Tag Archives: Health & Safety

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Friday 28th August 2015

Suspicious package sent to Alan Kelly’s office declared a hoax


The package was sent to Alan Kelly’s constituency office in Nenagh, Co Tipperary

A package containing white powder which was sent to Environment Minister Alan Kelly’s constituency office has been declared a hoax.

The alarm was raised after a letter sent to the building on Summerhill in Nenagh, Co Tipperary, was opened by a member of staff.

The Defence Forces’ bomb squad was called in by gardai and declared the scene safe within an hour of arriving.

“The Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) Team was called to deal with what is described as a letter containing suspicious material. The EOD team arrived on scene at 12.40 pm and following an examination declared the letter and material a hoax,” they said.

Mr Kelly was not in the office at the time and it was closed during the scare.

He has spoken openly about threats made against him personally since he took over the environment portfolio and pressed ahead with the roll-out of controversial water charges.

A bomb scare threat was phoned in to his constituency office last year and a death threat was also made against him, while the minister has said other threats have been made against his wife, family and staff.

Mr Kelly said sending the white powder was a deplorable act.

“It is not something any office of any occupation should have to deal with at any time,” he said.

“I will not be making any further comment other than to acknowledge the hard work and dedication of the constituency office staff who regrettably have to encounter such instances. My primary concern is for their health and safety.”

The alarm was raised at 9.05am and the bomb squad declared it safe at 1.30pm after spending under an hour at the office.

Cars, bars and home decor drive Irish economy recovery in retail

Retail sales jump by a record 11.6% in July


Retail sales jumped 11.6% in July, the largest monthly rise in 10 years, as new car sales benefitted from the introduction of 152 number plates and consumers spent more in bars and on home decor.

The latest figures from the Central Statistics Office (CSO) indicate retail sales have risen by 9.9% year-on-year.

When motor trades are excluded, the monthly rise was 0.6% and 6.6% on an annual basis.

The sector with the largest monthly increases was motor trades, which saw sales rise 22.9%. New car sales peak due to the dual registration system, which saw the 152 number plates from July 1st.

However, there were also increases in sales of furniture and lighting (+6.7%) and bars (+4.4%).

The sectors with the largest monthly decreases were hardware, paints and glass (-3.5 per cent), books, newspapers and stationery (-2.4%) and food, beverages and tobacco (-1.4%).

On an annual basis, sale in most of the 13 business sectors covered by the survey grew, with car sales (+18.9%), furniture and lighting (+13.8%), and electrical goods (+14.4%) leading the charge.

Only food and beverages recorded a year-on-year decline, falling by 2%.

“Following on from the positive employment and earnings trends, it is little surprise the Irish consumer spending recovery is continuing,” Goodbody economist Dermot O’Leary said.

Noting the jump in car sales, he said the growth in big ticket items was a confirmation of the improvement in consumer confidence and belief about the sustainability of the recovery in the labour market.

He also said the renewed buoyancy in bar sales was “a sign that discretionary spending is also on the up”.

Isme, the Irish Small and Medium Enterprises Association, acknowledged the figures reflected a broad-based recovery.

However, chief executive Mark Fielding said the continuing pressure on margins and the increase in business costs were crippling the sector.

“Irish consumers are holding back a certain amount of spend. However, they are willing to buy when they can see value. Unfortunately for our retailers, that means more sales at higher costs leading to lower profit margins”.

“The Budget could rectify this through a reduction in the tax burden for consumers and a reinstatement of the 4.25% employer’s PRSI”.

HSE investigates Lloyds pharmacy prescription payments

Lloyds denies fraud over boosting income by claiming multiple medical card prescription fees


Lawyers for Lloyds Pharmacy criticised the HSE for alleging fraud and breach of contract in a letter sent to managing director Goretti Brady (pictured) earlier this month.

The HSE is investigating the way Lloyds, the largest pharmacy chain in Ireland, has significantly boosted its dispensing fee income by claiming multiple payments from the State for single prescriptions presented by medical card holders.

Individual pharmacies in the LloydsPharmacyIreland chain could boost their fee income by 66 per cent by using a system developed within the company, branch managers were advised in an internal memo.

Lloyds has denied there was any fraud in its practice of claiming up to four fees in a month in respect of a single prescription dispensed in one visit and said its approach was no different to any other pharmacy.

Lawyers for the company criticised the HSE for alleging fraud and breach of contract in a letter sent to Lloyds managing director Goretti Brady earlier this month.

In its replying letter, Lloyds’ lawyers called on the HSE to withdraw the “entirely unfounded” allegation for which no substantiation had been offered.

LloydsPharmacyIreland operates a system known as MyMed, which, in the case of a four-week drug supply, involves putting a patient’s medication into four separate compartmentalised trays, one for each seven-day period. The drugs are all supplied to a patient in a single visit to the pharmacy.

Lloyds claims it is entitled in such a case to both the first dispensation fee of €5 and three additional phased dispensing fees of €3.27 each.

The HSE, however, contends that when all medication is dispensed to a patient on the same date, Lloyds is entitled only to the €5 dispensing fee per prescription item.

Concerns within the HSE were raised when it became aware of a notice from Lloyds head office to its pharmacies, entitled “MyMed Profitability”. The notice said: “Wondering why we’re obsessed with MyMedding?!” and included a graphic which it said “should show you why it’s so important to hit your target. And why it’s even better to hit your target early so you can make a real dent on your overall profitability for the year.”

The notice said the graphic illustrated “the difference in fees between a MyMed and normal dispensing”.

The graphic showed that for five items dispensed for the “regular fee” of €5 each, the total fees would be €25. On another line, the graphic showed that the regular fee of €5 for five items, plus 15 phased fees of €3.27, would result in total fees of €74.05. This would result in an additional €588.60 in dispensing fees for such a MyMed patient in a year, it stated.

Elsewhere, under the graphic, the notice stated: “MyMed increases our dispensing fees by 66%!”

When the HSE wrote to Lloyds about the issue, the pharmacist’s solicitors said they were instructed the MyMed system involved considerable resources and “dramatically increases the time it takes to prepare the prescribed medication for dispensing to patients”. They said Lloyds took the view the process “clearly involves the assembly of four separate weeks’ supply of medication, each of which require to be checked individually and amounts to the dispensing of medication on a phased basis, notwithstanding that all four trays may be supplied to the patient at the one time”.

They added: “It is on this basis that our client claims the additional phased dispensing fees.”

The HSE wrote to Lloyds earlier this month after receiving allegations from a whistleblower and after an inspection last July of certain pharmacies.

The HSE declined to comment on the matter as there was an investigation underway.

A spokeswoman said pharmacists were entitle to claim a fee for each tranche of medicines dispensed. They could claim an additional fee for phased dispensing “in certain narrow circumstances” relating to patient safety or the shelf-life of medicines.

25% of parents leave children alone in the car despite huge risk research reveals


Kids not able to share mp3 player

A shocking new study has revealed that a quarter of parents regularly leave their children in the car alone, sometimes for up to a half an hour.

More than 25% of parents admitted leaving children as young as four unattended in a parked vehicle for an average of 22 minutes despite the serious risks involved.

Younger couples were found to take this risk more than older parents as 42pc of parents between the age of 18 and 34 confessed to doing this at least once.

Choosing to leave children in a parked vehicle without supervision poses huge risk of endangerment particularly if they should they release the handbrake.

Mothers were found to be more conscious of the risks involved than dads, leaving children in the car for an average of 17 minutes compared to a dad’s 27 minute average.

The research, carried out by UK company Kwik Fit Insurance, found that parents often return to the car to find the interior has been damaged and alarms have been set off. Children are also found to be bickering upon their parents return.

Parenting expert Richard Curtis revealed that the study’s findings are hugely concerning.

“There are a number of hazards that could pose a risk to children left in an unattended car.

The World Is ‘Locked Into At Least 3 Feet of Sea Level Rise, And Probably More’


The world has seen three inches of sea level rise since the early 1990s and we should expect “at least three feet” more by roughly the end of the century, NASA scientists said in a press briefing Wednesday, as global warming accelerates the melting of the planet’s ice sheets and the slow but steady expansion of the oceans.

“Given what we know now about how the ocean expands as it warms and how ice sheets and glaciers are adding water to the seas, it’s pretty certain we are locked into at least three feet of sea level rise, and probably more,” said Dr. Steve Nerem, a professor at the University of Colorado-Boulder and the head of NASA’s Sea Level Change Team. “But we don’t know whether it will happen within a century or somewhat longer.”

NASA released a series of visualizations at Wednesday’s briefing that show just how much sea level rise has varied around the world over the past 23 years, based on satellite data.

While some parts of the world have actually seen sea levels drop thanks to long-term processes like the retreat of ancient glaciers, others (like some Southeast Asian nations) have seen sea levels rise by as much as 9 inches, thanks to periodic ocean cycles like the Pacific Decadal Oscillation.

“Sea level along the west coast of the United States has actually fallen over the past 20 years because long-term natural cycles there are hiding the impact of global warming,” Josh Willis, an oceanographer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) said in a press release.

“However, there are signs this pattern is changing,” he added. “We can expect accelerated rates of sea level rise along this coast over the next decade as the region recovers from its temporary sea level ‘deficit.'”

Global sea level has been measured accurately and continuously by satellites since 1993. (NASA/Steve Nerem, University of Colorado)

Scientists say the sea level rise we’re experiencing today is due to three culprits:

  • The expansion of the oceans as their water warms up. “We know this from basic physics,” NASA points out in this explainer. “When water heats up, it expands. So when the ocean warms, sea level rises.”
  • The loss of ice from the massive Greenland and Antarctica ice sheets
  • The melting of mountain glaciers around the world, such as in Central Asia

The melting of the Greenland ice sheet offers up one of the starkest scenarios of how far sea levels might rise in the future. Spanning some 660,000 square miles – nearly the size of Alaska – and with ice nearly two miles deep at its thickest point, the island’s ice holds the potential to raise global sea levels by about 20 feet.

Though it would take centuries for Greenland’s ice to melt away completely, its melting is accelerating thanks to its location in the Arctic, which is warming up at roughly twice the rate of the rest of the planet. The island’s pattern of losing ice in summer and gaining it back in winter “fell out of balance in the 1990s, and is now shedding more and more ice in the summer than it gains back in the winter,” NASA says.

What’s more, the rest of the world’s glaciers are melting faster than ever today too. Meanwhile, big changes are occurring also at the southern end of the world, where Antarctica’s two major regions have begun to experience big changes over the past decade.

The 2002 breakup of the Larsen B ice shelf on the Antarctic Peninsula served as an omnious sign of things to come. Made up of some 1,250 square miles of floating ice just off the peninsula and stable for more than 10,000 years, the ice shelf broke up that year thanks to warming air and ocean temperatures, and is now gone forever.

That loss has been followed by the breakup of additional ice on the peninsula, which has in turn sped up the flow of glaciers into the ocean. And while the complete melting away of all of Antarctica’s ice would take thousands of years, the continent contains enough ice to raise the world’s oceans by 190 feet.

It’s enough to prompt scientists to ask what could happen in the meantime – especially for the world’s coastal cities –  in the meantime. “We’ve seen from the paleoclimate record that sea level rise of as much as 10 feet in a century or two is possible, if the ice sheets fall apart rapidly,” Tom Wagner, the cryosphere program scientist at NASA Headquarters in Washington, said in a press release.

“We’re seeing evidence that the ice sheets are waking up, but we need to understand them better before we can say we’re in a new era of rapid ice loss.”

While the prevailing view among scientists who specialize in this area has been that much of Antarctica remains stable, “we don’t really know,” said Eric Rignot, a glaciologist at University of California-Irvine.

“Some of the signs we see in the satellite data right now are red flags that these glaciers might not be as stable as we once thought,” Rignot added. “There’s always a lot of attention on the changes we see now, but as scientists our priority needs to be on what the changes could be tomorrow.”


News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Friday 6th March 2015

Irish Government willing to ‘tweak’ insolvency legislation


Minister insisted Government was watching situation in the courts ‘very carefully’.

Minister for Finance Michael Noonan has said the Government is willing to “tweak” insolvency legislation.

Mr Noonan made his comments in Limerick where some 219 repossession cases were listed before the Circuit Court.

When asked if he could envisage a change in the insolvency legislation happening soon he replied: “We have been discussing it as late as this week. If we had to legislate to make change it would take some time, but there are things we can do through regulation which we think will improve the uptake.”

Mr Noonan said the Government was “very conscious of the issue and it’s the policy of the Government not to have homes repossessed”.

He added that a lot of actions taken by the banks involved “simply sending orders to people who haven’t replied to letters, but I would advise people to engage, once they engage arrangements can be made to come up with affordable solutions.”

“The issue around restructuring of mortgages has been going on for all the life of this Government and over 100,000 mortgages have been restructured now, 2,500 of them in the last month.

“As I understand it, the banks are getting people to engage with them so they can commence negotiations and restructuring rather than moving for repossession.

“But we are watching the situation in the courts very carefully and, we are also watching the way in the insolvency legislation is being applied and if it needs tweaking to improve the uptake we will tweak it.”

Among the cases dealt with by the county registrar Pat Wallace in Limerick was that of a mother of five who agreed to leave her family home after falling into arrears of more than €70,000 following the break-up of her marriage.

The case was adjourned until May 8th.

Fianna Fáil TDs Niall Collins and Willie O’Dea were in court to lend their support to their constituents.

Fine Gael and Labour TDs and Senators expressed concern at separate private party meetings on Wednesday about the effectiveness of existing measures to help those in difficulty with mortgage arrears.

The parliamentary Labour Party unanimously backed a Bill from Longford-Westmeath TD Willie Penrose calling for the period of bankruptcy to be reduced from three years to one.

At the Fine Gael parliamentary party meeting Mr Noonan said the Economic Management Council (EMC), which discussed the issue at its meeting on Wednesday, will examine further ways to assist people in mortgage difficulties.

The Insolvency Service of Ireland dealt with approximately 1,000 cases last year but the slow uptake by debtors has led to calls for reform.


Number of long-term mortgage accounts in arrears increases


Accounts in arrears for over 720 days up 0.8% in fourth quarter.

Some 114,674 residential mortgage accounts were classified as restructured at the end of 2014

The number of residential mortgage accounts in arrears continued to drop in the final three months of last year, the sixth successive quarterly decline, according to new figures from the Central Bank.

The data shows however that mortgage accounts in arrears for two years or more are still rising.

Some 110,366 residential mortgage accounts – equivalent to 14.5% of all residential mortgages – were in arrears at the end of 2014. This marks a 6.4% decline compared to the third quarter.

The figures show that accounts in early arrears declined significantly during the fourth quarter, falling 3.8% to 31,667 at the end of December, or 4.2% of the total stock.

Accounts in arrears over 90 days – equivalent to 10.4% of all residential mortgage accounts – fell by 7.4% from October to December to 78,699. However, accounts in arrears for over 720 days continued to rise during the fourth quarter, albeit at the slowest rate to date.

According to the latest figures, the number of accounts in arrears for more than 720 days increased by 294 or 0.8% in the final quarter of 2014. Such accounts now represent close to half of of the 78,699 customers in distress for more than 90 days.

The outstanding balance on mortgage accounts in arrears for 720 days or more was €8.2 billion, the figures show.

Fianna Fáil finance spokesperson Michael McGrath described the increase in the number of accounts in long-term arrears as a “damning indictment of the Government’s strategy in relation to distressed mortgages. “

“The falls in early stage arrears should not be considered as cause for self-congratulation as these are typically the easiest cases to deal with. The reality is that there are still a huge number of arrears cases to be dealt with. In fact of the total stock of 78,699 residential accounts that were in arrears of more than 90 days, just 28.1% were classified as restructured at the end of December, compared to 29.3% at the end of September,” he said.

Philip O’Sullivan, an economist with Investec said the decline in the number of accounts in arrears was a welcome trend and one that reflected the improving economic backdrop and more effective engagement by both lenders and borrowers. He said however that the rise in long-term arreas was a serious problem that required ongoing attention from banks.

Some 114,674 residential mortgage accounts were classified as restructured at the end of 2014, reflecting a quarter-on-quarter increase of 4.3%. Of these accounts, 84.9% were deemed to be meeting the terms of their current restructure arrangement. The largest increases in restructures were again recorded in the categories of split mortgages and arrears capitalisations, the Central Bank said.

Buy-to-let mortgage accounts in arrears over 90 days decreased by 7.6% during the fourth quarter; the largest decrease recorded in this category to date. At the end of December, there were 15,386 Buy-to-let accounts in arrears over 720 days, with an outstanding balance of €4.8 billion.

Goodbody economist Dermot O’Leary said while the latest statistics show progress on reducing arrears, doubts remain about the suitability of some of the options employed in restructuring accounts.

He noted the high rate of re-default by owner occupiers and investors on accounts that have undergone arrears capitalisation restructuring, which represent 35% of the total restructures undertaken.

Mr O’Leary also questioned whether the 33% rise in mortgage restructures in the past year represented permanent solutions.

€100 charge to inspect water meter for faults


The Commission for Energy Regulation (CER) has said members of the public could face a €100 service charge if they tell Irish Water there is a problem with their water meter.

The CER yesterday issued the Water Charges Plan 2015, which takes into account the revised water charges announced by the Government last November.

The plan also approves a €100 charge that will be applied to some Irish Water customers who report concerns about their meter readings.

The levy will only be applied if the meter is tested and found to be “accurate to within tolerances”. If it is found that the meter is inaccurate, the fee will not be applied.

Irish Water told the CER it does not know how much a meter testing call-out will cost the company.

“Irish Water have yet to carry out meter-testing in response to a customer request and therefore we do not currently have a robust estimate of the costs involved,” the utility said in its submission. “We expect to collect accurate cost date over the coming months. In the interim, while Irish Water gathers this data a standardised customer charge of €100 is proposed.”

Irish Water said the charge was reasonable based on a review of charges from other utilities.

The only other additional services charge that Irish Water can apply is a €17 fee for a special domestic meter read.

This will apply when a domestic customer requests that a meter read be undertaken outside of the normal meter reading schedule.

The plan approves a charge of €3.70 per 1,000 litres for customers who receive both water and wastewater services from Irish Water, though this will be capped at a maximum charge of €160 per annum for households with one adult or €260 per annum for two or more adults.

Meanwhile, Fianna Fáil senator Averil Power has said the Government has failed to roll out a ‘free first fix’ scheme announced 10 months ago. The scheme will see Irish Water fix faults at no cost to the customer.

Ms Power contacted Dublin City Council and Irish Water on behalf of Dublin householders who were instructed to repair a water leak on their property.

“I was surprised to hear that water staff had dug up the path, spotted the leak, and left it unfixed,” she said. “Once they identified that the problem was within the property boundary, they walked away and told the homeowners they would have to call a private plumber themselves and get it repaired.

“The Minister for Environment must immediately address this issue so more homeowners are not hit with hefty bills for repairing links that the Government said would be the responsibility of Irish Water.”

5 Restaurants receive closure orders in Cork, Roscommon and Dublin 


Two restaurants in Mitchelstown, Co Cork issued with food closure orders

Five closure orders were issued by environmental health officers in the HSE in Dublin, Co Cork and Co Roscommon during the month of February.

Five food businesses, including two restaurants inMitchelstown, Co Cork, a Chinese restaurant in Carrigaline, Co Cork and a Chinese restaurant in Co Roscommon, received closure orders last month.

The five closure orders were issued by environmental health officers with the HSE in Dublin, Co Cork and Co Roscommon during the month of February.

Four closure orders were issued under the European Communities (Official Control of Foodstuffs) regulations against Shanghai House restaurant, 13 Upper Cork Street, Mitchelstown, Co Cork; Yu Garden Chinese restaurant, Bridge Street, Strokestown, Co Roscommon; Huahong restaurant, Carrig House, Old Waterpark, Carrigaline, Co Cork, and VF Foods (cold store), Room 1 of the building, Jamestown Business Park, Jamestown Road, Finglas, Dublin 11.

One closure order was issued under the Food Safety Authority of Ireland Act (FSAI) of 1998 against Curry Hut & Indian Kebab House restaurant, 6 Lower Cork Street, Mitchelstown, Co Cork.

Closure orders are issued to businesses where there is likely to be a grave and immediate danger to public health at or in the premises. The food safety issue or issues must be remedied before the business can open.

One Prohibition Order was also issued by local authority veterinary inspectors in Louth County Council against the Arcross Foods pork processing plant in Blackrock, Co Louth.

Dr Bernard Hegarty, Director of Service Contracts FSAI, said there was no excuse for food businesses putting customers’ health at risk through a company’s negligent practices.

“The legal onus is on food businesses to ensure at all times that the food they serve is safe to eat,” said Mr Hegarty. “All food businesses must have a food safety management system in place that is consulted and updated on a regular basis, in order to avoid non-compliance issues and breaches of food safety legislation.”

He urged food business owners unsure of their legal obligations to contact the FSAI through the company’s advice line on 1890 336677 or the FSAI website.

Last month the FSAI reported an increase of 2,738 complaints in 2014 by consumers about food quality and food premises. The authority said the increase in complaints reflected the growing awareness among consumers of the need to report poor hygiene practices.

Objects discovered in food items in 2014 included dead maggots, insects, wire, a razor blade and cigarettes.

“Quack Quack” It’s my next meal as bald eagle flies away with a duck in its claws


The predator kept its eye on the prey as it dragged it off, in South Carolina, US, and this image was captured just as it swooped.

Amazing: This is the dramatic moment an eagle swooped down and caught a startled duckling for dinner…..before bending over to look its poor prey right in the eye

Staring down at its next meal, a bald eagle flies away with a duck in its talons after plucking it from the water.

The predator kept its eye on the prey as it dragged it off, in South Carolina, US.

Phil Lanoue, who took the snap, said: “I saw the eagle swoop and hit the water.

“It sat there for a few seconds, trying to get something in its talons.”

The bald eagle is not actually bald and has been named because of its white head.

It builds the largest nest of any North America bird and is only found there and in northern Mexico.

The bald eagle is both the national bird and the national animal of the United States and appears on its seal.

At the end of the last century the bald eagle was threatened with extinction but numbers are now flourishing – and it certainly looks like it from this amazing picture.

But one bald eagle who was not so graceful was Lewis, who was released inside the on-campus chapel at Oral Roberts University as part of a special service to celebrate the start of term – and crashed into a window.

A jawbone of the very first human discovered in Ethiopia


The fossil’s teeth are smaller than those of other human relatives

Scientists have unearthed the jawbone of what they claim is one of the very first humans.

The 2.8 million-year-old specimen is 400,000 years older than researchers thought that our kind first emerged.

The discovery in Ethiopia suggests climate change spurred the transition from tree dweller to upright walker.

The head of the research team told BBC News that the find gives the first insight into “the most important transitions in human evolution”.

This is the most important transition in human evolution”

Prof Brian Villmoare of the University of Nevada in Las Vegas said the discovery makes a clear link between an iconic 3.2 million-year-old hominin (human-like primate) discovered in the same area in 1974, called “Lucy”.

Could Lucy’s kind – which belonged to the species Australopithecus afarensis – have evolved into the very first primitive humans?

“That’s what we are arguing,” said Prof Villmoare.

But the fossil record between the time period when Lucy and her kin were alive and the emergence of Homo erectus (with its relatively large brain and humanlike body proportions) two million years ago is sparse.

The 2.8 million-year-old lower jawbone was found in the Ledi-Geraru research area, Afar Regional State, by Ethiopian student Chalachew Seyoum. He told BBC News that he was “stunned” when he saw the fossil.

“The moment I found it, I realised that it was important, as this is the time period represented by few (human) fossils in Eastern Africa.”

The fossil is of the left side of the lower jaw, along with five teeth. The back molar teeth are smaller than those of other hominins living in the area and are one of the features that distinguish humans from more primitive ancestors, according to Professor William Kimbel, director of Arizona State University’s Institute of Human Origins.

These new studies challenge us to consider the very definition of what it is to be human”

“Previously, the oldest fossil attributed to the genus Homo was an upper jaw from Hadar, Ethiopia, dated to 2.35m years ago,” he told BBC News.

“So this new discovery pushes the human line back by 400,000 years or so, very close to its likely (pre-human) ancestor. Its mix of primitive and advanced features makes the Ledi jaw a good transitional form between (Lucy) and later humans.”

A computer reconstruction of a skull belonging to the species Homo habilis, which has been published in Nature journal, indicates that it may well have been the evolutionary descendant of the species announced today.

The researcher involved, Prof Fred Spoor of University College London told BBC News that, taken together, the new findings had lifted a veil on a key period in the evolution of our species.

“By discovering a new fossil and re-analysing an old one we have truly contributed to our knowledge of our own evolutionary period, stretching over a million years that had been shrouded in mystery,” he said.

Climate change

The dating of the jawbone might help answer one of the key questions in human evolution. What caused some primitive ancestors to climb down from the trees and make their homes on the ground.

A separate study in Science hints that a change in climate might have been a factor. An analysis of the fossilised plant and animal life in the area suggests that what had once been lush forest had become dry grassland.

As the trees made way for vast plains, ancient human-like primates found a way of exploiting the new environmental niche, developing bigger brains and becoming less reliant on having big jaws and teeth by using tools.

Prof Chris Stringer of the Natural History Museum in London described the discovery as a “big story”.

He says the new species clearly does show the earliest step toward human characteristics, but suggests that half a jawbone is not enough to tell just how human it was and does not provide enough evidence to suggest that it was this line that led to us.

The jawbone was found close to the area where Lucy was discovered

He notes that the emergence of human-like characteristics was not unique to Ethiopia.

“The human-like features shown by Australopithecus sediba in South Africa at around 1.95 million years ago are likely to have developed independently of the processes which produced (humans) in East Africa, showing that parallel origins are a distinct possibility,” Prof Stringer explained.

This would suggest several different species of humans co-existing in Africa around two million years ago with only one of them surviving and eventually evolving into our species, Homo sapiens. It is as if nature was experimenting with different versions of the same evolutionary configuration until one succeeded.

Prof Stringer added: “These new studies leave us with an even more complex picture of early humans than we thought, and they challenge us to consider the very definition of what it is to be human. Are we defined by our small teeth and jaws, our large brain, our long legs, tool-making, or some combination of these traits?”