Tag Archives: Irish Government

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Tuesday 5th April 2016

Irish Water the elephant in the room of government talks

Healy-Rae says public has waited for 40 days for a government and was getting frustrated


Michael Healy Rae (left) and his brother Danny. Michael Healy Rae has said that Irish Water is the ‘elephant in the room’ during the government formation talks.

An Independent TD has said the issue of Irish Water is the “elephant in the room” in all the negotiations with Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil.

Independent TD for Kerry Michael Healy-Rae said “our Lord spent 40 days in the desert” and said the Irish public had waited for a similar period for a government and that patience was now wearing thin.

Mr Healy-Rae said it was unhelpful that Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny and Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin have still not spoken to each other, he told Newstalk Breakfast.

On the same programme, Independent Alliance TD for Galway East Sean Canney, also called on the two largest parties to talk directly.

He said it would be wrong to spend another €40 million on a second election and said this money could be spent on tackling homelessness or employing more hospital consultants

Mr Canney said a lot of newly elected TDs, including those in Sinn Fein, had not engaged in the process of government formation and said there should be more focus on them. “What were they elected to do?”

Another Independent Alliance TD, Kevin ‘Boxer’ Moran says his group would make a collective decision on Wednesday on who they will back during a second vote in Dail on the election of a new Taoiseach.

The Longford Westmeath TD’s comments follow the suggestion that a number of non-party deputies may abstain from Wednesday’s vote.

A number of Independent TDs yesterday expressed anger about a tweet posted by Minister for Health Leo Varadkar on Sunday, in which he said his posters were ready for a second election if necessary.

The Panama Papers simply explained even a 5-year old can understand


The Panama Papers leak has pretty much been big news around the world. The scandal however has not been the easiest to understand for many people. A Reddit user here tries to ‘Explain it in simple terms Like I’m 5’ (ELI5) type of post that has since gone viral.

ELI5 is exactly what it sounds like – how you would explain a certain thing to a five-year-old. So how do you explain secret banking, offshore accounts and tax evasion to a five-year-old?

Here’s how Dan Gliesack explained the Panama Papers leak to five-year-olds:
When you get a quarter you put it in the piggy bank. The piggy bank is on a shelf in your closet. Your mom knows this and she checks on it every once in a while, so she knows when you put more money in or spend it.

Now one day, you might decide “I don’t want mom to look at my money.” So you go over to Johnny’s house with an extra piggy bank that you’re going to keep in his room. You write your name on it and put it in his closet. Johnny’s mom is always very busy, so she never has time to check on his piggy bank. So you can keep yours there and it will stay a secret.

Now all the kids in the neighbourhood think this is a good idea, and everyone goes to Johnny’s house with extra piggy banks. Now Johnny’s closet is full of piggy banks from everyone in the neighbourhood.
One day, Johnny’s mom comes home and sees all the piggy banks. She gets very mad and calls everyone’s parents to let them know.

Now not everyone did this for a bad reason. Eric’s older brother always steals from his piggy bank, so he just wanted a better hiding spot. Timmy wanted to save up to buy his mom a birthday present without her knowing. Sammy just did it because he thought it was fun. But many kids did do it for a bad reason. Jacob was stealing people’s lunch money and didn’t want his parents to figure it out. Michael was stealing money from his mom’s purse. Fat Bobby’s parents put him on a diet, and didn’t want them to figure out when he was buying candy.
Now in real life, many very important people were just caught hiding their piggy banks at Johnny’s house in Panama. Today their moms all found out. Pretty soon, we’ll know more about which of these important people were doing it for bad reasons and which were doing it for good reasons. But almost everyone is in trouble regardless, because it’s against the rules to keep secrets no matter what.

Irish Central Bank handed out severance payment of €32k to a person who did not work for it?

Another two exit packages worth €61k each were made to staff who had worked at the bank for less than two years


The Central Bank in Dublin (above left)

The state spending watchdog has criticised the Central Bank for handing out a severance payment worth €32,000 to an individual who had not even begun to work for it.

The bank suffered costs of €73,000 as a result of the case as it had to cover its own and the recruit’s legal fees.

Another two exit packages worth €61,000 each were made to staff who had worked at the bank for less than two years.

The Comptroller and Auditor General said the three payments “suggest that the Central Bank needs to review its procedures for managing recruitment and probation”.

It also noted that a long-term contractor who had never been an employee of the bank was awarded €60,000.

The report identified 14 expensive discretionary severance payments, amounting to nearly €1.5m, that were made by public sector bodies between 2011 and 2013.

The Central Bank made six of these payments, which amounted to over €540,000 including legal costs.

Between 2011 and 2013, the report said the bank had “more recourse” to termination agreements and severance payments than the other public sector bodies it examined.

“The frequency of payments could imply weaknesses in the Central Bank’s procedures for managing performance or addressing other human resource issues,” it said.

The bank clocked up its own legal costs and the costs of the employee in all but one case, but details of the legal advice it received were not documented in some cases.

The report noted that such severance payments are often made when the employment relationship breaks down “irreconcilably”.

It also says severance payments may be made to attract desirable candidates to short-term jobs.

An examination of formal severance payments awarded between 2011 and 2013 under six public sector schemes, found they had a value of €17.9m. It said nearly €11m of this was related to pension enhancements. like added years.

It found broad compliance with scheme rules in most cases, except for a scheme for chief executives of state bodies.

The report found two state bodies, who are not named, made severance payments in the form of pension enhancements worth over €1m without the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform’s prior approval.

According to the report, the governor of the Central Bank said the cases it was taken to task over arose in a period of unprecedented renewal and growth at the bank, as staff numbers grew by one third between 2009 and 2013.

A spokesman for the Comptroller and Auditor General said the Central Bank was the only public body named in the report, aside from the departments responsible for signing off on severance payments, because of the high number of discretionary payments it made.

Most Irish beaches meet water standards but six fail to make the cut


Bathers will have to think twice before taking the plunge at six of the country’s beaches after they failed basic water quality tests.

Among the six is Youghal in Co Cork, which continued its poor performance for a second year.

Untreated sewage in the water was the main culprit for the failures, with e. coli and other bacteria, making swimming and other water sports inadvisable and, in some cases, prohibited.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Irish Water are working to see what can be done to ensure that the beaches are given a clean bill of health before the summer season, but there are concerns they could remain no-go areas this year.

Matt Crowe, director of the EPA’s Office of Evidence and Assessment, said: “The relevant local authorities, in conjunction with Irish Water, have management plans in place to tackle the main pollution risks at these beaches and these plans are designed to return these beaches to at least ‘sufficient’ quality in the next year or two.”

The EPA also warned, however, that in some cases significant investment in infrastructure will be needed to get standards up to acceptable levels.

Some of the beaches are repeat offenders — Youghal, Co Cork; Duncannon, Co Wexford; and Ballyloughane, Galway City, failed for the second year in a row, while Rush, Co Dublin, failed for the third time in the last four years.

Newcomers to the bathing blacklist are Merrion Strand in Dublin Ccity and Loughshinny, which is close to Rush in north Co Dublin.

EPA inspectors who carry out the quality survey annually stressed the vast majority of the country’s most popular beaches and lakes were clean and clear of harmful pollutants.

Of the 137 inspected, 101 were rated as ‘excellent’ quality, as measured by EU standards, while a further 13 were classed as ‘good’ and 14 were ‘sufficient’.

Two that failed the previous year, Clifden, Co Galway, and Lilliput, Lough Ennell, Co Westmeath, improved enough to escape the blacklist this year, but further tests are awaited before they get a final rating.

The rest are rated as ‘poor’, which under EU regulations means they haven’t met the minimum standards required to give a green light for bathing and recreation.

Trá Inis Oirr in the Aran Islands was inspected for the first time last year and has not been tested enough to be ranked, but the EPA said sampling so far showed excellent results.

Failing the inspections does not automatically mean the beaches are off limits. Peter Webster, EPA senior scientist, said it meant there was “a risk of periodic microbiological pollution”.

“Local authorities are required to put in place notifications for the entire bathing season advising the public against bathing, which could include a bathing prohibition if a serious pollution incident occurs,” said Mr Webster.

During the bathing season, June 1 to September 15, current water quality information and details of any restrictions on bathing are displayed on the national bathing water website, splash.epa.ie, as well as on local beach notice boards.

Bathing restrictions applied on 131 out of 14,659 ‘beach days’ last year, but most suspected pollution incidents resulted in precautionary, short-term restrictions and no evidence of pollution was subsequently discovered.

Bereaved people at greater risk of developing irregular heartbeat,

Growing body of research suggests stressful life events boost risk of heart attack or a stroke.


People who suffer the death of a partner have a heightened risk of developing an irregular heartbeat for up to a year after the event, according to new research.

People who suffer the death of a partner have a heightened risk of developing an irregular heartbeat for up to a year after the event, according to new research.

The risk of an irregular heartbeat, also known as atrial fibrillation, is greatest among the under-60s and when the loss of the partner was least expected, the findings indicate. Atrial fibrillation is a risk factor for stroke and heart failure.

A growing body of evidence suggests that highly stressful life events boost the risk of a heart attack or stroke, but up to now it has not been clear whether this might also be true of atrial fibrillation.

The study, published in the online journal Open Heart, collected data on 88,612 people newly diagnosed with atrial fibrillation and 886,120 healthy people between 1995 and 2014.

The factors?

Danish researchers looked at factors that might influence atrial fibrillation risk. These included time since the bereavement; age and sex; underlying conditions, such as heart disease and diabetes; the health of the partner a month before death; and whether they were single.

Some 17,478 of those diagnosed with atrial fibrillation had lost their partner as had 168,940 of the comparison group.

Underlying illnesses, such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes, and associated treatment for these conditions, were more common among those who had been diagnosed with atrial fibrillation.

But the risk of developing an irregular heartbeat for the first time was 41 per cent higher among those who had been bereaved than it was among those who had not experienced such a loss, the findings indicated.

This heightened risk was apparent, irrespective of gender and other underlying conditions.

The risk seemed to be greatest eight to 14 days following a death, after which it gradually subsided until after a year the risk was similar to that of someone who had not been bereaved.

People under the age of 60 were more than twice as likely to develop atrial fibrillation if they had been bereaved.

Those whose partners were relatively healthy in the month before death were 57 per cent more likely to develop atrial fibrillation. No such increased risk was seen among those whose partners were not healthy and who were expected to die soon.

As an observational study, the research does not permit firm conclusions to be drawn about cause and effect.

Researchers suggest acute stress may directly disrupt normal heart rhythms and prompt the production of chemicals involved in inflammation.

Further research looking at whether the association found applies to more common, but less severe life stressors, is warranted, they say.

Seagulls are 10 times more polluting to beaches than people?

Merrion Strand (below left) in Dublin is polluted with human sewage and bird droppings, An EPA report finds.

   BEACHES_0016_LKM.jpg Rose Feerick and David Strohm pass through hundreds of seagulls as they walk along Venice Beach in Half Moon Bay. The beach has some of the most polluted water in the state, which could partially be caused by large number of seagulls that gather there. (Laura Morton/Special to the Chronicle) *** Rose Feerick
 *** David Strohm Photo: Laura Morton   

“The droppings of a seagull in a single day carried about ten times more concentrated bacteria than the waste from a human in a single day,” said EPA senior scientific officer, Peter Webster.

Seagulls are 10 times more polluting to the country’s beaches than people, according to the latest water quality report from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

The birds have been blamed as one of the reasons for the EPA’s decision to brand water quality at Merrion Strand in Dublin as poor, since they have taken to resting in large number on a sandbar.

“The droppings of a seagull in a single day carried about 10 times more concentrated bacteria than the waste from a human in a single day,” said EPA senior scientific officer, Peter Webster.

Six beaches, including Merrion, have been given “poor” grades, which means that local authorities will put up warnings to swimmers, but will not ban them from swimming there.

However, the EPA report found three-quarters of sites it inspected were “excellent” and 93.4 per cent met minimum EU standards – roughly in line with last year’s numbers.

Those classed as “poor” were Youghal, Co Cork; Duncannon Co Waterford; Rush south beach. Co Dublin and Ballyloughane, Co Galway all of which were first classed as “poor” in 2014, as well as Merrion Strand and Loughshinny in Dublin which were classified as poor for the first time in 2015.

No inland bathing areas were classified as having poor water quality.

EPA senior scientific officer Peter Webster said problems at Merrion Strand in south Dublin were “complex, on-going and difficult to resolve”.

Two factors had been identified. First was the presence the Trimleston and Elm Park streams which were found to be polluted with sewage. Mr Webster said this could be a result of “poor housing connections” from anywhere as far as the M50.

The second issue was an offshore sandbar which had become home to populations of seagulls and wading birds. The droppings of a seagull in a single day carried about ten times more concentrated bacteria than the waste from a human in a single day, he said.

The EPA said where bathing waters were classified as poor, the advice was not to bathe. Where such a classification was made, local authorities must publicise the advice, or in more extreme cases close the beach.

In a statement on Monday evening Fingal County Council said it had agreed a management plan for Loughshinny Beach bathing water with the EPA, “who are satisfied that the measures set out in the plan will achieve an improvement in water quality”.

In relation to the other coastal areas, remediation measures are being put in place by agreement between the local authorities and the EPA.

Mr Webster said a complicating factor in the report was that data was compiled over a four year period, so the data applying to 2015 was collected between 2012 and 2015.

In the case of Loughsinny a once-off event in 2014 had caused a major pollution leak, but previous years had pulled the overall result up. Since 2015 was marginally worse than 2011, “the data tipped” into the poor classification this year, he said.


News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Friday 18th March 2016

Fine Gael now to offer Independents & a variety of other’s a five-year deal for a new government

Enda Kenny’s proposal includes major initiatives on housing and health issues


Enda Kenny is to offer Independents and smaller parties a five-year deal that will remain in force even if he leaves office, in a bid to win their support for a minority Fine Gael government.

A proposed programme for government may be put to a special Fine Gael conference to guarantee the party’s commitment to the deal.

Next week, Mr Kenny will seek the approval of his parliamentary party to continue negotiations with members of the Independent Alliance, the Green Party’s two TDs and several other Independents.

The proposed deal will pledge major initiatives to deal with housing and health issues, along with a range of measures to spread the economic recovery into rural areas.

Such an emphasis will help Fine Gael to “navigate the centre ground of Irish politics”, according to a high-level party source.

The manoeuvres reflect a growing confidence in Mr Kenny’s circle that Fine Gael can put forward a credible minority government option.

Fine Gael intends to focus on policy areas the party believes cost it support during the election campaign as it works to put together a five-year programme for government, with or without Fianna Fáil support.

Mr Kenny will put a short document before his TDs reaffirming the party’s election manifesto proposals while also emphasising how to link “our economic proposition with social justice and a fair society”.

Written submissions

TDs have made written submissions outlining the areas in which they felt Fine Gael was weak during the campaign.

The issue of Mr Kenny stepping down as Fine Gael leader has been raised in negotiations with Independents and smaller parties.

He has already said he will not lead Fine Gael into another election and the party has been asked if his successor would honour the terms of any agreement reached in the weeks ahead.

Sources said Mr Kenny was considering putting a programme for government before a special convention or ardfheis to effectively tie the party as a whole, rather than simply the current leadership, into any agreement.

Fine Gael is still open to negotiations with Fianna Fáil, either for a coalition administration or some framework for supporting a Fine Gael minority government.

While Fianna Fáil sources have suggested such a framework could be for a period of two years, Fine Gael wants a five-year programme.

It intends to work on such a programme with Independents and others, such as the Green Party, in the weeks ahead.

The programme could then be offered to Fianna Fáil to see if it wanted to sign up to it.

“You’d have to listen to their views and what the conditions of their support are,” a Fine Gael source said.

“We’d be extremely eager to have an arrangement with them that would support a minority government but the signals we’re hearing from there are still, ‘we just want Fine Gael out’.”

However, it is felt that even if Fianna Fáil does not formally support a Fine Gael minority government, Micheál Martin would find it hard to oppose a budget framed to appeal to the centre ground.

Such a budget would contain measures broadly similar to those proposed in the Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and Labour Party manifestos..

Investigate level of doctors failing to meet CPD standards, says IMO

Padraig McGarry wants to determine level of non-compliance before sanctions considered


Padraig McGarry, (Left Pic) chairman of the Irish Medical Organisation’s GP Committee.

An investigation is required to determine the exact level of doctors failing to meet the professional competence requirements, according to Padraig McGarry, chairman of the Irish Medical Organisation’s GP Committee.

Doctors are obliged to complete 50 hours of Compulsory Professional Development courses every year which includes clinical meetings.

The chief executive of the Irish Medical Council Bill Brasifka told the Medical Independent 30 per cent of doctors are not meeting their CPD requirements.

But Mr McGarry said this figure was incorrect as it failed to take into consideration doctors working abroad, those on maternity leave or sick leave and includes locums who would not have the time to carry out the extra requirements.

“It would be an onerous task to do that on top of the 60 hours they work a week, and many cannot just do the CPD courses because of the stress,” explained Mr McGarry.

He called for an investigation into the exact levels of non-compliance before fines or other measures were considered.

Petrol price decline slows up, but no sharp rise expected

AA Ireland says rising oil prices being felt at forecourts, but oversupply issues persist


AA Ireland said the average price for a litre of petrol in Ireland is now 121.1 cent.

Rising oil prices are starting to have an impact at forecourts with a decline in the cost of fuel slowing considerably last month, according to AA Ireland.

However, the organisation said motorists are unlikely to see a big jump in the cost of fuel anytime soon as oversupply issues persist.

AA Ireland said the average price for a litre of petrol in Ireland is now 121.1 cent, down 0.9 per cent on February but still considerably lower than the 153.1 cents being charged two years ago. Diesel rose by 0.9 cents last month to an average of 106.3 cents.

AA Ireland said that while prices are rebounding, motorists are unlikely to notice a big difference in the coming months.

“The price of oil has come up off the floor in the last few weeks but the recovery is nothing to be excited about and the problems of oversupply are still there. That may cause all sorts of problems for oil producers and for some parts of the global economy but by and large it is good for us, and it is certainly good for motorists.” said director of consumer affairs Conor Faughnan.

Oil prices fell as low as $27 dollars per barrel on world markets around mid-January before recovering to a current level of about $40. Prior to this, prices had averaged over $100 until the start of 2014 when the cost spiralled downwards.

The fall in oil prices has been of great benefit to the public with the average motorist saving as much as €48 per month due to lower petrol prices.

Overall, the cost of petrol has fallen by 21 per cent in Ireland, compared to a 64 per cent decline in oil prices. Mr Faughnan said the high rate of excise duty on fuel here meant Irish motorists were not benefiting as much from price reductions as motorists in other jurisdictions.

Lager, ale or blonde? Where to start with craft beer in Ireland?

With so many available these days it can be difficult knowing what to try


Choosing a beer these days can be tricky. IPAs, imperial stouts, red ales, blondes and the list is endless. It’s a good thing, of course, with so many new Irish and international offerings. But it can be hard knowing what to try or where to begin.

All beers fall loosely into two categories: lagers and ales. Light lagers have been the dominant beer style over the last 50 years or so, while ales have seen a massive resurgence with the recent craft beer boom. What’s the difference between an ale and a lager? Yeast.

“Lager” means “to store”, and lager yeasts are active at lower temperatures which is why the style originated in cooler climates, such as Germany.

We all know the crisp, light and golden lager; however there are many variations and colours, depending on the malts used. The clean and sweet grainy flavour of the Munich helles (light), for example, comes from Pilsner malt.

The more characterful Bohemian Pils became the template for many mainstream lagers, the archetype being the Czech Pilsner Urquel or “original”.

Ales – which include wheat beers and stouts – use yeasts which ferment at slightly warmer temperatures. While ales have a long history in Ireland and England, the craft beer movement began with the rise of the American pale ale which showcased pungent US hops with citrus and grapefruit flavours – Sierra Nevada among the first.

Cork brewers Cotton Ball do a cracking pilsner called Mayfield 5 – the perfect lager for anyone looking for an intro to craft beer scene. For a tasty light blonde ale with a summery tropical fruit zing try Pass If You Can by Hope Beer. 33 Sticke Alt by Northbound Brewing is an easy drinker, malty with a hint of bitterness, and is a hybrid lagered ale – but that’s a whole other story.

Garda cut from a patrol car rammed during a Donegal pursuit

Black Fiat Punto (like below middle pic.) was being pursued after failing to stop for Gardaí in Donegal


Patrol car was rammed after a high speed pursuit in Co Donegal early on Friday.

A Garda had to be cut from his patrol car after it was rammed following a high-speed pursuit in Co Donegal early on Friday.

The collision happened at McGrory’s Brae, between Ballybofey and Donegal town, when a black Fiat Punto crashed into a garda car.

The Punto had been pursued after failing to stop for gardaí in Donegal.

It is unclear if a stinger-style device was deployed in a bid to stop the car. The garda inside the patrol car was cut free by fire crews and was taken toLetterkenny University Hospital for treatment for minor injuries.

The driver of the Punto remains in hospital and gardai are waiting to interview him.

A Garda spokesman said the Ombudsman attended the scene as a matter of routine but are not investigating the incident.

He said gardai were appealing for anyone who saw the Punto on theBarnesmore Gap early on Friday to contact Letterkenny Garda station at (091) 67100 or the Garda Confidential Line 1800 666 111.

What will a mission to Mars hope to discover?


An artist’s impression of the ExoMars 2016 mission, a collaboration between the European and Russian space agencies, shows the lander, Schiaparelli, separating from the orbiter.

The mission blasted off from Kazakhstan last week and the spacecraft is expected to arrive in October. It will study dust storms and gases like methane, a hot topic because it can be created in a process requiring heat and liquid water.

While countries in Europe have been slashing budgets, one area has not just escaped the ax but chalked up a stellar jump: space exploration.

The European Space Agency (ESA) has seen its budget expand 75 percent since 2008, unscathed by the region’s sovereign debt crisis.

The project, which draws contributions from individual member nations, has become a rare force of unity in a region that’s struggling with an unprecedented refugee crisis, a potential British exit from the European Union and an unresolved conflict between Ukraine and Russia.

“There is a political meaning and purpose to this mission: working together beyond national borders, beyond crises on Earth,” said Jan Woerner, the head of ESA and a German engineer who formerly headed his country’s space agency. “We use a Russian launcher, with American contribution and it’s a European mission.”

From a space center in Kazakhstan, ESA is sending into deep space an orbiter tasked with gathering critical scientific data. Attached is a spacecraft that will head to the Martian surface to test the ability of Europeans to safely land on the planet. Monday’s liftoff is the first of two launches that will see a rover on Mars by 2020, joining NASA’s Curiosity, which is already there.

The orbiter has several scientific tasks: one is to sniff out any trace of methane, the gas that could be a signpost of life; another is to map out precisely when the rover can try to land, starting in 2018. While an earlier spacecraft launched during ESA’s mission in 2003 called Mars Express is still mapping, photographing and making useful scientific measurements, the lander sent with it was never able to transmit data to ESA.

The budget of ESA, an agency backed by 22 European nations, has risen 75 percent since 2008 to $5.8 billion (though that’s less than a third of NASA’s $19 billion). The support shows that Europe wants to be a key actor in the arena.

ESA also has made space exploration missions like the ExoMars more palatable by providing returns on investment. For each member, 1 euro invested in ESA generates between 5 and 7 euros in collateral investments in industry and jobs, the agency said.

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Friday 6th March 2015

Irish Government willing to ‘tweak’ insolvency legislation


Minister insisted Government was watching situation in the courts ‘very carefully’.

Minister for Finance Michael Noonan has said the Government is willing to “tweak” insolvency legislation.

Mr Noonan made his comments in Limerick where some 219 repossession cases were listed before the Circuit Court.

When asked if he could envisage a change in the insolvency legislation happening soon he replied: “We have been discussing it as late as this week. If we had to legislate to make change it would take some time, but there are things we can do through regulation which we think will improve the uptake.”

Mr Noonan said the Government was “very conscious of the issue and it’s the policy of the Government not to have homes repossessed”.

He added that a lot of actions taken by the banks involved “simply sending orders to people who haven’t replied to letters, but I would advise people to engage, once they engage arrangements can be made to come up with affordable solutions.”

“The issue around restructuring of mortgages has been going on for all the life of this Government and over 100,000 mortgages have been restructured now, 2,500 of them in the last month.

“As I understand it, the banks are getting people to engage with them so they can commence negotiations and restructuring rather than moving for repossession.

“But we are watching the situation in the courts very carefully and, we are also watching the way in the insolvency legislation is being applied and if it needs tweaking to improve the uptake we will tweak it.”

Among the cases dealt with by the county registrar Pat Wallace in Limerick was that of a mother of five who agreed to leave her family home after falling into arrears of more than €70,000 following the break-up of her marriage.

The case was adjourned until May 8th.

Fianna Fáil TDs Niall Collins and Willie O’Dea were in court to lend their support to their constituents.

Fine Gael and Labour TDs and Senators expressed concern at separate private party meetings on Wednesday about the effectiveness of existing measures to help those in difficulty with mortgage arrears.

The parliamentary Labour Party unanimously backed a Bill from Longford-Westmeath TD Willie Penrose calling for the period of bankruptcy to be reduced from three years to one.

At the Fine Gael parliamentary party meeting Mr Noonan said the Economic Management Council (EMC), which discussed the issue at its meeting on Wednesday, will examine further ways to assist people in mortgage difficulties.

The Insolvency Service of Ireland dealt with approximately 1,000 cases last year but the slow uptake by debtors has led to calls for reform.


Number of long-term mortgage accounts in arrears increases


Accounts in arrears for over 720 days up 0.8% in fourth quarter.

Some 114,674 residential mortgage accounts were classified as restructured at the end of 2014

The number of residential mortgage accounts in arrears continued to drop in the final three months of last year, the sixth successive quarterly decline, according to new figures from the Central Bank.

The data shows however that mortgage accounts in arrears for two years or more are still rising.

Some 110,366 residential mortgage accounts – equivalent to 14.5% of all residential mortgages – were in arrears at the end of 2014. This marks a 6.4% decline compared to the third quarter.

The figures show that accounts in early arrears declined significantly during the fourth quarter, falling 3.8% to 31,667 at the end of December, or 4.2% of the total stock.

Accounts in arrears over 90 days – equivalent to 10.4% of all residential mortgage accounts – fell by 7.4% from October to December to 78,699. However, accounts in arrears for over 720 days continued to rise during the fourth quarter, albeit at the slowest rate to date.

According to the latest figures, the number of accounts in arrears for more than 720 days increased by 294 or 0.8% in the final quarter of 2014. Such accounts now represent close to half of of the 78,699 customers in distress for more than 90 days.

The outstanding balance on mortgage accounts in arrears for 720 days or more was €8.2 billion, the figures show.

Fianna Fáil finance spokesperson Michael McGrath described the increase in the number of accounts in long-term arrears as a “damning indictment of the Government’s strategy in relation to distressed mortgages. “

“The falls in early stage arrears should not be considered as cause for self-congratulation as these are typically the easiest cases to deal with. The reality is that there are still a huge number of arrears cases to be dealt with. In fact of the total stock of 78,699 residential accounts that were in arrears of more than 90 days, just 28.1% were classified as restructured at the end of December, compared to 29.3% at the end of September,” he said.

Philip O’Sullivan, an economist with Investec said the decline in the number of accounts in arrears was a welcome trend and one that reflected the improving economic backdrop and more effective engagement by both lenders and borrowers. He said however that the rise in long-term arreas was a serious problem that required ongoing attention from banks.

Some 114,674 residential mortgage accounts were classified as restructured at the end of 2014, reflecting a quarter-on-quarter increase of 4.3%. Of these accounts, 84.9% were deemed to be meeting the terms of their current restructure arrangement. The largest increases in restructures were again recorded in the categories of split mortgages and arrears capitalisations, the Central Bank said.

Buy-to-let mortgage accounts in arrears over 90 days decreased by 7.6% during the fourth quarter; the largest decrease recorded in this category to date. At the end of December, there were 15,386 Buy-to-let accounts in arrears over 720 days, with an outstanding balance of €4.8 billion.

Goodbody economist Dermot O’Leary said while the latest statistics show progress on reducing arrears, doubts remain about the suitability of some of the options employed in restructuring accounts.

He noted the high rate of re-default by owner occupiers and investors on accounts that have undergone arrears capitalisation restructuring, which represent 35% of the total restructures undertaken.

Mr O’Leary also questioned whether the 33% rise in mortgage restructures in the past year represented permanent solutions.

€100 charge to inspect water meter for faults


The Commission for Energy Regulation (CER) has said members of the public could face a €100 service charge if they tell Irish Water there is a problem with their water meter.

The CER yesterday issued the Water Charges Plan 2015, which takes into account the revised water charges announced by the Government last November.

The plan also approves a €100 charge that will be applied to some Irish Water customers who report concerns about their meter readings.

The levy will only be applied if the meter is tested and found to be “accurate to within tolerances”. If it is found that the meter is inaccurate, the fee will not be applied.

Irish Water told the CER it does not know how much a meter testing call-out will cost the company.

“Irish Water have yet to carry out meter-testing in response to a customer request and therefore we do not currently have a robust estimate of the costs involved,” the utility said in its submission. “We expect to collect accurate cost date over the coming months. In the interim, while Irish Water gathers this data a standardised customer charge of €100 is proposed.”

Irish Water said the charge was reasonable based on a review of charges from other utilities.

The only other additional services charge that Irish Water can apply is a €17 fee for a special domestic meter read.

This will apply when a domestic customer requests that a meter read be undertaken outside of the normal meter reading schedule.

The plan approves a charge of €3.70 per 1,000 litres for customers who receive both water and wastewater services from Irish Water, though this will be capped at a maximum charge of €160 per annum for households with one adult or €260 per annum for two or more adults.

Meanwhile, Fianna Fáil senator Averil Power has said the Government has failed to roll out a ‘free first fix’ scheme announced 10 months ago. The scheme will see Irish Water fix faults at no cost to the customer.

Ms Power contacted Dublin City Council and Irish Water on behalf of Dublin householders who were instructed to repair a water leak on their property.

“I was surprised to hear that water staff had dug up the path, spotted the leak, and left it unfixed,” she said. “Once they identified that the problem was within the property boundary, they walked away and told the homeowners they would have to call a private plumber themselves and get it repaired.

“The Minister for Environment must immediately address this issue so more homeowners are not hit with hefty bills for repairing links that the Government said would be the responsibility of Irish Water.”

5 Restaurants receive closure orders in Cork, Roscommon and Dublin 


Two restaurants in Mitchelstown, Co Cork issued with food closure orders

Five closure orders were issued by environmental health officers in the HSE in Dublin, Co Cork and Co Roscommon during the month of February.

Five food businesses, including two restaurants inMitchelstown, Co Cork, a Chinese restaurant in Carrigaline, Co Cork and a Chinese restaurant in Co Roscommon, received closure orders last month.

The five closure orders were issued by environmental health officers with the HSE in Dublin, Co Cork and Co Roscommon during the month of February.

Four closure orders were issued under the European Communities (Official Control of Foodstuffs) regulations against Shanghai House restaurant, 13 Upper Cork Street, Mitchelstown, Co Cork; Yu Garden Chinese restaurant, Bridge Street, Strokestown, Co Roscommon; Huahong restaurant, Carrig House, Old Waterpark, Carrigaline, Co Cork, and VF Foods (cold store), Room 1 of the building, Jamestown Business Park, Jamestown Road, Finglas, Dublin 11.

One closure order was issued under the Food Safety Authority of Ireland Act (FSAI) of 1998 against Curry Hut & Indian Kebab House restaurant, 6 Lower Cork Street, Mitchelstown, Co Cork.

Closure orders are issued to businesses where there is likely to be a grave and immediate danger to public health at or in the premises. The food safety issue or issues must be remedied before the business can open.

One Prohibition Order was also issued by local authority veterinary inspectors in Louth County Council against the Arcross Foods pork processing plant in Blackrock, Co Louth.

Dr Bernard Hegarty, Director of Service Contracts FSAI, said there was no excuse for food businesses putting customers’ health at risk through a company’s negligent practices.

“The legal onus is on food businesses to ensure at all times that the food they serve is safe to eat,” said Mr Hegarty. “All food businesses must have a food safety management system in place that is consulted and updated on a regular basis, in order to avoid non-compliance issues and breaches of food safety legislation.”

He urged food business owners unsure of their legal obligations to contact the FSAI through the company’s advice line on 1890 336677 or the FSAI website.

Last month the FSAI reported an increase of 2,738 complaints in 2014 by consumers about food quality and food premises. The authority said the increase in complaints reflected the growing awareness among consumers of the need to report poor hygiene practices.

Objects discovered in food items in 2014 included dead maggots, insects, wire, a razor blade and cigarettes.

“Quack Quack” It’s my next meal as bald eagle flies away with a duck in its claws


The predator kept its eye on the prey as it dragged it off, in South Carolina, US, and this image was captured just as it swooped.

Amazing: This is the dramatic moment an eagle swooped down and caught a startled duckling for dinner…..before bending over to look its poor prey right in the eye

Staring down at its next meal, a bald eagle flies away with a duck in its talons after plucking it from the water.

The predator kept its eye on the prey as it dragged it off, in South Carolina, US.

Phil Lanoue, who took the snap, said: “I saw the eagle swoop and hit the water.

“It sat there for a few seconds, trying to get something in its talons.”

The bald eagle is not actually bald and has been named because of its white head.

It builds the largest nest of any North America bird and is only found there and in northern Mexico.

The bald eagle is both the national bird and the national animal of the United States and appears on its seal.

At the end of the last century the bald eagle was threatened with extinction but numbers are now flourishing – and it certainly looks like it from this amazing picture.

But one bald eagle who was not so graceful was Lewis, who was released inside the on-campus chapel at Oral Roberts University as part of a special service to celebrate the start of term – and crashed into a window.

A jawbone of the very first human discovered in Ethiopia


The fossil’s teeth are smaller than those of other human relatives

Scientists have unearthed the jawbone of what they claim is one of the very first humans.

The 2.8 million-year-old specimen is 400,000 years older than researchers thought that our kind first emerged.

The discovery in Ethiopia suggests climate change spurred the transition from tree dweller to upright walker.

The head of the research team told BBC News that the find gives the first insight into “the most important transitions in human evolution”.

This is the most important transition in human evolution”

Prof Brian Villmoare of the University of Nevada in Las Vegas said the discovery makes a clear link between an iconic 3.2 million-year-old hominin (human-like primate) discovered in the same area in 1974, called “Lucy”.

Could Lucy’s kind – which belonged to the species Australopithecus afarensis – have evolved into the very first primitive humans?

“That’s what we are arguing,” said Prof Villmoare.

But the fossil record between the time period when Lucy and her kin were alive and the emergence of Homo erectus (with its relatively large brain and humanlike body proportions) two million years ago is sparse.

The 2.8 million-year-old lower jawbone was found in the Ledi-Geraru research area, Afar Regional State, by Ethiopian student Chalachew Seyoum. He told BBC News that he was “stunned” when he saw the fossil.

“The moment I found it, I realised that it was important, as this is the time period represented by few (human) fossils in Eastern Africa.”

The fossil is of the left side of the lower jaw, along with five teeth. The back molar teeth are smaller than those of other hominins living in the area and are one of the features that distinguish humans from more primitive ancestors, according to Professor William Kimbel, director of Arizona State University’s Institute of Human Origins.

These new studies challenge us to consider the very definition of what it is to be human”

“Previously, the oldest fossil attributed to the genus Homo was an upper jaw from Hadar, Ethiopia, dated to 2.35m years ago,” he told BBC News.

“So this new discovery pushes the human line back by 400,000 years or so, very close to its likely (pre-human) ancestor. Its mix of primitive and advanced features makes the Ledi jaw a good transitional form between (Lucy) and later humans.”

A computer reconstruction of a skull belonging to the species Homo habilis, which has been published in Nature journal, indicates that it may well have been the evolutionary descendant of the species announced today.

The researcher involved, Prof Fred Spoor of University College London told BBC News that, taken together, the new findings had lifted a veil on a key period in the evolution of our species.

“By discovering a new fossil and re-analysing an old one we have truly contributed to our knowledge of our own evolutionary period, stretching over a million years that had been shrouded in mystery,” he said.

Climate change

The dating of the jawbone might help answer one of the key questions in human evolution. What caused some primitive ancestors to climb down from the trees and make their homes on the ground.

A separate study in Science hints that a change in climate might have been a factor. An analysis of the fossilised plant and animal life in the area suggests that what had once been lush forest had become dry grassland.

As the trees made way for vast plains, ancient human-like primates found a way of exploiting the new environmental niche, developing bigger brains and becoming less reliant on having big jaws and teeth by using tools.

Prof Chris Stringer of the Natural History Museum in London described the discovery as a “big story”.

He says the new species clearly does show the earliest step toward human characteristics, but suggests that half a jawbone is not enough to tell just how human it was and does not provide enough evidence to suggest that it was this line that led to us.

The jawbone was found close to the area where Lucy was discovered

He notes that the emergence of human-like characteristics was not unique to Ethiopia.

“The human-like features shown by Australopithecus sediba in South Africa at around 1.95 million years ago are likely to have developed independently of the processes which produced (humans) in East Africa, showing that parallel origins are a distinct possibility,” Prof Stringer explained.

This would suggest several different species of humans co-existing in Africa around two million years ago with only one of them surviving and eventually evolving into our species, Homo sapiens. It is as if nature was experimenting with different versions of the same evolutionary configuration until one succeeded.

Prof Stringer added: “These new studies leave us with an even more complex picture of early humans than we thought, and they challenge us to consider the very definition of what it is to be human. Are we defined by our small teeth and jaws, our large brain, our long legs, tool-making, or some combination of these traits?”

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Friday/Saturday 28th & 29th November 2014

Ireland set to repay the first installment of €9 billion to IMF next month


Money will be paid from cash balances held by the National Treasury Management Agency.

Minister for Finance Michael Noonan: “All bilateral lenders have now confirmed the waiver in respect of their loans to us”.

The Government expects to repay €9 billion of the State’s loans with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in December, in what will be the first instalment of the early repayment of our bailout funds from the Washington DC-based body.

This has been confirmed by Minister for Finance Michael Noonan in a reply to a question from Fianna Fáil’s finance spokesman Michael McGrath.

“The early repayment [of the IMF loans] will take place in tranches, with the first tranche of approximately €9 billion planned for next month,” Mr Noonan said.

It is understood this money will be paid from existing cash balances held by the National Treasury Management Agency on behalf of the State.

Ireland intends to repay €18.3 billion of our €22.5 billion IMF loan, which dates back to the financial assistance programme agreed with the fund and the EU in late 2010.

Mr Noonan said this is the portion of the loan subject to the highest rate of interest. The intention was to replace it, in a “measured way”, with “less expensive market funding”.

A clause in our loan agreements with the European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF), the European Financial Stabilisation Mechanism (EFSM), and with bilateral lenders the UK, Denmark and Sweden meant that waivers from them were required to repay the IMF loans early.

“All bilateral lenders have now confirmed the waiver in respect of their loans to us, in accordance with their national approval procedures,” Mr Noonan said.

“The most recent of these was the Swedish government’s agreement on November 20th … following the Swedish parliament’s approval the previous day. The EFSF and EFSM can now complete the waiver process, which will facilitate the first early repayment.”

Garda Reserve close to full strength 10 years after inception


Journalists absent from Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan first passing-out ceremony at Templemore

The Garda Reserve is on course to achieve its target strength next year, some 10 years after the part-time unpaid element of the force was established.

It was intended that the reserve would reach 10 per cent of the full-time Garda number. But nine years after the first intake, that figure is yet to be reached.

The latest class of reservists graduated at the Garda College, Templemore, Co Tipperary, yesterday when 62 men and women from home and abroad were officially welcomed into the reserve after completing their training.

In total, 62 reservists passed out: 41 men and 21 women. While most were from the Republic, there were also reservists fromFrance, Poland, Latvia and Lithuania.

Target in sight

The passing out brought to 1,173 the full strength of the reserve, with 1,091 fully attested and 82 in training.

If current intake trends continue, the number of reservists will reach some 1,250 next year, or 10 per cent of the full-time force.

The reserve was introduced under theGarda Síochána Act 2005, with the first intake of reservists inducted the following year.

Some organisations that represent full-time Garda members were dissatisfied with what they considered efforts by then minister for justice Michael McDowell to introduce free policing.

Yesterday’s ceremony was the first passing-out event at Templemore over which Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan has presided since her appointment this week.

However while the ceremony is usually open to journalists, who are afforded an interview opportunity with the commissioner and minister for justice of the day, only photographers were invited to yesterday’s passing out.

Media absence

Senior sources said the commissioner had already taken questions from the media at several events since her appointment on Tuesday. And they added that there was “little point” in another media event just days into her term.

The same sources said the commissioner remained committed to creating a more open and transparent force and the exclusion of journalists “should not be misinterpreted in any way”.

In September, Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald and then interim commissioner O’Sullivan faced a barrage of questions at a passing-out in Templemore relating to allegations that gardaí continued to cancel penalty points without reason.

Senior sources at the time believed the allegations had been leaked just before the event in an effort to put Ms O’Sullivan at a disadvantage.

Ireland’s GPs ‘unaware of their medical card powers’

Says the HSE


The ability of doctors to extend a medical card for four months was one of the measures included in the package announced earlier this week

Some GPs in Ireland have not been made fully aware they could temporarily save a patient from losing their medical card in special cases, the Health Service

A spokeswoman was commenting after the National Association of General Practitioners said doctors encountered a wide range of problems with this facility.

Others were unaware they could extend a card via the HSE computer system even though it has been in place for two years, the GP body said.

The HSE spokeswoman said the HSE and GP representatives worked collaboratively to develop the facilities which are available to family doctors today. “It is clear that not all GPs are fully aware of all of the facilities available and the HSE will be writing again to clarify the situation with them.

“However, many GPs are aware of the facilities and currently reinstate medical cards, extend the expiry date for sensitive renewals and add babies to medical cards.


“To date GPs have reinstated 2,008 medical cards, completed 384 sensitive renewals, removed 19,189 medical cards and added 21,770 babies to the GMS register,” she added.

She pointed out there are “controls in place”. In instances where a family has been fully assessed and it has been established that they are not eligible for a medical card, this decision cannot be overturned by a GP. “However, if a family did not engage with the review process, for reasons of illness for instance, the lapsed eligibility for this family can be re-instated by their GP.

“The HSE will work with GPs to strengthen the facilities available to them.”

The ability of doctors to extend a medical card for four months was one of the measures included in the package announced earlier this week to reform the discretionary medical card scheme.

If the patient has a mental illness, it may be extended by the GP for a year after notifying the HSE.

Ireland records second highest fertility rate in the EU


Significant developments and trends noted in 2012 CSO Vital Statistics report

A report on Vital Statistics 2012 published by the Central Statistics Office notes that France had the highest fertility rate at 2.01, Ireland was next at 1.99.

Ireland recorded the second highest fertility rate in the EU in 2012, the figures released by the Central Statistics Office show.

A report on Vital Statistics 2012 published by the Central Statistics Office notes that France had the highest fertility rate at 2.01, Ireland was next at 1.99 followed by the UK with a rate of 1.94. Portugal had the lowest rate at 1.28.

Referred to as the Total Period Fertility Rate (TPFR) the fertility figure represents a theoretical average number of children who would be born alive to a woman during her lifetime.

A 2.1 score is considered to be the population replacement rate – the number of births necessary to maintain current population levels.

Ireland’s TPFR has fallen by 33 per cent in the last 30 years, from 2.96 in 1980 to 1.99 in 2012. It has been below the replacement level since 1991.

The number of births to women aged 30 to 34 in 2012 was 26, 028, the highest number of all 5-year age groups and representing over a third of all births (36.3 per cent).

The percentage of births to teenage mothers remained the same in 2012 as in 2011, at 2.3 per cent (1,616) of births to mothers under 20 years of age.

Excluding 2011, it was 1963 since the percentage of births to mothers below 20 was this low.

As the decline in the rate births to mothers under 20 might suggest, Irish women are choosing to have their babies later in life and the rate of births to mothers over 40 is increasing.

In 2012, 5.6 per cent (4,007) of births were to mothers over 40. This was the highest percentage of births to this age group since 1971 when it was 5.7 per cent.

In 2012, 7 per cent of females in their 20s gave birth while 11 per cent of those in their 30s gave birth.

The average age of mothers at maternity in Ireland in 2012 was 32.0 years. This compares with 30.0 in Northern Ireland and 29.8 in England and Wales.

In 2012, 71,674 children born in Ireland. This represents a fall of 3.2 per cent (2,359)from 2011. Despite recording a fall, 2012 still saw the fifth highest number of births in Ireland since 1980.

The birth rate was 15.6 per 1,000 of the population compared with 16.2 in 2011 and 15.5 in 2002.

The report also highlights some other significant developments and trends. In 2012, just over 23.2 per cent of births were to mothers of non-Irish nationality.

The number of births outside marriage/civil partnership in 2012 was 25,179 or 35.1 per cent of all births.

Wednesday the 4th of July saw the highest number of babies born on one day (269). The lowest number of babies born on the one day was 107 on April 22nd.

There were 29,186 deaths recorded in Ireland in 2012, of which 14,945 were males and 14, 241 were females. This equates to 6.36 deaths per 1,000 total population compared with 6.22 in 2011 and 7.58 in 2002.

There were 541 deaths due to intentional self-harm in 2012 of which 445 were male and 96 female.

The risk from extreme weather is set to rise


The UK is comparatively resilient to extreme events – but vulnerable because of high population density

Climate change and population growth will hugely increase the risk to people from extreme weather, a report says.

The Royal Society warns that the risk of heatwaves to an ageing population will rise about ten-fold by 2090 if greenhouse gases continue to rise.

They estimate the risk to individuals from floods will rise more than four-fold and the drought risk will treble.

The report’s lead author Prof Georgina Mace said: “This problem is not just about to come… it’s here already.”

She told BBC News: “We have to get the mindset that with climate change and population increase we are living in an ever-changing world – and we need much better planning if we hope to cope.”

The report says governments have not grasped the risk of booming populations in coastal cities as sea level rises and extreme events become more severe.

“People are increasingly living in the wrong places, and it’s likely that extreme events will be more common,” Prof Mace says.

“For most hazards, population increase contributes at least as much as climate change – sometimes more. We are making ourselves more vulnerable whilst making the climate more extreme.

“It is impossible for us to avoid the worst and most unexpected events. But it is not impossible to be prepared for an ever-changing world. We must organise ourselves right away.”

The report’s team said the UK was comparatively resilient to extreme events – but still vulnerable because of the high density of people living in areas at risk.

The report says governments have not grasped the risk of booming populations in coastal cities

The report advises all levels of society to prepare – from strategic planning at an international and national level to local schemes by citizens to tackle floods or heatwaves.

Its scenarios are based on the assumption that the world stays on the current trajectory of emissions, which the authors assume will increase temperature by 2.6-4.8C around 2090. It assumes a population of nine billion.

They say they have built upon earlier work by calculating the effects of climate change coupled with population trends. They warn that the effects of extremes will be exacerbated by the increase in elderly people, who are least able to cope with hot weather.

Urbanisation will make the issue worse by creating “heat islands” where roads and buildings absorb heat from the sun. As well as building homes insulated against the cold, we must also ensure they can be properly ventilated in the summer, the report says.

The authors say cutting greenhouse gas emissions is essential. But they argue that governments will also need to adapt to future climatic shifts driven by climate change.

They suggest threats could be tackled through a dual approach. The simplest and cheapest way of tempering heatwaves, they say, is to maintain existing green space. Other low-cost options are planting new trees, encouraging green roofs, or painting roofs white to reflect the sun.

The authors say air conditioners are the most effective way of keeping cool – but they are costly, they dump heat into city streets and their use exacerbates climate change.

Flooding is another priority area, the report says. It finds that large-scale engineering solutions like sea walls offer the most effective protection to coastal flooding – but they are expensive, and when they fail the results can be disastrous.

Urbanisation creates heat islands which can exacerbate the effects of hot weather

The ideal solution, the authors think, may be a combination of “hard” engineering solutions like dykes matched with “soft” solutions like protecting wetlands to hold water and allow it to seep into the ground.

A scheme at Pickering in Yorkshire previously featured by BBC News is held as an example. The report concludes more research is needed to measure the effectiveness of these ecosystem solutions.

It insists that governments should carefully prioritise their spending. They should protect major infrastructure like electricity generation because of its knock-on effect on the broader economy. They should expect some lower-priority defences to fail from time to time, then work to minimise the consequences of that failure .

The authors identify excess heat as another potential threat to economies and agriculture if temperatures climb too high for outdoor workers.

They examine projected rises in the “wet bulb” index used by the US Army and others to measure the temperature felt when the skin is wet and exposed to moving air.

Some areas may experience many weeks when outdoor activity is heavily restricted, they fear – although the trend of agricultural labour loss may be offset through the century as more and more people move to cities.

It puts a figure on those at greatest overall risk: populations in poor countries make up only 11% of those exposed to hazards but account for 53% of the disaster deaths.

Some economists argue this shows that poor nations should increase their economies by burning cheap fossil fuels because that will allow them to spend more later on disaster protection.

The authors also call for reform of the financial system to take into account the exposure of assets to extreme events.

They say: “Unless risks are accurately evaluated and reported, companies will have limited incentives to reduce them. And valuations and investment decisions will continue to be poorly informed.”

One author, Rowan Douglas, from the Willis Research Network, said he suspected this might be the most significant contribution of the report.

The authors want organisations to report their maximum probable losses due to extreme events, based on a 1% chance of the event on any given year.

“The 1% stress test is not as extreme as it might sound – it implies a 10% chance of an organization being affected once a decade,” they say.

They say decisions made over the next few decades as the world builds vast urban areas will be key to the resilience of people by the end of the century.

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Friday 7th November 2014

Joan Burton says very solid and good progress made on Irish Water


Only progress report public wants is the abolition of water charges – Sinn Féin

Mary Lou McDonald says she ’lives in the real world’ and believes that if the Tánaiste had any sense of the real word she would abolish water charges.

Tánaiste Joan Burton has told the Dáil she believes good progress has been made in addressing the Irish Water issue.

She did not however confirm her remarks earlier in the week that a family of four adults would pay less than €200 a year in water charges.

Instead, she said her objective and that of the Government was to have a charging regime that was “affordable and where there is clarity and where there is certainty in relation to the pricing structure”.

Ms Burton was responding to Fianna Fáil’s Timmy Dooley, who said the Taoiseach described the Tánaiste as expressing a personal view when she suggested the charge for four adults would be €200. During Leaders’ Questions Mr Dooley had asked her: “It is now your professional view that €200 will now be the charge for a family of two adults and two adult children?”

She said: “I believe very solid, very good progress has been made in relation to Irish Water.”

Mr Dooley called on the Government to “halt the runaway train” and allow TDs to fully debate the issue, a debate “that was denied them in December when the Bill on water charges was rammed through the House and down the throats of Irish people”.

He said it was “not too late to pause the charging structure for a number of months, allow a comprehensive debate and produce a plan that will meet citizens’ needs and take account of their ability to pay”.

Ms Burton said the Government had an ambitious programme of investment in Irish Water amounting to more than €10 billion over the next 10 years. She said they were using the same model as was used by ESB and Bord Gáis as publicly owned utilities, “to bring forward desperately needed investment in the country’s infrastructure”.

Sinn Féin deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald said the only progress report people wanted to hear was that the Government was going to abolish Irish Water “no ifs, no buts, no bribes, no threats. That would provide clarity.”

There followed heated and cutting exchanges as Ms Burton pointed to the fundraising dinner party leader Gerry Adams was to attend last night in New York at $500 a head.

Ms Burton accused the Sinn Féin leadership of “living between two continents”.

She said: “You live here for the purposes of ordinary life and for the purposes of high life you jet off around the world to eat dinners in luxury hotels that cost more than what will be the average water charge, potentially for a couple of years.”

Ms Burton said Mr Adams was a regular visitor to the US and received his health treatment there and did not use the Irish health system. The Tánaiste also hit out at Sinn Féin changing its mind from agreeing to pay the water charges to then opposing them.

But Ms McDonald hit back and accused her of making a “pathetic” comedic effort to divert from the central issue of water charges and said it would cut no ice with the public, who could not pay €200 or €100.

M/s McDonald said she lived in the real world and if the Tánaiste had any sense about what the real world was like “you will abolish those charges”. The Tánaiste said the people Ms McDonald was talking about were precisely the people she was concerned about and the Government had made provision for a water conservation payment of €100 for each household.

Government departments striving to pay their bill on time


New figures show that most departments are working hard to settle accounts within 15 days

The Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport was the most prompt – paying 99% of the amount it owed within 15 days

More than 90% of Government department bills were paid within 15 days of receiving a valid invoice, according to figures published today.

A total of 45,743 payments were made by departments in the months from July through to September, amounting to over €689 million. Of the total payments made, 39,914 payments, or 93% of all invoices were paid to suppliers within 15 days.

The figures come after a series of Government measures to get credit flowing in the Irish economy by encouraging prompt payment in all business transactions. These include the introduction of a prompt payment code of conduct, which was introduced earlier this year.

The code is a joint initiative between the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, the Institute of Credit Management Ireland (IICM), the main business representative bodies (ISME, SFA, Chambers Ireland & IBEC) and the Banking & Payments Federation Ireland (BPFI).

The Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport was the most prompt – paying 99% of the amount it owed within 15 days. The Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht was the worse payer with just 70% of invoices settled within the desired time frame.

Figures also released in respect of the agencies under the Department of Jobs, Enterprise & Innovation show a total of 11,981 payments were made in the third quarter of 2014, amounting to just over €42 million. Of these 92 per cent or 10,941 payments amounting to €38.6million were paid within 15 days.

“I am pleased that Government Departments and the Agencies under my own Department are continuing their efforts to comply with the Government requirement to pay business suppliers within 15 days of receiving a valid invoice,” said Minister of State for Business and Employment Ged Nash.

“Anyone in business knows that cash flow is the life blood of a business. Any disruption to that cash flow, particularly for small businesses, can mean the difference between solvency and bankruptcy. Therefore, it is vitally important that businesses continue to be paid on time,” he added.

Ireland to get its own ‘Orient Express’


Belmond has bought 10 Irish Rail carriages, with plans to transform them into a luxury ‘Grand Hibernian’ train.

Belmond’s ‘Royal Scotsman’ – a model for the Grand Hibernian

The Orient Express is coming to Ireland, in the shape of a luxury, 10-carriage train set to provide overnight rail experiences throughout the island.

The ‘Belmont Grand Hibernian’ anticipates its launch in summer 2016.

The train was announced after Belmond Ltd., a global collection of luxury hotel and travel adventures, acquired ten carriages from Irish Rail. It plans to transform them into a luxury sleeper train with accommodation for up to 40 guests over the next two years.

The ‘Orient Express’-style train will be the first luxury overnight rail experience of its kind in Ireland, with plans for tours of the countryside, coast and cities both north and south of the border.

Guests of Belmond, which also operates the legendary Venice Simplon-Orient-Express and Belmond Royal Scotsman, will travel in 20 elegant, en-suite cabins.

The ‘grand Hibernian’ will offer two, four and six-night rail experiences, with all-inclusive prices starting from €3,200.

Travel on-board “will be akin to a land cruise, offering daily excursions such as tours of historic estates, rounds of golf and visits to Titanic Belfast,” the company says.

David Franks, Chief Executive of Iarnród Éireann Irish Rail said:

“We are proud and delighted to welcome Belmond Grand Hibernian to Ireland’s rail network… Rail is a key element of our national tourism product, and the launch of Belmond Grand Hibernian represents a strong endorsement of Ireland as a destination by Belmond.”

The train’s interiors will be designed by James Park Associates, who have worked on Belmond’s Eastern & Oriental Express. They will draw inspiration from Dublin’s classic Georgian architecture, adding a “contemporary twist” to Ireland’s ancient folklore and traditions.

Belmond Grand Hibernian will feature an Observation Car with a bar, contributing to what a PR representative terms a “country house party” atmosphere on-board.

There will be nightly entertainment, with local musicians and story tellers embracing the spirit of Ireland.

The train will also feature four interconnecting suites to accommodate families, two restaurant cars and an observation bar car.

John Scott, President and Chief Executive Officer, said:

“Ireland offers today’s luxury traveller a rich and diverse cultural experience, with unrivalled scenery and warm hospitality that fit perfectly with Belmond’s offering of enriching and authentic hotel, rail and river cruise experiences.”

The train’s haulage services and Dublin depot facilities will be provided by Irish Rail.

Monaghan student Christopher Carragher triumphs at SciFest 2014


Monaghan student Christopher Carragher wins SciFest 2014

Christopher Carragher, a sixth year student from Our Lady’s Secondary School in Castleblaney, Co Monaghan, has been named the overall winner of all-island science initiative SciFest 2014.

Carragher won for his project ‘Memory Buddy’. Using the time-management web application Google Calendar, the automated system assists people suffering from memory loss by setting alerts for appointments and reminders for medication through a series of flashing lights, sounds and also via the TV. Carragher – who was inspired by a family member who began displaying signs of short-term memory loss – also included a remote controlled drawer that presents medicine at set times, as well as a feedback facility that informs carers when medicine has or has not been taken.

Over 6,000 students entered SciFest this year – a record for the initiative – with 15 finalist projects exhibited at the Marino Conference Centre in Dublin earlier today.

“This year there was a very high standard of projects exhibited at SciFest,” said Sheila Porter, SciFest CEO. “All projects exhibited show that when students engage with STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) outside the classroom, they bring their learning to a new level and produce amazing results. Participation in SciFest helps students to develop the skills sets essential for the next generation of creative problem solvers and entrepreneurs. The innovation and the creativity on display at the national final is a testament to the hard-work and dedication put in by the students and their teachers.”

Carragher will now go on to represent Ireland at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair in the USA next year.

In addition, Dundalk sisters Rachael and Shannon Ní Dhonnachadha scooped the Long Night of Science in Berlin Award for their project which examined the science of punching. The duo sought to discover if rotating the wrist before impact adds to the effectiveness of a punch, finding that the movement provides no increase in punch force.

Why the Universe is brighter than we thought


Last year, a series of sounding rockets were launched to better asses all the light in the known Universe. Based on the resulting data, experts have now determined that there is a lot more infrared light between galaxies than we can account for, leaving astronomers wondering “so where did it all come from?”

Last year, a series of sounding rockets were launched to better asses all the light in the known Universe. Based on the resulting data, experts have now determined that there is a lot more infrared light between galaxies than we can account for, leaving astronomers wondering “so where did it all come from?”

The results of these rocket flights, two of four launches as part of the Cosmic Infrared Background Experiment rocket (CIBER) project, were recently detailed in the journal Science.

According to the study, NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope (SST) had previously taken a lot of infrared readings that just didn’t makes sense. There appeared to be far too much background infrared light than galactic sources could account for.

Now, the CIBER readings indicate that this excess light may be coming from stars that are being scattered out into space during galactic collisions, spreading light into the void between galaxies that otherwise wouldn’t be there.

“While we have previously observed cases where stars are flung from galaxies in a tidal stream, our new measurement implies this process is widespread,” leady study author Michael Zemcov explained in a statement.

“It is wonderfully exciting for such a small NASA rocket to make such a huge discovery,” added Mike Garcia, program scientist from NASA Headquarters. “Sounding rockets are an important element in our balanced toolbox of missions from small to large.”

But why were they needed? According to the study, because Earth’s atmosphere glows brightly, certain wavelengths of light can only be measured from space. The rockets then were necessary to snap photographs of the Universe as they drew further away from our planet.

The pictures were then poured over by experts, who systematically eliminated any sources of infrared light that they could attribute to a known source. What remained was a mess of light in the short blue spectrum.

“The light looks too bright and too blue to be coming from the first generation of galaxies,” added James Bock, principal investigator of the CIBER project. “The simplest explanation, which best explains the measurements, is that many stars have been ripped from their galactic birthplace.”

Donie’s Ireland daily news BLOG

January 23rd January 2014

Irish could start selling AIB stake before 2016 election,

Says Michael Noonan


Michael Noonan says Irish Government could sell their AIB Stake before the 2016 Election

Ireland’s Finance Minister Michael Noonan said the government may seek to sell a stake in Allied Irish Banks Plc (ALBK) before the nation’s next scheduled election. The state owns 99.8 percent of the Dublin-based lender after injecting 21 billion euros ($28.6 billion) from 2009 to 2011 as the bank’s bad loans soared amid the worst real estate crash in Western Europe.

A sale of shares would help set a value for the bank, he said. “There’s a political timetable as well,” Noonan, 70, said in an interview with Bloomberg Television at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland today. “The government will have an election at the latest at the end of March, early April 2016, so we might test the market sometime ahead of that.” The nation’s banks, which needed a 64 billion-euro state bailout, probably won’t have to raise more capital after European stress tests this year, Noonan said.

While the rescue helped pushed national debt to 120 percent of gross domestic product, that will fall as the government runs down its cash reserves and the value of its bank stakes rise, he said. Should the government seek to sell its holding in Allied Irish in coming months, it may raise about 4.5 billion euros, according to Ciaran Callaghan, a fixed-income analyst at Merrion Capital in Dublin.

“A strategy of selling down the position over a number of years in more buoyant market conditions and when the bank’s franchise is stronger and generating healthy profits is likely to gain more political traction,” Callaghan said in a note.

Investment Grade

Last week, Moody’s Investors Service raised the nation’s credit rating back to investment grade, saying it expects the government to “provide very little, any, of the capital that the Irish banks may need” after European tests. All three of the main credit ratings companies now rank Ireland, which exited a three-year international bailout last month, as investment grade. “Certainly there won’t be a call on the state to provide capital” to the financial system, Noonan said, adding he was hopeful of winning further ratings upgrades.

Noonan has already more than recouped the 4.8 billion-euro cost of rescuing Bank of Ireland Plc, the largest lender, since 2009. The government has collected 5.9 billion euros from the lender, while retaining an almost 14 percent stake, valued at about 1.35 billion euros. While Noonan said he doesn’t expect to fully privatize Allied Irish before the election, Bank of Ireland (BKIR) is different. “It’s a question of what price we’d actually sell” the Bank of Ireland stake, he said.

“But we’re under no pressure.” Allied Irish said on Nov. 14 it has seen signs of stabilization in the quality of the bank’s loans and that the pace of growth in customer arrears was slowing. Allied Irish rose as much 2.9 percent in Dublin trading today. “With the state having 99 percent of the shares, we don’t really have an established market price on the shares,” he said. “But having done that, we’ll measure it but there’ll be no suggestion of a fire sale.”

More Irish people are becoming homeless, More social housing needed

says charity Threshold


Chief executive of national housing charity calls for more social housing to tackle issue

Chief executive of national housing charity Threshold, Bob Jordan, has called for more social housing to tackle homelessness.
The number of people who are homeless, or at risk of becoming homeless and looking for support, has risen by 77 per cent in the last year, according to Threshold.The national housing charity, which works with adults and children suffering from poverty and exclusion, has reported that 2013 was its busiest year ever, with calls for support and guidance having been on the increase since 2010.
  “Referrals to our service almost doubled in the past year,” said Fionnughla McLoughlin, assistant manager of the Access Housing Unit. “Demand for accommodation in the private rental sector has been rising steadily in Dublin in recent years, and there is a serious shortage of rental accommodation in the city.
The increase in demand has pushed average rents up, said Ms McLoughlin, adding that welfare cuts and rent supplement caps mean “vulnerable families” are no longer able to pay. Threshold has seen a drop of almost 75 per cent in the number of rental properties advertised on “a leading property website”, she said.
The number of landlords accepting rent supplements has dropped from 21 per cent in 2010 to 1.2 per cent last year, she also claimed. Senator Aideen Hayden, Threshold chairperson, said children are particularly at risk in the volatile renting environment. The Access Housing Unit, which helped in 81 cases with homeless people moving into rented accommodation in 2013, has reported that the majority of incidences involved children.
“Homelessness, obviously, impacts particularly harshly on families with children,” said Ms Hayden. “Their education is disrupted, family support networks break down and there is a huge mental and emotional strain for those affected.” Ms Hayden believes the biggest challenge facing homeless people is actually finding a place to live. “They often spend long periods of time in hostels and shelters before getting a chance to have a place of their own.” According to Bob Jordan, Threshold chief executive, the only way to improve the situation for 2014 is a real recognition of the shortage of social housing.
“Social housing has traditionally been the safety net for people who can’t afford to rent,” said Mr Jordan. “We need to have a certain proportion of our housing stock designated for that group. “The oversupply of housing that existed at the end of the property boom has been consumed and people are struggling to find a place to live.
” Mr Jordan believes the Department of Social Protectionneeds to focus more on the actual prevention of homelessness. “It used to be more traditional issues like mental health, leaving institutional care or addiction that caused homelessness. “The new homeless are people who just aren’t able to afford their rent or bills.”

We are all being “cod-ded” by fishy business in Irish takeaways


Nearly 42% of fish tested in fast food outlets was mislabelled as cod?

In many cases, mislabelled cod products sold in takeaways were smoked, breaded or battered, which allowed effective concealment of the appearance, smell and taste of the fish fillets.

The practice of mislabelling fish appears to have been eradicated in Irish supermarkets thanks to widespread media coverage of the fishy business – but almost half of all takeaways are still codding customers, a new study has revealed. University research published four years ago found that 28 per cent of all the fish sold as cod in Irish supermarkets and takeaways was actually cheaper species, including pollack and whiting. A separate study by the Food Safety of Ireland (FSAI) also found mislabelling was rife.

In the vast majority of cases, the mislabelled cod products were smoked, breaded or battered which allowed retailers and takeaways to effectively conceal the appearance, smell and taste of the fish fillets. Once the story broke, the co-author of the report, Prof Stefano Mariani of the University of Salford and colleagues from UCD and the University of British Colombia tracked the impact of the media scrutiny and then revisited the same shops to genetically test the products which were labelled as cod.

The team published the results of their study in the journal Conservation Letters today and it shows that while the practice of mislabelling was completely wiped out in the surveyed supermarkets, the takeaway industry was still floundering – and mislabelling was still rife. All told, 41.7 per cent of fish tested in fast food outlets was mislabelled as cod despite the fact that the practice had been exposed and had received widespread coverage.

“The timeline of events suggests that the negative media coverage generated by the first cod mislabelling study put the large supermarkets under intense scrutiny, which acted as a positive catalyst for change,” Prof Mariani said. He suggested that supermarket chains had acted quickly because they “constantly compete to attract and maintain a faithful custom, and their size and financial power may allow them to exert greater control over the supply chain.

” However, the fish fraud is still widespread across the takeaway sector, “probably due to the less systematic custom and the convenient nature of the food”, Prof Mariani said and he called on the authorities to beef up its effective enforcement “in order to eradicate illegal practices in the sector”.

Three women due in Court in connection with Ballybofey Donegal drugs find


Three females are due to appear before a sitting of Letterkenny District Court this morning.

They are charged in connection with the seizure of cannabis plants in Ballbofey earlier this week. On Tuesday, cannabis plants with an estimated street value of €360,000 were discovered, along with other items made and adapted for the growth and cultivation of cannabis, during a search at a premises on Navenny St., Ballybofey.

The search was conducted by members of the Letterkenny Drugs Unit. The grow house was found above a business premises in the town. A male, aged in his 30s, and three females (two in their 20s and one 60s) were arrested. The three woman will appear in court in Letterkenny later today – the male remains in Garda custody and can be detained for up to 7-days.

Fox tracked nearly 200 miles in quest for new home


An urban fox is believed to have broken records after being tracked on a 195 mile journey to find a new home.

The fox, nicknamed ‘Fleet’, trekked the equivalent distance of Londonto Manchester over the course of three weeks. Experts say the three-year-old embarked on his long journey after he developed lungworm and was forced out of his territory by his son, Fennec.

The pair were fitted with GPS trackers as part of a University of Brighton study run with the BBC for its Winterwatch programme, hosted by wildlife expert Chris Packham. Over 21 days the team tracked Fleet, originally from Hove, Sussex, on his expedition which is believed to be the longest recorded trip for a fox in the UK.

Starting on December 9 he travelled almost 200 miles through Sussex and into Kent, ending up in Rye, 55 miles away from his original home. Lead by the university’s assistant head of pharmacy and biomolecular sciences Dr Dawn Scott, the study saw the foxes tagged with global positioning system monitors. Dr Scott said: “It’s incredible. The GPS tracker updated us on locations every 30 minutes.

“The data from the study is really important to help us understand the behaviour of urban foxes and especially how they differ from the rural fox.” Initially the father-son duo happily hunted and lived together but the pair split after Fleet began showing the symptoms of lungworm. Dr Scott explained: “There started to be a bit of competition for food and the younger fox began to show his dominance.

“We don’t exactly know what happened but we think Fennec pushed him out and that pressure caused him to leave and try to find somewhere else. “In Brighton and Hove we estimate there are 20 foxes per square kilometre, so there can be a lot of competition.

“We know they move between urban and rural areas but what happened next we were not expecting.” She added: “We know foxes travel to find new territory but we didn’t expect to see one go quite so far. “Especially as Fleet is an urban fox. He was born in Brighton and Hove and raised his young there.”

New dolphin discovered in the Amazon surprises scientists


Researchers have discovered a new species of river dolphin from the Amazon.

Writing in the journal Plos One, scientists led by Tomas Hrbek of Brazil’s Federal University of Amazonas formally describe Inia araguaiaensis, a freshwater dolphin that inhabits the Araguaia River Basin. It is the first true river dolphin discovered since 1918.

The discovery came after Hrbek and colleagues noticed that a group of river dolphins in the Araguaia — a system that is technically not part of the Amazon River basin — were isolated from more other Amazon dolphins by a series of rapids. Conducting genetic analysis, the researchers found the Araguaian boto (Inia araguaiaensis) to be distinct enough from other Amazon dolphins to be classified as a different species.

The scientists estimate that the dolphins diverged some two million years ago, corresponding to the separation of the Araguaia-Tocantins basin from the Amazon basin. The differences between the Araguaian boto and their closest relatives, Inia geoffrensis and Inia boliviensis, extend beyond genetics.

The Araguaian boto is smaller, has a different number of teeth, and has a wider skull. Distribution map of all known species and subspecies of Amazon river dolphin Inia. The new discovery has immediate implications for conservation. While river dolphins are generally not hunted directly in most of the Amazon due to local taboos, they do face risks hydroelectric projects, pollution from urban areas and agriculture, boat traffic, and accidental bycatch.

Moreover the Araguaian boto population is apparently quite low, according to the new research, which estimates the number of individuals at around 1,000. “Populations of the middle and upper Tocantins River are fragmented by six hydroelectric dams, not including the Tucurui dam, and are likely to have very few individuals,” the authors write.

“Since the 1960’s the Araguaia River basin has been experiencing significant anthropogenic pressure via agricultural and ranching activities, and the construction of hydroelectric dams, all of which have had negative effects on many biotic and abiotic aspects of the functioning of the Araguaia River ecosystem which I. araguaiaensis inhabits. Similarly I. araguaiaensis in the Tocantins River is affected by agricultural and industrial development, and is fragmented into isolated populations by hydroelectric dams.

Interpreting these data using IUCN criteria, Inia araguaiaensis should minimally be considered vulnerable (VU Red List category).” A vulnerable listing may force policymakers in Brazil to consider the species’ plight when planning new industrial developments in the basin. Brazil is currently in the midst of a dam-building spree throughout the Amazon Basin, which environmentalists warn could disrupt the ecological functioning of the world’s largest river system.

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Thursday 26th St Stephens day 2013

Number of people going bankrupt in Ireland doubles in last year


The number of Irish people adjudicated bankrupts in Ireland and the UK almost doubled this year.

And the numbers are expected to surge this year despite the introduction of personal insolvency laws that allow borrowers to have debts written down subject to strict income guidelines.

A total of 157 Irish citizens were bankrupted in Britain this year compared to 106 last year, an increase of 48pc.

There was also a 49pc increase in the number of bankruptcies in Ireland, from 96 to 143 according to ‘Stubbs Gazette’.

James Treacy, managing director of ‘Stubbs Gazette’, said the credit bureau and debt collection agency was predicting close to 7,000 bankruptcies next year as a result of the reduction in the bankruptcy discharge period from 12 to three years and new laws slashing the costs associated with bankruptcy.

Mr Treacy said that the new personal insolvency regime had “got off to a slow start”, with many individuals unable to afford personal insolvency because of diminishing or “disappearing” levels of income.

“Anecdotal evidence, and indeed our own experience as a debt collections agency, indicates that many will simply have no disposable income in excess of the minimum subsistence income levels with which to make a meaningful — or acceptable, from a creditor point of view — payment on their debts,” said Mr Treacy.

The annual Stubbs review of Irish debt shows the number of judgments registered in the courts fell by 6.5pc, from 6,504 in 2012 to 6,110. But the overall value of judgments obtained by creditors fell by almost 60pc from €1.32bn to €838.9m.

JUDGMENT: Toxic loans agency NAMA secured the largest court judgment this year, €90.1m, against Blessington developer Kevin McNulty.

The judgment against Mr McNulty related to a 2009 facilities agreement provided by the former Anglo Irish Bank and to personal guarantees allegedly provided by the developer in 1998 and 2003 in relation to the liability of two companies.

The top commercial judgment obtained in the courts, €114m, again by NAMA against businessman John McCann of Loughross Road, Crossmagelen, County Armagh.

The judgment arose from loan and guarantee facilities involving Allied Irish Banks, Anglo Irish Bank and Bank of Ireland which had been taken over by NAMA.

Christmas calls answered by Childline up 20% on Xmas last year


Childline responded to 1,450 calls and messages on Christmas Day.

That’s a 20% increase in the number of children seeking help on the same day last year.

The children’s helpline have told how the festive season can bring unwelcome stress and trauma to vulnerable children.

Margie Roe, National Childline Manager said: “Children contacted Childline on Christmas Day for a variety of reasons but many of the calls were from those experiencing family difficulties, loneliness and mental health issues.

“The impact of alcohol abuse in the home over the Christmas period can also have a very negative impact on children.”

This year marks Childline’s 25th year helping kids in Ireland.

In May this year the ISPCC’s listening service answered their five millionth call.

Despite the help of over 600 volunteers, Childline is still struggling to meet demand.

In the last year, one in three calls to Childline were left unanswered.

Ms Roe said: “The call figures received on an annual basis indicate how vital Childline is to children in Ireland and illustrates the deficit of accessible 24 hour services for children and their families.

“However as the demand continues, we are concerned about the calls that we are unable to get to.

“When a child reaches out for support it’s so important that they receive an answer.

“We continue to ask the public for their support in helping us to answer more calls going into the new year.”

The children’s helpline said that they have experienced a drop in donations this December.

If you would like to donate €2 to Childline please text the word CHILDLINE to 50300.

Children can reach Childline on 1800 66 66 66.

Irish Government recommends penalising the +30’s Irish for first time health cover

says health market report


Minister for Health Reilly should move to get younger people into market, An audit suggests

A report on the health insurance market says financial penalties for newcomer over-30’s would be in line with the idea of “lifetime community rating” which Minister for Health Dr James Reilly (above left) has previously indicated he will introduce.

Anyone over the age of 30 should pay a financial penalty when they take out health insurance for the first time to encourage them to get cover at a younger age, a Department of Health report has recommended.

The report says the move would be in line with the idea of “lifetime community rating” which Minister for Health DrJames Reilly has previously indicated he will introduce.

The report, commissioned by Dr Reilly, says he should consider measures to get younger people into the health insurance market.

It also says the Minister should “discourage, by means of a financial penalty, people who take out health insurance for the first time after age 30”.

“This would be in line with the principles of lifetime community ratings,” the report added.

The move would be designed to stop the flow of younger people out of the health insurance market.

The Irish private health insurance market is based on the principles of community rating, where everyone pays the same for identical products regardless of age.

Younger people – who tend to claim less frequently – are charged more than would normally be actuarially necessary.

This money is then used to subsidise the cost of cover for older people for whom the price of insurance could be prohibitively expensive if based on risk.

As more younger people leave the market because of higher prices, questions have been raised about how the cycle of inter-generational solidarity can be maintained in the future.

Seven Greenpeace ship crew granted visas to allow them to depart Russia


(above left) Greenpeace International activist Anthony Perrett (R) from Britain poses with his lawyer Sergey Golubok, who holds papers certifying the termination of prosecution. He became the first of the 30 Greenpeace Arctic activists to have the criminal case against him dropped by the Russian Authority.

Greenpeace International activist Anthony Perrett (R) from Britain poses with his lawyer Sergey Golubok, who holds papers certifying the termination of prosecution. He became the first of the 30 Greenpeace Arctic activists to have the criminal case against him dropped, in Saint Petersburg on December 24.

Russian authorities have issued visas to seven of 30 members of a Greenpeace ship crew that allow them to leave the country after dropping criminal charges against them over a protest outside an Arctic oil rig.

Greenpeace said other foreign members of the crew are expected to get their exit visas soon.

The 30 people were arrested in September following a protest outside a Russian oil rig in the Arcticand spent two months in jail before they were granted bail in November.

Hooliganism charges against the crew were later dropped after Russia’s parliament passed an amnesty law that was seen as an attempt by the Kremlin to assuage the criticism of Russia’s human rights record before the Winter Olympics in Sochi in February.

Greenpeace said Anthony Perrett was the first to get the visa in his passport.

“This was the final step,” Mr Perrett said in a statement released by the group. “I’ll be leaving for home inWales as soon as possible now, extremely proud of what I did three months ago. We took peaceful action to defend a part of the world that is the heartbeat of our climate.”

Putting shoes on was a real space oddity says Chris Hadfield


He famously sang David Bowie’s Space Oddity from 250 miles above Earth – and beamed a series of stunning photographs of Scotland to the world.

But astronaut Commander Chris Hadfield was left flummoxed by the routine task of putting on his trainers before using exercise equipment while in orbit.

The 54-year-old – a Canadian with Scots ancestry – took extraordinary shots of the country from the International Space Station. He also made a video of himself performing Bowie’s award-winning track. But he said weightlessness made the mundane task of putting on a pair of shoes very tricky.

Surgeon suspended for allegedly branding his initials on a liver 


Mr Bramhall (above right) had worked at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham for more than ten years

A Surgeon has been suspended after allegedly branding his initials on a transplant patient’s liver.

Simon Bramhall, a highly experienced consultant based in Birmingham, is accused of burning “SB” on to a patient’s liver as he operated on him.

The letters were spotted by a colleague during routine surgery on the unnamed patient. It is feared the initials may have been imprinted on hundreds of other transplant recipients.

Mr Bramhall, 48, has worked at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham for more than ten years. The surgeon is a widely acknowledged liver transplant expert, who has published extensively on the subject and carried out pioneering operations.

Mr Bramhall, from Redditch, Worcestershire., is now under investigation over the alleged offences. It is suspected that he used a beam of argon gas, normally for sealing vessels, to mark his patient. Experts say the gas would leave superficial burns, but is not usually harmful.

Joyce Robins, of Patient Concern, added: “This is a patient we are talking about, not an autograph book.”

A spokesman for University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust said it had suspended a surgeon but declined to name him.

However, sources have named Mr Bramhall.

In a statement, the trust said: “Following an allegation of misconduct, University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust has suspended a surgeon while an internal investigation is completed”. 

When approached, Mr Bramhall denied he was suspended.

Yesterday, an insider was reported as saying: “It is quite astonishing to think someone may have done this, especially someone as experienced at Mr Bramhall.

“I am hoping this is just a mistake.

I don’t know what would possess someone to do that to another human being.

“What gives a person the right to do that to another?

“Now people may think otherwise about coming to the hospital, if the allegations are true.

“I’m just a little shocked that something like this may have happened right under everyone’s noses.

“Imagine if the person died and was an organ donor: would the new owner of that liver want it to be branded?

I doubt it very much.

“It could have happened hundreds of times, who knows? It was just luck that this incident was brought to light.”

Earlier this year, Mr Bramhall was in the news when he performed the 4,000th liver transplant at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, which has been a centre of excellence for the procedure since 1982.

In the past,

Mr Bramhall has spoken out against scarce donor organs meant for NHS patients being sold to wealthy foreigners for tens of thousands of pounds.

The surgeon was critical when it was reported that Kings College Hospital in London had given livers to patients from Greece, Cyprus, Kuwait, Libya and Dubai, at a time when 550 NHS patients were waiting for new organs.

Mr Bramhall has played a role in publicising improved survival rates for liver transplants and in 2011 he performed a operation to save the life of a teenager, whose donor liver had been rescued from the burning wreckage of a crashed plane.

The organ was being flown to Birmingham in a Cessna jet, which crashed in thick fog.

Rescuers were able to save the liver, which was in pristine condition in its protective box.

He was also part of a team which in 2009 performed a multiple organ transplant, which saw a teenager receive a new liver, bowels and pancreas.

Diabetes risk gene SLC16A11 may be inherited from the Neanderthals


Neanderthals interbred with humans and their genes are scattered among us today

Gene variant that increases the risk of diabetes in Latin Americans may have been inherited from Neanderthals.

The variant is found in about 20% of East Asians and is rare in Europe and Africa.

A gene variant that increases the risk of diabetes in Latin Americans may have been inherited from Neanderthals, a new study has found.

The gene variant was detected in a large genome-wide association study (GWAS) of more than 8,000 Mexicans and other Latin Americans.  

People who carry the higher risk version of the gene are 25% more likely to have diabetes than those who do not, and people who inherited copies from both parents are 50% more likely to have diabetes, researchers have found.

The higher risk form of the gene – named SLC16A11 – has been found in up to half of people with recent Native American ancestry, including Latin Americans, ‘BBC News’ reported.  

The variant is found in about 20 per cent of East Asians and is rare in populations from Europe and Africa.

The elevated frequency of this risk gene in Latin Americans could account for as much as 20 per cent of the populations’ increased prevalence of type 2 diabetes – the origins of which are not well understood.  

“To date, genetic studies have largely used samples from people of European or Asian ancestry, which makes it possible to miss culprit genes that are altered at different frequencies in other populations,” said co-corresponding author Jose Florez, a Broad associate member, an associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and an Assistant Physician in the Diabetes Unit and the Center for Human Genetic Research at the Massachusetts General Hospital.

“By expanding our search to include samples from Mexico and Latin America, we’ve found one of the strongest genetic risk factors discovered to date, which could illuminate new pathways to target with drugs and a deeper understanding of the disease,” Florez said.  

In the study published in the journal Nature, researchers conducted genomic analyses, in collaboration with Svante Paabo of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, and discovered that the SLC16A11 sequence associated with risk of type 2 diabetes is found in a newly sequenced Neanderthal genome.  

Analyses indicated that the higher risk version of SLC16A11 was introduced into modern humans through mixing

News Ireland daily BLOG update

Friday 1st November 2013

Permanent TSB promises to fill Irish banking void


Permanent TSB Bank to introduce a range of new services

 chief executive Jeremy Masding.

Permanent TSB,which is 99.2 per cent owned by the State, has promised to increase the number of products and services it offers to banking customers in Ireland.The move comes in response to the decision by Danske Bank and ACC to withdraw from retail and business banking here.

PTSB said it intended to bring forward the introduction of a number of initiatives to meet the need of banking customers. These include the provision of increased resources for small businesses.

It also announced plans to introduce a range of new risk-based mortgage products for the private investor market, such as products designed for Irish citizens living abroad who want to buy investment properties in Ireland.

The bank said it is to lend up to € 100 million to homeowners seeking to avail of the Government’s new home renovation incentive scheme, to make improvements to their home. Bank of Ireland announced a similar scheme earlier this week.

PTSB, which is expected to sell its €6.9 billion UK residential mortgage book next year as part of a plan to create a smaller bank, said it has made strong progress this year in growing its current account base and on new mortgage lending.

The bank is now opening 1,000 new current accounts a week and accounted for 16 per cent of residential mortgage approvals in September, up from 2 per cent in December 2012.

PTSB was Ireland’s largest mortgage lender at the peak of the boom and as a result required a €4 billion bailout from the State.

Chief executive Jeremy Masding said the bank was determined to be a force for competition in the market in Ireland.

“Customers are justifiably concerned that competition could reduce in the Irish banking market as a result of departures like these. But for our part, we will use these developments as a spur to grow our business and ensure that other large players don’t simply hoover up disaffected customers from the departing institutions. If business is there to be won, we want to win it,” he said.

PTSB recorded an operating loss of €449 million in the first half of this year but Mr Masding recently said he expected the “good bank” part of the bank to make a profit in 2014.

Last month the International Monetary Fund (IMF) warned PTSB’s return to profit was taking too long but was not “beyond hope.”

Irish Government to save millions after new drug pricing structure’s 


Decision is part of long-awaited programme to replace some branded drugs with generic alternatives

It is estimated a patient prescribed 10mg of atorvastatin, which is the active ingredient in lipitor, should see savings of €180 per year.

The Government has said that prices for atorvastatin products – drugs which are used to control cholesterol – are to be reduced.

The move forms part of the latest phase of the Government’s reference pricing initiative aimed at curbing expenditure on its bill for medicines.

From today a new price regime applies to atorvastatin, which is the active ingredient in the most commonly prescribed statin. The reduction will apply to the branded drug Lipitor and generic equivalents.

It said that reference pricing would see both patients and taxpayers benefit from reduced costs.

An estimated 250,000 Irish residents are using a form of statin.

Minister for Health James Reilly said: the introduction of a first reference price for a medicine which is used to control cholesterol,” represents a major step in ensuring lower prices are paid for these medicines”.

“The new reference prices for atorvastatin products means the HSE now pay 70 per cent less for these products compared to May 2013. Patients will save on the cost of their medication and taxpayers will benefit from the reduced prices paid by the HSE.”

Minister of State at the Department of Health Alex Whitesaid: “The introduction of reference prices will ensure that generic medicine prices in Ireland will fall towards European norms. It will safeguard value for money for the taxpayer and will mean that prices are set at levels which facilitate – not jeopardise – supply of these products in Ireland.

Under the new pricing structure it is estimated that a patient prescribed 10mg of atorvastatin should see savings of €180 per year, while those on 20mg doses should save €280.

Half of Irish households could pay for water during future shortage cuts


Commission for Energy Regulation has warned against low water charges

Irish Water has confirmed that meters will only be installed in 50% of homes by the first water bills start arriving in 2015

More than half of all householders could be paying for water, even when supplies are cut off, after charges are introduced in 2015. Meters will only be installed in 50 per cent of homes by the time the first water bills start arriving in 2015, Irish water has confirmed.Households without a meter will be paying an assessed or “flat rate” charge while those on a meter will be charged for what they use. During future cuts, those on a fixed rate could still have to pay even when they cannot get the service.

A spokesman for the Commission for Energy Regulation, which will be setting water rates by the middle of next year, said it was too early to say whether households on an assessed charge would be offered any rebate on their bills. The commission also indicated it did not intend to set an artificially low introductory rate, which it said would hurt consumers in the long run.

Bills are to be issued for the first time in early 2015, but they will be for water used in the third quarter of next year. The installation programme is scheduled to be completed for all homes assessed as suitable for a meter by the end of 2016.

A further 300,000 homes, mainly apartments and houses using shared supplies, will still be on a flat rate charge after this time.

Currently, people operating commercial premises are the only consumers paying for water. A Dublin City Council spokesman said they would not be entitled to any rates rebate because they were metered and so were not having to pay for water during the current nighttime shut down.

“Businesses such as restaurants and hotels have to have their own contingency plans, they should have 24 hours of water storage in place,” he said.

Meanwhile the commission has warned against delaying capital investment in infrastructure as a way of artificially depressing water prices.

The commission is currently conducting a consultation process ahead of its determination of the levels of domestic water tariffs and the charging system Irish Water will be permitted to use.

It said the utility would be expected to pass on “only reasonable and appropriate costs” to customers and must have a strong incentive to improve service and reduce costs from the outset of regulation.

However, it said a focus on short-term gains or looking for “quick regulatory wins” that would adversely affect stakeholders in the long term must be avoided.

“One example of a quick regulatory win would be delaying required capital expenditure in the water services infrastructure.

“Lower bills may be of benefit to water customers in the short term. However their long-term interests, with respect to quality of water supply and service and health standards, will be detrimentally affected if pipes/pumping stations etc are not fixed, maintained or upgraded as necessary,” it said

The commission also said that while provision had been made for borrowings by Irish Water to be guaranteed by the State, it considered that the utility would also require direct financial support and investment from the State.

A plan needed to be put in place where, over a defined period, Irish Water would become less reliant on State support.

Roy Keane now set to become Martin O’Neill’s Ireland Manager assistant


Martin O’Neill and Roy Keane look set to team up as Ireland’s next managerial team

Roy Keane is on the verge of a shock comeback to Irish football as the assistant to the FAI’s manager in waiting Martin O’Neill.

O’Neill [61] is in advanced discussions with the FAI about replacing Giovanni Trapattoni and is close to accepting the role.

The Derry man met high ranking FAI officials in London this week and informed them that he was interested in taking the job – and wanted to bring in Keane as his number two.

Keane was floated as a possible contender for the top job but was considered a long shot because of his fractious relationship with the FAI hierarchy which dates back to his Saipan row in 2002.

However, it is understood that he is willing to come on board when O’Neill formally reaches agreement to assume control and the FAI are happy to go along with the wishes of their preferred candidate.

New report shows the importance of Counselling to Donegal people affected by cancer


A new report on the National Counselling Grants Programme reveals that over a third of Donegal cancer patients who availed of the service sought counselling less than one year after a cancer diagnosis. 

Another 36 per cent of clients required counselling within two years of diagnosis, highlighting the need for emotional support following the completion of treatment.

The report, commissioned the Irish Cancer Society shows the Society supported 207 counselling sessions for Donegal cancer patients in 2012.

The counselling service, which is available to anyone affected by a cancer diagnosis, saw a third of Donegal clients presenting with concerns such as anxiety, fear and stress following the trauma of their illness and 23 per cent who needed help adjusting to life after cancer and learning new coping skills.

The effect of cancer is wider than the immediate person diagnosed with 18 per cent of Donegal clients attending as relatives of a cancer patient, usually an adult child of the diagnosed person.

Another 7 per cent of the clients who used the counselling service were also bereaved due to cancer, highlighting the need for support the in the months and years after the immediate impact of the illness.

Females are also more likely to attend for professional counselling than males with 73 per cent of female Donegal clients attending in 2012 compared to 27 per cent of males.

Almost half of those who used the service were between the ages of 41 and 60.Cancer patients and their relatives can find their nearest affiliate support centre providing this service by logging on to http://www.cancer.ie/how-we-can-help/support or call the Irish Cancer Society Freefone Helpline on 1800 200 700.

British scientists discover reindeer eyes change colour from gold to blue

over the course of a year


It is the first time a mammal’s eyes have ever been shown to change in this way

Scientists have discovered that reindeer eyes change colour from gold to blue over the course of the year – the first time this has ever been shown to happen in mammals.

A British-funded study has revealed that the animals are uniquely adapted to Arctic winters, which experience continuous daylight in summer and continuous darkness in winter.

Like many other mammals, during the bright summers reindeer eyes reflect back most light through the retina – so they appear gold.

A kind of enhanced night vision kicks in through winter, however, when a layer of tissue behind the retina becomes less reflective and appears blue.

This increases the sensitivity of the reindeer eye to limited winter light – and is a vital tool in helping them survive the challenging Arctic conditions.

“This gives them an advantage when it comes to spotting predators, which could save their lives,” said lead researcher Professor Glen Jeffery.

“This is the first time a colour change of this kind has been shown in mammals,” he said. “By changing the colour of the TL in the eye reindeer have flexibility to cope better with the extreme differences between light levels in their habitat between seasons.”

The study was conducted by Professor Jeffery and his colleagues at University College London, working in tandem with the University of Tromsø in Norway.

They suggested that the colour change may be caused by pressure within the eyes. In winter the reindeers’ pupils exist in a permanent state of dilation, which prevents fluid in the eyeball from draining naturally.

The pressure compresses the tissue behind the retina, they said, reducing the space between collagen in the tissue and therefore reflecting the shorter wavelengths of the blue light common in Arctic winters.

Previous work from Professor Jeffery and Norwegian colleagues from Tromsø had shown that Arctic reindeer eyes can also see ultraviolet, which is abundant in Arctic light but invisible to humans, and that they use this to find food and see predators.

The most recent study, published yesterday, was funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council – one of the seven members of the Government-backed Research Councils UK group.

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Wednesday 21st August 2013

Rose of Tralee’s crest name on silverware two days before final night


Conspiracy theories are mounting after the Rose of Tralee’s name and family crest appeared on the prize of silverware cutlery two days before the winner was announced.

Several eagle-eyed viewers noticed that the family crest of eventual winner, the Texas rose Haley O’Sullivan, had already been emblazoned on to the winner’s Newbridge Silverware cutlery on Monday night.

Haley won the coveted crown last night, beating out 31 other contestants from around the world.

As tradition dictates, the winner receives a Newbridge Silverware cutlery set with her family crest as part of her prize.

Viewers noticed that the O’Sullivan family crest had already been engraved into the set on Monday night, when the cameras flashed to the prize.

After M/s O’Sullivan appeared on The Ray D’Arcy Show on Today FM earlier today, several listeners contacted the station in order to query whether or not the winner had been chosen prior to the live broadcast.

“Last night’s winner Hayley O’Sullivan’s crest was already engraved on the cutlery on Monday night,” one listener said. “It was shown by the camera man before the best escort was announced. Coincidence?!! Not likely!”

Another listener wrote: “I could be wrong but I’m nearly sure on the first night, when showing the silver cutlery during the escort award, O’Sullivan was engraved on the knife…If so this would mean the winner was picked before the live show.”

John Drummey from the festival office told The Ray D’Arcy Show on Today FM: “Yes apparently that was an O’Sullivan family crest on the cutlery on Monday night. That’s just a coincidence. Newbridge just wanted to show that they can provide cutlery with the family crest. The escort will have his own family crest engraved on it.”

The show also contacted Newbridge Silverware, who responded: “That was purely coincidental. RTE filmed promotional stock and the O’Sullivan crest was picked because it’s a good Kerry name. That is not the actual cutlery that the winning Rose or escort receives. They will have their own family crest engraved on it.”

VODAFONE GROUP, Reclaim’s €67m in tax paid to the Irish Government.


In 2009, the Vodafone Group made a massive settlement with UK authorities, linked to its Irish unit, it has emerged.

Britain’s Guardian newspaper has reported that accounts filed with the Irish Company Registration Office (CRO) revealed the deal.

The paper revealed how Vodafone used an Irish subsidiary, Vodafone Ireland Marketing, to collect royalty payments from companies and joint ventures operating around the world.

It did this to take advantage of Ireland’s 12.5pc corporation tax rate, compared to the 28pc rate in Britain in the period between 2008 and 2010.

DIVIDENDS: Vodafone set up a company in Leopardstown, Dublin, in 2007 that originally did not employ any staff but was reporting a turnover of €380m a year.

Its use of the company helped to send dividends of more than €1bn to the low tax jurisdiction of Luxembourg.

The payments included a final instalment due this year of €142m and came from profits made after taking advantage of Ireland’s low corporation tax rates. The overall size of the settlement with Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC) was not revealed.

However it involved Vodafone reclaiming €67m from the Irish Government in tax that should have been paid in the UK.

Dublin property prices rise 8% over last 12 months according to CSO


Apartment prices in the capital were 11.6 per cent higher in July

Property prices in Dublin have increased 8 per cent in the last 12 months, according to new figures released by the Central Statistics Office.

Dublin house prices were 7.5 per cent higher last month than July 2012, while apartment prices were 11.6 per cent higher.

The CSO said house prices in Dublin were 52 per cent lower now than at their peak in early 2007, while apartment prices were 59 per cent lower.

The fall in the price of residential properties in the rest of Ireland is somewhat lower at 48 per cent.

The price of residential properties in the rest of Ireland fell by 0.1 per cent in July compared with an increase of 0.3 per cent in July last year.

Goodbody economist Dermot O’Leary said residential prices in Dublin are now rising at their fastest annual pace since May 2007, due to tightening supply conditions in the capital.

“Of some concern is the fact that this acceleration in price inflation has come without any pick-up in mortgage lending,” he said.

Too much Copper in diets linked to Alzheimer’s disease


life-time of too much copper in our diets may be contributing to Alzheimer’s disease, US scientists claim.

However, research is divided, with other studies suggesting copper may actually protect the brain.

The latest study in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences showed high levels of copper left the brain struggling to get rid of a protein thought to cause the dementia.

Copper is a vital part of our diet and necessary for a healthy body.

Tap water coming through copper pipes, red meat and shellfish as well as fruit and vegetables are all sources of dietary copper.

Barrier: The study on mice, by a team at the University of Rochester in New York, suggested that copper interfered with the brain’s shielding – the blood brain barrier.

Mice that were fed more copper in their water had a greater build-up of the metal in the blood vessels in the brain.

The team said this interfered with the way the barrier functioned and made it harder for the brain to get rid of a protein called beta amyloid.

One of the hallmarks of Alzheimer’s disease is the formation of plaques of amyloid in the dying brain.

Lead researcher Dr Rashid Deane said: “It is clear that, over time, copper’s cumulative effect is to impair the systems by which amyloid beta is removed from the brain.”

He told the BBC that copper also led to more protein being produced: “It’s a double whammy of increased production and decreased clearance of amyloid protein.

“Copper is a very essential metal ion and you don’t want a deficiency and many nutritious foods also contain copper.”

However, he said taking supplements may be “going overboard a bit”.

Mixed evidence: Commenting on the latest findings, Chris Exley, professor of bioinorganic chemistry at Keele University, said there was “no true consensus” on the role of copper in Alzheimer’s disease.

His research on human brains reached the opposite conclusion: “In our most recent work we found evidence of lower total brain copper with ageing and Alzheimer’s. We also found that lower brain copper correlated with higher deposition of beta amyloid in brain tissue.

“He said at the moment we would expect copper to be protective and beneficial in neurodegeneration, not the instigator, but we don’t know.

“The exposure levels used mean that if copper is acting in the way they think it does in this study then it must be doing so in everyone.”

Dr Eric Karran, from Alzheimer’s Research UK, said: “While the findings present clues to how copper could contribute to features of Alzheimer’s in mice, the results will need replicating in further studies. It is too early to know how normal exposure to copper could be influencing the development or progression of Alzheimer’s in people. ”

Dr Doug Brown, from the Alzheimer’s Society, said: “Considering copper is a vital mineral for the body, people should treat these results with caution and not cut it out of their diet. More research is needed to understand the role that copper might play in the brain.”

Dogs used as ‘early warning system’ for low blood sugar levels in people with diabetes


Dogs could be trained to warn diabetic patients when their blood sugar levels are about to become low, according to a new study.

Specially trained “glycaemia alert dogs” were able to detect when their owners’ blood sugar levels were outside their normal range and warn them of the fact, researchers found.

It is believed that the dogs are able to detect potential danger because their keen sense of smell can detect chemical changes in their owner’s sweat or breath.

Similar studies have suggested that dogs may be able to detect cancer by catching the scent of chemical compounds released by tumours.

In the new project, funded by pet training specialists The Company of Animals, studied seventeen dogs which had been trained to spot when their owner’s blood sugar levels began to drop too low or rise too high.

Some of the dogs had been donated and trained by the Medical Detection Dogs charity, while others belonged to participants and were specially trained for the study.

Results published in the PLOS ONE journal showed that all seventeen patients reported benefits, including fewer ambulance call-outs and fainting episodes, and greater independence.

Data recorded by the patients suggested that the dogs had been able to warn their owners of high or low blood sugar with an accuracy significantly above the level of chance, although the success rate varied from animal to animal.

Dr Nicola Rooney, who led the study, said current electronic systems designed to do the same job have “numerous limitations” and that dogs could offer “significant improvements”.

She added: “Some of the owners also describe their dogs respond[ing] even before their blood sugars are low but as they start to drop, so it is possible that the dogs are even more effective than this study suggests.

“While it is believed that dogs use their acute sense of smell to detect changes in the chemical composition of their owner’s sweat or breath to respond to glycaemic control, further research is now needed to further understand how dogs carry out this amazing task.”

Scientists ‘95 % cent certain’ that climate change is man-made


UN panel estimates sea levels could rise by 2ft 8in by the end of the century in latest draft report

Scientists are more certain than they have ever been that humans are causing climate change and believe that sea levels could rise by up to 2ft 8in by the end of the century.

These are among the key findings likely to be published next month in the most authoritative and comprehensive report ever conducted into climate science – the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) fifth assessment, known as AR5.

According to a draft of the report, the certainty that humans are the main cause of climate change has risen to 95 per cent, from 90 per cent in the previous – fourth – assessment six years ago. This, in turn, was a significant increase on the 66 per cent certainty reached in 2001’s third assessment and just over 50 per cent in 1995.

With every IPCC report there is a key phrase that encapsulates the latest consensus on climate change, which scientists wrangle over for months.

According to a leaked copy of the draft, the key phrase in the forthcoming report will say: “It is extremely likely that human influence on climate caused more than half of the observed increase in global average surface temperature from 1951 to 2010.”

“There is high confidence that this has warmed the ocean, melted snow and ice, raised global mean sea level and changed some climate extremes,” adds the draft, which could be changed before the final version is published in Stockholm in September.

The draft projects that seas will rise by between 29cm and 82cm (11.4 to 32.3 inches) by the end of the century, while greenhouse gas emissions continue to soar.

The latest in a series that began in 1990 and last reported in 2007, AR5 has 840 main authors recruited from 38 of the IPCC’s 195 member countries, with British and American scientists making the biggest contribution.

At more than 3,000 pages, the report is so big that it will be released in three parts over the next 14 months. The first part covers the physical science of climate change. The second instalment will concentrate on the impacts of climate change and how to adapt to them, while the third will examine ways to curb the warming.

The report will also explain why global temperatures, while still increasing, have risen more slowly since the late 1990s despite accelerating increases in the greenhouse gas emissions widely thought to be responsible for climate change.

The draft report says there is “medium confidence” that the slowing of the temperature rise is “due in roughly equal measure” to natural variations in the weather and to other factors affecting energy reaching the earth’s surface. Other factors include an increase in the amount of heat being absorbed by deep oceans.

As with the other IPCC reports, AR5 will be a synthesis of the findings of thousands of peer-reviewed research papers from the past few years. It comes at a crucial time in global climate change politics since it will be the last IPPC report published before the Paris summit in 2015, when the world’s governments have pledged to reach hugely-ambitious and legally-binding targets to reduce their emissions in a bid to limit global warming to 2C, compared to pre-industrial levels.

The report’s authors are being extra cautious with this report after climate sceptics seized on a number of errors in the previous assessment to bolster their case that climate change is greatly exaggerated. The errors included the suggestion that the Himalayan glaciers could melt by 2035.

The key phrase on the likely human influence on climate change in the draft of the latest IPCC assessment strengthens that of 2007’s fourth assessment, which said that “Evidence of the effect of external influences… on the climate system has continued to accumulate since TAR [Third assessment report in 2001]”.

TAR, in turn, concluded in 2001 that “there is new and stronger evidence [than in 1995] that most of the warming observed over the last 50 years is attributable to human activities”. The second assessment report in 1995 said: “The balance of evidence suggests a discernible human influence on global climate.”

Giant leatherback turtle washed up on Wexford strand a whopping 1,000kger


THE arrival of a giant leatherback turtle made a big splash among locals in Cullenstown Strand, Co Wexford over the weekend but it was dead.

The turtle, as big as an upturned rowing boat, washed up on the beach last Friday.

The Co Wexford coast is a popular feeding ground for these turtles, which arrive en masse every June to feed on jellyfish until early autumn.

A number of dead leatherback turtles washed up off the south coast last year, but this was the first at Cullenstown Strand for some time, Wexford naturalist Jim Hurley said.

“There were people arriving having a look and taking photos over the weekend.

“Often these turtles die after they mistake plastic bags for jellyfish and swallow them.”

Carcass: The cause of the leatherback turtle’s death remains unknown.

John Kinsella of Wexford Naturalists Fieldclub said large leatherbacks could weigh up to 1,000kg – “the best part of a ton” – and be two-and-a-half metres long.

They breed in the Caribbean and are so big not even sharks would bother to attack them.

He said it was likely that the turtle died offshore and the carcass was washed in by the tide: “They don’t beach themselves like whales.”

Mr Kinsella said the biggest recorded leatherback turtle washed up on a beach in Wales about 10 years ago and weighed over one tonne.

The species takes about 50 years to mature and turtles live at least 80 years.

The turtle has since been taken from the beach by council workers and buried.

News Ireland Blog Sunday by Donie

Sunday 5th August 2012

Clare councillor calls for Garda training in defibrillators


Ennis Town Councillor Paul O’ Shea with Labour Party leader Eamon Gilmore.
A Co Clare councillor has called on Justice Minister Alan Shatter to initiate a training programme for gardai in the use of heart defibrillators after discovering, to his “amazement”, that no such training is in place.

Committees around the country have been raising funds to install AEDs (automatic external defibrillators) in response to sudden cardiac arrests, often of young sportsmen but also of people who died in public places from heart attacks. Gardai, though often the first people to arrive in emergency situations, are not officially trained to handle defibrillators — which generally require only a two-hour course of instruction — though many have done so in a private capacity.

The Garda Press Office said in response to a query that only “certain members” received training.

Ennis is the latest town to have defibrillators installed in public places as a result of community and local political activity. Money raised by local contributions has already paid for four of the devices, which cost around €2,300 each, and two business people in the town centre are already providing power points for the boxes containing the defibrillators outside their premises.

Labour Councillor Paul O’Shea, of Ennis, who has headed the local defibrillator campaign, said he had been speaking to local gardai and was “amazed” to discover that training in use of the easy-to-use devices was not provided.

He said: “The Clare Red Cross have offered to train Clare gardai on the use of defibrillators. This is a sad reflection on our Government when a voluntary organisation has to come forward to train our frontline gardai.”

Mr O’Shea had asked the local council in March to install a defibrillator in the town centre but was told provision and installation was not within the council’s remit.

The campaign is supported by the Irish Heart Foundation as 70 per cent of cardiac arrests happen outside hospital and 5,000 deaths occur annually from sudden arrests.

Phoenix Park concert Promoter in talks to avoid repeat of violence at park gigs


Six people were stabbed during the Swedish House Mafia concert in Phoenix Park and two people died.

The  County Council responsible for a series of concerts at Marlay Park in Dublin later this month have said they are talking to promoters MCD to ensure there is not a repeat of violent scenes at a recent Phoenix Park concert.

Some 53 different conditions have been attached to the licence given to MCD by Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council for the three concerts at Marlay Park.

The one that has been identified as being potentially troublesome is the David Guetta concert on August 24th.

The Van Morrison concert will attract an older audience while the joint Kasabian/Noel Gallagher gig is also perceived as being less risky.

Conditions include the right of gardaí to alter security arrangements and the sale of spirits depending on the artists who are performing.

A spokeswoman for Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown council said: “Senior council personnel are currently . . . meeting all relevant parties in relation to the operational detail of the Marlay Park concerts due to take place later this month, with a view to ensuring that they take place without incident.”

Dublin City councillor Mary Fitz-patrick has invited MCD, the Garda and the Office of Public Works, which runs the park, to give evidence to the Dublin Joint Policing Committee, which she chairs, to review the management of the Swedish House Mafia gig in Phoenix Park in July.

She said it was vital to get to the bottom of what happened at the concert which resulted in two deaths from suspected drug overdoses, six stabbings and multiple arrests.

“Each of the authorities involved in every stage of planning and managing this event has questions to answer,” she said.

In a covering letter to a report about the Swedish House Mafia concert, which was submitted to Minister for Justice Alan Shatter, the Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan blamed MCD for inadequate security, poor access to CCTV footage and an event-control system that was “not fit for purpose”.

The report has not been published for operational reasons.

However, MCD is unhappy with the commissioner’s finding, saying he does not mention the Garda’s own responsibilities in relation to security outside the venue.

MCD said gardaí had only objected to the security arrangements in retrospect.

“There was drinking going on all day outside the Courts of Criminal Justice and in the streets. We’ll take our responsibility for what happened inside the arena, but that was their domain,” said one of the organisers.

When asked if gardaí bore any responsibility for what happened, a Garda spokesman said: “A report has been submitted to the Minister for Justice, Equality and Defence in relation to this matter. It would not be appropriate for An Garda Síochána to comment further at this time.”

A spokesman for the Office of Public Works, which has responsibility for the Phoenix Park, said it would comply with whatever recommendations the Garda Commissioner made about future events in the park.

He said the office had event-planning meetings with the promoters prior to the concert but could not have anticipated the events which unfolded.

“We didn’t know what sort of clientele might be attending, but I don’t think anyone could have envisaged what happened.”

Gardai still looking for mystery men in tunnels under the streets of Dublin


A member of the garda sub-aqua unit emerges from a manhole in the grounds of Dublin Castle yesterday.

The garda sub-aqua unit was yesterday searching tunnels and drains in central Dublin after two men, dressed in waterproof clothing and wearing gloves, used a ladder to climb down a manhole beside Dublin Castle.

The incident was captured on CCTV — showing the men opening the manhole, dropping the ladder in, then replacing the iron cover as they climbed down at around 9.15pm on Friday evening.

Gardai were alerted immediately and went to the scene

They reopened the manhole and heard two men’s voices coming from the tunnel. The area was sealed off and the sub-aqua unit arrived yesterday afternoon and began searching. There was no sign of the men.

The tunnels under the Castle carry the Poddle River underground through the city centre to Wellington Quay, where it flows into the Liffey.

Gardai were uncertain if the two men were part of the ‘urban explorers’ subculture movement, which involves opening manholes and exploring unseen parts of cities.

This activity has become popular in Britain and other countries. The tunnels were featured in a recent episode of Creedon’s Cities on RTE, which may have spurred an interest in exploring.

However, there could be an alternative and more sinister explanation. Dublin Castle houses the Assay Office, which contains amounts of gold and silver. The Poddle Tunnel also runs under the Central Bank on Dame Street.

The tunnel complex, which is big enough for people to walk through, is checked every time an important dignitary visits Dublin Castle.

The sub-aqua unit searched it before the visit of the Queen and prior to visits by British prime ministers while the IRA campaign was under way, as well as in the run-up to the visits of US presidents.

It will also be searched before the major events that will take place during Ireland’s EU presidency.

Irish Government considers having 25 different property tax bands


It’s reported the Government is considering having as many as 25 different property tax bands.

According to the Sunday Business Post, Ministers would like to introduce an extensive sliding scale based on the value of the property.

It’s proposed that these 25 different bands will be based on 25 thousand euro increments.

For example, one band could be between 350 and 375 thousand – with the next band rising to 400 thousand euro.

It’s estimated the new property tax – which will replace the household charge next year – could cost homeowners between 300 and 500 euro a year – with higher bills for more valuable properties.

Fisherman rescued off Donegal as boat sinks, mountain climber rescued after fall in Kerry


A fisherman has been rescued from rocks off the north coast of Co Donegal after his boat sank yesterday afternoon.

The man alerted the Malin Head coastguard that his boat was sinking, just before 3pm.

He maintained contact with the coastguard station until after the boat sank, when he climbed onto nearby rocks.

He was located by emergency services and was airlifted to Letterkenny General Hospital.

Meanwhile, a man was airlifted off the MacGillycuddy Reeks in Co Kerry after he fell while climbing this evening.

The man, who is from Co Galway, and in his 30s, fell a distance of over 50m.

He was stretchered down the mountain by members of the Kerry Mountain Rescue team.

He was then airlifted by the Shannon Coastguard Helicopter and taken to Kerry General Hospital in Tralee, where his condition is stable and his injuries are said not to be life-threatening.

The first attempt to airlift him off the mountain had to be aborted because of bad weather conditions.

However, the airlift succeeded on the second attempt.

This evening’s rescue was the first time the new Sikorsky helicopter, commissioned in July, has been used on the Reeks.

Edinburgh University study pinpoints prostate cancer growth gene (Decorin)


The researchers looked at the genes that control the formation of the prostate gland.

Scientists from Edinburgh University have pinpointed a gene they say could lead to improvements in the diagnosis and treatment of prostate cancer.

The team studied genes that control the formation of the prostate gland and identified one known as Decorin.

The presence of this gene was reduced in tumor’s compared to normal prostate cells.

The researchers now hope measurement of Decorin levels could become a reliable diagnostic test for prostate cancer.

The study by scientists from the Centre for Reproductive Health was funded by Prostate Cancer UK and the Medical Research Council (MRC).

They believe the gene, Decorin, may play an important role in tumour growth.

Lead researcher, Dr Axel Thomson, said: “We pinpointed which genes were active in embryonic prostate development and compared their behaviour in the development of prostate cancer.

“Through this process we were excited to discover that the presence of one gene – Decorin – was reduced in tumours compared to normal prostate cells.

“This observation suggests that Decorin’s normal role may be to slow cancer growth, which is a really exciting possibility.

‘More clues’

He added: “If our suspicions are verified then this could mean that, in the future, measurement of Decorin levels could become a reliable diagnostic test for prostate cancer and also help determine how aggressive the disease is.”

The finding comes as part of an ongoing research exploring how the environment surrounding cancer cells affects tumour growth.

Dr Kate Holmes, from Prostate Cancer UK, said: “This type of early stage research is vital to help us improve our understanding of prostate cancer development and move towards finding better ways to diagnose and treat the disease.

“Every year 10,000 men lose their lives to the disease, yet we still have very little knowledge of how prostate tumor’s develop and grow.

“It is vital that more research of this nature is undertaken and supported so that more clues, such as these, can be discovered.”