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News Ireland as told by Donie

Tuesday 13th June 2017

Enda Kenny steps down as Taoiseach after forty two years in politics 

‘This has never been about me but always about the challenges the people of our country face’

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An emotional Enda Kenny has made his final address to the Dáil as Taoiseach, saying he was the first to acknowledge that he had not got everything right.

“But I can honestly say my motivation was always what I believed was in the best interests of the Irish people,” he added.

He thanked his colleagues in Government and the contribution of Fianna Fáil under leader Micheál Martin.

He had been truly blessed, he said, to lead the country and he thanked the people of Ireland and Mayo.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny leaving Government buildings to go to Áras an Uachtaráin to submit his resignation to President Michael D Higgins.

“I really do believe politics is work worth doing, a noble profession,” he added.

Flanked by Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald, Minister for Finance Michael Noonan who will also stand down, Mr Kenny’s successor Leo Varadkar, Minister for Housing Simon Coveney and Minister for Health Simon Harris, the Taoiseach informed the Dáil at 2pm he would be going later to Áras an Uachtaráin to submit his resignation to President Michael D Higgins.

He formally handed in in his letter on Tuesday evening.

During his speech in the Dáil, he daid it was a privilege and a pleasure to lead Fine Gael and wished everybody good health in dealing with the challenges ahead.

He quoted Michael Davitt wishing “fond thoughts” and “fullest forgiveness”.

He said he hoped he had made a modest contribution to making Ireland better as envisaged by Davitt.

Mr Kenny then sat down, visibly emotional, to applause from all sides of the House.

Before the Taoiseach offered his resignation, the Dáil stood for the prayer in Irish and English, but there was some confusion when a number of TDs started to sit down during the 30 seconds of meditation.

Members of Mr Kenny’s family sat in the distinguished visitors gallery, including his wife Fionnuala O’Kelly, son Ferdia, his brother Kieran, his personal assistant Sarah Moran and chief of staff Mark Kennelly.

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin described him as “an Irish patriot and an Irish democrat”. Throughout his time in elected office and in government he had been a proud representative of his community, political tradition and country.

Martin tribute

Mr Martin also said Mr Kenny had managed events so that they have proceeded at his desired pace. “He has ensured that those who were stalking the corridors in search of journalists to brief against him have been obliged to issue lengthy statements describing him as the greatest Irishman since Brian Boru”.

The Fianna Fáil leader said “the mischievous enjoyment he has taken in this has been a genuine joy to behold”.

Enda Kenny acknowledges the applause from TDs in the Dáil following his final speech as Taoiseach.

Mr Martin joked it was a “great burden” for Mr Kenny that Mayo had failed to win the Sam Maguire during his time in office.

He said the Taoiseach was courageous when he agreed to take over the leadership of his party when it was at such a low ebb in 2002. He was courageous when he decisively faced down those who challenged him and then went on to win the 2011 general election.

But most of all it was “incredibly courageous to give your heart and soul to working on your job in Government knowing Michael Ring was back in Mayo stealing your votes”.

Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams said his party and Fine Gael did not agree on many issues but “I always found Enda to be friendly on a personal level. Probably the best leader Fine Gael ever had.”

He said the Taoiseach’s departure from office would be a big change for his family.

“Let me say I will miss you. I will miss your entertaining tales of meetings you have had and meetings you have not had and recollections of people you have met along the way, like the man with the two pints in one hand.”

Mr Adams said he would “miss your optimistic energy”, his jizz, sense of humour and his ability to field questions without giving a clue about his view on the question he was actually asked.

Forty-two years was a long time in the House and he deserved his time out. He also wished Minister for Finance Michael Noonan well in his retirement as a Minister.

Mr Adams said there had been successes including the success of the same-sex marriage referendum. But he said said there had also been abject failures, including the Taoiseach’s consistent failure to recognise the State of Palestine, “the squandering of the biggest mandate in the history of the State as the Fine Gael-Labour Government reneged on election promises, kowtowed to the elites in the EU and the banking and finance sectors, and saddled the people of this State with a debt of €65 billion”.

He said another great failing “has been a clear lack of affinity with the North, one of the deepest problems facing the political system here, and a clear lack of consistent strategic engagement with the process of change that is under way on this island”.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny waves to wellwishers as he leaves Government Buildings to go to Áras an Uachtaráin to resign on Tuesday.

Party backbencher

Mr Kenny stands down after six years as the longest serving Fine Gael Taoiseach and the first to secure a second consecutive term in government for the party.

He now becomes a party backbencher until the next general election when he is expected to retire as a TD.

The Taoiseach is also father of the House as the longest serving TD with 42 years in the Dáil. He was first elected in 1975 in a byelection following the death of his father Henry and fought another 12 elections in his Dáil tenure.

He served three years as a cabinet minister, holding the tourism and trade portfolio in the 1994 to 1997 rainbow coalition.

He also served for a year as minister of state for education and for labour from February 1986 to March 1987.

Mr Kenny took over from Michael Noonan as party leader in 2002 after a disastrous general election for the party and in 2007 the party’s numbers in the Dáil went from 32 to 51 TDs.

In the 2011 general election at the height of the economic recession, Fine Gael secured 76 seats, the most in the party’s history, under his leadership.

For the first time Fine Gael was the largest party in the Dáil and Mr Kenny became the State’s 13th Taoiseach.

AIB secures likely buyers for all of IPO stake

Shares in bank plunge as speculative investors digest price range for 28.8% being offered

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At one stage, AIB was notionally Europe’s fifth-largest bank by market value.

Investment banks and brokers working on AIB’s upcoming flotation have secured enough demand to cover the maximum 28.8% stake the Government plans to sell in the coming weeks, according to market sources.

A spokesman for the Department of Finance said the fact that the order book has been covered is “in line with expectations and shows that there’s good investor interest” in the deal.

Crucially, the initial orders fall within the range of between €3.90 to €4.90 per share that the Government announced as the expected initial public offering price range on Monday evening.

However, the ultimate success of the IPO, due to price around June 23rd, will depend on the extent to which the share sale has been oversubscribed and the type of investors it attracts. AIB’s chief executive Bernard Byrne has set his sights on mainly attracting fund managers with a long-term perspective, rather than hedge funds, who might be willing to pay more but would only have a short-term interest in the bank.

The deal is being led by Deutsche Bank, Bank of America Merrill Lynch and Davy, with Goodbody Stockbrokers, JP Morgan, Goldman Sachs, Citigroup and UBS also on the team.

Shares plunge last Tuesday

Meanwhile, shares in AIB plunged by more than 28% on the junior market in Dublin on Tuesday morning as investors digested the expected price range. By late trading, the drop had reduced, but shares were still almost 14 per cent lower at €5.60.

Many small, speculative investors had ignored repeated warnings from the Minister for Finance Michael Noonan in recent few years that AIB’s stock – of which only 0.2% remained tradable after the State seized the bank in 2010 – had been overvalued amid thin trading volumes.

While the shares spiked late last month at €9.20, the Department of Finance revealed on Monday that it sees €4.90 per share as the top of its likely IPO range. This implies a value of between €10.6 billion and €13.2 billion for the bank.

The overvaluation of AIB first emerged in August 2011 when investors ignored a surge in the number of shares in issuance as taxpayers pumped the final amount of a total €20.8 billion rescue of the bank during the crisis.

At one stage, the bank was notionally Europe’s fifth-largest bank by market value, at over €60 billion, even as it was posting record losses. That was equivalent to nearly the State’s entire €64 billion bill for saving the banking system during the crisis and the €67.5 billion international credit line the Government was forced to accept in 2010 .

Being overweight, not just obese, carries a lot of serious health risks

Image result for Being overweight, not just obese, carries a lot of serious health risks  Image result for Being overweight, not just obese, carries a lot of serious health risks  Image result for Being overweight, not just obese, carries a lot of serious health risks

Excess weight can trigger a lot of killer diseases.

“Four million people died in 2015 as a result of being too tubby, struck by cancer, heart disease, diabetes and other killer conditions,” reports now show?

This is based on a global study that looked at how the proportion of people who are overweight and obese has changed over time. This was determined by recording body mass index (BMI), where a BMI of 25-29.9 means being overweight and 30 or above is being obese.

Researchers then assessed the link between having an unhealthy BMI and health outcomes including cardiovascular disease, diabetes and cancer.

It found that, despite public health efforts, obesity is on the rise in almost every country and in both adults and children. Prevalence has doubled in most countries over the past 30 years. Researchers also estimated that having a high BMI accounted for 4 million deaths globally, 40% of which occurred in people who were overweight but not yet obese.

This demonstrates that being overweight may almost be as risky to health as being obese. The rate of increase in obesity was also greater in children, showing the need for interventions to halt and reverse this trend to avoid future disease and deaths.

What is considered a healthy weight – BMI 20 to 25 – was unsurprisingly found to be the category with the lowest health risk. The best way to obtain and maintain a healthy BMI is to eat a healthy calorie-restricted diet and exercise regularly; two concepts that are at the core of the NHS Weight Loss Plan.

Where did the story come from?

The study was carried out by researchers from a wide range of global institutions and universities, but was led by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IMHE), based at the University of Washington in Seattle. It was funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

The research was published in the peer-reviewed The New England Journal of Medicine on an open-access basis, which means it is free to read online (PDF, 2.3Mb).

A surprising key finding, as the BBC reported, is that “of the 4 million deaths attributed to being overweight in 2015, nearly 40% were not considered clinically obese”. The BBC accurately explains how merely being overweight, and not just obese, can increase risk of death.

What kind of research was this?

This was a review and report of evidence from around the world that looked at how the prevalence of being overweight and obese has changed over time. The researchers then looked at how being overweight affects the risk of various health outcomes, including cardiovascular disease and death.

Gathering high quality data from across many studies over time is the best way to see whether prevalence has changed and to see which health conditions are most strongly related to high body mass index (BMI). However, it is difficult to know how big a role BMI plays in raising your risk of certain health conditions, as other factors also have an influence.

What did the research involve?

The researchers analysed data from 68.5 million people from 195 countries looking at the burden of disease related to BMI between 1990 and 2015, and according to age, sex, and country. They looked at both children and adults.

Disease burden was defined as deaths and disability-adjusted life years (accounting for years of life lost or lived with disability) due to high BMI.

Information on adult BMI was provided by 1,276 unique sources from 176 countries, and 1,211 sources from 173 countries provided data on children’s BMI.

For adults, “overweight” was defined as a BMI between 25 and 29 and “obese” was 30 or above. In children, the International Obesity Task Force definitions of childhood overweight and obesity were used. These definitions are based on the principle of a child being heavier for their age than you would expect. The results were broken down by sex and by 5-year age groups.

They looked at the effect of high BMI on health outcomes and estimated the increase in risk associated with a change of five units of BMI in 5-year age groups for:

  • ischemic heart disease (eg angina and heart attack)
  • ischemic stroke (caused by a blood clot)
  • haemorrhagic stroke (caused by a bleed)
  • hypertensive heart disease (strain on the heart caused by high blood pressure)
  • diabetes

To understand where most of the burden of disease occurs, they looked at three ranges of BMI (20 to 24; 25 to 29 and 30 or over) and for five overarching groups of diseases:

  • cardiovascular disease
  • diabetes
  • chronic kidney disease
  • cancers
  • musculoskeletal disorders

They also determined the BMI associated with the lowest overall risk of death.

What were the basic results?

In 2015, globally 107.7 million children and 603.7 million adults were obese. The prevalence has doubled in more than 70 countries since 1980 and continuously increased in most other countries.

Obesity now affects an estimated 5% of all children and 12% of all adults. In all adult age brackets, prevalence was generally higher among women.

Worldwide findings included:

  • High BMI contributed to 4 million deaths in 2015 (95% confidence interval [CI] 2.7 to 5.3), representing 7.1% (95% CI 4.9 to 9.6) of all deaths globally.
  • High BMI contributed to 120 million disability-adjusted life years lost (95% CI 84 to 158).
  • A total of 39% of the deaths and 37% of the disability-adjusted life years were in people with a BMI of less than 30 (i.e. not obese).
  • Cardiovascular disease was the leading cause of death and disability-adjusted life years with 2.7 million deaths (95% CI 1.8 to 3.7) and 66.3 million disability-adjusted life years (95% CI 45.3 to 88.5).
  • Diabetes was the second leading cause and contributed to 0.6 million deaths (95% CI 0.4 to 0.7) and 30.4 million disability-adjusted life years (95% CI 21.5 to 39.9).

A normal BMI of 20 to 25 in adults was associated with the lowest risk of death (the UK defines this as a healthy level).

How did the researchers interpret the results?

The researchers concluded that their study “provides a comprehensive assessment of the trends in high BMI and the associated disease burden. Our results show that both the prevalence and disease burden of high BMI are increasing globally. These findings highlight the need for implementation of multicomponent interventions to reduce the prevalence and disease burden of high BMI.”

Conclusion?

This impressively large global study demonstrates that the prevalence of obesity is increasing worldwide among both children and adults. It supports what has long been thought, that increased body mass index (BMI) contributes to a range of illnesses and is ultimately responsible for a large number of deaths, particularly from cardiovascular disease.

One potential limitation is the use of self-reported BMI or health outcome data in some of the studies, although the majority used a specific independent measurement so this is unlikely to have biased results too much.

It is also always difficult from observational data to be certain of the exact amount of years of life lost or lived with disability that are directly caused by high BMI. It is possible that being overweight or obese may contribute to the risk of getting a particular disease, for example cancer, in combination with other health and lifestyle factors. Therefore, though based on a large quantity of data, the results must still be considered as estimates.

Nevertheless the study highlights what we already know – that being obese is linked to a large number of chronic diseases. Perhaps more notable was that it also shows that almost half of the years of life lost or lived in poor health could be attributed to people being overweight, not just obese.

This study design cannot explain the increasing prevalence of overweight and obesity. However, the fact that obesity has increased in countries of all levels of development indicates it is no longer a problem solely for high income countries. As the authors suggest, there are multiple factors contributing to this continuing trend, including reduced opportunities for physical education with growing urbanisation, along with increased availability, affordability and accessibility of energy-rich but nutritionally poor food.

There is an ongoing need for effective interventions to tackle overweight and obesity, both at the public health and the individual level. Otherwise the public health burden of obesity could be for the 21st Century what smoking was to the 20th Century – an entirely preventable cause of disability and death.

Ireland is one step closer to lifting the Good Friday alcohol ban

The Irish cabinet approved a number of amendments to a private members bill which would lift the ban.

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The lifting of the alcohol ban on Good Friday got one step closer today, as Cabinet approved amendments to a private members bill that will lift the ban in restaurants, registered clubs and hotels.

Tánaiste and Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald has already said the Government will not oppose the Bill tabled by the Independent Senator Billy Lawless earlier this year.

The Intoxicating Liquor (Amendment) Bill 2017 aims to reverse the obligatory closure of licensed premises every year on Good Friday.

Today’s amendments extend the scope of the Bill, but as it stands the ban on alcohol in pubs on Good Friday still exists.

Originally, the Government had intended to deal with the 90-year old alcohol ban with its own legislation, but it is now happy to allow the private members bill to proceed on, with amendments made to it along the way.

While lifting the ban in pubs is yet to be approved by Cabinet, one government source said today’s amendments “signals the direction and intention” of the government to move towards an overall lifting of the ban in pubs, restaurants, clubs and hotels.

What do you think?

A Mini-poll: Should pubs be allowed to open on Good Friday?

The Poll Results: 

Glamping village owner hits out at banks over loans

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The undertaker who made world headlines when he transported a decommissioned Boeing 767 by sea to his planned glamping village, has hit out at banks who he claimed treat the west of Ireland as a “no-go area”.

The Quirky Glamping Village featuring a decommissioned Boeing 767 in Enniscrone, Co Sligo.

Enniscrone-based David McGowan told Sligo County Council that he hopes the first guests will be on site at the Quirky Nights Glamping site this time next year.

However, the entrepreneur who had hoped to be open for business this summer, outlined his difficulty in raising finance for the project saying he had been offered a bank loan, on terms which would have been “suicidal” for him to accept. He said banks had sought a €2m personal guarantee.

“As far as I was concerned I would be putting my family at risk”, said Mr McGowan.

He said the banks’ attitude was that “if it goes down, they are left with a hundred ton of scrap metal”.

Mr McGowan said that as well as being “very soul destroying”, this gave an insight into how lending institutions regard developers in the west of Ireland.

The undertaker said that he will now use Crowdfunding to raise the €2.5m needed to make his dream a reality.

He said he needed 25,000 people to pledge €100 each and was “fairly confident” of achieving that.

“I have 70,000 followers on my Facebook page,” he said.

He told councillors while there was a rumour out there he had run out of money this was not true.

“I am just being cautious. I think the banking system in this country is all wrong. I think they treat people in an inhumane way. They throw you out on the side of the road. They don’t care about your family”.

He told Sligo councillors that he had put the county on the world stage and had been trending third in the world on Twitter — behind Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin — on the night the Boeing 767 was successfully deposited on Enniscrone beach.

He has moved a decommissioned RAF helicopter, a London train and a number of former London taxis to the site.

A breakthrough in thin electrically conducting sheets paves way for smaller electronic devices

Image result for A breakthrough in thin electrically conducting sheets paves way for smaller electronic devices   Image result for Professor Marty Gregg from Queen's University School of Mathematics and Physics, have created unique 2-D sheets, called domain walls

Queen’s University Belfast researchers have discovered a new way to create extremely thin electrically conducting sheets, which could revolutionise the tiny electronic devices that control everything from smart phones to banking and medical technology.

Through nanotechnology, physicists Dr Raymond McQuaid, Dr Amit Kumar and Professor Marty Gregg from Queen’s University’s School of Mathematics and Physics, have created unique 2-D sheets, called domain walls, which exist within crystalline materials.

The sheets are almost as thin as the wonder-material graphene, at just a few atomic layers. However, they can do something that graphene can’t – they can appear, disappear or move around within the crystal, without permanently altering the crystal itself.

This means that in future, even smaller electronic devices could be created, as electronic circuits could constantly reconfigure themselves to perform a number of tasks, rather than just having a sole function.

Professor Marty Gregg explains: “Almost all aspects of modern life such as communication, healthcare, finance and entertainment rely on microelectronic devices. The demand for more powerful, smaller technology keeps growing, meaning that the tiniest devices are now composed of just a few atoms – a tiny fraction of the width of human hair.”

“As things currently stand, it will become impossible to make these devices any smaller – we will simply run out of space. This is a huge problem for the computing industry and new, radical, disruptive technologies are needed. One solution is to make electronic circuits more ‘flexible’ so that they can exist at one moment for one purpose, but can be completely reconfigured the next moment for another purpose.”

The team’s findings, which have been published in Nature Communications, pave the way for a completely new way of data processing.

Professor Gregg says: “Our research suggests the possibility to “etch-a-sketch” nanoscale electrical connections, where patterns of electrically conducting wires can be drawn and then wiped away again as often as required.

“In this way, complete electronic circuits could be created and then dynamically reconfigured when needed to carry out a different role, overturning the paradigm that electronic circuits need be fixed components of hardware, typically designed with a dedicated purpose in mind.”

There are two key hurdles to overcome when creating these 2-D sheets, long straight walls need to be created. These need to effectively conduct electricity and mimic the behavior of real metallic wires. It is also essential to be able to choose exactly where and when the domain walls appear and to reposition or delete them.

Through the research, the Queen’s researchers have discovered some solutions to the hurdles. Their research proves that long conducting sheets can be created by squeezing the crystal at precisely the location they are required, using a targeted acupuncture-like approach with a sharp needle. The sheets can then be moved around within the crystal using applied electric fields to position them.

Dr Raymond McQuaid, a recently appointed lecturer in the School of Mathematics and Physics at Queen’s University, added: “Our team has demonstrated for the first time that copper-chlorine boracite crystals can have straight conducting walls that are hundreds of microns in length and yet only nanometres thick. The key is that, when a needle is pressed into the crystal surface, a jigsaw puzzle-like pattern of structural variants, called “domains”, develops around the contact point. The different pieces of the pattern fit together in a unique way with the result that the conducting walls are found along certain boundaries where they meet.

“We have also shown that these walls can then be moved using applied electric fields, therefore suggesting compatibility with more conventional voltage operated devices. Taken together, these two results are a promising sign for the potential use of conducting walls in reconfigurable nano-electronics.”

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Sunday 11th December 2016

Irish Water spends a hefty €5m on expert advice

Hefty bill run up in the six months since controversial charges were dropped

Image result for Irish Water spends a hefty €5m on expert advice   Image result for business strategists, lawyers, computer experts

Irish Water has spent €5m on outside business strategists, lawyers, computer experts, public relations and finance specialists in the six months after the Government formally suspended the controversial charges.

The revelation that the embattled utility has paid over €826,000 a month on consultants since May 1 – when it was effectively placed in limbo by the Government – will infuriate nearly one million people who have handed over €144m in water charges last year.

Those who paid their bills still have no idea if they will get that money back if charges are ultimately abolished.

Last night Fianna Fail’s environment spokesperson Barry Cowen said legislation was urgently needed to ensure the utility was fully accountable for all money it spent.

The list of lucrative contracts includes an average monthly bill of nearly €3,000 for public relations services at a time when a major question mark hangs over the future funding of the company.

Documents reveal nearly €5m was spent on ‘third-party’ services from May 1 to the end of October this year. This includes €775,141 on ‘business change’ support services.

Ernst & Young was paid €406,268 for its expertise, while official records show accounting and consultancy firm PricewaterhouseCoopers received €123,570.

Efforts to improve customer services supports also came with a hefty price tag, costing €774,848. It is estimated €32,285 is being spent every week to help improve and streamline customer services.

Ernst & Young also emerged a big winner, earning almost €486,000 for its expertise in the area.

Official records also show that hiring in legal expertise remains a major drain on resources – costing on average €56,800 a month.

In total, €340,830 was ring-fenced to cover costs in this area over a six-month period. Dublin-based legal firm McCann Fitzgerald was paid a total of €79,071 since the beginning of May. The next highest earner was Philip Lee, a specialist commercial law firm, who received payment of €71,438. Invoices for the services provided another law firm, Arthur Cox and Company totalled €45,410. Some €55,700 was allocated to covering the fees of a ‘senior counsel’, although records do not specify the reason for the expenditure.

PricewaterhouseCoopers received another separate payment of €68,000 for its “support on specific technical investment and engineering projects”. A further €113,277 was spent to ensure the “highest standards of governance” in areas like business analysis, information security and data protection. And Murray Consultants, one of Ireland’s biggest public relations agencies, was paid €16,866.

The expenditure comes against a backdrop of continuing uncertainty as to what approach will be adopted with customers who have already paid their water bills.

In a statement, Irish Water said it can require technical assistance and third-party support at any given time. Such expertise was not required on a permanent basis and therefore it was considered more “cost effective” to employ third-party specialists “as they are required”.

A spokesperson said the use of third-party external service providers represents just over 1pc of its annual operational costs. A company spokesman said the relevant data covers the period of May 1 to October 31 this year.

This was on the basis the clause facilitating the suspension of water charges was contained in the confidence and supply arrangement – put in place at the beginning of May on formation of the Government.

Fianna Fail’s environment spokesperson Barry Cowen said legislation was urgently needed to ensure the utility was fully accountable for all monies it spent.

He pointed out that the confidence and supply arrangement Fianna Fail has agreed with Fine Gael commits to retaining Irish Water as a national utility in public ownership. He said the agreement meant the company must be answerable to the Dail under a number of headings.

“We would have hoped that process would be complete by now, but it’s obviously not, and it’s something we’ll be taking up with the minister, with a view to bringing forward relevant legislation to give effect to that.”

He believes this would result in greater “transparency” in the operations of the utility.

The commission established to examine its future operations recommended that funding for the country’s water infrastructure should come through general taxation – but that there should be charges for wasteful use.

A special Oireachtas committee will now also decide if those who did not pay previous water charges should be prosecuted.

Deputy Cowen says the party is keeping an “open mind” on whether those who use excessive amounts of water should be liable for some financial payment.

“The main thrust of the recommendation is that it is paid for out of general taxation, and we agreed with that analysis.

“But there are many questions outstanding,” he said.

In a statement, Irish Water said “significant progress” had been made since the suspension of charges.

This includes “continuing the development of a single way of working for Irish Water as a public utility, to allow for a full transformation of services to the utility from local authorities.

“This is an enormous undertaking.

“We have developed new systems for local authorities to report vital information on operations, leakage, water and waste water quality to us electronically and in real time in a standardised and consistent way”.

These and other projects had required “specialist support”, but would have a “lasting significant value” for Irish Water as a utility.

As much as 112,000 additional jobs in construction will be created over the next three years here,

Say construction industry chiefs?

Image result for As much as 112,000 Irish additional jobs in construction will be created over the next three years here  Image result for As much as 112,000 Irish additional jobs in construction will be created over the next three years here

A report on the sector found carpenters and joiners will be in most demand.

Construction chiefs have claimed there will be 112,000 additional jobs in the industry over the next three years. A report on the sector found carpenters and joiners will be in most demand followed by general labourers, operatives and electricians.

The Construction Industry Federation has launched a new website, cifjobs.ie, to target workers who emigrated in the 10 years since the property bubble burst and the economy collapsed.

A report on the future of the sector by DKM consultants revealed the industry is set to grow by 9% a year up to 2020 and said that it can sustain more than 100,000 additional jobs.

It said there will be a need for 30,800 carpenters and joiners, 27,600 general labourers, 18,100 operatives, 15,200 electricians, 13,900 plasterers and tilers, 11,800 plumbers, 9,600 managers, 9,400 painters and decorators and 7,800 bricklayers.

CIF director general Tom Parlon said emigrants should consider coming home. ” There is sufficient work in the pipeline to require about another 112,000 jobs up to 2020 and beyond.

“The CIF is attempting to ensure there are sufficient skilled employees by engaging in several initiatives. We’re working with the Education and Training Boards (ETBs) to upskill those on the live register with construction experience. We’re attracting young people into the industry by highlighting the modern globalised careers available. Finally, we’re trying to get the positive news about the industry and Ireland in general to those in the diaspora to attract them back.”

The website will highlight jobs available in the lobby group’s member companies and allow potential candidates to engage directly with them.

Orkambi makers to meet HSE for CF drug pricing cost talks

Asking price for medicine that acts on lung function €160,000 per patient annually

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The HSE has indicted it is willing to pay €75m annually, but not the existing €400m bill across five years.

The Health Service Executive and US makers of cystic fibrosis drug Orkambi, Vertex, are to meet on Wednesday, December 15th, to discuss the cost of the medicine.

Orkambi, which improves lung function and reduces hospitalisation for CF patients, would cost €160,000 per patient annually, or €400 million for the health service over five years, according to its initial price.

Agreed approach

The HSE is willing to pay €75 million which would make it the sixth most expensive drug used by the Irish health system.

Minister for Health Simon Harris said he has sought to collaborate with other countries on an agreed approach to negotiations on Orkambi and the HSE has cautioned Vertex it must ask a more affordable price.

The HSE and Vertex said they are committed to finding a definitive solution.

Vertex Pharmaceuticals said this week it will only re-enter price talks on Orkambi if Government representatives with the power to make decisions are at the table.

Vertex asked the HSE to commit to having Mr Harris, HSE director general Tony O’Brien and Department of Health Secretary general Jim Breslin at the talks.

Speaking in the Seanad earlier this week, Mr Harris said this was a “complete misrepresentation”.

“The law of this land, passed by this House and the Dáil in 2013, makes clear that the HSE is the body with statutory responsibility for decisions on pricing and reimbursement of medicines.”

Thousands of people protested outside the Dáil this week about the issue.

The bottom line, says Fitch, is that a monkey’s speech limitations stem from the way its brain is organized.

“As soon as you had a brain that was ready to control the vocal tract,” Fitch says, “the vocal tract of a monkey or nonhuman primate would be perfectly fine for producing lots and lots of words.”

The real issue is that monkeys’ brains do not have direct connections down to the neurons that control the larynx and the tongue, he says. What’s more, monkeys don’t have critical connections within the brain itself, between the auditory cortex and motor cortex, which makes them incapable of imitating what they hear in the way that humans do.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes, a science fiction movie from 2011, actually has the right idea, notes Fitch. In that film, after a lab chimp named Caesar undergoes brain changes, he eventually is able to speak words such as “No.”

“The new Planet of the Apes is a pretty accurate representation of what we think is going on,” says Fitch.

Irish taxpayers warned to be careful with scam phone calls claiming to be Tax Revenue staff ?????

Image result for Irish taxpayers warned to be careful with scam phone calls claiming to be Tax Revenue staff  Image result for Irish taxpayers warned to be careful with scam phone calls claiming to be Tax Revenue staff  Image result for Irish taxpayers warned to be careful with scam phone calls claiming to be Tax Revenue staff

The Revenue Commissioners is warning against a slick phone scam intended to scare people into paying off a bogus tax collector.

A spokeswoman for the Office of the Revenue Commissioners said a “small” number of people had contacted the office after receiving random telephone calls over the past week.

The calls are purportedly from a local tax inspector looking for so-called tax defaulters to make a payment and/or disclose their PPS numbers.

In one case, a taxpayer received a call from “Revenue Ireland” in which an automated recording told him to contact the “Revenue” urgently.

The suspicious taxpayer rang a Dublin number that was answered by a man who did not have an Irish accent claiming to be “Officer Ray Miller of Revenue Ireland”.

The taxpayer’s suspicions were confirmed when he began speaking in Irish and the bogus Revenue official couldn’t understand him or refer him to someone who could speak Irish, so he told ‘Officer Miller’ it was an obvious scam and he hung up.

Revenue spokeswoman Clare O’Melia said she was not aware of anyone being taken in by the scam. But she urged anyone who may have responded to a request for “an immediate payment of a tax bill over the phone” or provided the caller with their PPS number, bank account or credit card information to contact gardaí and their bank.

“Anyone who receives a telephone call purporting to be from Revenue about which they have any doubts, particularly if the call is out of the blue, should contact their local Revenue office or the Collector General’s Division at 1890 20 30 70,” she said.

“It’s Christmas and there are a lot of scams out there.” Gardaí have now also issued a statement.

“An Garda Síochána would like to remind the public to be wary of any contact from an unsolicited source, whether it is by telephone or email.

“Do not under any circumstances give out your credit/debit card, bank account, or PPS Number to anyone who makes contact with you over the phone.  An Garda Síochána, Revenue, nor any Financial Institution will ever call you and ask for your PPS number or bank account details.”

Majella O’Donnell hits out at Ireland’s mental health services

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Majella O’Donnell has hit out at Ireland’s mental health services, after her friend was denied immediate help despite being severely depressed.

The 56-year-old wife of Donegal crooner Daniel O’Donnell has previously opened up about her own battle with depression, and how she once considered taking her own life.

Taking to Facebook, Majella decided to use her voice and revealed how she felt “angry and disgusted” after her friend with mental health issues was told she wouldn’t be seen to until next year.

“My friend Anne is a young mother who has been feeling anxious, unmotivated, irritated and generally depressed. She is aware of it and has been on antidepressants in the past,” she wrote.

“She is also aware of the fact that it is negatively affecting her relationship with her partner and putting a huge strain on them. She wanted to get to the bottom of why she feels this way. She phoned a psychiatrist to see if she could talk to someone professional and was told that a) She would have to be referred by her GP; b) She wouldn’t be seen until at least February, and c) It would cost her €300 an hour for the psychiatrist.

“What the f*** is that all about? I get so bloody angry at this kind of thing. Here is a young woman realising that she has a problem and trying to do something positive about it and this is what the outcome is! She went back to her GP who once again prescribed antidepressants, a stronger one this time – and that’s it.

“She doesn’t really want to take them as she would like to understand why she feels the way she does but she feels she has no choice,” she said.

Speaking up: Majella has suffered from depression in the past.

Majella then hit out at the outrageous fees psychiatrists are charging patients, as her friend received a quote for €300 per hour.

“I can accept that a GP needs to refer you, but what really p***** me off is the fact that no one could see her until at least February – but that doesn’t really matter because she could never afford the €300 per hour fee that is being charged. €300 per hour! What the f*** is that all about? It is shameful.

“How dare anyone charge that kind of money to help another human being who is in a desperate situation. That sort of fee cannot be justified! We have wonderful support groups around the country – like Pieta House, Aware, Mental Health Ireland, Grow and lots more – doing their best to help people with their mental wellbeing, but when someone tries to help themselves before things have reached the point of no return, this is what happens.

Make a change: Majella is disgusted with Ireland’s mental health services.

“We need, as a country, to sort this problem with accessing psychiatrists and if there is a shortage, then we need to actively start incentivising medical students to look at psychiatry as their speciality.

“Why do we have to wait until a person is so desperate for help that they are considering taking their own lives before we are willing to do something about it,’ she said.

“We need to start being pro-active about mental health instead of being reactive. There, that’s my rant over. I may be a little unreasonable about the whole subject, but it is one that I am so passionate about,” she added.

Graphene Putty could be the future of medical equipment sensors

 Image result for Graphene Putty could be the future of medical equipment sensors   Image result for Graphene Putty could be the future of medical equipment sensors

The internet of things could be about to get a bit more playful as the AMBER centre showcases a new type of graphene sensor made using the kids’ toy, Silly Putty.

As an atom-thick wonder material, graphene has been prophesised for years now as the next big thing in material science.

But now, an interesting breakthrough made by the AMBER centre in Trinity College Dublin could be about to take us into the sillier side of science, or at least Silly Putty.

Led by Prof Jonathan Coleman, a research team within the centre has been looking at how a melding of graphene and the kids’ toy Silly Putty could be a match made in heaven.

Realising graphene’s unique conductive properties and Silly Putty’s ability to mould into almost any shape, the team wanted to see could they be combined to create a mouldable sensor.

Sure enough, Coleman and his team found that that the electrical resistance of putty infused with graphene – that it is calling ‘G-putty’ – was extremely sensitive to the slightest deformation or impact.

Can detect the footprint of the smallest spider

To test its effectiveness, the team mounted the G-putty onto the chest and neck of human subjects and used it to measure breathing, pulse and even blood pressure.

To the team’s amazement, it showed unprecedented sensitivity as a sensor for strain and pressure, hundreds of times more sensitive than normal sensors, offering hope for future use in medical devices.

It could also be used as a precise impact measurement device capable of detecting the footprints of the smallest spiders.

Speaking of its potential, Coleman said: “While a common application has been to add graphene to plastics in order to improve the electrical, mechanical, thermal or barrier properties, the resultant composites have generally performed as expected without any great surprises.

“The behaviour we found with G-putty has not been found in any other composite material. This unique discovery will open up major possibilities in sensor manufacturing worldwide.”

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Monday 10th October 2016

Welfare and pension increases to be announced in 2017 Irish budget

Carer’s allowance and disability payments to increase and the price of tobacco is likely to rise by 30%

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Minister for Housing Simon Coveney will detail a 64% increase in the budget for Traveller-specific accommodation, to €9m.

An increase in a number of pension and welfare payments will be announced in Tuesday’s budget. Minister for Social Protection Leo Varadkar will later give details of the package, including an additional €5 in the pension.

It is understood agreement has been reached between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael to introduce the pension increases from March.

Discussions were under way last night about the size and timing of increases to the carer’s allowance, disability payments and pensions for blind people and widows under the age of 66.

It has also been confirmed that the price of tobacco will increase in the budget, with a packet of 20 cigarettes going up by 50 cent. The Independent Alliance secured a reduction in prescription charges for the over-70s after a last-minute request ahead of the budget.

The alliance, which has five TDs, made a final plea for the measure during talks with Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Paschal Donohoe and Taoiseach Enda Kenny.

Mental health?

The group had requested a reduction in the charges from €2.50 to €2 for people over 70. Mr Donohoe agreed to cap the monthly cost for the over-70s at €20, a reduction of €5.

The move had been resisted by Fine Gael who insisted money for the health budget had already been allocated to a series of measures, including €35 million for mental health and €50 million for the disability budget.

But Minister for Transport Shane Ross said the alliance found the prescription charge “very difficult to accept in its current form”. He said he and his colleagues would be seeking a “substantial reduction” in the charges.

The Independent Alliance TDs also sought a 10 per cent increase in the Christmas bonus paid to welfare recipients and pensioners.

Mr Varadkar has agreed to an 85 per cent restoration of the payment, which equates to €159.80 for people on welfare and €196 for pensioners.

Back-to-education

He will increase the one-parent family payment and the back-to-education allowance by €5 per week. The Minister will also outline a new “cost of education” allowance which will be made available to claimants of the back-to-education allowance with children. It will be €500 a year. The income disregards for the one-parent family payment and jobseeker’s transition payment will rise by €20, from €90 to €110 per week, reversing previous reductions.

Minister for Health Simon Harris has been allocated a budget of more than €14 billion, while Minister of State Helen McEntee will be allocated €35 million for mental health services. This will include one major capital project, which is understood to be the reconstruction of an old hospital.

The National Treatment Purchase Fund will also receive an additional €20 million.

Minister for Housing Simon Coveney will detail a 64 per cent increase in the budget for Traveller-specific accommodation – to €9 million in 2017. This is separate from the general social housing budget.

The threshold for rent-a-room tax relief is expected to increase by €2,000. It is also understand that Dirt will be cut by 2 per cent.

An alternative budget as AAA & PBP go after big business.

 Image result for An alternative budget as AAA & PBP go after big business  Image result for Water charges, the local property tax and the Universal Social Charge would all be abolished and replaced with a landlord's tax  Image result for Water charges, the local property tax and the Universal Social Charge would all be abolished and replaced with a landlord's tax

The Anti Austerity Alliance, People Before Profit have published what they say is a radical alternative budget.

Water charges, the local property tax and the Universal Social Charge would all be abolished and replaced with a landlord’s tax, a new high earner’s tax and increasing income tax rates for those earning more than €90,000.

They say 50,000 social housing units could be acquired next year and they want to reverse all welfare cuts, add 1,000 hospital beds and increase nursing numbers by 4,000.

AAA TD Paul Murphy says they want to raise at least a further €4bn from Corporation Tax.

He said: “We think that there should be the introduction of a new rate of tax for big business profits, for profits that come in over €800,000.

“That should be a doubling of the existing rate, so 25%.

“That wouldn’t affect small businesses, but only affect big businesses.”

Donald Trump’s comments on women are ‘horrific’, says Tánaiste Fitzgerald

Frances Fitzgerald says ‘locker room banter’ should not become an excuse for sexual assault

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The Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald has said that the comments made by Donald Trump about grabbing women in a 2005 video raise questions about his fitness to be president of the United States.

Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald has said comments made by Donald Trump in a 2005 video about grabbing women raise questions about his fitness to be president of the United States.

Commenting on the recorded conversation in which Republican candidate Mr Trump boasted about using his celebrity status to make sexual advances on women, Ms Fitzgerald said: “I think it’s horrific in relation to women and celebrity being some sort of an excuse for sexual assault.

“I think they are horrendous comments and I think it is very disturbing what has been said in relation to the portrayal of women and an attitude to women.”

In the video, Mr Trump boasted about having “moved” on a married woman and being able to “do anything” to women, including “grab them by the pussy” because of his celebrity.

During the latest debate on Sunday night in the US presidential campaign, moderator Anderson Cooper pressed Mr Trump on the comments. He admitted to having made them but said he had never actually acted in such a way.

‘Deeply disturbing’

Asked about her opinion on Mr Trump’s fitness to be a candidate in the US presidential election, Ms Fitzgerald said: “As I have said it’s deeply disturbing in relation to attitude and the messages it sent out to society at large and its portrayal by him as locker room banter.

“If locker room banter is to become an excuse for the sexual assault of women, I think it has become a major issue in terms of the candidacy of anyone running for president.”

Concussion research project uses Smartphone to detect symptoms

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                             Concussion Symptoms above middle picture.

A joint Irish and Japanese research team has developed a new platform called Kiduku that can detect if a person has a concussion using a sensor and a smartphone.

For the past three years, the teams from the Insight Centre for Data Analytics based in University College Dublin (UCD) and the Japanese tech giant Fujitsu have been investing huge amounts of time into tackling the issue of concussion.

The attitude towards concussion in sport has changed rapidly over the past two years, from a condition often ignored by coaches to one given top medical priority after an incident on the pitch.

Data uploaded via smartphone

This has largely been due to the fact that while researchers know how a concussion occurs and the immediate effects, the long-term damage remains up for debate.

In the meantime, this joint Irish and Japanese team is looking to at least aid detection immediately following a head injury, using its new platform called Kiduku: an amalgamation of the Japanese phrases “to be aware” and “to construct”.

Devised by a team of physiotherapists, engineers, programmers and data visualisation experts, Kiduku would be available as an application on a person’s smartphone. It would provide clinicians with direct, easy-to-interpret sensor readings across a range of indicators such as gait, posture and balance.

The readings are taken by low cost, off-the-shelf sensor technology and uploaded to the cloud via smartphones.

The combined team has aided in the development of algorithms to interpret the readings as quickly as possible before sending them to a clinician.

Tracking the recovery?

These same sensors can also be used to capture motion data in step-down care settings and in non-clinical environments throughout the day, giving clinicians a more objective and accurate portrait of the patient’s movement and recovery over time.

“Traditional monitoring of concussion is based on in-clinic observation and patient reports,” said Prof Brian Caulfield, director of the Insight Centre.

“Patients routinely perform better in standard motion tests under observation. By analysing data from these sensors whilst in the home or exercising, we can get a more accurate picture of how a patient is moving and balancing.”

This latest announcement marks the successful completion of the first phase of the project, with plans to present the Kiduku platform at the upcoming 5th International Consensus Conference on Concussion in Sport in Berlin on 27 and 28 October.

Interestingly, the Kiduku project began three years ago with the intention of researching monitoring services and assisted independent living for senior citizens, but it was found to be especially suited to monitoring concussion.

Risk of heart attack tripled by exercising while angry. A new study finds

Experts say extreme emotional triggers could have same effect on the body as physical exertion

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Men running at the gym. Heavy exertion doubles the chance of a heart attack, while being angry or upset at the same time triples the risk.

Attempting to “blow off steam” through vigorous exercise could triple the risk of a heart attack within the hour, experts say.

Being very upset or angry more than doubles the risk of a heart attack within an hour, while heavy physical exertion does the same, a worldwide study suggested. But combining the two – such as using extreme exercise as a way of calming down – increases the risk even further.

Experts said the study – the biggest of its kind – provides evidence of a “crucial link” between mind and body.

The research, published in the American Heart Association’s journal Circulation, suggested a doubling of the risk association between anger or emotional upset, or physical exertion, and the onset of first heart attack symptoms within one hour.

The association was much stronger – just over triple the risk – for patients who said they had been angry or emotionally upset while also engaging in heavy physical exertion.

The study’s lead author, Dr Andrew Smyth, from the population health research institute at McMaster University in Canada, said extreme emotional and physical triggers are thought to have similar effects on the body.

He added: “Both can raise blood pressure and heart rate, changing the flow of blood through blood vessels and reducing blood supply to the heart. This is particularly important in blood vessels already narrowed by plaque, which could block the flow of blood leading to a heart attack.

“Regular physical activity has many health benefits, including the prevention of heart disease, so we want that to continue. However, we would recommend that a person who is angry or upset who wants to exercise to blow off steam not go beyond their normal routine to extremes of activity.”

Researchers analysed information from 12,461 patients from 52 countries with an average age of 58. They had completed a questionnaire about the kind of “triggers” they experienced in the hour before they had a heart attack.

The results showed that 13% (1,650 people) had engaged in physical activity while 14% (1,752 people) were angry or emotionally upset.

The experts took into account the effect of other risk factors such as age, smoking, obesity, high blood pressure and other health problems.

Dr Barry Jacobs, the director of behavioural sciences at the Crozer-Keystone family medicine residency programme in Springfield, Pennsylvania, said: “This large, nearly worldwide study provides more evidence of the crucial link between mind and body.

“Excess anger, under the wrong conditions, can cause a life-threatening heart attack. All of us should practise mental wellness and avoid losing our temper to extremes. People who are at risk for a heart attack would do best to avoid extreme emotional situations.”

Maureen Talbot, a senior cardiac nurse with the British Heart Foundation, said: “This research suggests that emotional upset and excessive physical exertion can be triggers for a heart attack. Whilst this is interesting these are not the underlying causes.

“Heart attacks are mainly caused by atherosclerosis, the buildup of fatty plaque in the arteries. When plaque breaks off, a blood clot forms leading to a heart attack.

“That’s why it’s important people know their heart attack risk and take steps to reduce their risk, by quitting smoking, keeping physically active and maintaining a healthy weight.”

Silkworms can produce extra super-silk quality if you feed them correctly

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Silkworms are pretty amazing creatures, and the silk they produce for their cocoons has been used by humans to create fine, durable fabrics for more than 5,000 years.

Now though, silkworms just became a little bit more fascinating.

Silkworms are the larvae of silk moths and use their silk produced in their salivary glands to produce their cocoons.

Scientists from Tsinghua University, Beijing, have found that feeding silkworms graphene or single-walled carbon nanotubes means they create fibres which aren’t only significantly stronger, they conduct electricity too.

Researchers fed the silkworms with mulberry leaves sprayed with solutions containing 0.2% of either of the two substances, before collecting the silk the worms spun for their cocoons.

The fibres collected were found to be twice as tough as standard silk, withstanding at least 50% more physical stress before breaking. Furthermore, after the team carbonised the fibres by heating them to 1,050°C they found the super-silk conducted electricity, unlike regular silk.

Silk has been a huge export for China for millenia, hence the name of the famous trade route the Silk Road.

A similar form of super-silk can be created by dissolving nanomaterials into chemical solvents and then applying them to the silk. However, such solvents are toxic and require more work to make so the feeding method is more friendly towards the environment and much easier to do.

The fibres’ qualities mean it could be used to create durable protective fabrics, biodegradable medical implants and eco-friendly wearable electronics.

Various insects create silk, but it is generally silk from moth larvae which is used to create fabrics.

The researchers said their findings open up possibilities for the large scale production of the highly-useful material.

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Monday 30th March 2015

Irish landlords and local councils give names of 100,000 tenants to Irish Water

 

Irish Water has been given the names of more than 100,000 tenants, which means they can now be sent water bills in the coming weeks

IRISH Water has been given the names of more than 100,000 tenants, which means they can now be sent water bills in the coming weeks.

Local authorities and landlord owners of multiple properties were ordered to hand over the details last month, in advance of the utility issuing demands for payment to some 1.5 million households across the State.

The Irish Independent has learned that the company wrote to city and county councils in February, asking them to provide tenants’ names following the conclusion of a national registration campaign.

It also wrote to around 400 landlords who own 50 or more properties, seeking the information. This was because Irish Water held a database of addresses – but did not receive registration details from the occupants of those properties, which included names and the number of people living there.

As the legal owners of the properties, councils and landlords could have been hit with default bills of €65 for the first three months of the year if their tenants refused to register.

Local authorities own more than 125,000 properties, meaning they faced a bill of more than €8m. There are another 300,000 private rental properties according the CSO, which could result in landlords being hit with bills totalling €20m.00 / 04:11

Irish Water sought the information after consulting with the Data Protection Commissioner. Irish Water said it could not provide details on the number of private landlords which had provided tenants’ details. But it said just “one or two” councils had yet to supply the data.

Anger

Opposition parties reacted with anger to the revelations.

Fianna Fáil TD Sean Fleming said: “It is unacceptable that Irish Water is extracting sensitive information from local authorities without the consent of either the individual concerned or elected representatives.”

The party proposes amending the Water Services Act 2013 to ensure that tenant information is not handed over to the council without the consent of the people concerned

And Sinn Féin Westmeath county councillor Sorca Clarke started a petition calling on her local authority to retrieve the details of social housing residents it gave to Irish Water.

Ms Clarke said the party was planning a nationwide campaign on the issue.

However, a spokeswoman for Irish Water said: “We’ve been engaging with all local authorities seeking tenants’ details.

“We’ve been through this with all local authorities, and with the Data Protection Commission in terms of the legal standing to ensure it is appropriate for us to ask for it.”

The move was allowed under Section 26 of the 2013 Water Services Act, which obliges a “relevant person” – which includes local authorities – to provide information to the company.

The company said it had undertaken a national registration campaign from last September which concluded in February.

The Office of the Data Protection Commissioner said it considered Irish Water’s proposals to obtain tenant names only from local authorities were “consistent with its statutory obligation to identify tenants in properties”.

Irish Water starts reading meters tomorrow and bills will go out from next week in tranches of 37,000 per day.

That broken Irish government jet has finally been sold off

 

The Gulfstream IV had been out of action since last summer.

The Government Gulfstream IV jet, one of two aircraft that had been used for official State business, has been sold for $500,000.

The jet was grounded in the US last summer after problems were discovered during routine maintenance and now the aircraft, which is over two decades old, has been sold off.

The sale, to a US-based company, was completed last December for $500,000 or around €460,000 at current exchange rates. The jet has been re-registered to a firm in Florida, TheJournal.ie has learned.

The Department of Defence said the decisions was made based on the number of flying hours, the age of the aircraft and the cost of repairs.

In January, Defence Minister Simon Coveney was quoted on Flying in Ireland as saying he had made the decision that the State was not going to spend any more money on trying to make the ageing jet fit for purpose given it had been grounded since last summer.

Given the budgetary position the country was facing and the Government had to manage in the past four years, we had to ensure we were not spending money on an aeroplane that was really at the end of its life. Accordingly, we stopped spending money.

On 27 July last year the jet was flown to Gulf Aerospace Corporation in the US state of Georgia for routine annual maintenance.

It was here that problems were detected with the undercarriage of the plane during routine maintenance checks and it has been grounded ever since.

The Department of Defence said:

During this inspection, it became apparent that the servicing and repair of the aircraft would have involved a significantly higher level of investment than was anticipated. Given the number of flying hours achieved and the age of the craft it was decided that the aircraft would be withdrawn from service and would not be returned back to Ireland.

Conveney said the government continues to operate on one smaller, shorter aircraft, a Learjet. He said he does not expect the government to purchase a new jet “any time soon” given budget constraints.

Replacing the jet with one of a similar age could cost around €4 million but a newer model would cost up to €40 million. An inter-departmental group is currently examining the future options for the Ministerial Air Transport Service (MATS) with Coveney to bring its final report to government with recommendations.

“We have been managing with one smaller aircraft. I accept that this is not ideal at times, given the number of people who may need to travel with the Taoiseach or the President. However, it has not caused significant problems,” Coveney said.

The Gulfstream, which is 24 years old, was earmarked for abandonment in Brian Lenihan’s Budget in December 2010, having racked up over 13,000 flying hours.

However in 2012, when both jets were still operational, Coveney’s predecessor at the Department of the Defence, Alan Shatter, said he had no intention of getting rid of either of the government jets.

Chocolate accelerates weight loss?

Research claims it lowers cholesterol and aids sleep

  

Can you indulge your sweet tooth and lose weight? If it’s chocolate that you crave than the answer seems to be yes.

Chocolate can aid weight loss when combined with a low-carb diet, study claims

Confusion reigns in the diet world, with conflicting recommendations for diets that range from high-protein to low-carbohydrate and even high-fat.

According to many nutrition researchers, the problem is that these tools are too blunt.

“What is important is the specific combination of foods in your diet,” says Johannes Bohannon, research director of the nonprofit Institute of Diet and Health.

“Just lowering the proportion of carbohydrates is not a reliable weight loss intervention because it has different physiological effect depending on the bioactive compounds in your diet.”

A study by German researchers, published in the International Archives of Medicine, looked at the effect chocolate has on our diets.

Chocolate is a rich source of bioactive compounds, particularly a group of molecules called flavonoids, plant compounds associated with several positive health impacts.

But teasing out the possible effects of such compounds in your diet, and how it may interact with various diet interventions, is rarely studied.

It could be that simply consuming chocolate in combination with dietary interventions has no effect, or it could make such diets even more effective in the right dose.

To test the idea, researchers divided volunteers aged 19 to 67 into three groups.

Surprisingly, the low-carb plus chocolate group lost 10% more weight

One group followed a strict low-carbohydrate diet, another group followed the low-carbohydrate diet and also consumed 42 grams of dark (81%) chocolate per day, and a control group followed their normal diet.

Besides tracking their body weight and measuring blood chemistry before, during and after, participants filled out questionnaires to assess sleep quality and well-being.

As predicted, the low-carb group lost weight compared to the control.

But surprisingly, the low-carb plus chocolate group lost 10% more weight.

Not only that, but the weight loss persisted, compared to the low-carb group which saw a return of the weight after 3 weeks — a classic problem in dietary interventions known as the “yo-yo effect”.

The chocolate group also reported better sleep and well-being, and their blood cholesterol levels were significantly reduced.

“To our surprise, the effect of chocolate is real,” says Bohannon.

“It is not enough to just consume chocolate, but in combination with exercise and reduction in carbohydrates, our data indicate that chocolate can be a weight loss accelerator.

”The researchers suggest that high-cocoa chocolate has the potential to enhance other diets as well.

“The best part about this discovery,” says Bohannon, “is that you can buy chocolate everywhere, cheaply and without having to believe diet gurus or purchase expensive nutrition products over the Internet.”

New rules on country of origin labeling of meats come into force this Wednesday

  

New rules on country of origin labeling come into effect from Wednesday (April 1) and will apply to sheepmeat, pigmeat and poultry.

The Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Simon Coveney will sign into law new rules to provide for country of origin labeling on packaged meat products.

The regulation introduces requirements on food business operators including processors, retailers and butcher shops to ensure that country of origin labelling information is available to their customers who purchase packaged meat products.

The rules will cover poultry, pigmeat, sheepmeat and goatmeat and will add to the existing rules in place for beef.

The Minister said this regulation is yet another step in providing even clearer and more detailed information to consumers with regards to the food that they purchase.

“Origin labelling has been in place for beef for many years now and has benefited the consumer in being able to identify the origin of the products they purchase. This additional requirement to provide information on the origin of other meats to consumers is broadly consistent with the rules on beef and adds transparency for consumers.”

The EU Regulation underpinning these rules covers pre-packed non-processed meat but does not cover ‘loose’ product, or non pre-packaged meat.

However the EU Regulations provide that mandatory origin labelling may be extended to loose product by National rules, and the Minister indicated that is Department is working with the Department of Health to determine whether this can be done on the basis of existing primary legislation.

The Minister said his Department is working closely with the FSAI, the HSE, Local Authority Veterinary Services and other relevant state agencies to ensure that consumers here can have full confidence that these rules will be implemented to the highest standards.

“I would encourage members of the public to bring any queries that they may have on labelled products to the Food Safety Authority of Ireland who will follow up on the matter with the relevant businesses and state bodies.”

“Ireland has long been a supporter at EU level for practical information to be made available to the consumer when it comes to their choice of food purchases and the implementation of these rules is another positive step in that direction. “

Researchers create square ice in a graphene sandwich

   

Material science researchers have been exploring the myriad properties of graphene since its discovery more than a decade ago. It’s strong, highly conductive, and it turns out two sheets of graphene can squeeze molecules trapped between them like a microscopic vice.

That last point comes from a new study led by Andre Geim, one of the original discoverers of graphene. In an experiment conducted at the University of Manchester, Geim used sheets of graphene to force water to form unnatural square crystals.

This new study has its roots in work done by Geim’s team back in 2012. That’s when they discovered that water vapor could diffuse through laminated sheets of graphene oxide, which was surprising — not even helium gas can do that. Then last year Geim proved liquid water could do the same thing. As for the cause, computer simulations indicated the water was forming layers of ice between the graphene sheets, which then pushed other water molecules through the webbing of carbon atoms. It also predicted that the water would arrange itself into square crystals, which have been seen only rarely in the past.

Simulations are all well and good, but the team wanted to confirm it with a real experiment. To test the computer model, one microliter of water was placed on a tiny graphene wafer. Another layer of graphene was then placed on top of the water, and the water was allowed to evaporate. The graphene layers pressed closer together as the water seeped out, eventually coming within a nanometer of each other. When the researchers looked at the water molecules under an electron microscope, they were indeed in the form of square ice.

Square ice has been observed before, but never in any substantial quantity. Water molecules form weak connections called hydrogen bonds in their liquid state (hydrogen atoms attracted to oxygen). This usually happens in a tetrahedral conformation, which leads to ice crystals that have six sides. To end up with square ice, the oxygen atoms in adjacent water molecules must be sitting right on top of each other, which they don’t like to do. It’s like pushing magnets of matching polarity together.

It takes a lot of force from the graphene sheets to make this happen. This likely comes from the Van der Waals interaction of the carbon atoms in the graphene. This attractive force is small for each atom, but becomes formidable across the full surface area. Geim’s team calculated that the water was subjected to 10,000 atmospheres of pressure being sandwiched between the graphene wafers.

A better understanding of how water interacts with graphene could lead to the development of less expensive, more effective filter technology. This same technique could be integrated with carbon nanotubes and in other similarly tight spaces where the capillary action of water can be exploited.