Tag Archives: Irish children

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Saturday/Sunday 17th & 18th October 2015

No sugar tax and not much provided for young people in 2016 budget


Ireland is ranked fifth highest among 27 EU countries in incidence of childhood obesity

The first ‘giveaway’ Budget since the economic crash has left first-time buyers, variable mortgage holders, savers and those campaigning for a sugar tax disappointed.

Finance Minister Michael Noonan is facing accusations that he overlooked young people.

President of the National Youth Council of Ireland Ian Power welcomed the 50c hike to the minimum wage as 39pc of those on this rate are under 30. But he said it was “extremely disappointing to see the lack of action regarding young jobseekers”.

“We were told that this Budget was about ‘all sharing in the recovery’, however for young jobseekers this is clearly not the case,” he added.

Some measures to help first-time buyers get on the property ladder had been anticipated, such as changes to the Deposit Interest Retention Tax (Dirt) but Mr Noonan shied away from this.

Neither was there any specific measures to tackle Ireland’s high variable mortgage interest rates. The Department of Finance also ruled out a new sugar tax, as proposed by Health Minister Leo Varadkar and Children’s Minister James Reilly.

“It’s hard to escape the conclusion that by failing to introduce a tax on sugar-sweetened drinks, the Government is prioritising the wealth of multinational companies over the nation’s health and particularly the health of children.

“We know 60pc of the Irish public back the tax,” the Irish Heart Foundation head of advocacy, Chris Macey, said.’

Comedy Genius’ Brendan O’Carroll to receive IFTA Lifetime Achievement award


Comedian Brendan O’Carroll to be honoured with Lifetime Achievement award at this year’s IFTA awards ceremony.

The 60-year-old star, best known for his portrayal of Mrs Brown in Mrs Brown’s Boys, is being honoured for his contribution, influence and leadership in comedy, according to organisers.

“Brendan O’Carroll is quite simply a creative genius; his comedic style is accessible, immediate and outrageously funny,” said IFTA CEO Áine Moriarty.

“You don’t need to be a Mrs Brown fan to recognise this man’s brilliance, and his absolute skill and craft that is inspiring young Irish comedy writers and performers to find their own unique voice.”

The award will be presented to O’Carroll at the IFTA Gala Television Awards ceremony on Thursday, October 22.

Previous IFTA Lifetime Achievement recipients include Gay Byrne, Fionnula Flanagan, Neil Jordan, David Kelly and Maureen O’Hara.

A worrying rise in self-harm among young boys in Ireland

Hundreds required emergency treatment in 2014 after inflicting injuries on themselves


New figures reveal a ‘worrying’ rise in self-harm among young boys.

Hundreds of children aged between 10 and 14 years required emergency hospital treatment last year after inflicting injuries upon themselves, according to official figures.

Nationally, the number of self-harm cases stabilised in 2014, but there was a surge in the numbers under 14, according to the annual report of the National Self-Harm Registry.

The rate of self-harm among boys as young as 10 grew by 44 per cent last year. Among the 10-14 age group, 78 boys and 244 girls presented at hospitals after harming themselves.

The number of 15 to 19-year-olds presenting with self-harm was 549 for boys and 917 for girls.

The increase is particularly worrying, according to the registry, because self-harm methods among men tend to involve “higher lethality” and there is a greater risk of suicide following self-harm among males compared to females.

The trend highlights the need for awareness programmes geared to young boys and aimed at reducing stigma related to mental health, it says.

Further research is also needed into the effectiveness of interventions such as cognitive behaviour therapy which have proved effective with girls.

Irish hospitals

In the decade since 2004, Irish hospitals have recorded almost 102,000 incidences of self-harm, involving 63,000 people, according to the report.

Last year saw 11,000 presentations involving self-harm by 8,700 individuals.

The overall rate of self-harm was unchanged from 2013 and follows three decreases in successive years.

However, the rate last year was still 6 per cent higher than the rate recorded before the recession in 2007.

Male self-harm was up 2 per cent, while the female rate was unchanged. Since 2007, the male rate has increased 14 per cent, while the female rate was up less than 1 per cent.

Gender gap

The rate of self-harm remains higher among women than men but the gender gap has narrowed from 37 per cent a decade ago to 16 per cent last year.

The report finds wide variations in the rates recorded in different cities and counties. Men in Cork city were three times more likely to self-harm than men in Co Clare, while the rate among women was three times higher in Limerick city, compared to CoMonaghan.

The only significant decrease in the male rate of self-harm was in Co Carlow, down 37 per cent, while similar drops for women were recorded in Co Tipperary and Limerick city.

In contrast, the male rate of self-harm was up 72 per cent in Co Roscommon, 69 per cent in Co Cavan and 25 per cent in Co Kerry.

The rate among women jumped 33 per cent in Co Kilkenny.

Intentional drug overdose was the most common method of self-harm, occurring in two-thirds of all cases.

Medicines such as tranquillisers, anti-depressants and paracetamol were involved in 21-37 per cent of drug overdose acts, while hanging occurred in 7 per cent of self-harm incidents.

The report says the steep increase in self-harm involving highly lethal methods noted between 2007 and 2010 may have begun to level off. Similar to 2013, alcohol was involved in over one-third of cases.

Presentations in hospitals peaked around midnight and almost one-third took place on Sundays and Mondays.

Pot still Irish whiskey returns to the West of Ireland


L-R: An Taoiseach, Enda Kenny TD with Connacht Whiskey Distillery Directors Tom Jensen, PJ Stapleton, Rob Cassell & David Stapleton

A dream to bring pure pot still Irish whiskey back to the West of Ireland after an absence of over 100 years took its first official step recently when The Connacht Whiskey Distillery in Ballina, Co. Mayo was opened by An Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, T.D.

The €10m investment will generate 40 new jobs at the 27,000 square feet distillery which also features a visitor centre. The Distillery goes into production in mid-October and expects to produce up to 70,000 cases per year. It is only the second Connacht-based craft whiskey distillery, and one of a handful of developed craft distilleries across the country.

Speaking at the opening, the Taoiseach said, “I am delighted that the craft of whiskey-making is returning to the West of Ireland and in so doing is creating 40 new jobs. It is especially pleasing to see the renewal of what was Duffys’ Bakery – we’re moving from one grain to another, so to speak – and bringing new life to this scenic location on the banks of the River Moy. This exciting venture brings to fruition the vision of David Stapleton and his US-Irish team and marks a positive development for the agri-food and drinks sector. It is also a vote of confidence in Mayo and yet another sign of the regional recovery that has begun to take hold across Ireland.”

Taking on scotch
Connacht Whiskey director and past President and CEO of Remy Cointreau USA, Tom Jensen says, “Irish whiskey is the fastest-growing whiskey in the US, but is outsold by scotch 4 to 1. Unlike scotch, Irish whiskey lacks regionally produced whiskeys that reflect the various terroirs of Ireland. Our goal is to introduce US consumers to the beauty of a hand crafted, pot distilled Irish whiskey from Western Ireland.”

Different to other distilleries in the news recently
Rob Cassell, Master Distiller, Connacht Whiskey, comments, “We are very different from the massive, production-driven Irish distilleries that have been in the news lately. We are a company focused on bringing consumers small batch Irish whiskey that is smooth, full of character and has a distinctive flavour. We have a luxury of opportunity here at Connacht Whiskey that allows us to have a step into the past by creating traditional style Irish Whiskey.

We are able to innovate yet pay homage to the past, and are recreating a spirit that can only be produced in the West of Ireland. Irish whiskey has a rich and forgotten past of its pure pot distilled whiskey and I am honoured to have the opportunity to pay tribute to and create a spirit that is unique to the West of Ireland. When a local Irishman can take a bottle of our spirit elsewhere is the world and proudly tout ‘this is from my home’, I’ll know we have succeeded in bottling the craftsman’s passion of the West of Ireland.”

Michael Cantwell, Head of Food Division, Enterprise Ireland, commented, “The Connacht Whiskey Distillery has cultivated the roots of tradition with ambitious and highly innovative thinking to grow a company with the potential to scale rapidly in international markets from its Ballina base. Enterprise Ireland has worked closely with the company in implementing their plans and we look forward to focusing on driving their export sales, creating and sustaining jobs in Ireland for the future.”

Conor McGregor was always going to be a success says a Sligo businessman who sold him clothes 


Conor McGregor being fitted out with Mark Cunnigham at EJ Menswear Sligo.

Eamonn J Cunningham believes Conor’s work ethic and confidence make him a success and such a captivating character.

Conor McGregor was always going to be a success says a Sligo businessman who sold him clothes after his UFC debut.

Eamonn J Cunningham founded and owns EJ Menswear in Sligo town.

The Sligo native believes Conor’s remarkable work ethic and confidence makes him so captivating.

The 27-year-old Dubliner came to the west of Ireland on the 25th February 2014.

Conor had just beaten Marcus Brimage and Max Holloway in the UFC fight announcing his arrival on the international stage.

He bought a Hugo Boss Bowler hat, a checkered shirt with braces and cufflinks to match.

Conor posted on Twitter at the time: “Thank you EJ Menswear Sligo for opening up after hours and hooking me up!! Late night shopping, Sligo style.”

Eamonn said: “We opened after hours at 11.30pm at night so he could come in.

“He was just starting to make waves.

  “All the lads here with Eamon in left picture” knew about Conor McGregor and were fans of his. We got on very well with him.

“We like to think that we can claim part of the revival of the dickie bow as a fashion trend in the country.

“It seemed to skyrocket after that.

“He was down to earth and he is working really hard. “Conor is well able to back up whatever he says and he has the confidence and talent to do it and is a special man.

“He’s very fond of three piece suits, it’s very trendy now and gives him a signature look.”

Eamonn channelled the spirit of Conor McGregor making a promotional sales video for his shop which went viral and was viewed over a quarter of a million times.

“McGregor is so topical, our videos, personally I think they’re so bad, they’re good.

“I wouldn’t be the best actor in the world.

“I thought it would be a challenge to take off McGregor and it would be a bit of craic.

“We went for it and it worked out.

“My own son Mark was at Conor’s fight against Chad Mendes in Las Vegas in July.

“He won’t be at the Jose Aldo fight in December because it’s a busy month for us in the shop.”

‘The Notorious’ Conor McGregor isn’t the only famous man to walk through EJ Menswear.

Westlife’s Kian Egan and Shane Filan used to work in the store before their international success.

Kian was also a babysitter to Eamonn’s children.

He said: “Both Kian and Shane worked with us for a while.

“Cian used to babysit our kids.

“He was a good babysitter.

“He loved the guitar and taught my son Mark how to play the instrument.

“We lived across the street from each other at the time.

“Cian was only 14 then, he worked in the shop when he was 16.”

The shop fitted the band with clothes and suits in the early days.

Eamonn feels that the shop is a lucky charm for anybody who gets clothes there.

He said: “We’d like to think we played a small part in the success of different people who came through the doors.

“McGregor came into our place and now he’s a world superstar.

“Sligo Rovers won three cup finals in a row.

“They wore suits for the three finals when they won the cup.

“In 2007, Sligo won the Connacht final, we had fitted them out with suits.”

Eamonn started in the clothes business thinking he would try it for six months.

Forty years later, he’s still in the rag trade.

He worked for Horan’s menswear, Sligo, for 17 years before setting up his own business.

Eamonn said: “At the time, you had to serve an apprenticeship, work your way up the ladder.

“I started in the underwear department and ended up in the suit department.

“You saw every aspect of the men’s business from start to finish.

“It was great training, times were tough, you worked your hours and you worked a lot of extra hours on a very basic wage.

“I had a good boss, I watched a lot and learned from he was operating.

“I opened my own business in 1994 when I was 34.”

Eamonn J Cunningham with the EJ Menswear team in Sligo city.

EJ Menswear is setting up their own website so they can reach customers who have emigrated.

Eamonn said: “Online has changed retail but the core of our business has been built up through customer service and one on one.

“That’s what we like, the customer coming in, we take care of them and they walk out happy.

“That’s what gives me the buzz and it alway will.

“We’ve had a lot of requests to be online because we have customers coming from all over the country and from other countries.”

Eamonn is focused on making the Sligo flagship store as big as it can be.

The mens clothing store in Sligo has some 25,000 likes on their Facebook page.

He added: ““We’ve often thought about opening another shop but it would be very hard to replicate.

“There’s not two of me, or my son Mark, Tom Clarke or any of the lads that work in the shop.

“We’re trying to be a destination store and “Online is helping us reach out more.”

Is a man’s brain programmed to prefer sex over food


It is said that the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach, but a new study suggests that when it comes to sex, food is the last thing on his mind.

Researchers have found that the male brain is hardwired to seek out sex, even at the expense of a good meal, with specific neurons firing up to over-ride the desire to eat.

The male brain is hardwired to seek out sex?

Intriguingly, women do not have the same neurons, suggesting that sex for females comes secondary to sustenance.

Although the neurons have only been found in the brains of nematode worms, scientists at University College London say that it is likely that similar mechanisms are at work in humans.

And it is proof that male and female brains are wired differently, a controversial subject, which has been argued by scientists and feminists for decades.

Co-author Professor Scott Emmons, from the Departments of Genetics and Neuroscience at Albert Einstein College of Medicine, said: “Though the work is carried out in a small worm, it nevertheless gives us a perspective that helps us appreciate and possibly understand the variety of human sexuality, sexual orientation, and gender identification.

“Although we have not looked in humans, it is plausible that the male human brain has types of neurons that the female brain doesn’t, and vice versa. This may change how the two sexes perceive the world and their behavioural priorities.”

The team were surprised to find the new cells because the worms have been studied by extensively in the past and it is the first time they have been spotted.

The newly identified neurons have been dubbed MCMs or ‘mystery cells of the male’

The worm species used in the study, Caenorhabditis elegans, has two sexes: males and hermaphrodites.

These hermaphrodites are essentially modified females that carry their own sperm and do not need to have sex in order to reproduce.

Scientists conditioned the worms so that when salt was present they realised that they would be starved. Over time, the worms moved away from the salt. However when the salt was present at the same time as a mate, the male worm still moved towards the mate. In contrast, hermaphrodites moved away from the salt even when a mate was present.

It indicated that for males the sex trigger was stronger than the salt.

“Areas of the brain involved in learning display sex differences in many animals, including humans, but how these differences directly affect behaviour is not clear,” said senior author Dr Arantza Barrios of UCL’s Cell & Deveopmental Biology department.

Brain cells specific to men fire up when mates are present and override the need to eat, scientists have found

“We’ve shown how genetic and developmental differences between the two sexes lead to structural changes in the brain of male worms during sexual maturation.

“These changes make male brains work differently, allowing males to remember previous sexual encounters and prioritise sex in future situations.”

The research was published in the journal Nature.

Artificial skin could soon give sense of touch to Artificial Limbs


A new “organic electronic skin” was developed with hopes of giving a sense of touch to artificial or prosthetic limbs.

According to the report published at Science Mag Journal, the researchers led by Prof. Zhenan Bao of Stanford University in California has developed a skin-like “mechanoreceptors” integrated with “organic transistor circuit” that transforms pressure into digital signals sent directly to the brain.

This work represents a step toward the design and use of large-area organic electronic skins with neural-integrated touch feedback for replacement limbs,” the researchers pointed in the report.

In a report by Medical News Today(MNT), the team of engineers used a two-layered plastic component where the top layer serves as a sensor that distinguishes pressure just like what the human skin does. Meanwhile, the second layer acts as the “circuit” that will convert the pressure into electric signals which were then sent to the nerve cells to the brain.

As mention by the report, in order to do this, the researchers used “carbon nanotubes” in the plastic component that enabled it to “conduct electricity.” Through this, the flexible material was able to act like a skin, transmitting “short electric pulses.”

The researchers tested the plastic material by creating a model of a line of neurons that were found in a human’s nervous system. Through converting pressure signals to light pulses, the researchers discovered that the neurons and their skin-like plastic material could create a “sensory output” that is recognizable and communicable to the nerve cells.

“The sensor successfully converted pressure into a digital response in a pressure range comparable to that found in a human grip,” the researchers furthered in their study.

On the other hand, although the material is still on trial stage and there are still a lot of works to do, the researchers shared that they will be improving what they created and will look into developing a sensor that will enhance the sensing ability of artificial limbs.

“We have a lot of work to take this from experimental to practical applications. But after spending many years in this work, I now see a clear path where we can take our artificial skin,” Prof. Bao told MNT.

This new material could very well help those people who have lost their limbs due to various incidents. As reported by the Amputee Coalition, there are roughly two million people in the United States that suffer with the loss of limbs. Making this worse is that there are 185,000 amputations happening in US every year.

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

Monday 13th April 2015

Permanent TSB say they hope to raise €400m on Irish Stock Exchange


Bank expected to mark its return to the ISE four years after it was de-listed.

Permanent TSB is expected to launch a public share offering on Tuesday to raise €400 million, marking its return to the main Dublin stock exchange four years after it was delisted.

Permanent TSB is expected to launch a public share offering on Tuesday to raise €400 million, marking its return to the main Dublin stock exchange four years after it was delisted.

The lender last week secured approval from the Irish government, which owns 99% of the bank, to raise up to €400 million in equity, but it did not specify whether the shares would be sold via a public or private offering.

A spokesman for the bank declined to comment.

Ireland’s third-largest domestically-owned bank has said it plans to raise a further €125 million by selling bonds to fill a capital shortfall identified in European stress tests last year.

The additional tier one bonds would convert into equity or be written down if the bank’s capital levels fall below a certain level.

Ireland’s GPs divided on under sixes free scheme


One of the country’s two GP representative bodies has rejected the deal agreed last week which will provide for free GP care for all under sixes to be introduced this summer.

The National Association of General Practitioners (NAGP), which claims a membership of 1,200 GPs, has rejected the deal, ‘based on the information currently available.’

The proposals were rejected by the NAGP’s 23 member council, with the NAGP union claiming that the agreement does not serve the interests of patients or doctors.

The NAGP says the under sixes scheme will result in ‘medical apartheid’, as it will provide free GP care for under sixes from relatively well-off families while others on low incomes and with special needs are denied medical cards.

Meanwhile, the largest doctors’ union, the IMO, at its AGM in Kilkenny at the weekend, discussed the new under sixes deal it recently agreed with the Government.

Speaking to the meeting, incoming IMO President Dr Ray Walley described the new agreement as a ‘first step on the road back to a sustainable and viable general practice system’.

He stressed that the deal would see additional investment of over €75 million in general practice through the under sixes contract and the special GP care programme for patients with Type II diabetes.

Under the new agreement, GPs will receive a yearly fee of €125 per child under six – an increase of 82% on the current rate, according to the IMO. Including additional payments and supports, the total payment to GPs per patient under six in future will be €216.

The agreement also includes provisions for additional payments for patients over the age of 2 with Asthma and payments for GPs undertaking a “cycle of care” programme with patients with Type II Diabetes.

The latter programme is designed to encourage an increasing number GPs to treat patients with diabetes on a regular basis and thereby make these patients less reliant on overstretched hospital services.

While many GPs at the AGM welcomed the new agreement, there were concerns expressed about its workload implications and concerns about the damage caused to general practice through years of under-resourcing and fee cuts.

While at this stage it is expected that a majority of GPs will take part in the under sixes scheme, there are fears that a significant minority will opt out, meaning that parents of children under six would not be able to avail of the free care scheme with their current GP.

In these circumstances, patents, either private patients or medical card holders, would have the option to move their children and themselves to other practices, where feasible.

In these circumstances, GPs who opt out of the under sixes scheme would stand to lose significant income.

A personal life survival story:

Lord Henry Mountcharles reveals how he felt ‘suicidal’ during treatment for lung cancer


Lord Henry Mountcharles pictured above at Slane Castle. 

Lord Henry Mountcharles now reveals how he felt ‘suicidal’ whilst receiving chemotherapy for lung cancer last year.

The 62-year-old owner of Slane Castle was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2013 and had the lower lobe of his right lung removed before facing three and a half months of chemo and six weeks of radiation.

Speaking to John Murray on The John Murray Show on RTE Radio 1, he said he found the treatment “pretty tough”.

“With chemo, it affects everyone differently, how they deal with it is different, and one thing I say to people who are going through it, or have gone through it, is to keep reminding themselves it’s toxic stuff they’re putting into you.  So if you go into a tunnel keep telling yourself it’s the drugs that are doing it.  It’s not where you are.” he said.

He said the depression he experienced during chemo was “pretty savage” and that he sometimes considered taking his own life.

“That deep darkness was pretty savage at times and I hate to admit it but I did feel pretty suicidal,” he said.

“But what in a sense was wonderful about it was coming out of it, just like looking at this ray of sunlight you knew was there.  The frightening thing was not always being able to see it.”

Lord Henry has since been given one all clear and is poised for another CAT scan tomorrow, April 14, after which he hopes to have more good news.

Since his illness, he says, he has a new appreciation of life.  Having taken a break from Slane last year, he’s poised to host Foo Fighters, Kaiser Chiefs, The Strypes and Hozier at the Meath venue on Saturday May 30 this year.

“I have a sort of lightness in my step and at times i feel almost a little giddy,” he said.  “I look forward to things with a more acute sense of excitement.”

Of this year’s Slane line-up, he enthuses, “I wanted to go back to the roots and what better way to do that than with a guy who started off his music career as the drummer in Nirvana,” he said.

“That appealed to my sensibilities.  We’ve built a really good bill around it.”

If you are affected by any of the issues raised in this article, contact the Samaritans on 08457 90 90 90 (UK) or  116 123 (ROI)

Very soon, condoms to feel like the ‘real thing’


Soon, condoms to feel like the ‘real thing’.

Scientists are designing ultra-durable condoms they claim could feel like the “real thing” and even better than nothing at all.

Scientists at the University of Wollongong in Australia are working with an ultra-tough material called hydrogel that could be used to create condoms that actually feels good.

Hydrogels are strong and flexible solids that have been used for decades, but have more recently been engineered to have a range of different properties. One of the most promising was the fact they could be made to feel and act like human tissue, and are already being widely used in prosthetics to create things such as blood vessels and even eye implants.

But the Australian team, led by materials scientist Robert Gorkin, decided to take things one step further, and investigate whether hydrogel could replace latex to create condoms that people actually want to use.

Hydrogels could be engineered to perform all kinds of different functionalities, such as self-lubrication, topical drug delivery, biodegradability and even electric conductivity.

Researchers hoping to design the product to accommodate for around the cultural and social needs for birth control.

Nasa’s Curiosity rover has found evidence of liquid water on Mars


Curiosity’s landing site of Gale Crater was once home to a lake

Nasa’s Curiosity rover has found that water can exist as a liquid near the Martian surface.

Mars should be too cold to support liquid water at the surface, but salts in the soil lower its freezing point – allowing briny films to form.

The results lend credence to a theory that dark streaks seen on features such as crater walls could be formed by flowing water.

Scientists think thin films of water form when salts in the soil, called perchlorates, absorb water vapour from the atmosphere.

The temperature of these liquid films is about -70C – too cold to support any of the microbial life forms that we know about.

Forming in the top 15cm of the Martian soil, the brines would also be exposed to high levels of cosmic radiation – another challenge to life.

But it’s still possible that organisms could exist somewhere beneath the surface on Mars, where conditions are more favourable.

Evaporation cycle:-  The researchers drew together different lines of evidence from the suite of instruments carried by the Curiosity rover.

The Rover Environmental Monitoring System (REMS) – essentially the vehicle’s weather station – measured the relative humidity and temperature at the rover’s landing site of Gale Crater.

Scientists were also able to estimate the subsurface water content using data from an instrument called Dynamic Albedo of Neutrons (DAN). These data were consistent with water in the soil being bound to perchlorates.

Finally, the Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) instrument gave the researchers the content of water vapour in the atmosphere.

Gale Crater once hosted a lake with conditions that could have been favourable to lifeCuriosity’s Mast and deck where REMS sensors are located

The results show conditions were right for the brines to form during winter nights at the Martian equator, where Curiosity landed. But the liquid evaporates during the Martian day when temperatures rise.

Javier Martin-Torres, a co-investigator on the Curiosity mission and lead scientist on REMS, told BBC News the detection was indirect but convincing: “What we see are the conditions for the formation of brines on the surface. It’s similar to when people were discovering the first exoplanets.

“They were not seeing the planets, but they were able to see the gravitational effects on the star.

“These perchlorate salts have a property called deliquescence. They take the water vapour from the atmosphere and absorb it to produce the brines.”

He added: “We see a daily water cycle – which is very important. This cycle is maintained by the brine. On Earth we have an exchange between the atmosphere and the ground through rain. But we don’t have this on Mars.”

Streaks known as recurring slope lineae may be caused by seeping watercientists see a daily water cycle maintained by the brines

While one might think that liquid water would form at warmer temperatures, the formation of brines is the result of an interaction between temperature and atmospheric pressure. It happens that the sweet spot for formation of these liquid films is at colder temperatures.

The fact that the scientists see evidence for these brines at the Martian equator – where conditions are least favourable – means that they might be more persistent at higher latitudes, in areas where the humidity is higher and temperatures are lower.

In these regions they might even be present all year round.

Dark streaks on slopes seen by orbiting spacecraft have long been thought to be the product of running water seeping from the Martian soil. But this interpretation has been contested.

“It’s speculation at this point… but these observations at least support or go in this direction,” said Dr Martin-Torres.

Astronomers find distant exoplanet with hot windy ‘Inferno’ Atmosphere


This distant planet has an atmosphere hot enough to melt iron, astronomers say. Winds high above the planet blow at 500 mph, they find.

Astronomers say they’ve managed to make highly accurate measurements of the atmosphere of a distant planet, and “hot and dry” doesn’t begin to describe it; how about 500-mph winds and temperatures of 5,400 degrees Fahrenheit?

Extrasolar planets were discovered during the 1990s as a result of improved telescope technology, such as CCD and computer-based image processing along with the Hubble Space Telescope. Such advances allowed for more accurate measurements of stellar motion, allowing astronomers to detect planets, not visually (the luminosity of a planet being too low for such detection), but by measuring gravitational influences upon stars.

In addition, extrasolar planets can be detected by measuring the variance in a star’s apparent luminosity, as a planet passes in front of it. Besides the detection of at least 80 planets (mostly gas giants), many observations point to the existence of millions of comets also in extrasolar systems.

Researchers are describing turbulent upper levels of the atmosphere of exoplanet HD 189733b as truly “infernal.”

Astronomers from two Swiss universities in Geneva and Bern used a spectrometer to study spectrographic lines of sodium, an element in the exoplanet’s atmosphere, to gather data on winds and temperatures, and also came up with theoretical models to support the observations.

The spectrograph, known as the HARPS instrument, has been mated to a relatively small telescope at the European Star Observatory in Chile.

Scientists had theorized in 2000 that sodium would be an ideal source of a clearly recognizable signal in any planet possessing an atmosphere, and the first observations confirming that in an exoplanet were made 2 years later by the Hubble Space Telescope.

Now the sodium data is helping astronomers study the gas giant planet HD189733b, located about 60 light years from Earth in the constellation Vulpecula, the “little fox.”

The data gathered suggests the atmosphere’s temperature changes with altitude, reaching temperatures in its upper levels high enough to melt iron, they say.

The results of the spectrographic observations are also supported by a theoretical study by University of Berne astrophysicist Kevin Heng, which produced a formula to estimate temperatures, pressures and densities in an exoplanet’s atmosphere based on its size.

“Previous formulae assumed the atmosphere to have only a single temperature, but we know that this is probably too simplistic even for faraway exoplanets for which we have limited information,” explains Heng.

“Our motivation was to derive new and simple formulae that took into account the changing temperatures and were specifically designed to interpret sodium lines,” he says.

The HD 189733b observations along with Heng’s theoretical work should lead to better methods of exploring exoplanet atmospheres, astronomers say, and a way to provide any question about such atmospheres with “a quick and relatively robust answer without crunching numbers in a computer,” Heng says.

Even relatively small ground-based telescopes can provide characterizations of remote exoplanetary atmospheres using the new techniques and theoretical formulae, astronomers say.

Previously, detecting sodium in the atmospheres of exoplanets to make assumptions about conditions there required either the Hubble telescope or very large ground-based instruments in the 25- to 30-foot range.

“Sometimes, simple is better,” Heng says.

News Ireland daily BLOG by D

Tax settlement Irish names in HSBC bank’s secret files found

International clients include those involved in arms trade and blood diamonds

A team of journalists from 45 countries has unearthed secret bank accounts maintained for criminals, traffickers, tax dodgers, politicians and celebrities.

A huge cache of secret files from the Swiss branch of one of the world’s largest banks includes Irish people who made tax settlements with the Revenue Commissioners for more than €4.5 million. Other clients include arms dealers who sold munitions to African child soldiers, traffickers in blood diamonds, and associates of third world dictators.

The files, which cover accounts with HSBC Private Bank inGeneva holding more than $100 billion, have led to investigations around the globe resulting in massive tax settlements. They were given to the Revenue Commissioners by the French authorities in June 2010.

Since 2010, the information has led to 20 tax settlements here for a total of more than €4.5 million, and to three successful prosecutions for tax offences, with a fourth case pending.

However in contrast to the authorities inFrance, Belgium and Argentina, the Revenue Commissioners decided that there was not enough evidence in the files to justify a case being taken against HSBC Private Bank, Geneva, on charges of aiding and abetting tax evasion.

There is nothing illegal about having a Swiss bank account and Irish clients on the list include a number of well-know business people and Dublin-based investment funds. But there are also Irish people who made confidential settlements with the Revenue as part of a scheme targetting offshore deposits in 2004 and others who made settlements since the data came into the possession of the Revenue Commissioners.

The files were obtained by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) in Washington DC, via the French newspaper, Le Monde. The Irish Times is working in partnership with 45 other media organisations and the ICIJ, in producing reports based on the files.

London-listed HSBC, which reports multi-billion euro profits every quarter, has issued a lengthy statement to The Irish Times and the other media groups involved in the Swiss Leaks project, admitting that standards were not as they should have been in HSBC Geneva, but claiming that new management is working to improve the culture in the Swiss bank.

It said an “intensive de-risking exercise” has seen deposits fall almost by half, to $68 billion at the end of last year, from $118.4 billion in 2007.

The bank files were copied by a former employee, Hervé Falciani, during 2006 and 2007, and were seized during a raid by the French police on his father’s home in 2009. Mr Falciani was charged late last year inSwitzerland with industrial espionage and violating bank secrecy and the Attorney General’s office there said it was prepared to try him in absentia.

As well as names, addresses, balances and other information, the files also contain notes of contacts with bank customers. In the case of Irish businessman John Cashell (59), of Cashell Radley Business Systems,Tralee, Co Kerry, a note on his file records how he called the bank from Spain in 2005 to express his concerns about the European Savings Directive (ESD), which was introduced that year. The directive provides for the exchange of banking information between EU member states, and for the application of a withholding tax on interest payments to EU citizens by banks in Switzerland.

“Once again his pre-occupation is with the risk of disclosure to the Irish authorities,” the note said. “Once again I have endeavoured to reassure him that there is no risk of that happening. He mentioned that there had been some high profile cases in Ireland recently that had put everyone on edge.”

Mr Cashell pleaded guilty to three counts of filing incorrect income tax returns in the Circuit Court, Tralee, last year, and was fined €25,000. He has also made a €102,000 tax settlement, of which €29,000 was tax and the rest interest and penalties. He declined to comment when contacted.

Another former HSBC Geneva account holder, Galway economist Dr Michael Cuddy (72), said that a bank official suggested to him at one stage that he put his money into an offshore trust. He said he never took up the suggestion. The European Commission last year amended the ESD to prevent people using offshore entities to circumvent the objectives of the directive.

French economist Thomas Piketty, author of Capital in the Twenty-First Century, told the ICIJ that the offshore industry is a major threat to democratic institutions and the social contract.

“Financial opacity is one of the key drivers of rising global inequality. It allows a large fraction of top income and top wealth groups to pay negligible tax rates, while the rest of us pay large taxes in order to finance the public goods and services… that are indispensable for the development process.”

Figures given to The Irish Times by the Revenue show that the amount of money Irish citizens have on deposit in Switzerland is much greater than is the case with other secretive locations such as Jersey, Monaco, or Luxembourg.

The Paul Murphy arrest designed to damage the water charge campaign


TD and three others released after questioning over blockade of Tánaiste’s car

Paul Murphy released after questioning over blockade of Tánaiste’s car. The TD ‘stands over’ taking part in Jobstown protest; Four men released without charge

Socialist Party TD Paul Murphy said his arrest today was designed to “damage the anti-water charges movement”.

He was released from Terenure Garda station in Dublin without charge this afternoon following an almost nine-hour stay in police custody.

His arrest at 7am this morning came as part of a broader Garda sweep which saw three other men arrested in an investigation into a protest in Jobstown last November which resulted in Tánaiste Joan Burton being trapped in her car for over two hours.

The other three men, including Anti Austerity Alliance (AAA) councillors Mick Murphy and Kieran Mahon, were released from stations in Tallaght and Rathfarnham earlier this afternoon

However, Mr Murphy had his period of detention extended beyond the initial six hours before he was released shortly after 3.30pm.

“[It] was an exercise in pure political policing, designed to damage the anti-water charges movement, targeting the AAA in particular. There is no basis for these charges, so let them charge us. Let’s have a court case, let’s have a jury, because we’re not guilty,” the Dublin South-West TD said.

He said six police arrived at the Dáil deputy’s home at 6.55am before taking him out of the premises to Terenure Garda station, where he was questioned for a period of four hours.

Allegations brought against him included false imprisonment of the Labour Party leader and a file has been sent to the Director of Public Prosecutions.

“It’s complete nonsense the idea that we’re responsible for the false imprisonment of anybody. It’s disgusting in the context that police resources are really needed for people, as opposed to just being used as a political plaything of some establishment politician,” said Mr Murphy, who described the allegations as “trumped up”.

“What’s here is quite a grievous attack on people’s democratic right to protest, including things like sit down protests. I absolutely stand over participating in a sit down protest in Jobstown.

“They did call other people in for questioning and we knew that they were questioning everybody, and we knew that a line of questioning for all the people they questioned was trying to pin me as being the organiser of the protest, which is not true,” he said.

Speaking earlier today upon his release from Tallaght Garda station, Cllr Mahon agreed with the TD’s view that the arrests and questioning were aimed at pinpointing Mr Murphy as the leader of the November 15th protest.

“We were aware that there was a huge team looking at evidence of what had gone on in Jobstown, particularly with the view of attacking Paul Murphy over the last few months and attacking the AAA, and using that as a way to demonise the wider protests going on across the State at the moment,” he said.

“If you look at the four people arrested today, it indicates that there’s an element of political policing around it,” he said.

Mr Murphy said the line of questioning adopted by gardaí revolved around interviews he had given on national radio in the aftermath of the incident, including a video taken at a separate protest which purports to show the Socialist politician saying that he was “elected to break the law”.

He was joined on his release by AAA councillors Mr Murphy and Mr Mahon, as well as Socialist Party leader Joe Higgins.

“Not once in my experience has something like this happened where an incident room has been set up, gardaí have been dedicated to investigate a peaceful protest. This is unprecedented in the history of policing, and in the history of political protest in this country,” said Mr Higgins.

Around 100 people protested against the arrest outside Tallaght Garda station. The four men were arrested under Section 4 of the Criminal Justice Act.

Videos taken on the day appear to show people pushing against the Minister for Social Protection’s car while others engaged in confrontations with gardaí at the scene.

One video appears to show Ms Burton being struck with a water balloon, while members of her team alleged they had been “badly kicked and beaten” during the incident.

Ms Burton later described the demonstration which Mr Murphy maintained was a peaceful exercise as an attack on democracy which was indicative of the growth of a “fascist” movement within Irish politics.

Mr Murphy was an MEP between 2011 and 2014 and won a seat in the Dublin South-West byelection last October.

He has been a leading figure in anti-water charges demonstrations over recent months.

Mr Murphy was one of six people arrested in 2013 when a group of anti-household charge campaigners forced entry to South Dublin County Council offices as part of co-ordinated national protests.

Report sheds light on digital addiction among Irish children

‘Net Children Go Mobile’ report reveals one in five have encountered distressing content


Some 58% of those aged 15-16 reported using the internet excessively.

A major report published today on internet use among Irish children shows that, while they are rapidly developing their online skills, a higher proportion are reporting seeing distressing content when using laptops, tablets and smartphones.

One in five nine to 16-year-olds said they had accessed harmful or distressing content, double the rate in 2011.

In the 15-16 age bracket, the proportion saying they had seen something they wished they hadn’t – such as discriminatory messages, self-harm sites or forums discussing drug usage – was as high as 37 per cent.

The Net Children Go Mobile 2015 report, carried out through interviews with a nationally representative sample of 500 children by researchers at Dublin Institute of Technology, found just under half (46 per cent) had access to the internet from their bedrooms. And 14 per cent of this nine to 16-year-old cohort said they went online “a lot” after 9pm.

Dr Brian O’Neill, co-author of the report, says this incessant access to digital devices raises concerns about online bullying and access to harmful content.

“Young people are always online, always connected and always available with no escape.”

However, he believes parents must be careful not to lecture children about internet use. “Children often pick up these habits from parents. Digital use is a matter for everybody.”

The report found 60 per cent of children believe they know more about the internet than their parents, with young girls claiming a more critical understanding than boys.

Their online skills include bookmarking websites, deleting website records, changing privacy settings and blocking messages from strangers.

Not surprisingly, young people are becoming more dependent on social networking sites for communicating with their peers.

Nearly 40 per cent of those aged 11-12 admitted setting up a profile despite bans across most sites on users under 13 signing up.

This number has dropped since 2011, when 51 per cent of this age group were reportedly signing up to sites with phony accounts.

In the latest report, nine out of 10 in the 15-16 age bracket said they had a social networking profile, while 58 per cent reported using the internet excessively.

A 16-year-old boy interviewed during the research confessed: “With the internet connected constantly you’re never offline . . . Like, you always log Facebook on your phone, unless you log out . . . but it’s kind of a hassle to log in and log out. But even if you sit in class; you can have 10 seconds and check your newsfeed.”

Peer pressure?

Dr O’Neill blames peer pressure for the constant need to stay connected and worries it could lead to an increase in online bullying.

“The internet is a large, vast, unregulated space. There can be violent content, scary content, sexual content that disturbs them.”

Girls seem to be most vulnerable to online bullying, with 26 per cent reporting abuse compared with 17 per cent of boys.

The rate of reported online bullying increased from 22 per cent in 2011 to 23 per cent in 2014, despite claims from sites such as Facebook and Ask.fm of increased regulation and moderation.

The online abuse

A 13-year-old girl interviewed for the study spoke of the abuse she suffered online. “I cried, it was an old friend, who was jealous of me that because I went to this new school and she saw I have more friends and so, she was very jealous, she said bad things about me like I was ugly and I wasn’t spending much time with her, and I spend more time with other new friends not with her.”

Reports of exposure to sexual images have risen from 17 per cent in 2011 to 21 per cent, with children encountering hate and discriminatory messages, anorexic or bulimic content, self-harm sites and sites discussing suicide.

“Stranger danger” is another issue for many children when they are exploring the web.

“This is a very extreme and rare form of danger in terms of predatory contact,” says Dr O’Neill. “The internet has access on a global stage to lots of potentially unsavoury individuals.”

However, he says perceptions of internet safety in Ireland are changing, with parents becoming more proactive and engaging with their children’s internet use.

Webwise.ie educates and promotes dialogue between children, teachers and parents on safe and appropriate use of the internet.

Drinking red wine is great for Burning Fat and also getting drunk


My dear friend, of booze wrap us up together in your tender, alcoholic bosom and never let us go.

Everyone knows that adage about a glass of red wine every week being good for your heart. Considering how we drink, our cardiovascular systems will outlast that Wall-E bot that NASA sent to Mars.

And yes, we know that resveratrol might be fantastic for preserving all of our memories of drunkenly trying to sing Drake songs to our cats. Red wine also has a way of turning us into human Cathy comics.

Now, there’s even better news for winos: Red wine may help you to stop packing on fat. If the Real Housewives of the world said “huzzah,” they’d be saying it right about now.

Truth be told, it really has nothing to do with wine itself. You could just as easily eat some Muscadine grapes or drink their juice to see a similar effect, according to research recently published in The Wine’s luscious, comforting alcohol is just a side benefit.

The study researchers were particularly interested in ellagic acid, a compound found in Muscadine grapes that slowed the growth of existing fat cells and the creation of new ones. It also helped to boost the metabolism of fatty acids in liver cells, which may help to improve liver function in people who are overweight.

But one of the researchers in the study, biochemist and molecular biologist Dr. Neil Shay of Oregon State University, cautioned that ellagic acid isn’t a weight-loss cure. “We didn’t find, and we didn’t expect to, that these compounds would improve body weight,” he said in a press release.

Researchers fed one group of mice a diet of typical “mouse chow,” containing 10 percent fat. Another group was fed a diet of 60 percent fat. Shay called the high-fat diet mice “a good model for the sedentary person who eats too much snack food and doesn’t get enough exercise.”

The mouse groups were divvied up yet again, with some receiving an extract from muscadine grapes equivalent to a daily cup and a half of grapes for a human. After ten weeks, the high-fat diet mice who weren’t given the extract developed fatty liver disease and diabetic symptoms. But the ones who did get the extract accumulated less fat in their livers, and had lower blood sugar than their unluckier counterparts.

The takeaway is that ellagic acid may act on hormone receptors that trigger the metabolism of dietary fat and glucose in the same way as some medications. A modified diet, therefore, could help in steering the body’s biochemistry in the right direction.

“We are trying to validate the specific contributions of certain foods for health benefits,” Shay said. “If you’re out food shopping, and if you know a certain kind of fruit is good for a health condition you have, wouldn’t you want to buy that fruit?”

A new solar telescope will allow us to see the sun in spectacular detail


Researchers at eight different UK universities are set to build the world’s biggest solar telescope, which will allow us to see unprecedented detail on the surface of the sun.

It is part of a consortium of eight UK universities and businesses to build the cameras for the 344 million US dollars (£226m) super-telescope, which will be situated on a mountain in Maui, Hawaii.

The consortium of UK institutes involved in the telescope project is led by Queen’s University Belfast and includes Armagh Observatory, Northumbria University, University College London, and the Universities of Glasgow, Sheffield, St Andrews and Warwick.

The Sun unleashing a medium-sized solar flare, a minor radiation storm and a spectacular coronal mass ejection.

The Daniel K Inouye Solar Telescope (DKist) will be launched in 2019 and is being constructed by the US National Solar Observatory. It will allow us to see distant planets in new detail – the equivalent of being able to examine a £1 coin from 100 kilometres away, scientists behind the project said.

Professor Mihalis Mathioudakis said: “DKist will be a revolutionary instrument for ground-based solar physics, which is a growth area in the UK. It will be in a position to explore key questions regarding solar magnetic field generation and dissipation, solar variability, atmospheric structure and dynamics.

“Our consortium will deliver key equipment that will allow DKist to achieve these scientific goals and it’s another example of how Queen’s research impacts on society, both locally and internationally.”

Queen’s University Belfast is leading the project.

It is hoped that DKist will address fundamental questions at the core of contemporary solar physics.

The academic added: “The sun is the most important astronomical object for humankind with solar activity driving space weather and having profound effects on global climate and technology-based communications.

“To understand solar activity we need to observe and model the physical processes in the solar atmosphere on their intrinsic spatial and temporal scales so that, among other questions, we can reliably forecast this activity in space.”

The consortium will oversee the development and delivery of the cameras, and take the lead in supporting the UK solar physics community in their use of the telescope.

Donie’s Ireland daily news BLOG

Tuesday 6th October 2014

Irish consumer sentiment at eight year high

Consumers’ expectations of an easier Budget next week feed into sentiment indicators


The KBC Bank Ireland/ESRI Consumer Sentiment Index rose to 92.8 from 87.1 in August, as all the main components of the index recorded monthly gains.

Irish consumer sentiment rose to its highest level since January 2007 in September, as greater optimism in relation to Irish economic prospects and a related pick-up in the outlook for household finances in the coming year, pushed the index up.

The KBC Bank Ireland/ESRI Consumer Sentiment Index rose to 92.8 from 87.1 in August, as all the main components of the index recorded monthly gains.

According to the ESRI, the broadly based rise in sentiment in September may point towards a further step-up in confidence of late in response to signs of a strengthening recovery and the anticipation of an altogether less threatening Budget next week.

The most notable monthly gain was in relation to thegeneral outlook for the Irish economy, with consumers’ views on the economic outlook at their most positive since February 2006. However, there was a slight drop in the share of responses envisaging a further drop in unemployment in the year ahead (from 47% to 44%) but this may in part be a correction following a sharp rise in this share in the previous two months.

Austin Hughes, chief economist with KBC Bank Ireland, noted: “The jump in Irish consumer sentiment in September is at odds with weaker confidence readings across Europe last month”.

Indeed Euro area consumer confidence posted a fourth consecutive monthly decline in September, pushing that measure to its weakest level since February, while in the UK, consumer confidence also weakened in September, the second drop in three months that has to be seen in the context of a strongly rising trend since the beginning of 2013.

As such, the improvement in the mood of Irish consumers in September most likely reflects domestic factors.

“It seems to reflect a range of good news on the Irish economy and, critically, growing expectations of a notably easier Budget,” says Hughes.

Three Derry men charged with post office robbery tell Gardai

‘it was all a bit of madness’


Three appear in court charged in connection to post office raid

Three men from Derry have been remanded in custody today charged in connection with a Co Donegal Post Office raid.

The court heard that Noel Lavy (36) had apologised when he was charged with Saturday’s raid at Manorcunningham Post Office.

When charged Lavey, of 57 Ballymagowen Avenue, Derry, said; “Sorry, it was all a bit of madness. We were just trying to get more drugs. Tell the woman I said I was sorry.”

Two other men were also charged in connection with the raid.

They were David Knight of 24 Melmore Gardens in Creggan, Derry and Joseph McMullan, of 5 Kavanagh Court, Derry.

All three were charged with stealing €2,920 in cash from Manorcunningham Post Office, handling stolen cash to the value of €1,510, allowing themselves to be carried in a stolen Royal Mail van and causing criminal damage to Manorcunningham Post Office.

The court also heard that when charged Lavy had also said: “I didn’t mean for it to work out this way.”

His co-accused had made no reply when charged. The court was told that some of the men were on prescription drugs.

All three men were remanded in custody to Harristown Court this Friday.

Private investigators admit ‘deception’ to obtain credit union data


Wendy Martin and Margaret Stuart got personal details from HSE, Department of Social Protection

Assistant data protection commissioner Tony Delaney: ‘very happy with the outcome’.

Two owners of a private investigations company have been convicted of deceptively obtaining personal information from the Department of Social Protection and the HSE and passing it on to credit unions.

Wendy Martin (45) and Margaret Stuart (56), directors of Greystones-based private investigations company MCK Rentals Ltd, today pleaded guilty at Bray District Court to breaches of the data protection laws.

The two women and the company were charged with 23 counts each of breaches of the data protection legislation.

Ms Martin and Ms Stuart pleaded guilty to one sample charge each of unlawfully obtaining information and passing it to their credit union client. MCK Rentals Ltd pleaded guilty to five related charges.

The defendants were fined a total of €10,500 – €1,500 for each charge – for the breach, which Judge David Kennedy called “a very serious breach of the data protection laws on an ongoing basis and with a certain amount of subterfuge”.

This is the first conviction ever under section 22 of the Data Protection Acts 1998 and 2003, which prohibit individuals from both obtaining access to personal data without the prior authority of the data controller and disclosing that data to another person. The company was prosecuted under section 29 of the Acts.

The court heard credit unions engaged the defendants to locate debtors in arrears. Seven credit unions across the country disclosed clients’ personal information, including PPS number and dates of birth, to the private investigators as a means of accessing further details.

The defendants misrepresented themselves and used a practice known as “blagging” to trick employees of the Department of Social Protection and the HSE’s Primary Care Reimbursement Service into revealing the credit union debtors’ current addresses. The defendants then illegally conveyed this information to the credit unions. The credit unions involved include Tullamore, Portlaoise, Portarlington, Athy, Caherdavin in Limerick and St Mary’s Parish in Limerick.

Assistant Data Protection Commissioner Tony Delaney told the court he discovered the breach while investigating credit unions suspected of obtaining personal data.

Mr Delaney called the scheme a “clever manipulation that relieved the HSE of a vast amount of personal data in all cases”.

Speaking after the trial, Mr Delaney said: “[The Data Protection Commission] is very happy with the outcome that convictions were imposed by the judge both in terms of the company and the directors. It’s the first instance the Data Protection Commissioner has prosecuted directors for their part in the commission of offences by a company, so this is a very significant outcome.

“It’s the first occasion we’ve prosecuted private investigators under the Data Protection Act. And it’s the first occasion “blagging” has been the subject of Data Protection Prosecution.”

The court heard MCK Rentals Ltd still exists but is effectively dormant.

A related case will be tried before Dublin District Court next month. The Data Protection Commissioner will prosecute private investigator Michael J Gaynor, trading as MJG investigations, for illegally accessing personal information from An Garda Síochána and the ESB and disclosing it without authority, again under section 22 of the Data Protection Acts 1988 and 2003. He faces 72 charges.

16% of 3 year old children in Ireland have a serious longstanding health condition


Boys are 50% more likely than girls to have such conditions.

One in six (16%) three year olds in Ireland have a serious longstanding health condition according to a report from The Institute of Public Health in Ireland.

IPH Director of Research, Professor Kevin Balanda, said five common serious conditions were reported by carers, including:

“A longstanding illness, condition or disability, diagnosed asthma or asthma symptoms, diagnosed eczema / skin allergy, sight problems that required correction and hearing problems that required correction.

Children with these conditions can have poorer quality of life, poorer social and emotional development, and poorer educational achievement.

The study found that 15.8% of three-year-olds in Ireland – about 11,000 children – have at least one of these conditions.

It established that boys are 50% more likely than girls to have such conditions and children in the lowest socio-economic households are 50% more likely than those in other households to have such a condition.

It also found that children whose primary carer is ill are over 100% more likely than those with well primary carers to have a longstanding condition.

The study says that children born with low birth weight are 70% more likely than other children to have sight problems, while children whose mother smoked during pregnancy are 50% more likely than other children.

The breakdown

IPH Research Analyst Mr Steve Barron set out some of the more detailed findings:

  • 9.5% (about 6,600) have diagnosed asthma or asthma symptoms
  • 4.0% (about 2,800) have diagnosed eczema/skin allergy
  • 5.9% (about 4,100) have ever had a sight problem that required correction
  • 3.9% (about 2,700) have ever had a hearing problem that required correction

The Minister for Health, Dr Leo Varadkar TD, said:

“Helping parents and health professionals to be more familiar with the characteristics that place children at higher risk of longstanding conditions will improve the chances of prevention or early detection and intervention.

“Many of these characteristics can be changed and they offer a focus for policy and service interventions to reduce risk factors and improve the lives of children and their families.”

This web-spider photograph is not what it seems


At first glance this elaborate six-foot spider’s web looks as though it spans the entire width of a garage. But in fact it is a clever optical illusion

A clever optical illusion makes this spider web appear six foot across, Russell Harding, 73 demonstrates the size of the web – and shows how the illusion was achieved.

To the naked eye, this incredible six-foot spider’s web looks as though it spans the entire width of a garage.

But if you look a little closer, you can see that this is an optical illusion and the spider’s web is actually woven between his car’s wing mirror and the potting shed.

The elaborate web, which had appeared overnight, was spotted by Russell Harding, a 74-year-old retired engineer.

Mr. Harding, of Colerne, Wilts., said he was “mystified” at how the one-and-a-half-inch spider managed to spin a web which spanned such a huge distance.

“I don’t understand how the spider did it, it was incredible,” the grandfather-of-two said. “I’m just mystified.

“The web was beautifully, symmetrically made. It was covered in dew which amplified the engineering of the web. I just thought it was magnificent, almost a work of art.

“It was right across the path way, I had to move it to walk through, I managed to detach it from my wing mirror and move it 90 degrees to a bin so it was still intact but we could leave our house.

“My wife would have actually passed out if she had walked into the web. There would have been a lot of screaming.

“Fortunately it had been a very dewy morning which highlighted the web so I saw it before I walked into it.”

The Grandfather of two, who suffers from Parkinson’s Disease, said that he had to tell his hands “not to shake” as he took the photo.

“I am an amateur photographer,” he said. “I look out for things that express more than just the subject matter. This was an optical illusion – trickery of the eye.”

The web, which appeared overnight last Thursday, disappeared after three days.

Angry dolphin strikes for second time off the coast of Galway


Clet was ‘nervous’ before attack.

An experienced dolphin swimmer has described the dramatic moment when an aggressive solitary mammal attacked swimmers off the coast of Co Galway last week.

Last Wednesday, five people were taken to shore by Galway RNLI after the Valentia Coastguard received reports of a dolphin causing difficulty for swimmers in waters off Salthill in Galway.

There was a similar incident last Sunday off the coast of Inis Óirr (Inisheer) – the smallest of the Aran Islands.

Trevor Stoddart, a former member of the Royal Navy, who is now based near Gort, previously had several uneventful swims with Dusty, who has lived in waters off the west coast for the past 14 years, and a second bottlenose dolphin who has been identified as Clet – a young male who was previously sighted in west Cork, and in British and French waters.

But last Sunday things changed dramatically when Clet and Dusty swam close to shore. A young woman tourist waded into the shallow waters still wearing jeans and a T-shirt. Soon after she was struck hard by Clet.

Within seconds, the agitated animal made for Trevor and attempted to strike him violently on the head and shoulder several times before zooming off. Bottlenose dolphins weigh between 200kg and 300kg, and the pair were lucky to escape with nothing more than shock and severe bruising. Trevor said he had sensed Clet was “nervous” before the attack.

“He was swimming fast and his head was twitching as he came towards me,” he said. “I was lucky it happened near the surface as I could fend him off with my hands. He’s so big – the thought of him doing that again is pretty terrifying. Judging from the damage to his dorsal fin and seeing the many scars all over his body, it’s clear he’s been in a lot of fights. I wouldn’t advise anyone to swim with Clet.”

Since Clet’s arrival, many of Dusty’s followers have enjoyed watching the pair jump out of the water and riding the bow waves of the many ferryboats. Some of them have swum with the pair in the past fortnight and the consensus has been that while Dusty has been calm and curious, Clet is described as edgy and unpredictable.

Donie’s Ireland daily news BLOG

Central Bank to impose limits on home loans

  • Regulator said to be preparing to publish a consultation paper on its proposals


The Central Bank plans to impose limits for the first time on how much banks can lend home buyers as property values in Ireland soar, two people with knowledge of the matter said.

The Central Bank plans to impose limits for the first time on how much banks can lend home buyers as property values in Ireland soar.

The regulator is said to be preparing to publish a consultation paper on its proposals within weeks.

Banks and lobby groups will have a chance to comment on the plans, which center on introducing loan-to-value and loan-to-income restrictions.

A spokesman for the Central Bank declined to comment.

House prices are surging even as banks grapple with the aftermath of mortgage crisis that forced the government to bail out most of the nation’s lenders.

A quarter of the country’s owner-occupier home loans are in arrears or had their terms eased.

Loans granted during the boom for more than 85 per cent of the property value were most likely to default in the wake of the crash, central bank economists said today.

“There is no evidence the current price increases are credit driven, but the number of mortgage approvals, a potential measure of new mortgage credit demand, rose sharply in the first seven months of 2014,” said central bank economists Niamh Hallissey, Robert Kelly and Terry O’Malley in a report published today.

“This is therefore a key time to investigate the tools available to policy makers to safeguard future lending.”

Irish home prices soared 15 percent in the year through August, driven by a 25 per cent jump in Dublin values amid a shortage of properties in the Irish capital, the Central Statistics Office said on September 24.

Still, values remain 41 per cent off their 2007 peak both for Dublin and nationally. Any limits would particularly affect first-time buyers, according to one of the people.

Irish mortgage approvals rose by 54 per cent in value to €462 million in July compared to the same month last year, according to Banking and Payments Federation Ireland.

In 2006, mortgage lending surged to €40 billion. Davy, Ireland’s largest securities firm, said that some lenders are beginning to relax lending criteria as the property market recovers.

“It appears some banks are willing to lend 4.5 times combined income to higher-rated borrowers, but this is at the upper end of what is typically deemed responsible internationally,” Davy said in a report yesterday.

“Typically a limit of 3-4 times is considered a more acceptable level. The onus is on the central bank to put limits on the amount of money that can be borrowed to help keep house prices in check.”

Thirteen children have died on our roads so far this year,

  • 7 were killed in the whole of 2013


Deaths on Irish roads have remained high this year, after increasing for the first time since 2005 last year.

140 people have been killed so far this year  on Irish roads.

The Road Safety Authority has expressed concern about the high numbers of vulnerable road users being killed.

Thirteen children under the age of 14 have died in road traffic accidents so far this year, compared to seven children who were killed on the roads in the whole of 2013.

Moyagh Murdock, CEO of the Road Safety Authority said: “This year, for the second year in a row, we are seeing a marked increase in deaths on our roads when compared with previous years, where great strides were made to reduce deaths.

Vulnerable road users are most at risk this year – the old and the young, cyclists, pedestrians and motorcyclists.

“We really need to redouble our efforts to try and reduce what was the worst year on our roads in seven years last year.”

Irish Road Safety Week is on from October 6 to 12, the RSA is urging people to get involved in this national drive to save lives.

Sharp fall in number of critical care hospital beds

  • The number of Irish Hospital critical care beds has fallen from 289 to 233


An intensive care unit: none of the Republic’s 19 maternity units has an intensive care unit

The number of critical care hospital beds has fallen sharply over the past six years despite a recommendation to double capacity.

The shortage of intensive care beds was highlighted this week at the inquest of Dhara Kivlehan, who died in September 2010 after giving birth a week earlier in Sligo Regional Hospital.

Ms Kivlehan was moved to the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast after no bed could be found in the intensive care units of three hospitals in the Republic.

A year before her death a HSE-commissioned report recommended a 45 per cent increase in the number of critical care beds from 289 to 418. Prospectus Consultants said a further increase to 579 beds was needed in the years up to 2020. However, far from increasing, the number has fallen from 289 to 233 at the present time.

The HSE sought to provide an extra 10 critical care beds in the service plan for this year, at a cost of €3 million a year, but was forced to scrap the plan because of funding cuts in last year’s budget, correspondence between the HSE and the Department of Health shows.

Bed occupancy

The HSE says it is implementing a “critical care bed bureau” to optimise utilisation of beds nationally by providing live information on bed occupancy in all units.

However, Ms Kivlehan’s husband Michael said an internal report a few weeks after his wife’s death in 2010 recommended such a national system be put in place.

The HSE was unable to say yesterday why there was such a delay in implementing this recommendation.

None of the Republic’s 19 maternity units has an intensive care unit.

Speaking in the Dáil on Tuesday, Minister for Health Leo Varadkar said while Ireland needed more obstetricians than the 120 available, this was more per head than Canadaand New Zealand.

Staff Lieut Gen. Surprise at soldiers sleeping in cars claim

Says Lieut Gen Conor O’Boyle


Lieut Gen Conor O’Boyle: “I would encourage any soldier that has had to sleep in his or her car to talk to the officer in charge in the barracks they’re working in. We do have accommodation”

Defence Forces Chief of Staff Lieut Gen Conor O’Boyle has said he was surprised at Pdforra’s suggestion this week that some soldiers were sleeping in their cars at barracks because they did not have the money for the fuel needed to drive home and back the following morning.

He said anyone sleeping in their car should bring it to the attention of the chain of command and accommodation would be provided for them in their barracks.

Minister for Defence Simon Coveney said he planned to establish the full facts.

“If people are sleeping in their cars, I am very uncomfortable with that and it shouldn’t be happening.

“I would encourage any soldier that has had to sleep in his or her car to talk to the officer in charge in the barracks they’re working in. We do have accommodation . . .

“If there’s one thing the Defence Forces do very well it’s they stick together, they work together and they look after each other.”

Moon’s hidden valley system now revealed


The Moon as we see it (L), in terms of height variation (C), and from surface gravity variations (R)

Scientists have identified a huge rectangular feature on the Moon that is buried just below the surface.

The 2,500km-wide structure is believed to be the remains of old rift valleys that later became filled with lava.

Centred on the Moon’s Procellarum region, the feature is really only evident in gravity maps acquired by Nasa’s Grail mission in 2012.

But knowing now of its existence, it is possible to trace the giant rectangle’s subtle outline even in ordinary photos.

Mare Frigoris, for example, a long-recognised dark stripe on the lunar surface, is evidently an edge to the ancient rift system.

“It’s really amazing how big this feature is,” says Prof Jeffery Andrews-Hanna.

“It covers about 17% of the surface of the Moon. And if you think about that in terms relative to the size of the Earth, it covers an area equivalent to North America, Europe and Asia combined,” the Colorado School of Mines scientist told BBC News.

“When we first saw it in the Grail data, we were struck by how big it was, how clear it was, but also by how unexpected it was.

“No-one ever thought you’d see a square or a rectangle on this scale on any planet.”

The full Moon as seen from the Earth, with the Procellarum border structure superimposed in red

So how was this extraordinary feature produced?

Andrews-Hanna and colleagues note that the Procellarum region contains a lot of naturally occurring radioactive elements, such as uranium, thorium and potassium.

On the early Moon, these would have heated the crust, which, when it cooled would have contracted.

Mare Frigoris is evidently an edge to the ancient rift valley system

This shrinking, they propose, would have ripped the surface, opening deep valleys. The geometry is the giveaway.

On Earth, cooling and contraction will preferentially produce hexagons containing 120-degree angles.

The famous Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland is a classic example on the small scale, but even in bigger settings, such as in East Africa’s rift valleys, geological lines tend to intersect in this way.

Procellarum’s giant rectangle does the same, too – because the entire feature is draped over a sphere. This means the angles at the corners are wider than 90 degrees.

“What we’re seeing is a clever trick of spherical geometry. For structures on this scale, a polygon with 120-degree angles at the corners actually has four sides instead of six,” explained Prof Andrews-Hanna.

The team cannot tell when the rifting occurred, but the dating of Moon rocks brought back by Apollo would suggest the valleys were filled by volcanic lavas about 3.5 billion years ago.

Giant’s Causeway: Cooling basaltic rock naturally fractures into hexagons

The Grail satellites sensed very subtle variations in the pull of gravity across the Moon’s surface

The new study goes some way to resolving arguments over the origins of Procellarum, which looks different to other, more circular mare (dark regions) on the Moon’s surface.

For these regions, big asteroid impacts were more important in sculpting their forms.

The study is also further proof of the value of the Grail mission, led from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

This comprised two, near-identical satellites that chased each other around the Moon over the course of a year.

They mapped changes in the pull of gravity as they flew over areas of differing mass.

Big mountains will have a different signal to deep depressions, obviously. But the data also reveals those locations that have different rock types and densities.

In the case of Procellarum, the pair sensed an excess of mass stemming from the presence of all the basaltic lava filling the rift valleys.

News Ireland daily BLOG Tuesday

Tuesday 3rd June 2014

100,000 people in Ireland have their dole cut in an overpayment-clampdown


There will be a clampdown on dole overpayment

More than 100,000 welfare recipients had their €188 dole payments cut last year in Ireland because they had been overpaid,

The clampdown was part of a €70m recovery operation undertaken by Minister Joan Burton’s Social Protection department to combat fraud.

New documents from the department, seen by the Irish Independent, show that because of increased enforcement powers introduced last year, there has been a significant increase in the numbers who have had their payments cut.

The new measures, which came into effect in February 2013, allow Ms Burton’s officials to claw back up to €28, or 15pc, of the weekly dole payment of €188. This they say has led to a 30pc spike in “overpayment recoveries”.

Under the new act, the department can also get an attachment to earnings and monies held in bank accounts by those who have been overpaid in a bid to recoup the excess payments. According to the documents, €35m was recouped from 103,000 people by reducing their weekly payments, while another €35m was gathered from other sources such as bank accounts.

This compares to just over 55,000 cases in 2010 which amounted to €35m and 82,000 cases in 2012 which amounted to €53m, the documents show.

The tough new powers are proving to “be a useful tool” in forcing people no longer in need of State support into a repayment scheme.

The documents were sent by Niamh O’Donoghue, secretary general of the Department of Social Protection to the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), which had sought clarity on its fraud detection competence.

The shocking figures were revealed as it has emerged that three Social Welfare public servants “colluded” with third parties to defraud the taxpayer of €1.3m. The PAC was told last month that two of the cases are under Garda investigation.


One staff member, working in the community welfare division, allegedly colluded with an undisclosed number of outside parties over a six-year period between 2006 and 2012 to scam the taxpayer of between €1m and €1.1m.

The documents also reveal that the controversial €10 cuts to child benefit, announced in budget 2013, affected 1,164,000 children in 609,900 families.

Monthly child benefit rates were cut by €10 to €130, while the rates for the third child was cut from €148 to €130. The rates for the fourth and subsequent children were cut from €160 to €140 a month.

The documents also reveal that of the 78,246 recipients across the country who receive lone parents allowance, 76,783 of those were female and just 1,463 were male, a ratio of 52.5 to one.

Skin cancer survival rate soars in pioneering drugs trial


Twenty four skin cancer sufferers in Ireland are on a groundbreaking trial of drugs which shows a near five-fold increase in survival rates.

Researchers pioneering methods of harnessing the body’s own immune system to fight cancer have uncovered further dramatic results in a worldwide clinical trial involving 7,000 people.

The study found cancer survival rates of 94pc and 88pc after one and two years using a combination of treatments of two drugs – up from existing rates of 40pc and 20pc respectively.

Twenty-four Irish people being treated at hospitals in two sites inDublin, and in Galway and Cork, are among those taking part in the latest phase of the trial starting late last year.

Derek Power, consultant medical oncologist at Cork University Hospital and chairman of the Irish Melanoma Forum, said the results of the early stages of the trials show that a skin cancer cure could be within reach. “This really is an amazing breakthrough, albeit it’s early data,” he said.

“Unequivocally, it absolutely marks a sea change. There is the tantalising possibility of a cure with immuno-therapy. It’s not for everyone, that’s an important thing to say, but it does bring about the potential, and that’s an amazing thing to say.”

In Ireland, almost 630 people a year are diagnosed with melanoma and it leads to 110 deaths a year.

Malignant melanoma – when the skin cancer spreads to other parts of the body – is one of the most aggressive forms of the disease, with 75pc of people dying within one year of diagnosis.

The incidence for women in Ireland is one of the highest in Europe – fourth out of 26 countries – while the rate for men is well above average. Scandinavia has the worst rate and south-east Europe the lowest.

The study’s findings were released at the 50th annual meeting of theAmerican Society of Clinical Oncology (Asco) in Chicago.

Global biopharma firm Bristol-Myers Squibb Company is producing the two drugs being used in the trial, nivolumab, and ipilimumab, branded as Yervob on the market, and is funding the study with pharmaceutical firms MSD andRoche.

It is hoped that the combination drug treatment could be available to skin cancer patients in Ireland as soon as next year.

The cost per patient could start at €80,000 (£65,000).

Michael Giordano, senior vice-president, head of development, oncology and immunology at the company, said: “The science of immuno-oncology – harnessing the patient’s immune system to treat cancer – is rapidly evolving. These results are the most advanced data set to date evaluating the potential of combining immunotherapies.

“As leaders in the field, they reinforce our aspiration that combining immunotherapies may be foundational and may have the potential to change the standard of care by transforming survival expectations.”

TV advertising could be blamed for children’s poor diets in Ireland


Television advertising could be to blame for unhealthy eating habits as young viewers recognise twice as many unhealthy food brands as healthy ones.

TV can impact children's diets A new study of children aged three to five found that children recognise more unhealthy brands, even in cases where healthy brands are advertised just as much.

Parents’ own eating habits could also influence children’s knowledge of unhealthy brands, as they choose food for both themselves and their children.

However, a ‘window of opportunity’ was identified in which parents could teach their children about healthier foods during their pre-school years in order to encourage better eating habits in the long term.

The study also suggested that food education takes place in creches and pre-schools – and should include teaching children about which foods are unhealthy.

  The spokeswoman for Safefood, Dr Cliodhna Foley-Nolan, said: “This research reiterates the growing recognition of the need for further restrictions on marketing and advertising of foods high in fat, salt and sugar.”

Boy (16) found driving tractor
 in Donegal on main road was a learner


A 16-YEAR-old learner was stopped while driving a tractor on a public road in one of the more unusual traffic incidents over the weekend.

He was pulled over by Gardai in Buncrana, Co Donegal, while operating the vehicle on a narrow country road.

A picture of the incident was posted on the official Garda Twitter feed, along with an appeal to farmers to “be responsible” and “work safely”.

It added: “Would you let a 16-year-old drive this (the tractor) on a public road?” A Garda spokesman said

Overall, the weekend saw an improvement on recent years in terms of traffic safety.

The June bank holiday was the worst period of the year for road deaths in 2012 and 2013.

However, there were three fatalities between midnight on Thursday and last night – a reduction on the five deaths last year and six the year before.

In Dublin, a 40-year-old woman pedestrian was killed at 10.30pm on Friday when she was hit by a car.

It happened on Davitt Road in Dublin 12 where the victim, Caroline Watkins, from Lally Road, Ballyfermot, was crossing the road at the Golden Bridge Luas stop.

The mother of one was taken to St James’s Hospital but was later pronounced dead. Witnesses said the car was dark, possibly a Ford Focus. It took off in the direction of the Naas Road.

Garda forensic investigators were called in to examine the scene. Officers arrested a man in his 30s in Drimnagh the following day.

The man, a well-known gangster, was detained under section 4 of the Criminal Justice Act.

A spokesman said the individual was released without charge on Sunday and a file is being prepared for the DPP.

In Cork, a man in his 50s died when the van he was driving hit a tree. The accident happened on the N72 at Dromagh at 10am on Friday. The man was pronounced dead at the scene.

A driver died yesterday after a single-vehicle crash in Clondalkin. The man, in his 70s, was the only person in the car. The crash occurred near Liffey Valley Shopping Centre at 3.45pm.

Is the moon the next Wi-Fi hotspot for our Earth?


NASA and MIT successfully tested broadband connections between the Earth and the moon. The data rate achieved with lasers beats any Wi-Fi on Earth. This is the ground facility in New Mexico where four telescopes send the signal to the moon.

Looking for the fastest broadband connection around? Then look up, say U.S. scientists who are reporting their successful attempt to set up a broadband connection between the Earth and the moon using lasers.

In October of last year and again early this year, researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and NASA cooperated in tests of the Lunar Laser Communication Demonstration, using potent laser beams to transmit information from the Earth to the moon at exceptionally fast speeds.

In the tests, the findings of which are being presented publicly this week at the Conference on Lasers and Electro-Optics in California, the LLCD broke a number of records, downloading data over the 238,999 miles between the moon and the Earth at 622 megabits per second. That is about 5 times the current rate from lunar distances, NASA says.

Upload speeds were a bit slower, around 19.44 Mbps, but still fast enough to send a high-definition video to our moon to allow high-definition video conferencing via Skype.

Those data rates far exceed anything NASA is seeing with any of its current radio frequency communications devices, and the download speed in particular is thought to be faster than that of any commercial broadband or Wi-Fi service available in North America, which has typical download speeds of between 15 and 25 Mbps.

The ability to use lasers in space to send and receive information will be a boost to future missions, the researchers said.

“It is generally agreed that present-day science and exploration missions to deep space are constrained by the amount of data they can get back to Earth,” explainedDon Boroson, who headed the MIT research team developing the communication system. “It has been known for years that laser communications have the potential to deliver much higher data rates and use smaller space terminals than radio-based systems.”

Wi-Fi signals, converted to laser pulses, were transmitted between four telescopes in White Sands, New Mexico, and a NASA satellite, LADEE, in orbit around the moon.

The researchers said the success of the MIT LLCD tests was a big step on the way to an even more sophisticated system to be known as the Laser Communications Relay Demonstration (LCRD), set to begin testing in 2017.

“The on-orbit performance [of the LLCD] was excellent and close to what we’d predicted, giving us confidence that we have a good understanding of the underlying physics,” said team member Mark Stevens of MIT’s Lincoln Laboratory.


News Ireland daily BLOG

Wednesday 14th May 2014

An Irish construction Plan by Enda Kenny promises a world class sector for Ireland


Enda Kenny, the taoiseach and Eamon Gilmore, tánaiste, this afternoon announced a package of measures to stimulate activity in the construction industry and boost local and European election prospects, just with over a week to polling day on Friday May the 23rd.

The taoiseach promised “a world-class, competitive and dynamic sector operating to the highest standards and in line with best practice.

The term “world-class” is the most overused and laughable bullshit term in the lexicon of Irish politicians and policy makers when “bog-standard” would often be acceptable if that could be even attained.

Kenny today launched  a report called a “strategy” almost 5 months after what was to be a medium strategy for 2014-2020, at the National Sports Campus in Abbotstown and he said the central aim of the latest strategy is “to provide homes for our people by tripling housing output by 2020 and adding 60,000 jobs to the construction sector over the same period.”

He announced spending of €200m that will be “a huge boost for tourism, sports, local communities, jobs and for the construction industry itself.”

It includes the allocation of €20m to the Pyrite Remediation Scheme and a €30m gift for the GAA’s Páirc Uí Chaoimh Stadium in Cork – – money can always be found at election time.

Some 75 actions span across many related areas including housing, planning, financing, the commercial sector, infrastructure and public investment, standards and regulation, and skills and competitiveness.

Kenny says the strategy addresses many important issues and obstacles for the improvement of the sector and indeed for the country as a whole.

Such issues include:

  • – a strategic and measured approach to the provision of housing, nationally and in Dublin, with mechanisms in place to detect and act when things are going wrong;
  • – continuing improvement of the planning process, striking the right balance between current and future requirements;
  • – the availability of sustainable bank and non-bank financing for viable projects;
  • – appropriate access to mortgage finance on sustainable terms;
  • – effective enforcement of proper building standards and appropriate regulation;
  • – the identification and removal of blockages to necessary commercial development, and
  • – facilitating the strengthening of capacity in the sector, especially in terms of international expansion and technology advancements.

“One project I’m excited to see progress on is the development of an interlinked, national greenway network and the commitment of €10m to start the Dublin-Athlone-Galway route will help create an internationally recognised tourism attraction,” Kenny said and concluded: “The Government has a plan for Ireland, a plan for jobs and stability…We now have a plan for the construction sector. To get it back up off its knees and contribute again to Ireland’s recovery.

A sustainable construction sector based on the highest standards of quality is essential to make recovery local and to get Ireland working again.”

Reilly denies a plan to shut maternity units in the West & North West of Ireland


An HSE study mooted closure of up to four obstetric units in the west and north-west of the country. The Minister for Health James Reilly: said the HSE report had ‘no standing on its own’.

Minister for Health James Reilly has said he has no plans to close any of the State’s 19 maternity units.

Dr Reilly said a study commissioned by the HSE, which moots the closure of up to four obstetric units in the west and north-west, has “no standing on its own”.

The study, which was revealed in this morning’s Irish Times, has to feed into a national review of maternity services, the Minister told the Dáil today.

The study proposes a number of options for the future of maternity services in the west and north-west, from no change to current arrangement to the closure of up to four units at Ballinasloe, Castlebar, Sligo and/or Letterkenny. The closure of the maternity unit at Portiuncula Hospital in Ballinasloe features in four of the six options outlined in the report.

Dr Reilly said staff-patient ratios in maternity units were far too high but there had to be an examination of the roles of those working in hospitals so as to determine how better use can be made of staff. “We must find ways to support staff using other staff so that we can provide the safest possible care for patients.”

Bill Maher, chief executive of the West/North-West Hospitals Group, said no reconfiguration of services has been recommended to or approved by the groups or its senior management. “Feasibility studies have not even been carried out and speculation at this early stage in the process is unhelpful and upsetting for patients and staff.”

He said a review of existing models of maternity care was being conducted across the group, and the board had accepted recommendation to develop consistency in these care models.

Staff and the public would be engaged in the consultation process and the review of maternity services in the west and north-west would be considered as part of the broader national review of services, he said.

Baby giraffe makes Dublin Zoo debut


The giraffe calf made his first outside appearance in the African Savanna yesterday

There was the giraffe equivalent of “wetting the baby’s head” at the African Savannah at Dublin Zoo this week when the entire herd welcomed a new-born calf into its fold.

Weighing in at a healthy 70kg and 1.7 metres tall, the male Rothschild giraffe was quite a handful. He was an instant hit with the herd of seven giraffes when he made his debut at the savannah enclosure on Monday.

Dublin Zoo operations manager Gerry Creighton explained: “It’s part of the acceptance ritual.”

Female members of the herd had a sneak preview when the calf – who has yet to be named – was born in front of them last Wednesday.

The birth was captured on CCTV, to the delight of zoo staff.

The successful birth was also a happy ending for the mother Maeve, whose last calf, Tamu, born at the zoo in June 2012, died last December.

Meanwhile, the proud father, Robin, who has sired several other giraffes at the zoo, including Tamu, was introduced to his newborn for the first time this week and he immediately took to him, Mr Creighton said.

The calf will remain at the zoo until he matures in about five or seven years’ time and then will likely be loaned out to other zoos as part of the international zoo breeding programme, he added.

But in the meantime, he’s sure to be a hit with the crowds.

Children worst affected by recession in Ireland


One in every 3 young Irish people have been deprived of food, heating or clothes over the past 5 years. Children have been disproportionately affected by the collapse of the economy

Almost one in every three children has been deprived of food, heating or clothing during the recession.

The ESRI has released new research on the impact of the downturn on different age groups, genders and family types over the past five years.

The ESRI report, From Boom to Recession, finds that younger people have been the worst affected, with unemployment rates hitting 25% in the under 25s category, compared to 12% for those aged 45 and over.

Meanwhile, 130,000 children have suffered deprivation, that is defined as not being able to afford basic food, clothes or heating. Almost 33% of the under 14s are classed in this category, compared to 11% for the over 65s.

Income poverty by gender and age group, 2007 and 2011

Cohabiting couples with children experienced the most acute rise in job cuts, while childless couples were far less likely to be deprived.

Gender gap

A separate study by the think-tank looked at the impact of job-losses on both sexes, with men suffering the most dramatic impact.

The gender gap between men and women in work fell from 16% in 2007 to 8% in 2012 – while one in 10 women are now the main breadwinners in their household.

Estimated employment rates by gender, 2007 and 2012 (model-estimated controlling for other factors)

The sharp increase in the number of unemployed men is thought to be down to the collapse of the male-dominated construction industry.

As much as 30% of water lost by faulty pipes


New investment plan needed for water supply in capital.

Areas of Dublin are losing around 30% of their total water supply through damaged infrastructure.

The capital’s water loss, due to damaged infrastructure, is less than the national average of 41%, but the figure still represents a major headache for Irish Water.

Documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act (FoI) showed that in Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown, water distribution losses were over 29pc in 2013.

Leak analysis last February, July and December revealed around 18,000 cubic metres of water were lost each day.

Each cubic metre is equal to 1,000 litres of water. A toilet flush uses around nine litres.

The Commission for Energy Regulation is yet to set the domestic rate for water but the commercial rate in Dublin is €1.99 per cubic metre.

Spacemen trio returns to Earth in a Russian capsule


A Russian and an American returned to Earth on Wednesday with their Japanese commander aboard a Soyuz capsule in the first such landing since Moscow’s ties with the West imploded over Ukraine.

Koichi Wakata the first Japanese leader of an International Space Station mission NASA’s Rick Mastracchio and Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Tyurin completed a 188-day stay that began months before Europe was thrown into its worst security crisis since the Cold War.

Ex-Soviet Ukraine has since seen a part of its territory seized by Kremlin forces and the West retaliate with sanctions that have prompted Russia — provider of the sole manned link to the orbiting laboratory — to question the wisdom of future cooperation in space.

A top Russian minister stepped up the rhetoric on Tuesday by warning that Moscow may reject Washington’s request to extend the station’s lifespan by four years until 2024.

The trio was all smiles on Wednesday as they clambered out of the conic capsule in their bulky space suits after touching down without mishap in the sand-swept steppe of Kazakhstan.

But Tyurin hinted of the overriding tensions by singing the praises of Russian space equipment that may one day slip out of Western hands.

“The landing was outstanding,” Tyurin said in comments broadcast on Russian state television.

“It was simply ideal. We do have some wonderful technology!”

The US ‘hopeful’ about cooperation:-

Moscow is fiercely proud of its rockets and still fetes its ability to trump the United States during the Soviet-era space race by putting the first man in orbit in 1961.

And a top minister in charge of the military-industrial complex warned that Moscow may strike back at new high-technology export restrictions that Washington imposed in retaliation at the Kremlin’s Ukrainian land grab by limiting US access to Russian space equipment.

Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin said that Russia was “planning to only need the ISS until 2020” and then spend funding “on other promising space projects.”

NASA had said in January it would like the orbiter’s lifespan extended in order to improve its marketability and chances of getting commercial investment in space.

The US government agency said only that it had “not received any official notification from the government of Russia on any changes in our space cooperation at this point.”

But State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki suggested that the United States might not be as reliant on Russia’s space technology as some in Moscow might like to think.

“We do have a number of materials of the same kind that we can use in the future,” she said.

Rogozin added on Tuesday that Moscow could also prohibit the United States from using a Russian engine crucial to some Pentagon launches of its military satellites.

Space expert Vadim Lukashevich of Moscow’s state-funded Skolkovo Foundation said the absence of Russia’s RD-180 engines could ground the US Defence Department Atlas V rocket for “two to three years”.

Yet Lukashevich noted that the RD-180 deal requires Russia to also disclose to the United States all the details of the engine’s design.

“So in three years, they will be able to develop their own engine and we will lose that market for good,” Lukashevich said in a telephone interview.

NASA hopes to keep the ISS spinning 400 kilometres (250 miles) above Earth a bit longer to help private US firms such as SpaceX upgrade rockets it now uses to ferry up cargo to also be able to accomodate astronauts.

The United States has relied on the Soyuz for all manned missions since retiring its Shuttle Programme in 2011.

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Monday 14th April 2014

Ireland’s long awaited Children First Bill now welcomed


Irish groups express concern over lack of sanctions for those who fail to comply with legislation

Minister for Children Frances Fitzgerald (picture above left) said the new law aims to make best safeguarding practice the “cultural norm” for anyone working with children.

The publication of the long-awaited Children First Bill was broadly welcomed today but some campaign groups and opposition members voiced concern over the legislation’s lack of sanctions.

The Bill places a statutory obligation on certain professionals and other people working with children to report child protection concerns to the Child and Family Agency (Tulsa). Medical practitioners, teachers, social workers, gardaí, members of the clergy and child protection officers, among others, will be required to report such concerns.

The legislation also obliges those intending to provide services to children to carry out a risk assessment and prepare a child safeguarding statement within three months of commencing the service.

Minister for Children Frances Fitzgerald said the new law aims to make best safeguarding practice the “cultural norm” for anyone working with children. “Our focus on who is mandated [to report safety concerns] in the Bill is in accordance with international practice.

I believe it strikes the correct balance in achieving high quality reporting, with high substantiation rates while avoiding overwhelming the child protection system with inappropriate reports, which is a key criticism of the operation of mandatory reporting in other countries,” she said.

However Fianna Fáil said a lack of sanctions for those who fail to report cases amounted to a watering down of the legislation. The heads of the Bill published two years ago included penalties of up to five years in prison for failure to comply with the law but these were absent from the legislation yesterday.

“We now appear to have ended up with a watered down version of the Bill,” said the party’s spokesman on childrenRobert Troy. “While professionals working with children will now be legally obliged to report concerns, it seems there will be no penalties if they don’t”.

That view was echoed by Senator Jillian Van Turnhout and the Children’s Rights Alliance. Ms Van Turnhout also said the Bill didn’t seem to provide the necessary “enforcement powers” to ensure organisations can take action over members or employees who fail to comply with the legislation. “I feel we are still falling through the net,” she said.

Children’s Rights Alliance chief executive Tanya Ward, meanwhile, expressed concern over the quality of the proposed child safeguarding statements. She said the system could be strengthened if it was carried out in conjunction with formal inspections from the Child and Family Agency.

The Children First Guidelines were first published in 1999. The legislation published today was recommended in the 2009 Ryan Report Implementation Plan. The Bill forms part of a suite of child protection legislation which already includes the Criminal Justice (Withholding of Information on Offences against Children and Vulnerable Persons) Act and the National Vetting Bureau (Children and Vulnerable Persons) Act.

Reilly must get it right on major public reform


James Reilly and advisor Mark Costigan in a head to head situation. 

If this plan goes awry, great cynicism will manifest at the ballot boxes, 

‘The white paper underpins the Government’s resolve to deliver on the Programme for Government commitment to end the current unaffordable and unfair two-tier system and establish a single-tier health service where access to services is based on need and not on ability to pay.”

Dr James Reilly’s vision of the health service seems to send a shiver down the spines of many paying for health insurance to guarantee access to the private system.

The clash between the idealism of the creation of a utopian health service and the scepticism of the system operating efficiently threatens to derail the plans to introduce Universal Health Insurance.

In the post-recovery mood of the country, the Government is taking a big gamble on UHI, which is causing great uncertainty for the middle classes and will take years to assess its success or failure.

After seven years of higher taxes and cuts in services, there is little appetite for giving the benefit of the doubt to ambitious initiatives – the outcome of which is difficult to ascertain.

The Coalition is promising a “national conversation” – a dreadfully cliched concept, regardless of the topic – about UHI and the future of the health service.

Before the conversation has even begun, the opponents to the reform intent on protecting the status quo are already lining up to bog it down.

The Coalition’s greatest obstacle is not the vested interests blocking the path to the change but the effect their actions are having on those with private health insurance.

Every criticism of UHI, whether based upon fact or perception, adds to the cynicism around the feasibility of the project.

Nobody would object to the promised land of an effective health system with adequate levels of staffing and services delivered promptly – if they thought it would happen.

But false dawns have been seen before and lavish spending during the Celtic Tiger days have not solved the problem.

The UHI template is by no means a waste of time.

A lot of the steps towards UHI make abundant sense, irrespective of whether the ultimate changeover happens.

A National Pricing Office, to determine the actual cost of treatments, makes sense.

A Healthcare Commissioning Agency, to purchase services from public and private hospitals, makes sense.

The move to hospital groups, where hospitals in a geographic region work together to specialise in particular treatments and share the burden, makes sense.

The move to the Money Follows The Patient model, where hospitals are funded based on the numbers of patients treated, rather than just a block grant, makes sense.

A Public Safety Agency and a body to promote health and well-being makes sense.

The Government is not past the point of no return on UHI and all of these changes can happen without taking the final step.

But the Coalition will have to convince those who happily pay to jump the queue at the moment of the merits of the system.

The enormity of the task is not to be dismissed.

Herein lies the difficulty: many of the sceptics are middle income earners who will make their views known at the ballot box.

The Coalition has broken the population into three categories in terms of who will be catered for under UHI.

Those on medical cards will get their entire cost of insurance covered.

Those without medical cards and who currently can’t afford health insurance will be subsidised. The argument being put forward by opponents of UHI is these are the people who will be forced to take out insurance.

The contrary point is UHI will make health insurance affordable for those currently with no cover.

Those currently with health insurance will continue to pay and are being assured they will benefit from free GP care, lower premiums and a better service.

The Government is already losing the argument around convincing this coterie of the advantages of the system.

The poll shows almost half believe the Government is responsible for the recent increases in premiums. A fair point following the changes to tax relief in this year’s Budget.

But Dr Reilly’s national conversation will have to explain that the price of health insurance will continue to spiral if the system continues unchecked.

The broader competition and efficiencies to come under UHI will help to drive down the cost of health insurance.

The argument is hardly helped when the Department of Public Expenditure has put out a figure of €1,600 per person, which has now lodged in the psyche.

The vacuum of detail on the cost of UHI, left by Dr Reilly’s white paper, has been filled by alternative calculations and speculation.

The challenge of implementing UHI goes beyond the nuts and bolts of the radical overhaul of the system to simply bringing the public along with the change.

The second part of the equation will determine if the first part will happen.

Irish children/teens not telling parents about ‘cyber-bullying’

out of fear they will have smartphones taken


Children suffering ‘cyber-bullying’ may not tell their parents because they are afraid their phone, ipad or laptop could be confiscated, an expert declared.

Dr Conor McGuckin said mothers and fathers cannot always presume their child is not being bullied on social media just because they have not been informed.

Children and young teenagers may often choose to suffer in silence rather than tell their parents or teachers.

Parents seeking to help their child deal with cyberbullying need to admit  to their child their own lack of understanding of social media and the internet, he said.

This admission may help a parent to have an open conversation about the problem.  It is important to make the child feel understood, said Dr McGuckin, a world expert on bullying problems.

Dr McGuckin, assistant professor in educational psychology at Trinity College, Dublin, said that, unlike schoolyard bullying,  four out of 10 victims of cyber-bullying respond “instanteously.”

However, rather than reacting immediately to bullying messages, it may be better to “slow down, think about it, and cool off,” he said.

It may be better to switch off the technology, to ignore it, and to seek the advice and support of parents, teachers, and friends, he said.

A parent may find it is better to have an open conversation with a child about a cyber bullying problem while on a short journey by car which would not necessitate direct eye contact,  he said.

Teachers are now obliged to deal with cyberbullying under their school’s anti-bullying policy. Since last Friday, all schools in Ireland must have a policy which specifically addresses dealing with cyber-bullying and homophobia, he said.

Dr McGuckin was scheduled to address a ‘Cyber-Ethics Public Forum’ at Trinity College tonight.

The forum was set up to explore the rapid growth of cyber technologies and the profound influence of the internet on human behaviour.  It was organised as part of the college’s President of Ireland’s Ethics Initiative.

He focused on how to help children, adults, and educators ‘cope’ with the both positive and negative issues that new technology brings.

He said: “To understand cyberbullying, we need to understand the fundamental characteristics of traditional bullying. But we also need to understand the separate, and thorny, issues that are related to the law, technology, marketing, and the modern lives of children and young people.




We already know that ocean acidification is not good for marine life. But a new study shows that for certain fish it could be even worse than we thought.

In marine waters with elevated carbon dioxide levels, fish are attracted to the smell of their predators instead of being repelled. In other words, they’re swimming directly towards the danger and their predator. Which, as you might imagine, doesn’t end well for them.

The research, published in Nature Climate Change on Monday and led by Philip Munday from James Cook University in Australia, investigatedseveral species of reef fish living near natural volcanic carbon dioxide seeps in Papua New Guinea. The acidification levels in this area are thought to be comparable to what the rest of the ocean could be like in the next 100 years.

Young fish living in this environment were found to be oblivious to the dangers in their surroundings, and behave more rashly than juveniles of the same species are known to behave in less acidic environments.

The researchers compared the behavior of the fish in this area to those in less acidic areas, and found that fish in the acidic areas spent a large amount of their time in water that was tainted with predator odor. Which is exactly what they are meant to be trying to avoid.

The problem is not with the fish’s sense of smell — rather the change in pH levels in the water induces neurological changes in the fish that prevents them from being able to distinguish between water that contains the predator odor and that which doesn’t.


The study suggests that even fish who have lived their entire lives in acidic conditions are unable to adapt to their environment. As oceans continue to become more and more acidic — around 30 percent of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere is absorbed by bodies of water — the outlook for reef fish becomes ever more bleak.

Apart from the obvious fish-tragedy implied, there could also be asignificant economic impact. Billions of people around the globe rely on fish as both a food and income source. Yet another brilliant reason why the world needs to be taking carbon dioxide emissions more seriously.

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Monday 31st March 2014

Competition Bill paves the way for a Irish consumer watchdog


Minister for Communications will have responsibility for adjudging if media mergers are in public interest

A substantial reform of consumer and competition laws will pave the way for a powerful new watchdog in the area, stiff rules to prevent “hello money” practices in supermarkets, and a new role for the Minister for Communications in deciding if media mergers are in the public interest.

Minister for Jobs Richard Bruton on Monday published the long-awaited Competition and Consumer Protection Bill.

One of three major elements in the Bill is the merging of the National Consumer Agency and the Competition Authority as part of what has been dubbed the Government’s “quango cull” programme.

While the savings of about €170,000 per annum are relatively nominal, Mr Bruton has asserted the new combined agency will be a “watchdog with real teeth”.

The new body will be headed by Isolde Goggin of the Competition Authority and will comprise between three and seven members, acting in a collegiate manner. The Bill provides for increased powers when investigating serious offences in such areas as cartels and price- fixing.

Among the new powers will be court orders compelling people with relevant information to provide information or answer questions; a more effective use of detention periods; and more efficient ways of ensuring documents are produced.


In relation to the grocery trade, Mr Bruton opted for a system of regulations backed by legislation.While the regulations have yet to be drawn up, the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation said yesterday they would be informed by the substantive points that will be made in the Dáil and Seanad during the debate on the legislation.

Media mergers is the third major area of the Bill. The proposed laws will incorporate the majority of the recommendations of the Advisory Group on Media Mergers (the Sreenan report). This new law will therefore contain a statutory definition of media plurality (referring both to ownership and content).

The transfer of the powers in relation to media mergers to the Minister for Communications will give the incumbent minister an oversight role over both broadcast and print media for the first time, as well as other new forms of media, including internet and social media.

However, the three-step test for a media merger will remain the same. The new Competition and Consumer Protection Commission will still determine if a merger has taken place and if it should be allowed go ahead on competition grounds.

Following the determination by the Commission, the Minister will then decide on whether it should be allowed go ahead on grounds of the public interest. He can request the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland to investigate the merger and report back to the Minister within 80 working days. The Minister will then make the ultimate decision.

There is also a new obligation on parties to a media merger to provide full information to the Minister on all circumstances that might impair media plurality in the State.

Penalties for Irish property tax late payments scramble as deadline hits near


Penalties from Revenue are on the way for anyone who fails to meet tonight’s property tax deadline.

The compliance rate is 88%, but a scramble is expected ahead of the midnight cut-off.

A total of €6m was collected in a 48-hour period over Friday and Saturday.

Homeowners have also been settling their household charge arrears, with some 2,000 payments totalling €4m made in the last couple of days alone.

Any property owner who ignores tonight’s deadline faces tough penalties, including the prospect of being taken to court.

“Customers have all day to pay,” a Revenue spokeswoman told the Herald.

“Interest will kick in immediately when the deadline is passed at midnight and will be followed by tougher penalties.”

According to Revenue, the compliance rate last year reached 93%, while 88% have settled their 2014 bills.

The surge in late payments has also been seen in relation to the household charge.


“In respect of arrears of the 2012 household charge, we’ve received 2,000 payments in the last couple of days and have collected €4m in total in arrears of the household charge since we took over its collection,” the spokeswoman added.

However, around 400,000 homeowners have yet to settle liabilities relating to the household charge, which was increased to €200 last year.

The bill, initially set at €100, will reach €213 by the end of April after interest is added.

People have been warned that if they fail to pay, they face the prospect of having the sum deducted from their wages or occupational pensions, with interest charged at a rate of 0.0219% per day. Enforcement action could follow.

The tough penalties will also focus on those who deliberately under-valued their home or falsely claimed an exemption.

More than 2,000 property owners have already admitted to under-declaring the value of their houses since November.

It was reported yesterday that Revenue significantly under-estimated the number of homeowners who would nominate their properties in the lowest valuation band of €100,000 or less. Some 413,000 homeowners chose this band – far more than the 246,000 Revenue predicted.

Liver disease is only one of Ireland’s top five killers on the increase


Liver disease is now the only one of Ireland’s top five killers that is showing an alarming level of increase.

The revelation came amid warnings that liver disease rates are on course to quadruple in Ireland between 1995 and 2015.

Experts fear the increase is linked to spiralling levels of obesity in Irish society, an increasingly fat-rich diet, heavy alcohol consumption and delays in seeking treatment.

Alarmingly, the greatest level of increase is among 15-to-34-year-olds, who historically have the lowest rates of liver disease.

Irish doctors now fear that the country will mirror Britain, where liver disease is now the only one of the top five ‘killers’ – stroke, cancer, heart disease, lung disease and liver disease – that is increasing year-on-year.

Mater Hospital liver expert Dr Stephen Stewart said he was shocked when he returned to Ireland in 2010, having worked overseas for a decade, at the increase in the number of liver disease cases.

“The biggest worry is that in Ireland, England and Scotland, mortality rates from cirrhosis of the liver are increasing at a significant rate, while in countries like France the mortality rate is falling steadily,” he said.

The Royal College of Physicians of Ireland (RCPI) warned that the Government must take action to tackle the problem.

The RCPI has proposed a range of measures including a minimum alcohol pricing strategy and tougher controls on the availability of alcohol.

Their call has been backed by Alcohol Action Ireland, which warned that Ireland faces a multi-million-euro future health crisis unless action is taken now.

Updated Hospital In-Patient Enquiry (HIPE) data on liver disease rates won’t be available until later this year – but previous data showed shocking increases of up to 300pc.

The highest increases were recorded in liver disease linked to excessive alcohol consumption, which, between 1995 and 2007, soared by a startling 190pc, from 28.3 people per 100,000 adults to 82.2 people per 100,000.

However, the overall increase in liver disease from all causes such as alcohol, diet and infection (hepatitis) was close to 300pc.

That study also found that liver disease rates among the youngest age groups recorded the greatest levels of increase.

Among 15-to-34-year-olds the rate of disease spiralled by 247pc, while among 35-to-49 year-olds, it rose by 224pc.

Experts are worried that with 18-to-29-year-olds now having Ireland’s highest weekly alcohol consumption rate, the Health Service Executive (HSE) faces an epidemic of liver diseases cases over the next 20 years.

15,776 Irish children waiting for speech and language problem assessment


Altogether,1639 children waited for more than a year for their initial assessment of speech and language problems.

There were 15,776 children last December who had been waiting for speech and language assessment across the country.

They were waiting months for an initial assessment from a HSE speech and language therapist.

Fianna Fáil’s Spokesperson on Disability, Mental Health and Special Needs Colm Keaveney (Above right picture) released the figures, which show that 1,639 children waited for more than a year for an initial assessment of speech and language problems.

HSE: Colm Keaveney described the figures as “further evidence that the HSE’s service for the basic assessment and treatment of children with disabilities is grossly inadequate”.

He said he believes the situation “makes a complete mockery of the whole concept of ‘early intervention”.

Not only are the waiting lists in Dublin much higher than other parts of the country, the figures actually mask the true extent of the problem as the HSE has in fact closed its Dublin waiting lists to all new applicants since June 2012.

He said he brought the figures to the attention of Health Minister Dr James Reilly a month and a half ago.

Intervention supports

In February of this year, children’s charity Barnardos said that gaps in HSE early intervention supports for children with speech and language problems are putting their futures at risk.

Figures also released to Keaveney showed that there are a total of 58 early intervention teams dealing with 6,399 children across the country.

There are 11 HSE areas that have no teams at all.

How to protect Birds from a harsh & deadly spring


Ground nesting species such as the wood thrush (above left) are vulnerable to domesticated cats.

Spring is a deadly time for birds, according to George Fenwick, president of the American Bird Conservancy (ABC). He said scientists estimate that 300 million to 1 billion birds die each year from collisions with buildings, many during arduous migrations in unfamiliar environments.

Another 10 million die or so die annually from encounters with communication towers and wind turbines, and up to 6 million may die each day from attacks by cats left outdoors. These deaths occur year-round, but many occur during spring and fall migration, Fenwick said.

One in five Americans engage in bird watching,

The ABC provided some tips on how you can help save the birds this spring:

  1. Keep your cat indoors. This is best for your cat as well as for the birds, as indoor cats live an average of three to seven times longer. Cats are responsible for an estimated 2.4 billion bird deaths annually. In the spring, young birds or nestlings often end up on the ground, attracting the fatal attention of a nearby cat. Ground nesting species that are especially vulnerable include killdeer and wood thrush, but all baby birds, from ducks to warblers, will be on the ground for a critical period of time.
  2. Prevent birds from hitting your windows. You can reduce this problem at home by applying a variety of window treatments. For example, bird tape is a proven solution that is inexpensive and long-lasting. Birds most prone to fatal collisions at home windows or glass doors include the ruby-throated hummingbird and wood thrush.
  3. Eliminate pesticides from your yard. Even those pesticides that aren’t directly toxic to birds can pollute waterways and reduce insects that birds rely on for food. For rodent control, seal cracks, remove food sources, and use snap and electric traps rather than rodenticides, which can poison raptors such as hawks and owls and their young. Also, be sure not to garden with neonicotinoid-coated seeds, or neonics, which are lethal to songbirds as well as to bees and other invertebrates.
  4. Create habitat using native plants. When you garden with plants that evolved locally, you supply native insects and their larvae with food, which in turn are an irreplaceable food source provided by birds to their nestlings. Yards both large and small can benefit birds and other wildlife. Create a diverse landscape by planting native grasses, flowers and shrubs that attract birds. You will be rewarded by their beauty and song, and will have fewer insect pests as a result.
  5. Reduce your carbon footprint. While all forms of energy use impact birds, small individual actions can add up and make a difference. Use a hand-pushed or electric lawnmower, carpool, and use low-energy bulbs and Energy Star appliances. Less energy used means less habitat destroyed for energy production.
  6. Donate old bird-watching equipment. Binoculars and spotting scopes will be appreciated by local bird watching groups — they can get them to schools or biologists in other countries who may not have the resources they need. More people studying birds means more voices for bird conservation.
  7. Keep bird feeders and bird baths clean. If you feed the birds, make sure you aren’t accidentally allowing the spread of disease. Disinfect feeders and baths, and change water regularly or use a drip system to prevent mosquitoes from breeding.
  8. “Protecting and helping birds is not only the right thing to do,” Fenwick said, “it is also good for the economy and the future of our environment. Birds are invaluable as controllers of insect pests, as pollinators of crops, and as dispersers of native plant seeds. They also generate tremendous economic revenues through the pastimes of bird feeding and bird watching.”