Tag Archives: irish banks

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Monday 28th December 2015

Fianna Fail to create new State-owned bank if elected

Party’s manifesto will commit to proposals aimed at filling gaps in the banking sector

    

Fianna Fail inance spokesman Michael McGrath said a full State Enterprise Bank would be created and retained regardless of what stake the State retained in other banks.

Fianna Fail would create a new State-owned bank to lend to every company regardless of their size if elected to Government.

The party’s manifesto will commit to a number of proposals aimed at filling what it says are gaps in the banking sector.

Its finance spokesman Michael McGrath said a full State Enterprise Bankwould be created and retained regardless of what stake the State retained in other banks.

Mr McGrath said it has the potential to be a permanent solution to the difficulties businesses have in accessing credit.

He added: “ It would lend to any company, regardless of sector or size, provided it can demonstrate its creditworthiness.

“It would remain in State ownership even if the State disposes of its stakes inBank of Ireland and AIB.

“This was promised by the current government but only partially delivered in the form of the Strategic Banking Corporation of Ireland which has had very limited impact to date.”

Mr McGrath said the dominance of the two pillar banks, Bank of Ireland and Allied Irish Bank, is creating a lack of competition, higher costs for customers and blocking product innovation.

Fianna Fail will commit to examining the sale of EBS as a separate mortgage bank. It is currently merged with AIB.

Mr McGrath said this would “acknowledge the fact that the loss of the building societies has had a long term negative impact on the mortgage market”.

The party would also require the Central Bank to publish targets for dealing with the debt of small and medium enterprises.

It will also call for a code of conduct to be put in place for people seeking to switch their mortgages.

Mr McGrath said: “A strong code would provide certainty to mortgage holders about the process involved and ensure the mortgage holder’s rights are protected.”

The party’s manifesto would also confirm the party’s proposals to introduce legislation to influence the mortgage interest rates charged to customers.

The plans were released as Minister for Finance Michael Noonan criticised the Fianna Fail’s tax proposals.

Mr Noonan said Fianna Fail is opposed to the reduction of income tax and the Universal Social Charge.

He said the party is wedded to “the same high tax, high spend approach by which they ruined our economy last time they were in government”.

The Minister said: “We cannot go back to the same old Fianna Fail who wrecked the economy, have learned nothing from the past and are still the high tax, high spend party.”

In response Mr McGrath said Mr Noonan’s comments were inaccurate, misleading and a desperate attempt to shift focus.

He said Fianna Fail’s budget proposals for 2016 included reductions in the income tax burden for all workers.

Mr McGrath said: “In case Minister Noonan is under any illusions, Fianna Fáil will be proposing a series of reductions in the Universal Social Charge for workers in our election manifesto.

“However, we will do so in a responsible way which also takes account of the need to invest in vital areas of public services so badly neglected by this government such as education, health, housing and justice.”

Five Irish county councils are in serious financial difficulty, 

Donegal, Mayo, Sligo, Waterford and Wexford face deteriorating revenue balances

   

Dublin City Council’s surplus increased by 71% from 2013 to 2014, leaving the council with €28.35 million in the bank

Five local authorities – Donegal, Mayo, Sligo, Waterford and Wexford – were grappling with a “significant deterioration” in their finances at the end of last year, according to a report from an independent local government watchdog.

The National Oversight and Audit Commission report into local authority performance found Sligo County Council’s revenue deficit more than doubled from €11.4 million in 2010 to almost €27 million in 2014.

The auditors said the Sligo local authority was the most “adversely affected” in deficit terms over the last five years.

Donegal County Council saw its annual revenue deficit rise from €11.6 to €14.9 million in the period; Mayo’s annual deficit rose from €1.9 million to €5.05 million; and Waterford city and county’s deficit went from €7.57 million to €8.56 million.

In all, 17 of the State’s 31 local authorities were in the red at the end of 2014.

‘Cause of concern’

In a commentary on the figures, the audit commission said “while some of these [17]authorities have made progress on arresting the worsening situation, a small number continue to be a cause of concern”.

In contrast to the financial problems of some, the auditors note Dublin City Council’s surplus increased by 71 per cent from 2013 to 2014, leaving the council with €28.35 million in the bank.

Fingal, South Dublin and Cork County also showed a surplus of more than €10 million at the end of 2014.

Westmeath moved from a deficit of about €1 million per year to a small surplus in 2014 and Clare, Kilkenny and Longford all significantly reduced their deficits in 2014.

According to the audit commission’s report, collection of rates, rents and annuities – although an important element in the financing of local government – were mixed over the period.

Collection levels for rates in 2014 varied from a high of 92 per cent in Fingal to lows of 56 per cent in Donegal and Louth.

The commission said it is carrying out a review of rate collection performance to better understand the contributory factors.

Collection rate.

Sligo moved from collecting 79% of commercial rates in 2010 to 67% in 2014.

Similarly Mayo’s collection rate fell from 83% to 75%; Donegal went from 61 per cent to 56 per cent; Waterford City and County went from 78% to 72% and Wexford dropped from 72% to 71%.

In terms of rent and annuities, the highest collections were in Laois and Monaghan at 95%, and the lowest in South Dublin at 73%.

Overall, housing loan repayment collection levels show a deterioration from 80% in 2010 to 65& in 2014.

The highest was Fingal at 98% and the lowest were Kildare and Sligo at 42% and 46% respectively.

The audit commission said it is undertaking a more in-depth analysis of the underlying issues associated with revenue account deficits.

The National Oversight and Audit Commission was established in 2014 to provide independent scrutiny of local government performance.

Its mission is to oversee the local government sector by reviewing the financial and operational performance of bodies

One quarter of Ireland’s regional roads have defects

Report from the National Oversight and Audit Commission shows differences

    

Kildare had the highest level of structural defects on regional roads, Mayo had the highest levels on local primary roads.

Almost a quarter of the Republics regional roads have serious structural or surface defects, while many local roads are in even worse condition, according to a report from the National Oversight and Audit Commission.

The auditors’ report, which assessed non-national roads using data supplied by local authorities themselves, looked at regional roads which carry high volumes of traffic, as well as local roads divided into primary, secondary and tertiary.

In league tables drawn up by the auditors damage to local and regional roads is classed in order of severity as as “structural distress”, “pavement defects” or “surface defects”. Kildare had the highest level of structural defects on regional roads, Mayo had the highest levels of structural defects in local primary roads, and Sligo and Westmeath tied for the highest level of structural defects on local secondary roads . The county with the highest percentage of structurally deficient tertiary roads was Co Clare.

In a commentary the auditors said “some key messages emerge”. They found that, overall, 19 per cent of regional roads have moderate to significant pavement defects while a further five per cent of such roads “display structural distress”.

Structural distress

Local primary roads were marginally worse with 27 per cent having pavement defects and 8% displaying structural distress. More than one third of local secondary roads showed moderate to significant pavement defects, while 15% displayed structural distress. Local tertiary roads – commonly known as “boreens” – were in the worst condition with 28% displaying structural distress, while 27% displayed pavement defects.

However the auditors noted the absence of data from a small number of local authorities, including Dún Laoghaire Rathdown, Fingal, South Dublin, Cork City and Meath.

In what could be seen as a warning to these authorities the auditors said the data would in future be used for “the targeting of resources to areas most in need”. If that is the case, authorities which do not supply data on the condition of their roads may lose out on exchequer funding.

Damaged roads

The National Oversight and Audit commission also ranked the damaged roads as a pecentage of the amount of roads by county. Thus, it showed 2.26 per cent of roads in Co Kildare showed “severe structural distress” with extensive loss of pavement surface. A further 5.26 per cent of regional roads in Kildare showed there was “structural distress present”. This was followed by Donegal where 1.77% of regional roads were classed as suffering “severe structural distress” and a further 8.48% of the county’s roads were classed as having “structural distress present”.

In Mayo 2.6% of the roads have defects classed as “severe”. A further 20.83% of the local primary roads in Mayo were classed as having “significant” structural distress.

One per cent of primary roads in both Westmeath and Sligo were found to have severe structural defects, while 15% of Sligo’s secondary local roads were classed as having structural distress present.

In Co Clare 22% of its tertiary roads were classed as having “severe” structural defects and 15 per cent were regarded as having “structural defects present”.

In Mayo 16.3% of tertiary roads were classed as severe, and 8.5% had structural defects.

New rules for farm vehicles on roads begin in January

   

Revised standards for the use of agricultural vehicles on public roads take effect from New Year’s Day.

It follows a review by the Road Safety Authority and the introduction of legislation by Transport Minister Paschal Donohue.

The current regulations are over 50 years in place and deemed to be out of date due to bigger, faster, and more powerful agricultural vehicles being used.

These are generally constructed to highest standards and are capable of carrying out tasks outside the scope of the present regulations.

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The RSA says it is important the regulatory regime reflects the developments in technology and requires the vehicles to comply with recognised standards.

These relate to key safety areas, like braking, suspension systems, tyres and lighting, as well as the weights for which they are designed.

The RSA says vehicles which do not comply with the new regulations are likely to need only minor remedial works.

Examples are fitment of a flashing amber beacon and/or replacement of the manufacturer’s plate indicating the design axle weights and maximum permitted towable masses.

“Trailers already in service will also be able to continue in use, but, due to varying construction standards, some will need remedial work.

Tractors and trailers operating at higher speeds and weights must also be appropriately plated and speed rated,” it said.

A regulation’s breach may result in a court summons, and a fine of up to €2,500, a prison sentence or both on the person who commits the offence and on the vehicle’s owner.

It is expected most agricultural tractors will comply with the requirements with minimal spend.

However, the ICMSA farm and rural affairs committee chairman, Patrick Rohan, says it has some concerns regarding the practicality of implementing some of the measures.

The ICMSA was acutely aware of the need for farm vehicles and equipment to be properly maintained and ‘fit for purpose’.

However, writing in the association’s newsletter, he said it was determined to ensure any changes do not result in unnecessary costs and restrictions being loaded onto farmers.

Ancient Irish had Middle Eastern ancestry, study reveals

Genetic researchers find evidence of mass migration to Ireland thousands of years ago

   

Reconstruction of an early woman farmer by Elizabeth Black.

Evidence of massive migration to Ireland thousands of years ago has emerged from the sequencing of the first genomes from ancient Irish humans, carried out by geneticists from Trinity College Dublin and archaeologists from Queen’s University Belfast.

Sequencing the genome of an early woman farmer, who lived near Belfast 5,200 years ago, showed her majority ancestry originated in the Middle East, where agriculture was invented.

Sequencing the genomes of three men whose bodies dated from the Bronze Age about 4,000 years ago showed one-third of their ancestry came from the Pontic steppe on the shores of the Black Sea.

The woman farmer had black hair, brown eyes and resembled southern Europeans, according to the researchers.

In contrast, the three men, who were from Rathlin Island, had the most common Irish Y chromosome type, blue eyes alleles and the most important variant for the genetic disease haemochromatosis, or excessive iron retention.

The latter mutation is so frequent in people of Irish descent that it is sometimes referred to as a Celtic disease.

This discovery therefore marks the first identification of an important disease variant in prehistory, according to the researchers.

A genome is an organism’s complete set of DNA, including all of its genes.

Each genome contains all of the information needed to build and maintain that organism.

Discovering the sequence of the human genome provides a first step in understanding how the instructions coded in DNA lead to a functioning human being.

The information buried in the genes of ancient bodies is already answering pivotal questions about the origins of Ireland’s people and contemporary cultures, according to the study, published in the international journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA.

“There was a great wave of genome change that swept into Europe, from above the Black Sea into Bronze Age Europe, and we now know it washed all the way to the shores of its most westerly island,” said professor of population genetics in Trinity College Dublin, Dan Bradley, who led the study.

“And this degree of genetic change invites the possibility of other associated changes, perhaps even the introduction of language ancestral to western Celtic tongues.”

Time travel

Ireland is considered to have intriguing genetics. It has the highest rates of variants that code for lactose intolerance, the western European Y chromosome and several important genetic diseases.

However, the origins of this genetic heritage are unknown.

The only way to discover our genetic past is to sequence genomes directly from ancient people, by embarking on a type of genetic time travel, said Prof Bradley.

In archaeology, opinion has been divided on whether the great transitions in the British Isles from a hunter-gatherer lifestyle to one based on agriculture, and the switch from the use of stone to metal, were due to the adoption of new ways by locals or the influences of new people.

Dr Eileen Murphy, a lecturer in osteoarchaeology at Queen’s University, said the project has demonstrated how ancient DNA analysis can provide the tools to answer such questions.

The ancient Irish genomes sequenced for this study show “unequivocal” evidence for massive migration to Ireland, she said.

“Genetic affinity is strongest between the Bronze Age genomes and modern Irish, Scottish and Welsh, suggesting establishment of central attributes of the insular Celtic genome 4,000 years ago,” said Lara Cassidy, a genetics researcher at Trinity.

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News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Wednesday 16th December 2015

Irish State coffers in balance for first time in decade

   
A €1.64bn sale of AIB preference shares coupled with better than expected exchequer returns means that the exchequer will be close to balance for the first time since 2007.

AIB will today pay the state €1.64bn in cash from the total bailout funds it received since the financial crash.Finance Minister Michael Noonan is expected to signal today that by the end of the month Ireland will be taking in more than it is spending for the first time in a decade.

Its major capital reorganisation plus the surge in €3bn more than expected in tax receipts so far this year will be added to by the end of year figures.

The increased revenue intake means that Ireland’s borrowing costs will also be reduced while Ireland’s debt ratio will be cut by almost 1% of GDP in 2016.

It is understood the Cabinet discussed the expected end of year returns at its meeting this week.

The AIB transaction marks its first meaningful return of funds to the state after €21bn was pumped into the bank.

Irish taxpayers will still retain 99.8% of the shares in AIB, an investment with a value currently estimated at €11.7bn.

At the beginning of this month, the Government had collected just below €42bn in taxes, almost €3bn more than it expected to collect at the start of the year.

The further income for the exchequer that is expected to be collected by the end of this month will leave the exchequer close to balance —for the first time since the end of the boom in 2007.

Ireland’s debt is now also forecast to fall to 92% of GDP, in line with the euro area average.

AIB to repay Irish State €1.87bn after approval for reorganisation

Bank says it has already paid €3bn to the Government in various fees so far.

   

AIB chairman Richard Pym told shareholders the bank has paid about €3 billion to the State in fees related to the Government’s guarantees.

AIB will pay the State €1.866 billion tomorrow after receiving shareholder approval for a major capital reorganisation that also puts it on the path back to private sector ownership.

This will mark the first repayment by AIB of the €20.8 billion in bailout funds that it received from the State following the global financial crash in 2008.

AIB will pay the Government €1.7 billion in to redeem 1.36 billion of the 3.5 billion preference shares held by the State. It will also pay a dividend of €166.4 million relating to these shares.

In addition, the balance of preference shares will be converted to ordinary stock for the State and will be admitted for trading on the junior ESM market in Dublin on December 18th.

AIB will also press ahead with a consolidation of its share base, issuing one new share for every 250 held by investors. This will have the effect of reducing the number of shares in issue to 2.7 billion. The new shares will begin trading at 8am on December 21st.

AIB has agreed to the potential issue of warrants of up to 9.99% of the bank’s issued ordinary share capital to the minister for finance at the time of any re-admission of its ordinary shares to a regulated market. And the minister has agreed to redeem the EBS promissory note.

With the State owning 99.8 per cent of the bank, approval for the capital reorganisation was never in doubt but AIB was required to hold an extraordinary general meeting in Dublin to put 12 resolutions to all shareholders.

At the meeting in the RDS, AIB’s chairman Richard Pym said the capital reorganisation would “both strengthen and simplify” its capital structure and position the bank to transition from State to private sector ownership.

Mr Pym told shareholders that since the global financial crash in 2008 and its bailout by taxpayers, AIB has paid about €3 billion to the State in fees related to the Government’s guarantees, and coupon payments on the preference shares and contingent capital notes held by the State.

“Today marks the start of our repayment of the capital and we remain grateful to the Government and taxpayers for their continued support,” Mr Pym said.

Mr Pym told shareholders that he intended to take a poll on each resolution at the end of the EGM, even though the proposals were supported by the Minister for Finance Michael Noonan, who holds 99.8 per cent of the shares.

AIB received a bailout of €20.8 billion from the State post the crash in 2008. In response to a question from a shareholder, AIB chief executive Bernard Byrne said he expects the bank would repay “all of its money (to the State) in a reasonable timeframe”.

Mr Byrne indicated to media after the meeting that this could be a period of five to 10 years.

Mr Pym said the resolutions being voted on at the EGM would give the company a “market-standard capital structure” and would prepare the bank for a main stock market listing.

He said that the timing of an IPO would be subject to market conditions but he expects “very strong investor appetite for the stock” whenever it is brought to the stock exchange, highlighting how two recent debt issuances by the bank were oversubscribed.

Mr Byrne rejected criticism from investment adviser Brendan Burgess that AIB was overcharging its non-tracker mortgage customers. Mr Burgess argued that average mortgage rates across the EU amounts to about 2 per cent while AIB’s average rate is closer to 3.5%.

He said that whenever competition comes back into the Irish market, AIB’s profits would be hit. Mr Byrne responded by saying the bank, unlike its rivals, had reduced its standard variable rate three times over the past 12 months.

Mr Pym rejected a suggestion from TD Shane Ross that AIB should suspend its shares as they were “grossly overvalued” and people who have bought the shares recently stand to lose a lot of money when the capital reorganisation is completed.

The shares are currently trading at about 3.5% while the bank is proposing to convert some of the preference shares held by the State to ordinary shares for 1.7% each as part of the capital reorganisation being voted on at the EGM. This effectively puts a new floor on the bank’s share price.

Mr Pym said the company had repeatedly warned investors that the shares were overpriced and, as such, there is no more information that it can place in the market.

He said the bank would not be seeking a suspension of its shares as it would “mean that no-one in this room could deal in the shares if they wanted to” and “I don’t think it’s up to the company to deny you that opportunity to sell your shares”.

Irish developers slow to build so they can boost their profits

Developers can earn some €20,000 on newly built home that sells for €300,000?

      

Nama chief executive Brendan McDonagh (pictured above left) says that many of the developers are “not satisfied” with a profit of €20,000 per house and want to wait until prices rise to the point where it reaches €50,000 or more?

Developers are stalling on building new houses so that they can boost potential profits, National Asset Management Agency (Nama) chief executive Brendan McDonagh told TDs and Senators on Wednesday.

Responding to questions from an Oireachtas committee on Nama’s role in tackling the housing shortage, Mr McDonagh said that developers can now expect to earn a profit of €20,000 on a newly built home that sells for €300,000.

However, he said that many of them are “not satisfied” with a profit of €20,000 per house and want to wait until prices rise to the point where it reaches €50,000 or more.

“It’s profitable to build houses,” Mr McDonagh said. “It’s a question of how much profit people want to make.”

Commercial return

The Government wants Nama to fund the construction of 20,000 new homes between now and 2020, but the legislation establishing the agency demands that it must earn a commercial return from this.

Mr McDonagh said that it has taken a 35 per cent rise in property prices since 2013 to make residential construction viable again. A three-bed home in Dublin, which sells for €300,000, costs €260,000 to €280,000 to build.Central Statistics Office figures show that, as recently as April 2014, the same house would have sold for about €240,000, well short of break-even. Nama chairman, Frank Daly, stressed that the agency could not fund residential building on that basis, as it would not have been confident of getting a commercial return.

A Nama review of its borrowers’ residential sites showed that it can now develop 13,200 new homes on a number of them. It can provide the remaining 6,200 once it gets other sites serviced.

Nama expects to earn more than €1 billion in profits this year, more than double the €473 million it generated in 2014. Mr Daly told the Oireachtas Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform that it expects to pay a €2 billion surplus to the State once its work is finished in 2020.

Second letter to Cushnahan

Mr Daly also confirmed that he has written a second letter to former adviserFrank Cushnahan, one of those at the centre of the row over Nama’s sale of its Northern Ireland loans to US company Cerberus for €1.6 billion last year.

The chairman wrote to Mr Cushnahan last month, asking why he did not declare that he, former Northern Ireland first minister Peter Robinson and lawyer Ian Coulter met a potential bidder for the Northern loans, US fund Pimco, in May 2013, while he was still a member of Nama’s Northern Ireland Advisory Committee.

Mr Daly said that Mr Cushnahan has yet to reply to his first letter and added that he wrote to him again this week.

FF leader criticises lack of funding for drug treatment

Micheál Martin says cystic fibrosis patients will need help to pay for the new drug Orkambi.

    

The Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin’s bottom line was there was no extra provision for a high-tech drug scheme.

Decisions on the reimbursement of the cost of medicines were neither political nor ministerial, Taoiseach Enda Kenny has said.

He said they were made on objective, scientific and economic grounds by the Health Service Executive on the advice of the National Centre for Pharmacoeconomics (NCPE).

Mr Kenny was replying to Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin, who said a ground-breaking drug, Orkambi, had arrived on the market to treat cystic fibrosis (CF).

“The response of the authorities in the health service plan, and that of the Government, is that no funding will be made available in 2016 to provide the drug for patients,” Mr Martin said. “The HSE is clear that if the Government wants to fund it, it will have to provide it with additional money.”

Mr Kenny said last month the manufacturer of the drug had submitted a rapid review application to the NCPE as the first step in a pricing and reimbursement application.

The HSE estimated the cost could be about €90 million annually, he said.

“Given the significant budgetary impact, the NCPE is likely to require a full technology assessment of the drug to be carried out before making any recommendation to the HSE on reimbursement, in keeping with the normal procedure.”

Mr Kenny said the Department of Health and the HSE had made significant improvements to the facilities for CF sufferers around the country, particularly isolation units.

“This matter is part of the application process which has a journey to travel,” he said.

Mr Martin said the bottom line was there was no extra provision for the high-tech drug scheme next year, despite the escalating cost of treatment.

Tourist visits to Ireland in 2015 rise to a new record

Tourism Ireland plans to capitalise on the popularity of Star Wars The Force Awakens

    

Tourism Ireland is basing its new publicity campaign around the filming of part of the new Star Wars on Skellig Island.

It’s official – 2015 has seen a record number of people visiting the country.

At an end-of-year review this morning Tourism Ireland estimated that by December 31st, 7.9 million people will have visited Ireland during the year – beating a previous record set in 2007.

Minister for Tourism Paschal Donohoe said he wants to add another 50,000 jobs in the industry by 2025.

Mr Donohoe said he was particularly pleased with this week’s release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens which features scenes shot on Skellig Michael in Co Kerry.

Mr Donohoe, a keen sci-fi fan and collector of Star Wars and other sci-fi figurines, is anticipating further growth next year on the back of the movie.

Tourism Ireland will launch the first phase of its Star Wars campaign on Thursday which aims to encourage fans of the science fiction franchise to visit Ireland.

Niall Gibbons, chief executive of Tourism Ireland, said: “A hugely popular name like Star Wars filming here will bring the magnificent scenery of Skellig Michael and the Wild Atlantic Way to the attention of millions of people around the world.

“It’s a really effective way to reach mass audiences, helping to significantly boost awareness of the Skelligs, the South West and Ireland in general, providing a global platform for Ireland as a holiday destination and whetting peoples’ appetites to come and visit.”

Mr Gibbons said the all-island body was also buoyed value for money indicators which showed holidaymakers’ spending had increased by 29 per cent since the recession.

He also said whereas 43% of visitors from Britain had viewed Ireland as offering poor value for money in 2009, that figure was now around 10 per cent.

Over the period the euro has become weaker against sterling.

“Beyond the negative the figures show most people think Ireland is good value for money”, he said. The second phase of Tourism Ireland’s Star Wars campaign will be unveiled in early 2016.

Dog has been man’s best friend for some 33,000 years, An DNA study finds

First domesticated dogs came about 33,000 years ago and migrated to Europe from south east Asia, rather than descending from domesticated European wolves 10,000 years ago as had previously been thought

   
Man’s best friend came about after generations of wolves scavenged alongside humans more than 33,000 years ago in south east Asia, according to new research.A new study finds Dog has been man’s best friend for over 30,000 years.

Dogs became self-domesticated as they slowly evolved from wolves who joined humans in the hunt, according to the first study of dog genomes.

And it shows that the first domesticated dogs came about 33,000 years ago and migrated to Europe, rather than descending from domesticated European wolves 10,000 years ago as had previously been thought.

Scientists have long puzzled over how man’s best friend came into existence but there is conflicting evidence on when and where wild wolves were first tamed.

First domesticated dogs came about 33,000 years ago and migrated to Europe from south east Asia.

So in one of the largest studies of its kind Professor Peter Savolainen and colleagues sequenced the genomes of 58 members of the dog family including grey wolves, indigenous dogs from south-east and north-east Asia, village dogs from Nigeria, and a collection of breeds from the rest of the world, such as the Afghan Hound and Siberian Husky.

The DNA analysis published in Cell Research found those from south-east Asia had a higher degree of genetic diversity, and were most closely related to grey wolves from which domestic dogs evolved.

Prof Savolainen, of the Royal Institute of Technology, Solna, Sweden, said this indicates “an ancient origin of domestic dogs in southern East Asia 33,000 years ago.”

It is possible an “ecological niche unique in southern East Asia” provided an refuge for both humans and the ancestors of dogs during the last glacial period, with a peak between 26,500 and 19,000 years ago.

Prof Savolainen said: “The mild population bottleneck in dogs suggests dog domestication may have been a long process that started from a group of wolves that became loosely associated and scavenged with humans, before experiencing waves of selection for phenotypes (mutations) that gradually favoured stronger bonding with humans, a process called self-domestication.”

So the history of dogs may involve three major stages including loosely engaged pre-domesticated scavengers, domesticated non-breed dogs with close human-dog interactions, and breed formation following intense human selection for diverse sets of traits.

Prof Savolainen said: “The study of Chinese indigenous dogs thus provide missing links that connect these three major stages.”

The researchers said around 15,000 years ago, a subset of ancestors began migrating towards the Middle East and Africa, reaching Europe around 10,000 years ago.

Although this dispersal is believed to have been associated with the movement of humans, the first movement of man’s best friend out of south-east Asia may have been self-initiated.

This may have been owing to environmental factors, such as the retreat of glaciers, which started about 19,000 years ago.

Dogs from one of these groups then travelled back towards northern China, where they encountered Asian dogs that had migrated from south-east Asia. These two groups interbred, before spreading to the Americas.

Prof Savolainen said the domestic dog, one of our closest companions in the animal kingdom, has followed us to every continent of the world and, as a single species, embodies one of the largest collections of DNA diversity for any on earth.

He said due to their cognitive and behavioural abilities, it has been selected to fulfil a wide variety of tasks including hunting, herding and companionship with the genetic and historical basis of these gene changes intriguing the scientific community, including Darwin.

But despite many efforts studying dog evolution, several basic aspects about the origin and evolution of the domestic dog are still in dispute including several different geographical regions as the proposed birthplace of domestic dogs, and estimations of the date of divergence between wolves and dogs of between 32,000 and 10,000 years ago.

The researchers said around 15,000 years ago, a subset group began migrating towards the Middle East and Africa.

His team analysed the complete DNA of 12 grey wolves, 27 primitive dogs from Asia and Africa and a collection of 19 diverse breeds from across the world to show south east Asian dogs “have significantly higher genetic diversity compared to other populations.”

Prof Savolainen said: “Our study, for the first time, reveals the extraordinary journey the domestic dog has travelled on this planet during the past 33,000 years.”

Chinese indigenous dogs live in the countryside and were sampled across rural China, including many remote regions in Yunnan and Guizhou in southern China.

The breeds include dogs from Central Asia (Afghan Hound) and North Africa (Sloughi), Europe (eight different breeds), the Arctic and Siberia (Greenland dog, Alaska Malamute, Samoyed, Siberian Husky, and East Siberian Laika), the New World (Chihuahua, Mexican and Peruvian naked dog) as well as the Tibetan Plateau (Tibetan Mastiff). These dogs were chosen to cover as many major geographic regions as possible.

Earlier studies have suggested wolves may have been domesticated by the first farmers about 10,000 years ago in the Middle East or Asia, possibly to guard livestock.

But the latest study has found it began much earlier, long before the development of agriculture.

 

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Thursday 10th December 2015

Irish economic growth hits 7% as recovery outstrips targets

Latest GDP numbers reflect increasing output in ‘all business sectors’, says the CSO

   

While CSO numbers reflect increasing domestic demand, they also point to a decline in net exports in the same period.

Ireland’s economy grew by 7% in the third quarter of 2015 compared with the same period in 2014, new figures reveal.

The rate of gross domestic product (GDP) growth in July-September – up 7% year-on-year, and up 7% in the year to date – suggests growth for the year will beat Government targets.

Budget 2016, unveiled by the Coalition in mid-October, was predicated on the achievement of 6.2% GDP growth this year and 4.3% growth in 2016.

On Wednesday, however, Minister for Public Expenditure Brendan Howlinraised the prospect of a growth rate this year in excess of 7%.

The new quarterly national accounts, published this morning in Dublin by the Central Statistics Office, reflect increasing output in “all business sectors” in the three months to September compared with the previous quarter.

However, the data also shows that the pace of quarter-on-quarter growth eased in summer and early autumn.

The figures point to 1.4% GDP growth in the three months to September, following 1.9% growth in the three months to June and 2.1% growth in the three months to March.

While the figures reflect increasing domestic demand on a quarterly basis, they also point to a decline in net exports in the same period.

Investment activity increased by 4.9% compared with the second quarter and personal consumption, the largest component of domestic demand, rose 0.7%. Quarterly export growth of 2.2% was outpaced by 5.4% growth in imports.

The volume of activity in the industrial sector rose 2.5% quarter on quarter, a rise which includes a 1.2% increase in construction activity.

The volume of activity in “other services”, which includes the financial and insurance sectors as well as health and education, rose 1.4% and activity in the distribution, transport, software communications sector advanced by 1.3%. Agriculture, forestry and fishing activity rose 11.4%.

Measured on a gross national product (GNP) basis, which strips out the impact of multinational profit flows, the economy contracted by 0.8% in the third quarter. This compares with 1.9% GNP growth in the second quarter.

While it is GDP figures which form the basis for key budgetary calculations, the data shows that annual GNP growth in the three months to September reached 3.2%. GNP growth in the year to date reached 5.6%.

Government introduces tough drink law will not spoil Christmas

     

‘Happy hour’ Alas cheap drink’s promotions will be banned and shops will no longer be able to display bottles of alcohol behind check-outs under radical new proposals revealed yesterday.

A can of beer cannot be sold for less than €1.97 and a bottle of wine with 12.5% alcohol content must be no cheaper than €7.40 under the proposed legislation.

Health Minister Leo Varadkar, who said he hopes to get the legislation through one of the Houses of the Oireachtas before the general election, insisted he was not “cancelling Christmas” with the wide-ranging Public Health (Alcohol) Bill.

But the draconian measures are necessary to reduce the nation’s levels of heavy drinking which are causing death, illness and other social misery, he warned.

“The evidence about Ireland’s drinking habits is shocking,” he insisted. He said the minimum pricing to stop cheap alcohol being sold in shops will be set at 10c per gram of alcohol.

Although Scotland’s bid to introduce the same measure is being challenged in Europe, he said he expects the court ruling later this month will allow it through as long as it can be shown to be more effective than other actions.

Irish officials are already preparing a case to support this and while ideally he wants minimum pricing to be introduced here and in Northern Ireland at the same time, he said the Republic cannot wait.

The measures include:

– Confining the sale of alcohol to an area in a shop that customers will not pass through. Alcohol must be in a separate section.

– Alcohol ads will be restricted to giving information about the product. They cannot glamorise alcohol. In cinemas, the ads will restricted to when over-18 films are being shown.

Television ads such as the Guinness commercial featuring rugby players Gareth Thomas will not be allowed because it is linking drink with courage.

– Alcohol-related ads cannot be found within 200 metres of creches, playgrounds or schools.

– Breaches of the code will be a criminal offence with fines of between €5,000 and €250,000 or jail terms of up to three years.

Some of the measures will be phased in over three years.

Responding to the Bill, Alcohol Action Ireland said it was a landmark piece of legislation. Prof Frank Murray of the Royal College of Physicians also called it an “important first step.”

“Every day doctors see the awful carnage as teenagers and men and women of all ages come to our hospitals as a result of road accidents, fights, falls and other incidents.”

Padraig Cummins of the Vintners Federation of Ireland said they welcomed the introduction of minimum pricing.

Crucial

The legislation addresses the issues of “availability, price, information and display all of which are crucial,” he added.

However, Ibec, the group representing Irish business, said the new legislation ” fails to provide effective measures to tackle the serious problem of alcohol misuse.”

Chief executive Danny McCoy said that “instead it penalises responsible consumers and a sector that provides valuable employment across the country.

“It is yet another example of government regulation being introduced without any effort being made to establish the wider economic cost.

“Alcohol misuse is a serious problem that demands a coordinated, effective response.”

The empowerment of women is vital to climate change action?

COP21: Women farmers account for up to 80% of food production in developing states

     

The Gender Day symposium was attended by Mary Robinson (above), appearing on a panel hosted by France’s Ségolène Royal.

The empowerment of women is essential in tackling climate change, according to Irish climate change expert Prof John Sweeney.

Prof Sweeney, in Paris for COP21, said a majority of the world’s farmers were women, who currently account for up to 80% of food production in developing countries.

Women farmers also account for more than 90% of the female labour force in many African countries, with some 40 billion hours per year spent by African women merely collecting water.

This week the COP21 conference featured a symposium to recognise Gender Day, and a number of events were held to emphasise the importance of a gender statement appearing in the final agreement.

Mary Robinson

The Gender Day symposium was attended by Mary Robinson, appearing on a panel hosted by France’s Ségolène Royal.

Dr Robinson encouraged young women to challenge the status quo, where the reins of power were largely held by men.

Also speaking at the conference was former US vice-president Al Gore, who received a standing ovation after an hour-long illustrated talk on climate change including the floods associated with Storm Desmond.

Storm Desmond produced a new record UK daily rainfall total, in Cumbria, of over 340mm. This, for instance, compares to a rainfall figure for Glasnevin in 1887 which recorded 356mm in the whole year.

Extreme events

Prof Sweeney said changes in the frequency of extreme events – “often with catastrophic human consequences in countries not significantly complicit in causing global warming” – were being experienced widely across the world as the climate alters.

“Climate justice is the driving force for an agreement, now that the science of climate change is largely settled,” said Prof Sweeney.

Central Bank whistle-blower told to remove critical findings

Sinn Féin’s McDonald has submitted details of case to Comptroller and Auditor General.

  The purpose of whistleblower legislation is to encourage employees to “raise genuine and reasonably-held concerns about matters of public interest” free of any threat of sanction   Related image

A Central Bank whistle-blower is claiming he was told to remove critical findings from an internal audit report about the bank.

The former employee, who alleges his contract with the bank was terminated after he complained, has made a protective disclosure to Sinn Féin deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald.

Ms McDonald has submitted details of the case and the report, written in October of 2014, to the Comptroller and Auditor General and plans to raise the matter at the Public Accounts Committee.

She said she was “very concerned” that a high-ranking auditor within the Central Bank would be asked to remove or delete findings from a report.

Speaking on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland programme, Ms McDonald said the report reflected the bank’s “partial or non-compliance” with the code of governance set out for State bodies.

Up to 70 to be given access to Oireachtas banking inquiry report

She said the original report found the bank was partially compliant on the issue of staff pay.

The Central Bank has been in the spotlight over the payment of retention bonuses to some staff, which unions claim may have breached financial emergency legislation on public-sector pay.

The Central Bank hired consultants Deloitte to examine the issues raised by the individual. Deloitte later found in favour of the Central Bank’s management.

In a statement, the Central Bank said it was not in a position to comment on issue as it is currently before the Workplace Relations Commission.

“However, the Central Bank can confirm that issues raised about Internal Audit (IA) in the Bank were thoroughly investigated last year following challenges raised by a team member,” a spokeswoman said.

“ Because the matter related to the IA function, the Central Bank appointed an independent external party to fully investigate. The independent external party did not uphold the complaints,” she added.

“ The Central Bank has a confidential disclosures (‘whistleblowing’) policy in place, and places great importance of staff ‘speaking up’ when appropriate. The Central Bank is satisfied that its actions in relation to this issue have been appropriate,” she said.

The employee is understood to have detailed his concerns to the then governor of the Central Bank, Patrick Honohan, through an internal mechanism for whistleblowers.

However, Ms McDonald said she had concerns about whether the individual was treated correctly as a whistleblower.

Being happy does not always make you live longer?

A 10-year study of one million women found people’s emotional state of well-being had no direct effect on mortality.

      
Happiness may make the world go round but it does not make you live longer, according to new research ending the mistaken belief that being sad or stressed leads to ill-health.“Happiness and unhappiness do not themselves have any direct effect on death rates,” the study’s Co-author said Corbis

A 10-year study of one million women found people’s emotional state of well-being had no direct effect on mortality and that previous research simply confused cause and effect.

Life-threatening poor health can obviously cause unhappiness, which is why unhappiness is associated with increased mortality the researchers said.

The study is so large that it rules out unhappiness being a direct cause of any material increase in overall mortality in women. This was true for overall mortality, for cancer mortality, and for heart disease mortality, and it was true for stress as well as for unhappiness.

Smoking usually made people unhappier than non-smokers, researchers found. However, after taking account of previous ill health, smoking, and other lifestyle and socio-economic factors, they found that unhappiness itself was no longer associated with increased mortality.

Co-author Professor Sir Richard Peto, of the University of Oxford, said: “Many still believe that stress or unhappiness can directly cause disease, but they are simply confusing cause and effect. Of course people who are ill tend to be unhappier than those who are well, but the UK Million Women Study shows that happiness and unhappiness do not themselves have any direct effect on death rates.”

The investigation, published in The Lancet today/on Thursday was carried out within the Million Women Study – a national study of women’s health, involving more than one million UK women aged 50 and over, and a collaborative project between Cancer Research UK and the NHS.

Three years after joining the study, women were sent a questionnaire asking them to self-rate their health, happiness, stress, feelings of control, and whether they felt relaxed. Five out of six of the women said they were generally happy, but one in six said they were generally unhappy.

Unhappiness was associated with deprivation, smoking, lack of exercise, and not living with a partner. The strongest associations, however, were that the women who were already in poor health tended to say that they were unhappy, stressed, not in control, and not relaxed.

The main analyses included 700,000 women with an average age of 59. During the next 10 years these women were followed by electronic record linkage for mortality, during which time 30,000 of them died.

The scientists said after allowing for any differences already present in health and lifestyle, the overall death rate among those who were unhappy was the same as the death rate among those who were generally happy.

Lead author, Dr Bette Liu, now at the University of New South Wales, Australia said: “Illness makes you unhappy, but unhappiness itself doesn’t make you ill. We found no direct effect of unhappiness or stress on mortality, even in a ten-year study of a million women.”

Previous reports of reduced mortality being associated with happiness, with being in control, with being relaxed, or with related measures of wellbeing had not allowed properly for the strong effect of ill health on unhappiness and on stress.

The effects of happiness and wellbeing on society are becoming increasingly measured and studied. David Cameron introduced The Happiness Index in 2012, measuring national well-being, while a West Midlands school became the first in the country to introduce lessons in happiness this week. All pupils at Sacred Heart Primary School in Tipton, from nursery to Year 6, will study the new subject alongside maths and English following positive responses to a training day for staff in November.

Headteacher Melanie Gee said she had been exploring a variety of ideas to make sure children’s well-being and mental health needs were being met.

Donegal Irishman William Campbell collects his Nobel prize

The path to the awarding of the Nobel Prize in medicine tonight stretches to curiosity sparked in TCD in the 1950s

     

William C. Campbell at his home in North Andover, Massachusettsafter the announcement that he won the 2015 Nobel Prize in Medicine.

This evening I’ll be celebrating the achievement of William C Campbellwhen he receives his Nobel Prize in Stockholm. Short of being awarded oneself, it doesn’t get much better for a university president than seeing a graduate receive the greatest honour in his or her field.

Campbell’s story has touched, and resonated with, people around the world, because the work for which he has been awarded – eradicating river blindness – is particularly inspirational and altruistic, and because so many places and institutions can claim him.

Born in Ramelton, Co Donegal, he was a Trinity undergraduate before doing his PhD at the University of Wisconsin- Madison, and joining Merck Research Laboratories, where he made the discovery, with Japanese scientist, Satoshi Omura, that the avermectin family of compounds kill the parasitic worms that cause river blindness and other diseases. He’s now an American and an Irish citizen with a Boston-Donegal accent.

He exemplifies, in fact, the contemporary high-flying academic who, in the course of a career, typically crosses countries and institutions, building networks of valuable contacts. He has said that in Trinity his professor,Desmond Smyth “changed my life by developing my interest in this particular field – parasitic worms”.

This graceful acknowledgement is characteristic of Dr Campbell – he acknowledges everyone who helped him on his path – and it’s also striking to realise just how long a ‘gestation’ he had for his research. He was a Trinity undergraduate getting interested in parasitic worms in the early 1950s; he made his discovery, with Omura, of avermectin in the late 1970s; he helped persuade Merck to distribute the drug free of charge in 1987, and he received the Nobel in 2015 – 65 years after he first started researching parasitic worms.

This is important to emphasise. We all like to see research applied – translated from the laboratory into products and services that benefit humankind; commercialisation, the link-up between academics and industry, is increasingly important. But we shouldn’t necessarily collate “application”, “translation” and “commercialisation” with speed.

Yes, if research can be applied quickly, that’s great, and if we can help speed things up by investing further, then we should – but excellent research needs time and we have to respect that. Frequently the researcher has no idea, when he or she commences, of where the research is going. You start with an idea and a passion for discovery, and you follow where it leads. Ground-breaking research doesn’t tend to arise from a prescriptive or directive start.

Quaternions In fact Dr Campbell wasn’t that slow to apply his research, at least compared with

others. Take William Rowan Hamilton, the 19th century Trinity mathematician and scientist, who discovered quaternions, a complex number system in three- dimensional space. He memorably described his discovery: on October 16th, 1843, he was walking from Dunsink into Dublin when “I then and there felt the galvanic circuit of thought close; and the sparks which fell from it were the fundamental equations between i, j, k . . . I felt a problem to have been at that moment solved – an intellectual want relieved – which had haunted me for at least 15 years before”. He could not resist “the impulse – unphilosophical as it may have been – to cut with a knife on a stone of Brougham Bridge, as we passed it, the fundamental formula”. The equation is now commemorated on a stone plaque at Brougham, or Broome, bridge on the Royal Canal at Cabra.

Fifteen years is long to be worrying at an intellectual problem. More striking again is that it took another 150 years for Hamilton’s great discovery to be applied. It was recognised as seminal but it had no application until the late 20th century – quaternions are now used in the control of spacecraft and in three-dimensional computer modelling, such as video games. Hamilton’s discoveries in dynamics had the same fate – they didn’t attract much interest until Erwin Schrödinger picked up on them 100 years later and gave the Hamiltonian formulation a central role in his construction of quantum mechanics.

This is how great research happens – ideas and discoveries are refined, from one researcher to another. I don’t like the distinction that has grown up between “basic” and “applied” research – as if one is more useful than the other. It’s impossible to foresee which research will have the greatest ultimate applications. When we rush and harry researchers to come up with a commercial product, we are interfering with the process, and ultimately that’s self-defeating.

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Fianna Fáil member takes legal action over gender quotas

Brian Mohan was excluded from selection convention due to rules on female candidates

  Getting women on the ticket is great, but having them win seats is what matters most   

Political parties will lose half their funding unless 30% of their general election candidates are female.

A Fianna Fáil activist has initiated legal action challenging the State’s new electoral laws on gender quotas after being excluded from a selection convention that allowed only a female candidate to be chosen.

Brian Mohan, an area representative in Dublin Central, was unable to contest the party’s selection convention in October after its national constituency commission (NCC) issued an instruction that only one female candidate could be chosen.

He was one of several male contenders who found themselves unable to put themselves before their constituency selection conventions because of diktats issued by the NCC, chaired by

Other declared candidates who were unable to contest conventions were Daithí de Róiste in Dublin South Central and Pat O’Rourke and Séamus Butler in Longford-Westmeath.

In both these cases, the NCC instruction resulted in the only female candidate being selected without a contest.

The decisions prompted heated scenes at the conventions.

It is understood that Mr Mohan’s legal action is not against Fianna Fáil but against the gender-quota legislation introduced by former minister for the environment Phil Hogan.

Mr Mohan was not contactable for comment last night.

Loss of funding.

The Electoral (Political Funding) Act, passed in 2012, provides that political parties will lose half of their central exchequer funding unless 30 per cent of their candidates in the general election are female.

All of the parties have said they will meet the gender quota.

Fine Gael is understood to have approached Independent TD Peter Mathews’s parliamentary assistant, Avril Cronin, to contest the general election in Wicklow as it attempts to meet the quota.

She is among a number of potential candidates the party has sounded out as it strives to hit the 30 per cent target.

Fine Gael, with conventions completed in all 40 constituencies, is at the 28 per cent mark and insists the quota will be reached.

The party has selected 82 candidates, 23 of whom are women.

Thomasina Connell to run in Laois.

This week the party added Thomasina Connell, a solicitor for Ballybrittas, to run alongside Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan in Laois.

Former mayor of Tralee Grace O’Donnell was added to the contest in Kerry with Minister of State for the Diaspora Jimmy Deenihan and Brendan Griffin.

Wicklow TD Andrew Doyle indicated that his preference would be for him and Minister of State Simon Harris to run without a third candidate.

Separately, Fianna Fáil has yet to decide on dates for selection conventions in two constituencies, Roscommon-East Galway and Cavan-Monaghan.

The party in Roscommon is seen by its members locally as in turmoil. Amid continued infighting, which has included a High Court action by one councillor against another, many of the leading contenders have withdrawn from the race.

Those who have said they will not contest the convention include councillors Rachel Doherty and Orla Leyden and 2014 byelection candidate Ivan Connaughton.

While Fianna Fáil performed well in the local elections in Roscommon last year, the party has been in disarray since Mr Connaughton was beaten in the byelection by the Independent Michael Fitzmaurice.

Irish banks may be mis-pricing credit risk, says Honohan

Outgoing Central Bank governor highlights persistent relatively high loan rejection rates

    

Outgoing Central Bank governor Patrick Honohan: ‘Irish banks mispriced credit risk before . . . are we sure they’re not mispricing in the other direction now?’

Irish banks may be too risk averse, outgoing Central Bank governor Patrick Honohanhas said, while also highlighting the relatively high interest rates being charged by Irish lenders.

Noting rates had come down everywhere in the euro area except in Ireland, he said: “This raises a question as to whether these rates are a consequence of insufficient competition.”

In an address to the Small Firms’ Association, Prof Honohan said loan rejection rates here had not fallen to the same extent as they had in other formerly distressed EU states.

Irish banks may be “mispricing credit risk” resulting in relatively high loan rejection rates, he said. While banks were reckless in assessing risk prior to the crash, the pendulum may now have swung the other way, according to Prof Honohan.

Since the tsunami of credit receded seven years ago, lending conditions have been restricted by the shortfalls of capital on bank balance sheets.

Outstripping Ireland.

Lending to small businesses in Portugal, Spain and Greece – countries which experienced similar financial crises – is now outstripping Ireland, he said.

“Irish banks mispriced credit risk before . . . are we sure they’re not mispricing in the other direction now?”

Earlier this year, Minister for Finance Michael Noonan met with representatives from the State’s six main lenders over concerns about the comparatively high rates charged for standard variable mortgages.

The issue of high variable mortgages has been a source of controversy with some borrowers on tracker loans paying less than 1 per cent while those on variable rates are paying 4.5 per cent.

Prof Honohan said, however, it was unfair to blame banks for not passing on European Central Bank rate cuts as they did not benefit from them because of the large number of tracker mortgages on their books.

“It’s not that banks are laughing or gouging . . . but it still doesn’t mean everything is right in the system,” he said.

Academia.

Prof Honohan, who hinted he would be returning to academia upon stepping down as governor, appeared to rule out intervening in the marketplace to address the issue of interest rates, suggesting this could make the problem worse.

“We could all do with more competition in the banking system. I’m hoarse encouraging new investors to come into the Irish banking system in whatever way – acquisition, new start-up,” he said.

In his address, Prof Honohan said Ireland’s forecast growth rate of 6 per cent for 2015 had to be treated with great caution because of the complexities of accounting of the multinationals.

Since the middle of 2012, about 130,000 jobs have been created, mainly by the private sector, which pointed to a “solid, not dramatic, recovery”.

Small Firms’ Association chairman AJ Noonan called on the Government to commit once and for all to end the tax discrimination of small business owners and self-employed, who do not enjoy the same employee tax credits or PRSI benefits.

“To me it is shocking that we have members of government jumping up and down about taking swathes of people out of the Universal Social Charge trap while at the same time discriminating against the very people who create those jobs,” he said.

Ireland’d outpatient waiting lists rise for fourth month in a row

Department imposes €8.7m fines on hospitals for breaching 18-month targets

    

The number of outpatients waiting over 18 months for an appointment has increased for the fourth month in a row, despite Minister for Health Leo Varadkar’s promise to abolish long waits.

Mr Varadkar said the trend on waiting lists was “broadly positive” with improvements in the overall numbers on the outpatient waiting list and the number of long waiter for inpatient procedures.

There were 13,353 people on the outpatient waiting list for over 18 months at the end of October, up 177 on the previous month, according to the latest monthly figures from the National Treatment Purchase Fund (NTPF).

Mr Varadkar had said no-one would wait longer than 18 months from the end of June this year.

In a statement issued two hours before the official figures were published, the Department expressed disappointment at the further increase in the number waiting over 18 months as well as the slow rate of decrease of long waiting inpatient and daycase patients.

Fines totalling € 8.47 million have been levied on hospitals who have failed to meet the waiting list targets, it said.

“The application of fines is also aimed at incentivising improved performance in relation to the longest waiters.”

The department said reductions in inpatient and daycase numbers waiting over 18 months, and over 15 months, were “very positive” as this was the first time reductions were seen in these categories.

There were 2,161 people waiting over 18 months for daycase or inpatient treatment in October, down 83, according to the NTPF.

The total number of people on the outpatient waiting list has fallen below 400,000 for the first time this year, the statement also noted.

There were 396,571 people on the list last month, down almost 5,000 in a month.

The department says this has been achieved by hospitals facilitated additional clinics outside conventional working hours and by outsourcing where capacity is limited.

Responding to a rise in the number of patients waiting for gastrointestinal endoscopies, it saidthe HSE believe standardised referral criteria must be strictly applied as well as capacity reviewed.

“In respect of urgent colonoscopies, there is a four-week access target and a policy of zero tolerance applies to any breaches.”

Fianna Fáil health minister Billy Kelleher accused the Minister of “risble spin” on waiting lists. Targets had been missed and, in the case of outpatients, were even further off target since Mr Varadkar set last June’s deadline.

“Minister Varadkar may think that figures ‘continue to show improvements’ but no-one will be fooled.”

Benbulben Sligo a Mountain & Irish site that inspires the imagination

      

The name Ben Bulben, also spelt as Benbulbin or Benbulben, is said to be an anglicized version of the Irish Binn-Gulbain, meaning ‘Gulban’s Peak.’ This jaw-shaped rock formation (the word ‘gulban’ may be translated as ‘jaw’) is part of the Dartry Mountains, and is located in County Sligo in northwestern Ireland.

The Ben Bulben’s Famous Literary Connection.

In Ireland, Ben Bulben is also popularly known as ‘County Sligo’s Table Mountain.’ One of Ben Bulben’s claims to fame is its association with the Irish poet, William Butler Yeats. One of the last poems that Yeats wrote was entitled Under Ben Bulben. As a result of the area’s connection with Yeats, this part of Ireland is sometimes known as ‘Yeats Country.’ In addition to its association with this famous literary figure, Ben Bulben is also well-known for being the setting of several Irish legends.

The Formation of Ben Bulben.

According to geologists, Ben Bulben was formed during the Ice Age, when moving glaciers cut into the earth creating the present shape of the rock formation. Ben Bulben is reported to be composed of layers of limestone on mudstone. Its lower parts, which contain deposits of shale, is referred to as the ‘Ben Bulben Shale formation.’ From the top of Ben Bulben, one is able to obtain a panoramic view of the surrounding area. Apart from the natural scenery, one may also be able to spot a number of megalithic structures strewn on the foot of the Dartry Mountains.

Remains of one of the megalithic sites on the north side of Ben Bulben, County Sligo, Ireland.

The Fairy Door at Ben Bulben.

One of the legends surrounding Ben Bulben is the claim that this is this is the only place in Ireland where fairies, also known as ‘gentry’, are visible to mortals. In the east side of Ben Bulben’s north face is a “black patch on a bare hollow” referred to by the people of the area as the ‘Fairy Door,’ It is believed by the locals that whenever the door opens, the weather is bound to be good for the next few days.

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The Fianna and Ben Bulben.

Ben Bulben is also said to be one of the favorite hunting grounds of the Fianna, a mythical band of Irish warriors. One legend involving Ben Bulben is about Fionn MacCumhail, the leader of the Fianna. In this tale, Fionn fell in love with Siadbh, a woman who was changed into a deer by a malevolent druid.

Illustration of Fionn MacCumhail. (1932) Stephen Reid. (Public Domain) It seems that Fionn’s land was the one place where Siadbh could regain her human form. The pair got married, lived together, and soon Siadbh became pregnant. The druid, however, came back for Siadbh whilst she was pregnant, and transformed her into a deer again when her husband was away.

Fionn spent years searching for his wife, but his efforts were futile. Nonetheless, whilst hunting on Ben Bulben one day, he came upon a fawn, who turned out to be his son Oisin. This child would eventually become one of the most renowned figures of the Fianna.

Oisin (Ossian) on the Bank of the Lora, Invoking the Gods to the Strains of a Harp. (1801) François Gérard

The Pursuit of Diarmuid and Gráinne.

Fionn appears in another legend called The Pursuit of Diarmuid and Gráinne. In this story, however, Fionn is not its protagonist, but its antagonist. In this tale, Gráinne, the most beautiful woman in Ireland, and the daughter of Cormac MacAirt, the High King of Ireland, was betrothed to the aging Fionn.

However, the princess fell in love with Diarmuid, one of the Fianna, when she first saw him. During the wedding feast, Gráinne drugged the entire party, with the exception of Diarmuid, and confessed her love for him. Diarmuid, however, was loyal to his leader, and did not reciprocate her love. Gráinne then put a spell on Diarmuid to make him fall in love with her and the pair ran away. When Fionn realized what had happened, he pursued the pair all over Ireland.

In one version of the legend, Diarmuid and Gráinne came across the heath of Ben Bulben, where the pair was confronted by a giant boar, the only creature that could harm Diarmuid. The warrior fought with the beast to protect Gráinne, and though he managed to kill it, was mortally wounded by it as well.

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In another version of the legend, Fionn gave up the chase eventually, and allowed the pair to settle down. Years later, Fionn invited Diarmuid to a boar hunt at Ben Bulben, where the warrior was fatally wounded by a boar. The only way that Diarmuid could be saved was for him to drink water from Fionn’s cupped hands. Although the Fianna begged Fionn to save Diarmuid, he refused to do so, and only changed his mind when his son, Oisin, threatened to fight him. By then, however, Diarmuid had died.

Diarmuid and Grainne’s cave, on the back of the Gleniff Horseshoe, is one of the highest caves in Ireland.

St. Columba and the Battle of the Books

One last story with Ben Bulben as its setting is that of St. Columba and the Battle of the Books. According to this story, St. Columba had secretly copied a Psalter belonging to Abbot Finian of Moville and a dispute arose as to who owned this copy, i.e. the copier or the owner of the original.

The case was judged by the High King, who is said to have declared that “to every cow her calf, to every book its copy”. Dissatisfied with this ruling, St. Columba raised a rebellion, and a battle was fought on the slopes of Ben Bulben in or around 560 AD.

It is recorded that 3000 men were slain, and St. Columba, remorseful for his actions, sought to convert more souls than were lost in that battle. As a result, he founded a number of monasteries, the most famous of which being located on the Scottish island of Iona.

These legends depict how Ben Bulben is a site that has inspired many creative individuals over the ages. Today it continues to enthuse the modern visitors who are willing to make the trek to see the mountain’s marvelous views.

Scientists say they have decoded the language of ‘panda’s’

      

The researchers now plan to develop a ‘panda translator’ using voice recognition technology.

Baby pandas playing at the China Conservation and Research Center for the Giant Panda.

Scientists in China say they have deciphered the meaning of 13 different giant panda vocalisations.

During a five-year study of panda “language” at a conservation centre in the southwestern Sichuan province scientists found giant pandas communicate using specific sounds to indicate when they are hungry or unhappy, according to the state Xinhua news agency.

Researchers found that when attracting a mate, males “baa” like sheep and females respond with chirping sound if they are interested.

They also make a “wow-wow” sound when they are unhappy and baby pandas say “gee-gee” to tell their mothers they are hungry.

Pandas, like Tian Tian above, are endangered partly because of their poor fertility

Zhang Hemin, head of the China Conservation and Research Centre for the Giant Panda, which ran the study, said:  “Trust me – our researchers were so confused when we began the project, they wondered if they were studying a panda, a bird, a dog, or a sheep.”

He said they recorded the animals when they were eating, fighting and nursing young to use study how they communicated.

The scientists now plan to the information to better understand how to protect the critically endangered species in the wild.

The scientists now say they want to develop a “panda translator” using voice-recognition technology, according to Xinhua.

Giant pandas are critically endangered with only 1,864 believed to still be living in the wild.

Despite a slight recovery in their population reported earlier this year, pandas are still under threat from their well documented fertility problems and the destruction of their habitat.

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Friday 18th September 2015

Noonan’s core theme is: no return to boom and bust follies of the past

Minister for Finance’s economic vision is for even growth, balanced budgets and rules-based policies

   

The Minister for Finance Michael Noonan says: “I am laying plans out that extend beyond the election – so the next minister can take them up if I’m not here. It’s continuity of planning rather than continuity of personnel I’m primarily interested in.”

After years in fiscal death/debt valley, Michael Noonan finds himself in something of a sweet spot as he steps up preparations for the budget next month.

With the economy growing speedily, the Minister for Finance is in the unusual position of having his outline plan for the budget endorsed by the Irish Fiscal Advisory Council. After all, the council tends to say no. Yet its informal blessing follows tacit support for the budget plan from the OECD.

This pleases Noonan. “It’s always good in the political system to get outside endorsement for what you’re doing.”

At Merrion Street yesterday – in the middle of pre-budget meetings with business lobbies, farmers, trade unionists and social campaigners – he set out his vision for the recovering economy. His is an argument for even growth, balanced budgets and rules-based policy-making.

There’s no avoiding the looming election, of course. Noonan says a 25 per cent stake in AIB would be floated next year on the Dublin and London markets if the Government is returned to office.

Of the property market right now, he says the Central Bank should examine whether to ease mortgage caps for first-time buyers. “What I’m saying is that market conditions are changing rapidly and there are aspects of it now which, according to the construction industry, are inhibiting starter homes.

“All I’m saying is the bank should review. If the bank say we’re not changing anything then, of course, I’ll accept that.”

Noonan’s core theme is familiar enough: no return to the boom and bust follies of the past.

Yet he and Brendan Howlin, Minister for Public Expenditure, face a cascade of spending demands from their own colleagues in Cabinet to go well beyond the agreed €1.5 billion limit on the 2016 budgetary expansion. Have they not learned?

At issue are fiscal constraints set out in domestic and European law. Are spending Ministers now seized of these rules?

“I think they are. But I think at things like the think-in in Adare it would have been explained, and the parliamentary party is seized of it. But Government departments always bid for additional money, you know.”

Asked whether the magnitude of the bids came as a disappointment, he says that is in line with historic practise.

“It’s the job of line Ministers to ask and it’s the job of central Ministers like Brendan and myself to refuse them.”

A Selection

Noonan smiles as he acknowledges his selection to contest the election in the renamed Limerick City constituency.

Yet he will not say whether he plans to return to the Department of Finance if Fine Gael prevails. That would be a matter for Enda Kenny, he insists.

“I’m laying plans out that extend beyond the election – so the next minister can take them up if I’m not here. It’s continuity of planning rather than continuity of personnel I’m primarily interested in.”

As for the timing of the election, this is a matter for Kenny. “It’s his call. When he asks me for advice I give him advice.”

But is it true that Noonan would not be in favour of going to the country immediately after the budget? “It won’t be my decision, and we’ll see. The economy is driving on all the time, and things are improving all the time. It’ll be the Taoiseach’s decision. It won’t be a collective decision.”

The budget next month will be predicated on the achievement this year of a budget deficit amounting to 2.3 per cent of gross domestic product. Budget planning for 2016 assumes a deficit in the region of 1.5 per cent of GDP. “1.5 will get us well into the space our projection for the debt next year will be, well below 100 per cent [of GDP]\, he says,.

Can he be more specific? Noonan replies that the figure could come in at “95ish” per cent of GDP at the end of 2016.

“We’re not factoring in there any money from the sale of AIB. We’re going to get quite a lot of money this year and next year – without any sale of AIB – from preference shares and from CoCos and so on.

“We’ll sell 25 per cent of AIB if we’re back in government. All that will come off the debt then.”

Would this be by way of an initial public offering (IPO) on the stock market?

Top three

“Yes. It will be jointly Dublin and London. It will actually be the biggest IPO in London. I think it will be kind of in the top three historically, so we’re talking about very big money. It has to be carefully managed.”

How much roughly? “I don’t know. It was valued at over €13 billion or so. A quarter of it? It’s a good lump of money anyway.

“If it doesn’t happen until this time next year we’ll have another half year. We’ll have full-year returns and we’ll have half-year returns for 2016 – and everything is very positive, so values are going up, there’s no doubt about that.

“But you always have external factors, whether it’s China or Europe or America or interest rates rising or whatever, so I don’t want to get into precise figures.”

Using bank sale proceeds to pay down debt reflects concern – expressed most recently by debt rating agency Moody’s, as well as by the Fiscal Council and the OECD – that Ireland’s high debt level makes the State vulnerable to external shock. “Beyond that there isn’t another internal risk. So I am looking forward to making this budget the first budget of what I regard as the new business cycle,” Noonan says.

The recovery is a “work in progress” but plans for the budget assume annual growth rates between 3.25 per cent and 3.5 per cent until 2020.

“The only reason we’re stopping at 2020 is that it’s the forecasting period. I don’t see any reason why this wouldn’t go on for a decade.

“The primary policy plank on which I’m building is that we mustn’t let it happen again. We mustn’t go from boom to bust again, and there are ways to stop that…In future interventions for this Government – and its successor government if we can get back again after that – it will be quite clear that interventions will have to be countercyclical because we’ll have balanced the budget.”

The spring economic statement in April assumed the State would balance the books in 2019. However, Noonan says this will be within grasp a year earlier than that. So Fine Gael will promise in the election to balance the budget within three years? “We have to revisit the figures, but I think we can do better than the spring statement. Everything is moving forward with the very rapid growth.”

Noonan attaches high importance to the budget rules. “You know the theory that if we didn’t have the fiscal rules, Noonan and Howlin would go crazy. We’re not, no,” he says.

“We negotiated the fiscal rules. We brought them home, and we put them to the people by way of referendum. We’re committed to this model. But it goes back to the opening position. We need pieces in place that prevent that boom and bust cycle that bedevilled us for so many years. Three times in my political career the country has gone from boom to bust.”

Lowest income

Of the budget itself, he reveals little of the plan to cut tax but stresses that the benefit will be concentrated on people earning up to €70,000 from the lowest income.

“We think low and middle-income people are the target for reduction because they’re overtaxed. We’ll be operating in that space… But the purpose will be to give relief to people we identified in the tranche we had last year as kind of middle Ireland.”

On the question of whether the universal social charge might be dismantled or overhauled, Noonan insists he will say whatever he has to say on budget day.

“Whether you take it one way or another, the way most people look at it as at the bottom line. Now, the USC is quite unpopular because it’s new. People see it as the added imposition and the sacrifice that was made to take the country out of crisis.

“So now that the crisis is over the public perception is: well, if you’re removing a tax it should be USC. But from an economic point of view in terms of tax as a policy lever to drive the economy…well then it doesn’t really matter where you make the move. It depends on the impact on the individual taxpayer.”

Is he saying the USC is here to stay in one form or another?

“No I’m not. I’m not saying anything either way. I’m saying that under the rules of the game I can’t give you more accurate information in advance of the budget.”

Last election

Then there is the election. Noonan indicates he is unperturbed by the strength of Independents and others. This cohort was at 24 per cent in the most recent poll, down from roughly 30 per cent in previous surveys but up form 17 per cent in the 2011 election. “What I’m saying is that if you look at the changes from the last election, it’s moving back to where it was. That’s the trend.”

What would be the implications of a surge for Independents and others next time out?

“In my view political instability always leads to economic instability. It’s the last thing we need now, just as we’re getting out of the major crisis and growing at the fastest rate in Europe. We don’t want that knocked back by political instability.”

We can expect to hear a lot more of that once the campaign begins in earnest. He recognises, however, that the Government will lose votes over the water debacle. So what went wrong there?

“In the teeth of very strong opposition it’s always difficult to get acceptance for a new tax. I think there’s acceptance now, I find anyway

“ They’d be quite critical of the way the issue was handled, but there’s acceptance of the principle that water is a scarce and it should be paid for. There’d be an argument about how much, but I think it’s moving in the right direction. Of course there were difficulties, and I presume there’ll be electoral cost attached to those difficulties, but it was a difficult time, we had a lot of very difficult decisions to make.”

Water, of course, became the beacon around which anti-establishment political forces of all stripes rallied.

“The surprise I had, and the surprise Europe had, was that the protests didn’t begin earlier with all the tough things we had to do,” Noonan says.

Water is far from the only difficulty the Government has encountered. He has nothing to say of the inquiry into IBRC, which is under the responsibility of the Taoiseach’s department.

Of corruption allegations surrounding the disposal of Nama’s Northern properties, he says there is no case to answer for the bad bank.

“The sale was conducted absolutely properly. If there was any impropriety it was on the purchasing side, not on the sell side, and I don’t know whether there was impropriety or not.”

Asked whether UK or US investigators have approached Dublin for information, he says “not to me”. Nama has published 300 pages of data it made available to the Stormont committee which is investigating the affair, he says. “There mightn’t even be a committee in Northern Ireland the way things are going.”

Asked for his observations on all that, Noonan launches into a forthright attack on Sinn Féin. “Sinn Féin are incapable of running a government.”

So what exactly is the problem? Sinn Féin as a political party or movement? Or the individuals within it? Or is it a policy deficit? “It’s populism. The inability to make a decision which will cause Sinn Féin any potential loss. If they can’t handle a budget with a couple of hundred million around social welfare, how are they going to handle a national budget down here with all the things we have to do and the decisions we have to make every year? ”

None of this takes account of naysaying unionists. But is Noonan saying Sinn Féin is not ready for government? He laughs.

“If I said they’re not ready they I’d be saying they’d be ready some time in the future. I’m not saying that. I’m not analysing Sinn Féin. A legitimate way of continuing political debate is to look at the record of different parties. The record of Fine Gael and Labour for five years is that we have been very good at handling an economy that was in the greatest crisis ever since the State was founded.

“Then we can look at the only Sinn Féin experience in government in the Assembly in Northern Ireland and in their role up there. And in terms of economic management it’s been dire.”

Audit work on Irish banks in 2008 was “satisfactory”,

A report finds

Regulatory body says rules that governed 2008 bank audits were found “wanting”

    

The auditing of the 2008 accounts of the six banks and buildings societies that were the subject of the Government guarantee of that year was “satisfactory”, the regulatory body that oversees the profession has concluded following a major review.

However the Chartered Accountants Regulatory Board (Carb) report also concluded that the international standards governing the audits were “wanting” and has recommended a shift towards a more “principles based” regime.

The in-depth review, conducted by six Carb staff and headed by a senior Scottish expert, chartered accountant David Spence, took a number of years and involved a detailed examination of the records of the auditing firms involved and a questioning of the relevant personnel.

KMPG audited the 2008 accounts of AIB, Irish Life and Irish Nationwide, while EY audited those of Anglo Irish Bank and EBS, and PwC those of the Bank of Ireland. However the report does not mention particular banks or firms and is more general in content. Carb director Heather Briers said this was because it can only name firms if there is a sanction against them, and has no authority to regulate or name banks.

The report focused on the issue of loan impairments, which was the dominant topic for auditors working on the 2008 accounts. The Carb investigation found that the firms involved all devoted substantial resources to the issue and substantially more time than was the case with the 2007 accounts. The work included input from colleagues in foreign branches of the global firms.

However a new international rule, enshrined in law within the EU, and which had been introduced in 2005, dictated that provisions could not be made for loan losses deemed likely to occur in the future, and that this applied “no matter how likely” the losses were. Rule IAS 39 ensured that impairments could only be recognised in respect of circumstances existing at the balance sheet date.

The effect of the rule, which was designed to stop banks trying to “smooth out” their profitability over an extended period, using the level of impairments held on the books, meant that some auditors began to question whether the rules were “fit for purpose”.

Some banks tried to compensate for the effect of the rule by issuing statements warning that loan losses might increase significantly depending on how the then crisis in the property market developed.

However the report said more emphasis should be put on the “true and fair” stipulation for audited accounts, as against the qualification that was so in relation to the relevant accountanting standards.

“Carb believes that all interested stakeholders should discuss how a principles-based framework for the future could be developed,” the report said.

Carb chairman Don Thornhill said no member of the Carb board who might have had a perceived conflict in relation to the report, was involved with its production.

TCD’s Alzheimer’s breakthrough could have ‘tremendous potential’

The disease is most common form of dementia globally and affects up to 40,000 people in Ireland

      

Alzheimer’s is the fourth leading cause of death in individuals over 65. 

Scientists at Trinity College Dublin say a discovery they have made on the cause of Alzheimer’s disease could hold “tremendous potential” for new therapies.

Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia globally and affects up to 40,000 people in Ireland. It is the fourth leading cause of death in individuals over 65 and it is the only cause of death among the top 10 that cannot be prevented, cured or slowed.

Alzheimer’s disease is characterised, in part, by the build-up of a small protein in the brains of patients. Failure to clear this protein “appears to be a major factor” in the build-up of plaques, and then in the disease process itself, according to the research.

Delicate tissue

While the mode by which the protein is cleared “remains unclear”, it is “evident” that it needs to be removed from the brain via the bloodstream.

“Unlike blood vessels anywhere else in the body, those in the brain have properties that strictly regulate what gets in and out of the delicate tissue – this is what is known as the blood-brain barrier,” according to the research.

The scientists believe “periodic clearance” of the protein across the blood brain barrier could lead to new treatments.

“The next steps are to consider how this might be achieved,” they said.

The research, published in international journal Science Advances, was supported by Science Foundation Ireland and the US-based charity, Brightfocus Foundation.

Drinking beetroot juice could be key to getting more out of your workout

      

The key to getting the most out of your workout and succeeding on the playing field could be down to one unlikely super food, new scientific research claims.

According to scientists at the University of Exeter, drinking high nitrate beetroot juice improves both sprint performance and decision-making during intermittent exercise such as rugby and football.

In their latest study, 16 male team sport players drank 140ml of Beet It Sport – a high nitrate beetroot juice – for seven days.

On the final day, the men – who were all players in rugby, hockey or football teams – completed an intermittent sprint test.

This consisted of two 40-minute sessions of repeated two-minute blocks – a six second all-out sprint, 100 seconds active recovery and 20 seconds of rest, on an exercise bike.

At the same time, they were given cognitive tasks designed to test how accurately and quickly they made decisions.

The players completed the same tests after drinking the nitrate-rich beetroot juice and after consuming a placebo version with the nitrate stripped out.

Those who had taken the nitrate-rich version saw a 3.5% improvement in sprint performance and a 3% increase in their speed of making decisions without hindering accuracy.

Chris Thompson, of the University of Exeter, led the study – which is published in the European Journal of Applied Physiology and available on PubMed.

“This research is a really exciting landmark in the work conducted on nitrate supplementation so far,” he said.

“The improvement we found may seem small, but it’s likely to provide a meaningful advantage to the athlete on the sports field.

“It could mean that team sport players are able to make those important decisions faster and cover more ground than their opponents in the seconds when it matters most.”

The Beet It shots are being used in research by 150 universities across the world who are examining the benefits of natural dietary nitrate supplementation.

The research has identified that their naturally high dietary nitrate content – 400mg per shot – interacts with enzymes in saliva to generate nitric oxide in the blood system.

Nitric oxide is a vasodilator that increases the flow of blood and oxygen in the muscles to boost strength and endurance.

Professor Andrew Jones PhD, associate dean for research at the College of Life and Environmental Sciences at the university, said beetroot juice “could make all the difference”.

“These new results suggest that beetroot juice could improve both physical performance and decision-making during team sports such as rugby and football,” he said.

“In events like the Rugby World Cup, every second counts in those crucial moments, so this improvement could make all the difference”.

The first creature to walk on four legs revealed by pre-reptile fossils found,

Researchers say

    

After closely examining the forelimbs of a pre-reptile fossil species known as Bunostegos akokanensis, Brown University researchers concluded that it is the oldest known creature to walk upright on all four legs.

Bunostegos is a 260-million-year-old pre-reptile that roamed the supercontinent Pangea munching on plants. According to a news release, scientists previously thought that all Permian herbivores had a sprawling body type — where their limbs would extend from the sides of their body and slant downward from their elbows, similar to some modern lizards. However, Bunostegos fossils, which were originally found in Niger, Africa, in 2003 and 2006, paint a different picture.

“A lot of the animals that lived around the time had a similar upright or semi-upright hind limb posture, but what’s interesting and special about Bunostegos is the forelimb, in that it’s anatomy is sprawling-precluding and seemingly directed underneath its body–unlike anything else at the time,” Morgan Turner, lead author and graduate student at Brown University, said in the release. “The elements and features within the forelimb bones won’t allow a sprawling posture. That is unique.”

From their recent analysis, the researchers concluded that the Bunostegos resembled modern cows in both size and posture. However, unlike grass-grazing cows today, this pre-reptile was also suited with boney armor down his back and a knobby skull, according to Linda Tsuji, co-author from the Royal Ontario Museum.

In their study, the researchers explained how Bunostegos was able to stand tall. The answers lie in the pre-reptiles’ shoulder joint, humerus, elbow and ulna. Its shoulder faced down so that the humerus, the bone running from the shoulder to the elbow, was directly underneath its body. This is different than sprawlers, where the humerus sticks out toward the side of the body. The pre-reptile’s elbow also differed from sprawler’s in that it was more like a human knee — with a limited range of motion, capable of only swinging back and forth. In contrast, sprawlers were able to swing their forearms out to the side. Finally, the researchers noted that the Bunostegos’ ulna is longer than the humerus, a common characteristic among non-sprawlers.

According to the release, the Bunostegos’s posture suggests that it was an outlier. This makes sense based on the natural habitat it would have lived in 260 million years ago, where food sources would have been spread out. Being able to walk on all fours was necessary for the Bunostegos to travel long distances for food.

“Posture, from sprawling to upright, is not black or white, but instead is a gradient of forms,” Turner explained in a statement. “There are many complexities about the evolution of posture and locomotion we are working to better understand every day. The anatomy of Bunostegos is unexpected, illuminating, and tells us we still have much to learn.”

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Tuesday 9th June 2015

Irish Bank’s wants to take heat out of the housing market

   

Ireland needs to make renting much more attractive to tenants and landlords to take the heat out of the housing market and prevent the chances of another housing bubble, a deputy head at the Central Bank has said.

The call by deputy governor Stefan Gerlach will be seen as the Central Bank continuing to apply pressure on the Government to make renting as attractive an option as buying.

Despite pressures from across the political spectrum, the Central Bank, led by outgoing governor Patrick Honohan, this year stuck to its controversial plans to impose new restrictions on mortgage credit for first-time and second-time home buyers.

Politicians and industry figures continue to say that the controls that require first-time buyers to save large deposits to cover portions of the mortgage loan are too onerous because house price increases in some regions are making home purchases unaffordable for many prospective buyers.

However, Mr Gerlach, speaking at a conference in Dubrovnik, Croatia, said that the rental market could be the key to bringing stability to the housing market in countries such as Ireland and Croatia, which both saw huge collapses in the value of their property assets when their credit bubbles burst from 2008.

Citing research from Red C, he said that over a third of people renting out Irish homes are so-called accidental landlords, who were forced by economic necessity to rent rather than sell up when the financial crisis struck.

Moreover, a large majority in Ireland are unwilling tenants and would much prefer to own rather than rent, Mr Gerlach said.

Croatia, like Ireland, suffered from a property collapse. Some of the country’s large banks were, as was the case in Ireland, foreign-owned and required to be bailed out by their parents’ groups.

Encouraging renting will require policies aimed at tenants and landlords, Mr Gerlach said.

Strengthening security of tenure by offering long-term tenancy agreements may be a start, while landlords may require new incentives too.

Attracting institutional investors into the market who take a long-term view of tenancies such as real estate investment trusts may help the market provide more rental properties.

“The empirical evidence shows that the economies in which the rental market was relatively large and deep suffered less during the financial crisis. Deep rental markets appear to promote the resilience of the economy to adverse shocks and are therefore desirable from an economic stability perspective,” Mr Gerlach said.

“To promote their development, it is important that renting is an attractive long-term proposition for households and landlords alike.

“While many households may continue to buy rather than rent, we need to make sure that this choice reflects their preferences and does not merely reflect a poorly functioning rental market.”

Dunne’s Stores prices comparisons with Aldi are misleading a court finds

Court rules in favour of Aldi over pricing labels on sausages, yogurts, tomato ketchup

  

German discounter Aldi claimed that the on-shelf banners created the impression that Dunne’s Stores products generally, or its “Family Essentials” range, were cheaper than Aldi products when there was “no basis” for such a claim, Aldi claimed.

Dunnes Stores has been found guilty of engaging in misleading commercial practices when comparing the prices of some of its own-brand goods with Aldi products in a move which the High Court said was likely to deceive consumers.

Mr Justice Brian Cregan ruled in favour of Aldi over the pricing labels on Dunnes’ shelves in 14 out of 15 products before the court including sausages, turkey breast mince, yoghurts, tomato ketchup, tinned beef and chicken dogfoods and dry catfood.

In doing so Mr Justice Cregan said Dunnes Stores had infringed consumer protection law and EU regulations.

Aldi had alleged Dunnes on multiple occasions infringed Aldi trademarks by displaying banners in Dunnes’ supermarkets which contained the words “Lower Price Guarantee” and “Guaranteed Lower Prices on all your Family Essentials every week”.

Aldi took the action on the grounds that the banners failed to objectively compare one or more of the relevant and verifiable features of the Dunnes Stores products with those of Aldi and so did not comply with the Consumer Protection Act 2007 and the European Communities (Misleading and Comparative Advertising) Regulations 2007.

The German discounter also claimed that the on-shelf banners created the impression that Dunnes’ products generally, or its “Family Essentials” range, were cheaper than Aldi products when there was “no basis” for such a claim, Aldi claimed.

It accused Dunnes Stores of “comparing products which were not of the same quality and therefore giving an inaccurate comparison.”

It also said it had been “comparing products which were of different weights and therefore making inaccurate calculations which failed to show a proper comparison on a pro-rata basis for customers”. And thirdly the court was told that Dunnes had been “giving an inaccurate price of the plaintiff’s products at the time of the comparison”.

Dunnes denied the claims and told an earlier High Court hearing that comparing non – branded or own brand products “is always more difficult than comparing branded products.

This is because competitors’ own brand product ranges are rarely identical in terms of ingredients and specifications”.

It said that while some of the products “may not have identical ingredients and specifications it does not necessarily follow that the products are not comparable”.

In his ruling, Mr Justice Cregan found “shelf edge labels”, claiming Dunnes Stores prices for 14 of the 15 identified products were lower than Aldi prices had failed to objectively compare products which met the same needs or were intended for the same purpose.

He also said the advertisements included “the provision of false information” in relation to the 14 out of 15 comparative products, including information about the nature, composition, characteristics or ingredients of those products.

The information would be likely to cause an average consumer to make a transactional decision which that consumer would not otherwise make and this was contrary to the Consumer Protection Act, 2007.

The advertisements were misleading because they were likely to cause the average consumer to be deceived or misled in relation to those 14 products.

He also found Dunnes ommitted or concealed material information in relation to comparative advertisements that the average consumer would need to make an informed transactional decision.

The case was adjourned for two weeks to allow both sides consider the judgment before the court makes any orders. Dunnes will also consider whether to seek a stay on any order in the event of an appeal.

“The grocery retail market is highly competitive and in order to find the best value consumers must have confidence that the advertising information with which they are being presented is transparent, accurate and true,” said Aldi’s Group Buying Director, Finbar McCarthy after the ruling.

“Today’s ruling benefits consumers, clarifying their protection under the law.”

A second 100-year-old woman left on a hospital trolley for 25 hours

 

Rosanna O’Halloran, 102 year old lady from Castle Close in Clondalkin who spent 26 hours on a trolley in Tallaght Hospital

A second woman faced a 25-hour wait on a hospital trolley despite being over 100 years old – a situation which has been described as “inhumane”.

The 101-year-old woman’s granddaughter slammed the “wreck of a health system we have in Ireland”.

In a Facebook post highlighting the trolley situation in the A&E at University Hospital, Limerick, the woman said: “This is not a unique case.”

It is the second such reported incident to occur in the space of a week and follows a 26-hour wait on a trolley for 102-year-old Rose O’Halloran at the A&E in Tallaght.

Industrial Relations Officer with the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation Mary Fogarty said: “What happened is inhumane and you wouldn’t see it in the third world.

“It is a catastrophic situation where the oldest person in the hospital is left to languish on a trolley for all of that time.”

A member of the HSE West forum, Independent Councillor Ann Norton, said the woman’s daughter compared the A&E in Limerick to “a war zone”.

The family has asked not to be named.

A spokeswoman for the HSE said: “The Emergency Department at University Hospital Limerick has seen an unexpected increase in patients presenting over the last week, which has resulted in high numbers of patients waiting on trolleys and long delays.”

She said she could not comment on a specific patient, but “UL Hospitals Group apologises that any patient has to wait to be admitted”.

She said “delivery of the best possible care for the patient is our priority”.

Chimps get drunk on palm wine

   

A juvenile chimpanzee uses a leaf sponge to drink palm wine in Guinea in West Africa.

Humans’ closest living relatives may have a drinking habit:

Scientists spied intoxicated wild chimps soaking up palm wine with leaves and squeezing it into their mouths.

Alcohol consumption is seen across nearly all modern human cultures that have access to fermentable materials. This prevalence led scientists to suggest what is known as the “Drunken Monkey Hypothesis” — that alcohol consumption might have provided a benefit of some kind to the ancestors of humanity, and perhaps also to the ancestors of chimpanzees, humanity’s closest living relatives.

Humans and apes share a genetic mutation that emerged about 10 million years ago that helps them break down alcohol and could have helped them eat overripe and fermenting fruit. According to the proponents of the Drunken Monkey Hypothesis, the benefits of such an expanded diet may have even led evolution to favor an attraction to alcohol.

There were a few anecdotes of primates other than humans partaking in alcohol — for instance, green monkeys introduced to the island of St. Kitts like drinking tourist cocktails. However, most of these anecdotes were unconfirmed.

Now, researchers say they have confirmed, for the first time, that wild apes habitually drink alcohol.

The scientists watched wild chimpanzees living near the village of Bossou in the West African country of Guinea from 1995 to 2012. Villagers in Bossou tap raffia palm trees for the sap, harvesting it with plastic containers placed near the crowns of the tall palms. Villagers leave the containers alone for most of the day, collecting the palm sap in the early morning and late afternoon.

The sweet palm sap ferments quickly into palm wine. Villagers knew chimps occasionally sampled this sap for themselves, the researchers said.

Chimps often fold or crumple leaves inside their mouths to produce a drinking tool. They dip these “leaf sponges” into their preferred drink, and then squeeze the leafy tools in their mouths.

The researchers saw 51 instances in which 13 chimps used leaf sponges to drink fermenting sap. “I was fascinated by this behavior,” study lead author Kimberley Hockings, a behavioral ecologist at Oxford Brookes University in England, told Live Science.”To harvest the palm wine, chimpanzees at Bossou use a leafy tool as a spongy drinking vessel.”

The sap averaged about 3.1 to 6.9 percent alcohol, or 6.2 to 13.8 proof. For comparison, beer averages between 3 and 6 percent alcohol, and wine can contain 7 to 14 percent alcohol, with dessert wine having nearly 19 percent alcohol content, according to the University of Notre Dame. The chimps often drank the booze in large quantities — about a liter (34 ounces, or about three average-size beers) of fermented sap on average. Males accounted for 34 of the 51 instances of drinking — one adult male in particular accounted for 14 of the 51 instances.

“Chimpanzees at Bossou have applied their knowledge of how to make and use leafy tools to exploit a new liquid resource — palm wine,” Hockings said. “This new use of elementary technology shows once again how clever and enterprising humankind’s nearest living relations are.”

A number of chimps appeared intoxicated. One time, Hockings noted the chimps rested immediately after drinking the palm wine; “on another occasion after drinking palm wine, one adult male chimpanzee seemed particularly restless and whilst other chimpanzees were making and settling into their night nests, he spent an additional hour moving from tree to tree in an agitated manner,” she said.

Hockings noted these findings do not confirm the Drunken Monkey Hypothesis, since they cannot say for sure whether the chimpanzees were attracted to the alcohol. “However, our data clearly show that alcohol is not an absolute deterrent to chimpanzee feeding in this community,” Hockings said.

Michael D Higgins opens sea lion cove in Dublin Zoo

President pays a visit to his neighbours to launch wildlife park’s new attraction

   

Dublin Zoo’s sea lions have moved into their new Cove habitat which features a deep saltwater pool and a viewing area to observe the colony of sea lions underwater through glass.

President Michael D Higgins’s neighbours are a noisy lot with their grunting, squawking and squealing. What else do you expect when you have Dublin Zoo in your back garden?

However, despite his close proximity to the zoo, Mr Higgins’s arrival to open the sea lion cove marked his first official visit to the wildlife park since he took office in 2011. The zoo was certainly on its best behaviour.

The flamingos were tickled pink with the attention, and even the monkeys looked pensive as Mr Higgins waxed lyrical about the zoo’s role in preserving the diversity of the earth’s species.

Mr Higgins proclaimed himself delighted with his visit. “I want to say what a wonderful day it is to be here to visit the neighbours.

“Without a doubt, a day trip to the zoo has been a special highlight for generations of Irish children and adults.”

Sea lion cove

The key attraction of the sea lion cove is a viewing area where visitors can watch the mammals swimming underwater. Mr Higgins and his wife Sabina peered through the glass at the sea lions as they swooped and dived in front of them.

Viewed from the other side of the cove, it looked like the presidential couple were so impressed with the facility that they had plunged underwater themselves.

“They really know how to strut their stuff,” Ms Higgins said, after the mammals caught a few fish and honked happily.

Sea lion team leader Eddie O’Brien said the new habitat was one of the best he’d seen anywhere. “This new pool was built in the lake of the zoo and it’s salt water, which is pretty amazing.”

As well as being its nearest neighbour, Mr Higgins also has a family connection with the attraction, as his son John produces RTÉ’s The Zoo.

“Everytime I’ve seen that programme I’ve been so struck by the importance of those who work in the zoo, the extraordinary care of putting the animals first,” Mr Higgins said.

Then, in the best tradition of neighbourliness, he was invited to have a cup of tea.

“Don’t leave it as long again,” Dublin Zoo director Leo Oosterweghel might have been tempted to say as he waved off the presidential couple.

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Thursday 4th June 2015

Eircom will connect almost 2 million homes and firms in Ireland with fibre broadband by 2020

       

Eircom is ratcheting up its high-speed fibre broadband rollout and will increase its footprint from a targeted 1.6m homes and businesses by 2016 to 1.9m across Ireland by 2020.

The operator said the additional 300,000 homes and businesses are spread across 1,070 communities in all 26 counties, and include 300 communities not currently served with high-speed broadband.

Speeds of up to 1Gbps will be available through the use of ‘end-to-end’ fibre to the home (FTTH) technology. This expanded footprint means eircom will invest €400m in fibre over the next five years.

This is a critical development as we build a future-proofed network using a best-in-class technology to deliver the highest broadband speeds to many rural communities right across Ireland Eircom CEO Richard Moat

The homes and businesses to be served are largely ribbon-style developments across rural Ireland in communities such as Fybagh, Co Kerry; Blacksod, Co Mayo; Goleen, Co Cork; Maam, Co Galway, and Ring, Co Waterford.

Today, half of Ireland, 1.2m homes and businesses, already has access to high-speed broadband on Eircom’s network and the company remains on track to reach 70pc of the country by the end of 2016.

By 2020, that will rise to 80% of the country, with 35% of all homes and business accessing broadband speeds of up to 1Gbps when construction completes.

“This is a critical development as we build a future-proofed network using a best-in-class technology to deliver the highest broadband speeds to many rural communities right across Ireland,” said Eircom CEO Richard Moat.

Last month Eircom revealed how high-speed fibre was transforming a community in Belcarra, Mayo, and said that it has so reached nearly 1.2m of the 1.6m homes and businesses it plans to pass with fibre broadband by the end of this year.

The company also launched its new 1Gbps service, which will use more than 90,000km of fibre optic cable to connect 66 communities with these speeds.

“By making high-speed broadband available to as many people as possible, today’s announcement also reduces the intervention footprint under the Government’s National Broadband Plan, thereby reducing the burden for the taxpayer at a time where there is enormous demands for Exchequer funding,” Moat said.

Irish banks repossess four homes a day on average

  

Banks are seizing an average of four homes a day in Ireland, latest figures show

Banks are seizing four homes every day across Ireland, latest figures reveal.

During the first three months of this year, 351 houses were repossessed by lenders after homeowners were forced to walk away from the property or ordered by the courts to give it up.

The figure relates only to houses classed as someone’s main home, and does not include more than 200 investment or buy-to-let properties also repossessed by financial institutions during the same period.

Also from January to March this year, banks launched legal actions against another 2,788 homeowners struggling with arrears in an attempt to force them to pay up or hand over the house.

More than 1,000 other cases were finalised in the courts at the same time, with repossession orders being granted to lenders for an additional 468 homes.

The new figures from the Central Bank show various banks in Ireland currently have 1,588 repossessed homes on their books they are awaiting to dispose of or sell off.

Of the 351 homes repossessed between January and March, 156 were on the back of court orders sought by the banks.

Almost 200 families or individuals chose to walk away from their home at the start of the year.

The Central Bank report also shows more than 100,000 homeowners remain in mortgage arrears in Ireland.

Of the 104,693 (nearly 14% of all mortgages) who are falling behind in their repayments, 74,395 were in arrears for over 90 days. That translates as one in 10 mortgage holders who haven’t made a repayment in more than three months.

Although the overall number continues to fall, the number of homeowners in arrears for more than two years is still rising.

Fianna Fail finance spokesman Michael McGrath said the latest figures reveal an alarming escalation in the loss of family homes.

“There is still considerable doubt about the quality of (mortgage) restructurings that are being offered to families – many of these are little more than a sticking plaster solution,” he said.

“Innovative arrangements such as split mortgages are only being offered in a small number of cases.

“There is a continuing need for a complete culture change on the part of the banks in how they deal with customers and an independent mortgage resolution process to ensure that fair treatment is given to families.”

Sinn Fein finance spokesman Pearse Doherty said: “These figures never fail to shock.

“Almost four family homes a day are now being lost to the banks.

“The Government has promised action but, as these figures show, for many it is far too late.”

What’s the correct amount of cream to put on your strawberries?

  

Believe it or not but research in the UK has found that there is a perfect ratio of strawberries to cream and that there is an ‘ideal’ time frame to eat them in!

Research in the UK has found that a serving of strawberries and cream should be eaten in under three minutes; two minutes and 50 seconds to be precise.

The research also found the ideal strawberries-to-cream weight ratio is 70:30 or one tablespoon of single cream per two fresh medium-sized strawberries.

Why? The research found that strawberries shrink after two minutes 50 seconds of being covered in cream.

This week, June 1 to June 7, marks National Strawberry Week 2015 which is a week-long campaign to celebrate Ireland’s strawberry sector.

Strawberry sales in Ireland are valued at €55m, and Bord Bia says that there was a 14% increase in the retail value of strawberry sales to consumers in the 35-44 year old category in the last 12 months compared to the previous year, to reach €8m.

Mike Neary, Manager of Horticulture, Bord Bia said that the growth in consumption by this age group is important, as they often tend to have young children, which sets the industry up well for the future.

“Strawberries are an increasingly popular choice among consumers as a tasty, low calorie, convenient snack,” he said.

National Strawberry Week is organised by the Irish Soft Fruit Growers Association in conjunction with Bord Bia and the IFA.

The week aims to encourage consumers to enjoy more strawberries as the summer season approaches and Irish crops are at peak production, Bord Bia says.

National Strawberry Week is a consumer information campaign which includes primary school activities and an interactive website that includes seasonal recipe suggestions, it says.

Gary McCarthy of the Irish Soft Fruit Growers Association, said that fresh fruit and vegetables are a vital part of a healthy diet.

“The cold start to the year means the strawberry crop is a little later, but slow grown and sweeter than ever.

“We expect the Irish crop this year to total 5000t, in an industry that employs over 1,000 people,” he said.

The pain and stigma of dementia is a reality for Irish people

The Alzheimer Society of Ireland has launched a campaign to address the stigma that adversely affects thousands of people living with dementia and their carers often preventing individuals from seeking or sharing a diagnosis.

The nationwide campaign, entitled Forget the Stigma, will continue until the middle of this month and urges the public to sign up to a simple, three-step challenge to fight stigma.

The challenge involves learning the facts of the condition, listening and empathising, and linking in with those with dementia to prevent isolation.

 The campaign was launched by the Minister of State at the Department of Health Kathleen Lynch.

“Dementia really challenges the values we hold as a society and what it means to be human,” said ASI chief executive Gerry Martin.

“We need to stop avoiding this disease and start to think how we interact with people with dementia.

“Only by understanding the facts and talking more openly about it can we face our own fears and support the thousands of individuals and families living with dementia,” he added.

Stigma is an everyday reality for the 50,000 people in Ireland living with dementia. It is also an added hardship for their family carers. Yesterday, members of the ASI’s Irish Dementia Working Group joined family carers to speak openly of the stigma they have faced.

“People with dementia have a neurological condition which affects our memory, behaviour, relationships etc but we are still ourselves.

“People have turned their back to avoid me in my local supermarket. I understand this is to do with people being uncomfortable, but I want people to know it is extremely hurtful.

“A person living with dementia can date; go out to dinner, to the cinema. We need to be socially engaged like everyone else,” she said.

Ronan Smith, 56 from Wicklow, who also has early onset Alzheimer’s said: “When I first began to tell people I had been diagnosed with dementia I got this wholly inappropriate feeling like I was ‘coming out’.

“There is nothing to fear when it comes to meeting a person with dementia. I have faced up to it, can you?”

Kerryman Sean Donal O’Shea, 30 who has cared for his mother, Debbie, 58, since her diagnosis with early onset Alzheimer’s, said that people talk about her as if she is not in the room.

“Yes, she has dementia but she is still my mom. We need to open up and talk about dementia now.”

Mr Martin added: “For a long time there was a stigma about cancer. There is still a very real stigma about dementia. People hide it from their friends and from themselves, but that’s all changing: people living with dementia are bravely speaking out and writing about it. It is the subject of films and plays and novels.

“It is in everybody’s world now and we need to face up to it. We would urge everyone to support our campaign and help make Ireland truly dementia friendly.”

Why the difference in making a will costs? €50 to €150 in various counties of Ireland

   

Kildare, Kilkenny and Donegal pay 58% more than the average when making a will according to a recent nationwide IFA survey.

Inputs Project Team Chairman of the IFA, James McCarthy, says that the survey on legal costs for making a will “ranges from €50 in counties such as Roscommon, Limerick, Wicklow and Galway to €150 in Donegal, Kildare and Kilkenny. This represents a 300% difference and IFA members should ensure that their legal charges are not excessive”.

James McCarthy added, “While we acknowledge that it does take time to create a will, the price difference is very significant. The price range seems unjustifiable, with some firms even saying they may do wills at no cost, if the clients are regular ones or if they were in financial difficulty”.

James McCarthy said, “Each person has their own affairs and circumstances, but it appears to be worth shopping around when choosing which solicitor to use”.

Fish which can walk out of water and breathe on land for six days

    

A bizarre and seemingly super-powered fish which can walk out of water and breathe on land for up to six days could spell a ‘major disaster’ for wildlife, scientists have warned. 

A bizarre and seemingly super-powered fish which can walk out of water and breathe on land for up to six days could spell a ‘major disaster’ for wildlife, scientists have warned.

The aggressive climbing perch, which has lungs as well as gills, has been discovered in northern Australia.

And according to James Cook University researchers, the creature could cause a ‘major disaster’ for Australian wildlife if it thrives there.

The fish, a native of Papua New Guinea, can kill birds and larger fish by swelling up inside their windpipes and choking them, Metro reported.

Only a few have been sighted on land in Australia so far, but scientists are said to be monitoring their progress.

Ecologist Nathan Waltham warned: “When they populate an area they’re not commonly found in, they can disrupt the balance of that habitat.”

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Saturday/Sunday 16th & 17th May 2015

No easy wins for Irish Government in their battle with the banks

 

‘I would bet that standard variable mortgage rates might fall in the months ahead, but not massively’

‘This is a messy one for Minister for Finance Michael Noonan and his colleagues. The Central Bank does not want powers to control interest rates and in its report to the Department of Finance is believed to say that the average profits being made on lending are not excessive.’

Like a parent trying to insist some older offspring behave themselves before they finally move out of home, the Government is trying to control the behaviour of the banks, while at the same time promising to get them off the State books as soon as possible. Trouble is it will take a good while to get them to pack up and move on completely, and in the meantime they aren’t doing what they are told.

Helped by the public mood which holds that the banks are showing little gratitude for being bailed out, the Government has no problem in painting them as unreasonable. The banks are fingered for exercising their veto to turn down personal insolvency arrangements, for being too quick to take court action in cases of arrears and for profiteering from high standard variable mortgage rates.

There is some validity in these claims, but we need a reality check, too. No banking system can deliver a perfect blend of rock-bottom mortgage borrowing rates and zero home repossessions, not least our battered banks, which are still recovering from the crisis. Ministers know this, even if they might not say it, and so the mortgage arrears package was set up to go so far, but not to undermine the fundamental system of secured mortgage lending. Because if banks can’t take your home as security, then they will charge you a lot more for your loan.

In fighting on a couple of fronts against the banks, the Government needs to be careful how it sets up the battleground. On mortgage arrears, the political goalposts are, at least, moveable, though this is a problem the Government can never be seen to “solve”. But on mortgage interest rates it risks a defeat if the banks won’t move – which is why in next week’s meetings with bank chiefs, Minister Michael Noonan will give a “move or else” messageto the bankers.

The mortgage arrears package announced this week was designed to make the insolvency process more accessible and efficient, and also to encourage banks and borrowers to do deals more readily outside this process. This will help some dealing with debt, but won’t change the fundamental maths for many who can’t afford their mortgage. It will be presented as putting manners on the banks, though the banks won’t be too concerned about the veto move, which will only be relevant in a limited number of the cases.

Banks have been too slow to deal with arrears – largely in collusion with the authorities in the period up to mid-2013. Now progress is finally being made and the banks are acting, even if this creates its own problems for the Government.

Damage limitation

Politically, this is a case of damage limitation, as the Government can’t end repossession actions altogether. The State can’t pay people’s mortgages on an ongoing basis. And it can’t abandon the whole system of secured lending, as doing that would push up the cost to everyone of getting a mortgage. And this brings us to the other battlefront.

While there are 30,000-plus in long-term arrears, there are 300,000 or so on standard variable mortgages. This is an even trickier political problem both because of the numbers involved and because the Government will now be seen to either “win” or “lose”, depending on whether the banks agree to cut rates, or not. Ministers have framed this as a move by Government to get the banks to act and unless the banks move, they will be seen to have lost.

This is a messy one for Minister for Finance Michael Noonan and his colleagues. The Central Bank does not want powers to control interest rates. In its report to the Department of Finance, it is believed to say that the average profits being made on lending are not excessive. But this average counts in tracker mortgage, which are yielding very low returns to banks.

The Central Bank’s own figures show that standard variable mortgage rates here are high relative to the rest of Europe. The report makes the point that, in a properly competitive market, this Irish mortgage rate premium would be eroded by competition. Unfortunately, as banks across Europe retrench behind national borders, there is no sign of a new entrant to shake up the market here.

Intriguingly, the report also says that it might be wise for banks to reduce their standard variable rates, to head off a likely response from the political system.

But what might that response be ? No doubt Noonan will not be backward in going forward when he meets the bank chiefs. So far State-owned AIB has cut standard variable rates , but the other banks say they won’t move .

The political hectoring won’t bother them too much. What might is increased competition among existing lenders for switcher business – there are some signs of this for those on low loan-to-value ratios – or the threat of any real action from Government. Noonan will have to persuade them that this threat is real.

A Bank levy?

Would the Government increase the bank levy? Or would it push the Central Bank to introduce some cap on rates? I suspect Ministers will try to up the pressure first, in the hope that some movement comes. The tough talking from Ministers suggests they believe some of the banks, at least, will move, though by how much is another question. And the flipside is likely to be lower rates for depositors.

A properly competitive banking market is the real fix for this, but we are a long way from that yet. I would bet that standard variable mortgage rates might fall in the months ahead, but not massively. They will remain stuck stubbornly above the level elsewhere in Europe. The best result the Government might get out of this battle with the banks is a draw.

A Aer Lingus takeover would boost tourism in Ireland

  

The deal would secure the carrier’s future, says ITIC chief

Tourism bosses support IAG’s bid for Aer Lingus, new research shows.

Almost 70% of respondents were broadly in favour of the proposed sale of Aer Lingus to IAG in a new poll.

Just 20% were opposed, while 12% classed themselves as “undecided” or “don’t know”. The poll of 88 senior tourism executives was conducted on behalf of the Irish Tourism Industry Confederation (ITIC).

The Government still has not made a decision about whether or not to sell to IAG, six months after IAG made its preliminary approach to buy the airline. It is offering to pay a total of €2.55 per Aer Lingus share. The company’s shares traded around the €2.40 mark last week. The Government wants assurances on the future use of Heathrow slots, connectivity and jobs.

“The deal would secure the future of the carrier and opens up global connectivity opportunities that otherwise would not be realised” said ITIC chairman Paul Gallagher.

The poll also revealed the tourism bosses felt negatively towards the Government’s new tourism plans. The targets set are not ambitious enough, senior industry executives believe.

Tourism Minister Paschal Donohoe’s three main aims are to grow revenue from overseas tourism to €5bn per year, increase the number of people working in the sector from 200,000 to 250,000 and attract 10 million visitors to Ireland by 2025.

The steps it wants to take to reach those aims include encouraging more events, festivals and conferences, improving training and skills standards in the industry and ensuring the communities and local authorities play a stronger role.

But less than a third of respondents to the tourism poll endorsed the targets. One in three gave them a negative rating.

“The last tourism policy document from the period 2003-2013 had a target of 10 million visitors and €6bn to be achieved by 2013.

“We should be more ambitious, given that almost eight million visitors will come here this year,” said Gallagher.

Looking beyond the sale of Aer Lingus and Government targets, the research showed healthy growth in the tourism industry, with the majority of businesses predicting growth in profitability and employment in the next three years.

Almost two out of three are planning to grow capacity between now and 2018. One in eight is planning for 20% plus expansion.

Only 2% of doctors signed up for free Irish GP care for under-6s scheme

Says a survey

    

Just 2% of GPs have signed up to the free GP care for under-6s scheme, according to a new survey.

The independent poll, commissioned by the National Association of General Practioners (NAGP), was carried out between May 13- 16 and surveyed 1,048 GPs.

It suggests that only 21% of GPs intend to sign up for the scheme before the May 27 deadline, while 23% plan on signing over the next three months.

The figures fall far short of the minimum threshold of 40% set by the Minister for Health.

A significant proportion of the 1,048 GPs surveyed remain unsure. Just under 30% remain unsure about signing before May 27 and 43% are unsure whether they will sign of not sign before September.

Of the unsure group, 52.4% said they are more likely not to sign that to sign.

Of note, 75% said they feel coerced and under duress to sign the contract.

It has also emerged in certain areas around the country, all GPs are planning to actively boycott the scheme, which is due to be rolled out from July.

NAGP chief Chris Goodey said that as well as a lack of information available to doctors, the free GP care scheme also poses a litany of other issues.

“We’re consistently seeing mass emigration of GPs and this doesn’t do anything to curb that trend,” he said.

“We still stand by the fact that it doesn’t provide [for] any of the inequities of care, for example you could still have a child who is disabled or has cancer who is seven years old, who’s paying for their treatment and paying to see a GP ,and yet you see a perfectly healthy under-6-year-old getting free treatment.”

New drug offers hope to cystic fibrosis patients

  

A new groundbreaking” cystic fibrosis therapy could profoundly improve patients’ quality of life, say doctors.

Patients often die before their 40s as mucus clogs and damages their lungs and leaves them prone to infection.

A major trial on 1,108 patients, in the New England Journal of Medicine, showed a combination of drugs could bypass the genetic errors that cause the disease and may increase life expectancy.

The Cystic Fibrosis Trust said it could “improve the lives of many”.

One in every 2,500 babies in the UK has cystic fibrosis.

Errors in sufferers’ DNA – inherited from their parents – damage the microscopic machinery that controls salt and water levels in the linings of the lungs.

The result is a thick mucus that inexorably damages the lungs.

Antibiotics help prevent infection and drugs can loosen the mucus, but nothing deals with the fundamental problem for most patients.

The combination of drugs – lumacaftor and ivacaftor – were designed to repair that microscopic machinery.

The trial showed that those patients given the cocktail for 24 weeks had better lung function.

Cystic fibrosis also affects the mucus lining in the gut so the doctors were pleased to see the patients also gained weight in the trial.

‘A fundamental treatment’

Prof Stuart Elborn, who led the European part of the trial from Queen’s University Belfast, told the BBC News website: “This is very exciting and it really demonstrates that we can correct the basic defects in cystic fibrosis.

“This is likely to become a fundamental treatment for cystic fibrosis.

“Starting in children may prevent the disease process developing if we correct the basic defect early in life.

“Will this improve survival for people with cystic fibrosis? We would anticipate it would have a really good chance of doing that, but we don’t know for sure yet.”

There are however, many types of error in the DNA that can culminate in cystic fibrosis.

This treatment combination should work on around half of patients, while one of the drugs on its own corrects a small proportion of errors.

New treatments are still required for the remaining patients.

‘Groundbreaking’

Susanna McColley, professor of paediatrics at Northwestern University, said these were “groundbreaking findings” that showed the future of treating cystic fibrosis.

She told the BBC: “For subjects I’ve cared for, they felt better in ways that are not necessarily measurable.

“One young woman said, and this is a direct quote, her CF ‘is not a problem’.”

Janet Allen, the director of research at the Cystic Fibrosis Trust charity, said: “These results open up a new front in the fight against cystic fibrosis and this combination therapy looks set to be an important additional treatment option that could improve the lives of many.

“As this leading edge of science continues to be explored and better understood, we are hopeful that a future of personalised medicines is increasingly within reach.”

The therapy is being examined by regulators around the world

New 1,000ft tower built in the heart of the Amazon rainforest to monitor climate

Taller than the Shard and the Eiffel Tower and dwarfs the Statue of Liberty

 

The massive tower has been built in a remote part of the Amazon jungle.

Research teams must work amid the jaguars, snakes and jungle threats

It’s equipped with dozens of scientific instruments to monitor atmosphere

The structure is taller than the Eiffel Tower, The Shard and Statue of LibertyA huge tower dwarfing some of the world’s greatest landmarks has been erected in the heart of the Amazon rainforest in a bid to gather new data on the state of our atmosphere.The Amazon Tall Tower Observatory stands 1066ft (325m) high in a remote part of the Amazon jungle, where it was constructed and will be operated by a team of two amid the threat of jaguars, snakes and other wild animals.Equipped with scientific instruments to monitor greenhouse gases, the weather and aerosols, it is hoped data taken by the tower revealing changes in our climate will one day help inform lawmakers.+11

The Amazon Tall Tower Observatory sits in the remote Amazon jungle around 95miles northeast of Manaus+11

A worker paints the massive structure as he hangs at a head-spinning height above the rainforest canopy+11

The worker trusts his safety harness as he leans backwards to paint the massive metal tower11

At a height of 1,066ft (325m), it is three feet taller than the Eiffel Tower and about 50ft taller than The Shard

A worker monitors scientific instruments on a much smaller tower nearby as the Amazon Tall Tower Observatory is seen stretching upwards in the distance

The sun sets over the extremely remote and untouched part of the rainforest where the tower was constructed

Construction of the joint German-Brazilian initiative began in 2009. Located 95miles northeast of Manaus, it will begin collecting data later this year.

Dr. Jurgen Kesselmeier, the project co-ordinator, said because the Amazon rain forest remained the largest contiguous rainforest on earth, the tower’s remote location was perfect for studying scientific properties of the atmosphere without interference from humans.

He said: ‘The height of the measuring tower will allow us to investigate the transport of air masses and their alteration through the forest over a distance of several hundred kilometers.’

Antonio Manzi, a researcher for the National Institute of Amazonian Research in Manaus, told The Independent: ‘For science, this is a very big and complex piece of work.

‘Here in Brazil, we had a great and well-documented interest in having a tall tower to better study the mechanisms of the atmosphere’s surface. Various scientific questions made this a necessity.’

The tower has taken the crown of the tallest structure in South America, and dwarfs famous landmarks across the globe.

It is three feet taller than the Eiffel Tower, about 50ft taller than London’s Shard and more than 700ft higher than New York’s Statue of Liberty.

Donie’s Ireland daily news BLOG

Saturday 2nd May 2015

Exports in Ireland at highest level ever

Latest good news from Ireland?

     

The latest good news from the green isle is on the export front.

Government officials in Ireland are ecstatic as the economy continues to gain traction and a silver lining in the subdued European Union.

Exports soared last year by 10%, hitting an all-time record of 18.6 billion euro.

The growth trajectory began in 2010, on the tail end of the financial crisis in Ireland post-GFC. In that year exports reached 13.9 billion euro. As the economy has improved and expanded, particularly in the technology sector, exports have risen each year.

According to the official figures published by Enterprise Ireland, the growth was in every market Ireland exports to, and in every sector in which it is engaged in exports.

“Record exports of 18.6 billion euro were achieved by Irish exporters, representing an increase of almost 10% over 2013 figures. Significantly, growth was recorded across all sectors and in all international markets. These results are reflected in the record jobs performance by Enterprise Ireland clients in 2014 where the agency’s clients recorded the highest net job gains in the history of the agency and further validate Enterprise Ireland’s investment in indigenous industry,” the Chief Executive Officer of Enterprise Ireland, Julie Sinnamon, said as the figures were announced.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny puts the improvement in the economy, which has flowed into exports, down to job creation, predicting that by 2019 there will be more people employed in Ireland than at any other time in its history.

“Action Plan for Jobs continues to be the driving force behind our commitment to bring our country back to full employment by creating a sustainable export-led economy. It has proven itself effective in delivering our targets and our targets continue to be ambitious.

In the coming months, we will deliver one year early on our target of adding 100,000 jobs,” he said Thursday. “By next year, our plan will see more Irish people returning to work in this country than leaving. By 2018, we will have replaced every job lost by the previous Government with more sustainable jobs and by 2019 there will be more people working in this country than ever before.”

AIB announces cut in variable mortgage interest rates

  

Allied Irish Banks has announced a misery 0.25% drop in variable interest rates for new and existing customers.

In addition, the banks EBS and Haven customers will benefit from a 0.38% cut, the banks said yesterday.

The cuts will take effect over the next couple of weeks and will benefit about 160,000 Irish customers.

Following the move, AIB customers with a €200,000 mortgage will save €329 annually, based on a 25-year term -EBS/Haven SVR customers will save €508 a year.

The rate cuts apply to both owner-occupier and buy-to-let mortgages.

The state owned AIB came under pressure recently to cut variable interest rates but the rate remains just shy of 4%.

The bank has also reported a further reduction in impaired loan volumes to €20.5bn to €1.7bn in the first quarter.

It also said total number of accounts in arrears in the Irish residential mortgage portfolio decreased by 6% since December 2014 and 23% since December 2013.

The bank remained profitable for the first quarter of 2015.

David Duffy, outgoing chief executive said: “Notwithstanding the improving operating environment, challenges remain including continued high levels of arrears in the mortgage and SME portfolios and elevated levels of impaired loans.

He added that the bank is also benefitting from quantitative easing but this also has a negative impact on pension calculations.

Joan Burton speaks of her decades-long search for her birth parents

   

Speaking about privacy today, the Tánaiste said children should be entitled to know who their mother is.

The TÁNAISTE JOAN BURTON has spoken of her search for her birth parents as she today told the Burren Law School that she believes children have the right to know who their mother is.

In her address on privacy, Burton said adoption in Ireland happened very much “in the shadows” and for decades there was little or no regulation.

“Children were put up for adoption, often against the will of the mother, usually under the auspices of religious bodies, without legal protection for them or their adoptive parents. The birth mother was told that her identity would be kept secret and would never be disclosed to her child, or anyone else.”

The Tánaiste herself has spoken before about the fact that she was raised by adoptive parents and today she discussed her own search for her birth parents.

In my case, after three decades of searching, it was only in the late 90’s, as attitudes changed, that I was successful in tracing cousins, aunts and uncles. Unfortunately, by then both my birth parents were dead.

On the issue of her own privacy, Burton said she became nervous that the story of her adoption would become known to some peope in the media who might twist it in a way that would embarrass both herself and people connected to her birth family. It was revealed after the 2007 election, when she did an open interview about it,  and by this time her search had already begun.

As the law stands today, contact can only be established between an adopted child and their biological parents of both parties agree.

“I believe this proposition is no longer tenable,” the Tánaiste commented.

“In my view, it is an essential part of a child’s identity that they should be entitled to know who their mother is.

“Children have a right to their identity she say’s.”

However, she acknowledged that this right to information must be balanced against the mother’s right to privacy and striking the balance is “sensitive and legally difficult”. She said the government must deal with this issue and legislation is expected before the end of this term.

We need to understand allergies

    

In December 2013, the people of Ireland learned a hard lesson in how serious allergic reactions to food can be

Emma Sloan, 14, was out for a meal with family when she ate a sauce containing peanuts and suffered a severe allergic reaction known as anaphylaxis. She died on Dublin’s O’Connell St because she did not receive a life-saving injection of adrenaline in time.

Few of us will ever experience a reaction as severe as Emma did, but it’s vital that we all pay more attention to food allergies. In 2004, a report by the European Food Safety Authority found that food allergies occurred in up to 3% of the European population and 6% of children.

“Here in Ireland, the latest research focuses on 2-year-old children and it’s found their overall rate to be 4% so we’re within international norms,” says Jonathan Hourihane, professor of paediatrics and child health in University College Cork and a specialist in allergic disorders in children.

“We’re also following the international trend of increased food allergies. Between 1990 and 2010, allergy rates trebled in the US and there’s no reason to suspect it’s any different here.”

This means we should all learn to spot the symptoms of allergic reactions and to identify and avoid the triggers that cause them. It’s also worth knowing what to do if we see someone suffering from anaphylaxis, the most severe allergic reaction of all.

A short food list accounts for approximately 90% of all food allergies. These include milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, shellfish, soy, and wheat.

Reactions to these foods can vary. For some people, it’s as mild as a red rash and clears up in a matter of hours. For others, their skin erupts in hives or their eyes, hands, feet, lips, mouth, and throat swell.

Some people don’t even have to ingest the food to react; just breathing in the dust from peanuts can be enough for them to react.

Anaphylaxis is the most severe reaction of all. It begins in the mouth and throat within minutes of eating a food. It quickly affects the skin, respiratory tract, and cardiovascular system. It can affect these parts of the body individually or in combination but it needs to be treated rapidly.

Anyone diagnosed with a severe allergy should carry an auto-injector of adrenaline. If this emergency shot is not administered within a short time of eating the food, the reaction — like that of Emma — can be fatal.

There are no Irish statistics on fatalities caused by food allergies but in the UK, up to 20 people die each year from anaphylaxis. About half of those reactions are caused by food.

Anaphylaxis Ireland is a support group that aims to raise awareness of allergy-related issues in this country. It provides help and information to those suffering with allergies; lobbies to improve labelling on food products; and educates the public about the seriousness of certain allergies.

“Any awareness that helps people understand the seriousness of an allergy that can be life-threatening is positive,” says Fiona Kenna of Anaphylaxis Ireland. “However, it’s important for severe allergy sufferers to take responsibility for their own allergy. They have to carry their prescribed auto-injectors with them.”

We citizens of the world are all shareholders of how we deal with climate change

  

Each global citizen has the right to voice an opinion on the running of business when it comes to the survival of the planet. One could say that on this occasion, we are all shareholders.

That fundamental equality under the stars is the backdrop today for bringing together religious leadership acting from a moral and social imperative on issues related to climate change and institutional investors, acting on risk. Both are doubtless well aware of that fundamental maxim for any business: ignore your clients at your peril.

It is a global movement. In a strong indication of their commitment  four investor groups across the globe recently published a guide  outlining a range of strategies and solutions investors can use to address climate change. It is a joint project involving IIGCC in Europe, Ceres’ Investor Network on Climate Risk (INCR) in North America, IGCC in Australia/New Zealand and ASrIA’s Asia Investor Group on Climate Change.

The guide outlines a range of strategies and solutions investors can use to address climate change, including low carbon investment, managing and reducing carbon exposure in portfolios, and engagement, as investors around the world work to scale up their efforts to invest in clean energy and shift to lower carbon assets.

In the UK they just moved to divest £12m from tar sands oil and thermal coal – two of the most polluting fossil fuels -imposing investment restrictions for the first time because of climate change.

This news came hard on the heels of a story by the Financial Times, which reported that although Prince Charles “does not comment publicly on his personal financial dealings and sources at Buckingham Palace confirmed that ‘his private investments and his charitable foundation do not have any fossil fuel holdings.’”

The UK business media tone on coverage of climate change has changed substantially as the subject becomes ever more high-profile.

As for publicly listed businesses – they are feeling the pressure. At BP’s recent AGM a climate and carbon risk resolution won a 98.28% vote in favour. The decision was described by Ian Greenwood, Local Authority Pension Fund Forum (LAPFF) Deputy Chair as “the culmination of three years of steady engagement and demonstrates the effectiveness of an active approach to ESG and structural risk questions by pension funds and other institutional investors.”

The ‘Aiming For A’ investor group behind the resolution contained faith-based networks as well as investors – and is explained further at the Church of England Media Centre, where the most recent post is a welcome for the Vatican Statement on climate change.

This extension of collaboration beyond a traditional institutional investor base has had a profound impact on the gathering of support. The board of oil giant Shell- which holds an AGM at The Hague on May 19 – has already expressed support for a similar ‘Aiming for A’ resolution which will be put to the vote.

Norway’s national oil company, Statoil, also holds its AGM on May 19. In an AGM notice quietly posted – and flagged by PIRC, the shareholder advisory body – its board has formally stated its support for Item 7.

‘Statoil Strategic Resilience from 2035 and beyond’ is the third of almost identical climate resolutions introduced at BP and Shell after active engagement and collaboration. The success of all three would, indeed be the equivalent of a great ‘hat-trick.’

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Friday 1st. May 2015

Irish central Bank governor Patrick Honohan steps down

  1. ‘at a very good time’
  2. The governor says economy is well on way to repair but he is still concerned over our debt.

   

Central Bank governor Patrick Honohan yesterday: ‘We’re very much now into a phase of repair and consolidation.’

Patrick Honohan was in upbeat mode as he held court at the top floor of the Central Bank. All smiles as he declared he will leave Dame Street a few months early near the end of the year, he was asked which qualities should be sought in his successor. “A beard, I think, is essential – or a skirt,” he said.

Mr Honohan turns 66 years of age in October. He anticipated revealing his plan yesterday “in an off-hand manner” but was rumbled by reporters on Thursday. He told Minister for Finance Michael Noonan of his intentions early in April.

So how did Noonan take the news? “He was surprised. I said ‘you’re not going to be impressed by this but I’ll be 66’. He said he wasn’t impressed. But he was understanding about it.”

Asked if there was any row or any personal issues behind his early exit, Honohan said no there weren’t. Although he does not plan to take up a new job, he didn’t rule out writing a book on his experience as governor or to write on other subjects.

“I’ve long been asking myself when the best moment is. I’m not getting any younger . . . This is actually a very good time, because it’s a time of change, a time of transition anyway,” he said.

Crisis management phase over.

“We’re moving now from the crisis management phase, the crisis management phase is over. If there’s another crisis management phase it’ll be in another crisis and we’re very much now into a phase of repair and consolidation. That’s a different type of activity so it’s a change of gear.”

The Central Bank annual report showed that the institution realised a €2.1 billion profit last year, €1.7 billion of which is being paid to the exchequer. It was a mark of the extraordinary interventions made since the crash that the Central Bank realised profits totalling €8 billion in six years under Mr Honohan’s watch.

After former European Central Bank chief Jean-Claude Trichet offered a resolute defence in Dublin of ECB actions in the Irish debacle, Honohan said it had been a great day for Irish democracy.

“One thing that probably came home to people – but certainly has been my constant view of him – that he is has always been a friend of Ireland. He has been a bit demonised in blogs and stuff,” he said of Mr Trichet.

“Now that doesn’t mean I agreed at every step with all of the things that he said. Of course I didn’t. But he did do very much in the best interest of Ireland and the best interest of Europe. I think when he says that, he is completely sincere. He was never in the position of saying I don’t care about this country or that country.”

The bailout, he said, was a once-in-a-century event in Ireland’s relations with Europe. Asked if he took issue with Mr Trichet’s account, Honohan said he didn’t.

“I’m not disagreeing with anything he said. No, no. Absolutely not.”

Of the unresolved and uncertain scene in Greece, Honohan said he was “slightly more optimistic” in recent weeks than previously. Of the spring economic statement, he had “no message” and but did not indicate any particular concern with the package.

“Of course if the Government were going off the rails entirely we wouldn’t be slow to jump up and down in this building.”

A major concern,

While Honohan said Ireland’s economy was well on the road to repair, he had concerns still about high indebtedness. Of his time as governor in the heat of crisis, he said there were “few surprises” as he had seen how things went awry elsewhere. “It was like coming into a real live history book here,” he said.

“I know people complain maybe a bit that I make light of things, but I’m always aware of the fact that in this period of time – in central banking characterisation – that the stakes are enormously high and mistakes could have been enormously costly.

“Thanks to the experience of what can be done and what should be done, we might not have got everything we wanted done right. But we avoided false steps.”

High standards ‘cannot compensate’ for radiologist shortage

RCSI faculty says more consultants needed after X-ray errors

     

There are five radiologists per 100,000 population in Ireland, compared with 7.8 in Germany and 11.3 in France, says Royal College of Surgeons.

The highest standards of practice cannot compensate for the current shortage of radiologists in Ireland, the faculty of radiologists has said.

The faculty, which is part of the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, was commenting after more than 100 patients were recalled over the misreading of X-rays and other scans by three locum radiologists employed by the HSE.

The college’s communications manager, Niamh Walker, said Ireland had a much lower number of radiologists per capita than other European countries.

There are five radiologists per 100,000 population in Ireland compared with 7.8 in Germany and 11.3 in France, she said.

Ms Walker said an IT platform currently being installed in HSE hospitals as part of a wider quality assurance programme would mean examinations recorded by one radiologist would automatically be assigned for review and second reading by another consultant radiologist.

Shortage of consultants

However, she said, “the highest possible standard of radiology practice still cannot compensate for the fact that Ireland has a shortage of consultant radiologists”.

She added: “The clinical demand for radiology services is increasing steadily in Ireland. This has led to high workloads for Irish radiologists when compared with their peers in other countries and partly explains why it can be so difficult for some hospitals to find locum cover.”

Ms Walker said a recent substantial investment by the HSE to develop a national electronic radiology IT system and hospital group structure should be accompanied by “a well-designed expansion in consultant radiologist numbers”.

Errors

The Faculty of Radiologists, which along with the HSE and the Medical Council, is the postgraduate training body responsible for standards in radiologist training and professional competence, extended its sympathy to affected patients and their families.

The Irish Times reported on Thursday that thousands of X-rays and scans were reviewed and more than 100 patients recalled after errors were found in the work of three locum radiologists.

The locums, who no longer work in Ireland, were reported to the Medical Council after colleagues raised concerns over their work. They worked in seven hospitals.

Fine Gael Senator Colm Burke said the HSE should prioritise the recruitment of hospital consultants over the use of expensive locum staff.

“The use of locums and agency staff leads to lack of continuity in patient care. Aside from the recent concerns about quality, locum staff are far more expensive than what the health system would be paying permanent staff in similar roles,” he said.

New test can predict cancer up to 13 years before the disease develops

 

Telomeres could be developed to cause cancer cells to self-destruct without harming healthy cells.

People who develop cancer have shorter telomeres, the caps at the end of chromosomes which protect the DNA

Telomeres sit at the end of chromosomes like the caps on shoelaces to prevent DNA from fraying

Genetic changes can predict cancer up to 13 years in the future, according to new research.

Harvard and Northwestern University discovered that tiny but significant changes are already happening in the body more than a decade before cancer is diagnosed.

They found that the protective caps on the ends of chromosomes, which prevent DNA damage, had significantly more wear and tear in people who went on to develop cancer. In fact, in some cases they looked 15 years older.

Those caps, known as telomeres, were much shorter than they should be and continued to get shorter until around four years before the cancer developed, when they suddenly stopped shrinking. All the people with the changes went on to develop cancer.

“Understanding this pattern of telomere growth may mean it can be a predictive biomarker for cancer,” said Dr. Lifang Hou, the lead study author and a professor of preventive medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.

“Because we saw a strong relationship in the pattern across a wide variety of cancers, with the right testing these procedures could be used to eventually diagnose a wide variety of cancers.”

Although many people may not want to know that they will develop cancer in the future, it could allow them to make lifestyle changes to lower their risk. Stanford University is also working on a project looking at how telomere’s can be regrown.

However insurance companies warned that such a test could push up policy premiums.

Matt Sanders, in charge of protection insurance products at Go-Compare, said people with such a diagnoses could be priced out of the insurance marker.

“If this test showed 100% probability over a certain number of years then it could affect premiums. It would be the equivalent of living in a high theft area for someone looking for home insurance,” he said.

“Premiums could rise to a point where some people would simply be priced out. However if it was shown that diagnosing earlier could prevent cancer then that could bring down premiums.”

Aviva also said that continually monitored advances in medical sciences ‘ to ensure they are reflected in the premiums paid by our customers, where appropriate.’

Telomeres sit at the end of chromosomes, and protect the tightly bound strands of DNA

In the new study, scientists took multiple measurements of telomeres over a 13-year period in 792 persons, 135 of whom were eventually diagnosed with different types of cancer, including prostate, skin, lung and leukemia.

Initially, scientists discovered telomeres aged much faster, indicated by a more rapid loss of length, in individuals who were developing but not yet diagnosed with cancer.

Telomeres in all the people who went on to develop cancer looked as much as 15 years older than those of people who were not developing the disease.

But then scientists found the accelerated aging process stopped three to four years before the cancer diagnosis.

Telomeres shorten every time a cell divides. The older a person is, the more times each cell has divided, and the shorter their telomeres.

Because cancer cells divide and grow rapidly, scientists would expect the cell would get so short it would self-destruct. But that’s not what happens, scientists discovered.

“We found cancer has hijacked the telomere shortening in order to flourish in the body,” added Dr Hou.

The team is hoping that if it can identify how cancer hijacks the cell, then treatments

RECOGNISING THE EARLY SIGNS OF BOWEL CANCER

Almost 2,500 people are diagnosed with bowel cancer in Ireland every year.

     

Being informed of the early signs and what you can do to reduce the risk is crucial.

So with the help of the Irish Cancer Society, we are delighted to inform you of these essential facts.

If you are unsure of any of the following, please call the Irish Cancer Society National Cancer Helpline 1800 200 700.

About

Bowel cancer is also known as colon, rectal and colorectal cancer. It affects the digestive system and can occur in both sexes.

  • It happens when cells in the bowel start to grow quickly and form a tumour. If it’s a malignant tumour, it is known as cancer.
  • It is the second most common cause of cancer death in Ireland.
  • We can change this by recognising the early signs and reducing the risk.
  • Recognising the signs
  • Knowing the symptoms is essential.

Bowel cancer is extremely treatable once it’s caught early, however almost 50% of bowel cancers are only diagnosed at stage three and four.

As a result, bowel cancer mortality rates remain steady since 2006 at 40%.

If you notice any of the following signs, please get them checked, particularly if they last longer than four weeks.

  1. A change in your normal bowel motion, such as diarrhoea or constipation.
  2. Feeling you have not emptied your bowel fully after a motion.
  3. Pain or discomfort in your abdomen (tummy) or back passage.
  4. Trapped wind or fullness in your tummy.
  5. Weight loss.
  6. Tired and breathless (due to anaemia from blood loss).
  7. Rectal bleeding or blood in stools.

These symptoms can also be due to issues which are not related to bowel cancer.

Cause and prevention

The cause of bowel cancer is unknown, but there are risk factors which can increase the likelihood of someone getting it.

  1. You have a higher chance of getting bowel cancer if
  2. You have had a previous bowel cancer.
  3. You are over 60.
  4. A member of your immediate family (mother, father, brother or sister) or relatives (uncle or aunt) has had bowel cancer.
  5. You have a history of bowel conditions like ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease.
  6. You are obese (overweight).
  7. You eat a diet high in fats and low in fibre.

Research has found that adults who increase their physical activity and have a healthy diet can reduce their risk of developing bowel cancer by 30 to 40%.

Get checked

The Irish Cancer Society is appealing to the public not to be embarrassed about any symptoms they may be experiencing and to remember that early detection saves lives.

Baby tapir at Fota Wildlife Park is asking you for a name

  • Public has track record in naming animals at the park and Fota is requesting help again

   

The three-week-old male is the first Brazilian Tapir born at the Cork Wildlife Park since 2006. His birth is part of a breeding programme for this vulnerable species

Fota Wildlife Park is seeking public help in naming its latest arrival, a three- week-old male tapir.

He is the first calf of parents Maya and Bazil and the first Brazilian Tapir born at the Cork Wildlife Park since 2006. His birth is part of a breeding programme for this vulnerable species.

The parents have a multi-cultural relationship, with Maya coming from Lodz in Poland and Bazil from Curragh Wildlife Park in the Isle of Man in 2012.

“We are delighted with the birth of this little tapir calf that seems very active already in the few days he has been outside,” said Stephen Ryan of Fota Wildlife Park.

The calf has a striking coat of pale spots and stripes on a reddish brown background to camouflage it in the wild.

To gain public interest in the Brazilian Tapirs whose population has been decreasing in the wild, the park is running a competition to name him.

“We are sure they will come up with another great name following on from the suggestions of Rog the cheetah, Shay Gibbon, Zedward the zebra and Fada the giraffe in the past,” said Mr Ryan.

A relative of the primate horse and rhinoceros, the Brazilian tapir is one of four species of tapir in the world. It can weigh up to 250kg, is 2m long and has a flexible snout that helps collect food.

Tapir comes from the Brazilian word for “thick”, which is a reference to its tough skin. The tapir inhabits the rainforests of South America and lives near water which it uses to escape from predators such as jaguars, pumas and anacondas.

You can suggest a name for the tapir calf via the park’s website. The winning suggestion will win a Wild Experience at the park where they will spend time with the head warden behind the scenes.

All-diabetic Novo Nordisk team to compete in An Post Rás

   

The Novo team travel to the race on a mission to represent millions of diabetics worldwide via the five type 1 diabetic riders on the team, including Irishman Daragh Campbell, from Drogheda (right picture) arrowed.

The race will total almost 1,200 kilometres in length and will include 21 categorised climbs.

The Team Novo Nordisk development squad and Team Idea have been confirmed for An Post Rás including an Irishman

Team Idea last year notched up a number of placings.

The 2015 An Post Rás will begin in Dunboyne on 17 May and will feature stage finishes in Carlow, Tipperary, Bearna, Newport, Ballina, Ballinamore, Drogheda and Skerries.

It will total almost 1,200 kilometres in length and will include 21 categorised climbs.

Scientists have found a planet the size of Jupiter orbiting a star?

   

Scientists are at a bit of a loss after finding a giant exoplanet orbiting a small cool star some 500 light years away.

While the discovery itself is exciting, it is now challenging ideas about how planets are made.

The planet is thought to be about the same size as Jupiter – the largest planet in our solar system.

“We have found a small star, with a giant planet the size of Jupiter, orbiting very closely,” said researcher George Zhou from the Research School of Astrophysics and Astronomy at The Australian National University.

“It must have formed further out and migrated in, but our theories can’t explain how this happened.”

In the past two decades more than 1,800 extrasolar planets (or exoplanets) have been discovered outside our solar system orbiting around other stars.

Artist’s impression of the exoplanet around the star Hats-6 (ANU)

To understand what an exoplanet is, imagine you’re sat outside with your back to the Sun. When a cloud goes in front of the sun and it gets a bit darker and cooler you know what’s happening without necessarily having to turn around.

Spotting exoplanets is a bit like this. The scientists are looking at stars and when they see an interruption to its light they know something has passed in front of the star.

The host star of the latest exoplanet, HATS-6, is classed as an M-dwarf. Although they are common, M-dwarf stars are not well understood. Because they are cool they are also dim, making them difficult to study.

The new planet could be the size of Jupiter, seen in this artist’s impression in the distance being orbited by one of its moons, Ganymede (NASA/ESA)

As a comparison, Hats-6 emits only one twentieth of the light of our sun, but the planet was still spotted in the same way.

The give away that the faint star had a planet circling it was a dip in its brightness caused as the planet passed in front of the star. It observed by small robotic telescopes including telescopes at the ANU Siding Spring Observatory.

Follow up observations were made using both the world’s largest telescopes, the Magellan Telescope in Chile while amateur astronomer TG Tan helped out the university from his backyard in Perth.

“The planet has a similar mass to Saturn, but its radius is similar to Jupiter, so it’s quite a puffed up planet. Because its host star is so cool it’s not heating the planet up so much, it’s very different from the planets we have observed so far,” Zhou said.