 has marked “a milestone” in how Irish consumers shop.

The survey noted that despite the upturn in some regions, provincial Ireland is “lagging behind” with many operators observing “weak footfall and underwhelming consumer activity”.

It said the Dublin evening economy was “robust and trading exceptionally well”, while the Dublin day-time economy was “performing well”.

The survey also said the Black Friday weekend had been “very robust” for retailers, but that gains were offset by a “very sluggish” two-week period before and after the event. “Many are questioning its continued existence in the Irish retail landscape,” it added.

Panic Saturday

The last Saturdaybefore Christmas is one of the busiest festive shopping days. In the UK panic-buyers and bargain-hunters are expected to flood stores on the busiest day in the Christmas shopping calendar , as high street shops slash prices in an attempt to coax consumers down the aisles.

Retailers including River Island, H&M, Sports Direct, Argos and Sainsbury’s are already offering huge seasonal discounts, with many more sales due to kick off early instead of after Christmas. Discounts are expected to average 45% on what some see as the most stressful shopping day of the year, according to Deloitte.

Around 12.6 million Britons are expected to hit the sales in search of cut-price buys, according to the Centre for Retail Research. A mild autumn and unexpectedly low Black Friday sales have left businesses desperate to shift a build-up of stock, industry experts said.

And thanks to Christmas falling on a Friday this year, ‘Panic Saturday’ is expected to kick off a £6 billion (€8.2bn) six-day spending spree — 23% more than the same period last year when Christmas Day fell on the Thursday.

Recent data shows 55% of Irish people are financially illiterate

   
We are financially illiterate.Ten years on and we still don’t know what a tracker mortgage is, despite all the financial water under the bridge, and the collapse of the banking system.

We know this because of recent, unflattering financial data and rankings, which got almost no media coverage.

Rankings are funny. Some rankings get headline news.

Thus, the PISA rankings, which look at science and maths ability, are always good for a headline on how poorly our education system serves us.

With 15% of the 15-year-olds last examined being ‘illiterate’ in science and maths, there is a problem.

It’s not as big a problem as in the US, which scored a 25% share, but it’s still a problem.

Then, there are the university rankings, in which the failure of Irish universities to meet an arbitrarily selected and methodologically protean target is regularly decried.

Again, we are subjected to editorialising and sermonising on how our system fails us.

The questions on financial literacy hardly involve quantum mechanics.

Can the respondent calculate a percentage, differentiate between compound and simple interest, differentiate between spreading and concentrating risk in making decisions about savings, and understand inflation?

Getting three out of four answers correct makes the respondent financially literate.

The study was conducted, by the World Bank and Standard & Poor’s, on more than 150,000 people in 144 countries.

It is a global snapshot of financial literacy.

Globally, a third of the survey respondents were deemed financially literate; in Ireland, it was 55%. In other words, 1.6m adults in Ireland were deemed financially illiterate.

This is pretty serious stuff.

If half the adult population were literally illiterate, there would be a massive government and social outcry and a plan put in place to remedy it.

Little has been done to improve the situation.

Wealth and financial literacy, both on a national and on an individual basis, are fairly reasonably linked.

However, what is not at all clear is the cause of financial illiteracy.

Although older people have a lower actual literacy, they also display greater confidence in their knowledge, which perhaps suggests how easy it is for the elderly to fall prey to financial scams.

There is a gender issue, too, perhaps related, in that levels of financial literacy tend to be lower among women.

The 2012 PISA study included an examination of school students’ financial literacy and found that, at age 15, there was little gender difference.

Unfortunately, this module of the PISA study was not administered in Ireland, so, again, we find ourselves making policy without evidence.

In fact, earnings are obviously linked to literacy, with rural communities, lower education, and regional impoverishment all being associated with not just lower income outcomes, but also lower financial literacy.

So, does it matter? A lot of research suggests that lower financial literacy, not surprisingly, is associated with poorer financial decision-making in daily life.

In particular, lower financial literacy is associated with lower participation in financial products and with lower forward financial planning, particularly in pension provision or precautionary savings.

Those who are financially less literate tend to have costlier loans and to be more prone to finding themselves in financial difficulties.

They take out costlier loans from costlier borrowers and do not manage these as well as they might.

This happens, regardless of earnings or education or gender — it is the literacy aspect that seems to drive them.

Financial literacy programmes tend to be shoehorned into second-level schools, with little regard for the need to individualise and contextualise.

Those done by financial institutions and advisers, typically in workplaces, are bedevilled by perceptions of marketing.

One thing is clear — financial illiteracy is a problem and one that is being swept under the carpet.

‘We won’t let floods sink Christmas’ vow defiant locals in Carrick-on-Shannon

    

Carrick-on-Shannon’s residents take the high road in their on-going battle of the floods.

DSN Fitness Gym owner Siofra O’Connor stands outside her apartment in the Inver Geal apartment complex in Carrick On Shannon last Wednesday. Photo: Tony Gavin

They missed the premiere of the new Star Wars movie due to the three-feet-deep flood in front of the cinema, but the force remains strong with the people of Carrick-on-Shannon.

From assembling make-shift bridges over flooded carparks, organising shuttle bus services across both sides of the river, to sharing toilet facilities with neighbouring businesses and setting up social media groups, natives living along the weir of the marshy bridge say: “We are staying afloat”.

Standing in a newly formed lake outside her apartment block, located in the colourful Inver Geal complex on the Roscommon side of the Shannon, Siofra O’Connor said people are frustrated, but that “there is no point getting down or being depressed”.

“Yes, it’s a ridiculous situation, but we have to focus on solutions,” she said.

“It’s been like living on a movie set for the last two weeks, our apartment complex is surrounded by floods at the front and the Shannon at the back, but the water hasn’t come in, so we have to look at the bright side,” she said.

In 2009, Ms O’Connor, a fitness instructor who runs three businesses in town, was forced to evacuate her old apartment in the same complex – just four doors down.

“The water came up through the floorboards, we were flooded out of it and had to be moved,” said Ms O’Connor, pointing to a car submerged up to the steering wheel in front of her former residence.

“We’ve been lucky, it’s starting to recede. We can’t park outside but that’s minor compared to last time,” she said.

“The whole community is rowing in behind each other; we all understand, we know what people are going through so we’re coming up with new ideas to salvage Christmas and make the best of this situation,” she said.

Although the vast majority of businesses, on both sides of the Shannon, are trading and open for business, parking is a major problem for shoppers and staff.

Mary McEvoy, who works at Enhance Health and Beauty, says so far people are still making the trek for their Christmas beauty treatments, but “we’re not getting much passing trade”.

“There isn’t a lot of footfall and people think we’re closed because of the massive flood outside. It might affect us in voucher sales, but we won’t know that until the end of the month,” said Ms McEvoy, adding that the Roscommon side of the bridge, where Supervalu, Lidl and Mulvey’s Toymaster are based, is the worst hit area.

“The flood has stopped traffic going up the one-way street of the town, and that’s causing a huge bottle-neck at the bridge and preventing people from coming out this side,” she said.

“This place was a flood plain to begin with; businesses shouldn’t have to deal with this. We’re joined up with the Shannon right now, we’re part of the flow,” she said.

“Everybody has an opinion on the floods, but you need experts to look at this and to stop it from happening again. At the moment we have a lot of chiefs and not enough indians,” she said.

Standing behind a wall of sandbags, Rachel O’Malley, manager at Victoria Hall Restaurant, said that, although they’ve remained open, it’s been impossible to access deliveries.

“There has been a big visual impact on us, we’re surrounded by water so people think we’re closed. We’ve had Christmas party cancellations and it’s a tough to swallow. This is usually our busiest time of year,” she said.

Joe Dolan, owner of The Bush Hotel, said flooding on main roads into the town is their biggest problem.

“A lot of our revenue comes from the by-pass, so that’s certainly a blow. But we’re a resilient bunch and we’re remaining upbeat about Christmas week,” he said.

A survey by Retail Excellence Ireland revealed a sharp divide in Christmas shopping between Dublin and the rest of the country, with strong trade in the capital but weak business in provincial stores.

As water levels drop, Leitrim County Council said it will continue to operate a flood management process, but clean-up will not be considered until floods recede.

Flood defences are being maintained and diversions and road closures remain in place at the N4 – between the Townspark and Tesco Roundabout, Park Lane, Quay Street – and the main route from Carrick-on-Shannon to Manorhamilton is closed. Routes to and from Leitrim village are also closed.

Despite limited access to Carrick-on-Shannon, shoppers are being encouraged to buy local this Christmas instead of journeying to Dublin, Sligo and Galway.

However, the children of Carrick-on-Shannon can rest assured that Santa Claus will make it through the floods this Christmas Eve, as local girl, Heidi Caldbeck (11) has asked Saint Nicholas to intervene.

Unknown to her parents, Grainne and Derek, Heidi was fully aware of the anxiety over the Shannon floods while on a trip to the heart of the Arctic Circle in Lapland last week.

Heidi penned a special wish, ‘Make sure Carrick stops flooding’ and placed it in Santa’s ‘Drum of Dreams’.

Santa has told her that he will use “all his powers to help”.

Christmas can be a stressful time but here are five ways to mind your mental health

With so much going on, it’s no surprise so many people find the festive period so stressful.

   

With so much going on, and so many demands on your time and attention it’s no surprise so many people find the festive period so stressful.

To manage that stress, the people at St Patrick’s Mental Health Services have come up with some ways people can nurture their mental health.

As Clinical Nurse Manager Debbie Van Tonder notes:

“In the run up to Christmas, many people find themselves swept away and overwhelmed by the presents, the cooking, the wrapping, the decorating… But by attempting to take a more mindful approach to festivities, stress-levels can be hugely reduced.”

What is ‘mindfulness’ you ask?

Essentially, it’s derived from a belief of ‘living in the moment’. It’s the practice of purposefully paying attention moment by moment, in a non-judgmental way to the things you do: learning to make time for yourself, learning to slow down and nurture calmness and self-acceptance.

In other words – it’s the opposite of everything going on in this photo…

Here are five tips from St Patrick’s you might like to make note of, in the run-up to Christmas:

1. Make a mindful list

  • Instead of writing the usual ‘to do’ list that will inevitably include some needless activities, it may be a good idea to sit quietly and ask yourself what activities are going to benefit and nurture ourselves and others and what activities are more avoidable. Focus on what matters.

2. Mindful shopping

  • Mindfulness accepts that some experiences are unpleasant, including Christmas queues. See if you can become aware of your reactions when something holds up your progress.
  • Take a moment to ask yourself: What is going through my mind? What sensations are there in my body? What emotional reactions and impulses am I aware of?

3. Walk

  • Physical activity lifts your mood and can reduce stress. Go for a walk and pay attention to the sights, sounds and smells at this time of year. Walk with as much awareness as you can.

4. Breathe

  • When anxiety or stress gets on top of you, it can be difficult to remember why you should remain calm. By taking three minutes by yourself to meditate, stress-levels can be vastly reduced. Sit quietly and focus on your breathing, in and out.

5. Have compassion for yourself and others

  • Kindness can change an experience completely. The desire in all of us to alleviate suffering is part of what we celebrate at Christmas, the opportunity to share and give. With 1 in 4 people experiencing a mental illness at some point in their life, there is bound to be someone on your Christmas card list who is not feeling festive. Reach out to them. Be kind to yourself and others.

NASA astronauts to go for Monday spacewalk outside ISS

     

A pair of NASA astronauts on Monday morning plan to exit the International Space Station in an effort to secure a rail car that is stuck in the wrong place.

The Mobile Transporter, which is holding the station’s 58-foot robotic arm and other equipment, last week stopped rolling on rails just four inches from a work site near the center of the station orbiting 250 miles up.

NASA and its partners want the transporter locked down before the planned Wednesday morning arrival of a Russian Progress resupply ship, which will require the station to maneuver into position and then absorb the force of the docking Progress vehicle.

Scott Kelly, the Expedition 46 commander, and Tim Kopra, who just arrived at the station last week, are expected to begin a minimum three-hour spacewalk around 8:10 a.m.

Watch it live on NASA TV.

SpaceX rocket launch, landing postponed to Monday night.

Kelly will be the lead spacewalker and wear a suit with red stripes. Kopra will wear an all-white suit.

The spacewalk will be Kelly’s third since he began a yearlong mission in March, and the second of Kopra’s career. It will be the 191st supporting assembly and maintenance of the orbiting research laboratory.

The latching of the Mobile Transporter is not expected to present much difficulty. If it is done quickly, the two astronauts will tackle additional tasks.

Launch of the Progress cargo ship is scheduled for 3:44 a.m. EST on Monday from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, and also can be seen on NASA TV.

 

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Saturday 5th December 2015

The Garda should bring Irish officers home, An inspectorate says

Current system of finding staff is highly inefficient’ as many lose interest in the long process.

    

A Garda graduation ceremony at the Garda College in Templemore. The Garda Inspectorate report recommends that the force should, for the first time, put a concerted effort into recruiting police officers currently serving in other countries.Gardai

An Garda Síochána should, for the first time, put a concerted effort into recruiting police officers currently serving in other countries, the Garda Inspectorate report recommends.

Robert Olson, the author of the report, also says Garda management should begin to actively consult with Government ministers and departments about the force’s budget allocation, a process which it currently has no direct involvement in.

Following the HSE’s attempts to entice Irish nurses employed abroad to accept posts at home, the report advises the Garda to employ a similar strategy given the number of fully-trained Irish ex-pats serving in police forces around the world.

An Garda Síochána does not currently have a targeted programme for overseas recruitment, points out former Minneapolis chief of police Mr Olson, who also brands the current recruitment system as “highly inefficient” as many applicants lose interest or find employment elsewhere during the months or years-long selection process.

Skills deficits

The report also identifies “skills deficits” among gardaí due to a lack of training and continuous professional development afforded to members over recent years, and recommends that a programme of “ongoing continuous professional development” should be made available to all personnel.

The Garda College in Templemore should have its own ringfenced budget, and there should be a review of the 32-week residential training course for gardaí at the college “with a view to reducing the duration” of that programme in favour of more time in operational settings and on independent patrol for trainees.

“The majority of Garda training takes place at the college. This is expensive and inefficient,” says the report.

It adds that volunteers with the 1,000-member Garda Reserve could be put to better use, and divesting some time and labour-intensive duties currently carried out by rank and file gardaí such as custody services and healthcare for people in custody to other agencies could also free up additional operational capacity.

Members of the reserve were recently given more powers, meaning they could perform duties including foot patrol and road traffic checkpoints if accompanied by a full-time Garda.

Event policing

Elsewhere, the report says that in order to optimise cost recovery An Garda Síochána should consider addressing the situation whereby the full costs of policing public events are not met by promoters.

Regarding responses to false alarms, an increased call-out fee for the property owner in such circumstances would also lead to greater efficiencies in cost recovery and could free up “thousands of Garda operational hours” if the deterrent is successful.

There are currently no policies in place detailing how to deal with “high-risk” issues such as potential substance abuse and corruption among gardaí, and this should be addressed by developing clearer policies and providing training in those areas it says.

As opposed to the existing policy, Mr Olson suggests that all uniformed gardaí should be issued with a name badge so individual on-duty officers could be more easily identified by members of the public.

Fiasco as up to half of housing offers are rejected

Kelly to review high rate of housing refusals

       

Environment Minister Alan Kelly is now considering the introduction of new rules surrounding the provision of social housing.

Hundreds of families on council housing waiting lists are turning down homes because they don’t like the area.

In several parts of the country, well over a third of offers made by councils have been turned down in the last year.

The Department of the Environment is now closely monitoring rejection rates.

In Dublin City – where the homeless crisis is most severe – almost one in five families turned down offers of homes.

The refusal figure is as high as 49% in Cork county, 46%c in Waterford, 42% in counties Roscommon and Donegal and 40pc in Cork City.

Families turn down offers of homes for a wide variety of reasons, including poor access to facilities such as schools and other important services.

But councils are now telling the Department of the Environment of their frustration over so-called ‘serial refusers’.

Officials say offers are being turned down in many cases simply because people don’t like the area or the house.

Under the current system, those on the list give three preferred options for a new home – but often turn down an offer if it isn’t their first choice.

Environment Minister Alan Kelly is now considering the introduction of new rules surrounding the provision of social housing.

The housing offer rejection figures are contained in a Department of Environment survey of the country’s housing departments, which has been seen by the Irish Independent.

The figures relate to the 12-month period until the end of September.

In feedback to the department, officials have warned that in many cases, families are rejecting offers because they say they do not feel suited to the area.

“We do have to address the fact that people turn down homes because they don’t like the property being offered,” a senior Government source said.

At the moment, if a family fails to provide a legitimate reason for turning down an offer of a home, they become ‘blacklisted’ for a 12-month period. In cases where a council receives three refusals from the same applicant, they can be struck off the list entirely.

Mr Kelly will now consider new rules aimed at tackling the rate of refusals.

These include reducing the number of refusals families can make before being struck off the housing list.

The minister is also examining the introduction of a ‘choice-based letting’ system whereby applicants have greater say over the areas in which they are accommodated.

One of the country’s leading housing experts called for a overhaul of the waiting list system.

DIT lecturer in housing Dr Lorcan Sirr warned the issue is far more complex and said further studies are required into why families are refusing homes.

But Dr Sirr said the figures show councils, in some cases, are dealing with families who reject offers for non- housing related reasons.

He said that these include “tribal reasons” – families not wanting to live near each other – as well as a lack of suitability of the property being offered.

“In times of depleted resources, this is obviously very frustrating for local authorities dealing not alone with issues of allocation of resources, but also with the sociological side of dealing with families and their non-housing issues that relate to where they want to live,” he said.

Three hours of watching TV could destroy your brain

   

A new study showed that watching TV in just three hours a day with little to no physical activity can rot the brain.

The data was based on a analysis of three tests answered by the participants involved in the study. Researchers Hoang and Dr. Kristine Yaffe, professors at the University Of California School Of Medicine found that these volunteers are all inclined to watching a lot of TV.

Many people practice watching too much TV and oftentimes fail to do any physical activity. Doing both things for a long span of time leads to the impairment of the brain, as researchers found in their study performed at the Northern California Institute for Research and Education.

Initially, the researchers did not include the cognitive function of the participants for them to have a baseline for comparison of the progress. And on the 25th year of the study, they assessed the cognitive function of the participants with three different mental tests that focus on speed, verbal memory and executive function.

There were 107 volunteers involved in the study who exercised least and at the same time had the habit of watching TV for more than three hours a day. Results show that these people are twice as much likely to perform poorly on the cognitive tests,; given as compared to those who limit their TV use but exercised more.

The researchers said that it is still never too late for adults to change their habits that could lead them to illnesses like Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia that usually start with impaired brain and damaged brain cells. Other studies have categorized these diseases due to old age, but there are ways where people can avoid it.

Result show that TV addicts were found to be 64 percent more likely to have poor cognitive performance than others. Same results were obtained when the researchers accounted for several other factors such as age, gender, educational level and body mass index (BMI).

They took note of some possible limitations due to the way the data were gathered because answers were only self-reported by the participants through the questionnaires.

Adolescents who practice little exercise but watch TV frequently had the worst obvious cognitive function 25 years later in their life. In this part of the study, the participants were surveyed at the beginning of the study and every two to five years about their exercise routine, or if they do exercise at all.

Those who watch little TV with high physical activity routine had twice as better cognitive performance than those who did little exercise with too much TV during their midlife.

But the researchers found no link to the verbal memory of the participants with regards to TV use.

Guidelines for tattoo and piercing parlours to be drafted by Irish Government

Varadkar says no specific rules on hygiene and infection control in place in the sector

   

Official guidelines for tattoo and body piercing parlours are being drawn up for the first time..

Official guidelines for tattoo and body piercing parlours are being drawn up for the first time.

The Department of Health says the draft guidelines, to be published next week, will make recommendations on minimising the risk of infection, protecting the health and safety of tattoo artists and their customers and the operation of parlours within recognised rules and laws.

Hundreds of tattoo and piercing shops have opened across Ireland in the past decade as the popularity of body art soars. However, the sector is largely unregulated, with no registration requirements, operating standards or basic training requirements for staff.

The department says its guidelines will aim to ensure that high standards are “maintained” in the sector. A consultation process is planned before the draft guidelines are finalised.

“Tattooing and body piercing has become increasingly popular as a fashion statement and the number of premises offering these services has multiplied,” says Minister for Health Leo Varadkar.

“However there are currently no specific guidelines on hygiene and infection control for this particular sector, beyond the general guidelines that already exist. High standards of hygiene are vital when performing body piercing and tattooing in order to protect the health of clients, and the practitioners.”

Specific issues to be covered in the guidelines include good practice for infection control and the use of template consent forms and aftercare advice, as well as the need to provide training and supervision for staff and the avoidance of local anaesthetic injections of prescription only topical creams.

The department says the majority of tattoos and piercings occur without incident, but risks arise with the procedures involved and customers need to be briefed in advance.

As well as the dangers of infections and blood-borne viruses caused by poor hygiene, other problems include allergic reactions to ink or pigments, scarring and rejection of jewellery by the body.

Half of Irish people believe climate change is a serious issue

More than 50% say they have a role in tackling the issue ahead of businesses

     

Less than half of the Irish population believe climate change is a serious problem, a new survey shows.

Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI) carried out the poll asking 1,000 people for their views on climate issues facing Irish society as the UN Climate Change Conference (COP21) continues in Paris.

The figures showed 49 per cent of the people who responded thought climate change was a serious problem.

However, 53 per cent said they a role to play in tackling the problem ahead of businesses and environmental groups.

Dr Eimear Cotter, head of the low carbon technologies at the SEAI, said the scientific analysis was indisputable and urgent action was needed.

“However, we still have to convince half of the population of the seriousness of climate change,” she said.

“Increased awareness will mean we can have an informed debate about our options and choices that we need to make if we are to take fossil fuels and carbon out of our energy system.”

Dr Cotter said the research showed there had been a large increase in children’s perceived knowledge of saving energy and the influence they have on family attitudes.

“This knowledge and influence will hopefully in time translate into wider societal awareness,” she said.

The figures showed seven out of 10 said energy was an important consideration buying a car, while 60 per cent said power use was significant factor for kitchen appliances and lights .

John Gibbons, a spokesman for An Taisce said low public awareness of climate change risks could be explained by lack of coverage.

“Taken at face value, the SEAI finding that only one in two Irish people is aware of the profound environmental crisis that threatens all our futures is both a wake-up call for Ireland and also an indictment of a collective failure to grasp the scale and gravity of the threats posed by climate change to our way of life,” he said.food production to reduce the carbon intensity of food production and to contribute to both food security.nd

 

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Wednesday 25th November 2015

Ireland in ‘A coalition of devils’

Says an alleged Islamic State video

Department of Justice says terror threats being monitored as group vows it will ‘burn’ enemies

    

A new video allegedly from ISIS is asking the world to ‘bring it on’. The video features the Irish flag among what the booming American voice over describes as the ‘coalition of devils’.

A video claiming to have been issued by the Islamic State group has included Ireland as part of “a coalition of devils” that has formed against it, before threatening to “burn” its enemies.

The authenticity of the video – which models itself on a Hollywood film trailer – cannot be vouched for, but it bears a strong resemblance to others issued by the group over recent months.

Flags from a host of countries, led off by the United States and the United Kingdom, but including Ireland, are displayed, though no specific reference to Ireland is made in the accompanying voiceover.

“There’s your coalition of devils with Iran, Turkey and Russia joining the fray. That’s because the Millah of Kufr [unbelievers] will also unite you to fight the truth. So bring it on – all of you. Your numbers only increase us in faith.

“We’re counting your banners, which our prophet said would reach 80 in number and then the flames of war will finally burn you on the hills of death,” the American-accented voice declares.

On Wednesday, the Department of Justice said international terrorism threats were kept under constant review: “The Minister and the Garda Commissioner maintain regular, ongoing contact on security matters,” said a spokesman.

People before Profit said the threat showed the need to block American military from using Shannon.

Labour party to seek a cross-party consensus on abortion legislation

Proposal to repeal eight amendment to be key demand for party after general election

  

Sinead Ahern, chair of Labour Women, and Senator Ivana Bacik during the launch by Labour Women of the General Scheme of the Labour Women Repeal the 8th Amendment Bill in Buswells Hotel,Dublin.

The Labour Party has published plans to scrap Ireland’s Eighth Amendment ban on abortion – which will form a key demand of the party in post-election coalition negotiations.

The 1983 amendment, which governs Ireland’s abortion laws, enshrined the equal right to life of the mother and the unborn in the Constitution.

Labour Senator Ivana Bacik said Labour’s proposals would allow for abortion under four medically-certifiedgrounds: risk to life; risk to health; cases of rape; and fatal foetal abnormality.

It would also decriminalise abortion.

“The Labour Party is the party of social change and we are including a commitment in our manifesto to hold a referendum to repeal the eighth amendment if returned to Government,” Ms Bacik said.

“Labour Women have produced this framework for the scheme of a Bill which would be introduced by the Labour Party if the eighth amendment is repealed by way of referendum.”

Labour is seeking to build a cross-party consensus, she said. Consultant Obstetrician Dr Peter Boylan, former Supreme Court Judge Catherine McGuinness and former Senator Dr Mary Henry attended the launch.

The chairwoman of Labour Women, Sinead Ahern, said an average of 12 women travelled from Ireland to the UK for abortions every day.

“Abortion is already a reality for women in Ireland and we cannot continue to export this issue. Nobody under the age of 50 has had a chance to vote on whether the eighth amendment should be in our constitution. It’s time we let the people have their say,” Ms Ahern said.

She insisted public opinion on abortion was changing, “and we know that the majority of voters want to repeal the eighth amendment”.

Describing Labour’s stand as “blinkered”, the Pro-Life Campaign’s deputy chairwoman Cora Sherlock said she believed some parents are coming under pressure to abort following the diagnosis of a life-limiting condition.

“The thing that stands out about today’s launch by the Labour Party is the complete absence of any mention of the unborn child’s right to life,” she said.

Ms Sherlock said abortion had “devastating effects” on many women.

Referring to Labour, she said: “Do they seriously think they can run and hide and ignore the grave injustice that abortion involves and its long-lasting effects?”

IFA to challenge former chief of on €2m severance package

IFA President Eddie Downey is stepping down   

Under deal Pat Smith (right pic) received the sum of €1m upfront and €100,000 a year for 10 years.

Eddie Downey (above left), president of the Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA), has resigned just hours after it emerged the organisation would legally challenge a €2 million severance package he is understood to have agreed with its former general secretary Pat Smith.

The executive council of the Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA) has voted unanimously against paying a severance package to its former general secretary Pat Smith.

The vote was taken during an all-day meeting of the national executive in Dublin which heard IFA president Eddie Downey had agreed a €2 million exit package with Mr Smith last week.

The deal, which involved €1 million up front, followed by €100,000 per year for 10 years, was agreed when Mr Smith resigned amid controversy over the size of his pay package.

The association was thrown into crisis this month by revelations Mr Smith received a total two-year pay package of nearly €1 million in 2013 and 2014. He resigned as general secretary in the face of outrage from many farmers at the scale of his pay, which the IFA had not previously made public.

Mr Downey last night announced his resignation as IFA president. He had earlier stood aside from the role pending a major review of corporate governance at the IFA, which is to be carried out by its former chief economist, Con Lucey.

Frustrated

Mr Lucey resigned last year as chairman of the IFA’s audit committee, claiming the committee was being frustrated in its work by Mr Smith.

In a statement, Mr Downey said he was stepping down in the best interests of the association. “I have always demanded the highest levels of governance and accountability within IFA and my clear understanding was that governance and management of IFA was a clear function and responsibility of the senior executive leadership with oversight from elected officers.”

He said it was well known he was determined to be a reforming president. He had worked to get an audit committee up and working.

He had met Mr Lucey and agreed with his proposed solutions to issues to be addressed by the committee, but unfortunately its work had been “frustrated.”

At an emergency meeting of the IFA’s executive council in Dublin yesterday, members were told Mr Smith’s severance agreement was signed by Mr Downey and Mr Smith, but not by IFA treasurer Jer Bergin, financial controller Ken Heade or deputy president Tim O’Leary. The latter three are understood to have opposed the deal.

Mr Smith had been general secretary for six years, but had worked for the IFA for 25 years in a variety of posts.

The IFA confirmed to The Irish Times it would mount a legal challenge to the severance package. Members at the meeting were also informed Mr Smith’s pension pot was worth €2.7 million 12 months ago when he transferred it out of the IFA and into his own possession.

At the meeting, the second in a week, members vented their anger at the board of the IFA over the ongoing pay controversy. Four resolutions from county executives in Galway, Mayo, West Cork and Cavan calling for the entire seven-man board to resign were tabled.

Earlier, the association announced its review of corporate governance, including remuneration, would be carried out by Mr Lucey, who will report back to the council with his recommendations on December 15th. The 53-member council unanimously welcomed Mr Lucey’s involvement, noting it was an “important step forward in rebuilding the trust of farmers”.

Mr Lucey said his recommendations would “reflect the fact that times and corporate governance standards have changed; businesses and organisations are now subject to greater scrutiny as regards how they operate”.

Review

Mr O’Leary, who will undertake the functions of the IFA president during the review, confirmed Mr Lucey had agreed to examine all aspects of the remuneration package of the former general secretary from his appointment in 2009 until his resignation last week. “He will do the same for the president and the deputy president, in order to provide the membership with full transparency,” Mr O’Leary said, adding that the IFA would make all financial data available to Mr Lucey.

Mixing alcohol with diet soft drinks will “get people drunk faster”

According to a new study

  Intoxicated: When men and women were given vodka mixed with either ordinary lemonade or sugar-free lemonade, they became inebriated more quickly with the diet version   

On a boozy night out, many of us reach for diet mixers in the hope it will keep the calorie count down.

But while the artificially-sweetened drinks may not be as bad for our waistlines, experts now warn they could get us drunk faster – even taking us over the drink-drive limit.

US researchers from the Northern Kentucky University studied 20 men and women, breathalysing them after drinking either a vodka and lemonade or vodka and diet lemonade. While the amount of alcohol was the same, the readings were up by 25 per cent for those who’d had diet mixers.

It’s such a big difference that scientists want bars to warn staff and punters of the dangers of going diet.

As for why the readings were so different, it’s believed sugary mixers could act in the same way as food, slowing the passage of alcohol to the bloodstream, claims the research in the Drug and Alcohol Dependence journal.

The same US team has carried out similar research before, finding that diet mixers could take someone over the drink-drive limit. As test subjects who’d had the low-calorie drink didn’t feel any more inebriated, it could result in people accidentally drink-driving.

Their biggest worry is women, who are often the people who opt for diet drinks.

“While all alcohol consumers should be aware of this phenomenon, it appears more likely that women would select alcohol beverages with a diet mixer given that they are more likely to be conscious of calories in their drinks,” study author Dr. Cecile Marczinski warned.

“Young women may be particularly vulnerable as they frequently use diet mixers with alcohol and they also restrict food intake when drinking to control calorie consumption and, ultimately, body weight.”

Remember though it’s safer not to drink at all on nights when you’re driving.

Those from less well-off areas less likely to beat cancer

      

The rich-poor divide is continuing to leave people in the least well-off areas of the country facing lower odds of surviving cancer after five years.

Worrying new figures reveal a stark difference in survival rates for two common cancers.

The early data from the National Cancer Registry of Ireland, due to be officially published early next year, shows the five-year survival rates for bowel cancer is 56pc in poor areas. This compares to 64pc for patients with the same disease in more affluent regions.

Poorer patients with lung cancer have a 16pc survival rate.

But survival for the better-off who have lung cancer stands at 22pc.

“Where you live has a significant impact on how long you live,” said Kathleen O’Meara, head of advocacy and communications at the Irish Cancer Society.

The organisation will unveil the sharp divide in cancer survival rates at a conference in Dublin today.

“Cancer affects all parts of Irish society, but some people are more at risk than others,” she pointed out. “The data shows that those in the poorest communities in Ireland have a reduced chance of surviving their cancer diagnosis.

“The new data highlights again that, if you come from a poorer community, you are less likely to survive cancer.

“This is hugely unfair. All communities and backgrounds should have equal access to diagnostics and fast treatment.”

She suggested one of the contributory factors is the ongoing risk of delayed diagnosis by those who cannot afford to pay for scans themselves to find out if their symptoms are cancerous.

This is one of the barriers which is helping to maintain the ‘cancer gap’, where those from the most deprived communities are twice as likely to be diagnosed and die from cancer as those who are the least deprived, she warned.

“The reasons for the gap are multiple, but often the people in these communities have the greatest difficulties in accessing healthcare. Late diagnosis can lead to late treatment and to worse outcomes. In some deprived Dublin areas, there are not enough primary care resources – for instance, in North Dublin there is one GP for every 2,500 people. Nationally, this figure is one for every 1,600.

“It’s going to take a big effort on the part of government, the HSE and organisations like the Irish Cancer Society to take action in closing this worrying divide. But it can be done.”

Betrayals forced early humans to spread across the world

    

Moral disputes motivated by broken trust and a sense of betrayal motivated early humans to put distance between them and their rivals

Betrayals of trust resulting from moral disputes were a significant reason for such risky dispersals into apparently unwelcoming environments with a desire to avoid physical harm from disgruntled former friends and allies being a key motivation. Photo: iStock

London: Betrayals of trust resulting from moral disputes forced early humans to cross major geographical barriers, including deltas such as the Indus and the Ganges, and spread across the world about 100,000 years ago, a new study has found.

Penny Spikins from the University of York in the UK said that the speed and character of human dispersals changed significantly around 100,000 years ago.

Before that movement of archaic humans were slow and largely governed by environmental events due to population increases or ecological changes. Afterwards populations spread with remarkable speed and across major environmental barriers. Spikins relates this change to changes in human emotional relationships.

Researchers said that neither population increase nor ecological changes provide an adequate explanation for patterns of human movement into new regions which began around 100,000 years ago.

They suggest that as commitments to others became more essential to survival, and human groups ever more motivated to identify and punish those who cheat, the ‘dark’ side of human nature also developed. Moral disputes motivated by broken trust and a sense of betrayal became more frequent and motivated early humans to put distance between them and their rivals.

Larger social networks made it easier to find distant allies with whom to start new colonies, and more efficient hunting technology meant that anyone with a grudge was a danger but it was human emotions which provided the force of repulsion from existing occupied areas which we do not see in other animals.

Early species of hominin were limited in distribution to specific environments such as grasslands and open woodland.

The expansion of Homo erectus out of Africa into Asia around 1.6 million years ago appears to have been caused by the need to find more large scale grasslands.

By contrast, Neanderthals occupied cold and arid parts of Europe. All archaic species adapted slowly to new opportunities for settlement and were often deterred by environmental and climatic barriers.

After 100,000 years ago, dispersal into distant, risky and inhospitable areas became relatively more common compared with movements into already occupied regions. Humans moved into cold regions of Northern Europe, crossed significant deltas such as the Indus and the Ganges, deserts, tundra and jungle environment and even made significant sea crossings to reach Australia and the Pacific islands.

Spikins said that betrayals of trust resulting from moral disputes were a significant reason for such risky dispersals into apparently unwelcoming environments with a desire to avoid physical harm from disgruntled former friends and allies being a key motivation.