Tag Archives: intelligence

News Ireland daily BLOG as told by Donie

Tuesday 23rd May 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Garda correspondence.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Potential conflict?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bizarre and dramatic development.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Coveney’s policies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Leo Varadkar

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Varadkar’s policies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fine Gael parliamentary party endorsements for leader

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

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

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

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

Undeclared

Enda Kenny – Outgoing Party Leader *

Martin Heydon – Party Chairman *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Irish householders urged to test their homes?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Large study uncovers genes are linked to our intelligence

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

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

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

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

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

The experiment?

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

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

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

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

What do we gather?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The species could be the first hominid ever to exist?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The jawbone of Graecopithecus.  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Wednesday 10th August 2016

The cost of borrowing continues to fall for Ireland

   

Ireland’s cost of borrowing has continued to fall, after the yield on Irish 10-year bonds hit record low levels yesterday.

Peripheral euro zone bonds have become popular recently as economic uncertainty has led to an easing of monetary policy globally

A scarcity of bonds – highlighted by the Bank of England’s (BoE) inability to meet its bond-purchase target – has driven interest rates on government debt to record lows across the board.

In the week prior to the Brexit vote on 23 June, the interest rate on Irish 10-year bonds stood at 0.84%.

Yesterday that yield on Irish debt fell to a record low 0.37%, and today it is lower again at 0.34%.

Peripheral euro zone bonds have become popular recently as economic uncertainty has led to an easing of monetary policy globally.

Now further demand has been placed on euro zone bonds after the BoE failed to find enough willing sellers to meet its bond purchase target for the first time since it started buying government bonds in 2009.

German 10-year yields have fallen further into negative territory at -0.1%, while the Netherlands bond yield rate is also negative at -0.01%.

This has seen investors move towards peripheral euro zone bonds, such as Ireland, which would have a relatively higher rate of return.

Investors seeking alternatives

Spooked by the end of a 30-year bond bull run and bouts of money printing which have pushed stock values out of kilter with economic reality, high-profile investors are turning to fine wines, classic cars and jewels, research and index data show.

Even legendary bond investor and ex-Pimco boss Bill Gross said last week that he now favoured real assets like land and gold over more traditional investment classes.

This growing interest saw rare coins, collectable jewellery and classic cars join fine wine among the top performers in the year to end-March, the latest Knight Frank Luxury Investment Index showed.

A record breaking six months for Irish tourism with half a million extra visitors to Irish shores

More than half a million extra visitors to Irish shores for first half of the year…

    

Playing host to the likes of Game of Thrones and Star Wars helped Ireland achieve massive tourism growth in the first half of the year, with 507,400 extra visitors descending on the Emerald Isle than the same period in 2015.

Irish tourism’s best ever first-half performance saw the island welcome 4.4 million tourists, marking a mammoth 13% increase year-on-year.

Aside from the lure of screen tourism, air access, positive publicity and a global marketing campaigning were cited as contributing to the boom.

Tourism Ireland confirmed that revenue was also up 18% for the first quarter. The majority of tourists came from Britain and North America, while trips from mainland Europe were also on the rise.

Ireland now accounts for one in 10 of all American visitors to Europe.

There are 40,000 additional people employed in the tourism sector compared with five years ago.

Niall Gibbons, CEO of Tourism Ireland, said that hotels and other service providers have to continue to do their part to attract people here:

“The industry have to offer excellent value for money. Not be as good as our competitors; we have to be better.

“The good news is that if you look back at the actual statistics, in 1999… 3% of[British visitors] said Ireland was poor value for money. By 2009 that was 43%, and by 2015 that was back to single digits.

“I think we have to sustain and maintain those very positive value for money numbers.”

There were 16% more visitors from the UK in the first half, and Tourism Ireland is set to target that market with an extensive programme of promotions this autumn to boost off-peak business and mitigate for a weakened sterling following the Brexit vote.

Currency movements mean that Eurozone trips are now roughly 10% more expensive for British holiday makers.

Data protection chief Dixon must not distance herself from complainants

Disengaging from individuals could open Ireland to a sanction by European courts

   

In a recent speech, The data Protection Commissioner Helen Dixon referred to some solicitors as “digital ambulance chasers”.

In a recent speech, Irish Data Protection Commissioner Helen Dixon set out her perspectives on data protection supervision – putting her on a collision course with the European Commission and the Court of Justice of the European Union.

At the Irish Centre for European Law annual Data Protection Conference, Commissioner Dixon expressed frustration at the lack of clear objectives for data protection and a failure to detail the harms it is designed to mitigate.

The commissioner went on to criticise the large number of complaints received by her office which, she said, were really proxies for disputes between different parties and had only a marginal connection with data protection issues.

Solicitors were singled out as “digital ambulance chasers” for bringing volumes of complaints of little apparent merit and using subject access requests for fishing expeditions in litigation.

Ms Dixon made it clear that she doesn’t think she should be obliged to consider every complaint received by her office and that she thinks the resources currently committed to investigating individual complaints would be better used examining systemic data protection issues.

So, should – or indeed can – the commissioner distance herself from individual complainants?

In my view, she cannot and should not.

Missed opportunity

To do so would not only require an amendment to European law, which guarantees such a right, it would also be a missed opportunity to engage with individuals in order to close the apparent gap between the general nature of data protection rules and the public’s understanding of the protections that it offers.

In disengaging from individuals, the commissioner would miss an essential aspect of data protection supervision, inevitably resulting in a standard of data protection supervision in Ireland below that set by European law.

Consequently, such a move could open Ireland to a sanction by the European courts.

To see why, it must be understood that data protection touches on every aspect of our lives – as consumers buying goods and services, citizens participating in a democratic society and as neighbours in our communities.

Data protection owes a lot to the experience of many millions of Europeans who lived in authoritarian communist regimes.

It values individual protection over pure self-interest, by setting moral boundaries to how our personal data may be used.

However, these boundaries are always specific to individual circumstances and can change over time. Crucially, data protection law doesn’t lend itself to absolute rules or codified, measurable objectives.

As such, the progressive nature of data protection law brings it into conflict with the conservative free market view that personal data is just another commodity that can be traded for profit.

There are similar conflicts with state bureaucracies looking for easy ways to exert control or deliver privatised public services.

The obligations on data protection supervisors, when hearing individual complaints, were spelled out by the Court of Justice of the European Union in the well-known Google Spain case, which concerned the so-called right to be forgotten, (i.e. the right of individuals to have certain links removed from internet searches on their names).

The court first noted that everyone has a right to make a complaint to an independent supervisor, such as our Data Protection Commissioner.

It then went on to find that interference with data protection rights, if sufficiently serious, cannot be justified on purely economic grounds but only with reference to other fundamental rights such as the right to freedom of expression.

The law is very vague?

Critically, in making a complaint, an individual is not required to demonstrate that they have been prejudiced.

Finally, the court stressed the importance of context. It noted publication by a search engine of personal data already legally published on the internet may nevertheless interfere with an individual’s rights.

Similarly, publication of personal data may cease to be justified with the passage of time.

So, if the law is vague and context dependent, how can the use of personal data be regulated and why are individual complaints so important?

Data protection places a high value on individual protection balanced only against other fundamental rights.

To regulate at the standards demanded of European law, a data protection supervisor must embrace the progressive ideals of this moral framework and engage in empathic dialogue with individuals to build a common shared understanding of data protection norms.

It is only through stepping into the shoes of individual data subjects that data protection supervisors can really give effect to the individual balancing of interests that is demanded.

Trivialising complainants and attacking their advisors is not the way forward.

If resources are truly an issue then Ms Dixon needs to press the State to fullfil its obligation to provide them.

Dialogue with individuals rather than distance is what is required.

It would be a serious mistake to remove the individual right to complain to the commissioner’s office.

This is the amount of exercise you should be doing every day

    

Reduce the risk of breast and bowel cancer, diabetes, heart disease and stroke with more exercise, 

The minimum recommended amount of exercise should be increased, researchers have said after a new study found that more exercise can drastically lower a person’s risk of five serious diseases.

Exceeding the current recommended minimum levels of exercise each week can significantly reduce the risk of breast and bowel cancer, diabetes, heart disease and stroke, experts found.

At present, the World Health Organisation recommends that people conduct at least “600 metabolic equivalent minutes (MET minutes)” of physical activity – the equivalent of 150 minutes each week of brisk walking or 75 minutes per week of running.

Researchers from the US and Australia looked into how much exceeding these levels can reduce one’s risk of the five common chronic diseases.

Their study, published in the British Medical Journal, examined 174 studies published between 1980 and 2016 which looked at the associations between total physical activity and at least one of the diseases.

Having higher levels of physical activity was significantly associated with a reduced risk in the diseases.

The study found two phased reductions in the risk of the five conditions – quick drops in the risk from 600 to 4,000 MET minutes of physical activity per week followed by slow but steady reductions from 4,000 to 10,000 MET minutes each week.

Most health gains occurred when people conducted 3,000 to 4,000 MET minutes per week, they found.

The authors said that 3000 MET minutes each week can be achieved by climbing the stairs for 10 minutes, vacuuming for 15 minutes, gardening for 20 minutes, running for 20 minutes, and walking or cycling for transportation 25 minutes on a daily basis.

“The findings of this study showed that a higher level of total physical activity is strongly associated with a lower risk of breast cancer, colon cancer, diabetes, ischemic heart disease, and ischemic stroke, with most health gains occurring at a total activity level of 3000-4000 MET minutes/week,” the authors wrote.

The crow who amazed the world by bending wire was simply using natural behaviour, 

Remember that crow who astonished the world by bending a straight piece of wire back in 2002?

      

Scientists finally have an explanation for that. They say the bird was simply acting out behaviour in her species’ natural repertoire.

Betty bent a straight piece of garden wire into a neat hook to lift a food-baited bucket from a vertical tube in a laboratory at the University of Oxford in 2002.

At the time, it was known that New Caledonian crows manufacture tools from twigs in the wild, but it seemed highly unlikely that this involved bending.

The resulting paper from the experiment suggested that Betty had spontaneously come up with a clever solution after understanding the experimental task.

This shook the field of comparative cognition and was regarded as one of the most compelling demonstrations of intelligence in a non-human animal.

But recent field experiments by biologists at the University of St Andrews have found that tool bending is part of New Caledonian crows’ natural behaviour.

Dr Christian Rutz was leader of the project, the findings of which are published in Royal Society Open Science.

“We couldn’t believe our eyes,” Dr Rutz said.

“Most birds trapped sticks underfoot before bending the tool shaft by bill, but one also pushed tools against the logs to flex them, and another wedged them upright into holes before pulling the shaft sideways, just as Betty had done.

“It turns out, the twigs that wild crows select for making their tools are pliable.

“Our study is a powerful reminder of the importance of basic natural history research.

“When my Oxford colleagues studied Betty’s cognitive abilities almost 15 years ago, very little was known about how these birds make and use tools in their natural tropical habitat.

“Our discovery of tool bending in wild New Caledonian crows has come as a complete surprise, and was the result of patient field research.”

The researchers provided the wild-caught crows with juicy treats hidden in wooden logs, as well as their preferred plant material to manufacture tools.

New Caledonian crows live in the remove tropical archipelago of New Caledonia, South Pacific, where the research for the study took place.

Birds were briefly kept in field aviaries before being released back into the wild.

Dr Rutz said the researchers were “absolutely over the moon” when the birds began making and using tools in their field aviaries.

Some of the crows vigorously bent their twig tools during processing in the same manner as Betty had bent wire in the Oxford experiment.

This time, however, bent tools were not required to solve the task.

James St Clair, report co-author, said: “Our observations raise the question of why wild crows would bend their stick tools as a matter of course.

“We believe a curved tool is advantageous, because the bird can position it in its bill so that the tool-tip is bang in the middle of the field of binocular vision.

“This should improve tool control during foraging.”

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Wed/Thrs. 26th & 27th March 2014

Moneypoint Co Clare power station could meet Ireland’s 25% of renewable energy goal

   Moneypoint power station

Malcolm Brown of BW Energy (left) and Paddy Massey of ReThink Pylons (above left) at a press conference in Dublin today outlining their plans for a pylon-free alternative to Grid25.

Converting Clare plant from coal to biomass would help deliver 40% of target, 

Ireland’s target of having 40% of energy needs met by renewable sources by 2020 could be met in a single stroke if the Moneypoint power station in Co Clare was converted from coal to biomass, according to a UK-based energy analyst working for ReThink Pylons, one of the groups opposing EirGrid’s Grid25 pylons project.

Malcolm Brown of BW Energy today said converting Moneypoint’s three coal-fired boilers, one at a time over an extended period, would cost €380 million. Electricity generated from burning biomass (mainly wood pellets) at Moneypoint would add 25% to the existing 19.6% of renewable energy already produced in the State.

The two together would exceed the 40% target Mr. Brown said.

Converting Moneypoint would also cut out the need for the €3.8 billion cost of increasing Ireland’s windpower capacity necessary under government plans to meet the 40% target, he argued.

In a report prepared for Re Think Pylons, he also argued that converting Moneypoint station would remove the €2.3 billion cost of the Grid25 pylon project and the €600 million cost of the interconnector with the UK to stabilise the power network due to its planned reliance on wind.

Grid25 is a project by Eirgrid, the company that runs the electricity transmission network as opposed to the power stations that generate the current, to upgrade transmission lines in the northwest, the south and southeast, and between Northern Ireland and the Republic. Interconnector capacity between Ireland and the UK is also to be upgraded.

The plans have garnered significant opposition from local groups, however, and in January, amid fears the issue would impact on the June local and European elections, the Government asked former Supreme Court Judge Catherine McGuinness to examine whether underground cabling was a feasible alternative to pylons.

Opponents argue that the pylons, in most instances 60 metres tall, would damage the landscape and reduce the value of their property. Some opponents also cite health fears for people living close to high voltage electricity transmission.

Speaking today at the launch of his report in Dublin, Mr Brown based much of his argument on an analysis of the operation of the Drax power station at Drax in North Yorkshire in England. It is the largest power plant in western Europe and provides some 7% of the UK’s energy needs but is also the single largest emitter of CO2.

Starting in 2004, Drax began a gradual conversion to biomass, burning locally sourced willow in parallel with coal. In 2012, the process of changing three of the plant’s six units to biomass began – the first of which was fired last June. A second unit is due to go fully biomass this year, and the third by 2017.

Mr Brown argued that recent advances in technology had made biomass electricity production both feasible and cost-effective. Security of biomass fuel supply, generally wood pellets, was guaranteed from US timber sources willing to enter nine-year fixed term contracts.

Most Irish consumers against Supermarkets vegetable price wars

  

Support for legislation to protect food producers from sharp practice by supermarkets

When asked by the Ipsos/MRBI survey if the below-cost selling of vegetables before Christmas was good for consumers in the long term, some 64% said it was not. Some 66% of those surveyed said retail multiples did not treat farm families fairly when buying their produce.

Just three in 10 people believe the sale of cheap vegetables has long-term benefits for consumers, new research by Agri Aware, the agri-food educational body, has found.

When asked by the Ipsos/MRBI survey if the below-cost selling of vegetables before Christmas was good for consumers in the long term, some 64% said it was not. Some 66% of those surveyed said retail multiples did not treat farm families fairly when buying their produce.

In December, Lidl, Aldi and Dunnes Stores were carrots and onions for as little as 5 cent a kilo. They insisted they were covering the cost of the promotion, but the Irish Farmers’ Association claimed farmers would pay for it and it staged protests.

However, National Consumer Agency chief executive Karen O’Leary described the price war as positive.

The Agri Aware survey of more than 1,000 people also found almost 88% of people think legislation should be introduced to ensure food producers get a fair price from supermarkets. A Bill expected to address this issue has been promised by the Government.

Agri Aware chairman Bernard Donohue said it was clear the public was very much behind the introduction of new legislation to ensure that retailers pay a fair price to farmers for quality produce.

“Following the vegetable price war at Christmas, the National Consumer Agency described this as positive, yet this Agri Aware survey clearly demonstrates that the Irish public expect retailers to treat farm families fairly,” he said.

The Agri Aware study also asked if quality or price was the most important consideration when buying groceries. Some 79 per cent cited quality. There was a difference between the importance of quality for those working and those unemployed. Some 83% of those working cited quality first compared with 63% of the unemployed.

Irish Dairy Board secures €420m syndicated loan to fund global expansion

 

The Irish Dairy Board (IDB), which owns Kerrygold along with brands such as Dubliner cheese, has secured a five-year syndicated loan of €420m to fund dairy businesses expanding overseas as milk quotas end in 2015.

The new loan replaces an existing three-year €350m facility, the IDB said yesterday. It includes a €165m syndicated loan facility to fund IDB’s own working capital requirements and its growth strategy.

The remaining €255m will be used for syndicated reverse invoice discounting for members.

The money comes from Allied IrishBank, Bank of America Merrill Lynch,Barclays, HSBC, Rabobank and Ulster Bank.

Reverse invoice discounting was first introduced in 2012 and allows members to discount their sales invoices to IDB, receiving funds up front, with IDB providing security of payment to the banks.

It was set up to help companies and individuals as they look for new markets in the wake of theEuropean Commission’s decision to liberalise the milk industry.

“The successful refinancing demonstrates the strong support that exists amongst our participating banks for both the IDB and the Irish dairy industry generally,” said group finance director Donal Buggy.

“This strong support was clearly voiced in recent meetings with all of our banks and is evidenced by our new facilities being significantly over-subscribed,” he added.

The Irish Dairy Board markets and sells dairy products on behalf of the country’s dairy processors and farmers.

The board has sales of around €2bn and employs about 3,100 people globally. It is responsible for exporting about 60pc of Ireland’s dairy products to more than 100 countries. It does this by sharing the story of Irish farming and explaining how Irish dairy products are produced.

By building markets for dairy products, it aims to increase the value of Irish milk and to deliver strong returns for farmers.

With pre-packing and blending facilities located in Germany, the UK, the US and the Middle East the board also develops specialist food ingredients for many of the world’s major food manufacturers.

Former Anglo director said he was ‘not instrumental’ in Sean Quinn deal

  

William McAteer denies helping to orchestrate plan to unwind Quinn’s holding in bank

William McAteer, the former director of finance at Anglo Irish Bank, told gardaí he “was not instrumental” in a deal to unwind businessman Sean Quinn’s holding in Anglo Irish Bank in July 2008, the Dublin Circuit Criminal Court heard this morning.

In a Garda interview in November 2011, Mr McAteer denied he was an integral part of the plan to dispose of Mr Quinn’s holdings, that he helped to orchestrate the plan, and that he was aware at all times of the details of the plan.

His interviews with gardaí at Irishtown Garda Station in 2010 and 2011 were read into the record by Paul O’Higgins SC, for the prosecution, and confirmed by Detective Sergeant Glenn MacKessy and Detective Sergeant Michael Prendergast.

Mr McAteer (63) of Rathgar, Dublin; Seán FitzPatrick (65) of Greystones, Co Wicklow and Pat Whelan (51) of Malahide, Dublin, have been charged with 16 counts of providing unlawful financial assistance to 16 individuals in July 2008 to buy shares in the bank, contrary to section 60 of the Companies Act.

Mr Whelan has also been charged with being privy to the fraudulent alteration of loan facility letters to seven individuals.

All three men have pleaded not guilty to the charges.

The court had heard, by July 2008, Mr Quinn’s contracts for difference – investment products based on share value – involved more than 28 per cent of the bank’s shares.

As part of a deal to unwind them, the Maple 10 businessmen borrowed €45 million each from Anglo to buy 1 per cent of the bank’s shares and the Quinn children borrowed €170 million to buy almost 15 per cent of the shares.

The unwinding deal was carried out in the week of July 14th, 2008.

In his interview with gardaí, Mr McAteer said he had no involvement in the lending to buy the shares. When asked by gardaí Mr McAteer had said he did not recall a series of emails from around the time the deal closed.

Mr McAteer agreed he did play a part in trying to find institutional buyers for the Quinn CFDs. He also said he was broadly aware of the unwind deal but there were meetings and telephone calls he was not a party to.

Asked by gardaí if he had instructed others in Anglo to implement the unwind deal, he said he was sure he “instructed people to make sure it was properly executed”.

When asked by gardaí if he had anything to add, Mr McAteer said the Quinn CFD position was “unacceptable” and the financial regulator had been “very anxious” to get the holding unwound.

Also giving evidence this morning, house builder Seamus Ross, one of the Maple 10, said he had been a client of Anglo for more than 15 years and had a “very strong relationship” with the bank.

He was surprised when he was asked to meet Mr Whelan and former chief executive of the bank David Drumm on July 10th or 11th 2008.

He said he was asked if he would buy shares in the bank and was told about the Quinn CFD holding and that the financial regulator had approved a deal to unwind it.

He told the court he didn’t ask “that many questions” and was a bit surprised by the discussion. He thought what he was told was “bad news” and “he didn’t like to hear there was a problem”.

He also said he was surprised the terms involved a loan in his “own personal name” and it was to be a “private venture”.

Asked by Mr O’Higgins if he understood the recourse – what would have to be paid back if there was an outstanding balance – he said he believed the recourse was only to the value of the shares and there was no personal recourse.

The meeting didn’t take long, he said and he agreed to “go ahead and give the helping hand to the bank”.

“I was delighted to do that,” he said. The bank had helped him in the past.

Mr Ross said the documents had already been prepared.

“I signed whatever documents was put down and I left,” he said. He did not vet the documents, he said.

He also told the court that at the time he was fighting a court action which lasted three and a half years related to the presence of pyrite in people’s homes. He said he had “hundreds of people knocking on my door, their houses falling down”.

“This was in the middle of all this, so all I can do from memory is to help you the best I can,” he said.

Three-quarters of Ireland’s SMEs not giving pay rises in 2014

    

Up to 75% of small and medium businesses say they will not be handing out pay rises this year, according to a survey by office supply company Office Depot.

That is despite confidence in the sector continuing to grow.

The business survey also found that 51% of companies reported that positive media stories on the industry does not reflect the tough reality for most of the companies.

Stephen Ireland’s (dead?) grandmother asks Roy Keane to put him into the Republic of Ireland squad

 

Republic of Ireland assistant manager Roy Keane has been urged to recall Stephen Ireland – by the Stoke City midfielder’s grandmother he once falsely claimed was dead.

Ireland has not played international football since 2007, when he pulled out of the squad ahead of a match, saying that his grandmother had passed away.

When it was revealed that his story was false, Ireland said it was his grandfather’s second wife who had passed away, but once more this was proven to be fake.

Eventually he admitted that he left the Ireland squad to visit his girlfriend, who had reportedly had a miscarriage.

Keane revealed in the Irish Independent that by a quirk of fate he recently shared a flight with Ireland’s “dead” grandmother, who asked him whether he pick her grandson again.

“Well, I spoke with the grandmother this morning, she was on the flight coming over – and she asked me would he get back involved,” Keane told the paper.

“I couldn’t lie to her. I said he’d have a chance if he’s playing well. I think [manager] Martin  [O’Neill] had a conversation with him, and all that needs to fall into place.

“We all know how talented Stephen is and Martin will look at that.

“We wouldn’t be shutting the door on any player.

“What is important for any player, and Stephen is the same, is it does help to be playing week-in week-out.

“He’s obviously had a difficult spell. He’s only just got a run of games at Stoke now. So I certainly wouldn’t be ruling anyone out.”

Ireland spoke of his “regret” at the lie at the time, and suggested last year that he would be willing to return to international football.

Clever Crows smart like children with causal reasoning

  

New Caledonian crows were tested with tasks based on Aesop’s Fables

A new study of the intelligence of New Caledonian crows suggests that the birds have reasoning powers roughly equal to those of a five to seven-year-old child.

The research, which was published in the journal Plos One, subjected six wild crows to a range of tests including a “water displacement” tasks based on one of Aesop’s fables, ‘The Crow and the Pitcher’.

In the test (and the fable) the thirsty crow has to drink out of narrow container filled with water. The bird cannot reach the liquid but works out that it can raise the water level by dropping stones into the pitcher.

When the crows were faced with this task they not only completed it, but did so in the most efficient way possible, choosing containers with higher water levels and choosing objects that were solid, rather than hollow, to raise the water level.

The tasks asked for crows to raise water levels to reach food.

However, it wasn’t all easy for the crows, and birds were stumped by more difficult tasks involving a U-shaped container with hidden connections. In this the birds were supposed to drop stones into one of the pipes to raise the water level in the other but “showed no signs of learning which tube would bring the reward.”

“These results are striking as they highlight both the strengths and limits of the crows’ understanding,” said Sarah Jelbert from University of Auckland, who led the study.

“In particular, the crows all failed a task which violated normal causal rules, but they could pass the other tasks, which suggests they were using some level of causal understanding when they were successful.”

The study concluded that the birds’ understanding of causal and effect was roughly equal to that of a five to seven-year old child. Caledonian crows, a species well known for their intelligence, have been observed making and using tools in the wild as well as placing nuts on busy roads so that they will be cracked by passing cars.

Any doubts about crows’ intelligence? Watch the video below of a crow solving a eight-stage puzzle from a recent BBC documentary.

Giant shrimp sheds new light on our evolution

 

Ancient shrimp-like creature (like artists impression above right) that lived 500 million years ago was not a SAVAGE predator?

A savage predator or a gentle vegetarian? For years an ancient shrimp-like creature that lived 500 million years ago had a fearsome reputation as an apex predator. New research from the University of Bristol suggests, however, that the creature was far more placid, avoiding meat and living on plankton.

The free-swimming creature Tamisiocaris borealis lived during the Cambrian period between 485 and 540 million years ago. This was a particularly important time for life on Earth, with an explosion of radically new animal designs evolving.

The dangerous-looking met re-long T borealis swam about eating all before it, according to original assumptions made about it. These were largely based on fossil remains showing grasping-like appendages near its mouth that are common in other animals in its group, the Anomalocarids.

Dr Jakob Vinther and colleagues from Bristol dug up a number of fossils from early Cambrian sediments in northern Greenland and they proposed an alterative view of what the creature had for dinner, in their research report published this evening in the journal Nature .

They suggest the appendages on T borealis were used as combs to collect plankton by sweeping it up off the seabed or filtering it out of the water. The appendages had a series of closely placed spines with longer ones and shorter ones and the scientists argue that at least with T borealis , they were used to collect vegetarian fare in the same way as anyfilter feeder.

The proposal is of interest to palaeontologists studying the emergence of animals during the Cambrian. If this large animal could survive on plankton, there must have been plenty of it about in the seas at the time, something that tells us more about the local food web, the authors say.

It also tells scientists that filter feeding was present at least as far back as the Cambrian era.