Tag Archives: homelessness

News Ireland daily BLOG as told by Donie

Thursday 9th March 2017

Irish economy outpaces euro zone countries with a 5.2% growth for 2016

Quarterly national accounts from CSO suggest output grew in all sectors of economy

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The latest figures show industrial output in 2016 increased by 2.4% in volume terms.

Ireland’s economy grew 5.2% last year, outstripping all other euro zone countries and most official forecasts for the third successive year.

While the rate of growth is a fraction of the 26% recorded for 2015, that was largely seen as an aberration.

The latest quarterly national accounts from the Central Statistics Office (CSO) suggest output increased in all sectors of the economy.

The figures show gross domestic product (GDP) accelerated 5.2% in 2016, while gross national product (GNP) rose 9%. The bigger GNP number reflects the profits associated with so-called redomiciled plcs, which have relocated their headquarters here for tax purposes.

On a quarterly basis, GDP advanced 2.4% in the final quarter of 2016, down from the 4% recorded for the three months to September.

Investment, meanwhile, jumped 45.5% to €76 billion, driven by the import of intellectual property assets to Ireland. This was linked to once-off tax planning by multinationals amid a global clampdown on corporate tax avoidance.

Personal consumption, which accounts for almost half of domestic demand and ranks as the best indicator of local economic activity, rose 3%. This tallies with the rise in employment and tax revenue evidenced in other indicators.

Vigilant view?

Minister for Finance Michael Noonan welcomed the latest figures, saying the Government was committed to remaining vigilant in the face of an increasingly uncertain external environment.

“Domestic demand is now the main driver of growth, with private consumption up 3% in 2016 supported by favourable labour market dynamics, continued increases in disposable income and solid consumer confidence.”

While his department expects growth to stay above 3% over the next three years, it has estimated that a “hard Brexit”  involving Britain exiting the EU’s single market entirely – could knock about 3.5% off GDP over the next decade.

Merrion analyst Alan McQuaid said the latest figures show personal spending and construction were holding up well, but he warned of a possible Brexit-related slowdown in headline growth. “We expect that ‘Brexit’ worries will intensify in 2017, leading to lower overall GDP growth this year.”

 Latest industrial output?

The latest figures show industrial output last year increased 2.4% in volume terms. Within the industry sector, building and construction grew 11.4%, reflecting the recovery in property.

The distribution, transport, software and communications sector grew 7.8%; while the other services and agricultural sectors grew 6% and 6.2% respectively.

Separate CSO figures on the State’s balance of payments pointed to a current account surplus of €12.5 billion in 2016, which was €26 billion lower than the surplus recorded in 2015.

Over half in favour of an empty homes tax according to Peter McVerry Trust

Image result for Over half in favour of an empty homes tax according to Peter McVerry Trust   Image result for house tax  Image result for ghost estates ireland

Pat Doyle says tax could yield an extra €20 million per annum to the State.

The latest CSO figures show there are 198,000 empty homes, excluding holiday homes in Ireland.

New research by homeless charity the Peter McVerry Trust has found that 62% of people are in favour of a tax on empty homes.

The latest CSO figures show there are 198,000 empty homes, excluding holiday homes in Ireland.

CEO of the Peter McVerry Trust, Pat Doyle said that putting a tax on empty homes, collected through the existing property tax would yield an extra €20 million per annum to the State.

“The Government is launching at the end of the month an empty homes strategy and what we are saying is that there will be grants to encourage landlords and those who are not using their properties to bring them back. But if they won’t or they are not interested in supporting the State tackle what is a crisis in housing right now we are saying there should be a tax.

“If you turn down the grant and you don’t have a legitimate reason to bring it in and are just sitting on it waiting for property prices to go up then that’s not good enough.

“That (the tax) could bring in about €19 or € 20 million a year and would support the Government’s campaign around granting aid to landlords to bring the properties back.”

Mr Doyle told Newstalk Breakfast that the trust believes there are 13 homes for every homeless person in urban areas.

“If you do the normal, there is around two of them will be in probate, three of them in legal dispute, two of them used for the fair deal scheme where people are using the property because someone is in hospital, that still leaves half of them at moment lying idle while we have a housing crisis.”

Minister of State for Housing and Urban Renewal Damian English said the Government was not be considering a tax on vacant homes at the moment and was more focused on projects like the repair and lease initiative and the national vacant housing reuse strategy to reduce homelessness.

He said a vacant tax levy had been scheduled for 2019 but that it was not a short term solution to the housing crisis.

“We’re very clear that there would be a long lead in time if you went down that road and we actually believe that we can get a better result by putting in place new initiatives to encourage people to bring their houses forward and to make them available.”

Mr English told RTÉ Morning Ireland that the Government had “reactivated 7,000 houses over the last 3-4 years” and had spent over €100 million on bringing vacant properties back into use.

He added that Minister for Housing Simon Coveney had committed to ensuring that the 720 families currently living in commercial hotels would be moved into housing by July. This move from hotels into housing would be made possible through the use of existing housing, refurbishing vacant properties through the repair and lease initiative and the “rapid construction” of new homes.

Asked by Morning Ireland to elaborate on the target of building 1,500 homes through rapid construction, Mr English said 150 were already under construction while 350 more “are in play”.

“We know and our targets, we have the sites secured to achieve about a 1000 additional housing under the rapid construction scheme before the end of this year,” said Mr English. “The increase of supply of housing is the solution here.”

The number of homeless people in Ireland reached a new high of 7,167 in January.

Some 4,760 adults and 2,407 children were homeless in January, a marginal increase of the previous record high of 7,148 reached in December, but a rise of a quarter on the same month last year (5,715).

The situation remains worst in Dublin where 3,247 adults and 2,046 children are homeless.

The number of homeless families in the State declined by 33 in January 2017, but it was still up by a third on that time last year.

Sister of ‘Sarah’ talks of ‘horrific sex abuse’ of those who lived in the Grace Foster Home.

‘Their lives were robbed’

Image result for the Grace Foster Home.  Image result for Sister of 'Sarah' talks of ‘horrific sex abuse' of those who lived in the Grace Foster Home.  Image result for Sister of 'Sarah' talks of ‘horrific sex abuse' of those who lived in the Grace Foster Home.

The sister of a child who spent time in the ‘Grace’ Foster Home has claimed her sister ‘Sarah’, also suffered horrific sexual abuse at the home.

In an interview with David McCullagh on RTÉ’s Prime Time, the woman spoke out about her family’s experience at the foster home.

Sarah had intellectual disabilities and the family decided that the best learning option for her would be in a home that was far away from the family.

“There was a private arrangement where Sarah could go just kind of respite during the week just to give her a break from all the travelling but this wasn’t approved by the Health Board at that stage and they were keen for Sarah to go and stay in a registered foster placement.

“It was a comforting thing to our mother because she felt well if this was under the Health Board, the HSE, then all the checks were in place and that would be the best place for Sarah because she would be safe.”

Sarah’s sister said the family began to have concerns about the home?

“As a parent this is your worst nightmare. Sarah was home on a Sunday afternoon with Mom playing in the sitting room and just being in the space and Sarah was a beautiful young child and Mom said a very innocent turn of phrase and to her absolute horror Sarah got into a position, took down her pants, and kind of got into a sexual position and as you can imagine for any Mum, my mum was shocked and she just was you know immobilised.”

The family raised their concerns with the Health Board as they believed it needed to be addressed immediately.

“It was led by our mother who just looked at other options to get her out of there and to see what would offer her the best and safest environment again to learn and grow into her young teens and into adulthood and that meant that she left the jurisdiction and had to go to the North.

“We knew that Sarah had to go and leave that place but again the options were limited and again mom had to look for places outside of Ireland up to Northern Ireland.”

According to RTÉ, Sarah’s mum was one of the first whistle-blowers in the home, and a recommendation was made that another child named ‘Grace’ would be removed from the foster home but no action was taken.

“Our mother would have been the first whistle-blower and again you’re living in a different time and different context altogether and it would have taken a lot of strength and courage to go forward really start speaking out about what her concerns were and not only was she met with a brick wall, they came down really hard on our mother, there was reports written up, they were quite aggressive towards the family, they just totally bullied us in to thinking that it was all just in Mam’s head.

“On the other hand, they were doing all of these checks themselves and reaching a decision well actually there is something going wrong and Sarah was there the same time as Grace, you know their lives have been robbed in so many ways.

“Both beautiful, innocent children. Some of the most vulnerable children in our state.”

Sarah’s sister said that she is not only a victim but a survivor.

“Sarah is a victim of this but she’s also a survivor and she is one of the most incredible human beings I know. I have no idea of the pain, the physical pain and the mental torture. Sarah doesn’t have words to express what happened to her how she suffered and yet Sarah greets every day fighting.

“Some days she struggles to get out of bed, there’s so much damage done to her bowel and yet she still has the ability to laugh, she’s one of the most forgiving people you’ll meet and she fights for her life and she fights to have meaningful role within our community and be part of our family and that’s why we’ll continue to fight for her right to be heard and her to have a voice and have justice and some truth around what she’s faced and what she’s gone through.”

The family are hoping that the Commission of Investigation will give them answers into why this happened.

“I just wonder why Finian Mc Grath in his role as the Minister, particularly in his role as Minister for Disability has chosen this path. We have looked under the Freedom of Information for Sarah’s files to know who has had access to her file and yet we still haven’t got that.

“I think we’re very fortunate that we have some really strong individuals who have gone forward as whistle blowers and we know that whistle-blowers are not treated very well in this country but I think without them and without the support of lots of champions in the area this story would be very easily forgotten about and the absolute horrors that have been inflicted on young vulnerable children would be just laid to rest.”

Brain activity can continue for 10 minutes after death?

A new study reveals

Image result for Brain activity can continue for 10 minutes after death?  Related image  Image result for Brain activity can continue for 10 minutes after death?

Scientists cannot explain the single delta wave.

The human brain can continue functioning for more than 10 minutes after the body has died, scientists have discovered.

Intensive care doctors reported observing the same kind of brain waves in a patient whose pulse had stopped and whose pupils were unreactive as occurs during deep sleep in healthy people.

Researchers had previously thought that brain activity ends before or shortly after the heart stops beating, although two studies last year demonstrated that genes continue to function, in some cases more energetically, in the days after people die.

The authors of the new study, published in the Canadian Journal of Neurological Sciences, say the fresh discovery raises ethical problems as to when it is appropriate to remove donor organs in patients who appear to have died.

The Canadian doctors reported observing seeing “single delta wave bursts” in the brain of a patient after the cessation of cardiac rhythm and arterial blood pressure.

Only one of the four people studied exhibited the long-lasting and mysterious brain activity, they pointed out, with activity in most patients dying off before their heart stopped beating.

However, all of their brains behaved slightly differently in the minutes after they died.

The study authors say they have no idea why one of the brains might have continued partially functioning so long after clinical death.

Probiotic found in yogurt can reverse depression symptoms,  A study finds

Image result for Probiotic found in yogurt can reverse depression symptoms,  A study finds  Image result for Probiotic found in yogurt can reverse depression symptoms,  A study finds  Image result for Probiotic found in yogurt can reverse depression symptoms,  A study finds

Researchers at the University of Virginia School of Medicine have reversed depression symptoms in mice by feeding them Lactobacillus, a probiotic bacteria found in live-cultures yogurt. Further, they have discovered a specific mechanism for how the bacteria affect mood, providing a direct link between the health of the gut microbiome and mental health.

Based on their findings, the researchers are optimistic that their discovery will hold true in people and are planning to confirm their findings in patients with depression.

“The big hope for this kind of research is that we won’t need to bother with complex drugs and side effects when we can just play with the microbiome,” explained lead researcher Alban Gaultier, Ph.D. “It would be magical just to change your diet, to change the bacteria you take, and fix your health – and your mood.”

Treating depression

Depression is one of the most common mental health conditions in the United States, with up to 7 percent of people experiencing a major depressive episode, Gaultier noted. “It’s a huge problem and the treatments are not very good, because they come with huge side effects,” he said.

The role of the gut microbiome – the bacteria that live inside us – has been of tremendous interest to researchers studying depression and other health conditions, both mental and physical. Gaultier, of the UVA Department of Neuroscience and its Center for Brain Immunology and Glia, set out to see if he could find a concrete link between depression and gut health. “When you’re stressed, you increase your chance of being depressed, and that’s been known for a long, long time,” he said. “So the question that we wanted to ask is, does the microbiome participate in depression?”

The answer appears to be yes. Looking at the composition of the gut microbiome before and after mice were subjected to stress, Gaultier’s team found that the major change was the loss of Lactobacillus. With the loss of Lactobacillus came the onset of depression symptoms. Feeding the mice Lactobacillus with their food returned them to almost normal. “A single strain of Lactobacillus,” Gaultier observed, “is able to influence mood.”

He and his team then went on to determine the mechanism by which Lactobacillus influences depression. They found that the amount of Lactobacillus in the gut affects the level of a metabolite in the blood called kynurenine, which has been shown to drive depression. When Lactobacillus was diminished in the gut, the levels of kynurenine went up – and depression symptoms set in.

“This is the most consistent change we’ve seen across different experiments and different settings we call microbiome profiles,” explained researcher Ioana Marin, a graduate student who is finishing up her Ph.D. work. “This is a consistent change. We see Lactobacillus levels correlate directly with the behavior of these mice.”

Testing in humans ASAP.

Gaultier was careful to call the symptoms seen in mice as “depressive-like behavior” or “despair behavior,” as mice have no way to communicate that they are feeling depressed. But those symptoms are widely accepted as the best available model for looking at depression in creatures other than humans.

Based on the new findings, Gaultier plans to begin studying the effect in people as soon as possible. He intends to examine the effects of Lactobacillus on depression in patients with multiple sclerosis, a group in which the disorder is common. Promisingly, the same biological substances and mechanisms Lactobacillus uses to affect mood in mice are also seen in humans, suggesting the effect may be the same.

In addition to looking at the effects in people, the researchers are continuing to explore the important role of kynurenine. “There has been some work in humans and quite a bit in animal models talking about how this metabolite, kynurenine, can influence behavior,” Marin said. “It’s something produced with inflammation that we know is connected with depression. But the question still remains: How? How does this molecule affect the brain? What are the processes? This is the road we want to take.”

While there is no harm in people with depression eating yogurt, people receiving treatment for depression should not stop taking their medications without consulting their physicians. More studies, the researchers noted, are needed.

Low gluten diets linked to higher risk of type 2 diabetes

Image result for Low gluten diets linked to higher risk of type 2 diabetes  [assorted laves of bread]  Image result for Low gluten diets linked to higher risk of type 2 diabetes

Diets higher in gluten were associated with a lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Study participants who ate less gluten tended to eat less cereal fiber, a known protective factor for developing type 2 diabetes.

Gluten, a protein found in wheat, rye and barley, gives bread and other baked goods elasticity during the baking process and a chewy texture in finished products.

Eating more gluten may be associated with a lower risk of developing Type 2 diabetes, according to research presented at the American Heart Association’s Epidemiology and Prevention / Lifestyle and Cardiometabolic Health 2017 Scientific Sessions.

Gluten, a protein found in wheat, rye and barley, gives bread and other baked goods elasticity during the baking process and a chewy texture in finished products. A small percentage of the population cannot tolerate gluten due to Celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, but gluten-free diets have become popular for people without these conditions, even though there is lack of evidence that reducing gluten consumption provides long-term health benefits.

“We wanted to determine if gluten consumption will affect health in people with no apparent medical reasons to avoid gluten,” said Geng Zong, Ph.D., a research fellow in the Department of Nutrition at Harvard University’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston, Massachusetts. “Gluten-free foods often have less dietary fibre and other micronutrients, making them less nutritious and they also tend to cost more. People without Celiac disease may reconsider limiting their gluten intake for chronic disease prevention, especially for diabetes.”

Micronutrients are dietary components such as vitamins and minerals.

In this long-term observational study, researchers found that most participants had gluten intake below 12 grams/day, and within this range, those who ate the most gluten had lower Type 2 diabetes risk during thirty years of follow-up. Study participants who ate less gluten also tended to eat less cereal fiber, a known protective factor for Type 2 diabetes development.

After further accounting for the potential effect of cereal fiber, individuals in the highest 20 percent of gluten consumption had a 13 percent lower risk of developing Type 2 diabetes in comparison to those with the lowest daily gluten consumption (approximately fewer than 4 grams).

The researchers estimated daily gluten intake for 199,794 participants in three long-term health studies — 69,276 from the Nurses’ Health Study (NHS), 88,610 from the Nurses’ Health Study II (NHSII) and 41,908 from the Health Professionals Follow-up Study (HPFS) — from food-frequency questionnaires completed by participants every two to four years.

The average daily gluten intake in grams was 5.8 g/d for NHS, 6.8 g/d for NHSII, and 7.1 g/d for HPFS, and major dietary sources were pastas, cereals, pizza, muffins, pretzels, and bread.

Over the course of the study, which included 4.24 million person-years of follow-up from 1984-1990 to 2010-2013, 15,947 cases of Type 2 diabetes were confirmed.

Study participants reported their gluten consumption and the study was observational, therefore findings warrant confirmation by other investigations. Also, most of the participants took part in the study before gluten-free diets became popular, so there is no data from gluten abstainers.


News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Thursday 5th January 2017.

“The Government winter plan” as some extra 60 beds to open in attempt to tackle HSE trolley crisis

Staff needed to cover extra work, while some patients taken to private hospitals

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The latest measures are an expansion of the previously announced €40 million “winter plan” but no extra funding has been allocated from the Government.

Any extra funding will have to be found from existing HSE resources.

Some extra beds are being opened immediately as Minister for Health Simon Harris and the Health Service Executive attempt to tackle the latest winter trolley crisis in hospital emergency departments.

An additional 60 beds are being made available immediately to 10 acute hospitals, with a further 63 coming onstream in the weeks ahead.

Other measures, such as a discharge lounge in Waterford Hospital, as well as identifying private hospitals that can take in public patients, such as in Kilkenny, Mullingar and Cork, were included in a list of measures from the HSE to tackle the crisis following a meeting with Mr Harris last night.

Some public patients have already been taken into private hospitals, with a number in private care in Cork last night.

Mr Harris and the HSE have been under pressure since the number of people on hospital trolleys peaked at a record 612 on Tuesday. The numbers on trolleys remained at 578 early yesterday, with the HSE saying a flu outbreak was partly to blame.

It is unclear if the latest announcement will have a significant effect on the hospital overcrowding crisis, as extra staff will also have to found to man whatever new beds come onstream.

The latest measures are an expansion of the previously announced €40 million “winter plan” but no extra funding has been allocated from the Government. Any extra funding will have to be found from existing HSE resources.

Step-down beds

The 60 “transitional care beds” or step-down beds that are to be made available immediately to hospitals in Galway, Clonmel, Wexford, Drogheda, as well as St Vincent’s, St James’s, Tallaght, the Mater, Connolly and Beaumont in Dublin are for those who would otherwise be in an acute bed while their nursing home applications are being finalised.

Another 63 acute beds will be available in the weeks ahead, with 28 in Galway University Hospital, 15 in the Mater, eight in Kilkenny and 12 in Tullamore. Hospital groups and community healthcare organisations will also work with nursing homes in their local areas to manage outbreaks of the flu.

Additional diagnostic services, such as ultrasound and X-ray, will be made immediately available to GPs in Wexford, Portlaoise, Waterford, Limerick and Letterkenny.

Mr Harris, who said yesterday he was sorry for patients and what they had to put up with at present, said last night he is “pleased the HSE has come back with the additional measures which I sought on Tuesday”, adding that he now expects the “HSE to get with these measures”.

Mr Harris will attend a meeting of the Emergency Department taskforce on Friday morning.

Apollo House activists urge Nama to house homeless

Demonstrators to meet Simon Coveney after launching emergency housing plan

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Organisers of the Apollo House occupation in Dublin say they will not vacate the building unless property controlled by Nama is used to house the homeless. The group has released a four-page emergency housing plan and it wants it’s implemented.

Organisers of the Apollo House occupation in Dublin have said they will not vacate the building unless property owned by the National Asset Management Agency (Nama) is used to house the homeless.

The occupiers of the Apollo House office building, which is being used to house up to 40 homeless people, have been told by the High Court to vacate the building by midday on January 11th.

Brendan Ogle of the Unite trade union, who is one of the organisers of the Home Sweet Home campaign, said a delegation would meet Minister for Housing Simon Coveney on Friday afternoon, having been invited by the Minister.

Asked what might happen that would cause the campaigners to vacate the previously empty office block, he said the Government could “with the stroke of a pen” instruct Nama to provide housing to suitable homeless people staying in Apollo House and other emergency accommodation.

However Nama chairman Frank Daly told an Oireachtas committee last year that it could not offer more homes for social housing than it already has because the rest of the portfolio is occupied.

To have offered more “would have simply displaced one group of people by giving their homes to another group,” he said. “It would have made no sense.”

Offers of commercial property made some years ago by Nama to housing agencies were turned down as they were not deemed suitable for housing.

Speaking at a press conference on Thursday, Mr Ogle said the political leaders of Germany, the UK and France did not have the advantage the State had when it came to solving homelessness as “they don’t have Nama”.

He said that when considering the deadline set by the courts the organisers of the campaign would be taking into account the talks with the Minister, legal considerations and the use of public pressure to support the Home Sweet Home campaign.

A Ministerial instruction

Section 14 of the act that established Nama allows for the Minister for Finance, Michael Noonan, to instruct the agency to provide property under its control for the housing of homeless people, Mr Ogle said.

“We want the Minister to use Nama to address the homelessness emergency,” he told a press conference at the Unite offices in Dublin at which the group released a four-page emergency housing plan it wants implemented.

Mr Ogle said he wanted to praise the artists who had come forward to support the Home Sweet Home campaign and said they had fulfilled a vital role in raising awareness about the homelessness issue. The Apollo House occupation was “totemic” rather than a solution to the problem.

He said the group was not advocating further occupations. He also said the group, which has raised about €170,000, would not be registering as a charity but would be publishing financial accounts.

David Gibney of Mandate trade union, said the plan being launched for resolving homelessness was an alternative to the “neoliberal, ideology-driven” plan of the Government, which aimed to increase the supply of houses by driving up prices.

Film-maker Terence McMahon said he had been homeless for a year and a half years and had to deal with the banks in relation to his family home. “I’ve seen the kind of scum they are,” he said.

Fire insurance on Apollo House runs out on January 11th, and public liability insurance five days’ later.

Figures from Nama show that it identified 6,900 residential properties associated with it debtors over the past number of years that might be suitable for social housing, 2,748 of which have since been delivered to housing bodies.

The bulk of the rest were deemed unsuitable by the housing agencies because of location, the fact that they would not fit with plans for mixed housing, or because they did not have the number of bedrooms required.

Most of these properties have since been sold or let, and the number of finished properties vacant is understood to be close to zero.

The State-owned agency has spent €200 million by way of a purposely-established vehicle, National Asset Residential Property Services Ltd, to speed up the process of providing social housing to housing agencies. It has also spent more than €100 million finishing off properties that housing agencies wanted to buy or lease from Nama debtors.

Last year the Nama chairman, Frank Daly, told an Oireachtas committee that the bulk of the houses that secure its loans are occupied.

“So, there is really no hidden supply of houses that NAMA is keeping from the market,” he said. “And those that are not occupied are for sale to people who want to live in them or people who want to rent them to tenants.”

Mr Daly said the only way Nama could have increased the number of homes it was offering to local authorities, was by moving out the tenants that were in them.

And meanwhile in Sligo: –

The homeless in Sligo and couch surfing hides the true extent of the crisis

Over 1,000 on housing list while numbers contacting Focus Ireland up 50%.

Image result for The homeless in Sligo and couch surfing hides the true extent of the crisis  Image result for The homeless in Sligo and couch surfing hides the true extent of the crisis  Some of the 1,000 empty houses in the Borough (not Nama stock). Photo:SligoToday.ie

Mary Jameson left pic. says: “Five years ago banks were not repossessing homes. We never had to deal with people in that category but that has all changed now”

Two men recently spent a night in the trolley bay at Sligo’s Tesco store.

It is not clear why they ended up taking shelter there but local councillor Gino O’Boyle (People Before Profit) said it was not the first-time people had been forced by circumstances to sleep beside the stacked trollies.

“It is cramped but at least it is dry,” he said.

Homelessness in the State’s major urban centres repeatedly made the news in 2016 but the problem is not confined to Dublin and Cork.

The numbers accessing Focus Ireland’s services in Sligo jumped by 50% last year, with the majority (172 people) looking for advice or information on accommodation options.

The northwest Simon Community branch assisted 44 people in crisis situations in Sligo last year, most facing imminent eviction. No social housing has been built in Co Sligo since 2009/10 and there are more than 1,000 households on the county council’s housing list.

Mary Jameson, Focus Ireland project leader in Sligo, said couch surfing was a growing phenomenon in the county.

Hidden homeless couch surfing?

“It is definitely getting worse. There are ‘hidden homeless’ out there, people who are couch surfing, staying temporarily with different relatives. That puts stresses on a family,” she said.

Ms Jameson estimated that two or three homeless people regularly slept on the streets of Sligo but said emergency beds were available for anyone in need.

However, Cllr O’Boyle believes that up to a dozen people, some with addiction issues, often sleep rough. Others may have shelter but are being traumatised by their living arrangements.

“One couple who between them have four children from previous relationships, are living in a two-bedroom house,” he said. “When all the kids are there, the couple sleep downstairs in the sitting room. If his children are with their mother, the couple get a bed.”

Cllr O’Boyle has advocated for a young woman with four children, two with special needs, who lost her home when her landlord returned from the US and wanted to move back in.

“She got a month’s notice and the council put her up in a hotel for three weeks which was hard going when the children had challenges.”

He said a Traveller family of 11 people, including nine children, was living in a caravan with no outlet for running water. “If you are a Traveller you have even more obstacles to overcome.”

Both Cllr O’Boyle and Ms Jameson believe a reluctance among landlords to accept tenants on Housing Assistance Payment (HAP) is keeping people in substandard and unsuitable accommodation.

Chimney fires

“I am dealing with a family who have had three chimney fires in their rented house. Even when it’s freezing they can’t light the fire because the mother is afraid of a tragedy,” said Cllr O’Boyle . “The landlord won’t do anything as he says the rent they pay would not cover the costs”.

Focus Ireland has been operating in Sligo for 10 years.

“Five years ago banks were not repossessing homes. We never had to deal with people in that category but that has all changed,” said Ms Jameson, who says her clients include families opting to hand the keys to their homes back as well as those facing repossession.

Emma Dolan, head of client services with Simon in the area, said people were being forced to move to rural areas with poor infrastructure due to lack of accommodation in Sligo.

“If there is no public transport and you don’t have a car to bring your children to school or to get to work, that’s an issue but people have no choice,” she said.

Sligo County Council said the 1,045 households on the housing list included 120 who were availing of HAP, and 97 who had been approved for a transfer to alternative accommodation. The numbers availing of emergency beds in hostels or B&B accommodation in Sligo fluctuated between 20 and 30, it said.

The council said anyone who presented seeking emergency accommodation was being facilitated, but Cllr O’Boyle said some people with complex needs were not equipped to “present”.

“To be fair, the council does its best to accommodate people, but there are some with addiction issues and other problems,” he said.

Through his job as a bouncer in a late night venue in the town, Cllr O’Boyle said he got to know many of these people. Some stay in a car park in an unfinished apartment block in the town centre or sometimes they bed down in a vacant building not too far away where rats are an issue when the door is left open.

Sligo Social housing funding?

Sligo County Council received a €6.5 million allocation for social housing last January and plans to build 28 housing units on the Knappagh Road but it’s a lengthy process, with four approval stages to negotiate before construction can begin.

Those working with homeless families are frustrated by the delays.

Councillors were also infuriated last year by news that 95 local authority houses were boarded up, awaiting refurbishment, at a time when more than 1,000 households are waiting for a home. The council said 38 of these properties had since been refurbished and allocated and the remainder would be dealt with this year.

Focus Ireland has 14 apartments in Sligo town for single people and has accommodation for two families. “We are in the process of buying three houses,” said Ms Jameson, who is concerned for women who are forced to remain in dysfunctional relationships. “They have nowhere to go.”

Ms Dolan said women and children in refuges “are not counted but are part of the hidden homeless” problem.

“Rough sleeping should not be the indicator for homelessness. By the time that happens something is broken.”

Ms Dolan said house building was the key to ending the homeless crisis in Sligo as everywhere else in the State.

“We all need to work harder, and to work faster.”

HIQA says E-cigarettes are most likely to increase the number of smokers who quit cigarettes?

Irish report is the first in Europe to examine the cost effectiveness of e-cigarettes

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“While the long-term effects of using e-cigarettes have not yet been established, data from Healthy Ireland reveals that 29% of smokers currently use e-cigarettes as an aid to quitting smoking.”

Greater uptake of e-cigarettes by smokers is likely to increase the number of people who successfully give up smoking, according to an independent analysis of health interventions.

A health technology assessment (HTA), published by the Health Information and Quality Authority (Hiqa) on Thursday, is the first in Europe to examine the cost effectiveness of e-cigarettes. It was carried out on foot of a request from Dr Fenton Howell, the national tobacco control adviser at the Department of Health.

The agency’s director of health technology assessment, Dr Máirín Ryan said: “This HTA found a high level of uncertainty surrounding both the clinical and cost-effectiveness of e-cigarettes. While the long-term effects of using e-cigarettes have not yet been established, data from Healthy Ireland reveals that 29 per cent of smokers currently use e-cigarettes as an aid to quitting smoking.

“Hiqa’s analysis shows that increased uptake of e-cigarettes as an aid to quitting would increase the number of people who successfully quit compared with the existing situation in Ireland, and would be cost-effective provided that the currently available evidence on their effectiveness is confirmed by further studies.”

The report found that the most cost-effective quit strategy is to maximise the combined use of the drug varenicline and nicotine replacement therapy (NRT). Varenicline is a prescription-only medication which helps people to stop smoking by reducing withdrawal symptoms and reducing the satisfaction that can be gained from smoking. NRT is available in a number of formulations, including skin patches and inhalers.

Cessation support cost?

Currently the overall cost of smoking cessation in Ireland is estimated to be over €40 million annually. This figure includes the cost to the HSE of providing smoking-cessation support though the HSE tobacco control programme, the costs of GP services and pharmacological treatment to those with a medical card, as well as out-of-pocket expenditure by smokers on various smoking-cessation products.

If e-cigarette use in Ireland rose to maximum levels currently reported in England (45 per cent), and smokers choose this option without seeking medical advice, the number of prescriptions required could fall by nearly 40%, the report notes.

“Given the increasing use of e-cigarettes it is of vital importance that their potential benefit and harms continue to be discussed with smokers to ensure informed decision-making in relation to their use,” it says.

The Irish Vape Vendors Association welcomed the publication of the health technology assessment, noting its acknowledgment of the wider public health potential of tobacco harm reduction through smokers switching to vaping.

“This report found that all publicly funded smoking cessation interventions can be considered clinically effective when compared with doing nothing, and cost-effective when compared with unassisted quitting,” Dr Ryan concluded.

Second-hand smoke?

The prevalence of smoking in the Republic is 22.7 per cent in people aged 15 years and over. The prevalence is higher in men (24.3 per cent) than women (21.2 per cent), and has been in decline since 2008.

Approximately 20 per cent of deaths each year can be attributed to smoking, including deaths due to second-hand smoke.

A public consultation seeking feedback on the report is open until February 3rd, 2017. Following this, a final report will be prepared for consideration by the Hiqa board, before being submitted to the Minister for Health and the HSE.

The report, along with details on how to take part in the consultation, is available at http://www.hiqa.iewww.hiqa.ie.

Why Vicky Kavanagh (A producer with TV3) now 26 years old is saying no to alcohol and how you can too

Vicky Kavanagh: ‘I went to work with a happy face but I was bottling up my emotions and not dealing with anything. I don’t know if I really wanted to end my life or just put it all on pause for a while.’ Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill No to Image result for Why Vicky Kavanagh is saying no to alcohol and how you can too  Image result for Why Vicky Kavanagh is saying no to alcohol and how you can too

Vicky Kavanagh from Dublin finally realised her drinking was a problem after she passed out drunk in a field and was rescued by a friend.

She was only 17 then.

Now an assistant TV producer with TV3 who rarely drinks alcohol, Kavanagh recalls how she and her friends started drinking around the age of 14.

Alcopops and vodka were the drinks of choice and by the time they hit 16, she says, getting drunk was the norm.

“We’d drink in people’s houses or outside with my peers and I was doing it as well as people outside my immediate social group,” she says.

“Typically, you’d start off the evening with an alcopop if you had the money. Then you’d go on to a naggin of vodka or a shoulder of vodka, which is slightly bigger.

“We could end up throwing up because we were ill from it. Then, sometimes, if you had been sick you’d have a beer or even more alcopops.”

Now 26, the Killiney, Co Dublin, woman rarely drinks, and views her drinking past with dismay.

“I was so silly, so foolish. I woke up about alcohol when I was 17 after I passed out drunk in a field and was found by a friend.

“Anything could have happened to me! I realised that this was a problem and that I had an unhealthy relationship with alcohol.”

Kavanagh cut out alcohol completely for six months after that incident, though she later allowed herself the odd drink. In college, she’d occasionally get “caught up” in the drink culture and drink heavily, but even this was rare, and since her early 20s, she says, she’s had no interest in drinking and rarely indulges in it.

“Now I might go out for a social drink twice a month with a friend. I don’t drink at home or after work.”

There is, Kavanagh believes, an epidemic of binge-drinking among people in their early teens. “They’re becoming normalised. It’s seen as a normal part of adolescence and it’s not.”

Her concern is substantiated by figures showing Ireland is one of the world’s top binge-drinking nations — 75% of all alcohol consumed in Ireland is drunk as part of binge-drinking sessions, according to the Irish Heart Foundation, which kicks off its ‘On The Dry’ campaign this month.

The organisation says 64% of people who registered for the campaign over the last two years were female.

“There is a pressure to get wasted,” says Kavanagh, who believes the pressures on young women to drink are enormous.

“Drinking or prinking (pre-drinking) is the norm now.

“It’s an absolutely necessity for a night out — alcohol is a social lubricant and there’s a lot of pressure for young women about how they look.

“You have a drink before going out to build up your confidence. You think it’s absolutely OK to get drunk because everyone else around you is doing the same thing,” she says, adding that in some cases, the pre-drinking session at a house can go on and on, and girls will end up not going out at all.

Kavanagh stopped because she no longer wanted to wake up with “a banging hangover” and is “focused on other things now”.

Giving up alcohol, according to the experts, means you sleep better, lose weight, eat less, your skin looks better because you’re more hydrated, plus you have more money in your pocket and a lower risk of getting cancer — so what’s not to like?

Yet it’s hard to get this message across in a culture where ‘laddish’ young women expect to match guys drink for drink while at the same time, the availability of sweet alcoholic drinks such as alcopops, designer gins, and ‘on-tap’ Prosecco makes it ever-easier for girls to drink to extremes.

“It’s hard to get through to people in their 20s and 30s about their consumption of alcohol because the habit has become so ingrained,” explains Kavanagh.

“Young people know it’s not good but they don’t care — it’s a problem for another day. If they put on weight they just drink alcohol that has fewer calories — for example, they might have a gin and tonic instead of wine, but that’s just vanity, it’s not being health-conscious.”

According to Alcohol Action Ireland, teenage girls here are drinking as much, and sometimes more, than their male counterparts.

The result: A rise in the number of young women presenting with serious alcohol-related conditions such as liver cirrhosis. In fact, although women now account for a quarter of all alcohol-related discharges, this rises to an eye-watering 47% among women aged 15 and under.

Maebh Leahy, chief executive of the Rutland Centre, which treats addiction of all kinds, says she is seeing an increasing number of women in their late 20s and early 30s with alcohol problems.

“Years ago it was nearly all men who came to us, but now it is close to 50/50,” says Leahy, adding that cultural changes have seen women gather for a chat over a bottle of wine instead of a teapot and a plate of cake as their mothers and grandmothers would have done.

“Women are drinking more alcohol, more often, and they’re drinking different kinds of alcohol — spirits and pints. Years ago you didn’t see women drinking pints as often.”

On top of that, she believes that the demands of modern life mean many women lead much busier lives, coping with demanding careers and young families — and it’s become the norm for many in their late 20s or early 30s to end a challenging day with a glass of wine or two or even three as a ‘reward’.

“This generation of women in their 20s and 30s have grown up with alcopops and easy access to alcohol,” says Leahy, adding that for this generation, drinking is normal and binge-drinking is a major issue. The habit is giving rise to serious problems.

“We’re seeing liver damage in women in their 20s and 30s that you wouldn’t expect to see until much later in life. It’s testament to the fact that we are drinking so much more now and that drinking starts so very young — we’ve had young women at 18, 19, or 20 coming in with full-blown alcohol addiction who may have started drinking as young as 13 or 14.”

Designer gin and on-tap Prosecco, as well as vodka, are seen as “sophisticated” drinks, says nutritionist Gaye Godkin — but over-consumption, she warns, comes with a significant health cost.

“They are drinking so much more than girls drank years ago,” she says, warning that one of the biggest, and possibly least known problems caused by alcohol is that it destroys a B vitamin called folate, which is equivalent to folic acid, linked with both fertility and brain health.

Godkin worries about the effect on fertility levels by the casual binge-drinking in this age group and younger.

“The ovaries are where all the eggs are. One has to consider what damage is being done to the equipment in the ovaries by this tsunami of alcohol that a lot of young girls and women assault their bodies with. These are long-term issues,” she says.

Alcohol also affects your blood sugar balance. “When you drink alcohol and go to bed, your body is literally up all night detoxing through your liver. This affects your sleep, and going to bed with a tankful of gin or vodka is not conducive to restorative sleep. Most young people are sleep deprived.”

Not only are many alcoholic drinks high in sugar, but alcohol also stimulates us to eat more.

“Alcohol dysregulates the appetite and satiety hormones, stimulating you to eat more — if you don’t hit the chipper that night, the next day you will eat the fry-up for breakfast or drink Lucozade to get your blood sugar up because alcohol lowers your blood sugars and makes you hungry for carbohydrates,” says Godkin.

“You’re looking for energy because you feel fatigued — alcohol also dehydrates you, which affects brain function.

“Even the ‘lite’ alcohols are packed full of sugar so will affect the waistline while pints are very fattening.”

Alcohol is packed with calories. The Irish Heart Foundation points out that just one standard drink contains 10g of alcohol, which amounts to 70 calories.

If you down five standard drinks of a spirit with cola, you’ll consume 765 calories or 11 digestive biscuits worth of calories. Knock back five standard drinks of a spirit with a diet cola or a diet mineral and your calorie consumption is still high — 420 calories or five digestive biscuits worth of calories.

However, there are far more long-term and even riskier implications of over-consumption of alcohol.

Chronic liver disease and cirrhosis, which are caused by the over-consumption of alcohol, are increasingly prevalent among young women, warns Dr Mark Murphy, a lecturer with the Royal College of Surgeons.

“Our hepatology and gastroenterology colleagues have seen a rise in the prevalence of this,” he says, adding that liver disease is a deeply destructive condition which can be fatal.

“Chronic liver disease results in a shrunken scarred liver which doesn’t make the normal proteins that it should make.”

The result, he warns, is an individual who appears perfectly healthy — but only until the liver very quietly reaches its tipping point.

“People can feel very well and very healthy even though their liver is extremely damaged,” says Dr Murphy, though often it’s too late and the effects on the liver of over-consumption of alcohol are irreversible.

“This could manifest in a large amount of blood, a very swollen abdomen, or a person exhibiting mental confusion.

“When this happens it is a sign that the liver is damaged to such an extent that the person’s risk of death in the next few years is very high and unfortunately that cannot be reversed.”

So even though drinking in moderation may have a protective effect, he says, drinking excessive amount of alcohol is very dangerous — it’s also linked to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease as well as cancers of the stomach, the colon, or the oesophagus.

Alcohol can also have a depressive effect, he warns, with evidence also suggesting that excessive alcohol consumption is associated with reduced fertility rates.

Cutting down on alcohol

Now the season of good cheer is officially over, how about cutting down on your alcohol consumption and reducing the effect it has on your body?

Here’s how you can do it:

  • Never drink alcohol on an empty stomach – always have it with food. Research has shown ingesting food before drinking doesn’t just slow the rate of alcohol absorption into the bloodstream, but also lowers the peak concentration of alcohol in the bloodstream.
  • Buy a measure says the IHF — if you drink spirits at home make sure you’re not overfilling your glass
  • Alternate your drinks between alcoholic and non-alcoholic
  • Avoid rounds or opt for a non-alcoholic drink on your round
  • Pace yourself — Small sips and savour the drink
  • Rehydrate when you are drinking, for example, alternative a glass of wine with a glass of water – this slows down your consumption and rehydrates your body
  • Stop drinking early in the night so that you are not going to bed with an overloaded, overtaxed liver
  • Understand that you cannot save up your units for a night and avoid binge-drinking because you are assaulting your body with toxins
  • Educate yourself about the negative effects of over-consumption of alcohol
  • Remember the biology – women simply cannot drink the same amount as men because we don’t have the capacity to detox the same amount of alcohol as men do.
  • Space out your drinking advises the Irish Heart Foundation – keep at least three days a week alcohol-free

Mysterious radio waves traced to distant galaxy

Scientists make breakthrough in the study of the Fast Radio Burst phenomenon

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The Very Large Array (VLA), the astronomical radio observatory in New Mexico, US.

A mysterious short pulse of radio energy picked up by astronomers has been traced to a dwarf galaxy more than three billion light years away.

Dubbed a Fast Radio Burst (FRB), it is one of just 18 known examples of a phenomenon that has puzzled scientists since 2007.

FRBs are highly energetic but very short-lived bursts of radio waves lasting no more than a millisecond.

The first was discovered in 2007 by scientists scouring archived data from Australia’s Parkes radio telescope.

Since then , 17 more FRBs have been identified but only one, spotted in 2012 by astronomers at the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico, has recurred repeatedly.

By studying nine bursts from this FRB over a period of six months, astronomers were able to home in on its exact position in the sky.

FRB 121102 was pinpointed using the Very Large Array (VLA), a multi-antenna radio telescope operated by the US National Science Foundation.

Its location coincided with that of a faint dwarf galaxy far, far away – a distance of more than three billion light years from Earth.

Dr Shriharsh Tendulkar, a member of the team from McGill University in Montreal, Canada, said: “Before we knew the distance to any FRBs, several proposed explanations for their origins said they could be coming from within or near our own Milky Way galaxy.

“We now have ruled out those explanations, at least for this FRB.”

Adding to the mystery, the FRB appeared to be accompanied by a stream of ongoing, persistent weaker radio emissions.

Further high precision observations showed that the two emission sources could not be more than 100 light years apart, said the scientists, whose findings appear in the journals Nature and Astrophysical Journal Letters.

Dr Benito Marcote, from the Joint Institute for VLBI (Very Long Baseline Interferometry) in Dwingeloo, the Netherlands, said: “We think that the bursts and the continuous source are likely to be either the same object or that they are somehow physically associated with each other.”

Questions still remain?

However, what produced the FRB remains unknown.

One likely candidate is a super-dense neutron star – possibly a “magnetar”, a neutron star with a very powerful magnetic field – surrounded by debris from a stellar explosion.

Alternatively, the source could be jets of material shooting out from the rim of a supermassive black hole.

Co-author Dr Shami Chatterjee, from Cornell University in the US, said: “Finding the host galaxy of this FRB, and its distance, is a big step forward, but we still have much more to do before we fully understand what these things are.”

The research was presented at the American Astronomical Society’s annual meeting in Grapevine, Texas.

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Friday 16th December 2016

Ireland’s residential property prices go up 7.1% in year to October

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Dublin remains the most expensive place in the country to buy a property, while Co Longford has the cheapest prices.

Residential property prices nationwide rose by 7.1% in the year to October, new figures from the Central Statistics Office show.

The CSO said this compares to growth of 4.4% the same time last year.

Dublin property prices increased by 5.5% in the year to October, with house prices up 6.1% and apartment prices rising by 4.1%. Dublin prices remain the country’s most expensive.

Within the Dublin area, the CSO noted the highest price increases were in Dublin City (at 7.5%), while the lowest growth rate was seen in Fingal with prices up 3.4% there.

Meanwhile, residential property prices in the rest of the country jumped by 10.2% in the year to October.

Houses prices rose by 10.3% with the Midland regions showing the fastest growth rate of 16.6%, while the Mid-East region saw the slowest growth rate of 6.1%.

Apartment prices in the rest of the country outside of Dublin rose by 9.3% in the year to October.

In October, the average market price paid for a new residence was €250,147. The CSO said that the average market price paid by households over 12 months – a more stable measure of price – was €235,750.

In the year to October, the average price paid for a home was higher in Dublin than in other region or county, with the average price amounting to €386,657.

After Dublin, the next most expensive region was the Mid-East, where the average market price was €238,492.

Within this area, Co Wicklow was most expensive, with an average price of €314,690.

The least expensive region for household purchases over the last 12 months was the Border region, with an average price of €112,586.

But the cheapest price for houses was seen in Co Longford, with an average price of €83,420

Today’s CSO figures show that from the lows reached in early 2013, property prices nationally have increased by 48.4%.

During this time, Dublin residential property prices have increased 64.7% while residential property prices in the rest of the country are 44.7% higher.

They also show that when measured by value, the housing market has increased by 6.8% from €762.9m to €815m in the 12 months to October.

Commenting on today’s CSO figures, Davy economist Conall Mac Coille said the latest monthly rise has softened slightly from the exceptionally strong gains through the summer – 2.4% in July, 1.4% in August and 1.5% in September.

But the economist said that the October increases were stronger than had been expected.

Mr Mac Coille said that house price inflation in 2017 will be stimulated by the relaxation of the Central Bank’s mortgage lending rules and the Government’s “Help-to-Buy” scheme.

This provides a 5% tax rebate, worth up to €20,000, for first-time buyers of newly built homes.

Why we have occupied Apollo House

We have 193,000 homes without people and 6,500 people without homes

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Jim Sheridan and Brendan Ogle of ‘Home Sweet Home’ at Apollo House at Poolbeg Street, Dublin.

It’s been just over two years since Jonathan Corrie, a homeless man, was found dead yards from Dáil Éireann as our elected parliamentarians went to work.

Jonathan’s 16-year-old son Nathan said today after the death of his father who had left Carlow because he did not want his family to see him in difficulty. Jonathan was 43 years old. Young yes, but the life expectancy for a homeless man is 44, and for a woman just 38.

Sixteen people died on our streets between 2011 and 2014 and the graph has been rising since. You might remember Jonathan’s name but will you remember the names of the other 15? The people dying now hardly merit a footnote on the national daily news stories about ‘recovery’ ‘growth’; so much bombast and bluster, and alongside it the reality of so much unnecessary death and suffering.

It is to our national shame that neither Jonathan’s death, nor that of any of the others before or since, has shocked us into addressing the root causes of homelessness. The situation has gotten exponentially worse: homelessness has risen 40 per cent in the last year alone. We are a nation that, in 2016, cherishes none of its children equally.

Artists row in.

I got a phone call from a friend in the music industry recently who is also a Trojan community activist in his native Ballymun. Dean Scurry, who I first met through the Right2Water campaign, told me how many of Ireland’s artists and poets, actors and film directors wanted to do something to address this human crisis. I knew one or two of them a little. Glen Hansard had done me the honour of launching a book I wrote recently about the water campaign and our dreadful, policy driven, inequality. Damien Dempsey has performed at Right2Water events and people like John Connors and Terry McMahon feel the pain of our broken nation deeply.

Others too were on board: ‘Christy’, Jim Sheridan, Kodaline, Saoirse Ronan, the list went on. Dean had an idea. Could a citizen-led intervention take homeless people off the streets until the Government got around to housing them? The artists would be open to supporting such a move if it had as its objective the creation of a home for people forced to live on our streets. It was the lads from Kodaline who stated “we have homes without people, and people without homes” when confronted with the startling statistic that while we have 6,500 people officially homeless including 2,400 children, that the census shows we have a whopping 193,000 empty homes in Ireland, excluding holiday homes.

Socialising private debt.

And then there’s Nama. The bad bank that was used to socialise private debt and bequeath to us buildings all over our landscape that lie fallow while people get soaked, freeze, go hungry and even die below. Did I think we could get access to a Nama property? ‘We’ owned it after all. It took about a week to find a property we could access with some assistance and eventually Apollo House, a former social welfare office now closed down, came into our possession.

This has been tried before. The wonderful Irish Housing Network and many other groups have been trying to provide support for our homeless people for a long time. But never in a Nama property and never with such support. So a loose coalition was formed. We all had different tasks, but the same motivation. Could we arrive at a situation where nobody, at least in Dublin, is forced to be without a roof and ‘home’ for this Christmas and beyond?

There are wonderful videos involving Jim Sheridan, Glen and many others and I hope, we all hope, that these efforts may force us all to look inwards and stop this madness. And it is madness that can be easily stopped. In recent years governments have given more than €2.7 billion in tax cuts disproportionately benefiting the wealthiest and corporations. Did you get any of that? Did it change your life? No, me neither. But it could have built over 10,000 homes each year. It could have changed the life of every homeless person, of every homeless child, and ultimately cleared social housing waiting lists.

A human decency?

Homelessness is a result of poor, or cruel, political policy decisions. I prefer to think of them as just poor. Otherwise, what have we become as a society?

Ultimately homelessness and its causes will only be resolved by a movement in policy towards housing that is based on citizenship as much as profit, that puts human decency above uncaring ideology.

I do not know how ‘Home Sweet Home’ will work out, but whatever differences we all have, can we please resolve to end this cruelty? The gardaí who came to Apollo House last night praised the volunteers and confirmed the event as peaceful and well organised. They toured the building checking the welfare of the homeless people who were sleeping in private rooms on new mattresses for the first time in a long time. We told them that Apollo House was a ‘dry house’ for genuinely homeless people, well-resourced and taken care of. So please help in any way you can.

Tonight there are people sleeping in a safe and secure building with heating and electricity, and if it wasn’t for this intervention of artists and citizens they would be in doorways and alleyways. I have no doubt this intervention, with your support, can save lives. To find out more about how you can help please go to homesweethome.irish

Emergency 65 bed hostel in Dublin can open until legal row resolved

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Independent TD Katherine Zappone children’s Minister (left pic.).

The 65-bed Carman’s Hall facility was one of four in the city being set up to help address homelessness

A judge has ruled that an emergency hostel for the homeless in the Liberties in Dublin can be open until the legal row over the use of the facility has been determined.

The opening of the temporary hostel in the converted Carman’s Hall, which had been used as community centre until it shut in 2013, in Francis Street has been halted due to a legal challenge by the Carman’s Hall Interest Group, the Michael Mallin House Residents and a youth and community worker, Elizabeth O’Connor.

The residents want the facility reopened as a community centre and have secured permission for judicial review of the Council’s decision allowing the centre be used as a hostel to deal with the homeless emergency.

The court’s permission for judicial review proceedings also acted as a stay on the hostel opening.

Because of the current homeless situation Dublin City Council, which opposes the resident’s challenge, asked the court for the stay to be lifted pending the outcome of the full hearing.

Lawyers for the residents argued the stay should remain in place.

In his ruling Mr Justice Seamus Noonan said he was satisfied the balance of justice lay in lifting the stay preventing the facility from being used as an emergency hostel until the full dispute has been determined.

The judge said when considering the application he had to take factors into account such as the residents inconvenience and the needs of one of “a very vulnerable section of society” particular during the winter months.

The judge said he noted the residents concerns.

However evidence was given to the court about the homeless crisis that the number deemed homeless in Dublin city, has increased from 3,700 to 5,000 in the period between September 2015 and September 2016.

While the number of rough sleepers in the city fluctuates evidence had been given that emergency hostel facilities are currently at capacity, the judge said.

The Carman’s Hall facility the judge said is to be run by groups that considerable expertise in working with the homeless.

In the circumstances the court was satisfied to lift the stay.

The judge, noting the urgency of the matter, had previously listed the full hearing of the case for 18 January.

The residents he said have challenged council’s decision of 24 October allowing for a change of use of Carman’s Hall to a hostel.

As part of their challenge the residents, and their expert, say that going ahead with the hostel without going through the public consultation process amounted to a material contravention of the city development plan, the judge said.

He said the council, and their expert, disputes that claim and maintains it was entitled under the planning laws to allow the centre be converted into a hostel for the homeless.

This argument clearly was a “complex question of law,” the judge said.

However the judge said that at this stage the court was not deciding on the merits of either sides arguments which would be matters to be determined at the full hearing of the case.

Declan McGrath SC, with Niall Handy BL, for the residents, said their concern is about an “undue concentration” of homeless and social support services in the south inner city.

There are 12 homeless and social support services within 500m of Carman’s Hall and more than 660 people deemed homeless are being accommodated in Dublin 8, compared to 78 in Dublin 4 and “none whatsoever” in Dublin 6W, he said.

James Connolly SC, with Stephen Dodd BL, for the Council, argued the stay should be lifted due to the number of vulnerable rough sleepers on the streets at this time of year.

The Council has already spent about €930,000 converting the building into a hostel after acquiring it under a five-year lease from its owners the Dublin Catholic Archdiocese, he said.

Dublin City Council had not committed to using the premises as a hostel beyond the 2017-18 winter period.

The 65-bed Carman’s Hall facility was one of four in the city being set up to help address homelessness and was offered by the local parish priest to help with the homeless emergency, counsel said.

A survey carried out on 22-23 November found 142 rough sleepers in Dublin but that situation was fluid and facilities for the homeless are currently full up with people being turned away, the court heard.

Bank of Ireland admits to over-charging thousands of its Irish mortgage customers

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The Bank of Ireland has admitted over-charging thousands of its mortgage customers and it is the latest twist in the tracker mortgage scandal.

The bank had already restored 2,100 customers to good value tracker rates in 2010.

Now it says it has found another 600 cases where homeowners were wrongfully denied a low-cost tracker rate.

And the bank said another 4,000 mortgage customers do have trackers, but they were paying too much interest, the bank said.

It is understood that most of the mortgage holders either denied a tracker or charged the wrong tracker margin were bank staff.

However, the bank would not say how many of the latest cases relate to staff..

In a statement, it said: “The Bank of Ireland Group would like to sincerely apologise to each of these customers for these failures. The correct rate should have been applied to these accounts and we sincerely apologise for not applying the correct rate in these cases.”

Almost all lenders are being forced to probe their mortgage books and identify customers denied a tracker, or put on the wrong tracker interest rate, over the last eight years.

Banks had denied people trackers when interest rates rose in 2009, as these people opted to fix their mortgage rate, but then could not get back their tracker.

AIB has around 3,000 tracker-denial cases, with 2,000 at Ulster Bank.

Permanent TSB has had to compensate 1,400 customers over the tracker scandal. Its subsidiary, Springboard, was fined earlier this month over the issue.

Ageing can now be reversed, according to a new study

Researchers have now managed to turn back the cellular clock using stem cell techniques.

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Ageing can be reversed by adopting an approach used by stem cell scientists to turn back the cellular clock, new research suggests.

In laboratory experiments, researchers rejuvenated human skin, increased the lifespan of mice with a premature ageing disease by 30 per cent and accelerated healing.

Although the work is at a very early stage, they believe it could open the door to “fountain of youth” anti-ageing treatments that would help us live longer and look younger.

The research developed from techniques used to create stem cells with embryonic properties from reprogrammed adult cells.

A key part of the process of producing such “induced pluripotent” stem (iPS) cells involves the re-activation of four dormant genes known as “Yamanaka factors”, named after Japanese stem cell pioneer Shinya Yamanaka.

In the new study, scientists activated the genes intermittently and found they were able to turn back the ageing clock without cells losing their adult identity.

Dr Pradeep Reddy, from the Salk Institute in California, said: “In other studies, scientists have completely reprogrammed cells all the way back to a stem cell-like state.

“But we show, for the first time, that by expressing these factors for a short duration, you can maintain the cell’s identity while reversing age-associated hallmarks.”

The genes have to be handled with care because the rapid cell division seen in embryos could be a hallmark of cancer in adults.

Having large numbers of cells revert to an embryonic state in an adult also raises the risk of organ failure and death.

But mice with the premature ageing disease progeria did not develop cancer and appeared to thrive after receiving the treatment.

Compared with untreated mice, they looked younger, the performance of their hearts and other organs improved, and they lived 30 per cent longer.

In normal ageing mice, the intermittent activation of Yamanaka factors led to improvements in the regenerative capacity of pancreatic tissue and muscle.

Injured pancreas organs and muscle also healed faster in otherwise healthy ageing mice that were reprogrammed.

Rejuvenation of a person?

Prof Juan Carlos Izpisua Belmonte, who led the Salk team, said: “Obviously, mice are not humans and we know it will be much more complex to rejuvenate a person.

“But this study shows that ageing is a very dynamic and plastic process, and therefore will be more amenable to therapeutic interventions than what we previously thought.”

In the experiments, the mice were treated by spiking their drinking water with a chemical, doxycycline, that activated the four genes.

Continuous activation of the genes resulted in significant weight loss and death after four days, said the researchers, writing in the journal Cell.

This was avoided by switching to a cyclic regime consisting of two days of doxycycline treatment, followed by five days of withdrawal.

Hairy chested new crab species found near ocean floor hot springs

“We can be certain that the new species we’ve found also live elsewhere in the southwest Indian Ocean,” said researcher Jon Copley.

Image result for Hairy chested new crab species found near ocean floor hot springs  Image result for Hairy chested new crab species found near ocean floor hot springs

The hairy-chested Hoff crab (above left & right) was one of six new species found living near hydrothermal vents at the bottom of the Indian Ocean. 

Researchers have discovered six new species living near hydrothermal vents on the sea floor.

The collection of hot springs, called Longqi, which translates as “Dragon’s Breath,” are situated 1,240 miles southeast of Madagascar, 1.7 miles beneath the surface of the Indian Ocean.

Unique communities of deep sea creatures are drawn to warmth emanating from Longqi’s vent chimneys, mineral spires rising two stories in height.

In 2011, a team of scientists the University of Southampton, Newcastle University and London’s Natural History Museum began exploring the vents with a deep-diving, remote-controlled submersible — the first survey of its kind in the region.

During their exploratory missions, scientists found six new species unique to the Longqi vents. First, scientists found a hairy-chested crab similar to the “Hoff crab” found near vents in Antarctica. Hoff crabs are a species of deep-sea squat lobster yet to be described in the scientific literature.

Researchers also discovered two species of snail, as well as a new species of limpet, scaleworm and deep-sea worm.

“We can be certain that the new species we’ve found also live elsewhere in the southwest Indian Ocean, as they will have migrated here from other sites, but at the moment no one really knows where, or how well-connected their populations are with those at Longqi,” lead researcher Jon Copley, a scientist at Southampton, said in a news release. “Our results highlight the need to explore other hydrothermal vents in the southwest Indian Ocean and investigate the connectivity of their populations, before any impacts from mineral exploration activities and future deep-sea mining can be assessed.”

News Ireland daily BLOG by donie

Tuesday 19th July 2016

Irish Government launches new Housing Action Plan


The Irish Government is today launching its new 84-point action plan to deal with the housing crisis.

The Rebuilding Ireland project encompasses five pillars – to address homelessness; accelerate social housing; build more homes; improve the rental sector and utilise existing housing.

The €5.35bn plan has pledged to deliver 47,000 social houses in six years. The plan also says 25,000 homes a year will be built here by 2020.

  • Pillar 1 – Address Homelessness

Provide early solutions to address the unacceptable level of families in emergency accommodation; deliver inter-agency supports for people who are currently homeless, with a particular emphasis on minimising the incidence of rough sleeping, and enhance State supports to keep people in their own homes.

  • Pillar 2 – Accelerate Social Housing

Increase the level and speed of delivery of social housing and other State-supported housing.

  • Pillar 3 – Build More Homes

Increase the output of private housing to meet demand at affordable prices.

  • Pillar 4 – Improve the Rental Sector

Address the obstacles to greater private rented sector delivery, to improve the supply of units at affordable rents.

  • Pillar 5 – Utilise Existing Housing

Ensure that existing housing stock is used to the maximum degree possible – focusing on measures to use vacant stock to renew urban and rural areas

Housing Minister Simon Coveney has said that the use of hotels and B&Bs as emergency accommodation will be brought to an end by next year.

“We know that putting families in hotels doesn’t work,” he said. “So we’re going to change that.

“And we’re setting a pretty bold ambition for this time next year to have no reliance on hotel accommodation and B&Bs accommodation for emergency accommodation for families.

“And that will be challenging and we will set targets along the way to make sure we deliver on that.”

Taoiseach Enda Kenny said that the Government is committed to dealing with the housing crisis.

“This plan, believe me, is ambitious in its vision and in its scale of investment,” he said.

“It will take engagement across Government, the involvement of Local Government, thereal involvement of Local Government, and the commitment of the entire sector to deliver on it.

“But it is well founded, and the Minister for Housing and his team have researched and consulted very widely in drawing it up, and it is realistic, addressing the housing challenge fully and finally, as a key objective of the Government.”

Meanwhile: –

Construction industry wants to be rid of Ireland’s ‘cowboy builders’


The Irish construction industry has called for a statutory register to get rid of “cowboy builders”,

Tom Parlon, director general at Construction Industry Federation (CIF) has also claimed that builders and developers have been “excluded” from the Government’s planning on housing.

It comes as the Government launched its new housing strategy which aims to deal with homelessness, social housing and the rental crisis.

Speaking at the MacGill Summer School Mr Parlon said the Government has been “inclined to exclude the construction industry because of the blame that they chose to give the industry”.

But he said that the CIF has been working with the Department of Environment to root out builders who do not meet the proper standards.

“There were ills within the industry in the past. There was some poor, shoddy work carried out,” he said.

“We have proposed together with the Department of the Environment a construction industry register of Ireland – a standards body, which means in the future anybody involved in construction should be competent and should have experience and the skills that they have their insurance that they have health and safety and basically that they are professional builders.

“It’s a way of getting the cowboys out of the industry.”

He said it has already been set up as a voluntary system with 850 signed up to date but the CIF is now waiting on the government to make it a statutory body.

Reacting the Government’s new “Rebuilding Ireland” housing plan announced by Simon Coveney he said numerous strategies have been published over the years which are now “on a number of shelves around the place”.

“All of these strategies are certainly big on targets but they certainly lack the focus on the capacity of the industry to deliver.

“The best time to build forestry is 20 years ago and the second best time is yesterday,” he said adding that housing is similar to planting forests.

While he said the ambitiousness of the report is “very good” he added that “we are at least five years too late with this strategy”.

Mr Parlon pointed out that last year we began building around 8,000 houses and it appears that there will less started this year.

“So when you hear the targets that are out there you begin to wonder. The industry now is going to have to reach a massive level of output, and have four times the amount of commencements in four years’ time than we are doing now, so that’s a massive ramp-up.

Child homelessness has increased by 37% in six months


There has been a 37% increase in the number of homeless children over the last six months.

New figures from the Department of the Environment has provided a snapshot of the homeless situation in Ireland month. The stats show that there were 2,206 children living in emergency accommodation during the course of a week in June 2016.

That’s up from 1,616 children who were living in a similar situation in a week in December.

The count was taken during the week of 20-26 June and show that 1,078 families were living in emergency accommodation. Six months previously that figure was 775.

The figure for adults in emergency accommodation was 3,625 in December. This has now risen to 4,152, a 14.5% increase over six months.

The figures also demonstrate the extent of the homeless problem is Dublin, an area which accounts for more than two-thirds of the national figure.

The figures come as the government today announced a planned €5 billion spend on social housing over the next five years along with other measures to fight homelessness.

These include the phasing out of hotels for emergency accommodation and increased rental supplements.

Richard Bruton wants lessons in coding for Ireland’s primary school pupils

Minister wants primary curriculum to include coding as it teaches creative problem-solving


Richard Bruton, Minister for Education and Skills, who believes an early start in coding will help children fulfil their potential.

Primary school children could learn computer coding under proposals drawn up by Minister for Education Richard Bruton. He has asked the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment to consider approaches to introducing the teaching of coding in primary schools.

“For the generation of children recently born and starting to enter primary school, creative thinking and problem-solving skills will be absolutely key to how they develop . . . and achieve their potential,” Mr Bruton said.

“In particular, their ability to think critically and develop solutions in the digital world will be vital for their prospects in life. I am determined that we should continually improve the education system in this area.”

The council will be consulting on a new framework for the primary curriculum this year and is developing a new primary mathematics curriculum. It aims to have a draft new curriculum for mathematics for junior infants to second class next spring.

CoderDojo success

Mr Bruton has written to the council in recent days to request it to consider coding as part of the review. “The success of the CoderDojo project is a fantastic example of the benefits of teaching coding to young children. Hugely popular with children, it teaches creative problem-solving skills in a manner that engages and excites them,” he said.

“I believe that we must learn from successful programmes like this to improve the experience and outcomes of the education system for our children.”

Policy makers and the technology sector say there is an acute shortage of skilled graduates to fill gaps in the tech sector. A series of measures, such as bonus points for maths in the Leaving Cert and reforms to the senior cycle curriculum, are aimed at increasing the numbers going on to study science, technology, maths and engineering.

The introduction of coding classes is likely to be controversial, however, among some educationalists who argue that narrow skills should be taught much later in the school system.

Mr Bruton said these skills could improve outcomes for children. “At the heart of everything we are trying to do as a Government is to use our economic success to create a fair and compassionate society – and ultimately to make life a little bit easier for people.

Fluctuating cholesterol linked to lower mental ability scores “A study finds”

   Greater fluctuations in low-density lipoprotein (LDL), which is linked to heart disease, have been associated with lower scores in mental ability tests (file photo)

Roller-coaster levels of “bad” cholesterol may lead to poorer mental performance in older adults, a study has found.

Greater fluctuations in low-density lipoprotein (LDL), which is linked to heart disease, were associated with lower scores in mental ability tests.

Participants with the highest LDL variability took 2.7 seconds longer on average than those with the lowest to finish one test that deliberately confused words and colours.

The test involved naming the ink colours of words describing a different colour – for instance, the word blue written in red.

Lead researcher Dr Roelof Smit, from Leiden University Medical Centre in the Netherlands, said: “While this might seem like a small effect, it is significant at a population level.”

“Our findings suggest for the first time that it’s not just the average level of your LDL-cholesterol that is related to brain health, but also how much your levels vary from one measurement to another.”

A total of 4,428 people aged 70 to 82 from Scotland, Ireland and the Netherlands took part in the Prosper study. All either had pre-existing artery disease or were at high risk of developing the condition.

More LDL variability was also associated with lower brain blood flow and bright areas showing up on brain scans which have been linked to blood vessel dysfunction. The findings are reported in the American Heart Association journal Circulation.

Scientific breakthrough after South African boy finds turtle fossil


A fossil discovery by an 8-year-old South African boy has helped scientists redefine why turtles have shells.

While it has generally been accepted that the modern turtle shell is largely used for protection, a new study by an international group of scientists, including those from the Evolutionary Science Institute at Wits University, suggests the broad ribbed proto shell was initially an adaptation, not for protection, but rather for burrowing underground.

The big breakthrough came with the discovery of several specimens, the oldest of which was a 260 million year old partially shelled proto turtle, Eunotosaurus africanus, from the Karoo Basin of South Africa.

Several of these specimens were discovered by two of the studies’ co-authors, Dr Roger Smith and Dr Bruce Rubidge from the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg but the most important specimen was found by 8-year-old Kobus Snyman on his father’s farm in the Western Cape.

This specimen, which is about 15cm long, comprises a well preserved skeleton together with the fully articulated hands and feet.

Rubidge thanked Snyman saying he would “shake his hand” because without the finding the study would not have been possible.

An artistic rendering shows an early proto turtle Eunotosaurus (foreground) burrowing into the banks of a dried-up pond to escape the harsh arid environment present 260 million years ago in South Africa. (Supplied, Andrey Atuchin)

Puzzled scientists

Lead author for the study, Dr Tyler Lyson of the Denver Museum of Nature and Science said that a shell for protection initially seemed like an obvious answer.

“…the earliest beginnings of the turtle shell was not for protection but rather for digging underground to escape the harsh South African environment where these early proto turtles lived”.

The early evolution of the turtle shell had long puzzled scientists.

“We knew from both the fossil record and observing how the turtle shell develops in modern turtles that one of the first major changes towards a shell was the broadening of the ribs,” said Lyson.

While distinctly broadened ribs may not seem like a significant change, scientists say it has a serious impact on both breathing and speed in four-legged animals.

Ribs are used to support the body during locomotion and play a crucial role in ventilating your lungs. Distinctly broadened ribs stiffen the torso, which shortens an animal’s stride length and slows it down and interferes with breathing.

‘Boring bones’

“The integral role of ribs in both locomotion and breathing is likely why we don’t see much variation in the shape of ribs,” said Lyson.

Lyson added: “Ribs are generally pretty boring bones. The ribs of whales, snakes, dinosaurs, humans, and pretty much all other animals look the same. Turtles are the one exception, where they are highly modified to form the majority of the shell.”

The study included authors from the United States, South Africa and Switzerland.

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Tuesday 28th June 2016

FF can take ‘some credit’ for rent supplement increase, says Coveney

Proposals to give financial help to those at risk of homelessness welcomed by charities


Minister for Housing Simon Coveney and Minister for Social Protection Leo Varadkar announce higher rent supplement limits to help with rising rents.

Fianna Fáil can take “some credit” for increases in rent supplement and housing assistance payments, the Minister for Housing has said.

The Peter McVerry (above centre pic) Trust homeless charity said the new proposals would help keep more people in their homes and out of homelessness.

Simon Coveney denied Fine Gael had argued against such measures in the negotiations with Fianna Fail.

The Cabinet is expected to agree today to increase rent supplement and housing assistance payment with effect from next week.

Mr Coveney said: “That is politics. Fianna Fáil can take credit, they did input into this decision but I think both parties agreed this was the right decision.

“Fianna Fáil can take some credit but we are the Government who have to make sure the numbers add up in terms of the €55 million this will cost.”

The proposals to give extra financial assistance to people at risk of becoming homeless have been welcomed by charities.

Homeless and housing charity The Simon Communities of Ireland welcomed the move but said payment levels must be aligned with market rents.

“Rents have increased by 32.3% since April 2012 while rent limits have remained unchanged since June 2013. Rent supplement spend actually reduced by 40% between 2011 and 2015,” the charity said.

Spokeswoman Niamh Randall said the numbers of people becoming homeless had been growing at alarming levels.

There are currently 6,170 men, women and children in emergency homeless accommodation nationally – some 1,054 families with 2,177 children.

Trauma of homelessness

“Homelessness can and should be prevented; keeping people in their homes is critical to preventing the stress and trauma of homelessness for more people and families,” Ms Randall said.

A study by the Simon Communities suggested 95% of properties available to rent were priced beyond the reach of people, depending on state rent supports for their housing, Ms Randall said.

She expressed concern that the high number of buy-to-let properties in distress had the potential to drive more people into homelessness.

Measures must be put in place to ensure these tenants are protected and that a further reduction in the number of properties in the private rented sector was avoided.

“At the moment, the system is very dependent on the private sector to provide people with homes,” Ms Randall said.

She said it was vital that local authorities and approved housing bodies be given the resources to start to provide social housing.

“A total of over 13,000 social housing units were delivered in 2015 through a range of programmes and schemes with only 28 houses actually being built, meanwhile there are at least 100,000 households on the social housing waiting list. People must have access to decent, affordable housing.”

Chief executive Pat Doyle said the body’s recent submission to the Oireachtas Housing and Homeless Committee recommended an increase in rent supplement of between 28% and 35%.

“The new rates will see an average increase of 29% in Dublin, excluding Fingal, 21% increases in Cork city and Galway city and an increase of 19% in Kildare. Other areas will also see significant increases in the available rates.”

Mr Doyle said Tuesday’s planned announcement would help reduce the number of people who would have otherwise ended up in homeless services, right across the State.

“It will hopefully lessen the acute pressures faced by agencies trying to tackle the problem and will create a breathing space to allow them to respond in other ways.”

He called on the Government to immediately move to bring forward legislation on indexed linked rents.

The Irish Property Owners’ Association said it had been requesting increases for a number of years but said the rent supplement was “not fit for purpose”.

“The rental caps have frequently put landlords and tenants in an untenable position. Rent supplement and housing assistance payment need to be at market rate. The unfair tax treatment of the sector has put severe pressure on landlords and increased the cost of providing rental accommodation at the same time as Rent Supplement was decreased.”

Separately, property consultants Savills Ireland said Wednesday’s CSO figures were likely to see a further increase in Dublin house price inflation.

Director of research Dr John McCartney said that while it had gone largely unnoticed, the annual rate of house price growth had nearly doubled from 2.6% last December to 4.6% in April.

He said this pick-up would continue over the summer months.

“Firstly a strong base effect is about to kick-in. House price inflation slowed sharply last May and June. Therefore even modest increases this summer will see an uplift in the annual rate of inflation.

“Adding to this, strong demand for residential property has led to the return of genuine inflationary pressures in the market.”

“Giving people more money to compete for a fixed stock of rented properties will just drive rents up further. This will eventually flow into higher house prices as investors are attracted into the market.”

Gardaí and nurses to test Government pay policy

Loss of valued increments could be catalyst for alarming industrial relations difficulties


The Haddington Road deal formally expires on Thursday night, leaving employer unions and staff associations outside a collective agreement.

Gardaí and second-level teachers, like the bulk of public servants, receive regular incremental pay rises as they move along in their careers. And while public service wages were cut following the economic crash, increments continued to be paid, albeit with delays in some cases.

As things stand at present within the next week or so a garda is facing being told that his or her increment for this year is being withheld and that they will not get another one until 2018.

Increments for most teachers are generally not due to be paid until the autumn when the school year recommences.

The imposition of such financial penalties such as the forfeiture of increments will undoubtedly lead to conflict between the Government and the Garda Representative Association and the Association of Secondary Teachers inIreland (ASTI) – a development which could lead to school closures in September and some form of action by gardaí.

For teachers, increments are not the only potential penalty. They may also lose nearly €800 due in supervision and substitution payments in September as well as removal of protection against compulsory redundancy.

The heart of the issue is the rejection by rank-and-file gardaí and ASTImembers of the Lansdowne Road pay deal. The accord which came into effect last January provides for limited pay restoration for those affected by wage cuts during the financial crash. Unions representing about 288,000 civil and public servants have already backed the accord, which is the centrepiece of the Government’s public service pay and industrial relations policy.

The Government considers Lansdowne Road to be an extension of the previous Haddington Road public service agreement under which teachers and officers were obliged respectively to carry out 33 and 30 additional unpaid hours each year.

The Government, for its part under Haddington Road was supposed to arrange for a review of Garda pay to be put in pace. This was due to have been completed in 2014. However this process was delayed and last months its chairman resigned. Consequently, it is unclear when the matter will be finalised.

Rank-and-file gardaí last December ceased carrying out the 30 unpaid hours.

Last month ASTI members voted to withdraw from the 33 additional hours they were carrying out in schools.

Collective agreement

The former Fine Gael-Labour government last autumn introduced new financial emergency legislation which allowed ministers to impose financial penalties such as forfeiture of increments on groups deemed to have repudiated a public service collective agreement.

Gardaí and ASTI members backed the Haddington Road deal but it formally expires on Thursday night, leaving as things stand at present, both groups outside a collective agreement.

The Government in moving to take action against rank-and-file gardaí and ASTI members in schools would be seeking to shore up its central public service pay policy.

Minister for Public Expenditure Paschal Donohoe on Tuesday said that the decision of unions representing nearly 300,000 workers in the public service to back the Lansdowne Road accord also had to be respected by the Government.

In this the Government is conscious of one of the iron laws of public service industrial relations – that every group watches every other group like hawks to ensure they do not secure additional benefits denied to their members.

Unions which accepted unpalatable measures under Lansdowne Road and its predecessors would not be happy, to say the least, if the Government changed arrangements for gardaí and teachers who did not back the accord.

Any move by the Government which reduced or eliminated the requirement for gardaí and teachers to carry out additional unpaid hours would immediately lead to claims for similar arrangements to be put in place for other groups such as nurses and civil servants and could ultimately lead to the unravelling of the Lansdowne Road edifice.

Nearly 40,000 nurses working in the public health service have had to work 1½ additional unpaid hours a week over recent years – a requirement that is deeply resented. Already it is likely that nurses will campaign in the autumn for these to be dropped. Concessions to gardaí or teachers on hours would intensify such a development.

On the other hand any move by the Government to impose financial penalties on nearly 30,000 gardaí and teachers is very likely to lead to significant industrial relations difficulties in the weeks ahead.

Tourism Ireland welcomes 14% increase in overseas visitors


Tourism Ireland today (28 June) welcomed news of an almost 14% jump in overseas visitors in the period January to May 2016.

Commenting on today’s figures from the CSO for overseas visitors to Ireland in the first five months of the year, Niall Gibbons, CEO of Tourism Ireland, said: “Today’s figures represent an excellent performance for overseas tourism to date, with growth of almost +14% for January to May.

We have seen exceptional results from North America for the five-month period of January to May – up over +18% on the same five-month period in 2015. I also welcome the strong increase in British visitors (almost +16%). Mainland Europe has also turned in a superb performance (+11.5%), with important markets like Italy, Spain and the Benelux countries all showing really good growth.”

Gibbons added that the outcome of the recent EU referendum in the UK has given rise to economic uncertainty and currency movements, which have the capacity to hamper growth.

“Tourism Ireland is liaising with our key stakeholders and monitoring developments. We are determined to get the message out that it is business as usual. Britain remains an extremely important market for Irish tourism and Tourism Ireland is undertaking an extensive programme of promotions in Britain, and elsewhere around the world, to ensure this strong performance continues. Our aim is to ensure that 2016 is another record-breaking year for Irish tourism,” he said.

High levels of vitamin D linked to lower birth problems,

Cork college study finds.


Study by University College Cork calls for guidelines on nutrition for pregnant women.

High vitamin D status is associated with lower risk of complications such as pre-eclampsia and small-for-gestational age (SGA) birth

Expecting mothers with high levels of vitamin D are less likely to have serious pregnancy complications, new Irish research indicates.

High vitamin D status is associated with lower risk of complications such as pre-eclampsia and small-for-gestational age (SGA) birth, according to the study by scientists in University College Cork.

The research, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, found 17 per cent of pregnant women had a Vitamin D deficiency among almost 1,800 who were surveyed. This compared to 12 per cent among women who were not pregnant.

The researchers say their findings highlight the need for national guidelines on nutritional intake, include Vitamin D levels, or pregnant women.

“The data highlights the need to conduct nutrition research in vulnerable populations, such as pregnancy and breastfeeding women and children, in order to develop life-stage specific recommendations for nutrient intakes,” according to Prof Mairead Kiely.

“Currently in Ireland, there are no pregnancy-specific guidelines for vitamin D intake.”

The study surveyed 1,786 mothers who attended Cork University Maternity Hospital and was designed to explore whether there was a connection between vitamin D status in early pregnancy and any major pregnancy complications.

Vitamin D is produced in the body by exposure of the skin to sunlight. It is also found in oily fish, egg yolks and fortified foods such as milk, breakfast cereals and infant formula.

What can ancient amber-encased bird wings say about flight?


CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: A compound microscope images shows interlocking barbs and barbules on the bird’s flight feathers. A view of a feather suspended in amber. A fossilized skin flap shows the follicles where feathers insert into the flesh. the leading edge of one wing, including the tiny claw at the wing-tip.

Two chunks of amber preserved the wings of baby birds 99 million years ago.

Dinosaurs were roaming the Earth and flowering plants were just beginning to flourish when two tiny baby birds lived their short lives.

These walnut-brown, toothed hatchlings hadn’t grown larger than today’s hummingbirds when they encountered wads of sticky, goopy tree resin. Perhaps the newborn enantiornithes were taking their first flights, stumbling out of a nest, clambering around the treetops, or maybe they fell into the sticky trap when a wing became ensnared in the resin and the little birds weren’t able to pull it loose.

Now, 99 million years later, that resin has hardened into amber around those tiny wings, preserving them, bones, tissue, feathers and all. And they’re offering scientists a glimpse back in time.

“Enantiornithines, these strange, toothed birds, had plumage that looked a lot like adult bird plumage, even when they were just hatchlings,” says Ryan McKellar, curator of invertebrate paleontology at the Royal Saskatchewan Museum who helped analyze the new fossils for a paper published Tuesdayin the journal Nature Communications.

Looking at the bones of these amber-encased wings, the scientists were able to tell that these birds were quite young. But their adult-like feathers suggested these tiny hatchlings may have been able to fly “right out of the egg, or right out of the nest,” Dr. McKellar tells The Christian Science Monitor in a phone interview.

“They were ready for action as soon as they hatched,” lead author Lida Xing, of China University of Geosciences in Beijing, said in a press release. “These birds did not hang about in the nest waiting to be fed, but set off looking for food, and sadly died perhaps because of their small size and lack of experience.”

When you think of fossils you might picture a compression fossil, in which an animal’s skeleton has been preserved in a layer of sedimentary rock. Occasionally the tissues, fur, or feathers of an animal leaves some sort of imprint in the rock around the bones.

“The problem we face there is that more often than not it’s a sort of tangled mess,” McKellar says. “It’s hard to pick out the finer details of the feathers within this mat, or carbon film.”

That’s where amber fossils come in. As tree resin turns into amber over time, it preserves an organism in place, tissue and all. The resin contains natural preservatives, entomologist George Poinar, known for studying amber fossils, previously explained to the Monitor.

“Amber can be a really valuable supplement to these compression fossils” because it can preserve animals in such lifelike detail, McKellar says.

In life, these little birds had walnut-brown coloring on the upper side of their wings, with a paler band running across their wings. The wings’ underside was very pale, perhaps even white. Two long, ribbon-like tail feathers trailed behind the tiny birds’ bodies. In their beaks, these young enantiornithines had teeth, hinting at their dinosaur ancestry.

“They’re thought to be some of the closest relatives to modern birds,” McKellar says. Today enantiornithines are extinct.

“The fact that well-preserved plumage is now being found in 100-million-year old amber is remarkable, and very cool, but the [new] information in these two specimens is limited,” Luis Chiappe, director of the Dinosaur Institute at the National History Museum of Los Angeles County who was not part of this study, tells the Monitor in an email.

“Fossils that are 25 million years older than these amber pieces (i.e., fossils from 125 million year old rocks in Spain and China) provide the same information about the plumage of enantiornithines: differentiation among the wing feathers (alula, secondaries, primaries, and coverts) as well as details of their color patterns.”

“The authors are correct to highlight the high degree of development of the feathers and how the presence of fully formed flight feathers in hatchlings suggest a high degree of precociality,” the extent to which a young organism shows mature features and behaviors, such as mobility. But “this has already been mentioned, many times, based on the presence of similar feathers in traditional fossils as well as osteological studies correlating bone formation (ossification) with precociality,” Dr. Chiappe says.

McKellar agrees that these fossils confirm previous descriptions of enantiornithines based on compression fossils. But he hopes that this study will encourage scientists to turn to amber fossils more readily to find new insights into ancient organisms.

These chunks of amber are about the size of ping-pong balls, McKellar says. And the wings embedded in this amber are just fragments, a few bones of the tip of the bird’s wing with feathers fanning across them.

“It can be really difficult working with these specimens because a lot of the feathers are overlapping each other,” he says. “In one of the specimens they’re nicely splayed out, but in the other, they’re actually piled on top of each other, so it’s hard to tease out details.”

McKellar, who used strong lighting and magnification to peer into the amber fossils at the Royal Saskatchewan Museum, says, “it’s just sort of a mass of brown in the specimens until you get the right light on them.”

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Thursday 14th April 2016.

Almost 20% increase in Irish nursing home abuse allegations


The number of allegations of suspected or confirmed abuse of older people in nursing homes jumped by almost 20% last year.

According to the Health Information and Quality Authority’s (Hiqa) 2015 overview report of nursing home inspections in 2015, some 424 notifications of allegations of abuse were received, compared to 357 in 2014 — an increase of almost 19%.

Some 967 notifications of an unexpected death of any resident were received — up from 625 in 2014.

Hiqa received 4,155 reports of an injury to a resident that required medical and/or hospital treatment in 2015. However, it stressed there is evidence of over-reporting by centres, as just 54% required hospital treatment, while 95% of these were rated as of minor/moderate risk.

There were 137 reports of unexplained absence of a resident from a nursing home, up from 122 in 2014.

There is a total of 577 centres providing 30,106 residential beds here.

A total of 411 nursing home inspections were carried out last year in 343 registered residential centres across the country, with almost half of all inspections being unannounced.

Some 59% of all registered centres received an inspection in 2015. Of the centres that received an inspection, 84% received one inspection, 13% received two inspections, and 3% received three or more inspections.

The chief inspector with Hiqa, Mary Dunnion, said good levels of compliance with regulations relating healthcare, food, and nutrition and end-of-life care were found in the centres inspected.

“The provision of high-quality, safe service is found in centres where managers, providers, and persons in charge continually look for innovative ways to improve the evolving needs, preferences and rights of individual residents,” she said.

However, head of advocacy and communications at Age Action Ireland, Justin Moran, expressed concern at the substantial rise in reports of abuse in nursing homes.

“It is essential that all of these cases are reported to the HSE’s elder abuse caseworkers and properly investigated. We need a proactive approach to tackling elder abuse with more training for care staff and ensuring residents know how to report cases of suspected abuse,” said Mr Moran.

He also questioned why so many people are in nursing homes in the first place.

“Many older people need quality nursing home care, but thousands could be at home with their families and in their communities if the proper supports were provided,” said Mr Moran. “That’s what they want. It’s what the Government’s National Positive Ageing Strategy promises.”

“And it’s better value for money. The next government must prioritise investment in services that enable older people to stay home as long as possible and introduce a statutory right to community care.”

In a statement, Nursing Homes Ireland said the report highlighted high standards of care right across the nursing home sector which provides “reassurance for residents, their relatives and friends and wider public”.

“It is important to note the report focusses on areas requiring improvement and it states numerous specific examples of good practice in nursing home care are not documented within it, but published within individual inspection reports,” said a statement.

“It does provide an analysis of good practice, further endorsing high-quality care that is provided by dedicated, committed, and caring management and staff within nursing homes.”

Nursing Homes Ireland also highlighted the “critical issue” of adequate staffing levels in the sector and said it had recently engaged directly with Hiqa on the issue.

Dáil establishes an all party committee to deal with housing and homelessness


A new all-party committee to look at how to deal with the housing and the homelessness crisis has been established by the Dáil.

TDs are also making statements on housing tonight, saying there is an urgent need to find a fix.

Acting Environment Minister Alan Kelly says 31 actions were taken in the last 21 months, and he says no matter what is done now won’t fix the problem overnight.

Mr Kelly said: “I’ve sought to tackle this issue from every possible angle to improve the situation for everyone in this country.

“It has absolutely been my priority during my short term in the Department of the Environment.

“But the fruits of that work will take time to become apparent. We have laid the foundations, but the solutions will, like any house, take time to build and to bring forward.”

ESB workers set to receive a 5.5% pay rise


In addition to the 5.5% pay rise workers will receive a €2750 once off payment?

6000 ESB workers are set to receive a 5.5 % pay rise over two and a half years, as well as once-off lump sums worth around €2750, under new pay proposals.

The proposals, revealed in the journal ‘Industrial Relations News’, would see staff receive an increase of 2.75% from 1 April 2016, with a further 2.75% on 1 August 2017.

It is understood trade unions see the €2,750 lump sum as effectively retrospective compensation for a period when pay was frozen between 1 April 2014 and the end of March 2015.

Such arrangements are not common in the general workforce. At that point, a 2% pay rise was awarded.

This latest deal expires at the end of September 2018, when a new three year pay agreement will be negotiated.

The percentage increases would be seen as being in line with norms in the economy at present.

The deal emerged from a mediation process after a previous pay offer was comprehensively rejected.

Under a separate cost reduction programme including significant job cuts, savings of €140 million were secured.

The ESB said negotiations between the company and the Group of Unions had concluded on 7 April resulting in the development of a proposal issued for the consideration of both parties by the independent facilitator on Monday.

It said it had no further comment to make at this time.

The ESB confirmed that the average salary for ESB employees at present is €62,000, rising to €72,000 when overtime and expenses are factored in.

Binman life was saved by hero schoolgirl Victoria is presented with bunch of flowers


Victoria Williamson Gaine pictured with Panda Waste Employee, Florin Popa at her school.

THIS is the first meeting between hero student Victoria Williams-Gaine and Florin Popa, since she saved his life.

Mr Popa (39) today surprised the transition year student at her school St Joseph of Cluny, in Killiney, and presented her with a mixed bouquet of flowers.

Victoria Gaine, 16, and her mother Viv outside their house in Shankhill where they helped save life of binman. Shankhill, Dublin. Picture: Caroline Quinn

Victoria (16) performed lifesaving CPR on Mr Popa, after he collapsed outside her home in Shankill on March 23.

The Panda Waste employee thanked Victoria for saving his life, while the company also donated a defibrillator to the school as a sign of gratitude.

He has not yet returned from work and is continuing his recovery from the heart attack he suffered.

Transition Year student Victoria Williams-Gaine (16), from Shankill, Co Dublin,  was hailed as a hero after she saved Mr Popa’s life outside her home

Victoria learned how to administer life-saving CPR in school just weeks before the Panda Waste worker (39) collapsed outside her house.

Mr Popa, originally from Romania, would have died if not for the quick intervention of the teenager. His work colleagues have described Victoria as a “superstar” and said Mr Popa was very grateful to her for saving his life.

The incident happened on March 23 just before Victoria and her family were due to fly to New York.

Victoria’s mother Viv Gaine saw the bin lorry outside the house at around 9am and went out, hoping to empty some bits of rubbish before the workers collected the bins.

“When I went out, the truck was outside and I could see the man on the ground.

“I dialled 999 and I shouted up to Victoria. The ambulance man asked if he was breathing and I said no.

“Victoria got down and she started to do CPR on him,” Ms Gaine said.

Within four or five minutes, the first ambulance arrived.

Victoria’s work was not finished, however – when the medics saw she was competently administering the lifesaving procedure, she was asked to continue.

“The ambulance men realised that she knew what she was doing and it allowed them to set up,” Ms Gaine said. A second ambulance soon arrived and Mr Popa was placed into it.

Both Victoria and her mother could hear the medics saying that he had no pulse, before confirming that it had returned.

Within 30 minutes, he was transferred to St Vincent’s Hospital on Merrion Road.

Ms Gaine said that her daughter became very upset when she realised what a close call it was.

Ms Gaine said the crucial factor was that her daughter had learned CPR in her school St Joseph of Cluny, in Killiney.

A spokesman for Panda praised Victoria and described her as a “superstar”.

Greenland ice sheet sets new record with shocking early melt


Greenland’s earliest recorded melt shocked scientists this week, while at the same time, a new report ultimately confirms the 97% consensus that human activity is responsible for recent changes in our climate due to global warming.

Greenland’s earliest major melt is a record?

As this week started, scientists monitoring the Greenland ice sheet experienced a shock – over 10% of the island’s ice sheet surface was experiencing melting of over 1 millimetre. As this started on April 11, this surpasses the previous record for early melt of more than 10 per cent of the ice sheet surface – from May 5, 2010 – by more than three weeks.

Maps showing melting on April 10 and 11, 2016. Graph of percentage of total ice sheet area experiencing at least 1 mm of melting – Jan 1 to Apr 11 1990-2013 average and year-to-year daily variation.

This situation was so unusual, so anomalous, that the scientists doubted what they were seeing, at first.

“We had to check that our models were still working properly,” Peter Langen, a climate scientist at the Danish Meteorological Institute (DMI), told Polar Portal. “Fortunately we could see from the PROMICE.dk stations on the ice sheet that it had been well above melting, even above 10oC. This helped to explain the results.”

What’s the cause of this? An unusual warm spell over Greenland during the past week, along with warm onshore winds bringing rain to the southwest coast of the island.
Temperature anomalies (from 1979-2000 average) for April 8-14, 2016 show a patch of unusually warm air over Greenland.

DMI forecasters say that temperatures will cool throughout the rest of the week, but this event has already taken its toll.

Not only is this the earliest substantial melt on record, but the refreezing of the rain and meltwater soaking into the ice sheet sets it up for even more melting in the future.

Prof. Jason Box, of the Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland (GEUS), explained to Polar Portal: “Meltwater refreezing releases heat into the snow at depth, reducing the amount of heating needed for melt to start and forming ice layers that can help melt water run off the ice sheet earlier with climate warming.”

Needless to say, DMI and GEUS scientists will be closely monitoring the ice sheet going forward.

Consensus of the 97% of climate experts?

“97% of climate experts agree humans are causing global warming.” 

This statement, which came about as a result of the Consensus Project in 2013, has come under persistent attack from those who deny the link between fossil fuel burning and the current state of global warming and climate change we are observing around the world.

In response to these attacks, John Cook, from the Global Change Institute at the University of Queensland and the founder of SkepticalScience.com, gathered a team of over a dozen colleagues, all of whom had been part of other consensus studies, to go over the data and put the arguments to the test.


“We have shown that the scientific consensus on AGW is robust, with a range of 90%–100% depending on the exact question, timing and sampling methodology,” Cook and his colleagues wrote in the new study. “This is supported by multiple independent studies despite variations in the study timing, definition of consensus, or differences in methodology including surveys of scientists, analyses of literature or of citation networks.”

“From a broader perspective, it doesn’t matter if the consensus number is 90% or 100%,” they concluded. “The level of scientific agreement on AGW is overwhelmingly high because the supporting evidence is overwhelmingly strong.”

News Ireland daily BLOG by DONIE

Thursday/Friday 17 & 18th September 2015

M. D. Higgins rejects an recovering Irish economy

Responsibility needs to be taken for housing lists and homelessness needs to be addressed,

Says the President.


“Our planet is scarred by inequality, and inequality is growing, and the gaps are widening in what are described as some of the most prosperous parts of the world,” President Michael D Higgins has remarked.

Those in positions of authority should apologise for not valuing social housing more in the past in light of the current housing crisis, President Michael D Higgins has said.

Speaking at the launch of Merchants Quay Ireland’s annual report on Friday, he said inequality continues to rise in Ireland, and that he “recoils” from headlines boasting the domestic economy is resurgent once more.

“Our planet is scarred by inequality, and inequality is growing, and the gaps are widening in what are described as some of the most prosperous parts of the world,” he remarked, referencing educational inequality in particular.

“I think it’s important to realise how inequalities are increasing in Ireland itself. I recoil a little bit from a headline that suggests ‘The economy roars back’ – well, the inequalities are roaring much louder in the world.

‘Simply ridiculous’

“It’s simply ridiculous to say that you’re living in a republic with republican values if you have children with different access to literacy itself, in relation to reading the schoolbooks and so forth.”

The President indicated that responsibility needs to be taken for a situation that has seen social housing waiting lists lengthening and people sleeping rough on the streets.

“The public view has to change in relation to that. The public view in relation to whether or not you want to say housing is a right, basic shelter is a right, and that it is a mark of failure in a society if decent, safe shelter is not available.

“I think it would be a great thing to hear from some authoritative body like the County and City Management Association: ‘We’re sorry we didn’t value social housing more’,” he said.

His address was given in the wake of a speech by Merchants Quay Ireland chief executive Tony Geoghegan, who revealed his “deep concern” for the welfare of homeless individuals ahead of the impending winter.

A drop-in service

The organisation’s report stated that its drop-in service provided over 5,600 supportive interventions including referrals to emergency accommodation, and served nearly 80,000 meals last year.

“I think it’s fair to say that the homeless situation at the moment is just unprecedented – we certainly haven’t seen anything like it before and it is going to require an unprecedented response to do something about it,” Mr Geoghegan said.

“Looking into this winter, we are deeply concerned for the welfare of homeless people and what is going to happen, and I’m praying and hoping that it’s not going to take something as extreme as people dying on the streets, as it did last Christmas, before there is a response,” he added.

Talking to reporters after the launch ceremony, Mr Higgins cautioned against creating an artificial “war among the poors” between those struggling for basic services in Ireland and the 4,000 destitute refugees set to enter the State, in response to commentators who say the country should resolve its own domestic problems before welcoming a large influx of immigrants.

“The very most unhelpful thing that could happen is if some kind of false tension was invented between those who shouldn’t be waiting for health services, who shouldn’t be homeless, who shouldn’t be waiting excessive periods on waiting lists, and people who are excluded in other ways,” he said.

He continued: “Our future is a diverse society that plays to the best of our Irishness […] these suggestions are that you must set the poor in contest with each other as some kind of ‘war among the poors’.

“It has always been something that is negative, and of course in many places in Europe it has led to xenophobia and in some places racism – so let’s just see it for what it is right at the beginning.”

New €1m campaign to promote potato consumption in Ireland


A new €1m marketing campaign was launched today (September 17) to boost potato consumption among Irish consumers, by the Minister for Agriculture, Simon Coveney.

Bord Bia will coordinate and manage the three-year campaign which has been designed to dispel fattening myths around potatoes, positioning them as naturally fat-free, tasty and versatile.

According to Kantar Worldpanel, retail sales of fresh potatoes in Ireland have declined by 25% over the last decade and by as much as one-third between 2002 and 2014.

Speaking at today’s launch Minister Coveney said that the potato is part of our culture like no other food, inextricably linked to Ireland’s story and part of who we are.

“This campaign will bring the different varieties and versatility of the Irish potato to a younger generation,” he said.

The initiative will be co-funded by the EU, Ireland’s potato industry and the Department of Agriculture and will be run in conjunction with the British Potato Council.

The overall strategy is to implement a single umbrella campaign, across both the Irish and British market, which will raise the image and profile of potatoes, and re-establish their relevance within the weekly shopping basket.

The Minister welcomed the European Commission’s decision to approve a total fund of €4.6m to promote potatoes on the Irish and British markets over the next three years of which 50% will be funded by the EU.

My department is also availing of the opportunity to grant financial support to the Irish potato industry for this positive promotional activity.

“Combined with industry funding the total campaign will be worth €1m over the three years in Ireland,” he said.

Mike Neary, Horticulture Manager at Bord Bia, highlighted some of the challenges facing the industry.

“Potatoes are still Ireland’s preferred main meal carbohydrate, however shoppers under-45 account for only 33% of potato sales and these consumers will ultimately make up a major part of the total market in the years to come.

“Younger consumers view potatoes as a traditional, unexciting food and less convenient than modern carbs such as pasta and rice,” he said.

The new promotional campaign, entitled “Potatoes – more than a bit on the side”, will focus on younger consumers, in particular, 22-44-year-old females.

Neary said that we really need to challenge consumer perceptions of fresh potatoes – particularly amongst younger age groups – in order to combat declining consumption.

“This integrated campaign will highlight the fact that potatoes offer enormous potential within the world of modern cooking and build awareness of the added health and nutritional benefits of potatoes in comparison to competitor carbohydrates,” he said.

The campaign will include print and digital advertising and it will kick off with National Potato Day on Friday, October 2.

It is estimated a total of 9,122ha of potatoes were grown in Ireland in 2014 producing 350,000t. Last year, the retail market was valued at €184m.

The main varieties of potatoes grown in Ireland include Rooster (60%), Kerr Pinks (8%), Queens (8%) and Whites (7%).

Meath, Dublin, Wexford, Louth, Donegal and Cork are the largest potato growing counties with approximately 500 active potato growers in Ireland.

HSE failed to deal with ‘sexual contact abuse in home,

A report finds

Man involved in incidents of ‘sexual abuse nature’ with another resident and a staff member


A report published by the Mental Health Commission into Knockroe House found evidence of three instances of sexual contact between a man and woman in its care over a five-month period in 2014.

Pamela DuncanThe HSE is to carry out a review of mental health services in Roscommon after it was found to have failed to take appropriate action on recorded instances of sexual contact between two residents in a Castlerea community service.

A report published by the Mental Health Commission into Knockroe House, a 14-bed community residence on the outskirts of Castlerea, found evidence of three instances of sexual contact between a man and woman in its care over a five-month period in 2014.

It also reported one incident “of a sexual nature” involving the same man and a woman staff member.

The inspection report published on Thusday said: “Inspection of the Incident Report books in Knockroe House identified three recorded instances of sexual contact between two vulnerable adult residents, one male, one female, over a five-month period in 2014 and one incident, also of a sexual nature, involving a female member of staff in 2015.”

Failed to assess

As regards the incidents of sexual contact between the two residents the Mental Health Commission reported that the HSE had failed to assess the two residents as to their capacity to engage in a sexual relationship or take other steps to ensure “neither resident is placed in a position where they may be exploited”.

It also said that, in the absence of such safeguarding measures, gardaí should have been informed.

The inspectors noted that, following the third recorded incident between the two residents in August 2014, management separated the two residents: one is accommodated in another community residence from Monday to Thursday, returning to Knockroe on weekends when the second resident is on home leave.

The inspectors said this was not an appropriate action as the other setting was “wholly inappropriate” for the resident who had been transferred.

In a subsequent inspection carried out in June inspectors recorded a further incident of a sexual nature involving the same male resident.

General secretary of the Psychiatric Nurses Association, Des Kavanagh said the Mental Health Commission report vindicated the concerns raised by nursing staff in the Galway/Roscommon mental health services prior to the April inspection.

“The incidents raised were clearly very serious and the response of management was not appropriate,” he said.

The HSE announced it had determined it “necessary to conduct a review of the quality, safety and governance of services within the Roscommon area”.

It said the review had been “prompted in part by a number of specific incidents” which would also form part of the review which would examine management, staffing levels and compliance with relevant national and HSE frameworks.

The HSE said it was conducting a systems analysis review into the incidents in Knockroe House as well as having commissioned an external review of the mental health services in Roscommon.

“As both these processes are currently under way we are unable to comment further at this time. The HSE has reported these matters to the Gardaí and safeguards have been put in place to ensure patient safety,” a spokeswoman said.

Mr Kavanagh said he hoped the review would result in an improvement of services and the safeguarding of residents in the Roscommon area.

Ireland’s plan to tackle alarming decline of our valuable bees


 “If the bee disappeared off the surface of the globe, then man would have only four years of life left. No more bees, no more pollination, no more plants, no more animals, no more man.”

That is a comment attributed to Albert Einstein and reflects why 68 governmental and non-governmental organisations are busy with a shared plan of action to tackle pollinator decline and make Ireland a place where pollinators can survive and thrive.

The All-Ireland Pollinator Plan 2015-2020, published today, makes Ireland one of the first countries in Europe with a strategy to address pollinator decline and protect pollination services. The initiative has generated huge support and has culminated in agreement to deliver 81 actions to make Ireland more pollinator friendly.

The plan identifies actions that can be taken on farmland, public land and private land. These include creating pollinator highways along our transport routes, making our public parks pollinator friendly and encouraging the public to see their gardens as potential pit-stops for our busy bees.

With the support of organisations like An Taisce Green-Schools, it aims to ensure that everyone, from schoolchildren to farmers, gardeners, local authorities and businesses, knows what pollinators need and which simple cost-effective actions they can take to help. The Plan will also support bee-keepers in keeping our honeybees healthy.

“Unfortunately, Irish pollinators are in decline, with one third of our 98 bee species threatened with extinction,” said Dr Úna FitzPatrick from the National Biodiversity Data Centre, who chaired the plan steering group. “Bees are declining because we’ve drastically reduced the areas where they can nest.”

The pollinator plan is not just about protecting bees but also about protecting the livelihood of farmers and growers who rely on their ‘free’ pollinator service, which allows consumers to buy Irish fruit and vegetables at an affordable price. This service is worth more than £7 million per annum for apples in Northern Ireland, and €3.9m for oilseed rape in the Republic of Ireland.

It’s not just crops; about three-quarters of our wild plants also require insect pollinators. Without pollinators the Irish landscape would be a very different and much less beautiful place. The value of pollination to tourism and branding our produce abroad is enormous, but has never been assessed in a monetary sense.

Dr Jane Stout, Associate Professor in Botany at Trinity College Dublin, who co-chaired the group, added: “If we want pollinators to be available to pollinate our crops and wild plants for future generations we need to manage the landscape in a more sustainable way and create a joined-up network of diverse and flower-rich habitats as well as reduce our use of chemical insecticides. This doesn’t just mean in the countryside, but in our towns and villages as well.”

The actions in the plan are based on scientific evidence from research conducted in Ireland and elsewhere.

However, there are still gaps in our knowledge. Dr Stout’s Plant-Animal Interactions research group in Trinity College Dublin will continue to do research to understand the full implication of pollinator declines.

Bee aware

According to the Royal Horticultural Society, the best ways to encourage bees of all types into your garden is by providing nectar- and pollen-rich flowers throughout the year.

  • Clumps of bee-friendly plants in sunny places will be more attractive than plants that are scattered or in shade. These include foxgloves, pussy willow, bluebells, honeysuckle, thyme, and summer heathers, while non-native species like sunflowers, sweet pea, and lavender will provide plenty for bees to forage on. Planting wildflower meadows will also greatly benefit bees.
  • Use pesticides sparingly. Those based on fatty acids or plant oils and extracts pose little danger to bees but will not control all pests. Do not spray open flowers.
  • Provide nest sites for bees. Some will nest in hollow stems, such as bamboo canes or herbaceous plant

As much as 3.3m people die annually from air pollution

A study shows


Air pollution is killing 3.3m people a year worldwide, according to a new study. Surprisingly, farming plays a large role in soot-and-smog deaths in industrial nations.

Scientists in Germany, Cyprus, Saudi Arabia, and Harvard University calculated the most detailed estimates yet of the toll of air pollution, and what caused it. The study projects that if trends don’t change, the yearly death total will have doubled to 6.6m a year by 2050.

The study, published in the journal Nature, showed that three quarters of the deaths are from strokes and heart attacks, said lead author Jos Lelieveld at the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry in Germany.

The findings are similar to other, less detailed pollution death estimates, outside experts said. “About 6% of all global deaths each year occur prematurely, due to exposure to ambient air pollution. This number is higher than most experts would have expected, say, 10 years ago,” said Jason West, a University of North Carolina environmental sciences professor who wasn’t part of the study, but who praised it.

Air pollution kills more than HIV and malaria combined. China has the most air pollution fatalities, with 1.4m, followed by India, with 645,000, and Pakistan, with 110,000. The United States, with 54,905 deaths in 2010, ranks seventh. What is unusual is that the study says agriculture caused 16,221 of those deaths, second only to 16,929 deaths blamed on power plants.

In the US northeast, all of Europe, Russia, Japan, and South Korea, agriculture is the leading cause of soot-and-smog deaths. Worldwide, agriculture is the second-biggest cause, with 664,100 deaths, behind 1m deaths from in-home heating and cooking done with wood, and other biofuels, in the developing world.

The problem with farms is ammonia from fertiliser and animal waste. That ammonia combines with sulphates from coal-fired power plants, and with nitrates from car exhaust, to form the soot particles that are the big air pollution killers, he said.

In London, for example, the pollution from traffic takes time to be converted into soot, and then it is mixed with ammonia and transported downwind to the next city, he said.

“We were very surprised, but, in the end, it makes sense,” Lelieveld said.

He said the scientists had assumed that traffic and power plants would be the biggest cause of deadly soot and smog.

Agricultural emissions are becoming increasingly important, but are not regulated, said Allen Robinson, an engineering professor at Carnegie Mellon University, who was not part of the study, but who praised it.

Ammonia air pollution from farms can be reduced “at relatively low costs,” Robinson said. “Maybe this will help bring more attention to the issue.”

In the central United States, the main cause of soot-and-smog premature deaths is power plants; in much of the West, it’s traffic emissions.

Jason West, and other outside scientists, did dispute the study’s projections that deaths would double by 2050. That is based on no change in air pollution. West and others said it’s likely that some places, such as China, will dramatically cut their air pollution by 2050.

And Lelieveld said that if the world reduces a different air pollutant — carbon dioxide, the main gas causing global warming — soot-and-smog levels will be reduced as well, in a “win-win situation in both directions”

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Saturday 10th May 2014

Calm Frances Fitzgerald the woman who gets things done has already led major breakthroughs


 At the launch of Fine Gael’s local election campaign, Frances Fitzgerald sent the candidates out to do battle on the doorsteps with a speech beginning with the declaration that most people get into politics in order to change things.

One week later, the newly appointed justice minister is being required to show she can not only make change but manage change as she takes over a portfolio in bumpy transition.

But if she had to sit herself down, self-administer smelling salts, or breathe deeply into a paper bag before saying yes to the appointment, it wasn’t showing yesterday.

Characteristically cool and unruffled, she kept a scheduled appointment, joining the Taoiseach visiting a community college for the start of the Youth2Work initiative, and returning directly to the front benches of the Dáil announcement of her promotion with a focused Fitzgerald Work demeanour.

M/s Fitzgerald, who will be 64 in August, was born Frances Ryan in Croom, Co Limerick, but her family moved to Kildare with their father who served in the army. Frances was educated at the Dominican College, Sion Hill, Blackrock, Dublin.

Leaving school, she knew what she wanted to do and went for it, graduating from University College Dublin with a degree in social science and taking a job as social worker at the now closed St Ultan’s Children’s Hospital on Dublin’s Charlemont St, which cared mainly for deprived inner city children.

It was during her early years in social work that she met her husband, the child and adolescent psychiatrist Professor Michael Fitzgerald, an expert in autism and Asperger’s.

They moved for a time to Britain, where Fitzgerald obtained a master’s degree in social work from the London School of Economics.

The couple now live in Castleknock, in the Dublin Mid-West constituency, in a suburb to which the overused description “leafy” truly applies. They have three sons, student Owen, accountant Robert, and stage actor Mark.

Back in Ireland, Fitzgerald worked in a number of hospital and social care settings and at the time of her first election to the Dáil, had most recently worked at the Mater Child and Family Centre in Ballymun.

She first got involved in politics through the Women’s Political Association, which she chaired from 1987 to 1989. But she really came to public prominence during her four-year stint as chair of the Council for the Status of Women — now the National Women’s Council of Ireland — from 1988 to 1992.

The final year of her term put her under the spotlight as she spoke out strongly on the need for reform of the laws on rape and treatment of victims following the Lavinia Kerwick case.

She was also vociferous on the right of women to make choices for themselves in the run-up to that year’s three-pronged abortion referendum, held on the same day as the general election.

Weeks before the election, Ms Fitzgerald was declared a candidate for Fine Gael in Dublin South East at the invitation of Garret FitzGerald, having also been approached by Fianna Fáil.

It was a breakthrough year for women in politics, with 20 female TDs elected, a massive leap on the previous record of 14; but with just 25 currently, the momentum has been slow since.

Ms Fitzgerald held the seat for 10 years, serving in opposition under John Bruton and Michael Noonan, firstly as party spokesperson on arts and then defence before putting her background to use in social, community, and family affairs, equality, and social welfare.

During this time, she was also elected to Dublin City Council, having lost her Dáil seat after Fine Gael’s slump in the 2002 general election.

She stood in the 2007 general election without success but returned to Leinster House via the Seanad and was made leader of the opposition as well as Fine Gael spokesperson on health and children.

It surprised nobody that when Fine Gael returned to power in 2011, Ms Fitzgerald not only got back into the Dáil but into Cabinet, being appointed the country’s first full children’s and youth affairs minister.

She has since scored notable successes, getting the children’s rights referendum passed, and establishing the Child and Family Agency to tidy up the baffling array of often overlapping and uncoordinated statutory agencies involved in child welfare.

She was also responsible for making creche inspection reports public, has action plans on childhood bullying and obesity, and generally speaks a lot of sense about youth drinking, crime, and pressure from social media.

She was a calm voice through last year’s abortion controversies and although she has attracted the ire and despair of many adopted people by moving slowly on releasing adoption papers, she rarely attracts criticism in either the public or political arenas.

But that could all change with her promotion to justice.

The Irish poor cut back on medicines because of drug levies


Chronically ill patients are going without necessary medicines because of the €1 hike in the prescription levy.

Pharmacists have found that 38% of medical card holders say the increase makes them “think twice” before seeking prescriptions.

The issue will be discussed this weekend at the National Conference of the Irish Pharmacy Union in Ballyconnell, Co Cavan, which is being attended by hundreds of pharmacists from across the country.

EXEMPTION: Incoming president Kathy Maher has called on the Government to introduce an exemption from the charge for vulnerable patients including the homeless, people with intellectual difficulties and those in palliative care and residential care.

The cost would not be huge, but the benefits to these patients would be, she said.

“As pharmacists, we are very concerned that the hike in the levy is having a significant impact on medicine usage,” she said.

“We need to make sure that vulnerable patients are encouraged to take prescribed medicines, not discouraged.

An independent behaviour and attitude survey of medical card holders found 38pc were reluctant to get all the medications on their prescription list because of the dispensing cost per item of €2.50. The fee was raised in the last budget.

M/s Maher said the main issue this weekend will be the expanded role of the pharmacist in health care.

“International evidence suggests that there is huge scope for pharmacists to expand their services and to help alleviate pressures elsewhere in the healthcare system with considerable benefits for patient welfare,” she said.

An expanded role, she added, could alleviate pressure on hard-pressed family doctors.

Patients with minor conditions or with chronic conditions could have their medications or their conditions reviewed by the pharmacist.

“Our members want to engage with the Government to see their role expanded,” added M/s Maher.

The prescription levy was introduced in 2010 and caused outrage.

When he took office in March 2011, Health Minister James Reilly promised to scrap the levy. Instead, it has increased from 50c to €2.50.

BUDGET: In the 2013 Budget alone, the fee underwent a three-fold increase to €1.50.

Patients with a medical card have to pay the fee for each item under prescription, though the cost is capped at €25 a month.

The total charge was originally capped at €10 a month, which increased to €19.50 when the fee was at €1.50.

It was expected the fee would raise €2m a month when it was introduced.

Plight of the Irish homeless people highlighted


Homeless families held a protest about Ireland’s housing crisis on last Friday.

With the backing of Paul Murphy MEP and the Anti-Austerity Alliance, who helped organise the Dublin-based protest, they called for rent controls, the building of new homes and an end to discrimination against people on rent allowance.

The protest was the brainchild of Gwen Connell and Tamara Kearns who have both had personal experience of homelessness.

Ms Connell, who was forced out of her home due to a 400 euro rent hike, said: “There is a massive housing crisis in the country at the moment, which is particularly severe in Dublin. Anyone who is trying to find rental accommodation will know that rents have increased massively over the last year or so. This and the lack of housing is resulting in families becoming homeless.

“It’s time for the Government to act. They are allowing landlords to abuse the system and are wasting huge amounts of money putting homeless families up in hotels. There are 90,000 people on the housing waiting list, we need the immediate building of social and affordable housing, release the Nama houses and to introduce rent controls.”

Ms Kearns, who was forced along with her family into a homeless unit after they were unable to keep up with their rent, said: “My family and I have been homeless since October last year. We could no longer afford to keep up the price of rent. We do not receive rent supplement and we are not entitled to help from the social welfare. Our lives have been turned upside down. Our children are finding it hard to settle and have nowhere to play. Our daughter has had to change school, we don’t know for how long.

“I contacted all the so called ‘right people’ and was left stunned by the lack of a decent response.”

Councillor Ruth Coppinger of the Anti-Austerity Alliance called on the Government to “act immediately” to solve the housing crisis while Mr Murphy claimed that cuts to housing budgets would not help families who are on the housing waiting list for years. He suggested that massive state investment is needed to provide homes.

‘‘When mothers think there not perfect, they feel lots of guilt’


An Irish counselling charity has said there is no national policy on screening for post-natal depression in Ireland, and is holding a conference today to highlight this issue and others.

Nurture claims the Irish health system does not cater well for those with mental health issues around conception, pregnancy, childbirth or loss of a baby.

The group is holding an ‘Emotional Wellbeing Education Conference’ conference in Dublin today to raise greater awareness of these issues.

  Some 42,000 women are diagnosed each year with mental illness and emotional trauma surrounding childbirth. An estimated 13% of Irish women suffer with post-natal depression, with women from all socio-economic backgrounds affected.

Senior lecturer at the School of Nursing and Midwifery at UCC Dr Patricia Leahy Warren carried out a study on social support for first-time mothers, which revealed tremendous pressure to be the “perfect mother”.

“Every mother wants to be the best mother, so they feel they have to put up this front,” she said.

“There’s a society pressure to get into size zero jeans, that you have to be breastfeeding, that you have to love your baby… When mothers don’t have these feelgood factors, they feel guilty and they feel they can’t tell anybody about it, because they feel so bad about it.”

Tangible Leadership Series a charter for a New & excellent Ireland


The Tangible Leadership Series is a speaker series that was established by Raymond Sexton in early 2009. The purpose and aim of the organization is to assemble a diverse collection of intellects and advocates to create an excellent Ireland.

Founded by Raymond Sexton (above right picture) the participants debate issues in a positive and pragmatic way. Tangible Leadership Series has now taken place from Crossmaglen in Northern Ireland to Sydney and yesterday Tangible New York took place in Rockefeller Plaza hosted by Irish American lawyer John C. O’Reilly of Squire Saunders.

In attendance were an eclectic mix of Irish diaspora. The main topic under discussion was the notion of the global Irish nation and what can be done to engage positively with Irish diaspora all over the world. The group heard presentations from Neil O’Hagan, Atlantic Youth Trust, Noreen Bowden, Global Irish, Eve Earley Empowering Change, Paul Finnegan CEO of New York Irish Center and Ann Murtagh of Fitzpatrick’s Hotel Group.

The Irish are a courageously global people. Ireland is both the earth wire for this people and the source of great pride as it took its place among the free nations of the earth, but one small island in the Atlantic can no longer limit our dreams and aspirations. In an era of serial crises, Ireland, beset with institutional and leadership problems, seeks a new way of moving

Combining the Irish in Ireland and the Irish Diaspora to create the Global Irish will unleash the power of a people of great art, creativity and energy. Moving beyond one small island frees us from parochialism and allows us to enhance our contribution to the world. To ignore the Irish outside Ireland is an act of wanton neglect.

To create the structures that guarantee the inclusion and participation of all the Irish in the life of the nation is to create the global Irish Republic. Once created, Irish emigration ceases; from that day, Irish people are always at home and Irish nationalism is replaced by Irish internationalism.

All Irish-born people are entitled to citizenship. The descendants of our emigrants together with immigrants to Ireland and others with a strong affinity to Ireland should be entitled to apply for citizenship of a global Irish Republic. All citizens should have appropriate representation in the houses of Irish government and the opportunity to contribute to developing Ireland’s role in the world. This global Irish Republic should be a non-ethnic, true republic in which we can all participate and take pride; it should not tolerate domination, segregation or sectarianism.

It is now time to find and work with the willing to develop the policies, projects and structures that will breathe life into Global Irish-ness. Through collaborative leadership we can create a culture of shared excellence throughout the Irish world. We can build a truly dynamic and sustainable economy that benefits all our people and powers the social services necessary for a humane society.

No longer content with mediocrity or with the worst of the ways of the past, with passivity, deference and dependence, we will apply the full range of skills, qualities and abilities of all our people to the challenges we face.

Honeybee population collapse is due to use of insecticides

Scientist’s claim


Another mystery has been solved: recent honeybee population collapses are due to insecticides, according to a team of Harvard researchers.

The mysterious decline of honeybees over the past several years has been blamed on everything from cell phone radiation to global warming, but the scientists now believe they have evidence that the collapse can be blamed primarily on two widely used insecticides. The study, out of Harvard’s School of Public Health, was published in the Bulletin of Insectology this week.

The recent dramatic decline of honeybee populations is largely due to a phenomenon known as colony collapse disorder, in which bees abandon their hives in the winter and eventually die. The researchers followed 18 colonies in Massachusetts, monitoring them for population levels and exposure to insecticides.

What they found is an indictment of modern agricultural practices: the populations with the worst outcomes were exposed to two kinds of neonicotinoid, a kind of insecticide, during an especially harsh winter. According to the paper, this is because the cold weather triggers a neurological response in bees exposed to the insecticide:

It is striking and perplexing to observe the empty neonicotinoid-treated colonies because honey bees normally do not abandon their hives during the winter. This observation may suggest the impairment of honey bee neurological functions, specifically memory, cognition, or behaviour, as the results from the chronic sub-lethal neonicotinoid exposure.

The findings could have big implications for industry: the European Union last year banned three kinds of neonicotinoid for a two-year trial, and the Harvard scientists’ findings may lead to more of the same. With increasing weather extremes and more need than ever to grow and pollinate healthy crops, the study spreads much further than just the honey industry. “Hopefully,” the study’s authors say of the findings, “we can reverse the continuing trend of honey bee loss.”