Tag Archives: human evolution

News Ireland daily BLOG as told by Donie

Tuesday 23rd May 2017

The shredding of documents played a key role in downfall of FitzPatrick inquiry

Legal adviser ‘taken aback’ by Garda Commissioner’s note about witness statements

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The former chairman and chief executive of Anglo Irish Bank, Seán FitzPatrick, has been acquitted on all charges against him at the Circuit Criminal Court.

The spectacular ending of the trial of the former chairman of Anglo Irish Bank, Seán FitzPatrick, has come about in part because documents relevant to the case were shredded by a solicitor investigating the alleged offences.

The extraordinary shredding of documents led to a collapse of an earlier trial and contributed to the decision by the judge on Tuesday that he would direct the jury to acquit in this trial.

Kevin O’Connell, a legal adviser with the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement, took on a lead role in the investigation but, according to evidence he gave in the absence of the jury, shredded documents during a “panic attack” in his office in May 2015.

He informed the Director of Public Prosecutions as to what he had done, then sought psychiatric help. The first trial of FitzPatrick, then ongoing, collapsed as a result.

The collapse of one of the most significant white-collar crime cases to come before the courts in the wake of the Irish banking crisis is a huge blow to the reputation of the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement (ODCE), the agency established to investigate corporate crime. It led the inquiry. It is also a blow to the reputation of An Garda Síochána and the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions.

FitzPatrick (68), of Whitshed Road, Greystones, Co Wicklow, had pleaded not guilty to 27 charges under the Companies Acts relating to giving false or misleading information to Anglo’s auditors Ernst & Young (now EY).

In announcing his decision on Tuesday, Judge John Aylmer referred to O’Connell’s evidence that the documents he shredded were notes of phone conversations similar to other such notes he had discovered to the DPP.

However, the judge said the fact was we didn’t know what was in them and there must be a doubt about why they were singled out.

O’Connell had given evidence to the first trial of FitzPatrick, over six days, in the absence of the jury, as it was becoming evident that the investigation had been mishandled in relation to the taking of statements from two key witnesses.

In evidence heard by the court in the absence of the jury it emerged that O’Connell feared last year, at the time of the shredding, that he was going to be “hung out to dry” if the case collapsed.

Garda correspondence.

More recently, internal Garda correspondence, released to the trial by Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan, showed senior Garda officers being advised in the wake of the shredding that no members of the force were connected with the destruction of documents or with the taking of witness statements from two key witnesses.

O’Connell, in the witness box in the absence of the jury, said he was “taken aback” by the latter claim, given that Garda colleagues in the ODCE had been involved in the inquiry alongside him and had been copied in email correspondence and had attended meetings concerned with the taking of statements from the two witnesses.

Defence counsel Bernard Condon SC commented to the court that the Garda were “attempting to find a bus to put him [O’Connell] under.” An assistant Garda commissioner, the correspondence revealed, had been warned that the case might produce “adverse publicity” for the force.

Extended legal argument heard in the absence of the jury outlined how the inquiry was handled as if it was a civil case before the High Court rather than a criminal case. The process of taking witness statements from two key witnesses, the court heard, was “lawyer led”.

The two key witnesses, EY partners Kieran Kelly and Vincent Bergin, were “coached” and their witness statements contaminated, with some of the wording in both statements having been actually written by the former Director of Corporate Enforcement, Paul Appleby, the court was told. The interference included the suggested changing of key phrases in the statements. The taking of statements occurred as if they were affidavits being prepared for a civil case.

The two key witnesses, both former auditors of Anglo’s books, signed witness statements that were the product of a long engagement involving a number of individuals in the ODCE, as well as lawyers in EY and in the law firm that acts for EY, A&L Goodbody.

It was “statement by committee”, Condon told the judge, during the extended legal argument.

Potential conflict?

There was also an issue of potential conflict. Some of the lawyers acting for EY in the drafting of the statements were also acting for EY in a €50 million damages claim from the Irish Bank Resolution Corporation(IBRC). The State-owned body’s case includes matters relevant to the FitzPatrick trial.

The lawyers were also acting for EY in relation to an inquiry by the firm’s regulatory body, the Chartered Accountants Regulatory Board (Carb), which is investigating the adequacy of the audit work done by EY on Anglo’s books. Condon said the Carb inquiry could potentially lead to EY losing its licence.

One of the complaints from FitzPatrick’s defence team was that the ODCE did not seek out information that went to their client’s potential innocence as well as his potential guilt, a point that has now been accepted by the judge. The ODCE had been trying to “build” a case, the judge said.

FitzPatrick walks away an innocent man. It is the second time he has faced charges that came to trial and from which he has emerged with his innocence intact. In 2014 a jury found him innocent of charges of providing unlawful financial assistance to 10 individuals known as the Maple 10, in July 2008, so that they could buy shares in Anglo Irish Bank.

During that trial, Judge Martin Nolan directed that FitzPatrick be found not guilty of other charges relating to loans issued to members of the family of the businessman Seán Quinn.

The charges on which FitzPatrick is now to be acquitted related to the treatment of loans from the bank which were transferred each year end to the Irish Nationwide Building Society, before being transferred back to the bank. This meant they did not have to be disclosed in Anglo’s end of year accounts.

The so-called “warehousing” of the loans led to FitzPatrick’s resignation when it emerged in December 2008, and contributed to the loss in confidence in the bank that in turn led to it being nationalised in January 2009. The ODCE began investigating the matter in December 2008.

O’Connell said the documents he shredded had been overlooked when disclosure was being made to the FitzPatrick defence, and when he discovered them on a tray on the floor of his office, he realised he was going to have to go back to the witness box and give more evidence. After he informed the State legal team of what he had done, he sought psychiatric help.

Bizarre and dramatic development.

The bizarre and dramatic development turned a crisis caused by how the investigation had been conducted, into a full-blown catastrophe. Although O’Connell said he wasn’t sure what the documents he shredded were, he said he believed they were notes taken in meetings or during phone calls associated with the case. Complaints about disclosure had featured during his giving of evidence in 2015, and when he returned to the office and found more documents that had not been disclosed, he panicked, he said.

In 2015 he referred to eight or nine pages of notes, while this year he said he thought about three or four pages may have been involved. He refused to let the court have access to reports concerning his mental health.

O’Connell had played a key role in gathering evidence against FitzPatrick even though he had never played a role in investigating an indictable offence before.

The court heard that, as problems with the investigation emerged during the trial, the new Director of Corporate Enforcement, Ian Drennan, who had taken over from Appleby in August 2012, informed his staff that only Garda officers were to henceforth take witness statements.

He also said that when the details of what had happened in the FitzPatrick case emerged, it was likely that the agency would suffer “very severe reputational damage” as well as “parliamentary scrutiny”.

All of the interviews with the EY partners occurred in the presence of the solicitors from A&L Goodbody, including partner Liam Kennedy, with whom O’Connell was in regular contact.

There were up to 40 versions of the Kelly and Bergin statements in the huge discovery of documents released to the defence last year. It was after the multiple drafts were received that the defence learned of the flaws it argued existed in relation to how the investigation had been conducted.

Some of the drafts had been going “back and forth” between the ODCE and A&L Goodbody, some within the ODCE, and some within A&L Goodbody. It was “statement by committee”, Condon said. “Conspicuous by their absence were the guards.” He said standards in investigating a suspected crime could not be lowered just because it was an alleged white-collar crime. “Everyone goes to the same prison.”

The FG leadership battle & the candidates Simon Coveney v Leo Varadkar

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Simon CoveneyPersonal: Aged 44. Son of former Fine Gael TD and minister Hugh Coveney, who died in an accident in 1998.

As well as being a politician, his father was a successful surveyor and wealthy farmer. Married to Ruth Furney, an IDA executive in Cork. They have three young daughters.

Education: Clongowes Wood College. UCC, Gurteen Agricultural College, Tipperary, Royal Agriculture College, Gloucestershire, England. Holds a BSc in agriculture and land management.

Political: First elected a Fine Gael TD for Cork South Central in 1998 by-election caused by his father’s death. Was an MEP 2000-2007 but gave up Euro seat for Dáil politics. Appointed agriculture minister in 2011, took on additional defence portfolio in 2014. Housing Minister since May 2016.

Career trajectory: Began in the shadow of his late father’s reputation and later for a time dubbed “light weight”. But seen as a potential Fine Gael leader for almost a decade. Viewed as earnest and policy-driven – he has been cultivating personal support in recent years.

Strengths: Unfailingly polite, extremely hard-working and pays keen attention to policy details. A dealmaker, capable of standing his ground as well as compromising. Did heavy-lifting on Fine Gael-Fianna Fáil deal to underpin this Government.

Weaknesses: More focused on policy than people. Knockabout politics does not come naturally to him.

Lucky general? In his first job as agriculture minister in 2011, he presided over the only Irish sector doing well. Sided against Enda Kenny in 2010 ‘botched heave’ and still made cabinet.

Unlucky general? He landed the toughest Cabinet job in May 2016, leaving him a housing and homelessness crisis and the future of water charges. These just as he was trying to become taoiseach.

To be expected: From Cork’s wealthy section of society, he sails and played rugby.

A surprise: Was expelled from the elite Clongowes Wood secondary boarding school for partying and drinking, much to the anger of his parents. Specialised in human rights as an MEP.

Soundbite winner: “Whatever ministry I have, whether it’s defence, whether it’s marine, whether it’s agriculture, I’ve tried to make as big a mark as I can in taking on some big challenges and trying to overcome them. I’ve got some very big challenges at the moment to take on and overcome, and there’s a lot of people relying on me to do it,” in December 2016 on facing up to challenge of being the Housing Minister.

Soundbite gaffe: On March 1, 2016, he “dropped the ball” by suggesting abolition of Irish Water could be part of Fine Gael-Fianna Fáil government-making talks. “We need to take on board within reason, what they are looking for,” he said on RTÉ.

Unique Selling Point: Total commitment to policy achievements in whatever job he takes on.

Politician, living or dead, he most admires: Aung San Suu Kyi.

Stated hobbies: Sailing, rugby, GAA and following all sports.

Coveney’s policies

TAXATION: He would change Fine Gael’s current stance on scrapping USC. Also wants to raise bands so workers don’t hit the 40pc rate at €33,800.

INFRASTRUCTURE: A long-term strategic infrastructure plan as part of ‘Ireland 2040’. Ring-fence up to €20bn for infrastructure, mostly focused on transport.

BREXIT: With his experience as an MEP and agriculture minister, says he is best-placed to represent Ireland in talks.

HOUSING: Sticking to his ‘Rebuilding Ireland’ plan. Has committed more than 20,000 new homes a year being built.

INDUSTRIAL RELATIONS: From a policy point of view, says he agrees with Varadkar.

ABORTION: The Citizens’ Assembly recommendations go “too far” but the current laws need to be changed to recognise crisis pregnancies.

EDUCATION: ‘Action Plan for Education’ and produce specific annual targets.

HEALTH: Also cites the Oireachtas committee as an important process and plans “to substantially reduce health inequalities in Ireland”.

UNITED IRELAND: Committed to immediately drafting a white paper on possible reunification.

Leo Varadkar

Personal: Aged 38 and a qualified medical doctor. His father, Ashok, is an Indian-born medical doctor and his mother, Miriam, a nurse originally from Co Waterford. His parents met while working in England. He has two sisters – Sophia is a doctor in the neurology department of Great Ormond Street Children’s Hospital in London, while Sonia is a nurse at the Coombe in Dublin. Lived most of his life in the prosperous west Dublin suburb of Castleknock. Is unmarried and in January 2015 became Ireland’s first openly gay government minister.

Education: The King’s Hospital, Dublin, and Trinity College Dublin.

Political: Schoolboy and student Fine Gael activist. Unsuccessfully contested 1999 local elections, elected to Fingal County Council in 2004. TD for Dublin West since 2007. Minister for transport and tourism 2011-2014; health 2014-2016; Social Protection 2016 to date.

Career trajectory: Has been talked about as a potential Fine Gael leader since his arrival at Leinster House in June 2007. One of the party’s young Turks, once dubbed “Tory Boy” in his youth – has been busy dumping the right-wing rhetoric and gravitating to the middle.

Strengths: Quick-thinking and dynamic. Does a refreshingly candid “honesty-in-dishonesty line” and usually gets away with it. Very hard-working.

Weaknesses: More style than substance. For all his talk, was a “manager rather than a doer” as transport, health and finally Social Protection Minister.

Lucky general? His two full winters as health minister, 2014/15 and 2015/16, were mild and did not have a full-blown “trolley crisis”. Sided against Enda Kenny in 2010 ‘botched heave’ and still made cabinet in 2011.

Unlucky general? As tourism and transport minister, his two junior ministers were Michael Ring and Alan Kelly, two of the Dáil’s toughest characters. Had fretful two years in health when he faced high expectations as a doctor.

To be expected: As a medical student in TCD, social life was all about Young Fine Gael.

A surprise: Has been busy brushing up on his Gaeilge – came to this week’s decisive Fine Gael meeting directly after sitting a civil service Irish exam.

Soundbite winner: “It’s not something that defines me. I’m not a half-Indian politician, or a doctor politician, or a gay politician for that matter. It’s just part of who I am, it doesn’t define me,” his summation as he announced he was gay in January 2015.

Best howler: “I really can’t wait to get the keys to one of those government jets. My bowels aren’t feeling the Mae West today.” An over-sharing blog, as an opposition TD in 2009, recounting a marathon journey home from Ulaanbaatar in Mongolia, involving long waits in Moscow and Heathrow.

Unique Selling Point: Can still claim to be “an outsider” carrying a certain air of mystery and intrigue.

Politician, living or dead, he most admires: Michael Collins.

Stated hobbies: Fitness, good food and wine, and good company.

Varadkar’s policies

TAXATION: Cut high marginal income tax rates.Tax equality for self-employed. Merge USC and PRSI.

INFRASTRUCTURE: Increase capital spending over 10 years, focusing on the Dublin Metro, the M20 between Cork and Limerick and motorway access to the west and north-west.

BREXIT: Five Brexit principles, including trying to keep Northern Ireland in the single market.

HOUSING: Scrap the ‘Help-To-Buy’ scheme if it is inflating prices, and spend on ‘Housing with Care’ for older people.

INDUSTRIAL RELATIONS: Essentially strikes will be banned after a Labour Court judgment has been made.

ABORTION: Would support access to a termination in cases of rape but not on demand.

EDUCATION: Increase the Back to School Clothing and Footwear Allowance. He will also provide subsidised school books/tablets to all children.

HEALTH: “The health service of the future needs to be patient centred and about better access and outcomes”.

UNITED IRELAND: Prepare that it might happen in our lifetime but won’t agitate for it.

Fine Gael parliamentary party endorsements for leader

The Fine Gael parliamentary party makes up 65pc of the total electorate.

That makes each of the 73 members’ votes worth 0.9% of the total ballot.

Of the remaining electorate, 230 party councillors account for 10%, while the remaining 25% is rank and file members.

Leo Varadkar
Simon Coveney
Total: 45
Total: 19
Ministers: 17
Ministers: 5
TDs: 16
TDs: 5
Senators: 11
Senators: 8
MEPs: 1
MEPs: 1
Richard Bruton -Minister
Simon Harris – Minister
Frances Fitzgerald – Minister
Damien English – Minister
Michael Ring – Minister
Dara Murphy – Minister
Eoghan Murphy – Minister
David Stanton – Minister
Sean Kyne – Minister
Marcella Corcoran Kennedy – Minister
Joe McHugh – Minister
Kate O’Connell – TD
Helen McEntee – Minister
Maria Bailey – TD
Charlie Flanagan – Minister
Sean Barrett TD
Paul Kehoe -Minister
Hildegard Naughton – TD
Patrick O’Donovan – Minister
Peter Fitzpatrick – TD
Regina Doherty – Minister
Tim Lombard – Senator
Mary Mitchell O’Connor – Minister
Jerry Buttimer – Senator
Paschal Donohoe – Minister
Paudie Coffey – Senator
Heather Humphreys – Minister
James Reilly – Senator
Pat Breen – Minister
Colm Burke – Senator
Catherine Byrne – Minister
John O’Mahony – Senator
Andrew Doyle – Minister
Paul Coghlan – Senator
John Paul Phelan – TD
Gabrielle McFadden – Senator
Noel Rock – TD
Deirdre Clune – MEP
Tony McLoughlin – TD
Alan Farrell – TD
Michael D’Arcy – TD
Tom Neville – TD
Josepha Madigan – TD
Pat Deering – TD
Jim Daly – TD
Brendan Griffin – TD
Ciaran Cannon – TD
Colm Brophy – TD
Peter Burke – TD
Fergus O’Dowd – TD
John Deasy – TD
Joe Carey – TD
Neale Richmond – Senator
Catherine Noone – Senator
Paddy Burke – Senator
Martin Conway – Senator
Michelle Mulherin – Senator
Maura Hopkins – Senator
Ray Butler – Senator
Frank Feighan – Senator
Maria Byrne – Senator
Joe O’Reilly – Senator
Kieran O’Donnell – Senator
Brian Hayes – MEP


Enda Kenny – Outgoing Party Leader *

Martin Heydon – Party Chairman *

Michael Noonan – Minister  Michael Creed – Minister
Bernard Durkan – TD Sean Kelly – MEP
Mairead McGuinness MEP  
* Outgoing leader Enda Kenny and party chairman Martin Heydon will not make an endorsement  

Irish unemployment hits nine-year low as full-time jobs up 84,000 in first quarter

Finance Minister Michael Noonan said full-time employment had increased by more than 84,000 in the first quarter

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Ireland’s unemployment figures has fallen to levels not seen since the recession and economic collapse hit the country in early 2008.

Official figures released by the Central Statistics Office (CSO) showed 33,200 fewer people out of work at the start of this year, compared with the same time last year.

The unemployment rate is now down to 6.4%, Finance Minister Michael Noonan said, with 148,800 people classed as out of work, the lowest number in nine years.

“The labour market has begun the year in a very positive manner and I welcome the very strong employment growth that was recorded in the first quarter,” Mr Noonan said.

“Employment gains of 68,600 (3.5%) clearly demonstrate that economic growth is generating significant dividends in the labour market. Indeed, it is noteworthy that full-time employment increased by over 84,000 in the first quarter and I particularly welcome this development.

“The policies that have been implemented by the Government continue to bear fruit. The objective in the months and years ahead is to enhance the resilience of the economy in order to protect these gains and generate more jobs in the future.”

A breakdown of the labour market figures recorded in the CSO’s Quarterly National Household Survey showed an 18.5% fall in the number of unemployed people in the year to the end of March.

It said that people who are classed as long- term unemployed after being out of work for a year or more now account for just over half the total number of jobless.

The CSO also said there are 2,191,400 people in the labour market.

As many as 460,000 may be exposed to unsafe radon levels in Ireland

Irish householders urged to test their homes?

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As many as 460,000 people in Ireland may be exposed to radon levels that are deemed to be unsafe, new research has found.

Radon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas present in all rocks and soils. When it surfaces in the open air, it is quickly diluted to harmless concentrations. However when it enters an enclosed space, such as a house, it can sometimes build up to high concentrations, leading to an potentially dangerous health risk.

Globally, radon is the second highest cause of lung cancer, coming after smoking. The gas is linked to around 250 cancer deaths in Ireland every year.

A research team led by geologists from Trinity College Dublin (TCD) has produced a new ‘risk map’ using indoor radon concentration measurements and relevant geological information.

They found that including more geological data, such as bedrock and glacial geology, provided a more detailed picture of the risks posed by radon.

According to this map, around 10% of Ireland’s population is exposed to radon levels that exceed the references safe level – that is around 460,000 people who may currently be at risk.

This new analysis divides the country into three risk categories – high, medium and low. This is based on the probability of having an indoor radon concentration level above the reference level of 200 becquerels per cubic metre.

The map shows that the probability of living in a home with a concentration above this is calculated to be 19% in high risk areas (around 265,000 people), 8% in medium risk areas (160,000) and 3% in low risk areas (35,000).

This map now needs to be validated using new annually available indoor radon data.

“EU member states need to translate European radiation protection legislation into national law, and this requires an accurate definition of radon-prone areas. Our research provides one example of how national-scale radon risk maps can be produced, which is especially relevant to countries developing their national radon programmes,” explained Quentin Crowley, assistant professor in isotopes and the environment at TCD’s School of Natural Sciences.

The researchers emphasised that according to the map, even some homes in the low risk category ‘will have elevated radon levels’.

“No model, no matter how sophisticated, can substitute for having indoor radon levels tested. For this reason we advise all householders to test their homes for radon and, if high levels are found, to have their houses fixed. Further information is available on radon.ie,” commented Barbara Rafferty of the Environmental Protection Agency.

Large study uncovers genes are linked to our intelligence

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Exactly what constitutes intelligence, and to what extent it is genetic, are some of the most controversial questions in science. But now a new study of nearly 80,000 people, published in Nature Genetics, has managed to identify a number of genes that seem to be involved in intelligence.

According to a dictionary definition, intelligence is “the ability to learn, understand or deal with new situations” or “the ability to apply knowledge to manipulate one’s environment or to think abstractly”.

This is obviously quite broad. Indeed, even animals display a number of different forms of intelligence, typically critical for survival. These range from reaching or gathering sources of food and escaping predators to the sharing of duties within a group (such as in ant communities). Elephants or monkeys also possess forms of empathy and care, which strengthen their relationships and chances to survive.

Human intelligence started out as “reactive”, enabling us to find solutions to the challenges of nature. But it later became “proactive”, so that we could use the resources of nature to develop preventive measures aimed at solving problems. Ultimately, what makes human intelligence different from that of other animals is our ability to shape the environment, for example through farming. This became possible as we developed communities and started delegating tasks on the basis of talents. When the acute problem of survival was controlled, we could dedicate our intelligence to the development of arts or other higher skills.

There are many factors that enable us to shape and nurture our intelligence – ranging from access to resources and information to skills acquired through experience and repetition. But, like with most human traits, there is also a genetic basis.

The experiment?

The method used to measure intelligence in the new study was the so-called “g-factor” – a measure of analytical intelligence. Although it might appear reductive to catalogue all types of intelligence through a single test, the g-factor is often used in scientific research as being among the most unbiased methods. The authors looked at such scores in 78,000 people of European descent to search for genetic factors and genes that potentially influence human intelligence.

They carried out a genome-wide association study (GWAS). This assesses connections between a trait and a multitude of DNA markers called single-nucleotide polymorphisms, or SNPs, which might determine an individual’s likelihood to develop a specific trait. The test enabled the researchers to identify 336 significant SNPs.

Generally, the vast majority of significant SNPs that result in this way fall in non-coding regions of the DNA. In other words, they indicate portions of the DNA that may regulate gene expression even though the actual regulated gene is unknown. This makes the SNPs from GWAS hard to interpret. So the authors then complemented their analysis with a so called genome-wide gene association analysis (or GWGAS), which calculates the effect of multiple SNPs within genes and can identify actual associated genes. They then combined both kinds of study to strengthen their confidence in naming the genes associated with intelligence.

This work led to isolating 52 candidate genes linked to intelligence. Although 12 of these had been previously associated with “intelligence”, the study needs to be replicated in future studies.

What do we gather?

The researchers discovered that the genes that were the strongest linked to intelligence are ones involved in pathways that play a part in the regulation of the nervous system’s development and apoptosis (a normal form of cell death that is needed in development). The most significant SNP was found within FOXO3, a gene involved in insulin signalling that might trigger apoptosis. The strongest associated gene was CSE1L, a gene involved in apoptosis and cell proliferation.

Does this all mean that intelligence in humans depends on the molecular mechanisms that support the development and preservation of the nervous system throughout an person’s lifespan? It’s possible.

And is it possible to explain intelligence through genetics? This paper suggests it is. Nevertheless, it might be warranted to consider that intelligence is a very complex trait and even if genetics did play a role, environmental factors such as education, healthy living, access to higher education, exposure to stimulating circumstances or environments might play an equally or even stronger role in nurturing and shaping intelligence.

It is also worth considering that the meaning of “intelligence” rather falls within a grey area. There might be different types of intelligence or even intelligence might be interpreted differently: in which category would for example a genius physicist – unable to remember their way home (Albert Einstein) – fall? Selective intelligence? Mozart nearly failed his admission tests to Philharmonic Academy in Bologna because his genius was too wide and innovative to be assessed by rigid tests. Is that another form of selective intelligence? And if so, what’s the genetic basis of this kind of intelligence?

Studies like this are extremely interesting and they do show we are starting to scratch the surface of what the biological basis of intelligence really is.

Europe was the birthplace of mankind, and not Africa, scientists now say?

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An artist’s reconstruction of Graecopithecus freybergi, left, with the jawbone and tooth found in Bulgaria and Greece.

The history of human evolution has been rewritten after scientists discovered that Europe was the birthplace of mankind, not Africa.

Currently, most experts believe that our human lineage split from apes around seven million years ago in central Africa, where hominids remained for the next five million years before venturing further afield.

But two fossils of an ape-like creature which had human-like teeth have been found in Bulgaria and Greece, dating to 7.2 million years ago.

The discovery of the creature, named Graecopithecus freybergi, and nicknameded ‘El Graeco’ by scientists, proves our ancestors were already starting to evolve in Europe 200,000 years before the earliest African hominid.

An international team of researchers say the findings entirely change the beginning of human history and place the last common ancestor of both chimpanzees and humans – the so-called Missing Link – in the Mediterranean region.

At that time climate change had turned Eastern Europe into an open savannah which forced apes to find new food sources, sparking a shift towards bipedalism, the researchers believe.

“This study changes the ideas related to the knowledge about the time and the place of the first steps of the humankind,” said Professor Nikolai Spassov from the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences.

“Graecopithecus is not an ape. He is a member of the tribe of hominins and the direct ancestor of homo.

“The food of the Graecopithecus was related to the rather dry and hard savannah vegetation, unlike that of the recent great apes which are living in forests.  Therefore, like humans, he has wide molars and thick enamel.

The species could be the first hominid ever to exist?

“To some extent this is a newly discovered missing link. But missing links will always exist , because evolution is infinite chain of subsequent forms. Probably  El Graeco’s face will resemble a great ape, with shorter canines.”

The team analysed the two known specimens of Graecopithecus freybergi: a lower jaw from Greece and an upper premolar tooth from Bulgaria.

Using computer tomography, they were able to visualise the internal structures of the fossils and show that the roots of premolars are widely fused.

“While great apes typically have two or three separate and diverging roots, the roots of Graecopithecus converge and are partially fused – a feature that is characteristic of modern humans, early humans and several pre-humans,”, said lead researcher Professor Madelaine Böhme of the University of Tübingen.

The lower jaw, has additional dental root features, suggesting that the species was a hominid.

The tooth of Graecopithecus. Image result for Europe was the birthplace of mankind, and not Africa, scientists now say?

The species was also found to be several hundred thousand years older than the oldest African hominid, Sahelanthropus tchadensis which was found in Chad.

“We were surprised by our results, as pre-humans were previously known only from sub-Saharan Africa,” said doctoral student Jochen Fuss, a Tübingen PhD student who conducted this part of the study.

Professor David Begun, a University of Toronto paleoanthropologist and co-author of this study, added: “This dating allows us to move the human-chimpanzee split into the Mediterranean area.”

During the period the Mediterranean Sea went through frequent periods of drying up completely, forming a land bridge between Europe and Africa and allowing apes and early hominids to pass between the continents.

The jawbone of Graecopithecus.  

The team believe that evolution of hominids may have been driven by dramatic environmental changes which sparked the formation of the North African Sahara more than seven million years ago and pushed species further North.

They found large amounts of Saharan sand in layers dating from the period, suggesting that it lay much further North than today.

Professor Böhme added: “Our findings may eventually change our ideas about the origin of humanity. I personally don’t think that the descendants of Graecopithecus die out, they may have spread to Africa later. The split of chimps and humans was a single event. Our data support the view that this split was happening in the eastern Mediterranean – not in Africa.

“If accepted, this theory will indeed alter the very beginning of human history.” However some experts were more skeptical about the findings.

Retired anthropologist and author Dr Peter Andrews, formerly at the Natural History Museum in London, said: “It is possible that the human lineage originated in Europe, but very substantial fossil evidence places the origin in Africa, including several partial skeletons and skulls.

“I would be hesitant about using a single character from an isolated fossil to set against the evidence from Africa.”


News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Monday 11th July 2016

HSE has taken over three residential care centres for 40 people with autism

It follows Hiqa inspections at care centres in Meath, Wexford and Kildare.


The HSE has taken over three residential care centres for people with autism after an Hiqa inspections found serious flaws in their management.

The centres had been under the control of the Irish Society for Autism (ISA) and have been inspected by health watchdog Hiqa during the past 18 months.

Prior to the HSE taking responsibility for these centres the ISA had been subject to increased monitoring activity, meetings with Hiqa and warning letters – with it made clear that changes needed to be made.

However, these measures did not result in a “sufficient improvement” and a decision was made to cancel the registration of the three centres.

What were the problems?

The three centres in question are Cluain Farm in Meath, Dunfirth Farm in Kildare and Sarshill House in Wexford.

Between the three a total of 47 residents are housed between the three centres, with the majority (34) situated at Dunfirth Farm.

Dunfirth Farm was inspected five times between January and November of 2015.

During the inspections poor outcomes for residents were found in the areas of:

  1. Risk relating to health and safety, risk management, social care needs, safeguarding and safety, governance and management [and] use of resources and workforce.
  2. “Poor managerial oversight and governance arrangements” were also said to be an issue.

At the unannounced inspection of Cluain Farm in Meath it was found that significant improvements that had previously been recommended had not been implemented.

At the centre it was found that there was inappropriate guidance for the use of chemical restraint and safeguarding measures to ensure that residents were protected and felt safe were inadequate.

At the centre in Wexford it was also found that Hiqa recommendations had not been implemented.

Areas of non-compliance at this centre included poor management of staffing resources, poor governance and staff not being adequately trained to meet the needs of the residents.

Here is a county by county Irish breakdown of the rise in house prices in the last three months


A nationwide supply shortage has fuelled a rise of over 2% in the price of the average house in the last three months, according to a national survey carried out by Real Estate Alliance.

The majority of counties in the country recorded price increases in the second quarter this year, the latest Real Estate Alliance Average House Price Survey has found.

The group claims it is the lack of supply of suitable properties in a scarce market that has caused these rises, exacerbated by the effect of would-be commuters moving ever further from Dublin to acquire affordable homes.

“We are seeing firms who are in business for 50 years who have never experienced such a low level of supply, and this is responsible for causing sharp increases in prices in some areas over the past three months,” said REA Chairman Michael O’Connor.

The average three bed semi nationally now costs €195,361, an increase of more than €4,000 (+2.18%) since the end of March. This is a rise of 4.49% against the same time last year.

  The REA Average House Price Survey concentrates on the sale price of Ireland’s typical stock home, the three-bed semi.

While prices in Dublin city grew by 1.4% to €363,333 since March, competition for scarce housing below the Central Bank’s €220,000 deposit limit in both the inner and outer commuter areas is fuelling an inflationary market.

Prices in commuter counties, Cork and Galway, have risen by €5,000 to €214,588 (+2.4%) while those in the rest of the country have increased by over €3,000 to €128,768 (+2.75%).

Three-bed semi prices in Kilkenny city rose by €20,000 or 12.5% in the past three months, a figure that is entirely driven by record low supply, according to Michael Boyd of REA Boyds.

“Our analysis of the Price Register tells us that there are 15 less units per month selling in the county than this time last year – and that this is the lowest level since these records began,” he said.

“We are finding that demand is strong, mainly from loan-approved returned emigrants or Eastern European buyers.

“We desperately need new building to start, especially as prices for quality stock are now well into viable levels for builders to commence.”

As the flight to another of the outer commuter counties continues, prices in Laois have risen by €10,000 (+8%) in the past three months.

Prices in Kildare (€242,500) have remained static in the four main towns, due to a low supply of suitable housing stock, combined with a relatively higher price to neighbouring counties.

In contrast, Meath has now broken the €200k barrier (€201,250) following a 3.21% growth in three months, as Dublin-based commuters move out to houses they can afford under the Central Bank’s deposit guidelines.

In Wicklow, prices in Blessington have risen from €240,000 to €265,000 in a three-month period, a rise of 10.42%, with agent REA Murphys advising that there is a bubble in the three-bed semi market.

Prices in the county as a whole have gone up by 4.44% to €235,000 over the past three months.

Louth continues to act as a microcosm of commuters travelling further in search of affordable homes with Dundalk enjoying a rise of 11.1% in three months (€150,000) while pricier homes in Drogheda (€203,000) have risen by just over the national average at 2.78%.

“There is no doubt that the major factors affecting the Irish property market at the moment are supply of housing, the Central Bank restrictions, the banks’ mortgage lending policies and high rents,” said REA Chairman Michael O’Connor.

“We have seen each of these influence the market to different degrees over the past 15 months.

“The Central Bank restrictions were brought in to calm a market bubble but we are now seeing the lack of supply very definitely fueling house price inflation on its own.

“We now need to address the roadblocks in the way of building new suitable family homes.

“We feel that the State ultimately needs to implement a 50% vat reduction on new homes, backed up by rebate schemes on local development charges on a nationwide basis.

“Nama need to accelerate sales of land on the open market as well as selling through loan sales.

“In conjunction, there is a need to fast track planning within the correct zoning for urban land bought within the next two years.”

In North County Dublin, the market has stagnated due to a lack of new builds while south County Dublin has grown by 2.19% to €350,000 and Dublin city only by 1.4% to €363,333.

“Where property is moving in Dublin it is due to supply fueling rises or investors looking to exit the market, even in spite of increasing rents,” said Mr O’Connor.

Plenty of fruit and veggies will make you happy. 

One key to happiness is in your fruit basket, says a new study.


The adage of “an apple a day” has now got new bite.

Everybody knows that eating fruits and vegetables is good for you in the long run as it reduces risks for cancer and heart attacks. But anew study found that munching produce boosts happiness even quicker. The associated feel-good factor kicks in within two years. Granted, that’s still not fast as other things will make you feel better, like, say, a bag of Doritos or a vodka and tonic.

But yes dive into that kale now for your health’s sake.

So urge researchers who followed 12,385 randomly selected subjects as they kept food diaries and had their psychological well-being monitored. The collaborative effort was by the University of Warwick, England, and the University of Queensland, Australia.

Subjects were observed in 2007, 2009 and 2013. Changes in their income, employment and personal factors were figured into findings. Happiness benefits were detected for each extra daily portion of fruit and vegetables — “tinned, frozen, dried and fresh,” per the study — up to eight portions per day. “The fruits and vegetables do not have to be prepared in any special way,” Warwick researcher Andrew Oswald told the Daily News. “However, French fries will not count.”

Many experts suggest eating 5-9 servings of fruits and vegetables on a daily basis. The more produce that was consumed, the bigger the feel-good increase.

Subjects who changed from eating almost no fruit and vegetables to munching eight portions a day experienced an increase in life satisfaction equivalent “to moving from unemployment to having a job.”

Veggies are a source of a “more immediate” feel-good boost.

“Eating fruit and vegetables apparently boosts our happiness far more quickly than it improves human health,” said Oswald.

“People’s motivation to eat healthy food is weakened by the fact that physical-health benefits, such as protecting against cancer, accrue decades later,” Oswald added. “Well-being improvements … are closer to immediate.”

Further study is needed to explain why eating fruits and veggies makes people feel good. A possible explanation is that fruits and veggies are rich in antioxidants, substances in the body that other research has linked with optimism.

“Perhaps our results will be more effective than traditional messages in convincing people to have a healthy diet,” said researcher Redzo Mujcic. “There is a psychological payoff now from fruit and vegetables, not just a lower health risk decades later.”

Good luck with that. Americans, at any rate, aren’t anywhere close to eating fruits and veggies in recommended numbers. And, again, French fries don’t count.

Increased cancer risk before and after diabetes diagnosis

Supports theory of shared risk factors


People with diabetes may have an increased risk of developing cancer before and immediately after their diagnosis, a new study has found.

Previous research indicates that type 2 diabetes could increase the risk of developing a number of types of cancer, with the highest risk appearing to be soon after a diabetes diagnosis.

Canadian researchers decided to investigate this further. They looked at the incidence of cancer in over one million adults during different time points. They found that those with diabetes were 1.23 times – that is 123% – more likely to have been diagnosed with cancer during the 10 years before their diabetes diagnosis compared to people without diabetes.

“This supports existing hypotheses that shared risk factors may be contributing to both cancer and diabetes diagnoses,” commented Dr Iliana Lega of the University of Toronto.

The study also found that the incidence of cancer was much higher among people with diabetes in the first three months after their diabetes diagnosis. However this increased risk did not appear to extend past three months.

“This may in part be explained by increased healthcare visits and screening tests following a diagnosis of diabetes,” Dr Lega noted.

She warned that the increasing incidence of diabetes may lead to more cases of cancer as well.

“There is excellent evidence that diabetes can be prevented and that metabolic changes leading to diabetes can be reversed with lifestyle changes. Similarly, diet and exercise interventions have also been shown to reduce cancer risk and improve cancer outcomes in the general population.

“Our findings are important because they underscore the need for further research that examines the impact of exercise and healthy diet on cancer risk specifically in patients with, or at risk for, diabetes,” she commented.

You can now charge your phone just by going for the wee wee’s “that’s if you fancy it”


A miniature fuel cell costing no more than £2 which can generate electricity from a single visit to the toilet has recharged a smartphone for the first time.

Using “pee power”, scientists have been able to provide three hours of phone calls for every six hours of charge time – all from 600ml of urine.

The microbial fuel cell (MFC) technology provides enormous potential to enable people to stay connected in areas that are off grid using urine.

The world first has been developed at the University of the West of England in Bristol by Professor Ioannis Ieropoulos and his team.

Prof Ieropoulos said: “We are excited to announce several global firsts – this development was possible by employing a new design of microbial fuel cells that allowed scaling up without power density losses.

“Although it was demonstrated in the past that a basic mobile phone could be charged by microbial fuel cells, the present study goes beyond this to show how, simply using urine, a microbial fuel cell system successfully charges a modern-day smartphone.”

Several energy-harvesting systems have been tested and results have demonstrated that the charging circuitry of commercially available phones may consume up to 38% of energy on top of the battery capacity.

Each of the fuel cells costs between £1 and £2 and works by using natural biological processes of “electric” bacteria to turn urine into electricity.

Urine passes through the microbial fuel cell for this reaction to happen, with the bacteria then generating electricity.

This can be stored or used to directly power electrical devices.

The fuel cell measures just one inch square in size and uses a carbon catalyst at the cathode which is derived from glucose and ovalbumin, a protein found in egg white.

This catalyst is a renewable and much cheaper alternative to platinum, which is commonly used in other microbial fuel cells.

Monkeys have long been using tools for almost 700 years,

Archaeologists now discover


Brazilian capuchins have been using stone tools to crack open cashew nuts on a sandstone ‘anvil’ (pictured above) for at least 700 years, and the use of tools was once seen as a key dividing line between humans and the rest of the animal kingdom.

But new research has found it’s actually so easy that a monkey can do it, as the saying goes.

Archaeologists have discovered capuchin monkeys in Brazil have been using stone hammers and anvils to break open cashew nuts for at least 700 years.

And they suggested that humans might have discovered that the nuts were good to eat after stumbling across the site of the monkeys’ “cashew-processing industry”.

But the capuchins appear to be hidebound traditionalists, always opening the nuts in the same way, rather than attempting to invent a better way of doing it.

Dr Michael Haslam, lead author of a paper about the research in the journal Current Biology, said: “We have new evidence that suggests monkeys and other primates out of Africa were also using tools for hundreds, possibly thousands of years.

“This is an exciting, unexplored area of scientific study that may even tell us about the possible influence of monkeys’ tool use on human behaviour.

“For example, cashew nuts are native to this area of Brazil, and it is possible that the first humans to arrive here learned about this unknown food through watching the monkeys and their primate cashew-processing industry.”

The monkeys use hard quartzite stones as hammers and flat sandstones as anvils when breaking open the nuts.

And they also tend to do this in the same places – usually close to the trees that produce them – partly because the right kinds of stones are already laid out like “a set of cutlery in a restaurant”.

The archaeologists excavated one site down to a depth of 70cm, where they found a total of 69 stones with signs of damage caused by the repeated pounding and the residue of cashews.

A number of small pieces of charcoal found with the stones were then carbon dated to about 700 years ago.

The research suggests capuchins have not managed to build on the work of the original monkey inventor who pioneered the technique.

“In capuchin terms, 700 years is about 100 generations. The same thing in human terms would be about 2,500 years,” Dr Haslam said.

“They [the capuchins] tend to use the same types of materials in the same ways, unlike humans who have in the last 2,500 years have gone from obviously the Iron Age to where we are now.”

The populations of species that have showed significant promise as tool-makers – apart from humans – have all been reduced by our domination of the planet.

And Dr Haslam said this meant it was unlikely that any other animal would come to rival our success with tools.

“The potential for there to be a chimpanzee who would invent a microwave or a Boeing 747 really isn’t there anymore,” he said.

“We have to accept that we are the chimpanzee that did that and live with that.”

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Monday 29th February 2016. 

A BIG breakthrough in the Nama NI controversy

This follows a BBC Spotlight programme broadcast this evening.


The main players above in the Nama NI controversy.

There has been a significant breakthrough in the Nama NI controversy.

The BBC Spotlight programme broadcast this evening has shown businessman Frank Cushnahan claiming that he was due to be paid a fixer fee in relation to a deal involving the Irish bad bank.

During the course of the programme this was shown as part of a covert recording.

Cushnahan has previously denied that he was due to receive money for his role in any deal.

Nama’s entire loan portfolio was sold to the Cerberus investment fund in 2014.

After its inception in 2009, Nama had controlled a huge property book in Northern Ireland, and had set up a committee in the region to handle it.

According to the BBC, Cushnahan – who had been appointed to that committee by the DUP which began negotiations with US investment fund Pimco about the possibility of buying the entire portfolio.

He did this without Nama’s knowledge at the time.

During BBC Spotlight’s secret recording Cushnahan is heard talking about work he did with a Belfast solicitor and stating the importance of his role, and that it was deliberately hidden because of objection from Nama.

Previously, independent TD Mick Wallace has submitted questions to Nama asking whether or not Frank Cushnahan had ever met with US investment fund personnel.

In a statement issued to the BBC Spotlight programme, property developer John Miskelly said that he had reported financial misconduct to the US Securities and Exchange Commission in relation to the Project Eagle sale.

He also said he was aware of a number of other incidents of financial misconduct.

Irish first-time buyers flee the property as market as figures show

Mortgage approvals to new entrants reveal 23% slump


The Royal Canal Park, Dublin 15, (Left picture) where three- and four-bedroom homes are on sale from € 315,000. Latest figures from the BPFI show that mortgage approvals to first-time buyers slumped by 23% in the year to January 2016.

Mortgage approvals plummeted in the three months to January 2016, as first-time buyers either fled the market or postponed their mortgage approval application in the wake of the new lending regulations from the Central Bank.

On a year-on-year basis, the number of mortgages approved to January 2016 plummeted by 15%, according to latest figures from the Banking & Payments Federation Ireland (BPFI), while the value of mortgage approvals slid by 13.6%.

First-time buyers

The decline in mortgage approvals was most marked for first time buyers (FTB) however, with mortgage approvals down by 23.1% on a number basis, to 1,067, and by 12.4% (€190m) on a value basis. These are the lowest level of approvals since the series began in September 2014, although FTBs still accounted for about 50 per cent of all mortgage approvals.

While the end of the year is traditionally a quiet time for the housing market, and the last quarter of 2014 was particularly strong ahead of the new lending rules, the figures nonetheless show a marked decrease.

Keith Lowe, chief executive of DNG, said that the figures “surprised” him.

“On the ground we’re not experience any drop off, especially on the new homes front,” he said. Indeed the estate agent is set to launch Dodderbrook, a scheme of 3-4 bed semi-detached houses at Ballycullen this Saturday, and Mr Lowe says that 300 people have already registered their interest in the scheme.

“Anecdotally it just doesn’t seem to make sense,” he added.

Central Bank rules

Investec analysts John Cronin and Cian Harty said that the decline in mortgage approvals is related to the dampening in demand for new mortgage loans in response to the Central Bank of Ireland’s (CBI’s) macroprudential regulations. However, they added that they expect the effects of these regulations “will bed down and normalise over the course of the year”.

The rules, which were introduced in February 2015, restrict loan to income multiple to 3.5 times income, and loan to value to 80 per cent, although exceptions up to a certain limit are allowed.

Rachel Doyle, chief operations officer with broker group PIBA, said that the figures show just how difficult the market has become for first-time buyers.

“The fact is home ownership is now beyond the reach of many potential first-time buyers who are being forced into a very tight and increasingly expensive rental market,” she said, adding that the “over-zealous and ill-timed” Central Bank rules have severely impacted both the first-time-buyer and the trader-up segments of the market.

“The Central Bank should reduce the 20 per cent deposit requirement to 10 per cent with the maximum loan amount being increased from 3.5 to 4.5 times income,” she urged.

However, one aspect of the rules which may be hitting mortgage approvals is the room for exceptions. Under the rules, banks can allow a certain proportion of their mortgage books exceed the aforementioned limits. As these are typically run on an annual or quarterly basis, banks effectively ran out of these exceptions by year-end. This may have led some putative homeowners to postpone their mortgage approval – and the chance to get a bigger loan – until the new year, causing the slump in the figures.

Switchers on the move

In comparison, switchers are on the rise however, with the figures showing that there was a significant increase in both re-mortgage and top-up mortgage approvals. More than 400 homeowners opted to switch mortgages in the three months, at a value of €98 million, most likely in order to avail of lower rates. This represented a year-on-year volume increase of 105.1 per cent.

Even more homeowners (about 450) opted to top up their mortgage in the three months, at a total value of €34 million, giving rise to a 12.7 per cent year-on-year increase in volume.

The drawdown figures?

Earlier this month figures published by the BPFI showed that 8,103 mortgage were drawn down in the fourth quarter, up 6.9 per cent year-on-year. The value of the mortgages drawndown rose by 8.2% to € 1.45 billion. One could expect that the slowdown in approvals will feed into drawdown figures later in the year.

Dublin voted No.1 Airport in Europe for passenger service

2015 was a record year


Celebrating the No. 1 spot for passenger service are in picture left (Left to to Right) Dublin Airport Terminal Services Officer Yanina Khizhinskaya with Dublin Airport Managing Director, Vincent Harrison and Terminal Services Officer, Niall Feiritear.

Dublin Airport has topped a survey of its peers, placing first for customer service among airports of its size in Europe.

The survey, conducted by Airports Council International (ACI), saw the airport beat off 14 peers handling 15-25 million passengers a year.

Dublin also tied for second place in the Best Airport by Region in Europe handling over two million passengers a year, alongside Zurich, Prague and Malta.

The results marks huge progress for the airport, which just a few short years ago was rock bottom in a similar ACI survey.

“Since then we were determined to improve our customers’ experience of the airport and we have done that every year to get to this top spot,” commented its Managing Director, Vincent Harrison.

The 2015 results, based on in-depth surveys of passengers passing through airports, focus on improvements in customer service.

“Dublin Airport’s number one ranking in Europe demonstrates its professionalism, commitment and success in delivering that high level of customer service,” said Angela Gittens, Director General of ACI World.

The country’s main airport shattered its previous record by over 15pc to record 25 million passengers in 2015.

The addition of 23 new routes and extra capacity on almost 40 existing services saw it become the 18th busiest airport in Europe last year.

This year is likely to be even busier, with several new routes on the way and daa examining its options for a second runway.

Bookie Paddy Power “encouraged a gambler to visit more” until he lost his home, jobs and family’

Bookmaker also failed to stop its fixed-odds betting machines being used to launder the proceeds of crime, says Gambling Commission report.


A senior employee advised that ‘steps should be taken to try to increase Customer A’s visits and time spent in the gambling premises’.

Bookmaker Paddy Power encouraged a problem gambler to keep betting until he lost five jobs, his home and access to his children, according to a report by the Gambling Commission.

The company also failed to perform sufficient checks to ensure customers were not using its betting machines to launder the proceeds of crime. The betting regulator said Paddy Power would make a voluntary payment of £280,000 to a “socially responsible” cause following its findings.

Paddy Power will also review procedures designed to prevent money laundering and problem gambling and agree to share details of its own failings with the rest of the industry. But politicians and campaigners called for a review of the industry following the report, as they warned of an out of control gambling epidemic in the UK.

In one case, Paddy Power admitted that senior staff encouraged a man with a gambling problem to keep betting despite warnings by more junior employees.

The man, referred to only as Customer A, was a frequent user of fixed odds betting terminals (FOBTs), which have been referred to as the “crack cocaine” of gambling. The machines allow customers to bet up to £100 every 20 seconds on games such as roulette and blackjack, for which the odds are fixed.

In May 2014, Paddy Power staff became aware that Customer A was working five separate jobs to fund his gambling and “had no money”, the Gambling Commission said. Although he claimed to be comfortable with his level of gambling, shop staff passed their concerns up the chain to senior staff, who advised monitoring him.

Later that month, the shop manager informed a more senior member of staff that Customer A would be visiting the shop less frequently. The senior employee responded by advising that “steps should be taken to try to increase Customer A’s visits and time spent in the gambling premises”.

“This was grossly at odds with the licensing objective of preventing vulnerable people from being exploited by gambling,” said the Gambling Commission.

The shop manager “recorded some discomfort” about the senior employee’s advice, according to the commission, and staff later noticed that the customer was “spending heavily and […] looked unwell and as if he had not slept for a while”. He was only advised to seek help for gambling addiction in August 2014, when a staff member met him on the street and learned that he had lost all of his jobs, was homeless and had lost access to his children.

Paddy Power has posted a record annual pre-tax profit of €167m (£130m) and the £9bn business is set to enter the FTSE 100 index of Britain’s biggest listed companies this week after increasing its size by merging with rival Betfair. The company said: “The historical failings outlined in this report were clearly unacceptable. Paddy Power has since significantly strengthened its internal procedures and staff have been retrained to ensure these procedures are implemented effectively. Paddy Power Betfair takes its responsibilities extremely seriously and we have cooperated fully with the Gambling Commission at every stage of this process.”

But Labour MP Caroline Harris said the case was an example of a “national problem facing society” adding: “This case highlights how sections of the gambling industry appear to be virtually out of control.”

The Campaign for Fairer Gambling (CFG), said the case was evidence that some senior staff in the industry were not serious about reducing problem gambling.

“It’s happening again and again and it’s not operational staff, they’re the ones reporting it,” said spokesman Matt Zarb-Cousin. “It’s the guys at the top overriding these concerns for commercial reasons. They’re just turning a blind eye to this.”

He added that the government should launch a review into its decision to reject calls for maximum stakes on FOBTs to be dramatically reduced. The Campaign for Fairer Gambling has called for the maximum stake be cut from £100 to £2, but the government rejected the suggestion in July 2015.

The Gambling Commission also detailed two cases in which Paddy Power failed to apply money laundering controls designed to stop people using betting terminals to conceal the proceeds of crime. Criminals can use games such as roulette to launder money at a small cost, gambling experts said. For instance, someone with £100 in cash could place £48 on black, £48 on red and £2 on green, or 0. The maximum they could lose would be £4, at which point they could ask a bookmaker to put the remaining £96 on their debit card.

The money would then appear as a legitimate payment from a bookmaker, hiding the fact that it could have been cash from a criminal enterprise. The Gambling Commission said that in August 2014, a shop manager suspected that Customer B, a longstanding user of Paddy Power shops, was using gambling facilities to launder Scottish bank notes.

The manager related their suspicions to more senior members of staff on four occasions over six months. But senior staff “repeatedly overruled” the shop manager, saying that as the notes were British currency and were not stained or counterfeit, it was unlikely that the money was being laundered.

None of the suspicions were reported to the company’s money laundering reporting officer. Paddy Power only barred the customer after police raised fears that Scottish banknotes that were the proceeds of crime were being laundered in London.

Subsequent checks revealed the customer could not validate ownership of a business she claimed to belong to her. The company initially told the Gambling Commission it had followed its money laundering policy but later admitted it had not dealt with its staff members’ suspicions properly.

In a separate incident, police warned Paddy Power that Mark Cooney, who had pleaded guilty to stealing more than £250,000 from two banks where he worked, was a frequent customer of the bookmaker. Paddy Power “made no direct inquires” about how Cooney, who was eventually sentenced to 28 months in prison, had obtained the funds he used for gambling.



A new video shows how the human face has evolved over six million years, compressing the full history of human evolution into 68 seconds.

The author of the video, John Gurche, describes himself as a “paleoartist” and has made his name producing realistic reconstructions of long-dead creatures based on fossil evidence. The new video comes as precursor to his latest book titled Shaping Humanity: How Science, Art, and Imagination Help Us Understand Our Origins.

Gurche, who studied Anthropology and Paleontology at the University of Kansas is currently the artist in residence at the Museum of the Earth in Ithaca, New York. He unveiled a bust of the recently discovered Homo naledi in September.

The recreation of Homo naledi by paleoartist John Gurche.

Gurche explained his work in a recent profile in National Geographic. For this project, Gurche traveled to the cave in South Africa where scientists discovered Homo naledi, the oldest ancestors to modern homo sapiens.

He spent weeks measuring, photographing, drawing and making casts of the skulls, before heading back to his New York studio, where he spent four-and-a-half months building up muscle and facial features using clay.

“I had such wonder and awe for this phenomenon of humans evolving, and I couldn’t really find a place for that in the scientific work,” he told the magazine, adding that he instead found it in art.

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Thursday 25th February 2016

Why it pays to vote all the way down the ballot paper

Patrick Smyth on how our unpredictable STV system works and why all preferences should be used


We have the Prstv system in Ireland. A complex system where the voter has more influence over candidates than almost any other country in Europe. But how exactly does it work?

We were discussing a particularly obnoxious candidate. Call him “Murphy”.

My wife assured us that her’s was the best approach – she would use her usual method , casting Murphy as her last preference, No. 15 on a 15-candidate ballot paper, and working her way up from the bottom.

Our friend demurred. He would not dream of putting any preference beside Murphy’s name, however lowly, for fear that his vote would somehow creep, transfer by transfer, eventually into the latter’s pile and assist his election.

Though our friend was difficult to persuade, the trust is that my wife is right: anything higher than a 15, and particularly a failure to use all his preferences, could theoretically help Murphy, however slightly.

I will return to why that should be. But the message is crucial: under our almost unique voting system, the Single Transferable Vote (STV) – Malta, the Australian Senate, and the Northern Ireland Assembly share it – it pays to vote all the way down the list to maximise the effectiveness of one’s ballot forand against individual candidates.

It’s as simple as 1,2,3

STV has the key virtue of being simple to use as a voter, as simple as 1,2,3, although counting is another matter. And reading the entrails of the results involves yet other levels of complexity and sublety for political operators and psephologists. When results are dug-down-into, they show patterns of party and regional differences, of local disputes, of generational change, of ideological sympathies and alliances.

As a voting system, STV inspires peculiar devotion – twice the politicians tried unsuccessfully to abolish it – and not least because of the extended horse-race character of the counts whose compulsive theatricality more than any technical objections did for automated voting.

Its feature of allowing voters themselves to rank candidates within the same party places a particular emphasis on the individual and encourages intra-party rivalry, parochial ‘favour’ politics, and perhaps even the proliferation of independents and small parties that we are seeing today.

To read the entrails it is necessary first to understand the ‘quota’, the number of votes in any constituency necessary for one person to be elected or, to put it another way, the number of votes which, multiplied by the seats to be filled, would allow only that number of seats to be filled.

In a three-seater where 100 people vote, four people can achieve 25 votes each – (25 x 4 = 100) – whereas only three can achieve 26 votes each – (26+ 26+26+22 = 100).

This produces a formula for the quota that applies to any number of seats: Quota = (100/3+1 ) +1 =26 Or = Total Valid Vote/ (Seats+1) +1

Quotas for three-seat, four-seat and five-seat constituencies work out in percentage terms at 26, 21, and 17 per cent respectively.

To analyse results at national level, or in a constituency after the first count, a rough rule of thumb that will provide a prediction of the eventual outcome is to tally the number of quotas or parts of quotas that each party achieves and to add to them an assessment of how much they can expect to pick up in transfers from parties or individuals who will be eliminated.

But transfer rates are incredibly difficult to predict – particulary so in this election – and at national level resulting predictions from percentage shares of vote have become increasingly impossible. In not a single constituency is the last seat, in many cases even the last two seats, predictable.

Far from proportional

Known to one and all as “proportional representation”, in truth the STV is far from that. As David Farrell and Richard Katz point out in a recent academic article, modern STV elections are only “reasonably proportional” in allocating seats in terms of parties’ share of the poll at local and national level . “In a technical sense it is a misnomer to identify STV as a proportional system at all.”

Parties can work to improve the efficiency of their vote by maximising the rate at which their candidates and allies transfer between them. A formal coalition deal may help – Labour, for example, delivered 71 per cent of its transferred votes to Fine Gael in 1973, as opposed to only 32 per cent in 1969.

And parties can also help that process by spreading their first preference votes between their candidates to minimise the extent to which they are transferred as reduced surpluses rather than as eliminations. In a system which encourages internal party competition this is by no means easy. (Surpluses arise when a candidate goes over a quota – his/her spare votes are redistributed at a reduced level, while the transfers from eliminated candidates are whole votes).

Fine Gael won a 10 per cent seat bonus at the last general election – in other words ten per cent more seats than their vote warranted in percentage terms. This time round, if anything, the result is likely to stray even further from the strictly proportional.

Constituency seats

For one thing, there are more three-seaters and four-seaters – the larger the number of seats in a constituency the more proportional the result is likely to be.

For another, the poll findings of huge support for independents and the smaller parties – more than 40 per cent in Dublin in the latest Irish TimesIpsosMRBI poll – would seem to reflect a somewhat disengaged voter attitude to candidates, particularly to those from the main parties. That suggests a likely higher than normal reluctance to vote down through the ballot paper once initial preferences are recorded.

Individually, it is true, failing to vote right down through the list has only a marginal effect. But if this sin of omission is repeated on a widespread basis by fellow voters it can actually assist a candidate who you would prefer to see defeated by lowering the effective quota, and making it easier for him/her to reach it. As an election proceeds and the number of non-transferable votes accumulates, the number required to be elected – the effective quota – falls.

In an election in which there is a strong non-transferable trend, this marginal trend can become very pronounced and results become very unpredictable.

As my wife would insist – “vote all the way through the list”.

EC ranks Ireland 8th in 28 countries for digital skills, fixed broadband costs

European Commission study places Ireland in 8th out of 28 states for digital economy


Ireland is ranked in 22nd place out of 28 countries for digital skills

Ireland lags far behind most other EU member states when it comes to digital skills, according to a new European Commission survey which calls for measures to address the issue.

The latest Digital Economy and Society Index (DESI), which was published on Thursday, ranks Ireland 8th out of 28 Member States. This places the country in the ‘lagging ahead’ category, meaning it performs slightly above theEuropean Union average, but has improved at a slower rate than the EU as a whole.

Countries in the lead ‘running ahead’ category are Austria, Estonia, Germany, Malta, the Netherlands and Portugal.

The study, which measures the progress of EU member states towards a digital economy and society, looks at more than 30 indicators across five broad areas: connectivity; human capital/digital skills; use of internet; integration of digital technology; and digital public services.

According to the latest index, Ireland performs particularly badly when it comes to digital skills. Just 44% of the population is deemed to have sufficient skills to operate effectively on-line, compared to 55% of the EU average. The report also says more progress is needed to boost the number of skilled ICT professionals in the economy as well as the integration of some digital technologies by enterprises.

  • Google to train two million Europeans in digital skills

Broadband access?

The study finds some improvement with next-generation access and take-up of fast broadband having jumped and use of internet services such as online banking and social networking sites also rising.

In terms of connectivity, Ireland’s performance has risen from 16th place to 13th since last year. The index notes that while 96% of households are now covered by fixed broadband, this is still somewhat below the EU average. Moreover, fixed broadband costs are still almost double the EU average, unchanged since last year.

Next-generation access has grown from 71% of households in 2014 to 80% last year the survey finds, while subscriptions to fast broadband services increasing from 45% to 51%.

Ireland has fallen two places in the ‘human capital’ category and now ranks 10th among EU countries, due largely to the country’s poor performance in digital skills, where it is ranked in 22nd place out of 28 countries.

The survey also notes that Ireland is lacking skilled ICT professionals despite the fact that the number of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) graduates is above the EU average and that the proportion of IT specialists in total employment is relatively high.

In terms of internet usage, Ireland is ranked 14th, up one place compared to last year with use of news, social networking and banking services having risen since 2015. According to the index, the most popular online activities among Irish internet users is video-on-demand (VoD).

Ireland comes in top spot for integration of digital technology in the EU, up from 3rd place in 2015. However, the report says businesses could better exploit the opportunities offered by electronic information sharing and RFID.

Lastly, the country ranks 9th for digital public services, down one place on last year. While eGovernment use is significantly above the EU average, provision of pre-filled forms is relatively low. Ireland comes in 9th spot for online service completion and in 10th for open data, which is above the EU average but a decline versus 2015.

Ireland’s weekly earnings up by 1.4% to over €700 in fourth quarter

New figures show public sector employment rising 1.6% over the last year to 380,000


Average hourly earnings declined by 0.5% from €22.04 to €21.94 in the year to the fourth quarter but were up from €21.46 in the preceding three months

Average weekly earnings rose by 1.4% in the final three months of 2015, new figures from the Central Statistics Office (CSO) show.

Earnings increased from €702.61 to €712.75 over the year having fallen to €691.81 in the third quarter.

Increases in wages were recorded in 9 of the 13 sectors surveyed by CSO. The largest increases were in the administrative and support services category, up 9.9% to €549.76 from €500.42. The biggest decline in weekly earnings was in the financial, insurance and real estate category, down 4.3% from €1,076.12 to €1,029.58.

Over the last five years, average weekly earnings across individual sectors showed changes ranging between a 7% decline in arts, entertainment, recreation and other services activities to a 14.9% in admin and support services.

Hourly earnings

Average hourly earnings declined by 0.5% from €22.04 to €21.94 in the year to the fourth quarter but were up from €21.46 in the preceding three months. The largest increase was recorded in admin and support services, up 3.5% to €17.20 per hour. The largest decrease in hourly earnings was in the financial, insurance and real estate category, down 7.5% to €28.83 from €31.17.

Enterprises with less than 50 employees showed an annual decrease of 0.4% in average hourly earnings in the fourth quarter, from €18.30 to €18.23. Organisations with between 50 and 250 employees recorded an increase in average hourly earnings of 0.1%, from €19.86 to €19.87 over the same period. Results for enterprises with greater than 250 employees showed an decrease of 0.9%, from €25.38 to €25.14.

Over the year, private sector average hourly earnings fell 0.7% from €20.20 to €20.06, while public sector average earnings decreased by 0.1%, from €28.29 to €28.26.

The data show average weekly paid hours rose 1.9% cent over the year to 32.5 from 31.9 a year in the same quarter in 2014.

Average hourly total labour costs stood at €25.45 in the final three months of 2015, a fall of 0.4% or €25.55 for the fourth quarter a year earlier.

The job vacancy rate at the end of the year was 0.8%, an increase from 0.7% over the 12 months. The highest vacancy rate was recorded in the ICT sector, up of 2%. This was followed closely by the financial, insurance and real estate sector with a vacancy rate of 1.8%. The transportation and storage sector had the lowest vacancy rate at just 0.2%.

The rounded number of job vacancies at the end of the fourth quarter was 13,800, representing a rise of 2,900 versus the same three months a year earlier and a decrease of 2,600 on the vacancies reported at the end of the preceding quarter.

The estimated number of persons employed in the public sector rose by 1.6% over the year from 374,000 to 380,000. The largest increase in employees was recorded in the health sector, up 2.9% from 118,600 to 122,000. The largest decrease was recorded in defence, which was down 3.1%.

Over the last five years, overall employment numbers in the public sector declined by 24,100 or 6% from 404,100 to 380,000, the figures show.

Industrial disputes

Related figures show the number of days lost to industrial disputes fell by 25% last year.

Overall, there were 32,964 days lost to disputes during 2015, compared to 44,015 a year earlier.

Nine disputes involving 37,760 workers and nine firms were recorded in the 12 months, with three disputes in the education sector accounting for 73% of the days lost in 2015. A year earlier there were 11 disputes reported involving 31,665 employees.

During the final three months of the year there were two disputes in progress involving 72 workers.

‘No cuts’ to hours at Sligo Hospital emergency department

Saolta University Healthcare Group say’s?


Recommendations in a top-level report in relation to the Emergency Department (ED) at Sligo University Hospital did not include a possible reduction of opening hours, Saolta University Healthcare Group has stated.

A review of the emergency care units across the Saolta Group has now been completed.

The Group’s Executive Council, in collaboration with the local hospitals’ management and clinical teams and the HSE’s National Acute Hospitals senior management team, have considered the report’s recommendations, as has the Board of the Saolta Group.

Work is now under way by the Group’s Executive Council on developing plans for further consideration by the Saolta board. This will investigate both the implementation and impact of the recommendations.

A key recommendation of the Higgins report, which led to the establishment of the hospital group structure, was that the six hospital groups would conduct individual reviews of the various services delivered by each of the hospitals in its group.

The Saolta University Health Care Group has already undertaken reviews in respect of cardiology, urology and orthopaedic services.

Lobby group seeks ideas for an Irish satellite programme


Earth captured by the Spinning Enhanced Visible and Infrared Imager instrument on MSG-4.

A lobby group for the Irish space industry has put out a call for ideas for the development of a small satellite programme for Ireland.

The Irish Space Industry Group (ISIG) says it is pursuing the idea because similar initiatives in other countries have led to growth in industrial and scientific capabilities.

The call aims to determine the level of interest in developing such a programme, with the ideas then used to lobby stakeholders and inform the programme’s direction.

The group says it is does not have any funding in place yet for any potential mission, but if there is sufficient interest from funding agencies it will pursue the matter further.

ISIG says the scope of the ideas it is inviting is wide, and includes proposals for whole missions, space science, earth observation, spacecraft payloads and technology demonstration, ground segment and others.

“It can be for a service you would like to be provided from space [eg fisheries protection]; a service that you believe will have value to others from space, a technology demonstration mission or a scientific mission,” ISIG wrote on its blog.

The group says ideas that address national needs are likely to be most attractive to government and submissions should clearly set out whether the proposal could lead to further activity as policy in Ireland favours such projects.

ISIG says although smaller missions or payloads are easier to plan and pay for, there a no restrictions on the type or size of the missions that can be suggested.

The submissions should be made by 24 March, with details of the template and the submission address available at ISIG’s website.


Predicting human evolution our teeth tell the story



The research confirms that molars, including ‘wisdom teeth’ do follow the sizes predicted by what is called ‘the inhibitory cascade’ – a rule that shows how the size of one tooth affects the size of the tooth next to it. This is important because it indicates that human evolution was a lot simpler than scientists had previously thought.

The international team included researchers of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany: The analysis of digital data on fossil hominins generated by the Department of Human Evolution made this large-scale study on dental development possible.

Alistair Evans explains how our fascination with where we come from, and what our fossil ancestors were like, has fuelled our search for new fossils and how we can interpret them. “Teeth can tell us a lot about the lives of our ancestors, and how they evolved over the last 7 million years. What makes modern humans different from our fossil relatives? Palaeontologists have worked for decades to interpret these fossils, and looked for new ways to extract more information from teeth,” says Evans.

He then discusses how this new research has challenged the accepted view that there was a lot of variation in how teeth evolved in our closest relatives. “Our new study shows that the pattern is a lot simpler than we first thought – human evolution was much more limited,” says Evans.

He led an international team of anthropologists and developmental biologists from Finland, USA, UK and Germany, using a new extensive database on fossil hominins and modern humans collected over several decades, as well as high resolution 3D imaging to see inside the fossil teeth.

The team then took the research a step further by applying the findings to two main groups of hominins: the species in the genus Homo (like us and Neanderthals), and australopiths, including specimens like Lucy, the famous fossil hominin from Africa. Evans explains that while it was discovered that both groups follow the inhibitory cascade, they do so slightly differently. “There seems to be a key difference between the two groups of hominins – perhaps one of the things that define our genus, Homo,” says Evans.

“What’s really exciting is that we can then use this inhibitory cascade rule to help us predict the size of missing fossil teeth. Sometimes we find only a few teeth in a fossil. With our new insight, we can reliably estimate how big the missing teeth were. The early hominin Ardipithecus is a good example – the second milk molar has never been found, but we can now predict how big it was,” says Evans, who is also a research associate at Museum Victoria.

The findings of the study will be very useful in interpreting new hominin fossil finds, and looking at what the real drivers of human evolution were. As well as shedding new light on our evolutionary past, this simple rule provides clues about how we may evolve into the future.

News Ireland daily BLOG update

Saturday 7th December 2013

NAMA plans a sale of $2.5 billion worth of property loans


Ireland’s National Asset Management Agency is preparing to sell Irish, German and U.K. real estate loans with a face value of 1.8 billion euros ($2.5 billion) as demand for property debt rises, two people with knowledge of the plan said.

The loans are linked to properties built by Irish developer Michael O’Flynn and his companies, said the people, who asked not to be identified because the matter is private. UBS AG will act as broker, one of the people said. David Clerkin, a NAMA spokesman at public relations firm Gordon MRM, and UBS spokeswoman Stephanie Aneto declined to comment. O’Flynn wouldn’t comment when contacted by phone.

International investors have been buying property and loans backing European real estate as the region rebounds from its sovereign-debt crisis. Lenders in the European Union sold 29 billion euros of portfolio loans and assets such as bank branches and mortgage-servicing units and in the first half of 2013, according to Richard Thompson, a partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP in London.

O’Flynn Group’s developments include student housing across Europe and The Elysian apartment tower in Cork that’s Ireland’s tallest building, according to building-data provider Emporis.

NAMA was set up in 2009 by the government to take over 74 billion euros of risky commercial real estate loans held by Ireland’s banks and sell them over as many as 10 years.

Over 500 Irish schools could close if Teachers dispute escalates


Supervision and Substitution duties to become unpaid and mandatory in January

Over 500 second-level schools could close from mid-January if the Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland (ASTI) rejects the Haddington Road agreement and a dispute commences over supervision and substitution duties, Government sources believe.

The cabinet decided last week that if the ASTI votes again to reject the Haddington Road deal in a ballot currently underway , supervision and substitution would become unpaid and mandatory for its members from January 17th.

It is understood that the Department of Education will formally set out this position in a circular to schools in the weeks ahead if the ASTI votes against the agreement.

Government sources believe that if the ASTI subsequently directed members not to carry out supervision and substitution duties, schools where it has a significant number of members could not stay open.

Government sources estimated that there are around 500 schools where the ASTI is either the dominant trade union or has a significant number of members.

Ultimately it would be a matter for individual boards of management in schools to determine whether they should stay open.

It is understood the Government made no provision for non-union members to accept the Haddington Road agreement if they wished on an individual basis.

Separately figures released by the Department of Education maintained that young teachers who are members of the ASTI will be more than €220 per month worse off than their counterparts in the Teachers Union of Ireland, if they vote to reject the Haddington Road agreement.

The Department of Education stated that for ASTI members who commenced their careers in 2012 they would be worse off by €734 per month by 2020 if the Haddington Road deal was rejected and the Government imposed the provision of financial emergency legislation and ended payments for supervision and substitution duties.

Members of the Teachers’ Union of Ireland have accepted the Haddington Road agreement, however the ASTI is currently balloting again on the deal with a recommendation and members should vote against it.

The figures released by the Department of Education maintained that an ASTI member who started teaching in 2012 would be worse off by €222 per month in salary form next February if Haddington Road was rejected compared with a teacher in the Teachers’ Union of Ireland.

It said an ASTI member who started their teaching career in 2011 would be worse off by €164 per month or €660 per month by 2020.

The Department of Education maintained that an ASTI member with seven years experience would be worse off by €139 per month from next February or €339 per month in 2020 compared with a member of the Teacher’s Union of Ireland.

The Department of Education said that an assistant principal in a school on the top of their pay scale would be €2 per month worse off from February or €330 per month by 2020 compared with a member of the Teachers’ Union of Ireland.

Dunnes Stores strikers of 1984 to attend Mandela funeral


(right pic.) Mary Manning (right) kneels next to a plaque commemorating the strike

Irish supermarket workers who went on strike for almost three years over the import of goods from apartheid South Africa are set to attend Nelson Mandela’s funeral.

Trade unions are trying to organise transport for some of those who took part in the high-profile picket at Dunnes Stores in Dublin in the 1980s.

The action was triggered in 1984 when 21-year-old cashier Mary Manning was suspended for refusing to handle goods bought from South Africa.

The strike, involving 11 workers, was one of the longest in trade union history and only ended when the Irish Government agreed to ban the import of South African fruit and vegetables until the apartheid regime was over.

Mr Mandela met the strike workers during a visit to Dublin in the early 1990s.

Ms Manning has a street named after her in Johannesburg.

The workers were commemorated five years ago with an official plaque in central Dublin.

Ms Manning was presented the plaque in a special ceremony by former South African president Thabo Mbeki.

Mandate trade union said it and other unions in Ireland were in the process of arranging the attendance of the Dunnes Stores anti-apartheid strikers at Mr Mandela’s funeral next Sunday.

Mandate general secretary John Douglas said: “The trade union movement believes it would be a fitting tribute from the Irish trade union movement to send the Dunnes Stores strikers, who took such a brave stance on the issue of apartheid, to the funeral of Mr Mandela in South Africa.”

Irish President Michael D Higgins and his wife Sabina will fly to South Africa tomorrow to attend a memorial service for Mr Mandela at the FNB stadium in Johannesburg on Tuesday.

Almost 50% of people stressed over money worries during festive season


We’re not looking forward to Christmas. A shocking 75% of middle-aged people are the most stressed and money is the biggest cause.

The Alka-Seltzer study Seasonal Stress and Excess found that almost one in two adults – 49% are stressing out about Christmas, with shopping, cooking and cleaning adding to their woes.

Seasonal stress affects more women than men with 74% of females versus 68% of men feeling the strain.

It also revealed that the “sandwich generation” of 32 to 50-year-old women carry the biggest stress burden.

Alka-Seltzer brand manager Jennifer Walsh said the frantic nature of Christmas – coupled with an already strained economy – causes serious tension headaches, the most common type of primary headaches.

MINIMISE: Some people feel them in the eyes, others in the neck and some in the back – and they account for 90pc of headaches.

But there are things you can do to minimise the stress and maximise Christmas. Cut down on your gift list as well as creating a budget for the ones you’ve decided to buy and focus on the free stuff.

Get prepared in advance and share the workload with family and friends.

PRUNE: Don’t create unnecessary work for yourself either, “prune your action list” recommends Alka-Seltzer.

Indigestion is another common symptom around Christmas with people over-indulging on the turkey.

Keep meals to a manageable size and bear in mind that excessive eating doesn’t make anyone happy. Finally make Christmas fun – not perfect.

The use of Statin increases amputation-free survival in patients with critical limb ischemia


In patients with critical limb ischemia, statin use was associated with lower mortality and fewer major adverse cardiovascular and cerebrovascular events, as well as increased amputation-free survival, according to recent study results published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

Researchers reviewed 380 patients with critical limb ischemia who underwent diagnostic angiography or therapeutic endovascular intervention from 2006-2012. Overall, 246 patients were prescribed statins. Patients prescribed statins had lower mean serum low-density lipoprotein (LDL) levels and more baseline comorbidities, including extensive lower extremity disease, diabetes, coronary artery disease and hypertension, according to study results.

Researchers found an association between statin therapy and lower 1-year rates of major adverse cardiovascular and cerebrovascular events, including stroke and myocardial infarction, and major amputation or death. Patients with LDL levels above 130mg/dL were at greater risk of major adverse cardiovascular and cerebrovascular events and mortality compared with patients with LDL levels lower than 130mg/dL.

“The improved rates of 1-year MACCE [major adverse cardiovascular and cerebrovascular events] with stain use strengthens the evidence supporting the guideline recommendations of statin therapy for all PAD patients, including those with even the most advanced stages of disease. Our finding of superior outcomes for patients with lower LDL levels also provides support for the use of LDL as a treatment target in patients with PAD.

Future studies should determine the optimal statin type and dose, further explore potential treatment targets including low-density lipoprotein for statins in peripheral arterial disease, and investigate barriers to more widespread use of statins among patients with critical limb ischemia,” the researchers wrote.

Human evolution comparison of various humans existing prior to modern Man


Denisovans, Neanderthals, and Homo floresiensis Are Cousins

Human evolution, ever changing and full of mystery, is beautiful. The Denisovans, Neanderthals, and Homo floresiensis were ancient populations whose DNA remnants can be traced to today’s modern humans. They were around during the early times of human progress. Each type branched off from the original early humans over time, according to Matthias Meyer of the Max Institute of Evolutionary Anthropology.

For years, it has been a conversation involving only the Neanderthal when looking into how humans evolved. The discovery in 1974 of Lucy, 3.2 million years old with features of human and ape alike, fit into the known Neanderthal context. Lucy, who walked upright,  was found in Ethiopia by Donald Johnson, a paleontologist. She was the oldest human ancestor discovered at the time.

In 2004, the human evolution chain was adjusted once more.   Homo floresiensis fossils were discovered in the Liang Bua Cave, on an Indonesian island called Flores. Research found the specimens of these ancient humans to be small in stature. Their features attracted the term “Hobbit” as their distinction.

Homo floresiensis fossils are still being investigated to see where they fit in the tree of human evolution. For one, it is not clear whether their size is natural or from adaptation to being on an island with limited food availability. Another oddity is the lack of clarification of how these fossils appear to somehow possibly fit in the old world and the new world. It is expected more findings will be uncovered providing clarification of who  Homo floresiensiswas in the future.

In 2008, a chip of a Denisovan’s fingertip was discovered in a small chamber in the Denisova Cave in the Altai Mountains of southern Siberia. After it was scientifically analyzed by Johannes Krause (part of evolutionary geneticist Svante Pääblo’s team of the Max Institute of Evolutionary Anthropology) it was clear, without a doubt, that the fingertip did not come from a modern human or a Neanderthal; it was a completely different species.

To paint a picture, two teeth were discovered that fit into the Denisovan family. The teeth are larger than the teeth of modern humans and Neanderthal.   One tooth was at first thought to belong to a cave bear. A magical note to the location of this discovery is that Densinova is (so far) the only place on the planet where modern humans, Neanderthals and Denisovans all lived at some point, according to Pääblo.

Early modern human evolution was around 500,00 years ago.  The Denisovans, Neanderthals, and  Homo floresiensis derived from that group, becoming their own separate hominin group. This interesting information designates that humans are not descendants of any of the aforementioned, but rather they broke off the same group. Until research provides different conclusions, every group originated out of Africa, with modern humans being of the Homo sapiens group, Neanderthals of the Homo neanderthalensis group and Homo floresiensis being its own group.

Dr. Meyers theorized that the Neanderthals (who went to Europe and Central Asia) and Denisovans (to East Asia) left Africa approximately half a million years ago. Homo floresiensiswas uncovered on the Indonesian Island of Flores, according to Dr. Meyer. The discovery is still being assessed. Homo sapiens left about fifty to one hundred thousand years ago. These are said to be the early beginnings of modern humans.

While the Denisovans, Neanderthals, and Homo floresiensis are the only types of hominins known at this time, in the future there may be more as scientists continue to uncover new information.  The full details of the study were published this month in the journal Nature.

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Saturday/Sunday 19th/20th October 2013 

Ireland’s GP Doctors claim treatment fees for dead medical card-holders


As Reilly told to save €113m, HSE bids to reclaim €1.5m from Irish doctors

Family doctors have claimed more than €1.5m of taxpayers’ money for treating medical card-holders who are dead or that don’t exist…….

As concerns grow that 100,000 people could lose their medical cards to meet €113m in savings announced in Budget 2014, some doctors have been creaming tens of thousands from the service both in over-payments from the State and in allowances.

It has emerged that some GPs continued to claim annual fees and payments for former patients who were either dead or had emigrated. Others charged the State overtime for seeing patients just minutes after 5pm. In one case highlighted last week by the Minister for Health, Dr James Reilly, a GP submitted a bill for €180,000 for “out of hours” allowances.

The €1.5m in over-payments was identified by the Health Service Executive (HSE) last year but not a cent has yet been repaid, despite its financial woes. 

According to informed sources, the HSE will go to the High Court if necessary to recover the money. A deadline of October 31 was set for doctors who received the overpayments, following protracted talks with their professional body, the Irish Medical Organisation (IMO).

The overpayments to doctors is just a fraction of the €113m the Government wants to taken out of the medical card scheme. But both Dr Reilly and the Minister for Finance Michael Noonan latched on to the overpayments when justifying the €113m savings target last week. One source said the figure would cover the average cost of a medical card for 1,500 people.

The overpayments were identified by the Comptroller and Auditor General in his report this year, but Fianna Fail’s Sean Fleming has claimed the HSE could be “squandering” as much as €5m a year on dormant cards.

The overpayments to GPs takes on a particular significance in light of the €113m the Government hopes to save from a “probity” review of medical cards, which is proving to be one of the most contentious measures in Budget 2014.

Opposition parties and concern groups have claimed that about 100,000 people would lose their medical cards this year. A further 35,000 over-70s are also set to lose their cards due to a change in income thresholds announced in last Tuesday’s Budget.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny denied that the review of medical cards would turn into a “witch hunt”, while Dr Reilly and the HSE have been forced to dismiss fears that seriously ill people who received discretionary medical cards could now lose them because they are over the strict income limits.

The medical card review has also signalled a rift between Dr Reilly and his senior cabinet colleagues, with the Health Minister attempting to disown the €113m savings target. In post-Budget briefings he said the figure was “given” to him by the Taoiseach and the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Brendan Howlin.

While sources close to Dr Reilly said the savings figure was foisted on him, others said it was imposed on Dr Reilly in frustration at his progress in identifying more savings in a department already cut to the bone.

Although the review of medical card eligibility was announced as a Budget measure, it has in fact been under way since earlier this year. The HSE embarked on a programme to weed out dormant medical cards after the system was centralised to one national office in 2011.

The Department of Public Expenditure and Reform latched on to the potential savings of between €65m and €210m highlighted in a HSE-commissioned PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) report on dormant medical cards.

The HSE warned that the PwC figures should be treated with “extreme caution”. But officials in Public Expenditure relied on them to come up with a target of €113m, which was then “foisted” on Dr Reilly and the HSE.

The Minister for Health said last week he was “concerned” about achieving the savings while the HSE is getting the figures independently validated.

The biggest concerns are centering on discretionary medical cards, which are given to patients who fail the means test but are considered hardship or special cases. Almost 43 per cent of the population holds a medical card or a GP visit card, with each card estimated to cost the State €1,000 a year.

Sources said that politicians lobbying local health managers on behalf of constituents caused to a surge in discretionary medical cards being issued across the country, until the system was centralised in Finglas in 2011.

Politicians, parents and patients groups have reported an anecdotal rise in people losing their discretionary medical cards as part of a review of eligibility that has been ongoing since earlier this year.

The HSE has denied this. According to the latest figures obtained from the HSE on Friday, 23,000 discretionary medical cards were issued since the start of this year and around 10,000 discretionary medical cards were withdrawn. Of those, 4,500 cards were withdrawn because the holders exceeded the income guidelines – almost half of them by 200 per cent.

Another 4,500 were withdrawn because the holders didn’t respond to queries. Around 800 had died.

The PwC report said there was an urgent need to “enforce” the removal of medical cards if people didn’t respond to HSE queries about their eligibility: “Estimates of excess payments under the scheme could be in the range of approximately €65m to €210m per annum. Significant savings in annual expenditure could therefore arise as a result of the identification and removal of these ineligible card holders.”

Fáilte Ireland says tourism survey reveals an upwards & positive result


Tourism tide ‘on the turn upwards’ says Fáilte Ireland after a positive  results survey show business up.

Irish Budget tried to cover up actual proposals says Michael Martin


Fianna Fáil criticises health cuts at Wolfe Tone commemoration

Fianna Fáil leader Michael Martin has said the budget was ‘cynical’.

Fianna Fáil leader Michael Martin has said the budget was “cynical” and “presented so as to try and cover up what was actually being proposed”.

Mr Martin was addressing annual Wolfe Tone commemoration at Bodenstown, Co Kildare today.

He said the cuts and “ill-thought out” policies of minister for Health James Reilly would do “immense damage” to the health system,

His party would fight against any effort to push through “flawed and dangerous health estimates,” Mr Martin said.While ministers said the free GP care for under 5s was the “start of universal access to primary care” but when the detail came out “ it revealed the largest ever cut in primary care funding in our history”, he said.He also criticised budget proposals impacting on older people. Mr Martin said the Government has begun an “ assault on the social contract between Irish society and its older people”

“It proposed mean-spirited and callous changes which made only a small impact on the wider budget but will have a major impact on older people,” he said.

New bill to abolish 80 of Ireland’s town councils now published


The number of Ireland’s councillor’s is to fall by almost 700 as town councils are abolished

Minister for the Environment Phil Hogan said the Local Government Bill would devolve power to local and regional level.

Legislation that will result in the biggest change in local government structures has been published by Minister for the Environment Phil Hogan.

The Local Government Bill proposes to almost halve the number of councillors in the country and will scrap all 80 town councils.

The abolition of town councils, which have been in existence for 115 years, accounts for the massive reduction in councillors – down from 1,627 to 949. In addition, the two councils in counties Tipperary, Waterford and Limerickare each being merged into one.

While the Government has argued that the Bill is a radical reform, the scrapping of town councils has been roundly criticised by all Opposition parties and by town councillors, whose positions will cease to exist after next year’s local elections. The councils will be replaced by 137 municipal district councils comprising county councillors from their respective electoral areas.

Legal challenge
The body representing town councils said the Bill woulddestroy local democracy and indicated it might take a legal challenge. The Association of Municipal Authorities ofIreland said the power town councils had to raise revenue through rates and other means would be lost. Its president,Cllr Willie Callaghan, said the removal of autonomy from town councils would destroy local democracy.

“It is very disappointing. You are destroying town councils,” he said to Mr Hogan at the event to publish the Bill yesterday.

The Bill provides for the abolition of the 80 town councils, which will be replaced by new entities, municipal district councils. These will be much larger entities, encompassing both urban and rural areas. Town councils will lose their independent financial revenue-raising powers. Instead, dictrict councils will be handed down annual financial allocations, irrespective of the amounts of money raised in each dictrict.

Mr Hogan said the changes would devolve power to local and regional level. He said a major component of this will be the revenue raised from the property tax, 80 per cent of which will be ringfenced for local authorities; and, from 2015, councillors will have the power to vary the revenue to suit local needs.

Fianna Fáil environment spokesman Barry Cowen said the Bill continued the Coalition’s policy of moving power into the hands of the elite. He said the municipal districts were “window-dressing”.

Sinn Féin said it opposed the reduction in the number of councillors to 949, saying it had proposed there should have been at least 1,165.

ISEQ climbs to five-year high amid a global pick-up


Irish stocks rose to their highest level in five years yesterday as the markets continued a winning streak that began early last week.

European stocks rose for a seventh day, their longest winning streak this year, as China‘s economic growth accelerated for the first time in three quarters.

The benchmark ISEQ Overall index climbed 0.9pc to close at 4,392.4 points while the Stoxx Europe 600 Index advanced 0.8pc to 318.47, extending its highest level since June 2008.

The gauge rallied 2.2pc this week as US lawmakers agreed to extend the government’s borrowing authority until early 2014 and end a partial government shutdown.

“We’ve seen activity in China picking up over the past few months, and the GDP figure is in line with that,” Richard Scrope, a fund manager at Oriel Asset Management in London.

“European earnings have been very mixed so far. Earnings expectations need to be supported by actual company results. Otherwise some valuations will start to look extended.”

SUSTAINABLE: The rebound was seen everywhere with national benchmark indexes advancing in all of the 18 western European markets. The UK’s FTSE 100 rallied 0.7pc, while France’s CAC 40 climbed 1.1pc. Germany’s DAX added 0.6pc.

“The global outlook is the strongest it has been in five years, and now looks more sustainable,” said Dublin-based Investec economist Phillip O’Sullivan.

The international backdrop is stronger and the news that Ireland will leave the bailout in less than two months has brought investors to Ireland who are looking to benefit as the economy recovers, he said.

Mortgage holders are also now on track for a long period of record-low interest rates after one of the most conservative central bankers in Europe said there was no need for a change.

Austrian’s central bank governor Ewald Nowotny said the ECB does not need to raise interest rates.

Mr Nowotny, who is a member of the governing council of the ECB, said a unilateral decision by the ECB to raise rates could create deflationary pressures in the eurozone.

Economists said his comments meant it would be well into 2015 before eurozone interest rates rise.

ECB president Mario Draghi promised to keep interest rates low or lower for an extended period to help put the eurozone economy back on a growth path.

Consumer price inflation in the eurozone slowed to 1.1pc in September.

The ECB main objective is to keep inflation below 2pc, though it looks at prices over the medium term.

That will help businesses and the 375,000 homeowners who have tracker mortgages.

Rates have come down from a high of 4.25pc to 0.5pc now. This has led to overall savings of close to €6,000 since the downturn for tracker holders, calculations by Karl Deeter of Irish Mortgage Brokers indicate.

Economist with KBC Bank Austin Hughes said he did not expect ECB rates to rise until the first three months of 2015.

Cognitive behavioral therapy more effective at reducing health anxiety


New research suggests that cognitive behavioral therapy is more effective at reducing health anxiety in medical patients, compared with standard care. This is according to a study published in The Lancet.

Researchers from the UK, led by Professor Peter Tyrer from Imperial College London, say an additional benefit of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is that it can be delivered to patients by non-specialist staff with minimal training at minimal cost.

According to the UK’s National Health Service (NHS), health anxiety, orhypochondria, is defined as obsessive worrying about health, “usually to the point where it causes great distress and affects your ability to function properly.”

Health anxiety, can cause some people to experience unexplained physical symptoms, such as headaches or chest pains, leading to a person assuming they are suffering from a serious disorder, regardless of a clinician’s reassurance that they are healthy.

Researchers say that 10-20% of patients experience health anxiety, but CBT therapy has been shown to help.

According to the researchers, 10-20% of hospital patients suffer from health anxiety, and this poses a substantial burden on health services since a patient’s fear of having a serious disorder leads to medical consultation.

The study authors note that previous studies have demonstrated that CBT – a therapy that aims to change a person’s behavior and thought patterns – is successful as a treatment for other anxiety disorders. Therefore, the researchers set out to determine whether this therapy would be effective in treating health anxiety.

A 1.8 million year-old skull gives new insight into human evolution


A stunningly well-preserved skull from 1.8 million years ago offers new evidence that early man was a single species with a vast array of different looks, researchers said.

With a tiny brain about a third the size of a modern human’s, protruding brows and jutting jaws like an ape, the skull was found in the remains of a medieval hilltop city in Dmanisi, Georgia, said the study in the journal Science.

It is one of five early human skulls — four of which have jaws — found so far at the site, about 100km from the capital Tbilisi, along with stone tools that hint at butchery and the bones of big, sabre-toothed cats.

Lead researcher David Lordkipanidze, director of the Georgian National Museum, described the group as “the richest and most complete collection of indisputable early Homo remains from any one site”.

The skulls vary so much in appearance that under other circumstances, they might have been considered different species, said co-author Christoph Zollikofer of the University of Zurich.

“Yet we know that these individuals came from the same location and the same geological time, so they could, in principle, represent a single population of a single species,” he said.

The researchers compared the variation in characteristics of the skulls and found that while their jaw, brow and skull shapes were distinct, their traits were all within the range of what could be expected among members of the same species.

“The five Dmanisi individuals are conspicuously different from each other, but not more different than any five modern human individuals, or five chimpanzee individuals, from a given population,” said Zollikofer.

“We conclude that diversity within a species is the rule rather than the exception.”

Under that hypothesis, the different lineages some experts have described in Africa — such as Homo habilis and Homo rudolfensis — were all just ancient people of the species Homo erectus who looked different from each other.

It also suggests that early members of the modern man’s genus Homo, first found in Africa, soon expanded into Asia despite their small brain size.

“We are thrilled about the conclusion they came to. It backs up what we found as well,” said Milford Wolpoff, a paleoanthropologist at the University of Michigan.

Wolpoff and Adam Van Arsdale of Wellesley College published a study in the journal Evolution last year that also measured statistical variation in characteristics of early skull fossils in Georgia and east Africa, suggesting a single species and an active process of inter-breeding.

“Everyone knows today you could find your mate from a different continent and it is normal for people to marry outside their local group, outside their religion, outside their culture,” Wolpoff said.

“What this really helps show is that this has been the human pattern for most of our history, at least outside of Africa,” he added.

“We don’t have races. We don’t have different subspecies. But it is normal for humans to vary, and they have varied in the past.”

But not all experts agree.

“The conclusions that they draw are misguided,” said Bernard Wood, director of the hominid paleobiology doctoral program at George Washington University.

“What they have is a creature that we have not seen evidence of before,” he said, noting its small head but human-sized body.

“It could be something new and I don’t understand why they are reluctant to think it might be.”

In fact, the researchers did give it a new name, Homo erectus ergaster georgicus, in a nod to the skull as an early but novel form of Homo erectus found in Georgia.

The name also retracts the unique species status of Homo georgicus given to the jaw that was found in 2000 along with other small, primitive skulls.

The jaw lay a few yards from where Skull 5, belonging to the same owner, was later discovered in 2005.

Co-author Marcia Ponce de Leon of the University of Zurich said Skull 5 was “perfectly preserved” and “the most complete skull of an adult fossil Homo individual found to date”.