Tag Archives: Inflation

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Saturday 30th July 2016

Three Irish bank execs jailed (not before time) for ‘dishonest, corrupt’ and Anglo Irish fraud

David Drumm described by judge as the ‘driving force’ behind €7.2bn banking conspiracy

   

A judge has said the former Anglo Irish Bank chief executive David Drumm appeared to be the driving force behind the €7.2bn conspiracy that led to three banking executives being jailed yesterday.

Judge Martin Nolan made the comments as he sent the men to jail for terms ranging between two and three-and-a-half years.

Former Anglo chief risk officer Willie McAteer (66), ex-Anglo treasury executive John Bowe (52) and former Irish Life & Permanent chief executive Denis Casey (56) showed little emotion as the sentences were handed down.

Their first night in jail was spent at Mountjoy among all of Ireland’s criminals, where they were processed and kept under close observation, as is the practice with new inmates.

A decision will be made in the coming days on where each man will serve out his sentence.

McAteer, of Greenrath, Tipperary town, was sentenced to three and-a-half years; Bowe, of Glasnevin, Dublin, was sentenced to two years and Casey, from Raheny, Dublin, was sentenced to two years and nine months.

All three were convicted in June of conspiring with others to mislead investors, depositors and lenders by setting up a €7.2bn circular transaction scheme in September 2008 to bolster Anglo’s balance sheet. They had denied the charges.

The verdicts followed an 89-day trial, the longest criminal trial in the history of the State and the jury spent a total of 65 hours deliberating.

The case came to trial following a lengthy investigation, which began in 2009.

The judge said that the scheme was “dishonest, deceitful and corrupt”, as it gave a distorted impression of Anglo’s accounts to shareholders and depositors.

“From the evidence, it appears to me the driving force was Mr Drumm,” he said during the sentencing hearing at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court.

Nevertheless, the three defendants were involved in the scheme and knew that what they were doing was wrong.

Their behaviour was reprehensible, the judge said.

Drumm was not a defendant in this trial, but is due to face similar conspiracy charges next year.

 Sentencing McAteer to three-and-half years, Judge Nolan said he had held a senior position in the bank.

Although it appeared that Drumm was driving the scheme, McAteer was seen as a leader within the bank and he could have objected.

“It is grossly reprehensible what he did and a great shame on him,” said the judge.

McAteer authorised these transfers when he knew that what he was doing was “deceitful, underhand and corrupt”.

Sentencing Bowe to two years, the judge said he was “a lesser functionary in the bank”.

The judge described him as the “de facto treasurer”. He was a man of considerable experience and should have known what he was doing was wrong.

“In law, following orders is not a defence,” the judge said.

Bowe “failed to act with integrity and honesty in these matters” and had behaved reprehensibly by going along with it.

Sentencing Casey to two years and nine months, Judge Nolan acknowledged that he had become involved in the scheme as part of the so-called ‘Green Jersey’ agenda, where Irish banks were encouraged to assist others in a time of crisis.

Although Anglo was the author of the scheme, Casey authorised Irish Life & Permanent’s involvement and had behaved “disgracefully”.

“This was a grave error of judgment,” the judge said. “He should have known and did know that this was a sham transaction.”

Earlier, the judge said the crime had arisen during a period when people in the banking sector “were operating under great stress”.

The judge had taken into account submissions on behalf of the defendants that they had made no direct profit or reward from their crimes. He said all had acted in what they believed was the best interest of the companies they worked for.

A conspiracy? 

Judge Nolan had taken into account their background, what each man had achieved in life, their contribution to the community and that they had been good family men.

Each of them had been the subject of odium and ridicule, had endured a lot of stress and had lost their jobs. However, they were involved in a conspiracy where two blue-chip publicly quoted companies conspired to manipulate the balance sheet of Anglo Irish Bank.

It was decided in Anglo that it needed to hit a certain “corporate number” for banking deposits.

“It seemed Mr Drumm and the top management at Anglo decided this corporate number was important,” said the judge.

When this could not be achieved legitimately, a “dishonest, deceitful and corrupt scheme” was entered into.

The public, he said, was entitled to probity from blue-chip companies. “If we cannot rely on probity, then we lose all trust in such institutions,” he said.

“People are entitled to rely on the integrity and honesty of top firms. In this case, honesty and integrity were sorely lacking.”

How the €7.2bn scheme to boost Anglo came about

The scheme at the centre of the case was designed so that the books of Anglo Irish Bank could look much healthier than they actually were amid the global financial crisis in 2008.

The court heard that following the so-called ‘St Patrick’s Day Massacre’, when Anglo’s shares slumped by 20pc, the bank’s executive directors decided Anglo should show “a good corporate number to the market”, meaning that it needed to increase its corporate deposits.

Irish Life & Permanent (IL&P) was approached and a back-to-back transaction was arranged whereby Anglo placed €750m with IL&P and the IL&P group gave Anglo a corporate deposit from its Irish Life Assurance Corporation, a non-banking entity managed by IL&P.

In June, another deal took place, with Anglo transferring €3bn to IL&P and IL&P transferring a portfolio of home mortgages to Anglo.

Over that summer, Anglo drew up a list of 50 funding initiatives, but by September most of these had fallen away. The trial heard evidence that David Drumm asked a manager in Anglo’s treasury department if IL&P would do another set of transactions worth up to €7bn that month. These were to be included in Anglo’s year-end figures.

What resulted was a series of nine ‘rotational transactions’ between September 26 and 30, with €7.2bn moved from Anglo to IL&P, with IL&P sending the money back, via Irish Life Assurance, to Anglo. The trial heard that the transactions were arranged “with considerable difficulty”.

Judge Martin Nolan described the dishonest scheme as a “conspiracy on the public”. Shareholders and depositors were entitled to rely on public accounts, but were instead given a distorted view of the financial strength of Anglo, he said.

Does the Irish Government really have the bottle that it takes to handle the Brexit fallout? 

‘The position of Northern Ireland could create a serious stumbling block for Brexit and, if not managed correctly, could even derail it’

   

NI First Minister Arlene Foster, British PM Theresa May, and NI Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness at Stormont on Monday.

As the Dáil rose for the summer recess last week, there was an almost audible sigh of relief in Leinster House – and not only on the Government side.

It has been a tumultuous six months which has seen an arduous election campaign, an inconclusive result that necessitated some serious improvisation by the major parties to enable a government to be formed after a tense 10-week stalemate, and some serious hiccups as the new Government finally got down to work.

By far, however, the most dramatic event happened outside of Leinster House’s remit – namely the British vote to leave the European Union. How the Government responds to this will be the biggest challenge in the next Dáil term and perhaps in modern day Irish politics, and the interests of the EU will now play a key part in the approach Ireland takes to the Brexit negotiations.

The biggest task facing the Government is to juggle two now competing interests – our relationships with the UK and the EU. No two countries within the EU have a closer relationship than Ireland and the UK – strong cultural ties, a history of Irish emigration to the UK, and huge volumes of trade and movement of people in both directions.

Despite various changes over the past century – independence in 1922, the adoption of the new Constitution in 1937, the declaration of the Republic in 1949, the break with sterling in 1979, and Ireland joining the euro without Britain in 1999 – these ties have remained very strong. On top of all of this there is the position of Northern Ireland, which looks likely to play a central role in the post-Brexit fallout.

Given all of this, it is little wonder the two countries joined the then EEC on the same day in 1973. Back then it was inconceivable that Ireland would take a different approach to the UK on the question of membership. In the 43 years which have followed it is fair to say that Ireland has been a far more enthusiastic member than the UK, and indeed in many respects, it has enabled it to detach itself from the UK’s bosom and assert its independence.

Yet there is no doubt that the Republic would much rather not be faced with this split with the UK and there is a palpable sense of dismay – resentment even – at the UK for leaving us in the lurch. What then are the major faultlines as Ireland attempts to juggle these two competing interests?

The border with Northern Ireland

Without doubt, the biggest issue facing us is the position of the border. One cannot underestimate the positive impact that the opening of border roads has had; it was one of the most important practical impacts of the peace process during the 1990s. The reintroduction of a hard border would be unacceptable to communities in the area, not to mention the costs and complexity of enforcing it.

Yet on the other hand a desire to impose greater restrictions on immigration from the EU was one of the main motivating factors in Britain voting for Brexit. It is difficult to reconcile this with an open border. There have been some suggestions that a compromise may be reached that will entail free movement across the border but with passport checks between Northern Ireland and Great Britain. This however is hardly something Unionists will welcome.

Insider senses that the proponents of Brexit wholly overlooked this conundrum and their response to it has been incoherent and unsatisfactory. It is only now beginning to dawn on them that the position of Northern Ireland could create a serious stumbling block for Brexit and, if not managed correctly, could even derail it.

In the five weeks since the referendum, the our Government has focused heavily on the impact on the peace process. This is widely seen by observers as a clever move – at an EU level the peace process is seen as one of the European project’s successes and there is a real sense in Brussels that the EU played a positive role in it. The view is that stressing the impact on the peace process is likely to carry more weight in Brussels than in, for instance focusing on trade along the border, important and all as that is to people residing in the area too.

Making Brexit work for Britain

Another conundrum for the Government in Dublin is how to square the need to maintain free trading relations with the UK, with the likelihood that the EU will seek to conclude a single EU/UK trade agreement. The level of business done between the UK and Ireland is huge with each counting the other among its main trading partners; indeed trade with Ireland is more important to the UK than trade with countries such as Brazil, Russia, India, and China.

To have restrictions imposed in this area would be potentially calamitous for Ireland. For virtually our entire history free trade with the UK has been taken for granted and trading restrictions between the two countries would be an alien concept. Our Government must take a firm line at EU level on this point. Of course the free movement of people between the two countries and the Common Travel Area is a key part of this.

There is also a sense of urgency on this point for the Government, even ahead of formal Brexit negotiations. There is a huge degree of investment made by businesses on both sides of the Irish Sea. A period of uncertainty ahead of Brexit runs the risk of businesses postponing investment decisions – there are already signs of this – as they wait to see what happens, thereby running the risk of an economic slowdown in Ireland.

Leaving aside the key aspects of British/Irish relations that need to be weighed, at a broader level, the issue that carries most importance for Ireland, and an area of potential division with other EU member states, is whether Brexit works for the UK. From an Irish perspective, notwithstanding the disagreement with the stance Britain has taken and the sense of disappointment or betrayal even that Insider referred to earlier, it is important that it does.

At an EU level there will be a desire not to be seen to reward Britain for leaving and a sense that it needs to be seen to suffer some negative consequences from its decision. While obviously not wanting to damage its own interests by overly hampering the UK, the EU will wish to be seen flexing its muscles. From an Irish perspective however, in light of the close relations between the nations and the importance of the UK economy to the Irish economy, it is important that Britain does well outside the EU. This will be a tough circle to square.

The future, Brexit, and ‘its new politics’

The Brexit negotiations, and protecting Ireland’s interests in, among others the areas that Insider has referenced, will be the Government’s primary objective for the foreseeable future. Nevertheless, some consideration must be given to a vision for Ireland’s future in the changed circumstances that will follow Britain’s eventual exit.

As Insider noted there have been several breaks with Britain over the years, many of them resulting from EU membership. Indeed many Irish politicians – in particular from FG over the years – have viewed EU membership as a means of Ireland broadening its horizons beyond the UK. Arguably Brexit offers proponents of this a golden opportunity to put this further into practice.

On the other hand, for a considerable number of Irish people, relations with the UK will always be of paramount importance and so this is another balancing act that needs to be managed. Then there is the question of the long-term future of Northern Ireland. Recent talk of a border poll may have been premature but nevertheless reflects an acceptance that things could be about to change radically and that in the medium term everything is on the table.

Finally, we must return to events earlier this year, namely the inconclusive result thrown up by the General Election and the advent of ‘new politics’. This is a topic Insider hopes to return to in greater detail in the autumn – assuming a General Election has not derailed it all by then! – but for the time being will note that it changes the context in which we approach the challenges of Brexit and the negotiations to follow.

Clearly it will not be the Government side alone that will have an input when it comes to determining the strategy to be followed. Dáil arithmetic dictates that the Opposition parties will also have an input, but given the strategic importance of this matter, that was likely to be the way in any case. The Opposition parties have some interesting contributions to make, with FF leader Micheál Martin being an experienced former foreign affairs minister and Sinn Féin bringing some interesting perspective to the North/South dimension in particular, with its role in the Northern Executive.

Theoretically this is one area where the ‘new politics’ should thrive. Insider expects a reasonable degree of consensus but there may be some rancour about whether the Government is pushing Ireland’s interests aggressively enough on those occasions where the EU/UK tradeoffs that Insider has mentioned come to the fore.

It will be a tumultuous period ahead and a real test of the political system and the diplomatic corps. Even in the context of our changed politics it promises to leave the day-to-political dramas in the shade.

Irish car insurance premiums said to have gone up 70% since 2013

   

Concerns are being raised about the continued rise in the cost of insuring your car.

Insurance companies are said to be clamping down on the types of drivers and cars that they are willing to provide cover for.

Premiums are reported to have gone up by more than 70% since 2013.

The motor industry has issued a warning saying the rise in costs is showing no signs of easing.

Broker Jonathan Hehir says the sector is haemorrhaging money: “We’ll have to take the reports they give us on face value because they weren’t afraid to publish when they were making money.

“So I went through the reports recently and if we go back to 2007 they weren’t afraid to show profit in motoring insurance of around €500m at that time.

“That figure has gradually gone down over the ten years and the last time they are shown to be making money was back in 2012 and there was a slight profit on it and since then they have shown losses of hundreds of millions of losses in the motoring insurance sector.”

An hour of Exercise a day may offset a sitting’s toll on your health

   

An hour of Exercise a Day May Offset Sitting’s Toll on Health?

Just one hour of physical activity a day — something as simple as a brisk walk or a bicycle ride — may undo the increased risk of early death that comes with sitting eight hours or more on a daily basis, a new study suggests.

“These results provide further evidence on the benefits of physical activity, particularly in societies where increasing numbers of people have to sit for long hours for work or commuting,” said lead researcher Ulf Ekelund. He is a professor in physical activity and health at the Norwegian School of Sport Sciences in Oslo, Norway.

“Unfortunately, only 25% of our sample exercised an hour a day or more,” he said.

The study also found that watching TV for three hours or more a day was linked with an increased risk of early death, regardless of physical activity except among those who were the most physically active.

However, even among those who exercised the most, the risk of premature death was significantly increased if they watched five hours of TV a day or more, the researchers added.

It’s not TV, per se, that is associated with an increased risk of dying early; rather, TV is a marker for sitting and not being active, Ekelund said.

In their review of 16 previously published studies that included more than one million people, the researchers divided the participants into four groups: those who got about 5 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise a day; 25 to 35 minutes a day; 50 to 65 minutes a’ day; and 60 to 75 minutes a day.

The increased risk of early death ranged from 12% to 59%, depending on how much exercise the participants got, the findings showed.

“Indeed, those belonging to the most active group, and who are active about 60 to 75 minutes per day, seem to have no increased risk of mortality, even if they sit for more than eight hours a day,” Ekelund said.

“Sit less, move more, and the more you move the better,” he suggested.

The report, which did not prove that inactivity caused early death, was published online July 27 in The Lancet.

According to Dr. David Katz, president of the American College of Lifestyle Medicine, “This important analysis fortifies the increasingly clear verdict from a large and growing body of evidence addressing physical activity and health: all movement is good movement.”

Evidence is clear that moderately vigorous exercise has an array of health benefits, Katz said.

“If you don’t exercise but can stand often, do. If you can’t stand often but can exercise, do,” he added. “Better still, do both. It’s clear: all movement is good movement.”

Not only does physical inactivity increase the risk of early death, it’s expensive, according to another study published in the same journal issue.

In that study, researchers estimated the cost of being physically inactive based on the increased risk for type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and breast and colon cancer. In 2013 dollars, the study authors estimated that inactivity costs the United States about $28 billion annually.

“The current economic cost of physical inactivity is borne mainly by high-income countries. However, as low- and middle-income countries develop, and if the current trajectory of inactivity continues, so too will the economic burden in low- and middle-income countries who are currently poorly equipped to deal with chronic diseases linked to physical inactivity,” study author Dr. Melody Ding, of the University of Sydney in Australia, said in a statement.

Can this woman cure ageing with gene therapy?

    

Biotech boss Elizabeth Parrish (above) has tried out her company’s anti-ageing gene therapy with, she says, amazing results. Too good to be true?

‘We’re trying to hit the biggest point of suffering in the industrialised world.’ Photograph: Antonio Olmos for the Observer

Elizabeth Parrish is CEO of BioViva, a Seattle-based biotech company working to develop treatments to slow the ageing process. In April, the company revealed that Parrish herself had undergone “the first gene therapy successful against human ageing”. The treatment, it claimed, had reversed the biological age of her immune cells by 20 years.

“There are a lot of fantastic conclusions that [people] can jump to,” says Parrish – “defeating death, or people becoming immortal, or things like that. What we’re trying to do is hit the biggest point of suffering right now in the industrialised world, which is the diseases of ageing.”

In September 2015, Parrish, then 44, flew to Colombia to receive two experimental gene therapies. One was a myostatin inhibitor, a drug that is being tested as a treatment for muscle loss. The other was a telomerase gene therapy – the drug that BioViva claims has reversed her cells’ biological age, by lengthening parts of her genetic material called telomeres.

Genes are held in twisted molecules of DNA called chromosomes. At the ends of these chromosomes are stretches of DNA called telomeres. Telomeres protect the important genetic material from damage that can lead to disease-causing malfunction or cell death. Telomeres also allow the cell and its DNA to divide, but as cells divide a portion of the telomeres is lost until, after a finite number of divisions, the cell dies, a process that might contribute to the human ageing process.

If a cat has nine lives, then a dividing human cell has about 50 to 70 – unless, the thinking goes, you lengthen the telomeres to extend the cell’s lifespan and increase its ability to withstand damage. The gene therapy that Parrish received is designed to do just that by encouraging the cell to produce telomerase, a protein that repairs telomeres.

The treatment is highly controversial. Because BioViva had not done the necessary pre-clinical work to progress to human studies, the US Food and Drug Administration did not authorise Parrish’s experiment – hence her trip to an unnamed clinic in Colombia.

BioViva claims that six months after treatment the telomeres in Parrish’s white blood cells had lengthened by 9%. It was an announcement met by a mixture of derision and incredulity by many scientists, who cited the lack of proper scientific procedure. “We used third-party testing for everything,” asserts Parrish. “We used a standard telomere testing system that doctors sell and patients can buy over the internet. By that test, it said my telomeres in my [white blood cells] extended by the equivalent of 20 years.”

The scientists’ scepticism goes further than the reliability of the company’s testing systems. On its website, BioViva claims that its work builds on that of María Blasco, director of the Spanish National Cancer Research Centre. In a 2012 study, Blasco’s findings suggested that a similar telomerase gene therapy could increase the median lifespan of mice by around 20%. Her work since has focused on assessing whether the technology can improve outcomes in mice with heart and blood diseases that originate in very short telomeres.

Blasco does not associate herself with BioViva’s work and she has no relation with the company or with Parrish. “Clinical validation of our telomerase gene therapy strategy, as with any other therapies, should be achieved through rigorous trials validated and backed by the regulatory agencies,” she says.

We should be able to say: This didn’t kill mice, it doesn’t kill human cells – let’s just run a test

On her company profile Parrish describes herself as a “humanitarian, entrepreneur and innovator” and “a leading voice for genetic cures”. Absent from that list is the word “scientist”. She also describes herself as “patient zero” for these treatments – a term some would take issue with. “Patient zero” is a typically used to describe the first patient in an infectious disease outbreak, rather than the first patient to have received a treatment. A better description, some would argue, is that hers was an n = 1 study (a study on only one person).

“Perhaps she is patient zero, but only for the spread of the pseudoscience that’s going to grow from her story,” says Timothy Caulfield, a professor in the Faculty of Law and the School of Public Health at the University of Alberta. Caulfield is concerned that Parrish’s work lacks scientific rigour and is at risk of being picked up by unscrupulous practitioners aware of the selling power of anti-ageing treatments. “People forget that most clinical trials don’t pan out,” he says. “Drugs often look really promising in mice but don’t pan out in people – they’re different animals.”

But Parrish, who says she has already had people contact her to ask if they can try her anti-ageing gene therapy, argues that enough animal studies have been conducted to move to humans. “I think we are doing things wrong. We should be able to say, ‘This looks promising, it didn’t kill mice, it doesn’t kill human cells.’ So what we said [when deciding to test her company’s treatments] was, ‘Let’s just run a test; let’s see if this stuff is safe.’”

Parrish and her team say they plan to explore the effects of the gene therapy in other cells in her body, and to assess the effect of the muscle-loss treatment. Meanwhile, they are looking to test the treatments in more people, but first they need to find a country with less stringent requirements than the US. “We are still looking for a faster route,” says Parrish. “We have gone from country to country, with groups who are asking these countries to re-regulate. They will come in with new regulatory standards… with a fast track to get the most life-saving therapeutics to humans as fast as possible.”

While Caulfield admits that the drug development process is strict, he argues that it needs to be to maintain scientific rigour. “Sure, we’re all looking at ways to get effective drugs to clinics quicker but this idea of foreign shopping until you can find the regulatory framework that is most friendly to your idea about how science should be done is a terrible mistake,” he says. “Good science should be universal.”

Quick to distance himself from BioViva was George M Martin, professor of pathology at the University of Washington. Martin had agreed to be an adviser to the company after being visited at his university by Parrish but relinquished that role on hearing the news of Parrish’s self-experiment. “I resigned only weeks after accepting the invitation, I never attended a board meeting and I certainly had no inkling of her plans to carry out human interventions without any pre-clinical work,” he says.

George Church, professor of genetics at Harvard Medical School and another of the BioViva’s advisers, is wary of the idea that he has “ties” with the company. “I wouldn’t call them ties,” he says. “I advise people who need advice and they clearly need advice.” Church says he advised the company to go through proper regulatory channels and to do the required pre-clinical work. “If you just let people run loose without any advice, especially if they don’t have training in medical research, then you’re inviting consequences.”

It’s a point, he notes, that was tragically highlighted by a gene therapy trial in France that is believed to have caused cancer in two participants in 2003, and the 1999 death of Jesse Gelsinger, the first person to die in a clinical trial for the therapy. Both failures, he says, set back the whole field. “Since then, the field has improved tremendously and is much safer but new drugs have to be tested in placebo controlled trials with animal testing first.”

And it’s not just scientists who are cautious about how advanced therapeutics such as gene therapies or those that use stem cells are handled. The public and policymakers, whose attitudes can either help or hinder potential medical advances, are also twitchy about science that tinkers with the inner workings of life. If the debate around the powerful new genome-editing tool, Crispr/Cas9, is anything to go by, Parrish’s approach to combating ageing won’t roll out without significant scrutiny.

Duncan Baird is a professor of Cancer and Genetics at Cardiff University’s School of Medicine. He urges caution over Parrish’s impatient approach to unearthing treatments. “Life and ageing are too biologically complicated to start boiling it all down to these entities at the ends of chromosomes [telomeres],” he says. “To pick out one particular phenomenon of telomere length as a key determinant of ageing and say that if you’re going to lengthen telomeres you’re magically going to cure ageing, I think that’s fanciful.”

Without a much greater understanding of the biological processes that underlie ageing, such tampering can be dangerous, says Baird. One of the reasons telomeres have evolved to be the length they are, he says, is to limit the number of times a cell can proliferate and thus to limit its potential to be cancerous. “Meddling with a fundamentally important tumour-suppressive mechanism that has evolved in long-lived species like ours doesn’t strike me as a particularly good idea.”

Attempts to combat ageing, and its myriad manifestations, do not belong to Parrish alone. Around the world, teams of dedicated researchers are doing the painstakingly thorough work needed to unpick the biological mysteries of ageing and, maybe one day, figure out how to tackle it. But, as so often with science, it seems success might lie in the very thing that Parrish refuses to accept: time itself.

 

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News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Wednesday 16th September 2015

Car insurance premiums to jump by further 25%, industry warns

Increases will see motorists paying €300 per year more for than in 2014

 

Motorists are set to pay around €300 per year more for a comprehensive policy in 2016 than they did in 2014.

Motorists are to be hit with premium hikes of around 25 per cent next year, the chief executive of the group which represents the vast majority of car insurance companies has warned.

The increases will come on the back of similar price hikes this year and will see most motorists paying around €300 per year more for a comprehensive policy in 2016 than they did in 2014.

Kevin Thompson, the chief executive of Insurance Ireland, which represents 95 per cent of the domestic and international based insurance sector in Ireland, denied that mismanagement across the motor insurance sector was to blame for the price spikes.

He accepted that competition had driven premiums below sustainable levels in recent years but insisted factors outside the control of the sector were to blame for premiums increasing.

He said the high cost of awards in court was a key factor driving up the cost of insurance premiums. Other factors include legal costs, fraud and most recently, the High Court’s judgment in relation to Setanta Insurance.

Speaking to The Irish Times, Mr Thompson said the premium increases were inevitable because the motor insurance sector has been losing money for more than five years. He said the net underwriting loss between 2010 and 2014 was €585 million with in motor insurance sector reporting losses of €242 million last year alone.

“From any business model perspective it is just not sustainable,” he said. “We are into a cycle where there is only going to be serious upward pressure on prices. It is not good news for consumers.

Insurance Ireland believes a range of measures are needed to stabilise pricing for consumers, particularly in the area of motor premiums.

“Motor claims costs are rising. The level of awards being made in the courts is at an all-time high. The average High Court award in 2014 was up 34 per cent on 2013 and the average Circuit Court award was up 14 per cent on 2013,” Mr Thompson said. “ In litigated cases, legal costs in Ireland account for more than 60 per cent of the compensation awarded.”

All told 80 per cent of motor injury claims in the Republic are for whiplash, Mr Thompson said and he described the payouts associated with such claims as being out of step with EU norms. “The figures on whiplash alone are very stark,” he said. “In Ireland the average award for whiplash is €15,000, in the UK, the corresponding figure is €5,000.” In Spain and Italy the average payout for such a claim is around €2,000.

“ The reality is that premiums are dictated by claims costs, and although the Irish market is very competitive, increases in the cost of claims will inevitably lead to increases in premiums,” he said.

Mr Thompson stopped short of criticising the Injuries Board which handles around 20 per cent of the motor insurance claims. It was set up a decade ago to reduce the legal costs associated with claims and speed up the process.

However Mr Thompson pointed out that “the average motor injury award made by the Injuries Board is very high at around €21,000. Also, more than 90 per cent of claimants to the Injuries Board are represented by solicitors even though the Injuries Board was meant to be a lawyer free zone.”

He said around 40 per cent of Injuries Board awards were rejected by claimants “partly because some solicitors adopt a policy of non-cooperation, for example claimants not turning up for medicals or not supplying loss of earnings information so that the Injuries Board cannot make informed awards. The consequence of this is that following the inevitable rejection of the award, the case is subsequently litigated, generating additional legal costs.”

Mr Thompson said insurance fraud added a further €100m per annum to overall motor insurance costs which equates to €50 per annum on the average motor premium.

He also highlighted the recent ruling on Setanta Ireland which found that the industry funded Motor Insurance Bureau of Ireland was liable to cover the costs most claims motorists insured by the now insolvent company. “While everyone agrees that those injured by Setanta drivers should be compensated, Insurance Ireland believes the [STATE-FUNDED]Insurance Compensation Fund is the right mechanism to do this,” he said.

He said that by the middle of this year the cost of Setanta claims had reached €90m and was likely to rise. “Imposing the responsibility for this on the rest of the sector through the MIBI will result in higher premiums and potentially a risk of insurers exiting the Irish market.”

Employment growth in Ireland now fastest in the EU zone

Eurostat figures show employment fell here by 3% in the 12 months up to June

    

Eurostat figures show employment here grew by 3% during the period, Employment grew faster in Ireland in the 12 months to June than in any other EU state.

Eurostat figures show employment here grew by 3% during the period, marginally ahead of the EU’s next best performers, Spain at 2.9% and Luxembourg at 2.5 %.

•    Across the EU as a whole, employment grew by just 0.9%.

Ireland’s economy is also forecast to be the fastest growing in the EU this year, with gross domestic product expected to expand by close to 6%.

Overall, the employment situation in the EU is slowly improving but some countries, like Ireland, are performing much more strongly than others.

The latest figures show Ireland also exhibited strong jobs growth in the second quarter of this year, with employment growing by 0.9 p%, placing it in the top four best performing states.

Pancreatic cancer treatments: US-Ireland research partnership takes novel approach

UB pharmaceutical scientist leads international, $3.8 million grant to develop personalized, nanoparticle drug-delivery systems for pancreatic cancer

    

 “If we capture the time course and magnitude of how an agent affects the tumor, then we can use mathematical simulation to identify the optimal timing for priming and delivery of the drug.”

Pancreatic cancer is one of the deadliest cancers: in the United States, only 7% of patients survive five years after diagnosis.

Drugs cannot easily access pancreatic tumors because the tumors have very low blood supply and secrete certain proteins that promote the growth of stroma, collagenous connective tissue that hinders drugs’ access to tumors.

Recent research has identified drug pre-treatments that boost delivery of conventional small-molecule drugs into the tumors by making their blood vessels more leaky.

But now an international partnership led by the University at Buffalo School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences is embarking on research based on a somewhat different principle.  Since many of the pharmaceutical agents being studied in this grant already have Food and Drug Administration approval, the strategy, if proven successful, could have a rapid impact on treating pancreatic cancer, the researchers say.

The five-year, $3.8 million, grant started Sept. 1. Funding was received through the US-Ireland R&D Partnership Programme, a unique funding mechanism that supports projects across the U.S., the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, with each country funding the research performed within its borders.

Under this grant, UB’s School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences and Roswell Park Cancer Institute (RPCI) will share $2.2 million from the National Institutes of Health, while collaborators at Queens University, Belfast, will receive the equivalent of $1.13 million from the UK Health and Social Care R&D Division and collaborators at Dublin City University will receive the equivalent of $506,000 from Science Foundation Ireland.

Instead of treating pancreatic cancer with small-molecule drugs, the team is working on using particle-based delivery systems, including liposomes, which are nano-sized, fat-soluble, drug-delivery packets; the team’s theory is that these could remain “stuck” in a tumor for days or weeks, allowing for sustained release of a drug.

“A key hypothesis we will test in this grant is that conventional small molecules are the wrong drugs to use with these ‘tumor-priming’ strategies,” said Robert M. Straubinger, PhD, professor of pharmaceutical sciences and principle investigator of the U.S. effort.

He explained that about five years ago, several important characteristics of pancreatic tumors were identified. One of them was the fact that certain pre-treatments, including drugs that inhibit cellular signaling by a pathway improbably named the “sonic hedgehog” pathway, appeared to boost efficacy of drugs by promoting tumor microvessels.

“Because the pre-treatment causes the new vessels to become leaky, it’s like opening a window,” said Straubinger. “The drugs can flow in when blood concentrations are high, but when blood concentrations fall – and many small molecules don’t circulate for very long—they can wash right back out.”

Straubinger and his colleagues will try to take advantage of that leakiness by using nanoparticles, such as liposomes, which could take hours to days to diffuse into the tumor, as opposed to minutes to hours.

“This grant will allow us to explore new ways of improving the access of drugs to tumor sites,” said Christopher J. Scott, PhD, who leads the research team at Queens University. “Using current chemotherapies, only a fraction of the drug gets to where it is needed. If this could be improved, even only incrementally, it could lead to a major advance in how we treat pancreatic cancer patients.”

The scientists will be evaluating “tumor-priming strategies,” a sequential chemotherapy approach where one agent is administered that increases tumor blood-vessel leakiness and then a second cytotoxic agent is added, such as a liposome or a therapeutic antibody that should remain in the tumor longer to fight the cancer.

Scott’s lab will test whether decorating the drug-loaded nanoparticles with tumor-homing antibodies will give the particles an additional boost in effectiveness.

But because tumor-priming strategies are poorly understood and can produce variable results, the team will use what it calls “mathematical priming” to find out what works best.

“If we capture the time course and magnitude of how an agent affects the tumor, then we can use mathematical simulation to identify the optimal timing for priming and delivery of the drug,” said Straubinger.

These chemotherapy combinations will be tested by scientists at Dublin City University and at Roswell Park Cancer Institute, including Wen Wee Ma, MD, associate professor of oncology at RPCI and assistant professor of medicine in the UB School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences.

“We are delighted with the news of this award, which brings together complementary expertise in cancer research from three different nationally leading laboratories focused on developing new strategies to improve the treatment of pancreatic cancer,” said Robert O’Connor, PhD, now head of research for the Irish Cancer Society. Niall Barron, PhD, will head the Dublin City University group.

Straubinger, also an adjunct professor at Dublin City University and at RPCI Cancer, has been collaborating with his colleagues at the partner institutions, on this and related projects for several years.

Sligo to be first Connacht town to get SIRO broadband

   

At the announcement: (l-r) Sean Atkinson (Managing Director, SIRO), John Moran (SIRO), Rosaleen O’Grady (Cathaoirleach of Sligo County Council), Ciarán Hayes (Chief Executive, Sligo County Council), Liam Hayes (Local Enterprise Office Sligo)

As part of its fibre-optic broadband rollout, SIRO has confirmed that Sligo will be the first town in Connacht to get the service when it eventually launches.

The rollout of SIRO’s networks has already begun in the county, and once completed it will give those signed up to the ESB and Vodafone Ireland partnership access to a one gigabit connection speed.

Putting this into perspective, SIRO says that its service will allow a 4Gb file to be downloaded in around 30 seconds.

In terms of when the high-speed internet service is expected to be operational in the town, SIRO has said that broadband retailers will begin offering it towards the end of this year.

President of the Sligo Chamber of Commerce, David Kiely, said that the Chamber had been campaigning for such a service for some time now to boost the area’s infrastructure and to encourage new investment in the region.

“Sligo Chamber has been campaigning for some time for enhanced broadband at both a town and county level,” he said. “The introduction of this infrastructure into Sligo is a very significant boost to both existing and future industry and enterprise, which will benefit all of the Sligo community.”

Adding this sentiment, John Reilly, head of the Sligo Local Enterprise Office, said: “The rollout of SIRO in Sligo is particularly welcome news for Sligo businesses.

“It will position Sligo to fully engage in the ICT economy and will offer many businesses an opportunity to truly transform their current business model. They will be able to take full advantage of the internet and increase their turnover and profitability by selling more in the domestic and overseas markets.”

New supermoon will have lunar eclipse on September 27 & 28th. 

      

For the first time in more than 30 years, people across the Americas will get the chance this month to see a supermoon lunar eclipse.

The event starts with a supermoon, which is when a full moon coincides with the moon’s perigree – the point in the lunar orbit when it’s closest to Earth – making the moon appear larger and brighter than usual. Then the supermoon coincides with a lunar eclipse, when the moon passes directly into Earth’s shadow.

It is a rare celestial sight for those of us on Earth. And to give us an even rarer view, this NASA animation shows what the event would look like from the moon:

In this perspective, a red ring of sunrises and sunsets lines the Earth, casting a rosy glow on the lunar landscape. And with the sun hidden and the sky completely dark, bright stars fill the sky.

Back down on Earth, stargazers can look forward to seeing moon bathed in tints of red. During a total lunar eclipse, the moon often turns a reddish color when it’s hit by sunlight bent by the Earth’s atmosphere, resulting in a phenomenon called a “blood moon.”

A supermoon lunar eclipse is a rare event that has only happened five times since 1900, most recently in 1982. After this month, it won’t happen again until 2033.

The supermoon lunar eclipse will be visible throughout North and South America the night of September 27, NASA said, while those in Europe and Africa can see it in the early morning hours of September 28. Unlike a solar eclipse, which is dangerous to look at with the naked eye, experts say it’s perfectly safe to watch a lunar eclipse.

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Monday 4th May 2015

Irish State accused of covering up the cost of nursing home care

  

Nursing Homes Ireland (NHI) has accused the State of covering up the cost of public nursing home care.

Latest figures show the average costs for a resident in a HSE nursing home are 40% above that applied for private and voluntary counterparts.

The organisation, which represents nursing homes across the country, say that data on fees paid to HSE nursing homes have not been released since 2011.

CEO of NHI, Tadhg Daly, said the most recent figures published in March 2011 showed the average costs for a resident in a HSE nursing home was €1,245 per week.

He added that this cost was 40% above that applied for private and voluntary counterparts.

“Previous Minister for Health James Reilly publicly questioned why a 50% cost differential existed between the sectors. The reality is public nursing home costs are far beyond the average presented four years ago.

“A HSE Midlands Information Document published May 2012 provided an insight into the reality of public nursing home costs. It cited average costs per bed well beyond €1,245 and up to €2,500.

“Publication of the true cost of public nursing home care is imperative to provide a more realistic picture as to what the cost of long-term residential care entails,” said Mr Daly.

In response, the HSE said the costs of public home care are a matter of public record.

“Public nursing home costs are acknowledged to be higher, and there are good reasons for this. Public facilities have to provide care for higher numbers of complex dependency cases which require higher levels of staffing, particularly nursing staff.

“The HSE is actively working to reduce the costs of public nursing home facilities to the maximum extent possible,” they said.

New house building regulation rule to save Irish homeowners thousands

    

Housing extensions and one-off homes will be exempt from tough new building regulations aimed at preventing shoddy work, under proposals being considered by the Government

Housing extensions and one-off homes will be exempt from tough new building regulations aimed at preventing shoddy work, under proposals being considered by the Government.

Environment Minister Alan Kelly has ordered a review of regulations introduced a year ago, amid concerns that householders are paying up to €16,000 to have their homes inspected, which is adding to construction costs.

The move, if it goes ahead, would result in almost half of all homes built in a given year being exempt from the rules.

However, if the changes are made, it will also result in buyers of these homes being given no protection whatsoever.

Construction work has begun on 1,000 one-off homes since new regulations were introduced on March 1 last year.

These oblige an “assigned certifier” – an architect, engineer or building surveyor – to certify that building regulations have been complied with at key stages of construction.

In the event of a problem, the certifier is held legally responsible.

Making the regulations “advisory”, rather than “mandatory”, is one of the changes proposed by the Government.

This ‘opt out’ clause would give owners a choice and would mean “they need not be held to ransom by unaffordable quotes for professional services”, the documents state.

But industry sources cautioned against removing the requirement, as most one-off homes eventually come back on to the market.

One expert told the Irish Independent that without certification, buyers of those properties would not be protected.

A minimum wage rise would hit small businesses in Ireland hard

    

One of the leading mouthpieces for the small business community has called for a three-year minimum wage freeze to allow SMEs more time to continue their recovery and gain further certainty on labour costs.

While it has welcomed the establishment of the Low Pay Commission the Ibec-affiliated Small Firms Association (SFA) has said an increase is not needed at this point. The commission is due to deliver its recommendations on the national minimum wage to the Government during the summer.

Speaking at the weekend, SFA chairman AJ Noonan said: “The National Minimum Wage Act 2000 clearly sets out the factors which should be assessed as part of any review; namely inflation, movement in the earnings of employees, level of unemployment and employment; national competitiveness; and relevant exchange rate movements. On the basis of an assessment of these indicators, there is no rationale for increasing the national minimum wage at present.

“Looking at the profitability of small businesses, it is clear that they will have grave difficulty absorbing labour cost increases without productivity gain. From an examination of the 2012 average gross profits in small businesses, in the sectors with the majority of national minimum wage workers, it is clear that they would not be able to offset national minimum wage increases against profits.”

Mr. Noonan claimed that a higher minimum wage would have a “disproportionate” impact on small businesses outside Dublin, where the national minimum wage represents a higher proportion of the average wage.

“Given the urban/rural imbalance already being experienced in the recovery, this is of particular importance,” he said.

“Small businesses truly are the engines of our economic recovery. We have a vital role to play, in terms of employment generation, especially in regional towns and villages and rural Ireland.

“Artificially increasing labour costs will not only dampen this recovery, but will ultimately lead to both the prevention of job growth and to job losses.

“It is the SFA’s firm conviction that it is imperative for the competitive position of Ireland that wage levels are decided in a competitive labour market and are not constrained by an artificial legal instrument such as the minimum wage.

“Small businesses are taking tentative steps to recovery and, in many cases, growth. The job of government is to make sure these steps can be taken with confidence and with the necessary supports in place.”

The SFA said that it has made its case for a three-year waiting period for any alteration to the minimum wage “in order to give small businesses, which are just starting on the recovery path, certainty over their labour costs”.

“This would also ensure that job creation efforts are realisable for the low-skilled workers and young people still on the live register, who need an entry point into work and upskilling from where they can develop their skills and increase their wages relatve to their productivity levels,” Mr Noonan said.

The association said that most small businesses would have no choice but to off-set minimum wage increases against reductions in hours or jobs, job growth or capital or skills investment.

Ireland’s motorists pay €75 on premiums due to rise in fraud cases

   

Insurance claims from staged road ‘accidents’ are costing Ireland’s law-abiding motorists up to €75 extra on their premiums a year, according to a leading insurance company.

Insurers Aviva said it is a “growing problem” and it is concerned at “organised rings” that were planning crashes and “selling seats” in the vehicles to other people as part of the fraud.

Aviva fraud manager Robert Smyth, a retired senior detective, told the Irish Examiner that criminals were selling seats for €150 to €200 to people, who could make around €5,000 in a compensation claim.

The insurance industry has previously said fraud was costing companies an estimated €200m annually, which “ends up being paid by honest policyholders”.

Mr Smyth said the industry estimated that claims from staged accidents were resulting in between €50 and €75 extra being added to the premiums of all motorists.

He said Aviva was taking the issue very seriously and has engaged in operations with gardaí to target gangs involved in the racket.

“Staged accidents are a growing problem and is becoming a real cause of concern for Aviva and several other insurance companies,” said Mr Smyth.

“It’s the organised part of it we are concerned about. These are organised rings. They arrange the cars and the location and the drivers. They then sell seats. People can spend €150 or €200 for a seat.”

He said these individuals — there can be up to eight people, if two cars are involved — claim compensation off the driver, who is also claiming from the insurance company. He said an individual could receive €5,000 in compensation.

Mr Smyth said there was a wider issue of the time and resources of gardaí, ambulances, and emergency departments used to deal with these cases.

He said gardaí were giving “fantastic assistance” and that several investigations were ongoing.

A compensation case was recently thrown out of Cork Circuit Court, where a driver and four passengers lodged claims, after the judge said he did not believe the plaintiffs.

Last month, Patrick and Eileen Browne of Ballybeg West, Buttevant, Co Cork, were convicted in relation to a fraudulent compensation claim of more than €22,500.

World’s chocolate supply under threat from drought in Ghana and nasty fungus

 

The country has been hit with dry winds and a fungus that kills the delicate cocoa pods meaning the world’s chocolate supply could reduce

West Africa produces 70% of the world’s cocoa supply

Chocolate lovers everywhere, beware: the price of chocolate may rise as Ghana grapples with drought and a nasty fungus that could reduce the world’s cocoa supply.

West Africa, which produces 70% of global supply, has seen little rain this year. Ghana, the world’s second biggest cocoa exporter, has been especially hard hit, struggling with exceptionally dry seasonal winds and battling a fungus that kills the delicate cocoa pods.

“Ghana’s cocoa production is set to fall significantly in the 2014/15 season, which could drive the world market into deficit after several years of surpluses,” said Ecobank in a note last month.

“Ghana is at least 20% behind last season, and the key appears to be the lack of pesticides and fertilisers,” said Edward George, Ecobank soft commodities analyst. “That appears to be the double-whammy that they suffered.”

But Mr. George said the “huge” reduction is a bit of a puzzle, with no one giving a definitive reason as to why there is such a significant drop. “The more people you talk to, the more theories you get,” he said, “it really is a mystery; no one has a clear explanation.”

Ultimately, the lower output from Ghana could result in a rally in cocoa prices come the end of cocoa season in September. “Stocks may start to fall, traders might get nervous, and prices may go up,” said George.

In general the demand is outpacing supply for cocoa as farmers around the world fight drought and fungal diseases such as “Frosty Pod” and “Witches’ Broom,” or they abandon the finicky plant entirely for more lucrative crops.

As a result, prices are rising: over the past decade, the cost per ton of cocoa has risen from around £1,000 to £1,900, according to Nasdaq.

Over the long term, chocolate fans should expect the price of cocoa to keep going up. For West African countries, cocoa damaging droughts are expected to continue well into the future, believed to be a result of climate change.

“The yearly and monthly minimum and maximum temperatures will increase by 2030 and will continue to increase progressively by 2050 (up to 2.0C – 35.6F),” said a 2011 report on cocoa growing operations in the Ivory Coast and Ghana done by the International Centre for Tropical Agriculture.

“Suitability within the current cocoa-growing areas will decrease seriously by 2050.”

The supply issues could be further compounded by increased demand from China and India, along with consumers’ growing preference for dark chocolate, which requires more cocoa.

Secret of gaping whale mouths is revealed

  

When the fin whale gets ready to eat, Earth’s second-largest animal opens its mouth so wide that it can gulp an amount of water larger than the volume of its own body as it filters out meals of tiny fish and shrimp-like krill.

When their feeding this whale measuring up to about 26.8m long and 70 tons increases its swimming speed, opens its mouth and lunges in the ocean.

The force of water rushing into the mouth during “lunge feeding” turns the tongue upside down and expands the bottom of the oral cavity into a huge pouch between the body wall and the overlying skin and blubber. As it closes its mouth, the whale filters out seawater through plates in the mouth while eating huge quantities of small prey.

In other animals and humans, this would cause significant damage to the nerves in the mouth and tongue, which have a fixed length.

But scientists revealed on Monday how the fin whale and its closest cousins, including the even-bigger blue whale, do this without shredding their nerves. These nerves, they said, can stretch to double their usual length and recoil like a bungee cord without harming the nerve fibres.

“Yes, this is way cool,” said anatomist Wayne Vogl of the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. “Not only do tissues in the floor of the mouth have to adjust to dramatic expansion and recoil, but all the ‘plumbing and wiring’ to the structures have to adjust as well, hence the stretchy nerves.”

The researchers said this unusual nerve structure is present in rorqual whales, a group of filter-feeding baleen whales including the blue whale, fin whale, humpback whale, sei whale, Omura’s whale, Bryde’s whale, Eden’s whale, common minke whale and Antarctic minke whale.

They discovered this feature while examining the carcass of a fin whale, an endangered species found in all the world’s oceans. Only the blue whale, up to about 30.5m long and 150 tons, is larger.

Vogl said the nerves that supply the expandable tissues in the floor of the mouth can stretch to accommodate dramatic changes in oral cavity dimensions during “lunge feeding.”

Rorqual whales possess grooved or pleated skin on the underside of their bodies, from the chin almost to the belly button, that balloons out as their mouths fill during lunge-feeding.

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Monday 10th March 2014

True cost of brand loyalty in Ireland revealed as prices soar at tills

  

Irish families are being forced to dig deeper to pay for their weekly groceries as the prices of branded goods soared far faster than the rate of inflation in the past year.

The cost of some items has shot up by as much as 15% when shrinking packet sizes as well as price hikes are taken into account.

A survey by the Consumers Association of Ireland has found that the cost of a basket of 19 top-selling items, including milk, sliced bread and sugar, rose by over 2% in the last year.

The price hikes for branded groceries came despite general inflation stagnating at just 0.2pc in the year to January.

Customers are increasingly switching to own-brand goods as they are faced with price hikes for their old favourite brands.

The biggest increase in the survey was for Birds Eye frozen garden peas, with the price rising from €2.08 for 450g in 2013 to €2.14 for a smaller 400g pack this year.

This means shoppers would be paying €2.40 for the same quantity of peas as last year, which “means that the real price increase is in fact approximately 15pc”, the CAI said in its ‘Consumer Choice’ magazine.

Some 13 out of 19 items surveyed rose in price between the last survey in January 2013 and the latest one in February 2014.

A litre of Avonmore milk rose from €1.14 to €1.24, while Donegal Catch cod rose from €5.40 to €5.54 and a kilo of Siucra rose from €1.45 to €1.55 and a large bar of Cadbury’s chocolate rose from €1.72 to €1.87.

The price of Brennans bread and Kerrygold butter stayed the same, however, while the price of Heinz Ketchup, Kellogg’s Corn Flakes and Erin soup fell.

And the price of Squeez premium orange juice soared by 13pc, from €1.60 in 2013 to €1.81 in 2014.

The average price of the basket of goods came to €41.95 – which was up 89 cents on last year’s basket, a rise of 2.2pc.

Despite the survey, Central Statistics Office figures show that general food and beverage prices actually fell by 1.1pc during 2013.

However, the CAI survey shows that when it comes to many well-known brands, consumers are paying more at the till.

CASH-STRAPPED

The CAI said that the cost of brand loyalty may now be too high for many cash-strapped consumers – and explains why they are gravitating towards own-brand products and Aldi and Lidl to get lower prices.

CAI policy advisor Dermott Jewell said that the price rises for these everyday items over the past year and in repeated surveys since 2011 highlighted why consumers were changing to own-brand goods.

“With regard to these specific branded goods purchased by the majority of the population, the prices remain determinedly high on average,” he said.

“Therefore we remain of the opinion that savings in this area for the average consumer have necessitated a significant change in purchasing habits, patterns and preferences,” he said.

Many families had gone through the worst financial setback of their lives, yet this had not resulted in significant brand price reductions, he said.

Meanwhile, Kantar Worldpanel figures indicated that own-brand products account for 36pc of all groceries purchased as consumers cut their spending by switching away from branded goods.

Prices were measured in Dunnes Stores, Tesco and SuperValu, with special offers excluded because these are only temporary.

Excluding Siucra, which wasn’t available in the same size everywhere, the basket of goods was cheapest in Dunnes at €39.96, while Tesco charged €40.43 and SuperValu was dearest at €40.92.

Several of the items were on special offer via discounts or as part of multi-buy offers, meaning a consumer could knock between €1 and €4 off the basket price depending on where they shopped.

Routine eye exams/tests essential to detect glaucoma

  

Eye doctors are reminding people that the only way the serious eye disease, glaucoma, can be detected is through routine eye examinations.

An estimated 3% of Irish people over the age of 50 have glaucoma. If caught early enough, the condition can be treated, however it is usually symptomless in its early stages. At a late stage, it becomes irreversible, resulting in vision loss and blindness.

“The importance of having a regular routine eye exam to help prevent avoidable glaucoma-related vision loss cannot be over-emphasised. With early diagnosis and careful regular observation and treatment, damage can usually be kept to a minimum, and good vision can be enjoyed indefinitely,” said Dr Aoife Doyle, a consultant ophthalmic surgeon and glaucoma specialist at the Royal Victoria Eye and Ear Hospital in Dublin.

She noted that with glaucoma, vision loss is gradual, so those affected are often unaware they have a problem ‘until their sight has been compromised’.

“It’s crucial that people remember that once vision is lost to glaucoma, it cannot be restored,’ she commented.

The best way to detect glaucoma is through routine eye examinations. The test to detect it is non-invasive and provides a result immediately.

Dr Doyle made her comments to coincide with World Glaucoma Week, which runs until March 15. She noted that those most at risk from the condition are people over the age of 60, those with a family history of the disease and individuals of Hispanic and African descent.

“There are different types of glaucoma and some people are at greater risk and may need to see their eye doctor on a more frequent basis. People of African origin are more at risk of developing glaucoma and of developing it at a younger age. For this reason, regular comprehensive eye exams to catch symptoms early are essential,” she said.

The Irish College of Ophthalmologists recommends that all adults have a ‘baseline, comprehensive dilated eye exam’ by the age of 40, as this is the time when early signs may begin.

For those aged 60 and older, the college recommends having a comprehensive eye exam every one to two years.

Anyone with concerns about their eye health should see an eye doctor. For an appointment, you need to get a referral from your GP, although some eye doctors working in the community will give an appointment directly. For more information, see the Irish College of Ophthalmologist’s website here

HSE publishes childhood obesity surveillance data

  

The Health Service Executive has published the latest Irish results from COSI, the European Childhood Obesity Surveillance Initiative.  COSI monitors childhood obesity levels by measuring children in sample schools all over Europe.

This 2012 data is the third set of results to be published to date, and involved a nationally representative sample of 7, 9 and 11 year old children from a mix of Irish urban, rural and disadvantaged (DEIS) schools.

Dr. Stephanie O’Keeffe, National Director of Health and Wellbeing, HSE, said that:  ‘The 2012 COSI results show that more than 20% of our children remain overweight or obese, but that rates have either decreased or stabilised in some age groups. This is welcome news, but the overall concern about the level of overweight among our children remains.’

  The study was carried out for the HSE by the National Nutrition Surveillance Centre, UCD. The large study comprises 12,236 children’s measurements in 163 schools collected on three occasions in 2008, 2010 and again in 2012.

Professor Cecily Kelleher from UCD said: ‘The rates of overweight and obesity have shown decreases at age 7, and stabilisation at age 9, while the overall incidence remains of concern.  Those with responsibility for caring for children and educating the public on health and wellbeing therefore have much to do to continue to tackle this issue.’

‘Critically, the observed reduction or leveling off is not happening in DEIS or disadvantaged schools, and this has implications for all, including health and public service partners, particularly those working on implementation of the Healthy Ireland framework. We must ensure that our efforts are focused on bringing the improvements demonstrated by this data to bear on all our children, particularly children who are disadvantaged by poverty, and education, housing and transport deficits, among others.’

Dr O’Keeffe continued ‘Healthy Ireland, the Government Framework for Improved Health and Wellbeing seeks to proactively improve the health and wellbeing of the population and we know that tackling childhood obesity requires the whole of government and whole of society response that this framework can deliver.’

‘Evidence also tells us that overweight and obesity in childhood tracks into adulthood, and that the earlier we intervene to prevent our children from becoming an unhealthy weight, the better their childhood and adult health, and quality and length of life, will be.  By identifying at an early stage children whose weight is out of line with their growth for their age, we can offer them and their parents the supports they need to get the balance right as they grow up.’

Dr. Cate Hartigan, Head of Health Promotion and Improvement, HSE, outlined a new growth monitoring project being introduced in September of this year: ‘Later in 2014, the health services will introduce a pilot growth monitoring programme in primary schools, as part of the school health check for 5-6 year olds.  This will commence in 4 pilot HSE areas – Mayo, Laois-Offaly, Dublin 15 and Cork City.’

‘Parents will be given feedback on their child’s growth, and if required, advice on steps they can take at home to ensure they rebalance diet and activity levels as their child grows.  Any children whose growth results show signs of clinical obesity will be offered a community based lifestyle intervention programme, based on the successful W82GO programme delivered by the Children’s University Hospital, Temple Street.’

Irish mothers may be allowed share maternity leave with their partners

 

New Irish mums may soon be able to share part of their maternity leave entitlement with their partners under legislation being considered by the Government.

The Department of Justice is working on a scheme to allow fathers to receive two weeks of the statutory 26 weeks’ leave, according to minister of state Kathleen Lynch.

“We intend to have serious proposals prepared before the end of the year,” she said.

“In terms of the bill itself, we would be ensuring the power to decide on the parental leave is always vested in the mother.”

However, she said that there were “a lot of complicating factors need to be worked out”.

“For example, with the idea of allowing both parents to step in and out of leave, the Department of Social Protection says that would be very difficult to manage, in terms of payments,” Ms Lynch explained.

Experts have already recommended to Childrens’ Minister Frances Fitzgerald that the government should allow partners to share leave. But this could only come into play when paid leave is extended to a full year.

PROPOSALS

In Britain a woman is entitled to 52 weeks’ maternity leave, while a father gets up to two weeks when the child is born.

The couple can then transfer up to 26 weeks of the leave to the father if the mum decides to return to work.

Ms Lynch said that the Government is looking at introducing parental leave as part of the current 26-week entitlement – and not in addition to it.

“Before we move to extend maternity leave, we have to deal with the paternity leave issue,” she said.

She added that the bill would need a lot of amendments before it came close to being published.

She said that several interest groups have already identified barriers to paternity leave – such as employers’ representative groups and women’s groups.

They point out the high cost implications and also the knock-on effect it would have on a mothers’ entitlements.

Elephants know how dangerous people are from how we speak

 

Elephants pay attention when we speak, a new study in Kenya shows.

When an elephant killed a Maasai woman collecting firewood near Kenya’s Amboseli National Park in 2007, a group of young Maasai men retaliated by spearing one of the animals.

  A female elephant displays an alert reaction—with ears held open and trunk extended—at the Amboseli National Park in Kenya.

“It wasn’t the one that had killed the woman, says Graeme Shannon, a behavioral ecologist at Colorado State University, in Fort Collins. “It was just the first elephant they encountered—a young bull on the edge of a swamp.”

The Maasai spiked him with spears and, their anger spent, returned home. Later, the animal died from his wounds.

Elephants experience those kinds of killings sporadically. Yet the attacks happen often enough that the tuskers have learned that the Maasai—and Maasai men in particular—are dangerous.

The elephants in the Amboseli region are so aware of this that they can even distinguish between Ma, the language of the Maasai, and other languages, says a team of researchers, who report their findings today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Powers of Discrimination

The results add to “our growing knowledge of the discriminatory abilities of the elephant mind, and how elephants make decisions and see their world,” says Joyce Poole, an elephant expert with ElephantVoices in Masai Mara, Kenya.

Indeed, previous studies have shown that the Amboseli elephants can tell the cattle-herding, red-robed Maasai apart from their agricultural and more blandly dressed neighbors, the Kamba people, simply by scent and the color of their dress.

The elephants know too that walking through villages on weekends is dangerous, as is crop raiding during the full moon.

They’re equally aware of their other key predator, lions, and from their roars, know how many lions are in a pride and if a male lion (the bigger threat because he can bring down an elephant calf) is present.

And they know exactly how to respond to lions roaring nearby: run them off with a charge.

A group of elephants defensively bunch together, with the matriarch of the family at the front.

Flight or Fight

Intriguingly, when the Amboseli elephants encounter a red cloth, such as those worn by the Maasai, they also react aggressively. But they employ a different tactic when they catch the scent of a Maasai man: They run away. Smelling the scent of a Kamba man, however, troubles them far less.

“They have very clear behavioral responses in all of these situations,” says Karen McComb, a behavioral ecologist at the University of Sussex, in the United Kingdom. “We wondered if they would react differently to different human voices.”

To find out, she and her colleagues played recordings to elephant families of Maasai and Kamba men, as well as Maasai women and boys, speaking a simple phrase in their language: “Look, look over there, a group of elephants is coming.”

Over a two-year period, they carried out 142 such playbacks with 47 elephant families, each time playing a different human voice through a concealed speaker placed 50 meters (164 feet) from the animals. They video-recorded the elephants’ reactions to the various human voices, including a Maasai man’s voice they altered to sound like a woman’s

As soon as an elephant family heard an adult Maasai man speak, the matriarch didn’t hesitate, the researchers say. “She instantly retreats,” Shannon says. “But it’s a silent retreat. They sometimes make a low rumble, and may smell for him, too, but they’re already leaving, and bunching up into a defensive formation. It’s a very different response to when they hear lions.”

In contrast, the voices of Kamba men didn’t cause nearly as strong a defensive reaction: The elephants didn’t consider the Kamba a serious threat.

“That subtle discrimination is easy for us to do, but then we speak human language,” says Richard Byrne, a cognitive biologist at the University of St. Andrews, in Scotland. “It’s interesting that elephants can also detect the characteristic differences between the languages.”

Fear Men, Not Boys (or Women)

The Amboseli elephants were also sufficiently tuned in to the Maasai language that they could tell women’s and boys’ voices from men’s, seldom turning tail in response. “Maasai women and boys don’t kill elephants,” Shannon points out. Nor were the elephants tricked by the man’s altered voice; when they heard it, they left at once.

“The elephants’ decision-making is very precise,” McComb says, “and it illustrates how they’ve adapted where they can to coexist with us. They’d rather run away than tangle with a human predator.”

Why, one wonders, don’t elephants retreat when poachers descend on them?

“Unfortunately, there are going to be things they cannot adapt to, things such as humans’ ability to come after them with automatic weapons or mass poisonings,” McComb says. “And in those situations, we have to protect them—or we will lose them, ultimately.”