Tag Archives: Healthier lifestyles

Saturday 13th February 2016

Garda may be issued with new weapons after Dublin killings

Heightened Garda presence in city as first of two funerals takes place on Monday


Armed detectives and specialist units including the ERU will form part of the operation to deter any further attacks around the funerals.

Members of the specialist Garda unit leading the response to armed crime gangs are seeking new weapons that would give it some of the capabilities of the Emergency Response Unit (ERU) and Regional Support Unit (RSU).

Members of the Garda Drugs and Organised Crime Bureau are concerned they are not properly equipped to deal with the volatile criminals they encounter during searches and other anti-gang operations.

And after two significant factions launched separate gun attacks over the last eight days that left four men wounded, two of them fatally, sources said members of the bureau want “immediate progress” on their demands.

They are requesting taser stun guns and MP7 high velocity personal defence weapons.

In a statement issued through Garda headquarters, the force said its firearms capability was being considered.

  • Irish gangland: How business got personal
  • Drugs seized in Kildare and Newbridge searches

“As part of a wider programme An Garda Síochána is currently reviewing its armed capacity and response capability,” the statement said.

Powerful firearms. 

While the MP7s are powerful firearms that can pierce armour. Sources say the stun guns – used to subdue violent criminals – were likely to be used more often. Members of the bureau have already been trained to use tasers but have not been provided with them, unlike the ERU and RSU.

Gardaí are to begin mounting a heightened security operation this evening in a bid to minimise the risk of further gun attacks around the funerals of David Byrne and Eddie Hutch.

Father-of-two David Byrne, who was killed at the Regency Hotel, Drumcondra, eight days ago is to be waked and his parents’ home in Crumlin tomorrow evening ahead of his funeral on Monday.

Garda sources said a security operation would need to be put in place in the south inner city on Monday morning and into the afternoon, when Mr Byrne’s funeral mass takes place at St Nicholas of Myra Church, Francis Street, before burial at Mount Jerome Cemetery, Harold’s Cross.

There was concern in Garda circles last night that social occasions around the funeral may give rise to more violence.

A high-visibility presence of unarmed uniformed gardaí along with armed detectives and specialist units including the ERU will form part of the operation to deter any further attacks. The Public Order Unit, or riot squad, was also expected to be on standby.

The boxing weigh-in?

Mr Byrne (33) was shot dead when a group of armed men, some dressed in Garda special operations-style uniforms and carrying AK 47s, burst into a boxing tournament weigh-in the Regency Hotel last Friday, February 4th.

As two Independent News & Media journalists remained away from their homes under threat from one of the feuding gangs, NewsBrands Ireland, representing 16 national newspaper titles, said it “vigorously condemned” the threats.

It said journalists “perform a hugely important function in helping society to value truth . . . It is vital that all journalists working for a free press are enabled to carry out their duties without fear and intimidation.”

A Cork Bishop urges voters to question candidates on Eight Amendment

Some using life limiting conditions to push for abortion on wider grounds, cleric warns


The Bishop of Cork and Ross John Buckley.

A Catholic bishop has urged voters to question all general election candidates about their views and voting intentions on repealing the Eighth Amendment to allow for abortion in certain circumstances such as fatal foetal abnormality.

Bishop of Cork and Ross Dr John Buckley said it was sad that a child’s life-limiting condition was being used by some candidates in the forthcoming general election to promote an agenda of those who seek to legalise abortion on much wider grounds.

In the first intervention by a Catholic bishop in the general election campaign, Bishop Buckley said that “candidates in the election should be questioned politely but firmly not just on their future intentions but on their past record.”

Bishop Buckley said there would be frequent references in the debate to “fatal foetal abnormalities” but the word “fatal” was misleading since there was “no medical evidence where a doctor can predict, with certainty, the lifespan of babies before they are born.”

“The term ‘incompatible with life’, which is also used, is a hurtful phrase since it implies that a baby’s life is worthless… parents often say that the time they have with their baby, however short, is very precious,” he said.

Bishop Buckley said the Protection of Life during Pregnancy Act (2013) introduced by the Fine Gael/Labour coalition “directly targeted the life of the unborn child and did so in the full knowledge that abortion is not a treatment for suicidal feelings”.

In the context of abortion, the Catholic Church teaches it is wrong to confuse the necessary medical treatment to save the life of a mother and which does not intend to harm the baby with abortion which deliberately takes the life of a child, he said.

Late last year, Taoiseach Enda Kenny said he would convene a constitutional convention to examine repealing the Eighth Amendment, which would give equal right to life to a mother and her unborn child, and would allow a free vote if the convention proposed repeal.

Meanwhile, Labour has included repeal of the Eighth Amendment as part of its election manifesto even though last May it voted against a bill proposed byRuth Coppinger of the Socialist Party calling for the deletion of the Eighth Amendment to allow legislation on abortion.

Last November, Labour Senator Ivana Bacik enunciated Labour’s policy, explaining that the party’s proposals would allow for abortion under four medically certified grounds -risk to life, risk to health, cases of rape and case of fatal foetal abnormality.

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin recently said that his party would not be initiating the repeal of the Eighth Amendment.

He said it was a sensitive issue and he would favour the setting up of an all party committee to “tease out the various issues”.

Sinn Féin voted at its Ard Fheis in March 2015 in favour of allowing abortion in cases of fatal foetal abnormalities and voted for the deletion of the Eighth Amendment when proposed by Ruth Coppinger in the Dáil last May.

Renua, whose leader Lucinda Creighton resigned as a Fine Gael minister of state when she opposed the suicide clause in the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill in 2013, has said it is open to a referendum on abortion.

Meanwhile, a number of individual Fine Gael TDs including both the former and current Ministers for Health James Reilly and Leo Varadkar have both indicated that they would favour repeal of the Eighth Amendment .

Fianna Fáil spokesman on health Billy Kelleher said he would be happy if the Eighth Amendment was deleted and replaced with legislation outside of the constitution as long as the new law was strict and allowed abortion in only limited circumstances.

Irish Life’s profits up by 11% last year to €204 million

Pension and investment firm contributed €204m to its Canadian parent last year


Bill Kyle, Chief Executive, Irish Life Group: “(33%) one in three Irish adults has some savings with us and we manage 15% of personal assets in Ireland.”

Irish Life contributed €204 million in profit last year to its Canadian parent company, Great-West Lifeco, according to full year results just published. This was an increase of 11% on 2014.

For the three months to the end of December, Irish Life produced a profit of €77 million, a year-on-year increase of 57%.

Commenting on the results, Bill Kyle, Irish Life’s chief executive, said: “Our business continues to grow. Irish Life now has €64 billion of assets under management, more than one million customers and 2,300 employees.

“One in three Irish adults has some savings with us and we manage 15% of personal assets in Ireland.”

Mr Kyle said a highlight of the fourth-quarter performance was the success of Irish Life’s Empower pension programme for corporate businesses. It signed up five new large clients representing more than 7,000 members, €500 million in assets and €50 million in annual premium flow.

On January 27th, ratings agency Fitch upgraded Irish Life’s to ‘AA’ from ‘AA-’. This upgrade reflected Fitch’s view that Irish Life has become “core” to its Canadian parent.

“We are particularly pleased that Fitch noted that Great-West Lifeco’s acquisition of Irish Life has been well managed and has provided the company with critical scale in the Irish market as well as operational synergies and expense savings,” Mr Kyle said.

Looking for a healthy way to lose some weight? Then eat some breakfast

 V  V 

Eating breakfast may not only make people, especially obese, lose weight but can also make them more physically active and reduce food intake later in the day, reveals a study.
According to the team, increasing activity can improve health in sedentary people making them more active by controlling their blood sugar levels.

“Despite many people offering opinions about whether or not you should eat breakfast, to date, there has been a lack of rigorous scientific evidence showing  ..
or whether, breakfast might cause changes in our health,” said lead researcher James Betts from the University of Bath in Britain.

The results highlight some of these impacts, but “how important” breakfast is still really depends on the individual and their own personal goals, Betts added.

The team wanted to study the possible links between breakfast, body weight and health.

In the study, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, researchers split obese  ..
The “breakfasting” group was asked to eat at least 700 calories by 11 a.m., which the first half of the group consumed within at least two hours of waking up. The fasting group was allowed only water until noon.

“For example, if weight loss is the key, there is little to suggest that just having breakfast or skipping it will matter. However, based on other markers of a healthy lifestyle like being more active or controlling blood sugar levels, then there is evidence that breakfast may help,” Betts noted.
It is important to bear in mind that not everybody responds in the same way to breakfast and that not all breakfasts are equal.

“The effects of a sugary cereal compared to a high-protein breakfast are likely to be quite different,” said Enhad Chowdhury, another researcher.

Some 150,000 penguins perish after a giant iceberg traps Antarctica colony


  • 150,000 penguins have died after an iceberg ran aground in Antarctica

  • The massive iceberg collided into the bay in 2010

About 150,000 penguins have died since being stranded by a vast iceberg that became lodged off the coast of Antarctica six years ago, according to the journal Antarctic Science.

Combined with expanding ice, the B09B iceberg, which at 1,120 square miles is almost the size of Rhode Island, has cut off the Adelie penguins’ food supply and changed the landscape of their home, according to a February report in the peer-reviewed journal published by Cambridge University Press.

The towering mass of water ice first ran aground into the penguins’ habitat of Cape Denison in Commonwealth Bay in 2010. Before that it was floating along the coast for nearly 20 years before colliding into the bay. The iceberg essentially has landlocked the penguins, forcing the animals to trek across a desolate stretch of nearly 40 miles to find food.

Strength in numbers – Adelies are one of the most abundant of the penguin species. They can be found in large colonies and on icebergs and coastal areas in Antarctica waters.

Reduced habitat – Adelie penguins face the same climate change dangers as emperors, such as reduced habitat and a diminishing food supply. However, due to their larger population, they’re currently less at risk.

South polar skua – The south polar skua is the Adelie’s only land predator. It will attempt to steal penguin eggs and attack young chicks. Penguins work together to fight off the vicious skuas.

African penguin – The warmer climes of coastal South Africa and Namibia are home to the African or jackass penguin. Boulders Beach near Cape Town, South Africa, is a popular destination for penguin spotting.

Homebodies – Unlike the highly mobile penguins in Antarctica, African penguins breed, nest and feed in the same area instead of traveling hundreds of miles between sites. They build nests under boulders or bushes or burrows dug from their own guano.

Endangered species – African penguins are listed as an endangered species. Their decreasing population is spurred by loss of nesting grounds due to guano removal by humans, as well as a decreasing food supply as a result of overfishing.

Little penguins – The little penguin, also known as the fairy or blue penguin, can be found on the coasts of New Zealand and southern Australia. They’re the smallest of all penguins, weighing just a kilo or two and topping out at just over 30 centimeters tall.

Penguin Awareness – Around the globe, penguins are at risk of extinction due to overfishing and man-made changes to their breeding grounds.

Emperor penguins – There are 17 species of penguin, with emperor penguins being the largest. They weigh up to 45 kilos (100 pounds) and grow to 120 centimeters (48 inches) tall. These three are pictured on sea ice at McMurdo Sound in Antarctica.

Where to spot them – Emperors can be seen along the coast of Antarctica. Breeding colonies are often the destination for cruises and scenic flights. Penguin species can also be spotted in South Africa, Chile, Argentina, Australia and New Zealand.

Climate change – As with most polar species, penguins are feeling the effects of climate change. Ice melt is changing their breeding grounds and overfishing and ocean acidification is affecting their food sources of fish, squid and krill.

That waddle – Emperors have an awkward, waddling gait on land, but are graceful in the water. These birds can dive more than 550 meters (1,800 feet) and stay under for up to 20 minutes.

Adelie penguins – Less than half the size of an emperor penguin, Adelie penguins are one of the smallest of the Antarctic penguin species. Each October, they build nests of rocks on land near open water.

Strength in numbers – Adelies are one of the most abundant of the penguin species. They can be found in large colonies and on icebergs and coastal areas in Antarctica waters.

Reduced habitat – Adelie penguins face the same climate change dangers as emperors, such as reduced habitat and a diminishing food supply. However, due to their larger population, they’re currently less at risk.

South polar skua – The south polar skua is the Adelie’s only land predator. It will attempt to steal penguin eggs and attack young chicks. Penguins work together to fight off the vicious skuas.

African penguin – The warmer climes of coastal South Africa and Namibia are home to the African or jackass penguin. Boulders Beach near Cape Town, South Africa, is a popular destination for penguin spotting.

Homebodies – Unlike the highly mobile penguins in Antarctica, African penguins breed, nest and feed in the same area instead of traveling hundreds of miles between sites. They build nests under boulders or bushes or burrows dug from their own guano.

Endangered species – African penguins are listed as an endangered species. Their decreasing population is spurred by loss of nesting grounds due to guano removal by humans, as well as a decreasing food supply as a result of overfishing.

Little penguins – The little penguin, also known as the fairy or blue penguin, can be found on the coasts of New Zealand and southern Australia. They’re the smallest of all penguins, weighing just a kilo or two and topping out at just over 30 centimeters tall.

Penguin Awareness – Around the globe, penguins are at risk of extinction due to overfishing and man-made changes to their breeding grounds.

Emperor penguins – There are 17 species of penguin, with emperor penguins being the largest. They weigh up to 45 kilos (100 pounds) and grow to 120 centimeters (48 inches) tall. These three are pictured on sea ice at McMurdo Sound in Antarctica.

Where to spot them – Emperors can be seen along the coast of Antarctica. Breeding colonies are often the destination for cruises and scenic flights. Penguin species can also be spotted in South Africa, Chile, Argentina, Australia and New Zealand.

Climate change – As with most polar species, penguins are feeling the effects of climate change. Ice melt is changing their breeding grounds and overfishing and ocean acidification is affecting their food sources of fish, squid and krill.

That waddle – Emperors have an awkward, waddling gait on land, but are graceful in the water. These birds can dive more than 550 meters (1,800 feet) and stay under for up to 20 minutes.

Adelie penguins – Less than half the size of an emperor penguin, Adelie penguins are one of the smallest of the Antarctic penguin species. Each October, they build nests of rocks on land near open water.

Strength in numbers – Adelies are one of the most abundant of the penguin species. They can be found in large colonies and on icebergs and coastal areas in Antarctica waters.

The once 160,000-strong colony has now dwindled to 10,000 penguins.

“The arrival of iceberg B09B in Commonwealth Bay, East Antarctica… has dramatically increased the distance Adélie penguins breeding at Cape Denison must travel in search of food,” said researchers in the report.

Since 2011, the colony’s population has fallen dramatically, according to the Climate Change Research Center at Australia’s University of New South Wales.

The outlook for the Cape Denison Adelie penguins remains dire. Unless the colossal iceberg is broken up by sea ice, scientists predict the colony will disappear in 20 years.

About 5,500 pairs are still breeding in the area, but there has been a significant decline in their population compared with a century ago, according to estimates based on satellite images and a census in 1997.

However, it isn’t the end for all Adelie penguins. About five miles from the Commonwealth Bay, another colony is thriving, which leaves scientists to conclude that the iceberg has had a direct impact of the species that is now landlocked. About 30% of the Adelie penguin population lives in East Antarctica.

Research on the iceberg’s impact on the Adelie penguins can give scientists insight into the wider implications on the effects of increasing sea ice in the area.

Long-term environmental changes are projected for the Southern Ocean, which will likely affect marine predators, according to a 2015 report published the peer-reviewed journal BMC Evolutionary Biology. Environmental shifts because of climate change could also affect the breeding habitats of land creatures, finding food in a marine environment and the availability of prey for larger predators

Deglaciation, the gradual melting of glaciers, is a key driver in the Adelie penguins’ population over a millennium, according to scientists. But while changes in sea ice can directly affect the species, scientists say it’s important to keep perspective on the penguins’ population over a larger time frame.


Ireland daily news BLOG by Donie

Tuesday/Wednesday 13 & 14th May 2015

Irish State’s elderly population set to increase significantly in next 45 years


A new EU report has said that the Republic’s elderly population is set to increase dramatically over the next 45 years.

The Irish State’s pension problems may be due to get worse, with new figures showing that the Republic’s elderly population is set to increase dramatically over the next 45 years.

The European Commission’s 2015 Ageing Report, published today, shows the national population is expected to rise to 5.3 million by 2060, with average life expectancy increasing from 79 to 85 for men and from 83 to 89 for women.

The elderly population, currently classified as those aged 80 and over, will rise from its current population share of 2.9% to as high as 10.2% over the same period.

Public spending demands will rise accordingly in the areas of healthcare and pension payments, the report says.

Unemployment benefits

Spending on unemployment benefits, however, will most likely decrease due to a decline in the younger population.

The report says that those aged up to 14 years will fall in proportional terms from 21.9% to 18.5% of the population, with unemployment rates in the 20 to 64 age bracket expected to decrease from 12.8% in 2013 to 6.5% in 2060.

In broader terms, the EU population is projected to increase by almost 5%, rising from 507 million in 2013 to as high as 526 million by 2050.

A decline in population to about 523 million is then forecast over the following decade, although that figure may be altered by variations due to immigration.

According to these projections, the UK would become the most populous country in the EU by 2060, with about 80 million people, followed by France (76 million), Germany(71 million), Italy (66 million) and Spain (46 million).

SuperValu and Tesco on Irish retailer’s top spot


The Irish supermarkets SuperValu and Tesco have now 25% market share each and are tied in first place, according to the latest figures from Kantor for the 12 weeks ending April.

“Over the past 12 weeks SuperValu and Tesco have each captured 25% of the grocery market, with SuperValu battling to hold on to the number one position it claimed last month and Tesco aiming to recover lost ground,” said David Berry, director at Kantar Worldpanel.

Among the big three retailers, Dunnes has posted the strongest sales growth of 3.6%, lifting its market share from 21.5% to 22%.

Dunnes has been benefiting from an offer that gives hefty discounts to customers who make big purchases.

It wasn’t good news for everybody.

“One of the most interesting trends in the latest data is the slowing growth rate of bothAldi and Lidl,” he added.

“While the 8.8% growth posted by Aldi and 7.8% for Lidl remains impressive, this is the first time since 2010 that both Aldi and Lidl have grown their sales by less than 10%.”

Classroom internet access linked to much higher Irish schools sucess test scores


Schools teaching design and graphics programme set to benefit from €7m in grants.

Researchers said “we cannot be certain that the use of internet in the class caused” the higher scores but a strong “relationship” was identified.

Primary school children who used the internet in the classroom had significantly higher mathematics and reading scores on average than peers who had no online access, a study by the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) has found.

The researchers said “we cannot be certain that the use of internet in the class caused” the higher scores but there was a strong “relationship” identified.

The study comes amid further investment in technology in schools, with the announcement of €7 million in grants to post-primary schools to support the implementation of Design and Communication Graphics (DCG) curriculum.

Minister for Education and Skills Jan O’Sullivan announced the funding on Tuesday, which will see 450 schools get an average of €15,560 for the purchase of computers and software to encourage more students to take DCG in the Leaving Cert.

The ESRI study, published in the ‘Economic and Social Review’, identified “encouraging” returns from the state’s investment of €30 million in primary school broadband between 2005 and 2008.

The researchers found “no evidence for Ireland of the negative effects of broadband in schools reported in some studies internationally” but cited a time lapse in the positive results filtering through here.

“We found that on average teachers were more than twice as likely to use the internet in class after broadband service was installed under the programme, but it took about two years for this gain to emerge.

“This is not surprising, because it takes time for teachers to learn to use new technologies and to change their teaching practices.

“In addition, teachers in schools with better computer-related facilities were also more likely to use the internet in class.”

While many teachers and pupils express frustration at slow broadband speeds, the researchers found that having a faster connection speed had no statistically significant effect on educational outcomes.

Of the scale of these improvements, the authors noted, “the average difference in mathematics test scores between children in classes with and without internet use was as big as the rise enjoyed by children whose mothers had completed a degree rather than finishing at the Leaving Cert”.

ESRI and TCD researcher Seán Lyons, one of the authors of the study, said “we think the effect of the internet in the classroom depends on the context, and the way it’s used.

“So it may even differ from one school to another, and certainly from one country to another.”

A study in Portugal last year found that the roll out of broadband in schools led to negative educational outcomes for both male and female pupils.

But Mr Lyons said Portuguese schools appeared to have brought in internet access “in an unrestrictive way”.

The negative impact had been greatest in Portuguese schools where pupils were allowed to access websites such as YouTube.

For the study, the team of researchers, comprising Mr Lyons, Marie Hyland, Richard Layte, Selina McCoy and Mary Silles, examined data from standardised test scores, statistics on the broadband rollout, and figures from the Growing Up in Ireland survey.

Announcing the grants for the DCG programme, Minister for Education and Skills Jan O’Sullivan says the subject incorporated principles of science, materials, manufacture, design, technology and information technology and as such “directly contributes to the key skills required in Ireland’s knowledge-based economy”.

In 2012, 5,319 candidates sat the exam, with the predicted 2015 figure standing at 5,705.

“The allocated funding has been increased accordingly and will ensure that this important subject continues to go from strength to strength,” she said.

Letters will issue to schools detailing the amount of money they’re being allocated, based on the number of students who had taken the subject in the past three-four years.

The Department has also purchased support software from Solid Solutions Ireland for six years and three months, at a cost of €299,000.

Tourism Ireland Board Meets in Sligo


The Sligo Park Hotel was the venue for the May board meeting of Tourism Ireland, which took place on Thursday, 7th May.

The board members took the opportunity to meet with local tourism operators prior to the meeting, to discuss the upcoming peak season and the extensive promotional programme which Tourism Ireland is undertaking to highlight Sligo, the North West and the island of Ireland around the world this year.

Speaking after the board meeting, Niall Gibbons, CEO of Tourism Ireland, said: “We were delighted to be in Sligo for this month’s board meeting and to have the chance to meet with representatives of the tourism industry from Sligo and to hear directly how business is shaping up for the upcoming peak season.”

Man falls flat on his face behind Vincent Browne live on air


TV3 broadcaster Vincent Browne can’t help but chuckle when somebody faceplants behind him as he says his intro on Tonight with Vincent Browne.

During the opening of the show, which was broadcast from the Headfort Arms Hotel in Kells, the unlucky man stumbles and falls, landing at the presenter’s feet, prompting


Vincent to look down in surprise and exclaim, “Somebody’s just fallen down beside me” much to the delight of audience and guests alike.

Robot pets way of future, could change human relationship with animals, researcher says


Robot pets could be common place in 10 years’ time and change the way we interact and relate with the real things, a Melbourne researcher believes.

Dr Jean-Loup Rault from Melbourne University studies animal welfare and the way humans and animals interact with each other.

Recently, he has been looking into how technology has changed the way we relate to animals and pets.

“We know very little about robotic pets, virtual animals online and what they actually do to people,” Dr Rault said.

“Is that going to change the way we relate to animals? Can that be a substitute to a live pet?

“Technology is moving very fast. The Tamagotchi in the early 1990s was really a prototype of a robotic pet and now Sony and other big companies have elaborated a lot on what have become robotic animals.”

He said humans were able to become emotionally attached to objects.

“There’s anecdotal evidence and a few studies that show people actually develop a bond, some kind of emotional attachment to those robots,” Dr Rault said.

“They know it’s not a live pet, they don’t consider it as a live animal but they also don’t consider it a mere object.

“It has an intermittent status between that of an animal and that of an object that projects some kind of personality.”

Dr Rault said robot pets could suit someone living in inner-city or high-density areas, as well as those with allergies and who were unable to look after a live animal.

But robotics expert Professor Maurice Pagnucco from the School of Computer Science and Engineering at the University of New South Wales said there was still a big gap between the current technology and a “virtual pet”.

“I don’t think we’re at the point where you could have a reliable pet,” he said.

“They wouldn’t be at the same level as a real pet, at the moment they’re basically toys.

“But where we’ll be in the future, we can’t really say.”

Technology ‘now part of our normal lives’

Dr Rault said the growing popularity of robot pets also raised questions about the way humans developed socially.

“There are school programs that use animals to teach children about responsibility, if you replace those live animals with robotic animals that don’t need to feed, you just plug them in and turn them off, is that the same thing?” he said.

“Are they going to develop in a different way?

Maybe you have a dog that stays at home when you’re at work so you buy it a robotic companion, so it interacts with it when you’re gone.

Dr Jean-Loup Rault, researcher

“It raises some major ethical questions in the same way that Facebook has – does interacting with others on the site actually make you social or less social?”

Dr Rault said robot pets could also have a positive effect, with robotic baby seals being used in the United States to help people with Alzheimer’s.

“They found out if you gave them a robotic baby seal, people would interact with it and derive some benefits from it,” he said.

“Maybe you have a dog that stays at home when you’re at work so you buy it a robotic companion, so it interacts with it when you’re gone and it keep it company.

“It’s not replacing anything that we have, it’s creating something new.

“Now we think as them as strange, weird and perhaps creepy, but in 10 years’ time people may think it’s normal.

“The new generation is very different. This technology is part of their lives, it’s not seen as something extra.

“Will it change the way we interact with real animals? A difficult question to ask, but it is an interesting one.”

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Tuesday/Wednesday 16 & 17th December 2014

8th amendment existing abortion laws are too restrictive says Leo Varadkar


Minister for Health says eighth amendment still exerts a ‘chilling effect on doctors’

Minister for Health Leo Varadkar: “Speaking today as Minister for Health, and also as a medical doctor, and knowing now all that I do now, it is my considered view that the eighth amendment is too restrictive.

  The Minister for Health Leo Varadkar has said the constitutional restrictions on abortion are too “restrictive” and have a “chilling effect” on doctors.

Speaking in the Dáil on a private members’ bill tabled byClare Daly, Mr Varadkar outlined his position on the eighth amendment, which gives equal rights to the mother and the unborn and advocated a more liberal abortion regime.

However, Mr Varadkar, while in favour of change, said the current Government has no mandate to change the current law, which would have to be done by referendum, and said he has no right to impose his own views.

He also said he does not “support abortion on request or on demand”.

“Speaking as Minister for Health, and also as a medical doctor, and knowing now all that I do now, it is my considered view that the eighth amendment is too restrictive,” he said.

“While it protects the right to life of the mother, it has no regard for her long-term health. If a stroke, heart attack, epileptic seizure happens, perhaps resulting in permanent disability as a result, then that is acceptable under our laws. I don’t think that’s right.”

Also in the speech, Mr Varadkar expressed support for abortion in cases of fatal foetal abnormalities.

“Similarly, it forces couples to bring to term a child that has no chance of survival for long outside the womb if at all. Forcing them, against their own judgement, to explain for weeks and months to all enquirers that their baby is dead.

“I have been present at stillbirths. I know it can be handled well and sensitively but I do not believe anything is served by requiring women or couples to continue with such pregnancies should they not wish to do so when there is no chance of the baby surviving.

“The eighth amendment continues to exert a chilling effect on doctors. Difficult decisions that should be made by women and their doctors, a couple or the next-of-kin where there is no capacity, and on the basis of best clinical practice, are now made on foot of legal advice. That isn’t how it should be.”

He said decisions to change the law cannot be rushed, but argued that it is time to ensure that the “politics of the ‘Moral Civil War’ are consigned to history as well”.

“Ministers for Health do not just represent their own private views, they are guardians of the nation’s healthcare, and must work to protect and safeguard all of its citizens,” the Dublin West TD said. “But perhaps people may be interested in where I am coming from.

“I consider myself to be pro-life in that I accept that the unborn child is a human life with rights. I cannot, therefore, accept the view that it is a simple matter of choice. There are two lives involved in any pregnancy. For that reason, like most people in the country, I do not support abortion on request or on demand.”

Threshold housing charity calls for a rental sector strategy


Housing charity Threshold has said the Government needs to urgently introduce a national strategy on private rented housing so as to keep more families from becoming homeless.

The organisation said the housing situation had been “transformed” due to the economic crash, with more and more households on the brink of homelessness due to soaring rental costs.

Threshold published its annual report yesterday and said that, last year, it was “not uncommon” for some clients to be facing increases in rent of up to 40%.

Chief executive Bob Jordan said a 10% increase in urban rent supplement limits in June of last year had done little to stem the tide.

“Safety nets have disappeared during the economic downturn and many families now face the same risk of homelessness as single people,” he said.

Threshold claimed many tenants were now “caught in the crossfire” between landlords and bank-appointed receivers, while the report also highlighted problems with illegal deposit retention, substandard accommodation, and issues with leases, among other concerns.

The report also focused on the decade since the introduction of the Residential Tenancies Act 2004, pointing out that deposit retention has been the single largest issue for people contacting it over the past decade — accounting for 27,000 queries, including 1,930 last year.

Illegal evictions rose last year to 651, its highest annual level since 2009, while client contacts regarding living standards and repairs was at its second-highest level in a decade, at 2,098. There were 580 contacts last year regarding rent arrears.

Senator Aideen Hayden, also the chairwoman of Threshold, said the private rental sector was “no longer fit for purpose”.

The report states: “We are no longer a nation of homeowners and the private rented sector is the only housing option for many people in our country, with one in five families now renting from a private landlord.”

Threshold said measures need to be implemented immediately, including:

– Changing rent regulation measures in the Residential Tenancies Act 2004 to provide certainty regarding the rate of increase in rents;

– A review of rent supplement limits in line with market rent levels, with payment in advance rather than in arrears;

– Delivery on the government commitment to a deposit protection scheme, as well as quicker roll-out of the Housing Assistance Payment and facilitating the payment of deposits through exceptional needs payments.

Meanwhile, the Peter McVerry Trust and Saint Gobain, a global building materials supplier, announced that a building in Dublin 8 with six apartments has been refurbished thanks to a €100,000 donation by St Gobain.

It is expected that as many as 120 people a year could benefit from having the building available, with the Peter McVerry Trust calling on other firms to follow St Gobain’s example and contribute directly to efforts to fight homelessness.

It came as Focus Ireland warned that another 42 families became homeless in Dublin in November.

Focus Ireland said the Government must raise rent supplement payments and increase rent regulation immediately to prevent more families from slipping into homelessness.

Sharp drop in oil price as sanctions pile pressure on Moscow


Interest rate move failed to support rouble but could affect consumer spending

Russia is braced for more financial turmoil after a major interest rate hike failed to stop a sharp slide in the value of the rouble, and plunging oil prices and western sanctions continued to undermine confidence in the country’s economy.

The rouble enjoyed a brief surge following an overnight decision by Russia’s central bank to raise its key interest rate to 17 per cent from 10.5 per cent, but the sell-off quickly resumed as oil tracked lower.

The currency slipped to 100 against the euro and 80 to the US dollar, before recouping some value after US secretary of state John Kerry praised recent “constructive moves” by Russia in conflict-torn Ukraine.

Many analysts saw the uptick as only brief respite, however, and predicted that the rouble – which has shed more than half its value against the US dollar this year – would remain under heavy pressure until oil prices rebounded from levels last seen in 2009.

“The situation is critical. What is happening could not be imagined even in our nightmares a year ago,” said Sergei Shvetsov, a deputy chairman of the central bank.

Problems ahead

“The choice . . . the central bank made was a choice between the very bad and the very, very bad,” Mr Shvetsov said of an interest rate hike that failed to support the rouble.

“There are many problems. In the days ahead, I think the situation will be comparable with the toughest period of 2008. I think the experience gained through many crises will help us to find the right solution and survive this situation.”

The major oil-producing states of Opec, of which Russia is not a member, have rejected talk of a cut in production to support prices, leaving Moscow to face the prospect of a sharp fall in revenues that could severely strain the state budget.

Russia relies on oil and gas revenue to finance more than half its budget, and government spending plans are built around a predicted oil price of $100 a barrel; oil was last night trading below $60 a barrel, having lost almost half its value since June.

As well as driving up prices and fuelling Russians’ fears of a repeat of the devastating 1998 financial crash, rouble weakness makes it more costly to service foreign debt repayments that are due to hit $120 billion (€96 billion) next year.

Worst performer

The country’s main stock market plunged more than 12 per cent during trading yesterday and, as the rouble replaced Ukraine’s hryvnia as this year’s worst performing currency, analysts said the central bank may soon limit the withdrawal of foreign currency.

More than $100 billion has left Russia in capital flight this year, as its economy slowed dramatically and the West imposed sanctions over Moscow’s annexation of Crimea and its support for separatist rebels in Ukraine.

Russian officials said there were no plans to introduce capital controls, however, and the state still has more than $400 billion in foreign currency reserves, despite having spent almost $100 billion propping up the rouble this year.

Tim Ash, head of emerging markets research at Standard Bank, said the credibility of Russia’s central bank was in question after “the most incredible currency collapse I think I have seen in 17 years in the market and 26 years” covering Russia and ex-Soviet states.

These are the five ‘simple and effective’ ways to reduce your risk of dementia


Age UK undertook an evidence review and found that over 75% of cognitive decline is caused by lifestyle factors

It may be possible to prevent the onset of Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia by making basic lifestyle changes, according to new analysis.

Age UK identified five “simple and effective ways” to reduce the risk of developing the devastating disease. These were regular physical exercise, eating a Mediterranean diet, not smoking, drinking alcohol in moderation and preventing and treating diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity.

The charity reviewed academic studies and data and found that about 76 per cent of cognitive decline is accounted for by lifestyle and other factors, including level of education.

In one UK study carried out over 30 years ago it was found that men aged between 45 and 59 who followed four to five of the identified lifestyle factors were found to have a 36 per cent lower risk of developing cognitive decline and a 36 per cent lower risk of developing dementia than those who did not.

Overall, physical exercise was found to be the most effective way to ward off cognitive decline in healthy older people and reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer’s. Studies suggest that exercise three to five times a week for between 30 minutes and an hour is beneficial.

However, the evidence review also showed that a healthy diet, moderate alcohol intake and not smoking play a role.

According to the latest estimates, there are 850,000 people in the UK living with dementia. It will affect one in three people over the age of 65.

Caroline Abrahams, charity director of Age UK, said: “While there’s still no cure or way to reverse dementia, this evidence shows that there are simple and effective ways to reduce our risk of developing it to begin with.

“What’s more, the changes that we need to make to keep our brains healthy are already proven to be good for the heart and overall health, so it’s common sense for us all to try to build them into our lives. The sooner we start, the better our chance of having a healthy later life.”

Why does Denmark think it can lay claim to the north pole?


There’s a battle looming for control of the north pole, with the US, Russia, Canada and Norway all thinking they have a right to it. They are chasing potential oil and gas, but could distant Denmark have a reason that’s closer to home?

Denmark’s claim on the north pole is based on its colony Greenland. Photograph: Alamy/Guardian montage

How do you carve up a big block of ice? Argumentatively, seems to be the answer. Denmark is the latest country to lay claim to the north pole, jostling with the US, Canada, Russia and Norway for a huge chunk of the Arctic Ocean.

What was once dismissed as a frozen wasteland is now a lucrative prize: the US Geological Survey estimates there is about 22% of the world’s undiscovered but recoverable oil and natural gas in the Arctic. Global warming could also open up previously inaccessible shipping routes.

A swath of the Arctic including the north pole currently lies beyond every nation’s 200 nautical-mile limit, which, under the UN Convention on the Laws of the Sea, can form a coastal country’s “exclusive economic zone”. So nations are making claims to the UN to extend their territories, although Russia infuriated its rivals in 2007 by placing a rust-proof titanium flag on the ocean floor beneath the Arctic.

Denmark’s bid for 895,000 sq km of the Arctic Ocean sounds particularly audacious given that this is 20 times the size of Denmark (or 43 times the size of Wales – the country, not the ocean-loving mammal) and the country lies on the same latitude as Britain – more than 2,000 miles from the north pole.

But Denmark’s interest is derived from its colony, Greenland, and Danish geologists say Greenland’s continental shelf naturally continues to form the Lomonosov Ridge, an underwater mountain range which traverses the pole.

According to Jon Rahbek-Clemmensen, assistant professor at the University of Southern Denmark, the economic dimension of this dispute is overstated because this part of the vast Arctic “probably has no resources whatsoever”. Instead, he says, the Danish move is to shore up its popularity in independence-seeking Greenland, where the claim is “very, very popular”.

“All geological estimates indicate that this particular area has neither oil nor gas – it’s just about lines on a map,” he says. “For the Greenlanders, it’s more about a feeling of nationhood, and being part of the Arctic. It’s the same for Russia – it’s symbolism.”

Thorkild Kjærgaard, head of history and culture at the University of Greenland, agrees that the claim is designed to show the benefits of the union with Denmark: Greenland could never make such a claim on its own.

However, Denmark’s foreign ministry admits its claim overlaps with those made by Norway, Canada and Russia, and Kjærgaard cannot imagine a Danish flag rising over the north pole. “It is most unlikely Russia will accept it. Nobody expects it to turn out like that, but Copenhagen wants to demonstrate that they support any Greenlandic claim.”

Santa and his reindeer won’t need to apply for Danish or Russian passports any time soon: a UN committee is not expected to pronounce on the scientific validity of rival claims for 10 years. After that, competing nations must reach bilateral agreements over how to carve up the North Pole.

Methane gas ‘belches’ detected on Mars


Nasa’s Curiosity rover has detected methane on Mars – a gas that could hint at past or present life on the planet.

The robot sees very low-level amounts constantly in the background, but it also has monitored a number of short-lived spikes that are 10 times higher.

Methane on the Red Planet is intriguing because here on Earth, 95% of the gas comes from microbial organisms.

Researchers have hung on to the hope that the molecule’s signature at Mars might also indicate a life presence.

The Curiosity team cannot identify the source of its methane, but the leading candidate is underground stores that are periodically disturbed.

Curiosity scientist Sushil Atreya said it was possible that so-called clathrates were involved.

“These are molecular cages of water-ice in which methane gas is trapped. From time to time, these could be destabilised, perhaps by some mechanical or thermal stress, and the methane gas would be released to find its way up through cracks or fissures in the rock to enter the atmosphere,” the University of Michigan professor told BBC News.

He was reporting the discovery here at the American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting.

The question remains, of course, of how the methane (CH4) got into the clathrate stores in the first place.

It could have come from Martian bugs; it could also have come from a natural process, such as serpentinisation, which sees methane produced when water interacts with certain rock types.

At the moment, it is all speculation. But at least Curiosity has now made the detection.

Enriched samples

It was concerning that for many months the robot could not see a gas that was being observed by orbiting spacecraft at Mars and by telescopes at Earth.

People were beginning to wonder if the other sightings were reliable.

Curiosity is located in a deep bowl on Mars’ equator known as Gale Crater.

It has been sucking in Martian air and scanning its components since shortly after landing in August 2012.

For gases that have very low concentrations in the atmosphere, the robot can employ a special technique in which it expels the most abundant molecule – carbon dioxide – before analysing the sample.

This has the effect of enriching and amplifying any residual chemistry.

And in doing this for methane, Curiosity finds that there is a persistent signature of about 0.7 parts per billion by volume (ppbv).

“The background figure suggests there are about 5,000 tonnes of methane in the atmosphere,” said Dr Chris Webster, from Nasa’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, who led the investigation.

“You can compare that with Earth where there are about 500 million tonnes. The concentration here at Earth is about 1,800 ppbv.”

Life’s preference

The spikes in methane that Curiosity saw occurred on four occasions during the course of a two-month period.

They varied between about 7 and 9 parts per billion by volume.

It is likely, the team says, that the gas is being released relatively nearby, either within the crater or just outside.

Curiosity’s weather station suggests it is blowing in from the north, from the direction of the crater rim.

One way to investigate whether the methane on Mars has a biological or a geological origin would be to study the types, or isotopes, of carbon atom in the gas.

On Earth, life favours a lighter version of the element (carbon-12), over a heavier one (carbon-13).

A high C-12 to C-13 ratio in ancient Earth rocks has been interpreted as evidence that biological activity existed on our world as much as four billion years ago.

If scientists could find similar evidence on Mars, it would be startling. But, sadly, the volumes of methane detected by Curiosity are simply too small to run this kind of experiment.

“If we had enriched our sample during one of the peaks, we might have had a shot at looking at these isotopes,” explained Dr Paul Mahaffy, the lead investigator on Curiosity’s Surface Analysis at Mars (SAM) instrument, which did the measurements.

“I think there is still some hope. If the methane comes back, and we can enrich it, we’ll certainly be trying.”

Long quest

The other big Curiosity discovery announced here in San Francisco is that the rover has also confirmed the detection of organic (carbon-rich) compounds in the rock samples it has been drilling.

It is the first definitive detection of organics in surface materials at the Red Planet.

The SAM instrument saw evidence for chlorobenzine in the powered rock it pulled up from a mudstone slab dubbed Cumberland.

Chloromethane is a carbon ring with five hydrogen atoms and one chlorine atom attached.

The team cannot be sure if the chemical was specifically present in Cumberland or synthesised during the heating of analysis. But even if the latter is the case, the scientists seem confident the molecule would at the very least have been derived from larger carbon structures that were in place.

Once again, scientists are interested in seeing such organics because life as we know it can only exist if it has the capacity to trade in carbon molecules.

If they are not present then neither will there be any biology. However, just as with the methane detection, this does not of itself automatically point to life on Mars, now or in the past, because there are plenty of abiotic processes that will produce complex carbon structures as well.

“It’s a big day for us – it’s a kind of crowning moment of 10 years of hard work – where we report there is methane in the atmosphere and there are also organic molecules in abundance in the sub-surface,” commented Curiosity project scientist Prof John Grotzinger.

Monday 13th October 2014

Ireland set to close the ‘Double Irish’ tax loophole to ease pressure from the EC


Phase out anticipated to help Apple, Google and others adjust.

Ireland is set to announce legal changes next week to phase out the “Double Irish” tax arrangement that has let firms such as Google and Apple save billions of dollars in taxes, two sources familiar with the matter said.

Ireland has come under sustained attack from Europe and the United States over the past 18 months for its tax rules that allow multinational companies such as Google and Apple to cut their overseas tax rates to single digits.

Among the most criticised parts of the Irish tax code is the complex corporate structure whereby a multinational can channel untaxed revenues to an Irish subsidiary, which then pays the money to another company registered in Ireland that is tax resident elsewhere — usually in a tax haven such as Bermuda.

This means there is little tax to pay in Ireland. The fact both companies are Irish led to the term “Double Irish”.

Ireland is set to bring in new measures in its budget on Tuesday that would mean all Irish-registered companies would over time automatically be deemed to be tax resident in Ireland, the sources said, bringing Irish law in line with U.S. and British rules.

“It is more likely than not,” one of the sources, who declined to be named, toldReuters regarding an announcement being made on budget day.

The measures cannot be signed off until the cabinet meets for a final time before the budget is presented at 1330 GMT on Tuesday. Companies already incorporated in Ireland will likely be given a set time to change their accounting structures, while new companies setting up in Ireland must abide by the new rules.

At risk for Ireland are the 160,000 jobs — or almost one in every 10 workers in the country — who are employed by the more than 1,000 foreign firms that have set up an base in Ireland to benefit from its low 12.5 percent corporate tax rate and flexible, English-speaking workforce.

In last year’s budget, Ireland’s Finance Minister Michael Noonan made it illegal for a company registered in Ireland to have no tax domicile at all, but kept open the loophole that let them nominate any country they liked as their tax residence.

The move followed a U.S. Senate committee investigation that found Apple had cut billions from its tax bill by declaring companies registered in the Irish city of Cork as not being resident for tax purposes in any country. U.S. Senator Carl Levin said the company had achieved the “holy grail of tax avoidance” with the structures.

The Australian Government has also been investigating the practice for some 12 months after it was found that both Apple and Google use the Double Irish loophole to avoid paying tax in Australia.

Noonan has been urged by lobby groups such as the Irish Business & Employers Confederation (IBEC) to balance the planned changes by ensuring Ireland remains an attractive destination for companies, particularly through improving its intellectual property tax regime.

Ireland has been mulling whether to change its tax code now, or wait until next year when the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) is due to implement new international tax rules, some of which were proposed last month.

The government believes the OECD’s aim of closing corporate tax loopholes will ultimately be positive for Ireland and there has been no slowdown in the level of foreign direct investment (FDI) pouring into the country.

Dell announced on Friday that it would locate a new research and development centre in its Dublin offices.

“The risks are well identified at this stage. This has been well flagged as far as multinational companies are concerned, what has been discussed in recent months is the timing,” said Feargal O’Rourke, who advises a number of U.S. technology companies as head of tax at PwC Ireland.

“If you are going to move now, you need a sufficient grandfathering period but also a ‘shiny new toy’ that Ireland can sell as part of its tax offering to FDI. Changes to our intellectual property tax regime would ensure the offering remains attractive.”

Ireland’s house building growth rises at its fastest rate since 2000


Commercial construction also rose at a sharp pace although growth moderated on the previous month

The fastest rise in house building in its history drove a further month of growth in Ulster Bank’s Construction Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) in September.

The fastest rise in house building in its history drove a further month of growth in Ulster Bank’s ConstructionPurchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) in September.

The index hit 61.5 in September, up from 61.4 in August. Any result above the benchmark number of 50 indicates growth on the previous month while any outturn below that indicates the industry contracted.

Ulster said the increase was aided by house building which grew at its fastest pace since the index was introduced in June 2000. The housing index alone reached 68.4 in September, up from 63.7 the previous month.

Commercial construction also rose at a sharp pace, although growth was at a slightly slower rate than in August. The commercial index read 62.7 in September, below the previous month’s figure of 63.2.

Civil engineering, that is large projects such as road building, which are tied to Government spending, showed a relatively sharp decline. The sector returned a result of 45.1 in September, from 48.3 in August.

Ulster Bank chief economist for the Republic of Ireland, Simon Barry, said the recovery in the construction industry continued to gain strength during September, which he said was another month of rapid expansion. “Total activity has now recorded increases in each of the past 13 months,” he said.

Lower dole rate leaves Ireland’s young people

‘struggling to survive and make ends meet’


An organisation representing young people in Ireland is calling for the €188 rate to be restored for all young people who are taking part in education, training and works experience programmes.

A new poll has found that four in ten (40%) young people in Ireland are ‘struggling to make ends meet’ as a result of cuts to dole rates for those under the age of 25.

The Red C poll, commissioned by the National Youth Council of Ireland (NYCI), found that in Dublin, 54% of young people are feeling serious financial pressure because of the cut to Jobseeker’s Allowance.

One in four said they were unable to move out of home because of the reduction in welfare payments, something NYCI’s deputy director, James Doorley, said his organisation was particularly concerned about.

He said cuts to payments for young people in successive Budgets “have made it increasingly difficult for young people to afford to leave home and live independently”.

The impact of recession has been particularly acute for young people in Ireland and especially for young people who are unemployed. This is reflected once again in our poll which shows that a large proportion of them are struggling to meet the costs of ordinary and everyday life.

The poll also found that 11% of young people in receipt of unemployment benefits are currently in debt.

In its pre-budget submission, the organisation is calling on the government to restore the €188 weekly rate for all young people who are participating in education, training or work experience programmes.

Previous Budget decisions have meant that the training allowance for participation in SOLAS training was reduced from €188 to €160 per week. From the start of this year, the payment for those taking part in the Back to Education Allowance Programme was also cut to €160 a week and Jobbridge interns under the age of 25 ended up on €150 per week while working a 40 hour week.

“Such a first step would serve to reduce the rates of poverty and social exclusion amongst young people and provide an additional financial incentive, particularly to the most disadvantaged young people to participate in education, training and work experience opportunities,” commented Doorley.

The justification put forward for the the cuts in welfare was that they would incentivise young people to take up education, training and/or work experience opportunities. This argument is undermined by the fact that the various welfare payments and training allowances to young people under 25 have also been cut in recent Budgets.

“Ultimately, NYCI believes that the welfare rates for young people cut in successive budgets should be reversed as it is causing deprivation and hardship young people who are unemployed and that all citizens should be paid the same rate of jobseekers allowance irrespective of age,” he added.

Stay healthy and calm to prevent irritable bowels


Managing irritable bowel through lifestyle and diet is the best way.

Fifteen to 20% of us will suffer from Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS).

Never one to shirk my responsibilities as a columnist, I’ll boldly go where other more easily embarrassed columnists fear to tread. So, this week I am getting stuck into bowels, and irritable bowels specifically. Fifteen to 20pc of us will suffer from Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) at some point, and for many people, it’s a giant pain – literally.

IBS has many different symptoms, but the main ones are abdominal pain, bloating, diarrhoea and/or constipation. It’s often worse in periods of stress or may be triggered by certain foods. It doesn’t have any known cause. It’s what’s known as a functional disorder, meaning there’s nothing structurally wrong with your gut – it just doesn’t always work smoothly. And it’s usually a diagnosis of exclusion – so a few other things need to be ruled out before IBS is confirmed. So a series of blood tests, stool samples and possibly a colonoscopy should be done, to make sure of the diagnosis.

But what can you do yourself, to manage the symptoms of IBS?

Well, a simple thing for starters is to keep a symptom diary for a few weeks. This will allow you to see if any foods seem to trigger your symptoms – food intolerances may be implicated in IBS, but generally much less so than people think. It’ll also show whether your symptoms are brought on by stress or emotional upheaval.

The next thing is to look at your lifestyle. I know I bang on a lot about lifestyle but, truth is, the way we live our lives impacts hugely on our health and how we feel. Regular exercise has been proven to ease the symptoms of IBS and should be factored in as part of treatment. If stress seems to be the main cause of your IBS, then managing stress through CBT or indeed medication – if it’s part of a global effect your stress is having on you – is a good idea.

A healthy diet is important for everyone, but in IBS dietary management is especially vital. Eat regularly – don’t leave long gaps between meals. Eat leisurely – don’t bolt your food. Drink at least eight glasses of water per day. Keep caffeinated drinks to a maximum of three cups per day. Reduce fizzy drinks, alcohol and artificial sweeteners.

If you are prone to diarrhoea reduce fruit and fibre in your diet; however that advice changes if constipation is your main issue. The symptom diary should help you decide if you need more or less fibre in your diet.

A more recent dietary intervention is the low FODMOP diet – I won’t bore you with what that stands for. But this diet, which has been shown to benefit IBS sufferers, involves reducing the amount of certain foods in your diet such as apples, peaches, cabbage, peas, dairy and chocolate to name but a few! A properly qualified dietitian can help you navigate the low FODMOP diet, as excluding so many foods at once can undermine good nutrition – so doing it unsupervised may not be good for you.

Medications such as anti-spasmodics, anti-diarrhoeals, laxatives and peppermint oil can all help symptoms but as in all things, prevention is better than cure, so attending to diet and lifestyle and keeping stress at bay is the best way of managing it. We’re essentially doughnut shaped organisms with our bowel being the central hole. How well it works is often a reflection of our overall health. So take stock and keep well as you’re going through the motions.

This diet is seen as a breakthrough in IBS, as the way the body breaks down these foods is thought to be part of the cause of the condition. Other foods that have been implicated as causing IBS symptoms are wheat, dairy, coffee and onions – but I stress that just excluding a load of foods without proper advice, can cause problems in the long run, so seeing a dietitian is a very good place to start.

Cancer survivors light torch of hope in battle against disease


Former rugby international Tony Ward with cancer survivors Michelle Hanlon, Fairview, and David Howell, Kilcock, at the Torch of Hope walk in aid of the ARC Cancer Support Centres, at CHQ in Dublin

Cancer survivor and rugby legend Tony Ward joined hundreds of marchers in Dublin city centre to remember loved ones lost to the disease.

Fellow cancer survivor, Aslan’s Christy Dignam and his daughter Kiera and the North Dublin Community Gospel Choir entertained the crowd as a cauldron of remembrance was lit on the Samuel Beckett Bridge.

The Torch of Hope walk was in aid of ARC Cancer Support Centres, which has provided holistic care to people battling cancer for 20 years.

Mr Ward said: “Having personally experienced the amazing work that ARC Cancer Support Centres do to support people with cancer and their families through their cancer journey, I can’t think of an event that is more deserving of support than ARC’s Torch of Hope walk. It celebrates the strength and determination of those undergoing treatment, while also remembering those who have passed.”

ARC Cancer Support Centres offer free support at premises on Eccles Street, opposite the Mater Hospital, and the South Circular Road, adjacent to St James’s Hospital.

Giant Squid attacks Greenpeace submarine activists


Greenpeace activists cruising around the Bering Sea were surprised when they saw a rare sight: a giant squid!

Activists were even more shocked when the squid squirted their submarine with ink and then launched a tentacle attack.

The crew reportedly pointed lights at the squid to scare it away, but the fierce creature continued to thrash at them with its tentacles. The squid eventually got away unharmed and the submarine was undamaged.

Giant squids are an extremely rare sight and little is known about them. The marine species reportedly lives about a kilometer under the water. When they’re not attacking submarines, giant squids also attack sperm whales.

The most iconic portrayal of a giant squid battle comes from the 19th century science fiction novel “20,000 Leagues Under The Sea” by Jules Verne. In the book, a giant squid attacks the Nautilus, a submarine under the command of Captain Nemo (not to be confused with the clown fish from that Disney movie).

“Most scientific knowledge of the creatures comes from analyzing dead specimens that wash up on ocean beaches from time to time. Scientists have recovered specimens measuring up to 15 metres in length from the end of the tentacles to the top of the head.”

Oddly enough, the giant squid attack happened a couple days after Greenpeace celebrated Octopus Awareness Day. It’s unknown whether the squid was jealous about not having its own awareness day.

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Saturday 21st June 2014

Joan Burton wants to see an “ability to pay” clause attached to the Irish property tax


The Social Protection Minister was speaking at the latest Labour Party leadership debate in Portlaoise, Co Laois.

Ms Burton said the extreme left in Ireland were the only left-wing grouping against a property tax. But she believed the property tax had to be applied fairly.

“One of the things that has to be done into the future is take some account of ability to pay,” she said.

But Ms Burton stressed she was talking about the change at some point in the future and was not mooting it as a policy for this Government.

Her opponent, Alex White, said he was personally in favour of a wealth tax.

“Tax reform should favour low income and low and middle income people,” he said.

Mr White pointed to a report by the Neven Institute, a left-wing economic thinktank, which has proposed a wealth tax which could raise €150m from a tax of 0.6% on all assets above €1m

The junior health minister said he was again talking about a party policy for the future.

“We are not going to get it past Fine Gael at the moment. But I think it should be part of our policy development running into the next general election,” he said.

Hilary Clinton praises Irish research work


The former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has given a boost to an Irish university after she praised a body of work carried out by researchers there.

Clinton was speaking at the launch of a World Bank report, ‘The Voice and Agency: Empowering Women and Girls for Shared Prosperity’, which looks at development around the world through gender issues.

A key chapter of the report is drawn from the research undertaken by a team at NUI, Galway. Lead by Dr Nata Duvvury it looked at the economic costs of domestic violence and it’s implications for growth and development.

The US politician praised the Galway research which linked GDP to domestic violence. It found that loss of productivity due to domestic violence related absenteeism in Vietnam, Bangladesh and Uganda was significant. Loss of productivity equated to 0.78pc of GDP in Vietnam, 0.5pc in Bangladesh and 1pc in Uganda.


Clinton said the data had given “a much stronger foundation on which to make arguments” for women’s equality, referencing specifically the economic data from NUI, Galway.

“It has also opened up new areas of analysis and persuasion. Certainly the economic arguments which are highlighted in this book, linking, for example, domestic violence and the decrease in GDP to that particular problem could not have been possible, because we weren’t looking for the information, we weren’t drawing the conclusions.

“So we’re now building on a much stronger foundation,” she said.

Clinton told how she had tried to raise the issue of domestic violence in impoverished countries while she was US Secretary of State but the lack of strong data made it difficult to get the message across.

“Now with this information it’s even a much stronger argument because now you can quantify it in terms of GDP which does get people’s attention,” she added.

The Galway team were commissioned to carry out the research by the World Bank and spent six months last summer on the work.

“The object was to relate IPV (Intimate Partner Violence) with economic growth and we developed the model to measure that.,” said Patricia Carney, one of four researchers involved in the Galway research.


Lead researcher Dr Duvvury said the work highlighted an important issue.

“Looking at the links to GDP is a way of getting governments to pay attention. They can often overlook the serious impacts that surveyors of domestic abuse experience; but when they see the dollar impact they pay attention because it is effecting their economy,” she added.

Exercise guidelines ‘hard to meet’


One of the UK’s leading sports medicine specialists says government guidelines are actually discouraging people from being active

In this week’s Scrubbing Up, Dr Mike Loosemore, head of exercise medicine at the Institute of Sport Exercise and Health at University College London who has been involved in the development of commercial exercise programmes, says people should be encouraged to do more “low-level” exercise – such as simply standing up.

Ready for a sit-down or are you sitting comfortably already?

You might be a little less relaxed if you knew that lack of physical activity is the public health problem at the beginning of the 21st century.

Recommendations are not just failing to engage the population, but are positively discouraging people to participate at all.”

There is an overwhelming weight of evidence that humans need to be active.

And I’m not talking about hours in the gym or jogging miles around the local park, but simply avoiding the sort of sedentary behaviour that sees us spending hours of our day sat in front of a computer, at the wheel of car or watching the gogglebox.

It’s time to stand up for yourself. Literally.

There is now enormous evidence that simply standing makes huge differences to your health.

It is estimated that being on your feet for just three hours a day can extend your life by two years!

The great news is of course that now everyone can benefit.

If you are feeling unfit or fat, or too over the hill to walk up even a small one, it’s time to think again.

Low-level activity, even regularly getting off your seat, can change your life forever.

Active individuals reduce their risk of heart disease by 40% against their inactive counterparts.

Other reductions are similarly extraordinary. High blood pressure can be lessened by almost 50%, the risk of recurrent breast cancer by almost 50% whilst the likelihood of colon cancer goes down by over 60%.

It has great mental benefits, too, with the risk of developing of Alzheimer’s disease decreased by a third and depression eased as effectively as Prozac or behavioural therapy.

Activity is not only more powerful than drugs for most conditions, but can act as a cure-all.

The UK government’s recommendation that adults in the UK complete 30 minutes of moderate activity five days a week to achieve the above gains would seem to make sense.

No drugs are involved and this level of activity needs no special equipment.

It would seem so undemanding yet so beneficial, you would expect the whole of the population to be following these guidelines.

However, what do we find?

When adults were monitored, barely 7% of men and 4% of women were carrying out enough activity to fulfill them.

It is perhaps not surprising that the UK has one of the highest levels of obesity in the world.

Every action, even a single step on a stair or standing up for a few seconds, can put you on a positive path to better health.”

So the governments’ recommendations are not just failing to encourage the population to increase their physical activity, but are seemingly acting as a positive disincentive to people to participate at all.

For many of the population, 30 minutes of moderate activity is deemed impractical or unobtainable, so the idea that being more physical to improve long-term health is ignored or dismissed.

Most of us do not have the time, energy or inclination to make the effort, so the recommendations are not just failing to engage the population, but are positively discouraging people to participate at all.

But there is some good news.

Even a small amount of activity can make major health gains, and this is what the population really needs to be taught.

Every action, even a single step on a stair or standing up for a few seconds, can put you on a positive path to better health.

If you start to think that the smallest movement makes a significant difference, then every single person can take part and gain the powerful benefits of being physically active.

The rate of self harm among women in Ireland is a huge concern


South Dublin women suffer from one of the highest rates of self-harm in Ireland.

The revelation came as a new self-harm treatment programme reduced by 99.5% in just one pilot study the number of days spent in Irish hospitals by suicidal patients.

The Health Service Executive (HSE) confirmed it now has 17 teams nationwide trained in the DBT Endeavour system who are targeted on self-harm and suicide blackspots.


Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT) was developed in the US and has been hugely successful in reducing the suicide rate among its patients by 50% as well as causing a fall in in-patient admissions by 75%.

Ireland is now the first country in the world that has decided to fund the roll-out of DBT trained teams under the Endeavour initiative.

The decision came after the country’s self-harm and suicide rates rocketed over the past decade. Ireland has one of the highest rates of young male suicide in the world.

New figures show that Limerick has the highest rates of self-harm for men and women in Ireland.

South Dublin has one of the highest rates for self-harm among women.

This is despite the fact that south Dublin also has some of Ireland’s most affluent neighbourhood’s.

The DBT system was developed by Prof Marsha Linehan, who paid tribute to the Government and HSE.

She described the treatment programme as helping patients to accept who they are, undertake changes they feel are necessary and, critically, to learn life skills to cope with the issues troubling them. The pilot DBT programme began in Ireland in 2010/11 with a special study group of 12 patients set up in the North Lee area of Cork.

It was found that, before undertaking DBT treatment, the 12 patients accounted for a total of 207 hospital bed days between them.

Over the same period after the conclusion of DBT treatment they accounted for only a single hospital bed day – a reduction of 99.5% over a comparable period.


The number of accident and emergency admissions was reduced from 49 before DBT treatment to zero.

The HSE confirmed that the latest study, compiled in 2012/2013, revealed that Limerick has the highest rate for deliberate self-harm for both men and women. The rate is almost double the national average.

Limerick had 469 male cases per 100,000 population compared to 107 cases per 100,000 population in Co Galway. Monaghan recorded Ireland’s lowest rate.

Rare albino white whale seen in ocean near Sydney


An albino humpback whale has been filmed on a migratory path in the waters near Sydney, Australia

One of the worlds rarest whales has been filmed frolicking in the ocean near Sydney by Australian camera crews.

The mammal – a male all-white humpback called Migaloo – is making its annual migration up the south coast, Australian media reported.

Other whales were seen making the journey with the stunning animal, much to the delight of whale watching tourists – and locals.

“It was really just so white and you could see him coming from a long way away because the water was turquoise wherever he was passing under,” said one witness.

According to Australian media, the famous whale can often be seen in waters off the New South Wales coast during the last week of June.

News Ireland daily news BLOG by Donie

Thursday 17th October 2013

Budget farce as James Reilly doubts medical card €113m HSE savings


Plans for massive cuts to the medical card scheme have descended into farce after the health minister cast doubt over the target figure outlined in the budget and the HSE said it will have to be independently verified.

The target of €113m through medical card “probity” was foisted on Health Minister James Reilly on Sunday, without any verification or assessment of how it could be achieved.

The embattled minister told the Oireachtas health committee yesterday the figure was “allocated” by Public Expenditure Minister Brendan Howlin.

  “I am speaking frankly and I am concerned about what can be achieved here,” said Dr Reilly. 

He said the figure was based on Mr Howlin’s “deliberations” of a consultancy report by Price Waterhouse Cooper that said €60m to €200m could be achieved through identifying waste from ineligible cards.

“That report is from 18 months ago and obviously a lot of action has been taken since then,” said Dr Reilly.

He has asked the departments of the Taoiseach and public expenditure to carry out a validation of the figure and the impact it would have on the health service.

Tony O’Brien, head of the HSE, said the executive is carrying out an “independent verification process” before the figures are included in its service plan for 2014.

He said if the savings could not be made through probity — or flushing out dud cases — then cuts will hit other health services.

Fianna Fáil has estimated that about 100,000 medical cards would have to be withdrawn in order to reach the €113m figure.

Mr. O’Brien insisted there would be no change to people’s entitlement or the way medical cards are assessed, as a result of the target.

“Therefore, if that €113m cannot reasonably be achieved through probity measures, then an alternative way of meeting that shortfall will have to be found.”

Sources close to Dr James Reilly said €113m was imposed “from the top down” rather than than from the “bottom up” approach of identifying the waste, and then determining what could be saved from its elimination.

They said that James Reilly was given the figure and told to find the savings within it.

The Irish Examiner can also reveal that the HSE raised concerns 18 months ago about the accuracy of the potential savings in the PWC report. A disclaimer by the report’s authors said the savings were “indicative only and cannot be relied on for any purpose other than providing a broad understanding” of the issue.

A further €25m in health savings will be reached by removing medical cards from 35,000 over-70s. The Irish Senior Citizens Parliament who are organising a protest march next Tuesday against the budget “attacks” on Irish elderly people.

Mr O’Brien also raised concerns about changes to tax reliefs for private health insurance in the budget.

The HSE depends on income provided by private patients in public hospital beds, he said. “If there were to be a significant impact on the number of insured patients, that would have a knock-on impact on the funding of the health servicesnext year,” he said.

HSE West group meets over HIQA report on death of Savita Halappanavar


A special board meeting of the HSE West/North West Hospital Group has ended after four hours of talks at Galway University Hospital.

The 12-member board considered the findings and recommendations from three reports following the death of Savita Halappanavar last October.

The findings from the inquest into her death and the recommendations that emerged from the Coroner’s Court were discussed, along with the HSE Clinical Review into the treatment she received and last week’s HIQA report into issues relating to her care at GUH.

The board is not releasing details about decisions made at the meeting until it has communicated with the staff involved tomorrow morning.

It is expected the measures to be taken will then be made public.

Mrs Halappanavar died from an infection caused by sepsis almost a week after she was admitted to hospital on 21 October 2012.

The special board meeting was called following the publication of third report into her care last week.

The master storyteller that was the great cyclist Lance Armstrong


To his millions of fans, American cyclist and cancer survivor Lance Armstrong was more than just a great sportsman, he was an inspiration. To the film-maker who documented his spectacular fall from grace, he was a master storyteller. But were his supporters too ready to believe the fairytale?

The story of the charismatic Texan cyclist who recovered from life-threatening cancer and went on to win the Tour de France a record seven successive times was one of the greatest tales in sporting history.

In 2009, Lance Armstrong attempted to write another chapter into the legend by coming out of professional retirement to compete in the Tour again at the age of 37. He granted Oscar-winning filmmaker Alex Gibney rare access to his inner circle to chronicle the comeback.

For Gibney, the experience was akin to being embedded with the military in a warzone.

“When you’re with a group of soldiers in Iraq or Afghanistan you’re going to end up feeling part of their unit,” he told me.

“I don’t think that’s necessarily wrong. The trick is how to come out of that with some broader perspective – but it’s intoxicating while you’re in the middle of it.”

Gibney admits the “them and us” mentality inside Lance Armstrong’s Astana cycling team encouraged a kind of Stockholm syndrome. Anyone who questioned his repeated denials that he had used performance-enhancing drugs came to be viewed as the enemy.

“I did begin to feel that some people on the outside were a bit fanatical about the subject of whether Lance had doped,” he says. “You can’thelp but take on the vibe of the team.”

Through the media and in the courts, Armstrong aggressively pursued critics who continued to question whether he was riding clean. Alex Gibney watched as his subject attempted to maintain control over the powerful and lucrative myth he had constructed.

“I think the truth in the mind of someone who is a master storyteller does become elastic,” he suggests.

“There’s a moment in the film when Lance loses in Verbier to Alberto Contador (on stage 15 of the 2009 Tour de France) and he says to me ‘I’m sorry I screwed up your documentary.’

“I don’t think that was just banter. I think that was Lance’s way of saying ‘you came to me to deliver the fairytale that everyone’s come to believe that I can deliver and I failed. I’m not going to win. I’m not going to be first and I’m sorry.'”

Armstrong behind eventual 2009 Tour winner Alberto Contador

After Armstrong’s 2009 comeback, in which he finished third, the myth began to disintegrate.

  • Tour de France victories: 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005 (22 individual stage wins)
  • Battle with cancer: Diagnosed with testicular cancer in 1996. The disease spreads through his body. Launches Lance Armstrong Foundation for Cancer. Declared cancer-free in 1997 after brain surgery and chemotherapy
  • Retirement: Announces he will retire after the 2005 Tour de France. Angered by drug allegations against him, he returns to professional cycling in 2009. He finishes third. His accident-filled 2010 Tour is his last

Former teammates went public with allegations of drug use. The US Anti-Doping Agency accused Armstrong of running the most sophisticated and extensive doping scheme in professional sports history.

He finally came clean in an interview with talk show host Oprah Winfrey last January, in which he admitted taking banned substances and undergoing prohibited blood transfusions during all of his victorious Tour de France campaigns.

In earlier films such as Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room, Taxi to the Dark Side and Mea Maxima Culpa, Alex Gibney has explored the abuse of power by big businesses, the military and the Catholic Church.

In his latest film, it’s Armstrong’s rewriting of his own personal life story, a story that inspired and gave hope to cancer patients around the world, that Gibney finds particularly difficult to accept.

“It’s an abuse of storytelling power,” he says. “He told a story that everyone wanted to believe in too much. He knew how much everybody wanted to believe in it.

“He made the lie so enormous, so all-encompassing, that he couldn’t dial it back. His only choice was to go forward and make it even bigger.” So he carried on cheating, winning Tour after Tour.

Armstrong was engaged to musician Sheryl Crow and travelled by private jet

Stripped of those seven titles, pursued by lawyers seeking to reclaim prize and sponsorship money, Lance Armstrong’s reputation as a sportsman is now in ruins. He has been banned from competitive cycling for life.

Alex Gibney, director of The Armstrong Lie

For Alex Gibney, Lance Armstrong’s epic downfall should serve as a cautionary tale. Even heroes, he argues, need to accept their flaws. “There can be inspirational stories that are messy,” he says.

“Spiderman to me is a more intriguing tale than Superman because you reckon with Peter Parker’s dark past and to some extent his deep-seated anger rather than the pure hero that Superman is.

“When we’re told stories that seem too good to be true we should say to ourselves, ‘Hey, maybe this is too good to be true.'”

Life style changes for humans can save millions from diabetes


MILLIONS of people at risk of developing diabetes could avoid the disease with simple lifestyle changes, say researchers diabetes is preventable with simple lifestyle changes.

A major review of scientific evidence concluded that diet and exercise are vital for staving off the illness, which affects 3.8 million people in Britain.

  Combined with stopping smoking and regular checks on blood pressure and glucose levels, Type 2 diabetes can be prevented altogether, the team from the University of Alberta, Canada, said.

Last month, Diabetes UK said losing weight, eating more fruit and vegetables and taking regular exercise is all people need to do to significantly slash their chance of developing Type 2.

It’s particularly important for people who are already at high risk to talk to their GP to make the diet and lifestyle changes that can help

Dr Matthew Hobbs, Diabetes UK’s head of research

But chief executive Barbara Young said people were not taking the risks seriously and that the country was “sleepwalking towards a public health disaster”.

Dr Matthew Hobbs, the charity’s head of research, said of the findings: “This shows again that it’s particularly important for people who are already at high risk to talk to their GP to make the diet and lifestyle changes that can help.”

Children are drawn to our colourful cigarette packets, A study shows


Children find colourful cigarette packets appealing but are repelled by products that have plain packaging.

The Irish Cancer Society studied pupils from third class in Scoil Aonghusa primary school in Tallaght, Dublin, who were shown branded cigarette packs and asked what they thought of them.

“The children found the packs appealing and were particularly positive about the bright colours and rainbow-coloured effects used on some packs,” it found.

“They felt that the pink slimline packs would appeal to young girls. They also liked the ‘fancy writing’ used on the packs.”

The findings are featured on a new video on YouTube from the Irish Cancer Society.

“Young people are a key target market for the tobacco industry, which needs to recruit 50 new smokers a day to replace those who have either died or quit, in order to keep making profits. Most of these new smokers are children.

“Around 80pc of smokers start before the age of 18 and children in Ireland began smoking at an earlier age than in any other country in Europe,” said a spokeswoman.

The children who were shown examples of what plain packaging may look like responded negatively and called them “disgusting and gross”.

“One of the boys remarked that he did not know how people could buy the cigarettes in plain packs. They felt that plain packs show what it (smoking) does to you and were shocked by the images of the health effects of smoking used on the plain packs.”

Health Minister James Reilly has secured the agreement of the Cabinet to introduce standardised packaging for tobacco products in Ireland, and he welcomed the video.

Drought in East Africa dictated how the brain changed the evolution of human intelligence


Scientists show shifts from dry to wet and back in East Africa’s Rift Valley caused the development of the human brain

Humans evolved their very large brains in response to the dramatic shifts in the climate of East Africa, the cradle of humanity where man’s ancestors are thought to have originated about two million years ago, a study has suggested.

Scientists have matched exceptionally wet periods and very dry periods in the East African Rift Valley to sudden spurts in the evolution of the hominid ancestors of Homo sapiens, which resulted in the evolution of the modern human brain.

Academics have long argued about what led to the unusually large brain of humans with its capacity for language, abstract thought and consciousness. The latest theory suggests it was triggered by the need to adapt to dramatic changes in the local environment of early man.

“It seems modern humans were born from climate change, as they had to deal with rapid switching from famine to feast – and back again – which drove the appearance of new species with bigger brains and also pushed them out of East Africa into Eurasia and South Africa,” said Professor Mark Maslin of University College London, the co-author of the study published in the on-line journal Plos-One.

The Rift Valley is an extensive geological fault marked by mountains, lakes and fertile valleys. Many of the most important fossil remains of early humans have been unearthed in the region, leading to suggestions that it was the most important place for the early origins of man.

The study looked at climate change over the past 5 million years, where there have been large fluctuations between wet periods where lakes were far higher than they are today and dry periods where sand dunes formed in former lake beds.

The scientists found that there were relatively short periods lasting about 200,000 years when East Africa became very sensitive to the cyclical changes in the Earth’s orbit around the Sun – known as Milankovitch cycles – which lead to global-scale changes to the climate, such as ice ages.

In East Africa, these orbital changes to the Earth led to rapid shifts between very dry and very wet periods of about 20,000 years, when typically the lake valleys repeatedly filled up with freshwater and then dried out several times, forcing the human inhabitants to move north or south.

“Due to these changes in orbit, the climate of East Africa seems to go through extreme oscillations from having huge deep freshwater lakes surrounded by rich, lush vegetation to extremely arid conditions, like today, with sand dunes in the floor of the Rift Valley,” Professor Maslin said.

“These changes resulted in the evolution of a new species with bigger brains, and also forced early humans to disperse out of East Africa,” he said.

The study found that there were three time periods in particular when this kind of climate change corresponded to important stages in human evolution.

The first occurred about 2.6 million years ago when the Rift Valley dwellers were pushed into southern Africa and a new species called Homo habilis emerged. The second happened about 1.9 million years ago when an important species called Homo erectus emerged from Africa to colonise much of Asia, while the third occurred about 1 million years ago when Homo heidelbergensis emerged.

Professor Maslin said that the technique is not accurate enough to deal with the past 150,000 years, when Homo sapiens first evolved, but that it nevertheless could explain the earlier evolutionary transition leading to Homo erectus, which is the first large-brained hominid with truly human-like skeleton showing a distinctive adolescent growth-spurt.

Susanne Shultz of Manchester University, the co-author of the study, said that climate change can be linked directly to the evolution of this important human species at a time when there were several species occupying the same geographic region at about the same time.

“We found that around 1.9 million years ago a number of new species appeared, which we believe is directly related to new ecological conditions in the East African Rift Valley, in particular the appearance of deep freshwater lakes,” Professor Shultz said.

“Among these species was early Homo erectus with a brain 80 per cent bigger than its predecessor,” she added.

The present-day lakes of the Rift Valley are much smaller than they would have been at the height of a wet period. Lake Logipi at the northern end of the Kenyan rift valley, for instance, once occupied the entire Suguta Valley, which is presently littered in sand dunes, and was about 300 metres deeper than it is today.

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Monday 23rd September 2013

Eamon Gilmore invites Bono to his office to talk about Irish tax


Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore has invited Bono to drop into his constituency office if he wants to discuss the Government’s tax policy.

The U2 frontman has given his most comprehensive defence of the band’s controversial decision to move their business overseas, to legitimately avoid paying tax.

Bono says the band’s stance is in line with the government policy on “tax competitiveness”.

As he lives in Killiney, Bono is a constituent of Mr Gilmore’s in Dun Laoghaire.

When asked if he agreed with his constituent’s views on where his company pays its tax, Mr Gilmore ducked the question.

But he did appear to invite Bono in to talk about tax policy, if he wanted.

“No constituent has come into my constituency clinic to express the views or to put on my table the issue that you have just raised with me.

“And if they did I wouldn’t talk about it in public anyway because it has always been my practice not to talk about the individual tax matters of individual taxpayers and I think that is the view of the Revenue Commissioners.

“If any of my constituents want to take to me about their tax matters or tax matters relating to their company, my constituency address is 47a Patrick Street, Dun Laoghaire, and I don’t believe it’s too far from any of the constituents you might be thinking about,” he said.

Bono’s mansion, Temple Hill, on Vico Road in Killiney is just five kilometres away from Mr Gilmore’s constituency office.



The Department of Finance has said that the new levy on wine has taken in €45m so far this year.

An extra levy of €1 per bottle was imposed on wine in the last Budget.

Finance Minister Michael Noonan says 45 million bottles of wine were sold between January and the end of August.

In total, taxes on alcohol products have brought in €175m in the first eight months of a year.

Research finds more Children reporting high life satisfaction and less children smoking or drinking


The Minister for Health, Dr James Reilly TD, today (23 September), launched the Health Behaviour in School-aged Children (HBSC) Ireland Trends Report 1998-2010.

The survey was carried out by the health Promotion Research Centre in NUI Galway.

The HBSC is a cross-sectional study conducted in collaboration with the World Health Organization (WHO) Regional Office for Europe.

 It runs every 4 years and in 2010 there were 43 participating countries and regions collecting data on the health behaviours, health outcomes and contexts of children’s lives.

In terms of risky behaviour, the survey reports that in 2010 12% of Irish children said they were smoking compared to 21% in 1998.  28% reported that they had been drunk compared to 29% in 1998.  8% reported that they had used cannabis compared to 10% in 1998.

In terms of positive behaviour, seat-belt wearing rates have doubled (82%) amongst children since 1998 and 33% reported that their health was excellent compared to 28% in 1998.  High rates of life satisfaction (76%) and reported happiness (91%) continue.

Commenting, the Minister said that: “I am encouraged that the number of children who have smoked tobacco has decreased, similar to the trend in alcohol consumption and use of cannabis. This is a step in the right direction and I hope to see this continue for the good of all our children.  I have been consistent in highlighting the deadly dangers of smoking, in particular, for our children and I will continue that battle.”

Commenting on the findings, Principal Investigator Dr Saoirse Nic Gabhainn of NUI Galway stated “this report is the culmination of many years of work, and brings some good news about the health behaviours of children in Ireland over the years, with a decrease in smoking and in alcohol use for example. Yet still more needs to be done to improve their health, in particular around physical activity. Importantly, the proportion of children reporting high life satisfaction and being happy, fundamental aspects of childhood, has increased over the years, as have health and safety behaviours such as wearing a seatbelt and brushing teeth”

The survey has been carried out by the Health PromotionResearch Centre, NUI Galway since 1998 and brings together all the data (relating to almost 40,000 Irish children) collected over this period to examine the key trends and patterns between 1998 and 2010.

Overall, 12% reported in 2010 that they currently smoke compared to 21% in 1998; 49% reported in 2010 that they had their first cigarette at age 13 or younger, compared to 61% in 1998; 28% reported in 2010 that they ever been drunk compared to 29% in 1998; 8% reported in 2010 that they used cannabis in the last 12 month compared to 10% in 1998.

Positive health behaviour
Overall, 20% reported in 2010 that they consume fruits more than once a day compared to 18% in 1998; 82% reported in 2010 that they always wear seatbelt when they are travelling by car compared to 41% in 1998; 51% of children reported in 2010 that they exercise 4 or more time per week compared to 54% in 1998.

Health and well-being
Overall, 33% of children reported in 2010 that their health is excellent compared to 28% in 2002; 91% of children reported in 2010 that they are happy with their life compared to 89% in 1998; 76% of children reported high life satisfaction in 2010 compared to 75% in 2002.

General findings 
Overall, 67% of children reported in 2010 that they brush their teeth more than once a day compared to 58% in 1998; 37% of children reported in 2010 that they have been injured in the past 12 months compared to 40% in 1998; 52% of children reported in 2010 that they talk to their friends on the phone, via text messages or on the internet every day compared to 31% in 2002.

Mullaghmore, Sligo, named by Lonely Planet as top surfing spot with 15 foot waves


Multiple Irish spots highlighted in new Ultimate Adventures book

Lonely Planet included surfing spot Mullaghmore, Sligo in its new book, 1000 Ultimate Adventures which lists top tens for adventurers. Walking across Ireland was also included in the new book as one of the best coast to coast missions.

  Lonely Planet listed Mullaghmore as one of the Best Spots to Catch a Wave. Last year surfers there rode waves measuring 15 metres high. The Independent quoted Lonely Planet, “High winds, choppy surfaces and blinding rain can present obstacles, but the heavy, long tubes make up for the conditions.”

The boost in publicity augments Ireland’s own efforts to attract adventures. Tourism Minister Michael Ring told the Irish Mirror, “In recent years the Government and the tourism agencies have been working hard to develop Ireland as a strong adventure tourism venue and get the word out across the world. Ireland was once the best kept secret in activity tourism but increasingly, due to the great product we have to offer, the word is getting out.”

Meaning “the great summit,” Mullaghmore has a sandy beach that makes it well suited for swimming, windsurfing and other water sports. The small fishing town also has several good restaurants and bars. It was listed as an easy coastal walk in Sligo Walks.

Mullaghmore and walking the coast were not the only suggested activities to do in Ireland. The book also recommended climbing Croagh Patrick and riding horses at the Castle Leslie estate. Croagh Patrick was on a list alongside the Hajj in Saudi Arabia and the Camino de Santiago in Spain. Castle Leslie was recommended for its historic house, good horses and “a touch of eccentricity.”

Situated near the picturesque town of Westport in Co Mayo, Croagh Patrick is a popular destination for hikers and pilgrims. St. Patrick is said to have fasted for forty days on the mountain and pilgrims climb to the top of the mountain where Mass is celebrated in a modern chapel. The mountain also holds archaeological interest since a hillfort from the pre Christian era is located at the base.

Castle Leslie is a castle turned hotel with miles of green fields for its guests to ride. Lessons and events are offered for riders of all levels including children over the age of five.

Lonely Planet’s 1000 Ultimate Adventures lists a hundred different top ten lists for various activities and destinations for adventurers. Hopefully the book will be helpful for tourists visiting Ireland. Failte Ireland CEO Shaun Quinn said, “Hiking, cycling, water sports and other activities are all becoming increasingly popular with overseas travellers- particularly Europeans and especially in one of our key markets, Germany.”

Reducing Greenhouse Gas emissions could prevent Premature Deaths

  Balance of suns radioation and reflection

Reducing the flow of the greenhouse gases that spur global warming could prevent up to 3 million premature deaths annually by the year 2100, a new study suggests.

Greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide trap heat, helping warm the globe. The surge in carbon dioxide levels due to human activity since the Industrial Revolution is now causing an overall warming of the planet that is having impacts around the globe. And the burning of fuel generates not only carbon dioxide, but also air pollutants that are harmful to human health.

Past studies have analyzed how reductions in greenhouse gas emissions would also improve air quality. [5 Ways Climate Change Affects Your Health]

However, most of this previous work has treated any mortality from air pollution as a near-term and local effect, generally not further analyzing how air pollutants can drift across national borders, long-term changes in human populations or the indirect effects of climate change on air quality, said researcher Jason West, an atmospheric scientist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Now West and his colleagues have devised a global model to simulate likely future scenarios of the interaction between mortality and air pollutants, such as ozone and particulate matter (tiny particles suspended in the air).

The researchers found that aggressively reducing greenhouse gas emissions could help prevent 300,000 to 700,000 premature deaths annually by the year 2030, two-thirds of which would be in China. By 2050, such reductions would prevent 800,000 to 1.8 million premature deaths annually. By 2100, between 1.4 million and 3 million premature deaths annually could be averted.

“We found reducing greenhouse gases could lead to a pretty striking reduction in air pollutants, and thus a pretty significant impact on lives saved,” West told Live Science

Based on standard cost-benefit analysis that assigns a monetary value to saving lives, the researchers estimated that reducing a ton of carbon dioxide emissions was valued at $50 to $380.

“This is much more than the costs of reducing carbon dioxide emissions, so this can justify reducing carbon dioxide emissions from the point of view of human health,” West said.

   The International Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the international body that assesses the current science on climate change, is due to release its next summary on climate science on Sept. 27. The panel will also release further reports on how climate change will impact the world, and how it might be mitigated, in 2014.

“Climate change is an important problem that needs strong action, and our study suggests serious benefits to reducing greenhouse gases in addition to helping slow down climate change,” West said. “Many times, long-term global problems such as climate change are hard to act on, but here we show that reducing greenhouse gas emissions can have near-term, local benefits for health, as well, which might strengthen the arguments for action with governments and citizens.”

In the future, researchers can analyze the impacts of efforts to intentionally improve air quality as well as reduce greenhouse gas emissions, West said.

West and his colleagues detailed their findings online Sept. 22 in the journal Nature Climate Change.

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Friday 12th July 2013

Ireland Debt Outlook Raised at S&P on Impact of Budget Cuts


Standard & Poor’s raised its outlook on Ireland’s sovereign rating, saying the government may exceed its targets for debt reduction as the economy recovers.

The ratings company lifted the outlook on the nation’s BBB+ grade to positive from stable, it said in a statement today. There is a one-in-three chance the rating will be raised in the next two years.

  “Ireland could over-achieve its fiscal targets and reduce its government debt faster than we currently expect,” S&P said. “Ireland’s economic recovery is under way.”

S&P also affirmed Germany’s AAA rating today with a stable outlook. That judgment and its view on Ireland contrasts with the company’s decision earlier this week to cut its rating on Italy’s debt to BBB from BBB+, with a negative outlook, because of that country’s continued recession.

Of the three major ratings companies, S&P now has the most positive outlook on Ireland. Fitch Ratings has the nation on BBB+ rating with a stable outlook, while Moody’s Investors Service has it at non-investment grade and a negative outlook. Investors often ignore ratings, evidenced by the rally in Treasuries after the U.S. lost its top grade at S&P in 2011.

While today’s S&P revision is “good news” for Ireland, Moody’s “stubbornness in holding on to its sub-investment grade rating remains an unhelpful overhang on the sovereign” and its banks, Philip O’Sullivan, an economist at Investec Plc (INVP) in Dublin, said in a note.

Fiscal Program

The Irish government is pressing on with budget savings after needing a bailout in 2010 and is also working on a plan to recoup some of the money it plowed into failing lenders from the euro area’s backstop fund. Ireland’s Finance Ministry said on its Twitter feed that S&P’s improved outlook highlights the success of the country’s fiscal-consolidation program.

The National Treasury Management Agency said the move acknowledges the country’s improved access to capital markets and fiscal situation. Ireland is aiming to be the first euro-area country to exit a bailout at the end of the year.

S&P said government debt will peak at 122 percent of gross domestic product this year and decline to 112 percent by 2016. It said the “strong consensus” among the country’s largest political parties for fiscal consolidation “supports Ireland’s policy and institutional effectiveness.”

Outlook Risks

While the economy is recovering, S&P said weak foreign demand means growth will remain slow this year and next and risks to the outlook remain. Banks still have “very high levels” of non-performing loans and the country’s access to external funding is “fragile.”

Economic data for the nation has been mixed in recent weeks. The Irish economy slipped back into recession in the first three months of the year to mark a third consecutive quarter of contraction. In contrast, tax revenues exceeded the government’s target by 1 percent in the first half, and the nation’s budget deficit declined.

The yield on 10-year Irish bonds was 3.9 percent today. While it’s up from a low of 3.41 percent in May, it reached a peak of 14.219 percent in 2011.

Yields on sovereign securities moved in the opposite direction from what ratings suggested in 53 percent of 32 upgrades, downgrades and changes in credit outlook last year, according to data compiled by Bloomberg published in December. Investors ignored 56 percent of Moody’s rating and outlook changes and 50 percent of those by Standard and Poor’s. That’s worse than the longer-term average of 47 percent, based on more than 300 changes since 1974.

On Germany, S&P said today that it predicts the economy will maintain “steady” growth in the medium term.

“The stable outlook on our long-term rating on Germany reflects our expectation that its public finances will continue to withstand potential financial and economic shocks and that consensus in favor of prudent economic policies will remain,” S&P said.

Irish Mental health service’s ‘failing our children miserably’


Children in State care are being further traumatised by the mental health system itself, a major report has claimed.

Professionals involved in the service have described it as “traumatised and traumatising” and have pointed to the absence of child-centred care with organisations “focused on their own outputs rather than the child’s needs”.

The Someone To Care report by the Children’s Mental Health Coalition has found substantial deficiencies, poor resource allocation and a focus on crisis management rather than early intervention.

Considerable dissatisfaction was expressed “at the dominance of the medical model in service structure and delivery”.

The report has also pointed to multiple placements and a lack of coordination between State agencies making it hard for children to develop trusting relationships.

It has called for service providers to listen to the voice of the child and involve young people in planning service developments.


It wants a national strategy to address the mental health needs of children and young people in the care of the State and a common assessment framework and on-going monitoring of their needs.

The report has also called for stability for children in care and in youth justice systems with adequate equitable access to services and training programmes which identify and understand psychological well-being issues.

Orla Barry, Director of Mental Health Reform and incoming Chair of the Children’s Mental Health Coalition, said the report marked “what we hope will be the beginning of a process”.

“It identifies the imperative need for a joined-up system that really addresses the mental health needs of young people in care and in the youth justice system.”

She added that one of the strongest messages from the young people interviewed in the report was the need for stability and continuity in care, which was often missing from their lives.

“If they could develop a single trusting relationship, the impact would be enormous. This means we need the different agencies working with the young people to comprehensively and effectively work together.”

Galway man bit in face by a conger eel ‘lucky to be alive’

The attack left Jimmy Griffin with a horrific scar (picture courtesy Jimmy Griffin)  

A Galway man says that he is “extremely lucky to be alive” after a freak incident where a giant conger eel bit away a huge chunk of his face.

Jimmy Griffin (48), who is an experienced deep sea diver for over 20 years, came into difficulties as he made his way back from an expedition in Killary Fjord, Connemara, Co Galway.

“Suddenly I got hit with what felt like a really strong punch in the face,” Mr Griffin told the IrishIndependent. “I felt like a rag doll. It gripped onto my face and threw me about violently. It was biting, pulling and twisting on my face,” he said.

“I knew I had been attacked but at this stage I didn’t know what happened. I got this horrendous feeling of numbness in the left side of my face,” said Griffin.

“My regulator fell out and my vision became really cloudy because of the blood rising in the water in front of me. The blood looked like octopus ink, very dark,” he added

Mr Griffin attended the dive in Killary Fjord, which was part of a sports gear manufacturer’s promotion to test out new equipment. Despite his experience, it had been over two years since he was last deep sea diving.

“I am a very lucky man to be alive today. I owe my life to so many people who made sure I got to the hospital,” said Griffin

“The plastic surgeons have done a fantastic job. I don’t even know how many stitches I have on both the inside and outside of mouth but they say the scar will eventually be unnoticeable,” he said.

Irish Coastguard issues water safety warning after five drownings during warm weather spell


The irish Coastguard has issued a fresh safety warning for those taking to the water during the continued heatwave. 

Among the advice is to wear a personal floatation device and never swim alone, or after drinking alcohol.

Five people have drowned in the past week, including a 19-year-old man in a Co Roscommon lake last night and a 10-year-old boy in Youghal in east Cork yesterday.

Johnm Leech, Chief Executive of Irish Water Safety, appealed to swimmers to take extreme care.

“Fresh water is more dangerous than salt water, that’s the first thing we’d say,” he explained.

We’d ask everyone to swim on lifeguarded waterways, and there’s a whole list of them with all the hours that lifeguards are on duty [online].”

“The lifeguards are professional, they’re very good at their jobs … they will keep your family safe.”

Cigarette’s and drinking speed up cognitive decline ‘Scientist’s say’


It is already widely acknowledged that smoking and drinking too much are bad for our health. Now a new study has found that when done together, smoking and heavy drinking speed up cognitive decline.

According to UK scientists, these two habits often occur together, therefore they wanted to assess the combined effect of them on cognition – a group of mental processes that include memory, problem solving, decision making and language skills.

They monitored the progress of over 6,400 adults, aged between 45 and 69, over a 10-year-period. All of the participants provided information about their smoking and drinking habits and their cognitive abilities were tested throughout. This included tests on verbal fluency, memory and mathematical reasoning.

The scientists from University College London found that cognitive decline in current smokers who were also heavy drinkers was 36% faster compared to non-smokers who were moderate drinkers. Furthermore, among smokers, the more alcohol a person consumed, the faster the cognitive decline.

“Our research shows that cognitive decline was 36% faster in those people who reported both cigarette smoking and drinking alcohol above the recommended limits. When we looked at people who were heavy-drinking smokers, we found that for every 10 years that they aged, their brains aged the equivalent of 12 years,” explained lead researcher, Dr Gareth Hagger-Johnson.

The recommended weekly allowance of alcohol is no more than 21 units for men and 14 units for women. A unit of alcohol is considered a small glass of wine (100ml), a pub measure of spirits (35.5ml) or a glass of beer/cider/stout (284ml).

The scientists pointed out that from a public health perspective, ‘the increasing burden associated with cognitive aging could be reduced if lifestyle factors can be modified’.

“We believe that people should not drink alcohol more heavily in the belief that alcohol is a protective factor against cognitive decline. Current advice is that smokers should stop or cut down, and people should avoid heavy alcohol drinking.

“Our study suggests that people should also be advised not to combine these two unhealthy behaviours – particularly from mid-life onwards. Healthy behaviours in midlife may prevent cognitive decline into early old age,” they said.

Deep blue planet HD89733b discovery differs from our Earth


Data from the Hubble Space Telescope has helped determine that a planet orbiting a nearby star likely shares Earth’s deep-blue tones, but the similarities stop there, astronomers report.

The planet, HD 189733b, circles a star some 63 light years away, about 372 trillion miles, according to the upcoming Astrophysical Journal Letters report led by the University of Oxford’s Tom Evans. The Jupiter-size planet, about 13% heftier than the largest planet in our solar system, orbits very close to its star, circling it once every 2.2 days. That makes it a (very) “hot Jupiter” planet, the study notes, with cloud temperatures likely around 1,800 degrees Fahrenheit and winds whipping around at 4,350 miles-per-hour.

Astronomers have detected more than 800 “exoplanets” — planets that orbit stars outside our solar system — in the last two decades. HD 189733b was discovered in 2005.

The planet’s clouds are likely blue, based on spectroscope data from Hubble, according to the international team of astronomers. The space telescope peered at the planet, before, during and after it was eclipsed by its star. That enabled the astronomers to subtract the light from the star from the light reflected off the planet, giving them a sense of its color.

“We saw the brightness of the whole system drop in the blue part of the spectrum when the planet passed behind its star,” Evans says, in a statement. “From this, we can gather that the planet is blue, because the signal remained constant.”

The team suggests the blue color likely comes from a hazy atmosphere filled with melting glass particles, ones that scatter blue light.

“It is by no means a giant step forward, but a nice observation with implications for clouds in this hot Jupiter’s atmosphere, one of the key details for those who model the atmospheres of these hot planets,” says planetary theorist Alan Boss of the Carnegie Institution of Washington (D.C.). “It is amazing to think that we can now make measurements that tell us something about the cloud cover on distant exoplanets, and is especially amazing when we cannot even see these hot Jupiters directly.”

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Wednesday 29th May 2013

Irish public-sector staff paid €285 on average more a week than the private sector


The average working week now stands at just over 31 hours, new figures from the Central Statistics Office show.

And there was little difference in the average number of hours clocked up between public and private sector workers in the year to the end of March.

The CSO said that weekly earnings in the private sector increased marginally in the year, and fell in the public sector.

Despite this, public sector workers earned about €285 on average more per week than private sector employees in the first three months of the year.

Across the economy, average weekly earnings stood at €696.59 in the first three months of the year, down slightly on the €696.67 figure for the same period in 2012.

Other key findings include:

  1. Average hourly earnings were €22.31 in the first quarter compared with €22.15 in the same period last year. 
  2. * Hourly earnings rose in six of the 13 economic sectors, with administrative and support services increasing 8.4pc to €17.28, followed by transportation and arts to by 2.6pc to €20.47.
  3.  Average weekly earnings in the private sector in the first three months of the year was €628.26 and €913.25 in the public sector.
  4.  In the four years to the end of March, average public sector weekly wages fell by €20.75 compared with a decrease of €3.56 for those in private firms.
  5. Average weekly paid hours fell to 31.2, down 1pc. 
  6.  The biggest increase in working hours was in the IT sector, moving from 36.2 to 36.7 hours, while the largest drop was in administrative and support services, falling from 30.8 hours to 29.4 
  7. Average weekly paid hours in the private sector was 31.1 and 31.5 in the public sector.
  8. There were 5,000 fewer public servants in the public sector in the first three months of 2013 than in the same period in 2012. Some 37,500 have left the public sector in the last four years.                             

The CSO pointed out that earnings are gross amounts and do not take account of deductions for PRSI, tax and other levies, including the public sector pension levy.

Irish Nurses are set to accept new public service pay deal


The country’s largest nursing union is to recommend its members to accept new public service pay proposals.

The Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) said that following ‘detailed consideration of the new Haddington Road proposals’, it plans to recommend its members to accept the deal in a forthcoming ballot.

Earlier this year, the INMO had been vehemently opposed to the new Croke Park deal, with 95% of its members voting against it. That deal eventually fell apart when other unions, including SIPTU – the largest public service union – also voted against it.

Public service workers had been warned that pay cuts would be introduced via legislation if a new deal could not be worked out. These Haddington Road pay proposals now look set to be accepted by a majority of public service union members.

The INMO insisted that ‘taking all aspects of the new proposals into account’, it had decided that they were ‘in the best medium to long-term interests of the membership’.

“This was a very difficult decision for my executive council to make, but the choices are very stark. The improvements secured, following the rejection of previous proposals, are significant,” commented INMO general secretary, Liam Doran.

He added that the union feels that these are ‘the best set of proposals which can be obtained through negotiation and are much better than the government’s alternative draconian legislation.’

Minister of health James Reilly anticipates a cigarette plain pack challenge


Minister for Health says tobacco industry will try to stop introduction of plain packaging

Minister for Health James Reilly has said he expects the tobacco industry to challenge his plans to introduce plain packaging of cigarettes in the courts.

Dr Reilly said that “without a shadow of a doubt” the industry would try to stop the measure, but this only proved how much of an impact it would have on its efforts to recruit new smokers.

Anti-smoking groups welcomed the Government’s plans to introduce plain packaging of tobacco products from next year. However, tobacco manufacturers and retailers claimed the move would boost the sale of illegal cigarettes by international criminal gangs because the standardised packaging would be easier to produce.

Ireland is set to become the first country in Europe, and the second in the world after Australia, to introduce plain packaging after the Cabinet yesterday approved proposals presented by Dr Reilly.

Dr Reilly said the legislation to be prepared later this year was justified by the fact that it would save lives. Over 5,200 people die each year in Ireland from tobacco-related diseases.

“The introduction of standardised packaging will remove the final way for tobacco companies to promote their deadly product in Ireland.” he said. “Cigarette packets will no longer be a mobile advertisement for the tobacco industry.”

Standardised packaging will remove all forms of branding, such as trademarks, logos, colours and graphics. The brand name would be presented in a uniform typeface for all brands and the packs would all be in one plain neutral colour.

Strong evidence
Dr Reilly said there was strong evidence the measure would increase the effectiveness of health warnings, reduce false health beliefs about cigarettes and reduce brand appeal, especially among young people.

Plain packaging was one of a number of measures required to “denormalise” smoking in society, he said. Further initiatives in education and awareness, cessation services and an extension of the workplace smoking ban were also being considered.

The international tobacco industry is supporting a number of countries who are challenging the Australian ban at the World Trade Organisation.

Tobacco smuggling
Retail Ireland said the Government was right to do everything it could to reduce the prevalence of smoking, but warned that the measure would make illegally imported cigarettes more attractive.

It said the health initiative should be matched by greater penalties for tobacco smuggling.

The Irish Cancer Society and the Irish Heart Foundation welcomed the proposed legislation, saying it would make children less likely to start smoking.

Attractive packet design was one of the last ways left for the industry to recruit new smokers, the two organisations said, and this meant the legislation was urgently needed.

Research from the UK has found adults and adolescents perceive cigarettes in plain packs to be less appealing.

Minor aftershocks likely following Irish Sea earthquake


The Seismograms as recorded on broadband stations near the epicentre of the earthquake

The epicentre of the earthquake was in the Irish Sea near Wales. 

The Irish National Seismic Network (INSN) has said that further earth tremors are likely in the coming days in the Irish Sea and North Wales where a magnitude 3.8 earthquake struck this morning.The epicentre of the earthquake was 13km away from the town of Abersoch, Gwynedd, the British Geological Survey (BGS) said.

Tom Blake from the School of Cosmic Physics in the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies (DIAS) said there has been a significant increase in seismic activity in the area in recent months and that further minor earthquakes can be expected.

The quake happened at around 4.15am and was felt in Carlow, Kildare, Wicklow, Wexford and Dublin.

The BGS received more than 100 reports from people who felt the quake.

One described “the whole house rocking,” with many stating that windows and crockery rattled. The shaking typically lasted for 10-20 seconds.

The earthquake is the largest in North Wales since a magnitude 4.3 earthquake on 18 August, 1984.

“This was a larger than average earthquake, we get around one a year of this size.

“People have reported hearing an initial loud banging, followed by rumbling, and intense shaking,” a spokesperson said.

The Irish National Seismic Network suggested that today’s earthquake was moderate enough to have relieved any pressure built up in the region and that it was unlikely to be a precursor to a stronger earthquake.Tom Blake added: “It is unlikely that the magnitude of today’s earthquake will be exceeded in the Irish Sea in the coming days but aftershocks can be expected in the hours and days ahead, although many will be too weak to be felt.”

Ban salt call as Irish men still eating twice daily limit


Irish men are eating nearly twice as much salt is as good for them and women are eating 40pc more than they should.

Consumers are still adding too much salt to their meals as it can account for up to 30pc of their daily intake, a Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) seminar has been told.

   People who want to cut down on salt should ban the salt cellar from the table and from the kitchen, said Dr Wayne Anderson of the FSAI.

“Lots of people add salt without even tasting the food, they’ll add salt to a potato and then add butter containing more salt, but it only takes six weeks to retrain the palatte if you just stop adding it,” he said.

Although industry has cut back on the amount of salt it adds to processed meals, consumption is still well above the daily limit of 6g a day.

Irish men eat an average of 11.1g per day and Irish women eat 8.5g, with pensioners also far exceeding their recommended intake. This is serious because high salt intake is associated with increased blood pressure which is a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke.

Meat and fish are the major source of salt in the diet – especially cured and processed meats such as ham and sausages – followed by bread and rolls.

These two categories of food alone contribute over half the salt in the Irish diet.

FSAI chief executive Prof Alan Reilly said the FSAI had worked with industry to bring about substantial reductions in salt content, particularly in foods such as bread and cereals.

“It is therefore considered time for the food industry to drive its own programme of reformulation of all foods, with the FSAI maintaining its independent monitoring role and oversight,” he said.

The Irish Business and Employers Confederation (IBEC) said the food industry was continuing to reformulate products on a scientific basis.

It intended to monitor the impact of this over the past five years and over the next five years to help inform future policy initiatives, said Shane Dempsey of IBEC’s food division.

A small but feisty prehistoric wesserpeton amphibian (Wessie) discovered


A small but feisty species of amphibian that lived in the shadows of dinosaurs has been discovered by scientists.

The discovery of the wesserpeton fills a gap in the evolutionary history of a now-extinct group, the albanerpetontids, according to researchers at the University of Portsmouth.

The amphibian, nicknamed “Wessie”, was about the size of a small, modern-day newt and unlike most amphibians, albanerpetontids had a scaly skin and eyelids, showing that they spent most of their time on land. Details of the skeleton also suggest that they were well adapted to burrowing.

The creature lived on the Isle of Wight, which has gained the nickname Dinosaur Island because of the number of fossils found there, about 130 million years ago during the early cretaceous period, at the same time as dinosaurs such as neovenator, iguanodon and giant, long-necked sauropods.

The researchers believe that broken but healed jaws among the bones suggest Wessie was a feisty creature. Like some modern-day salamanders, it probably engaged in fierce battles for mates and territory and sharp chisel-like teeth indicate that it was a predator.

Steve Sweetman, of the university’s School of Earth and Environmental Sciences, said: “When I started looking for the little animals that lived with the dinosaurs, a Wessie jaw was the first thing I found and I can still remember how excited I was. I also remember thinking that ‘albanerpetontid’ was a heck of a mouthful for such a tiny creature.

“Of the 50 or so new four-legged animals I have now found, Wessie bones are the most common and it was clearly well adapted to the ancient floodplain environment in which it lived.”

The researchers have no complete skeletons of Wessie but they have a large number of isolated bones representing almost all parts of the animal.

Dr Sweetman and his co-author, Jim Gardner of the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology, Canada, named the animal wesserpeton because its bones come from rocks known as the Wessex Formation.

The discovery of Wessie neatly fills an evolutionary gap. Albanerpetontids are first found in rocks of middle jurassic age and their last occurrence is in the late pliocene.

During this period of more than 165 million years, skull bones known as frontals gradually changed from bell-shaped to triangular. Until now, part of this transition was missing from the fossil record.

Dr Sweetman said: “Until the discovery of wesserpeton, there appeared to be an abrupt transition from the more primitive elongated and bell-shaped frontals of the early albanerpetontids to the triangle-shaped frontals of later forms. The frontals of wesserpeton are elongated but they are also triangular, neatly filling the gap between the two.”

News Ireland daily BLOG Wednesday

Wednesday 8th May 2013

Kidnap victim American Amanda Berry hailed as the ‘Real Hero’ in rescue of three young Women


Having the Courage to Scream for Help and Escape

Police in Cleveland America today lauded Amanda Berry as a “real hero” for breaking free after 10 years of captivity and rescuing herself and two other women held as prisoners in a Cleveland house.

Berry’s bolt to freedom Monday night revealed a shocking case of three women abducted as long as 11 years ago and held in a modest house where neighbors and relatives never suspected anything was wrong.

Three brothers have been arrested in the case and are awaiting charges.

Police are unable to supply any details of what went on the house for past decade because they have yet to interview any of the victims or the suspects.

“We wanted to give them a day or two to decompress,” Cleveland Police Deputy Chief Ed Tomba said, referring to the three women who emerged to freedom and their families after such extreme isolation.

Tomba said the women would be interviewed today and the suspects would be grilled on Wednesday.

The cops do know, however, that it was Amanda Berry’s bold escape that set the women free.

“The real hero here is Amanda. She’s the one that got this rolling. We’re following her lead,” Tomba said at a press conference this morning. “Without her we wouldn’t be here today.”

Berry broke through a door with the help of a neighbor and called police on Monday evening. Within minutes, police were at the modest two-story home on Seymour Avenue. There authorities found two other missing woman, Gina DeJesus, 23, and Michele Knight, 32 who were also abducted in separate cases years ago, just miles from where they had each disappeared.

“I believe, out of the three of them, Amanda’s the key,” chief said.

Neighbors said they heard cries for help coming from a house just before 6 p.m., and when they went to investigate, helped kick open the door of the home to get the women out.

Berry, police said, “broke out of the lower part of screen door” to freedom. Frantically, she called 911. “I’ve been kidnapped, and I’ve been missing for 10 years,” Berry told a 911 operator. “And I’m here. I’m free now.”

“Due to Amanda’s brave actions, these three women are alive today,” Tomba said.

All three women were taken to Metro Health Medical Center on Monday night where they were examined and reunited with their families. Berry and DeJesus was discharged this morning.

Tomba said authorities asked the hospital to keep Knight at the facility for another day because they “had some trouble locating family for her.”

FBI sources tell ABC News the victims are being cared for at an undisclosed location and an FBI agent has been assigned to each victim.

“This is the ultimate definition of survival and perseverance,” said FBI Special Agent in Charge Stephen Anthony. “Our prayers have been answered. The nightmare is over.”

Police arrested three brothers in connection with the women’s alleged kidnappings Ariel Castro, 52, Pedro Castro, 54, and Onil Castro, 50.

The house where the women were held belongs to Ariel Castro, a Cleveland school bus driver who was fired last year after being suspended several times. Police said they had twice been called to the house, once in 2000 and again in 2004, after the women had vanished.

Cops said Castro was questioned in 2004 about leaving a child on a school bus after completing his route and taking a lunch break. The incident was declared an accident and he was not charged with any crime.

In recent years they had dug up two yards in Cleveland looking for the women’s remains.

Authorities said they had routinely received tips about Berry and DeJesus who disappeared as teenagers, but none had led them to the Castros. Berry went missing at 16 in 2003 while on her way home from a job at Burger King. DeJesus went missing when she was 14, a year later while walking home from school.

Knight vanished first in 2002, when she was 20 years old. She was considered a runaway and her case received less media attention than the other women.

Police said they were giving the women time with their families before beginning to question them about their time in captivity. A special team of investigators from the FBI, “child forensic examiners and victim-witness specialists” has been brought in to question them today.

Net worth of Irish households increasing again


Central Bank says households saw wealth increase by 1 per cent in the last quarter of 2012

Irish households are getting richer again

Irish households are getting richer, according to the Central Bank, with the net worth of households increasing by 1 per cent to € 461.6 billion in the last quarter of 2012. This means that the average wealth of an Irish household now stands at € 100,674, having risen for the second consecutive quarter.

The Central Bank’s quarterly financial accounts for the fourth quarter of 2012 also show that the debt burden is in decline, with household debt to disposable income, an indicator of debt sustainability, falling to 201.6 per cent, its lowest level since the fourth quarter of 2006. In addition, household debt as a proportion of total assets also fell during the fourth quarter, down to 27 per cent.

Government liabilities rose again during Q4 2012, reaching € 214.4 billion. This represented an increase of 1.4 per cent or € 3 billion, and was largely due to further funding of € 2.8 billion received as part of the EU/IMF bail-out programme. As of the end of 2012, the total value of EU/IMF loans stood at € 57.9 billion.

Private sector non-consolidated debt fell “significantly” in the quarter, down by 16.4 per cent to stand at 289.9 per cent of GDP. This represents the largest decline to date and shows that private sector debt is now at its lowest level since the second quarter of 2009.

The decline in debt was due to a reduction in both household, and business debt, with households cutting their debt to 2.2 per cent of GDP, and businesses, excluding financial institutions, to 14.2 per cent of GDP. According to the Central Bank, the reduction in debt outstanding amongst the corporate sector “largely reflected the relocation of some multinationals”.

Physical Activity Reduces Breast Cancer Risk


Breast cancer risk can be reduced through physical activity, according to new data published in a journal of the American Association for Cancer Research, called Cancer Epidemiology.

Aerobic exercise may prove to be a very effective means of lowering one’s risk of developing breast cancer.

Breast cancer is the most common invasivecancer in females worldwide. It accounts for 16% of all female cancers and 22.9% of invasive cancers in women.

Recently, researchers in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute identified analteration in a gene, which affects the breakdown of estrogen and is also related to a modest reduction in breast cancer risk in pre-menopausal women.

The authors discovered that one of the ways in which aerobic exercise reduces the risk of developing breast cancer is by altering the way that estrogen is broken down and metabolized.

Aerobic exercise increases the ratio of “good” to “bad” metabolites of estrogen.

Mindy S. Kurzer, Ph.D., professor in the Department of Food Science and Nutrition at the University of Minnesota in Saint Paul, said:

“Observational studies suggest physical activity lowers breast cancer risk, but there are no clinical studies that explain the mechanism behind this. Ours is the first study to show that aerobic exercise influences the way our bodies break down estrogens to produce more of the ‘good’ metabolites that lower breast cancer risk.”

The researchers conducted a clinical trial called “Women in Steady Exercise Research (WISER)”. The trial included a total of 391 young and healthy premenopausal women.

They split the women into two groups with matching age and body mass indexes (BMIs).

The control group (179) led a sedentary lifestyle throughout the whole study period, whereas the intervention group (212) did half an hour of aerobic exercise five times a week for a period of 16 weeks.

The researchers made sure that the intensity of the exercise was the same for all the women. As part of their workout routine, the women used treadmills, stair steppers or elliptical machines.

Most of the participants completed the study (86% from the control group and 78 percent from the intervention group).

24-hour urine samples were collected on three consecutive days before the study and on three at the end. The researchers used a novel technique for measuring the estrogen levels, called liquid chromatography/tandem mass spectroscopy, to identify the quantity of three parent estrogens (E1, E2 and E3) as well as nine metabolites.

A reduction of breast cancer risk has been associated with the increased production of a metabolite called 2-hydroxyestrone (2-OHE1) as opposed to one called 16alpha-hydroxyestrone (16alpha-OHE1).

The researchers found that aerobic exercise caused an increase in the amount of 2-OHE1 and a decrease in amount of 16alpha-OHE1, which subsequently meant that their risk of breast cancer decreased.

Kurzer concluded:

“Exercise, known to favor fitness and improve heart health, is also likely to help prevent breast cancer by altering estrogen metabolism. It is very important, however, to decipher the biological mechanisms behind this phenomenon.”

A previous study published in the journal CANCER similarly identified a link between physical activity and a reduced risk of breast cancer, which showed that women can reduce their breast cancer risk by exercising and maintaining their body weight.

Ireland has highest rate of ovarian cancer in Europe


376 new cases every year of the West’s ‘silent killer’

Ireland has the highest mortality rate from ovarian cancer in Europe, according to a report from the National Cancer Registry.

Today, on the first world ovarian cancer day, awareness is being raised about the West’s ‘silent killer’.

In Ireland, an average of 376 new cases present each year.

That makes us the 4th highest for incidents of the cancer, of 30 countries surveyed between 1994 and 2010.

Symptoms include increased abdominal size and persistent bloating along with abdominal pain, and women are asked to be aware of these conditions.

Sharon O’Toole is a scientist doing research in the area in Trinity College Dublin.

Ovarian cancer is diagnosed annually in nearly a quarter of a million women globally, and is responsible for 140,000 deaths each year. Statistics show that just 45% of women with ovarian cancer are likely to survive for five years compared to up to 89% of women with breast cancer.


Experts now believe it is the frequency and combination of symptoms that can help doctors distinguish between ovarian cancer and other conditions. If a woman experiences one or more of the following symptoms on most days within a three week period, they should discuss their concerns with their doctor:
· Increased abdominal size / persistent bloating (not bloating that comes and goes)
· Difficulty eating/feeling full quickly
· Abdominal or pelvic pain
· Needing to pass urine more urgently or more frequently

Women with ovarian cancer are most likely to have one or more of the above symptoms on a frequent basis. There can be other symptoms too, including change in bowel habits, abnormal vaginal bleeding, fatigue, and unexpected weight loss or weight gain around the abdomen.

Dr Noreen Gleeson, Gynaecological Oncologist at St James Hospital and a member of the medical panel of ovarian cancer charity OvaCare welcomed the global initiative and its aim to raise awareness of ovarian cancer in Ireland. “Currently, unlike cervical cancer, there is no reliable screening test for ovarian cancer.

Although ovarian cancer can be a deadly disease, if it is diagnosed at the earliest stage it can be treated effectively with surgery and chemotherapy, leading to survival rates of up to 90%. If we are to improve on poor outcomes for our women, ovarian cancer needs to be detected earlier. That means that women and GPs need to be on the lookout for early signs and symptoms. The National Cancer Control Programme are currently putting measures in place to address the poor outcomes in Ireland and we look forward to the implementation of these at the earliest possible opportunity.”

World Ovarian Cancer Day is being promoted in Ireland by three Ovarian Cancer charities Ova-Care, Supporting Ovarian Cancer Knowledge (SOCK) and the Emer Casey Foundation which provide vital nationwide support services for those affected by ovarian cancer as well as funding research with the DISCOVARY consortium.

White-tailed eagle chicks born in Ireland for the first time in over a century


An adult White-tailed Eagle is seen catching a fish on Lough Derg, Co Clare

Three baby white-tailed eagles have been born in Ireland for the first time in 100 years.

A proud pair of eagles hatched a chick at a nest in Killarney National Park, Co. Kerry, having laid eggs in late March.

A second pair has also successfully hatched two chicks near Mountshannon, Co Clare.

These are the first chicks of the high profile reintroduction programme which began in 2007 with the release of young Norwegian eagles in the park as part of the white-tailed eagle reintroduction programme.

So far, some 100 birds have been released.

The project has been dogged by controversy, with some 27 birds found dead. Twelve were confirmed as poisoned and one was shot dead.

Project director Dr Alan Mee told Independent.ie today : “ We are very excited as this is a huge breakthrough. Hopefully the chicks will survive and fly.”

However, Dr Mee warned bird lovers not to approach the baby eagles.

“ Disturbance, particularly during the early stages of nesting when the birds are on eggs or have small chicks, would be detrimental to the pair’s success,” he said.

“ I would stress that it is an offence under the Wildlife Acts to willfully disturb white-tailed eagles at the nest.

“ We would caution people not to approach the nest area but instead avail of the unique opportunity to watch from Mountshannon pier.”

Heritage Minister Jimmy Deenihan said today : This is a momentous occasion in that we are now witnessing the first white-tailed eagles born in the wild in Ireland in over 100 years.”

“ The birth of these chicks gives a great boost to the reintroduction project initiated by my Department in conjunction with the Golden Eagle Trust.”

“ The principal aim of this project is to re-establish a viable breeding population of  white-tailed eagles and today’s events are the big step towards achieving that goal.

White-tailed eagles can live for 25-30 years and generally mate for life with adult pairs remaining within their home range throughout the year.

First time breeders, especially young birds, often fail at their first attempt.

Nesting began in late March with pairs laying eggs in nests in Clare and Killarney.

The Mountshannon breeding pair, a five year old male and four year old female, was collected on the island of Frøya off the west coast of Norway.

This pair laid eggs in 2012 but failed to hatch chicks.

However by January 2013 had already built a new nest.

The Killarney breeding pair, a six year old female and five year old male, were collected on islands in Flatanger and Hitra, Norway, in 2007 and 2008.

The Killarney female spent part of the winter in early 2009 in the Scottish Highlands before returning to Kerry.

Several pairs have now established themselves in counties Kerry, Cork, Clare and Galway at coastal and inland lake sites.

White-tailed Sea Eagle was once a respected and conspicuous part of the Irish landscape before being hunted to extinction more than a century