Tag Archives: Hunger

News Ireland daily BLOB by Donie

Wednesday 18th May 2016

HSE threatens to cut the price of drugs if a new deal is not reached


The Cabinet gave the go-ahead to the HSE to begin a process which could see it use its powers for the first time to enforce a cut in the price of some drugs in around three months

Drug companies are continuing to hike up the cost of several medicines in Ireland despite industry claims that prices are now at a European average.

It comes as the Cabinet yesterday gave the go-ahead to the HSE to begin a process which could see it use its powers for the first time to enforce a cut in the price of some drugs in around three months.

It follows the failure of the HSE and the Department of Health to reach agreement earlier this month on a drugs prices deal to slow the rate of increase in the cost of medicines between now and 2019.

The current drugs bill is around €1.7bn, but that threatens to spiral by nearly 10pc a year unless some rein on costs is agreed.

Talks on the deal, which began in March, ended in a stalemate earlier this month after health officials insisted the prices being set by the drugs companies could not be sustained.

Under 2013 legislation, the HSE can impose drugs cuts but the process could take around three months because it must allow the manufacturers time to respond.

The threat of unilateral cuts is expected to force the Irish Pharmaceutical Healthcare Association (IPHA) back to the negotiating table.

The HSE must make €110m in drugs savings this year through price reductions and other measures such as more use of generic medicines.

That target is now unlikely to be met and the HSE may have to look at other services to make the savings.

Reacting to the threat, the IPHA said it had engaged in good faith negotiations since the end of March with officials on behalf of Government.

A spokesman said: “We have not ended these negotiations. We are surprised by correspondence and Government briefings today.

“We have now asked for meetings with ministers, in the Departments of Health and Public Expenditure and Reform, to discuss the realistic proposals.”

Michael Fitzmaurice is leaving Independent Alliance group?

TD indicates intention to join technical group in bid to have adequate speaking time in Dáil


Michael Fitzmaurice: “I intend to support the Government on votes which I feel will benefit society at large.”

Independent TD for Galway Roscommon Michael Fitzmaurice TD has announced that he is leaving the Independent Alliance.

Mr Fitzmaurice was the only member of the grouping not to support Enda Kenny’s nomination for Taoiseach.

“I have given my future as a member of the Independent Alliance serious consideration over the last number of weeks and have had no choice but to leave the grouping. As a member of the grouping, being the only member in Opposition, I would not be allowed to have leaders’ questions or priority questions and access to speaking time would be very limited,” he said.

Mr Fitzmaurice said he would not be able to represent his constituents in Dáil Éireann under the restrictions.

“Having worked to help formulate the programme for government I intend to support the Government on votes which I feel will benefit society at large and oppose them on votes which I feel are not in the interests of the people,” he said.

The Technical group

Mr Fitzmaurice said new rules on how the Dáil will operate will be published on Thursday and will detail how speaking time will be allocated.

He said he will join a technical group in the coming days in order to get adequate speaking time in the Dáil.

“I hope that by working with people inside and outside of government I can continue to make a constructive contribution to Dáil business and deliver for my region.”

“It has become very clear to me in recent days, considering the criticism directed at some government TD’s for expressing their opinions, that until the issues surrounding turf cutting are resolved and ordinary people are no longer criminalised for exercising their rights, that I could not be member of any government,” he said.

The Independent Alliance was formed last March by independent politicians Shane Ross and Michael Fitzmaurice and Mr Ross was recently appointed Minister for Transport.

Surveyors break down the cost of building a three bed semi detached home in Dublin


Construction costs make up less than half the total of building a new home in the capital, a new report has found.

According to the report by the Society of Chartered Surveyors Ireland (SCSI), the average cost of building a three bedroom, semi-detached house in the greater Dublin area is €330,000.

The construction costs – or “hard costs” – came to €150,000, amounting to less than half (45pc) of the total cost of building the house.

The remaining €180,000 consists mainly of “soft costs” such as the land and acquisition costs of €57,000 (17% of total), VAT of €39,000 (12%) and a margin of €38,000 (11%).

Michael Mahon of the SCSI described the fact that the soft costs dominate the total cost as an issue the government urgently needs to address.

“The country is experiencing a chronic housing shortage which is contributing significantly to the current homelessness crisis,” he said.

“The findings of this report highlight a number of pressing issues, particularly on the soft cost side.

“We need to kick-start housing supply as soon as possible and to accelerate from the current output of 12,000 units per annum to the 25,000 units which is required.”

The report, entitled ‘The Real Cost of New House Delivery’, is based on a study of eight house-building projects in the greater Dublin area, each containing a minimum of 30 units.

It found that the cost of building a new house in the capital is a staggering €45,000 more than the median asking price of a three bedroom semi-detached house in Dublin, according to a property report from MyHome.ie/Davy.

SCSI also surveyed a couple, both of whom earn the average industrial wage of €37,000, and found they would be unable to afford the cost of a new house, even after drawing a maximum loan amount.

If they were to buy a three bedroom semi, priced at €285,000, they would require a deposit of €35,000.

With a combined income of €74,000, they could draw a maximum loan of €259,000, which would allow them to purchase a property up to €294,000 – leaving them €36,493 short of the current total required to provide a new house.

“It is clear there is a serious financial viability issue and it is difficult to see how developers can commence building in this market with particular emphasis in urban areas where the demand is highest but where land prices are also at their highest,” said Mr Mahon.

Lotus-Works to create 100 new jobs in Sligo

Move will boost employment at technical firm to almost 600 by 2017


Julie Sinnamon, the CEO of Enterprise Ireland. The agency has organised trade missions for SMEs in the midlands and west and southwest.

Technical and engineering firm LotusWorks is set to create 100 new jobs at its Sligo headquarters over the coming year.

The company, which already employs 470 people, will create 50 new jobs over the next six months – with another 50 to come on stream by the end of 2017.

Founded in 1989 as Lotus Automation IRL LTD, LotusWorks provides specialist engineers and technicians to customers in the life sciences, data centres and hi-tech clients sectors , and it has rapidly expanded into North America, Europe and most recently Singapore.

The announcement was made during a Trade and Investment Mission event in Sligo on Wednesday, which was organised by Enterprise Ireland and IDA Ireland and led by Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Mary Mitchell O’Connor TD. The objective of the trade mission to Athlone, Sligo and Limerick is to maximise sales opportunities for Irish SMEs with multinational companies (MNCs) based in Ireland.

Tom Cafferkey, COO, LotusWorks said: “Datacentres, bio-pharmaceutical and advanced technology sectors are poised for substantial growth in coming years and the talent LotusWorks has is perfectly suited to supporting these sectors”.

Mushrooms can work magic on hard-to-treat depression,

A study finds


Your hippie friends might have been right after all. A new study published in Lancelot Psychology Journal has found promising evidence that suggests magic mushrooms can relieve depression in patients who have not otherwise responded to conventional treatments.

Scientists at Imperial College London administered high doses of psilocybin, the main compound in magic mushrooms, to 12 volunteers with treatment-resistant depression. After one week, a whopping 100% of the participants were free of depression and five individuals remained symptom-free after three months. The researchers have called the results “promising, but not completely compelling,” due to the inherent limitations of the study. For the study to be considered truly rigorous, the researchers would have needed to use a placebo group to rule out other factors possibly contributing to the results. Yet, the use of a placebo group was not a possibility due to the fact that it would have been rather obvious as to which group ingested the hallucinogenic substance.

While more research is needed, the scientists believe that psilocybin targets receptors in the brain that disrupt the Default Mode Network, an area that is responsible for sense of self and is overactive in depressed people. However, scientists are unable to rule out other possible theories, including the possibility that the hallucinogenic drug induced some sort of awakening or spiritual experience in the participants. According to the National Institute of Health, depression is one of the most common mental disorders and is the leading cause of disability worldwide. An estimated 6.7% of all adults in the United States had one major depressive episode in the past year and approximately 121 million people worldwide experience depression. Of these people, around 10-30% either do not respond to current treatments or show a minimal response in symptom reduction but still continue to experience major functional impairments.

While the results of this new study are definitely promising, the researchers caution against people trying this unconventional treatment at home. “Psychedelic drugs have potent psychological effects and are only given in our research when appropriate safeguards are in place, such as careful screening and professional therapeutic support,” lead author Dr. Robin Carhart-Harris said. “I wouldn’t want members of the public thinking they can treat their own depressions by picking their own magic mushrooms. That kind of approach could be risky.”

We need a Paris climate type of talks to fix the global food system


The Paris climate agreement began its long road to implementation with a formal signing ceremony in New York in April, attended by representatives of some 170 countries. The deal, negotiated last December, has been hailed not only as a breakthrough for climate change but also as a model for how the world can tackle some of its toughest challenges well beyond climate.

Here’s a prime candidate for the Paris treatment: feeding the world in a way that doesn’t cause chaos.

International trade in food has grown markedly in recent decades. Some 20% of food now crosses an international border. That means there’s a good chance that your morning coffee, pre-gym banana, and after-work wine came from somewhere other than the country where you live. But global commodity markets, while delivering broad benefits, are fickle: opaque, distorted by subsidies, and increasingly prone to price spikes and crashes. Farmers struggle to figure out what to plant, when to plant it, and how much to charge for their wares, and when prices crash, they can be left destitute. Poor consumers face the opposite problem: price spikes can mean the difference between going to bed hungry or not. Both sides of the volatility beast can trigger riots or worse. Yet governments, despite repeated attempts, have struggled to cooperate in order to bring more stability to this sensitive space.

Most of their efforts have focused on the World Trade Organization. The WTO is the international organization charged with setting the rules governing international trade. Its members (virtually all the countries in the world) have spent the last twenty years working to reduce logistical and financial barriers to trade. They have succeeded in many ways: international trade has exploded while consumer prices for everything from cars to clothes have declined.

Agriculture was largely left out of the negotiations, however, until the latest round of talks began in 2001. But diplomats found it too difficult to broker a balance that everyone could accept. It’s tough enough to build agreement around manufacturing, as the current presidential campaign attests. But changing the rules of the game for an industry that employs a majority of people in most countries and feeds everyone else is an order of magnitude more difficult. The challenge has multiplied as developing countries such as China, India, and Brazil–which are big enough that trade negotiations can’t ignore them but are still home to hundreds of millions of poor people–joined the negotiating table. It didn’t help that agricultural negotiations are at once highly technical and deeply sensitive politically.

This sort of story sounds awfully familiar to people immersed in the world of climate change. Indeed this precise dynamic dominated climate negotiations until the breakthrough in Paris last year. Climate change talks have struggled since the 1994 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change to integrate rapidly developing, highly polluting countries, most notably China and India, into accords to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The 1997 Kyoto Protocol to that agreement mostly tried to ignore that struggle. It required developed countries to make specific, mandatory cuts to overall emissions by an agreed date. Developing countries were left off the hook, with predictable consequences for the deal’s effectiveness and long-term political credibility.

To reach agreement in Paris, leaders turned the climate problem inside out. In the years following Kyoto, despite their dramatic economic growth, those countries refused to agree to mandatory emissions cuts. Governments feared making hard commitments to slash emissions without knowing exactly how those would play out at home. Diplomats at climate negotiations, without the power to change their countries’ energy systems, reflected and amplified that risk aversion. This largely deadlocked negotiations through the 2009 Copenhagen climate summit. Beginning then, leaders began to slowly chip away at old system. That culminated in the Paris breakthrough.

To reach agreement in Paris, leaders turned the climate problem inside out. Negotiators accepted that international negotiators’ ability to effectively change domestic energy policies was severely limited. They thus dispensed with the goal of mandatory national emissions reductions. Instead they agreed to a global aspiration of slashing emissions and invited countries to offer their own contributions toward achieving that goal. That triggered domestic efforts within each country to develop emissions-cutting plans (some better than others) that they thought they could make work politically at home. The leaders also agreed to a global system that would monitor each country’s progress, subject it to regular international scrutiny, and require new and stronger efforts every five years. The result? For the first time, China, India, Brazil, the United States, and other major emitters signed up to the same climate agreement.

This bottom up model of reaching agreement has its limits. Countries might not deliver on their plans. And, even if they do, that might not add up to the global goals that leaders have set. But the old way of doing business certainly wasn’t doing better–and the new approach has the potential to yield more.

Indeed the same model could be even better for tackling the world’s food challenges. Take subsidies to farmers. They aim to ensure that farmers receive a decent income even when the weather or commodity prices are bad. And, by encouraging farmers to boost production, they can keep prices low for consumers. Economists broadly conclude that subsidies aren’t the best ways to help farmers or consumers–and they can cost taxpayers massive sums. Voters typically only see their direct benefits, which can make subsidies incredibly difficult to remove–a fact that trade negotiators and proponents of open markets have long rued. A Paris-style agreement on agricultural trade, however, could unlock new flexibility. Governments could, for example, agree on a target date for the removal of subsidies but allow governments the freedom to decide how and how quickly that target is reached. Or, they could commit to increasingly ambitious subsidy reductions over time, and to a set of monitoring rules to increase the odds that they remained on target.

The Paris model could also help prepare trade institutions to handle food price spikes. When prices jump, governments come under enormous public pressure to keep food affordable. Often this pressure leads to major market interventions, up to and including total bans on the export of important foods by big suppliers. Such bans can alleviate domestic price spikes but they can actually make problems worse elsewhere in the world by limiting supply. Trade negotiators have been unable to reach agreement on rules prohibiting export bans and similar policies.

Under a Paris approach, however, governments might not need to agree to a uniform policy. They could commit to being transparent about their intention to intervene in the market, for example, giving other countries time to prepare. Countries could also offer national pledges to limit bans in scope or duration, to minimize any market interruption. In each case, governments would retain the flexibility to protect their people in a crisis while at the same time reducing the chances that international markets would overreact.

In these and other areas, a Paris-style deal on agricultural trade could allow governments to work toward freer markets while keeping farmers and consumers happy. As with the Paris agreement, progress toward national commitments would need to be rigorously monitored in order for everyone to feel confident that pledges were being kept. And countries would need to meet regularly to review and strengthen pledges, to keep the momentum going.

The Paris agreement did not happen overnight. The process began in Copenhagen in 2009, and its success is still not guaranteed. But it was born out of a simple realization: if a perfect agreement, with tough targets and binding enforcement, is not possible, an imperfect but still ambitious agreement might be the best way ahead. Agricultural trade negotiators, frustrated after more than a decade of stalemate, may well find that they agree.


News Ireland daily BLOG

Tuesday 18th August 2015

Renua Ireland not copying Fianna Fáil’s policies


The Renua Ireland deputy leader Billy Timmins has denied the party is “ripping off” Fianna Fáil policies.

Responding to accusations from Fianna Fáil’s jobs spokesperson Dara Calleary that Renua was sneakily repackaging the party’s ideas as its own, Mr Timmins said the two organisations could work together in government as they had such similar outlooks.

Making light of the allegations of plagiarism as he launched Renua’s drive to open up the pre-budget process, Mr Timmins declared: “I was going to say we are now going to launch policy number 41 belonging to Fianna Fáil! Fianna Fáil were in government for a long period in time. I thought they would have had all progressive policies implemented.

“When we launched the party on March 13 we had 16 policies. Three of them have been launched since in a fanfare by government. It may have been coincidental or it may have been otherwise but we don’t care once it’s progressive and once policies are implemented,” Mr Timmins said.

He said he would not close the door on a post-election coalition with Fianna Fáil, stating: “And according to Dara Calleary we are singing off the same hymn sheet anyway.”

Mr Timmins also joked about his party’s poor showing in the opinion polls, saying the rise from 1% to 2% in the latest survey showed a “100% increase”. “Maths wasn’t always my strong point but we were 1%, we went to two, so that’s 100% increase. If it goes up incrementally then we’ll be up to 4% next month and we’ll be somewhere around 16% come the election.

“On a serious note the way I look at it is politicians are unpopular at the moment, particularly political parties.

“Until such a time as the election is called — be that this October, be it next February — the public’s mind won’t concentrate on what they’re going to do with their vote,” Mr Timmins said.

The Wicklow TD said that voters had not fully engaged with how to vote in the next general election, as on current polling the most likely outcome would be a Sinn Féin/Fianna Fáil coalition, but he did not expect that to happen on polling day as the electorate would be more focused on the future then.

The TD was speaking as he launched Renua’s ‘Better Budgets and Modern Governance’ policy which includes a four-point plan to improve the “amateur” budgetary process.

Under the proposed changes, Dáil committees would be given legal powers of budgetary scrutiny as well as an oversight role.

Branding the current budgetary process as a “seasonal soap opera”, Mr Timmins called for a major overhaul of procedures.

“The budgetary process is a rubber-stamping exercise in which neither government TDs nor the opposition have any opportunity to contribute or exert influence. It does not serve the public interest and it needs to be modernised,” the TD said.

Renua also wants training and technical advisory support to help Oireachtas members carry out their duties more effectively on committees.

Mr Timmins said Renua would rule out any post-election deal with Sinn Féin.

Aer Lingus joins IAG as shareholders approve deal

End of an era as airline waves goodbye to Irish ownership


Aer Lingus will continue to fly with a shamrock on its tail but it will no longer have an Irish owner as it joins the British-Spanish group IAG.

It’s the end of an era as more than 95% of Aer Lingus shareholders vote in favour of an acquisition by British Airways owner IAG, thus formally bringing to an end almost 80 years of state involvement in the airline.

In a statement on Tuesday evening, IAG said that its €1.5bn acquisition of the Irish airline “is now wholly unconditional”, following the submission of Ryanair’s acceptance. The significance of this announcement is that the sale of Aer Lingus is now irreversible.

Willie Walsh, IAG chief executive, said: “We’d like to welcome Aer Lingus into IAG. It will remain an iconic Irish brand with its base and management team in Ireland but will now grow as part of a strong, profitable airline group. This means new routes and more jobs benefiting customers, employees and the Irish economy and tourism”.

On Tuesday, the deadline by which shareholders had to vote, Ryanair submitted its form of acceptance, bringing shareholder approval for the deal above the 95% mark. IAG can now enforce compulsory purchase of the remaining amount.

Shareholders who accepted the offer by Tuesday’s deadline of 1pm, will be paid on or before 1 September 1st 2015. Shareholders will receive a cash payment of € 2.50 for each share held, and a cash dividend payment of 5 cents per share.

Those shareholders who have still not accepted the offer, can do so before the final closing date of 15.00 on September 1st 2015. They will be paid within 14 days of acceptance.

“Aer Lingus shareholders who have not yet accepted the offer are encouraged to do so without delay,” IAG said.

But there are still some steps remaining before Aer Lingus can claim to be owned by IAG. Firstly, the shareholders must receive payment, a process which is expected to take about two weeks. In addition, IAG will move to delist Aer Lingus from both the Dublin and London stock exchanges. IAG said that this will take effect “no earlier than 0800 (Irish time) on 17 September 2015”. The board of Aer Lingus must also officially resign.

AERL Holding, a subsidiary of IAG, will now acquire compulsorily any outstanding Aer Lingus shares and will then re-register Aer Lingus as a private company.

IAG first launched a €1bn bid for the airline in December 2014, which was rejected on the grounds that it “fundamentally undervalued” the airline. The group later upped its bid to €2.55 a share and ultimately succeeded in getting approval from the major shareholders in the airline, including the Government’s 29.7% stake.

The accuracy of evidence from drunk sex assault victims is not affected by intoxication

A study says

Rate of sexual assault on women between 16 and 24 four times higher than any other age


Drinks were labelled either “vodka and tonic” or “tonic water” and participants were not told the amount of alcohol they received.

The accuracy of evidence given by victims of sexual assault is not affected by alcohol intoxication, according to a British study.

Researchers at the University of Leicester found that participants who were drunk, reported fewer pieces of information about an assault but the information provided was as accurate as that of those who were sober.

Results from the research by the university’s Department of Neuroscience, Psychology and Behaviour are now being applied in Britain in conjunction with the Crown Prosecution Service and Leicestershire police to develop national guidelines about the conduct of police interviews with intoxicated victims of sexual assault.

Eighty eight women aged between 18 and 31 were involved in the study after responding to an advertisement for “female social drinkers”.

According to the researchers the rate of sexual assault on women aged between 16 and 24 is four times higher than on any other age group

The study “Alcohol and remembering a hypothetical sexual assault: Can people who were under the influence of alcohol during the event provide accurate testimony?” was published in the journal Memory.

The research involved a placebo controlled trial to investigate the effects of alcohol on memory.

Drinks were labelled either “vodka and tonic” or “tonic water” and participants were not told the amount of alcohol they received.

A hypothetical rape scenario was described and participants read introductory information about the male portrayed including a physical description and photograph, and details about his occupation and possessions.

Participants were then presented with 24 sentences which appeared one at a time on a computer screen and they responded each based on whether or not they wished to remain in the hypothetical encounter.

The research team examined the influence of alcohol on remembering the interactive hypothetical sexual assault scenario in a laboratory setting.

All the participants completed an online memory test 24 hours later and four months later 73 per cent completed a recognition test.

Sober participants

The study indicated that participants reported less information if they were “under the influence” compared to women who were not.

But researchers found the accuracy of information from those who had been drinking did not differ from that of sober participants.

Study leader Dr Heather Flowe said “when a victim is intoxicated during the crime, questions about the accuracy of testimony are raised in the minds of criminal investigators.

“Out of these concerns, the police might forgo interviewing victims who were intoxicated during the offence. On the other hand, almost always in sexual offences, the victim is the only one who can provide information about the crime to investigators.”

Dr Flowe said a crime was unlikely to be solved without victim testimony.

“If they take into account that their memory has been impaired by alcohol, they should report information only when they believe it is likely to be accurate.

“Accordingly, intoxicated victims should report less information overall, but the accuracy of the information they do report might not be different from sober victims.”

The study was funded by Britain’s Economic and Social Research Council.

Couples trigger hunger hormone during fights,

A new study finds


Arguments are followed by a peak in the hormone that fuels hunger.

Couples are driving each other to the fridge, according to scientists who discovered an appetite-triggering hormone is released after hostile marital arguments.

A US study of “hostile” couples has revealed arguments are followed by a surge in the “I’m hungry” hormone ghrelin, as well as a link to poor food choices in period after their fighting.

The results of the University of Delaware research add weight to theories of why rejection and relationship difficulty can make people hungry.

Assistant Professor Lisa Jaremka said hostile couples had significantly higher amounts of ghrelin after -arguments, however there was no difference in levels of the appetite-suppressing hormone leptin.

Writing in the journal Clinical Psychological Science, Prof Jaremka said the hunger ¬hormone only rose in people with a healthy weight or deemed overweight, but not in those who were obese.

“Right now, it’s one-size-fits-all — diet and exercise,” she said.

“I hope this will help us start to tailor interventions … a personalised approach would be beneficial in the long run.”

World’s oldest human-like hand bone sheds light on our evolution


Scientists have discovered the oldest known fossil of a hand bone to resemble that of a modern human, and they suggest it belonged to an unknown human relative that would have been much taller and larger than any of its contemporaries.

This new finding reveals clues about when modern humanlike hands first began appearing in the fossil record, and suggests that ancient human relatives may have been larger than previously thought, researchers say in a new study.

A key feature that distinguishes humans from all other species alive today is the ability to make and use complex tools. This capability depends not only on the extraordinarily powerful human brain, but also the dexterity of the human hand.

The OH 86 hominin manual proximal phalanx in (from left to right) dorsal, lateral, palmar (distal is top for each) and proximal views. Scale bar, 1 cm. M. Domínguez-Rodrigo

“The hand is one of the most important anatomical features that defines humans,” said study lead author Manuel Domínguez-Rodrigo, a paleoanthropologist at Complutense University of Madrid. “Our hand evolved to allow us a variety of grips and enough gripping power to allow us the widest range of manipulation observed in any primate. It is this manipulation capability that interacted with our brains to develop our intelligence.”

Past analysis of fossils of hominins — the group of species that consists of humans and their relatives after the split from the chimpanzee lineage — has typically suggested that ancient hominins were adapted for a life spent in the trees. For instance, ancient hominin hands often possessed curved finger bones that were well suited for hanging from branches. Modern humans are the only living higher primates to have straight finger bones.

Scientists have often suggested that modern hands evolved to use stone tools. However, recent hominin fossil discoveries have suggested a more complex story behind the evolution of the modern hand. For instance, the hand bones of some ancient hominin lineages are sometimes more similar to modern hands than those of more recent lineages are.

To learn more about the evolution of the modern hand, scientists analyzed a newly discovered hand bone dated to more than 1.84 million years ago, dug up from Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania. Previous excavations at Olduvai helped confirm that Africa was the cradle of humanity.

The new bone was probably part of the little finger of the adult left hand of an unidentified hominin lineage similar to Homo erectus, the first hominin known to regularly keep tools it made. The bone is about 1.4 inches (3.6 centimeters) long — “the same size as the equivalent bone in our hand,” Domínguez-Rodrigo said.

The straightness and other features of this new bone suggest adaptations for life on the ground rather than in the trees. It adds to previous findings suggesting that several key features of modern human body shape emerged very early in hominin evolution. (This unknown hominin was not, however, a modern human.)

Before this oldest known hand-bone fossil was discovered, scientists weren’t certain when hominin hands began looking like modern hands and became specialized for manipulation. “Our discovery fills a gap — we found out that such a modern-looking hand is at least 1.85 million years old,” Domínguez-Rodrigo said.

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Tuesday 16th June 2015

Hunger is the world’s ‘greatest ethical challenge’

Says Irish President M.D. Higgins


The President of Ireland discusses the ‘moral outrage’ of global hunger at Expo 2015 in Milan.

President Michael D Higgins said Ireland has “innate understanding” of world hunger given its Famine history.

It is not often that you will hear a legendary singer such as Seán O’Sé light up a dull, overcast Milan morning with a live rendition of The Foggy Dew, but it happened on Tuesday when Ireland came to visit the Expo 2015 exhibition in Milan.

Accompanied by the Brú Ború band of Comhaltas Ceoltóirí fame, O’Sé was one of a number of Irish artists who welcomed President Michael D Higgins and his wife Sabina when they came to visit Expo on Tuesday on Irish National Day, time to coincide with Bloomsday.

In an age when hardly anyone knows what Expo is actually about, this Milan version may have hit on an irresistibly winning note. Entitled “Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life”, it has set out to investigate, illustrate and analyse just about every aspect of arguably the most urgent problem facing the world today.

The point was not lost on the President who said: “Global hunger in the 21st century represents the grossest of human rights violations, and the greatest ethical challenge facing the global community.

“According to the Food and Agricultural Organisation, while the world at the present time produces enough food to potentially feed its entire population, more than 1 billion people are undernourished, over 2 billion suffer from nutritional deficiencies, and almost 6 million children die every year from malnutrition or related diseases.”

‘A powerful infrastructure’

The President also said that the fact that more than 140 countries are participating in this Expo means that the exhibition provides a “powerful infrastructure” which brings together the key issues of food provision, upscaling nutrition and sustainability.

Calling world hunger not only a “great ethical challenge” but also a “great moral outrage”, he added:

“Ireland knows about this, Ireland has an innate understanding of this [world hunger] . . . given that 1 million Irish people died of starvation and over 1 million emigrated during, ‘An Gort Mór’, the Great Hunger in the 1840s and [thus] food security is given the highest priority by our development aid programme . . .”

The President was formally received at Expo by Ivan Scalfarotto, Italian junior minister for constitutional reform. Mr Scalfarotto, Italy’s first openly gay government minister, took the opportunity to congratulate Ireland on its progressive “recent legislation”, in an obvious reference to the success of the same-sex marriage referendum last month in Ireland.

During his six-hour stay, the President also took time to visit the Irish pavilion, created around Bord Bia’s “Origin Green” programme which aims at promoting Ireland as “a world-leading producer of independently verified, sustainably produced food and drink while protecting a landscape rich in natural resources”.

And Bloomsday? Do not worry, it was not forgotten with actor Garvan McGrath at one point offering a spirited rendering of some excerpts from Ulysses, excerpts which he also offered in even more spirited Italian much to the bemusement of some of his audience.

‘Our condolences go to the Irish people’ involved in the Berkeley disaster


Kittredge Street apartment materials taken away for more analysis.

Two women embrace while watching sheriff’s deputies on duty at the scene in Berkeley where six Irish students were killed. They said hthey knew the victims.

It was around midnight in California’s best-known college town when Berkeley police got the first call from Kittredge Street tenants and neighbours.

According to their police log, it was just a noise complaint about a student party at the 2110 Berkeley Library Gardens Apartments – not the first or last from the eight-year-old complex, where short-term renters pay up to $3,000 per month for one-bedroom apartments.

“But cops didn’t arrive till 12.40am, just after the balcony collapsed,” said local witness Bob Brown, who lives opposite the apartment. “The police were late this time.”

The six victims have been named as Niccolai Schuster (21), Eoghan Culligan (21), Eimear Walsh (21), Olivia Burke (21), Ashley Donohoe (22) and Lorcan Miller (21). They and others seriously injured, fell on to pavement concrete, not the asphalt of Kittredge Road.

lrish Consul in San Francisco Philip Grantwent to Berkeley early in the day, talking to the building’s owners and establishing names of victims. His staff was already undergoing the usual summertime melee of lost passports and minor infractions. Now they’re facing the colossal bureaucratic and emotional toll.

Local people were dumbfounded at how so many managed to exit narrow French windows onto the cantilevered balcony. It doesn’t seem possible, they repeated.

From the ground, it looked small, and was immediately above another balcony. The pieces of the fourth floor balcony are now gone, leaving a ragged looking slash of wood and tarpaper being inspected by police detectives earlier yesterday morning.

“Statewide, we’re going to be examining balconies more closely from now on,” said a tenant from the opposite complex waiting outside the yellow police tape.

A second neighbour, David Daniels, said they’d “never known anything like this to happen in Berkeley”.

“Our condolences go out to the Irish people,” said Daniels, a 50-year-old Berkeleyian. Like his neighbour Bob Brown, he had watched at 5am as the ambulances and paramedics were moving the last of the injured and dead to local hospitals.

It’s just horrible, he went on, adding that it would make the city look twice at balconies ever after, and should prompt many inquiries into structural issues of number 2110 Kittredge.

Materials have been taken away for more analysis, and serious doubts have been cast on the integrity of building materials.

Daniels recounted how when he first moved to Kittredge Street a few years ago, a severe windstorm combined with a leak inside the roofing to result in an upper story window frame becoming loose and a casement dangling over the side.

He alerted the fire station and it was treated promptly. But the timbers under the stucco cladding are required by code to be kiln-dried and treated. It remains to be seen if they were. The City of Berkeley, the local authority here, said it had been taking “all necessary steps to safely secure the area” and investigate the incident.

It sent building inspectors to examine the scene early in the morning and have taken precautions.

“The balcony for the affected unit, as well as the three other similar balconies in the building, have each been red-tagged, prohibiting access to those areas,” it said.

“The City has ordered the property owner to immediately remove the failed balcony and to perform a structural assessment of the remaining balconies within 48 hours.”

Greystar, the property management company for the Library Gardens Apartments, said its heart went out to the families and friends of the deceased and those injured in the “tragic accident”.

“The safety of our residents is our highest priority and we will be working with an independent structural engineer and local authorities to determine the cause of the accident. We will share more details as we have them,” it said.

Throughout the day a host of friends and J-1ers came to the sidewalk of 2020 Kittredge to leave wreaths, messages and bouquets for the deceased and injured.

A block with the words City of Berkeley etched in it was draped in the bright blue flag of Dublin.

The Euro falls amid a Greek standoff,


The euro fell on Tuesday as it appeared more likely that debt-stricken Greece would default or have to leave the single currency, while the U.S. dollar rose at the start of a two-day meeting by the Federal Reserve.

Stocks mostly rose on the day, with shares in both Europe and the United States rebounding after a two-day decline, though investors continued to closely monitor the situation with Greece. Wall Street stocks were also supported by potential deal activity in the healthcare space.

Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras lashed out at Greece’s creditors on Tuesday, accusing them of trying to “humiliate” Greeks, and he defied a drum beat of warnings that Europe is preparing for his country to leave the euro. The address was seen as a sign that Tsipras was unlikely to accept austerity cuts needed to unlock frozen aid and avoid a debt default within two weeks.

“The market is still anxious about Greece and would like the situation to be dealt with one way or another. The week-after-week uncertainty isn’t good for the market,” said Scott Brown, chief economist at Raymond James in St. Petersburg, Florida.

The euro EUR= fell 0.35% to $1.1243 while the U.S. dollar index .DXY, which measures the greenback against a basket of currencies, rose 0.2 percent. The yen JPY= was flat against the dollar.

The all-country MSCI International ACWI Price Index .MIWD00000PUS rose 0.3 percent, while the pan-European FTS Eurofirst 300 .FTEU3 ended 0.6% higher, rebounding after a decline of 2.4 percent over the previous two sessions. Shares in Hong Kong .HSI fell 1.1%.

The Dow Jones industrial average .DJI rose 113.31 points, or 0.64%, to 17,904.48, the S&P 500 .SPX gained 11.86 points, or 0.57%, to 2,096.29 and the Nasdaq Composite.IXIC added 25.58 points, or 0.51%, to 5,055.55. The S&P 500 is coming off a two-day decline of 1.2%.

Wall Street was also lifted after the Wall Street Journal reported that UnitedHealth (UNH.N) was considering buying Cigna (CI.N) and Aetna (AET.N). UnitedHealth, a Dow component, rose 2.2% to $121.55.

U.S. investors were also looking for clues regarding the timing of a rate hike after a two-day Federal Reserve meeting.

The central bank is unlikely to raise rates in this meeting but traders will watch for any hints from Fed Chair Janet Yellen at a news conference after the meeting on Wednesday.

The Fed has said it remains data-dependent and will raise rates only when it sees an improvement in the economy. Second-quarter data pointed to a recovery after a halt in growth earlier in the year.

The benchmark 10-year U.S. Treasury note US10YT=RR rose 12/32 in price, pushing the yield down to 2.3111%.

In the commodity market, U.S. crude futures CLc1 rose 0.8% to $60.01 per barrel, lifted as a tropical storm moved ashore in the oil-producing state of Texas. [O/R] Brent crude for August delivery LCOc1 was down 0.5% at $63.65 per barrel.

Gold prices XAU= fell 0.4% while silver XAU= lost 0.5%. Copper CMCU3 lost 1.1% in its second straight daily decline of more than 1%.

The future of Irish post offices has very little to do with posting a letter?


Around 48% of post offices in Ireland account for just 12% of total business.

Irish Post Offices are being told to move into a number areas but it has nothing to do with posting a letter?

Entrepreneur Bobby Kerr has led a group which has authored a report for the Department of Communications which says that post offices can thrive if they move into financial services, social enterprise, public service delivery and white labelling.

The report found that a disproportionate amount of business is conducted in relatively few of the country’s 1,140 post offices. Two thirds of all transactions are conducted in just 300 post offices, while another 48% of post offices account for just 12% of total business.

The report says that An Post should fill the hole left in rural Ireland by the withdrawal of banks and should deliver services like motor tax, the electoral register, HSE payments, local authority payments and CAO and exam fees.

It also suggests post offices are better used for social enterprise and that they cross-sell goods from other suppliers.

Kerr says that An Post’s reach across the country means it is well-placed to deliver customer services.

I believe that An Post is best placed to provide a customer-led solution for a host of financial and government-related services right across the country.

There has been a slowdown in post office closures in the last five years, with a net closure rate of 24 between 2011 and 2014.

Gold that could be worth €150million to Irish economy discovered by miners in Ireland


The valuable mineral was discovered this morning in soil three-feet deep near the border

Miners have unearthed gold believed to be worth more than €150 million in the border region.

The valuable mineral was discovered this morning in soil three-feet deep near Rockcorry, Co Monaghan.

Any gold found in the region is owned by the State and extracted under licence.

Irish gold exploration company Conroy Gold and Natural Resources confirmed that 700 metres by 300 metres gold-in-soil patch was tapped by explorers.

The company is proposing to develop a gold mine in Monaghan, around 14km away from the latest discovery and has been carrying out a number of searches in the area.

Professor Richard Conroy told the Irish Mirror: “When we hopefully get to develop it, which will be years down the line, it will be worth several million but there is an awful lot of work to be done.

“You have to do all the technical work first to see how much is actually down there.”

The discovery, which the company said revealed four gold-in-soil samples above 20ppb gold and a further five above 10ppb gold, is situated within the 50 km gold trend that Conroy outlined.

Professor Conroy explained: “This discovery confirms the gold potential of the company’s licenses in the area lying between the company’s existing gold targets to the Northwest at Clay Lake, Clontibret, where a mine is being developed, and Glenish, as well as those to the South at Slieve Glah.”

The gold lies along a major geological structure, known as the Orlock Bridge Fault.

The company has been working on the regions for years drilling, trenching and sampling.

Just last week, a gold nugget worth a staggering £10,000 (€14,000) was found in Scotland.

The precious metal – thought to be the largest found in Scotland in seven decades – was discovered by a Canadian gold panning enthusiast in a river near Wanlockhead, in Dumfries and Galloway.

It is believed the 20-carat nugget, which weighs around 18 grams, will spark a gold rush in the area.

While in April this year the Connemara Mining Company bought prospecting licences on the Inishowen peninsula

Building and moulding a child that can cope with life is a mighty task


There’s so much advice around parenting these days that it feels like you need a Phd. Ailin Quinlan cut to the chase and got tips from one of the country’s foremost experts in children and mental health.

Every parent yearns for an emotionally healthy child. Clinical psychologist Paul Gilligan has written a book for parents on how to raise one.

But what is an emotionally healthy child? “An emotionally healthy child is a child who’s generally content and confident, has a positive belief in themselves and can handle adversity in an appropriate manner,” says Gilligan, who is CEO of At Patrick’s Mental Health Services and chair of the Children’s Rights Alliance.

“They experience positive emotions in an appropriate way, at the appropriate time, and behave in a positive manner,” says the former CEO of the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children.

Children aged under 13 reflect their emotions in behaviour — for example, a depressed child may not do their homework, may not want to get up in the morning or may be the subject of complaints from the class teacher.

Gilligan says that parents have a built-in ability: “We are born with a deep capacity to love our children and to do the best we can for them,” he says. The goal is for the parent to connect with both of these qualities.

It is normal for parents to make mistakes, he says. Three things factors decide a child’s emotional and mental health — the child’s personality, his/her experiences, and the support he/she receives from parents and other important people in their lives. If these factors are not healthy, they can cause problems.

“Emotionally healthy children are able to navigate the difficulties of life — even if they develop an issue about something, if they are emotionally healthy they are better able to cope with it,” Gilligan says.

His tips on raising an emotionally healthy child:

  1. Connect with your deep love for your child

“We are in an era where parents are reluctant to talk about loving their child. Consciously acknowledge that love, and remind yourself that your actions spring from that,” he says.

  1. Believe in yourself as a parent

Don’t be overly confident, but believe in your ability to parent your child. Recognise that this may involve asking for help or advice. Don’t beat yourself up about what you’re not doing. “Research tells us that parents spend more time with their children nowadays than they did in the 1960s, but are more prone to questioning themselves around their ability to parent and provide for their child,” Gilligan says.

  1. Teach your child self-confidence

Encourage self-respect and self-care, and their development of realistic expectations of themselves.

“Help them map out their day,” he says. Encourage your child to understand that while they must do their homework, they should also relax afterwards, with a game of football, for example.

Develop realistic expectations by encouraging self-awareness and insight, and support them in doing their best in their hobbies and activities.

“Help them reflect on their achievements,” he says.

  1. Teach your child how to deal with difficulties

Protect them from unnecessary difficulties by identifying problems, such as bullying — but recognise that they will have to deal with the death of a beloved relative, for example, or a poor performance in an examination.

  1. Teach your child to be happy

First, recognise that your child cannot be happy all the time, but when there is the opportunity, encourage them to be happy.

“Let them be themselves, and allow them to realise their own individuality,” he says.

Remember, says Gilligan, life is full of things to be sad or happy about — but that also it often depends on how we interpret them. A child can be happy or disappointed with a B-plus grade in a test, depending on how they look at it, for example.

  1. Ensure the child’s environment is healthy and safe

Take a balanced approach, he says, because these days there is a major focus on “risks” and parents can become overly concerned.

“Be reasonable about assessing risk. Don’t swaddle a child in cotton wool and don’t expose a child to serious hazards. It’s all about balance,” he says. “We can overplay the risks to children.”

  1. Listen to, and communicate with, your child

It’s important to listen to what they are saying, and to communicate as clearly as possible. Integrate communication into family life, he says, by, for example, sitting down to an evening meal together.

  1. Look after yourself as a person

Reinforce yourself. Don’t be afraid to acknowledge what you do for your child, so that they see that you do your best. Try to maintain a balance between work, family and social life.

Raising Emotionally Healthy Children, by Paul Gilligan, published by Veritas, €14.95, will be launched by RTÉ broadcaster, Áine Lawlor, today at St. Patrick’s Mental Health Services, James St, Dublin 8.

‘Life outside of Earth is probably going to be really hard to find’

Say Scientists


In previewing missions in the search for life and discussing its challenges, the scientists confess they ‘can’t even agree on a definition of what life detection is’

This guy is smiling, but the search for life is not easy, says Nasa.

NASA scientists previewed several missions in the search for life off Earth on Tuesday, including a plan to scoop up minerals from an asteroid and one to drill into the surface of Mars.

The missions described by researchers included satellites, spacecraft, landers and work concentrated on Mars, Jupiter moons, an asteroid and on Earth itself.

“Sciences are being unified by the search for life in the universe,” said Dr John Grunsfeld, associate administrator for science at Nasa, before conceding that “life outside of earth is probably going to be really hard to find”.

“We can’t even agree on a definition of what life detection is.”

Grunsfeld said missions to Mars in the next few years will have greater capabilities than the Curiosity rover, which continues to explore Mars and in April discovered water on below the surface of the red planet. The European Space Agency’s ExoMars mission, for instance, aims to specifically search for signs of life.

The lander will have a “deeper drill than any lander”, Grunsfeld said, able to reach down into the Martian crust “a couple of meters” where the deadly radiation that bombards the planet would not be as able to affect life.

“The surface of Mars is bathed in ultraviolet light, bathed in radiation,” Grunsfeld said. “Mars’s magnetic field is essentially gone, so the surface of Mars is essentially sterilized.”

Places where the frozen water exists, as in the planet’s polar glaciers and below the surface, might be able to harbor life, but “these are challenging places to get to”, he said.

Last year the Curiosity rover detected “spikes” of methane, stoking speculation of life on the planet, but Grunsfeld noted that those signals could be abiotic as well as from a biotic organism.

“On future missions we’re going to look more toward what kind of instruments could detect life,” he said. “A DNA sequencer for instance might fail miserably even if it were surrounded by extant Martian life.”

The ExoMars mission is planned for 2018 and receive assistance from Nasa.

Grunsfeld also described a mission named Osiris Rex, which aims to send a satellite to an asteroid called Bennu in order to study its composition. The satellite will “do a quick touch-and-go and grab samples, up to 2kg (5lb)”, he said, which researchers will then be able to study.

In part, the Osiris Rex team will try to determine whether the organic materials that started life on Earth were “seeded” on the planet by collisions with carbonaceous asteroids like Bennu.

Dr Britney Schmidt, the principal investigator for the Nasa-funded Sub-Ice Marine and Planetary Analog Ecosystems (Simple) mission, spoke about the possibilities for life on Jupiter’s moon Europa.

“There’s a whole host of ice-rich worlds which potentially harbor subsurface oceans,” Schmidt said. “These are important places to think about in the search for life even within our own solar system.”

In February, Nasa won approval from the White House to proceed with a mission to fly by Europa, which is covered in a sheet of ice that has intrigued scientists for the likelihood that it coats a subsurface ocean.

The mission will feature an ice-penetrating radar that has been used to explore similar surfaces on Earth, Schmidt said, and try to determine whether the moon harbors “enough energy to power biology in these very distant and seemingly so alien worlds”.

Dr Alexis Templeton showcased some of her research on alien environments here on earth, where scientists have discovered life in what were until recently considered utterly inhospitable regions.

In particular, Templeton studies how rocks may have helped create life in these extreme environments. “Rocks have within them, depending on their chemistry, the ability to release electrons,” she said, which “can fuel certain systems, essentially a lot like fuel cells do”.

Citing the discovery of life in the high-pH waters of remote deserts and the ways that water can release chemicals and energy when it interacts with certain rocks, Templeton said that the research could help colleagues determine what exactly they should look for on celestial bodies. On a moon of Saturn, for instance, plumes of particles ejected from the south pole could “represent potential for liquid water that’s stored underneath the ice shell”, she said.

Dr Vikki Meadows, a professor of astronomy at the University of Washington’s Virtual Planetary Laboratory, said that she was studying hunting for oceans on planets by looking for the “glint effect”.

Meadows described the phenomenon as “something that should be very familiar to you if you’ve ever sat on a beach after sunrise or sunset” – the reflected light of the sun off the surface of the water at a particular angle.

With the help of a blurry photo of a crescent Earth, from a satellite that later crashed into the moon, researchers were able to calculate the glint effect for other planets – a prediction that could help detect oceans on solar systems outside our own.

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Monday 27th April 2015

An Post could dump our letters that don’t have enough stamps on them


An Post could end up dumping away our letters that don’t have enough postage paid on them under new proposed terms it wants to impose on Irish customers.

And consumers could end up insuring letters to carry cash but get nothing back if the mail gets lost.

The regulator ComReg has highlighted a number of serious concerns it has with new terms and conditions proposed by An Post.

It says that some of the new conditions An Post wants to impose are very heavily weighted against customers and would have a “significantly adverse effect on postal service users”.

In a consultation paper on the new postal terms and conditions, ComReg highlights particular issues where consumers want to send cash or vouchers in the post.

ComReg said An Post on the one hand appears to prohibit the sending of cash through the post but then permits it if in a secure insured package.

Another clause then states that cash, bank drafts and vouchers can be sent in postal packets to addresses inside and outside the state, but says they are excluded from compensation.

This implied people could pay insurance but would not then get anything back if the item went astray.

“ComReg considers that it would be difficult for postal service users to know whether they can or cannot send money by post and if so in what circumstances this is permitted and what compensation is payable,” it said.

An Post is also seeking the right to detain or dispose of underpaid letters and packages rather than delivering them with a surcharge to the recipient, as is currently the practice.

ComReg is also calling foul on this new postal condition, arguing that it gives An Post very wide-ranging discretion and that it is “a fundamental change” to how post has always been treated as the property of the addressee.

This new way of doing business would also allow An Post to open private letters, and would mean that neither the sender nor the recipient might be aware what had happened to their mail.

This is the first time that An Post has drawn up terms and conditions that are subject to regulation

ComReg is now looking for interested parties to have their say on the changes by May 20 before new rules are set.

PTSB raises €525m from capital markets with stock priced at €4.50 per share


  • Bank sells €400m in shares and sources €125m via debt instrument

PTSB chief executive Jeremy Masding described the investor interest as “exceptional” with the company making more than 100 presentations to potential investors over the past six months.

Permanent TSB has raised €525 million from capital markets through the sale of €400 million worth of shares and €125 million via a debt instrument.

PTSB today raised €400 million through the sale of 88.9 million ordinary shares with private investors. This priced the stock at €4.50 per share, which was the top of the price range indicated by the bank last week.

It has also raised €125 million through the issuance of AT1 capital with a coupon of 8.625%.

In addition, the Government is selling 21.8 million shares in the group for €98 million. All of this will have the effect of reducing the State’s holding in PTSB to 75% from the 99.2% currently.

The bank will now seek admission to the main stock markets in both Dublin and London in the next two days.

The funds will be used in part to plug a €125 million hole in its capital, which was identified in regulatory stress tests last October. In addition, the bank will pay €410.5 million to the Government through the repurchase of the State’s contingent capital notes.

PTSB chief executive Jeremy Masding described the investor interest as “exceptional” with the company making more than 100 presentations to potential investors over the past six months.

The bank also plans an open offer to existing retail shareholders, who own the residual shares in the bank. This will be on the same terms as offered to the new investors today. The open offer will close in three weeks.

The Minister for Finance Michael Noonan, welcomed the capital raising by PTSB and its return of some of its €2.7 billion bailout to the State following its recapitalisation in 2011.

He said it was an “important milestone” for the company and he expressed his satisfaction at the State retaining a “valuable” 75% holding in PTSB.

“The move to the main markets on both the Irish Stock Exchange and the London Stock Exchange is a positive for the bank and allows the State additional flexibility and liquidity to manage its sell down of PTSB in the future,” Mr Noonan said.

Markus Feehily abused to chanted vile homophobic abuse in Sligo pub


The singer was forced to leave a pub after a group of men chanted abuse at him

Markus Feehily has revealed he was forced to leave a pub in his Hometown after being subjected to vile homophobic abuse.

The Westlife star was enjoying a drink when a man approached him to take a picture.

A group of the man’s friends then crowded around the singer and began chanting abuse at him.

Shock: Mark was ganged up on in the pub Markus admitted the experience was “intimiating” and “upsetting”.

“A man asked to take a picture of me then four of his friends crowded round yelling, ‘What the f**k are you doing? Why are you taking a photo with him – you gay? You queer!’”

“We left quickly, the fear kicks in. I was shocked,” Markus said.

The Sligo native feels more work needs to be done to crack down on anti-gay sentiment.

“It would be a mistake to think it’s over. Things are far from where they need to be.”

Markus is currently busy promoting his debut solo single Love Is A Drug and recently performed the tune on The Saturday Night Show.

First Irish-American collaboration to target prostate cancer research

  • Irish American collaboration ‘the first of its kind’


The Irish Cancer Society (ICS) is to join forces with two leading US institutions in an attempt to advance research and identify new treatments for prostate cancer.

Prostate cancer is one of the most common male cancers, affecting around one in every six men in their lifetime. Over 2,000 Irish men are newly diagnosed with the disease every year.

The ICS is joining forces with the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health to form the Boston-Ireland Prostate Cancer Collaboration.

This new collaboration, the first of its kind, aims to make ‘a significant and lasting impact on the diagnosis, treatment and management of the disease’, the ICS said.

“This fellowship programme will address key clinical needs in prostate cancer such as accurate diagnosis, assessment of treatment options to ensure best quality of life and identification of new therapeutic targets for treatment-resistant disease,” the society noted.

A highly competitive selection process to find a young scientist or clinician to undertake this opportunity is due to start later this year. The successful recipient will spend two years in the US, before bringing their expertise back to Ireland.

“This collaboration brings together internationally unique expertise in the field of prostate cancer. This novel partnership will leverage our combined knowledge and resources to make a real and lasting difference to prostate cancer patients and their families on both sides of the Atlantic,” commented the ICS’s head of research, Dr Robert O’Connor.

Meanwhile, according to Dr Philip Kantoff of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, this collaboration ‘will train bright young investigators in Ireland and Boston with a view to creating a pool of talented and internationally networked researchers’.

“It is through exciting collaborations such as this that leading US and Irish researchers can exchange knowledge which will ultimately lead to significant prostate cancer breakthroughs,” he added.

The announcement about the collaboration was made at the inaugural John Fitzpatrick Irish Prostate Cancer Conference, which took place recently in Dublin in memory of Prof Fitzpatrick, the first head of research at the ICS.

Have scientists found a way to ‘switch off hunger panks’?

  • A team of researchers have identified the brain cells which cause hunger pangs


Feeling hungry? It’s all to do with a select set of brain cells, apparently

We all know what it’s like to try and lose weight, only to find ourselves gorging on chocolate once the hunger pangs strike.

There could be hope for dieters however, after scientists identified the brain cells which create the sensation of hunger – findings that they say create “a promising new target for the development of weight-loss drugs”.

Resarchers from Harvard Medical School and Edinburgh University found that a brain circuit known as melanoncortin 4 receptor-regulated (MC4R) is the set of cells which controls the desire to eat.

By switching off the cells in a group of mice, the scientists increased hunger, while switching them on stopped the hunger pangs.

“Our results show that the artificial activation of this particular brain circuit is pleasurable and can reduce feeding in mice, essentially resulting in the same outcome as dieting but without the chronic feeling of hunger,” explained the study’s co-senior author Bradford Low, a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and an investigator at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center for Nutrition and Metabolism.

The scientists managed to activate and switch off the brain cells by exposing the mice to blue laser light, via an optical fibre that was implanted in the animals’ brains.

New dinosaur poses evolutionary puzzle

Paleontologists have unearthed a strange new species of dinosaur that is unlike anything ever seen before.


  • Chilesaurus diegosuarezi, a vegetarian dinosaur despite being a close relative of famous meat-eaters like Tyrannosaurus rex.

It was given the name Chilesaurus because it was found in Chile. The “diegosuarezi” part of its name is a tribute to Diego Suarez, who found the first Chilesaurus fossil in 2005 when he was just 7 years old.Suarez was in the region with his geologist parents who were there to study rock formations. He was hunting for stones when he found his first fossil, which belonged to this strange, never-before-seen dinosaur.

It also mixes a bizarre range of characteristics from unrelated dinosaur species, leading palaeontologists to describe it as a platypus dinosaur.

Most families have one, the odd one out who doesn’t seem to look like the rest of the group. The Chilesaurus diegosuarezi takes this to the extreme, and not just in its preference for leaves and plants over a Stegosaurus steak or a Brontoburger.

All dinosaurs had feathers at one time, researchers say

Most of the dozen Chilesaurus specimens excavated so far are about the size of a modern-day turkey, but larger bones suggest the big ones could have been three-metres long.

It is related to tough guys such as the Velociraptor and Carnotaurus, but has a proportionally smaller head and feet that are more like those of the long-neck dinosaurs, according to the authors of a study of the species published in Nature.

Chilesaurus is probably the descendant of meat-eating theropods and eventually evolved to become an herbivore, the researchers conclude. It had plant-chomping teeth like those of primitive long-necked dinosaurs, Plant-eating theropods have been found before, but this was the first one to be seen in South America.

A previously unknown species?

Experts are excited, not just because it was a previously unknown species that dates back to 145 million years ago.

Its admixture of unique anatomical traits makes it one of the most extreme cases of what is known as “mosaic convergent evolution” recorded in the history of life.

This happens when one organism has characteristics from other unrelated species due to a similar mode of life, explains Dr Martin Ezcurra of the University of Birmingham.

In effect, it borrows useful traits from other species because they suit the animal’s particular lifestyle.

Its discovery is a story in itself. Diego Suarez (7) found the fossilised bones while searching for decorative stones with his sister Macarena. They were with their geologist parents who were studying rocks in Chilean Patagonia.

The species must have been very successful despite its oddities, given it came to be “by far the most abundant dinosaur in southwest Patagonia”, lead researcher Dr Fernando Novas, of Bernardino Rivadavia Natural Sciences Museum in Argentina, said.

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Sunday 2nd June 2013

Income equality & increasing poverty staring Ireland in the face for a good while longer


The latest data (for 2011) on income inequality and poverty will shortly be published by the Central Statistics Office, revealing if the trend towards growing income inequality and increasing poverty is continuing or if it has subsided.

The gini coefficient is an index ranging from 0 to 100 where 0 represents a perfectly equal distribution of income and 100 represents a perfectly unequal distribution. The gini coefficient stood at 29.3 in 2009. This compared with an EU 27 average of 30.4.

The gini coefficient grew in the early years of the boom from 30.2 in 2000 to 32.4 in 2005. There was then a move towards greater income equality in the later boom years and early years of the crisis up to 2009. However the gini coefficient has since risen precipitously to 33.9 in 2010. This compares with an EU 27 average of 30.5 in 2010.

The Nevin Economic Research Institute (NERI), in the latest Quarterly Review, analysed disposable income to show that almost a third (31%) of households had a disposable income of less than 500 euro per week. Their research uses 2009 data, which does not cover the last four budgets that have had a depressing effect on incomes. The proportion of households on lower incomes is likely to have grown.

While most households have been affected by years of austerity, the impact has been greatest on low-income households.  Budget measures that do not take account of household income have a disproportionate impact on low-income groups, which have the least capacity to absorb reductions in income. The relentless downward pressure on low incomes is one of the main reasons why the domestic economy remains in the doldrums.

Stewart Lansley in his book The Cost of Inequality: Why Economic Equality is Essential for Recoverypresents evidence from the last 100 years which shows that more equal societies alleviate, and more polarised societies exacerbate, the ‘gyrations’ of the economic business cycle.  His work shows that equality has a smoothing effect, which buffers societies against the peaks and troughs of economic booms and busts.

Lansley argues that inequality is not just an issue about fairness and equity, but that it is integral to economic success. An economic model that encourages the richest members of society to accumulate more and more wealth leads to demand deflation, asset appreciation, and a constriction of the productive economy. This ultimately results in economic instability.

The OECD in its recent report, Economic Policy Reforms: Going for Growth 2012, states that there is a growing consensus that assessments of economic performance should not focus solely on overall income growth (GDP) but should also take into account income distribution. The OECD notes that rising income inequality tends to be shaped by an increasing concentration of income at the top end of the income distribution.

Ending the present crisis and building a sustainable global economy requires a fundamental leap that accepts that there is a limit to the level of income inequality a country can have that is consistent with stability. The successful management of economies depends on securing a more equal distribution of incomes. Reducing inequality has not yet been a central economic goal alongside, for example, controlling inflation or tackling fiscal deficits.

Measures to reduce income inequality must be seen as having a central role in creating the right conditions for sustainable and inclusive growth. The Government needs to set clear targets for a number of key economic relationships to make progress on income inequality, including:

  • Striking the right balance between wages and profits, because a lower wage share leads to lower growth;
  • Reducing the pay gap between top and bottom earners, as this will contribute to maintaining and increasing aggregate demand;
  • Putting limits on the level of income concentration and using the tax system more effectively for redistributive purposes. T. Pickety, E. Saez and S. Stnatcheva, in their 2012 paper, Optimal Taxation of Top Labor Incomes: A Tale of Three Elasticities, illustrate how the trend where the top 1% are paying less tax than they were thirty years ago needs to be reversed.

Irish Businesses facing big bank charge increases says Éamon Ó Cuív


Galway West Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív has criticised the Government for failing to intervene as Galway businesses face an increase in charges for lodging cash with AIB.

Galway West Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív has criticised the Government for failing to intervene as Galway businesses face an increase in charges for lodging cash with AIB.

From next week, businesses in Galway and across the country face an increase of up to 165 per cent in charges at the State-controlled bank.

“These are ridiculous increases for business owners,” said Deputy Ó Cuív. “The bank is actually charging more money to take in money. It makes absolutely no sense, and the Government is doing nothing about it despite the fact that the State controls AIB.

“This is just another example of government policy failing to bring about real reform in the banking sector.  It is our communities that are suffering as a result of the failure to support businesses local businesses and help stimulate growth and job creation.”

Deputy Ó Cuív said he meets business owners in Galway and Mayo every week that are under “huge pressure” from high rents, high rates, increasing utility costs and now higher bank charges.

“At the same time, the banks are still refusing to play ball when it comes to making credit available to these viable businesses. There are over 21,700 people on the Live Register across Co. Galway.

“They don’t need more bureaucracy and more pressure from government or government controlled areas. The entire banking system owes its existence to the Irish taxpayer – a point that the banks seem to have very quickly forgotten.”

The Galway West TD said that as AIB is State-controlled bank, the Government should be pushing through policies that will ensure businesses are supported.

“It is not good enough for Fine Gael and Labour to stand by as our local businesses are put under even more unsustainable pressure. This Government is very quick to take the credit for any positive news on jobs but it is nowhere to be seen when decisions are needed to support businesses and job creation in our communities.”

Skin cancer the most common cancer in Ireland


Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in Ireland, with the number of people suffering from it doubling over the last ten years.

The latest statistics reveal one in eight men and one in ten women will develop the disease by the age of 74.

Bernie Rice, an office administrator from Leixlip, Co Kildare, is still trying to come to terms with the death of her oldest daughter, Sharon, 33, from skin cancer.

“Hand on heart, the word melanoma was not even in my vocabulary then. There was no warning, no real awareness out there,’’ she recalls.

“Sharon was such a vibrant girl. I have a photograph of her taken at a wedding in October. She is glowing, smiling.

“It is so hard to believe that three months later we had lost her.’’

A small mole on Sharon’s left leg changed everything.

In 2006 she noticed that it had got bigger and then one day she accidentally cut it and it began to bleed. Sharon immediately consulted her doctor and was diagnosed with malignant melanoma.

“It was a total shock, but Sharon was very positive. She was a bright, intelligent girl and we never thought at all that she was going to die from it,’’ says Bernie.

After having the mole removed, Sharon, an IT manager, thought she was cured. She got married and later ran the mini-marathon for the Irish Cancer Society. However in 2007 she began to have pains in her legs, unfortunately the cancer had come back with a vengeance.

In the wake of her daughter’s untimely death in February 2008, Bernie established the Sharon Rice O’Beirne Melanoma Trust, to raise the importance of early detection and awareness of the disease.

“We had to do something, Sharon meant so much to us. She was so strong and positive, if we could save even one person’s life through our campaign,’’ says Bernie.

If skin cancer is detected early, up to 90% of cases are curable. The Irish Cancer Society suggest that people should check their skin every month and get to know it, so that any changes can be easily spotted.

Although many skin changes are harmless, the Irish Cancer Society recommends consulting a doctor if you have a new growth or sore that does not heal; a sport or sore that continues to itch, hurt, crust, scab or bleed; constant skin ulcers that are not explained by other causes; or have a new or changing mole.

While most cases of skin cancer are in areas exposed to the sun, melanoma can also develop in places that do not get the sun, so don’t forget to check the soles of the feet and in between toes for skin changes.

The advice is to always wear sun screen and don’t forget that you can get burnt even on a cloudy day.

“There is this belief in Ireland that we don’t really get the sun. If there is a fine day, people strip off and forget about the sun cream. But the Celtic skin is so fair that the risk of skin cancer is greater,’’ says Bernie.

Over half the world’s population has untreated dental problems


Over half the world’s population some 3.9 billion people – are suffering from untreated dental problems, according to a new report.

A team of international researchers investigated the area of oral health as part of the Global Burden of Disease (GBD) 2010 study.

They found that almost four billion people are affected by oral conditions, with untreated tooth decay and dental cavities (caries) being the most common of almost 300 diseases assessed. These two conditions alone affect some 35% of the world’s population.

“There are close to four billion people in the world who suffer from untreated oral health conditions that cause toothache and prevent them from eating and possibly sleeping properly, which is a disability.

   “This total does not even include small cavities or mild gum diseases, so we are facing serious problems in the population’s oral health,” explained lead researcher, Prof Wagner Marcenes, of the Institute of Dentistry at Queen Mary, University of London.

The report revealed that the global burden of oral conditions is moving away from severe tooth loss and towards severe periodontitis (gum disease) and untreated cavities.

“Tooth loss is often the final result when preventive or conservative treatments for tooth decay or gum disease fail or are unavailable. It is likely that current dental services are coping better to prevent tooth loss than in the past, but major efforts are needed to prevent the occurrence and development of gum diseases and tooth decay. Ironically the longer a person keeps their teeth the greater the pressure on services to treat them,” Prof Marcenes said.

He added that the findings show that an urgent and organised response to oral health problems is urgently needed.

Rich world smugness and greed will melt with the Arctic ice


There are no comparisons to be made. This is not like war or plague or a stockmarket crash. We are ill-equipped, historically and psychologically, to understand it, which is one of the reasons why so many refuse to accept that it is happening.

What we are seeing, here and now, is the transformation of the atmospheric physics of this planet. The Arctic has been warming roughly twice as quickly as the rest of the northern hemisphere. This is partly because climate breakdown there is self-perpetuating. As the ice melts, for example, exposing the darker sea beneath, heat that would previously have been reflected back into space is absorbed.

This great dissolution, of ice and certainties, is happening so much faster than most climate scientists predicted that one of them reports: “It feels as if everything I’ve learned has become obsolete”. In its last assessment, published in 2007, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change noted that “in some projections, Arctic late-summer sea ice disappears almost entirely by the latter part of the 21st century”.

These were the most extreme forecasts in the panel’s range. Some scientists now forecast that the disappearance of Arctic sea-ice in late summer could occur in this decade or the next.

As I’ve warned repeatedly, but to little effect, the IPCC’s assessments tend to be conservative. This is unsurprising when you see how many people have to approve them before they are published. There have been a few occasions – such as its estimate of the speed at which glaciers would be lost in the Himalayas – on which the panel has overstated the case. But it looks as if these will be greatly outnumbered by the occasions on which the panel has understated it.

The melting disperses another belief: that the temperate parts of the world – where most of the rich nations are located – will be hit last and least, while the poorer nations will be hit first and worst. New knowledge of the way in which the destruction of the Arctic sea ice affects northern Europe and North America suggests that this is no longer true. A recent paper in Geophysical Research Letters shows that Arctic warming is likely to be responsible for the extremes now hammering the once-temperate nations.

  The north polar jet stream is an air current several hundred kilometres wide, travelling eastwards around the hemisphere. The current functions as a barrier, separating the cold, wet weather to the north from the warmer, drier weather to the south. Many of the variations in our weather are caused by great travelling meanders – Rossby waves – in the jet stream.

Arctic heating, the paper shows, both slows the Rossby waves and makes them steeper and wider. Instead of moving on rapidly, the weather gets stuck. Regions to the south of the stalled meander wait for weeks or months for rain; regions to the north (or underneath it) wait for weeks or months for a break from the rain.

Instead of a benign succession of sunshine and showers, we get droughts or floods. During the winter a slow, steep meander can connect us directly to the polar weather, dragging severe ice and snow far to the south of its usual range. This mechanism goes a long way towards explaining the shift to sustained – and therefore extreme – weather patterns around the northern hemisphere.

  I have no idea what is coming to Europe and North America this winter and next summer, in the wake of the record ice melt, but it’s unlikely to be pleasant. Please note that this record represents a loss of about 30% of Arctic sea ice, against the long-term average. When that climbs to 50% or 70% or 90%, the impacts are likely to be worse.

Our governments do nothing. Having abandoned any pretence of responding to the environmental crisis during the Earth summit last June, now they stare stupidly as the ice on which we stand dissolves. Nothing – or worse than nothing. Their one unequivocal response to the melting has been to facilitate the capture of the oil and fish it exposes.

The companies that caused this disaster are scrambling to profit from it. Shell only abandoned controversial plans to start drilling for oil in the Arctic in September when a final test of its environmental protection equipment off the north-west coast of Alaska failed to meet the standards required to gain a full drilling permit.  When it resumes it will push its operations hard against the moment when the ice re-forms and any spills they cause are locked in.

The Russian oil company Gazprom is using the great melt to try to drill in the Pechora Sea, north-east of Murmansk. After turning its Arctic lands in the Komi republic into the Niger delta of the north (repeated oil spills are left unremediated in the tundra), Russia wants to extend this industry into one of the world’s most fragile ecosystems, where ice, storms and darkness make decontamination almost impossible.

David Cameron, who still claims to lead the greenest government ever, is no longer hugging huskies. Last June he struck an agreement with the Norwegian prime minister “to enable sustainable development of Arctic energy”. Sustainable development, of course, means drilling for oil.

Is this how our children will see it: that we destroyed the benign conditions that made our world of wonders possible, and then used the opportunity to amplify the damage? All of us, of course, can claim to have acted with other aims in mind, or not to have acted at all, as the other immediacies of life seemed more important. But unless we respond at last the results follow as surely as if we had sought to engineer them.

Stupidity, greed, passivity? Just as comparisons evaporate, so do these words. The ice, that solid platform on which, we now discover, so much rested, melts into air. Our pretensions to peace, prosperity and progress are likely to follow.