Tag Archives: irish households

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Thursday 18th August 2016

Irish household debt decreases by €1.1bn in first quarter of 2016

Irish households fall to fourth most indebted in the European Union


New figures from the Central Bank Show Irish household debt stood at €31,216 per Capita in the first three months of the year, the lowest level since the first quarter of 2006.

Irish households fell from being the third most indebted in the European Union to the fourth during the first quarter of this year, according to new figures from the Central Bank.

The figures show Irish household debt fell by €1.1 billion to €148.5 billion in the first three months of the year.

This represented a household debt per capita of €31,216, which is the lowest level since the first quarter of 2006.

Household net lending fell to a level of €2.4 billion during the first quarter.

The net worth of households increased by 0.3% to €628.7 billion, mainly driven by a rise in house values, and a decline in household liabilities.

Household net worth has regained two-thirds of the drop that followed the Celtic Tiger’s high-water mark of €718 billion in the second quarter of 2007.

The Central Bank said household debt as a proportion of disposable income now stands at 149.4%, its lowest level since the end of 2004.

Investec said the stock of household liabilities now stands at €148.5 billion, 27% below the all-time high of €203.7 billion reached in the third quarter of 2008. It noted household net worth has increased for 12 successive quarters.

“Notwithstanding external pressures, we expect the Irish economy to continue to turn in some of the strongest growth in the EU both this year and the next, facilitating further improvements in the aggregate balance sheet of Irish households,” said Investec chief economist Philip O’Sullivan.

Irish Parents spend some €450 a month ‘supporting’ students

Irish League of Credit Unions data shows 87% will back children financially while in college


Just over two-thirds of students work throughout the academic year to fund third-level education, working on average 17 hours weekly for €12 an hour.

The vast majority of students attending third level institutions will be financially supported by their parents over the next year with the average parent spending €447 each month, a survey has found.

According to a piece of research published by the Irish League of Credit Unions this morning 87 per cent of parents will financially support their children through the academic year with 60 per cent getting into debt to do so.

The research asked both parents and students about how they meet the costs of third level education and the financial challenges facing families. The results highlight the impact of sending children to college (in financial terms) has on spending and budgets as well as the challenges and concerns parents have in relation to finance, debt, accommodation, course choice and job prospects.

All told just under three quarters of parents polled said they would struggle to cover the cost of their child’s third level education. The average amount of debt parents will accrue is put at €4,300 down from €4,670 in 2015.

The piece of research also found that parents save for an average of eight years to cover third level costs for their children and manage to accumulate on average €8,150 over that period.

A worry?

The survey also asked parents what they worried about as their children headed off to college. Employment prospects after graduation was the biggest concern for parents with 32 per cent saying it was the thing which worried them the most. Passing exams was in second place with 17 per cent highlight that while concerns over the misuse of drink and drugs has jumped sharply to 17 per cent up from 10 per cent last year.

It is not only parents who have worries ahead of the new term. The poll suggests that just over two thirds of students who need to live away from their family home are “extremely worried” about finding suitable accommodation for the academic year.

Concerns about the availability and affordability of accommodation could be behind a slight increase in the number of students who say they will live at home over the course of the next academic year. The survey says that 65 per cent of students will be living at home compared to 62 per cent in 2015.

The cost of living away from home is laid bare in the study with students living outside the home saying they will spend €1,048 euro per month while those living at home will spend €530 per month

Just over two thirds of students work throughout the academic year to fund third level education working an average of 17 hours per week getting paid an average of €12 per hour.

The survey by iReach was carried out in July using 1,000 responses from over-18s across Ireland.

Nutrition business progress drives Glanbia earnings growth


Exceptionally strong growth in Glanbia’s performance nutrition business helped the Irish company to earnings of €176.5m in the opening half of the year.

Glanbia’s H1 earnings increased by close to 11% compared with the same period last year in what company chief executive Siobhán Talbot described as a “strong set of results”.

That firm’s earnings growth was driven primarily by its performance nutrition (GPN) business which accounted for almost half the company’s earnings.

The performance nutrition business segment’s earnings before interest tax and amortisation (EBITA) totalled €81.7m a 35% increase on H1 2015 on a constant currency basis.

Ms Talbot said she was pleased with the progress of GPN which develops products aimed at the sport and fitness markets, including protein shakes.

Growth would moderate to more modest and sustainable levels over time, she accepted.

“Sales of performance nutrition brands and value-added nutritional ingredients showed good growth in the first half of 2016 delivering on our vision to be a leading nutrition business.

“Our overarching strategy is to continue to get growth across the group. Various dynamics in various periods of the year and indeed full years can accelerate that and we’re very pleased with the 35% that we had in the first half [of 2016].

“We very much look to that long-term sustainable growth rate and we’re obviously not saying that that level of growth will be sustainable but if you take our overall guidance for the year that we’ve reiterated of 8%-10%, growing performance nutrition is an important factor within that,” Ms Talbot said.

GPN’s growth will be increasingly driven by new product innovations rather than breaking into new markets.

Ms Talbot said she expected continued “pull” on pricing in its Irish dairy division after a 4.9% decline in prices in the first half of the year.

Glanbia described Dairy Ireland’s performance as “satisfactory” despite a 3.3% decline in revenue to €356.9m which reflected the continued price drop as well as a 1.1% increase in volumes.

Ms Talbot said conditions for “anybody in the dairy space are a bit challenging” but noted that Dairy Ireland delivered a modest profit increase in the first six months of the year.

The company is dealing with currency headwinds arising from both the relative strength of the dollar and the uncertainty created by the UK’s decision to leave the European Union.

Ms Talbot said the UK is not a particularly big market for Glanbia but like all other corporates, the Irish firm doesn’t like uncertainty and currency volatility caused by the Brexit vote would need to be monitored.

Similarly, Glanbia is “always watching” the dollar-euro exchange rate and is used to managing the associated risk.

The relative strength of the dollar against other currencies can have a marked effect on demand in other markets, such as Brazil, however.

Ms Talbot said the dollar’s strength was actually more of an issue last year than it has been in the opening half of 2016 though.

The company remains on the lookout for potential acquisitions and has a good pipeline of deals.

Ms Talbot said, however, that it is difficult to be prescriptive about how many deals would be completed or when.

Viruses are more dangerous in the morning and so maybe we should all sleep in


Early morning commuters on packed trains can finally feel justified in their aversion to their fellow passengers, after a new study found viruses are more dangerous in the morning.

A science paper (rivetingly) entitled “Cell autonomous regulation of herpes and influenza virus infection by the circadian clock” found viruses were 10 times more successful at breaking down their host if the infection began in the morning.

The study, by the University of Cambridge, involved infecting mice with either the influenza (the cause of flu) or the herpes virus. Tests showed mice infected in the morning had a viral level 10 times higher than those infected in the evening.

Professor Akhilesh Reddy told the BBC: “It’s a big difference. The virus needs all the apparatus available at the right time, otherwise it might not ever get off the ground, but a tiny infection in the morning might perpetuate faster and take over the body.”

Viruses hijack living cells in order to replicate and proliferate around the body. It is thought the body clock, or circadian clock as per the paper title, is what makes cells more susceptible to viruses at different times.

Bmal1 is the body clock gene scientists in this study identified as the key to this susceptibility and it peaks in the afternoon, increasing resistance to infection. Bmal1 activity is low in the morning however, so we have increased vulnerability.

So should we all be locking ourselves in quarantine in the mornings for fear of microscopic germ warfare? Well no, but the findings could be helpful in preventing the spread of disease during a viral pandemic.

“In a pandemic, staying in during the daytime could be quite important and save people’s lives – it could have a big impact if trials bear it out,” said Professor Reddy.

One thing is clear – we’ve all been given one more reason to hit that snooze button tomorrow…

Zebra finches sing to eggs to prepare babies for global warming ahead

This could be one way birds learn to survive the heat


Zebra finches program their offspring to prepare for global warming by singing to eggs before they hatch. In especially hot areas, finch parents make a special call to incubating eggs, basically telling them it’s really hot outside and they better not grow too big. The hatchlings listen and this mechanism might explain how birds learn to adapt, and survive climate change.

Many bird species sing to their eggs. These calls have been shown to do everything from improving learning to synchronizing hatching times. When it comes to the Australian zebra finch, we already know that they make a specific call when it’s unusually hot outside, which in this case means over 79 degrees Fahrenheit no matter what season it is.

Finch parents start making these calls about five days before the eggs are supposed to hatch and the calls become more frequent the closer it gets to hatch time. This suggests the calls are a way to tell the soon-to-be-born finches about the world outside, and not just the parents complaining about the heat.

But how do we know if it’s just a coincidence? Mylene Mariette and Katherine Buchanan at Australia’s Deakin University figured out a way to test this. For a study published today in Science, they put a bunch of zebra finch eggs in an incubator that created a temperature around 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Mariette and Buchanan then played the “global warming” call for some of the eggs and not others.

Next, the scientists waited to see if there were significant differences between the two groups. If there were, it was probably because of the difference in the calls they heard.

After the eggs hatched, the baby finches were raised in an environment where the temperature varied naturally. By day 13 after hatching, nestlings that heard the “heat” calls were smaller than the ones who didn’t. This seems to confirm that the embryos in the eggs really do listen to the calls and then change how they grow.

All this makes sense because other research tells us that animals end up smaller when it gets hotter because the smaller size makes it easier to cope with high temperatures. Mariette and Buchanan also found that birds who were smaller in hot conditions produced more fledglings during their first breeding season, showing that this is a good evolutionary strategy after all.


News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Irish consumers are saving not borrowing, survey finds

Household deposits jump in October by €1.1bn – the most since December 2008


Mortgage lending fell by €138 million, down by 2.4% on an annual basis, according to latest figures from the Central Bank.

Lending to Irish households fell again in October, as deposits rose sharply, showing that despite the nascent recovery, Irish consumers are continuing to save, rather than borrow, according to a Central Bank survey.

Lending to consumers fell by 2.5% on an annual basis, as consumers repaid more than they borrowed. During the month, loan repayments exceeded drawdowns by €253 million, as mortgage lending fell by €138 million, down by 2.4% on an annual basis, and loans for other purposes fell by €115 million, down 3% year on year.

While Alan McQuaid, economist with Merrion Capital, noted that an underlying problem is “as much about the lack of demand for credit as it is about the supply of credit”, he also said “ the real issue is the price of credit”.

“Even with record low Eurozone interest rates, small businesses are reporting that the cost of servicing loans here in Ireland has risen quite sharply, which is unsustainable in the long-run. As a result, individuals and firms are now disposing of assets and clearing their borrowings,” he said.

Deposits rose again during the month, up by €3.9 billion to €178 billion, driven by a sharp growth in household deposits.

These rose by €1.1 billion during the month, marking the largest month-on-month increase in this category since December 2008. Deposits grew by 2.6 per cent, on an annual basis, with consumers opting for overnight deposits over their fixed term alternative, with such deposits falling by €5.3 billion in October.

Repeat Irish offender criminals to be targeted under new strategy to tackle crime levels here


Minister for Justice & Equality, Frances Fitzgerald TD

Two hundred criminals who are classified as ‘repeat offenders’ are to be targeted as part of new strategy involving Gardaí, the Probation Service and the Irish Prison Service.

The Joint Agency Response to Crime initiative (J-ARC) will see offenders take part in programmes to help them reconnect with the families, receiving treatments for problems such as addiction and get help finding training or work placement.

Launching the scheme in Dublin today, Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald said: “I would also like to oversee a system which aims to reduce the number of victims by a reduction in offending”.

“The launch of J-ARC today is an endorsement of the work done by criminal justice agencies and community organisations together in challenging offending behaviour which has at its centre the needs of victims to feel safer in their communities.”

The J-ARC strategy prioritises certain prolific offenders and to develop specific initiatives which will address their behaviour and reduce crime thereby increasing community safety.

In Ireland it is estimated that 75pc of property crime is linked to 25pc of offenders.

“Targeting this cohort of repeat offenders has the potential to significantly reduce the number of burglaries being committed,” Ms Fitzgerald said.

“While I believe that prison is the right place for serious and serial offenders, listening to the offenders who are participating in the J-ARC programmes clearly demonstrates the real benefit of providing support and hope to those who wish to change their offending ways.

“A change in a person’s offending ways has a direct effect on reducing the number of crime victims.”

Already three pilot schemes have been under way in the capital and Garda Commissioner Noirin O’Sullivan said she would like to see the initiative rolled out nationwide in the future.

In Ballymun, a pilot known as STRIVE has targeted prolific offenders within East Ballymun whose behaviour is undermining the community’s quality of life.

Another scheme known as ‘Bridge Change Works Programme’ is targeting adult male offenders living in Dublin with a history of violent crime.

And a third pilot, called Accer3, is for offenders charged with burglary.

Government job strategy targeting 28,000 extra jobs in the north west

Minister for Jobs Richard Bruton will launch plans in Sligo and Drogheda. 


The Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation Richard Bruton will launch a job strategy for the north east and north west region today.

A Government job strategy for the north east and north west regions aims to create 28,000 jobs by 2020.

Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation Richard Bruton will launch the plans in Sligo and Drogheda today.

The North East/North West Action Plan for Jobs is part of the Government’s € 250 million regional jobs strategy.

During the downturn, 31,600 jobs were lost in the region, which covers counties Donegal, Sligo, Leitrim, Cavan, Monaghan and Louth,

The new strategy is targeting employment growth of 10-15% over and above current employment levels.

Key sectors targeted as part of the plan include traditionally strong sectors for the region like agri-food, manufacturing/engineering and tourism, as well as areas targeted for future growth like digital payments, clean tech and creative services.

Mr Bruton said: “Jobs are growing right across the country, but they are growing faster in some regions than in others.”

“That is why we have put in place the € 250 million regional jobs strategy, to support regions to play to their strengths and accelerate jobs growth in every area,” he said.

Electronic devices/games making children very ‘tired and cranky’

Children who watch too much TV at ‘significantly higher’ risk of language delay


Children under two years who spend a lot of time in front of electronic screens have a ‘significantly higher chance’ of suffering from language delays and poor sleeping habits.

Children are becoming increasingly angry, tired, passive and cranky after using electronic devices such as computers and smart phones, according to a survey into the attitudes of Irish parents.

The research from Early Childhood Ireland found two out of three parents believed it was okay for a young child to use technology freely but warned that by the age of seven the average child would have spent a year of their life watching television and using screen devices.

With the Christmas holidays fast approaching, Early Childhood Ireland is recommending that parents turn off TVs and computers when not in use, establish “screen-free zones” in the home where there are no electronic devices and agree on set times for TV and computer use.

Based on 2013 recommendations from the US Department of Health, Early Childhood Ireland suggested that children under two years of age should not use screen devices at all and that children aged 2-5 years should not watch screens for more than one hour a day.

Parents should also set a good example to their children by restricting their own screen diet.

The Early Childhood Ireland survey, carried out among 332 parents from across the State earlier this year, found 20% of those surveyed felt smart phones made parenting easier, while 72% said the purpose of their child watching TV is relaxation.

It warned that children under two years who spend a lot of time in front of electronic screens had a “significantly higher chance” of suffering from language delays and poor sleeping habits.

Early Childhood Ireland chief executive Teresa Heeney said the research showed a number of worrying trends and contradictions and also the need for parents to have clear parameters around screen time for young children, especially at bedtime.

Some 85% of Irish children under the age of 2 have been exposed to TV or DVDs, the research showed.

The survey also found that while 58% of Irish five-year-olds spend less than two hours in front of a screen, 14% are using screens for more than three hours every day.

UK-based psychologist Dr Aric Sigman warned that some children are spending more time watching TV than they spend in school. Dr Sigman said that by the age of seven, most children will have spent a full year of 24 hours days watching TV or using electronic devises.

Writing in an American Academy of Paediatrics scientific paper published in 2013, Dr Sigman warned that children’s reliance on TV, computers and screen games was causing developmental damage and highlighted the importance of eye-to-eye interaction between parents and young children during the first few years of their life.

The research also found 75% of parents believe technology has educational benefits for young children.

Early Childhood Ireland agrees that technology can be “engaging and empowering” for children over three but only when screen time is carefully monitored and quality content is viewed.

100 million-year-old dog sized dinosaur fossil discovered

Scientist says the teeth of the species curves downwards and outwards in a beak shape


An artist’s impression of a dog-sized horned dinosaur (left Pic.) which roamed eastern North America up to 100 million years ago. An aA scientist has uncovered the fossil of a dog-sized horned dinosaur that roamed eastern North America up to 100 million years ago.

The fragment of jaw bone provides evidence of an east-west divide in the evolution of dinosaurs on the North American continent.

During the Late Cretaceous period, 66 to 100 million years ago, the land mass was split into two continents by a shallow sea.

This sea, the Western Interior Seaway, ran from the Gulf of Mexico to the Arctic Ocean.

Dinosaurs living in the western continent, called Laramidia, were similar to those found in Asia.

However, few fossils from the eastern “lost continent” of Appalachia have been discovered as the areas are densely vegetated, making it difficult to discover and excavate fossils.

Dr Nick Longrich, from the Milner Centre for Evolution based at the University’s of Bath’s Department of Biology and Biochemistry, studied one of these rare fossils.

The fossil, kept in the Peabody Museum at Yale University, turned out to be from a member of the horned dinosaurs, the Ceratopsia.

Dr Longrich was unable to identify the exact species accurately but it had a strange twist to the jaw, causing the teeth to curve downward and outwards in a beak shape.

The jaw was also more slender than that of Ceratopsia found in western North America, suggesting the dinosaurs had different diets and evolved along distinct evolutionary paths.

“Just as many animals and plants found in Australia today are quite different to those found in other parts of the world, it seems that animals in the eastern part of North America in the Late Cretaceous period evolved in a completely different way to those found in the western part of what is now North America due to a long period of isolation,” Dr Longrich said.

“This adds to the theory that these two land masses were separated by a stretch of water, stopping animals from moving between them, causing the animals in Appalachia to evolve in a completely different direction, resulting in some pretty weird looking dinosaurs.

“Studying fossils from this period, when the sea levels were very high and the landmasses across the Earth were very fragmented, is like looking at several independent experiments in dinosaur evolution.

“At the time, many land masses — eastern North America, Europe, Africa, South America, India, and Australia — were isolated by water.

“Each one of these island continents would have evolved its own unique dinosaurs — so there are probably many more species out there to find.”

Ceratopsia is a group of plant-eating horned dinosaurs that lived in the Cretaceous period.

The fossil Dr Longrich studied comes from a smaller cousin of the better known Triceratops, the leptoceratopsids — about the size of a large dog.

His study, published in the journal Cretaceous Research, highlights it as the first fossil from a ceratopsian dinosaur identified from this period of eastern North America.


News Ireland daily BLOG by DONIE

Saturday 20th June 2015

Many thousands march in anti-water charges protest in Dublin yesterday

Demonstrators burn Irish Water bills outside the GPO on O’Connell Street


Thousands of people took to the streets of Dublin in an anti-water charges demonstration in Dublin city centre on Saturday. There was a strong pro Greek element to the protest showing solidarity with their european neighbours debt negotiations.

Demonstrators burned Irish Water bills outside the GPO on O’Connell Street today as thousands turned out in Dublin city centre to protest against domestic water charges.

Following separate processions from Connolly and Heuston railway stations earlier in the afternoon, about 5,000 people converged on the capital’s main thoroughfare to voice dissatisfaction at the billing process which would see householders pay for their water use.

A minimal security presence was in evidence for what was a peaceful and colourful event on a sunny day in Dublin.

Some of those present elected to don fancy dress outfits, while many others brandished signs criticising Government parties, while dozens of Greek flags were flown in recognition of the ongoing bailout talks involving the debt-ridden Mediterranean nation.

Traffic restrictions were in place along the quays, around College Green and on O’Connell Street itself, where north and south bound traffic was temporarily curtailed as the marches merged in front of a flatbed truck parked on the pavement beside the GPO.

Before any of the speakers began their addresses, bills were already being burned sporadically among the crowd. A number of oil drums were eventually placed at various intervals, and were soon filled with the ashes of hundreds of letters as those intending to actively resist the new charges consigned their own bills to the flames.

In her opening speech, Independent TD Catherine Murphyequated the way the Government’ released payment figures for water bills to the manner used to try and prevent her from obtaining sensitive documents carrying details of the sale of Siteserv to Denis O’Brien’s Millington group in 2012.

“Just as I found it difficult to get answers last year on the Siteserv issue, others have asked questions about how many people have paid to date. And you know what, you can’t get it on Freedom of Information, it has to be appealed. If 80 per cent of people had paid, they’d be rushing out to tell you.

“You’re intelligent people , you make up your own mind about that. I believe in conserving water, I believe we need to fix the pipes, but I also believe that Irish Water’s days are numbered,” she announced.

Afterwards, the Kildare deputy said that although she doesn’t actively condone the burning of bills, she does sympathise with people’s anger on the issue.

“I wouldn’t be burning my bill, I’d like to hold onto the evidence for the future… I think people are expressing it in a different way, I can’t tell you the number of people who have told me that they’re not paying but they’re not necessarily here today,” she added.

As opposed to some previous, larger demonstrations which saw isolated scenes of confrontation and occasional skirmishes between protestors and gardaí, a convivial atmosphere was evident throughout today’s rally.

“There’s a good few thousand here, obviously there were bigger ones where we had 100,000 but the campaigns are still there locally, people are still not paying. There’s still dozens of independent groups around the country fighting and sticking to their guns about it,” said campaign organiser Ciarán Heaphey.

He says he remains unperturbed by the potential repercussions of non-payment which will include further fines on top of monies already owned, according to Irish Water representatives.

“I’m not afraid. I would never pay for water, this is the third time we’ve been asked to pay for water through various means- we’re not paying for water again.”

Irish households paying close to double the EU average for broadband?


A study shows Ireland is failing when it comes to digital skills.

In terms of integration of digital technology by businesses, Ireland came in 3rd place overall, up 1 place compared to 2014

Charlie Taylor says

Irish households are paying close to double the EU average for broadband access, according to a new report that shows Ireland is lagging behind its European counterparts when it comes to digital skills.

Ireland ranks 8th out of 28 Member States in the European Commission’s Digital Economy and Society Index, which was published on Friday. This places Ireland in the ’medium-performance’ category, meaning it performs slightly above the EU average. Last year, Ireland was ranked in 11th place in the index.

Irish businesses are ranked 2nd in the EU for use of social media and for e-commerce turnover and also in addition Irish SMEs rank 5th in the EU for selling online, and for use of E-invoices.

In terms of integration of digital technology by businesses, Ireland came in 3rd place overall, up 1 place compared to 2014. This is above the EU average but the report’s authors added that businesses in Ireland could better exploit the possibilities offered by electronic information sharing and RFID.

In other areas, Ireland underperforms when ranked against its neighbours. In terms of broadband value, for example, the country ranks in 23rd place with households paying significantly more than the EU average for access. Ireland also ranked poorly for digital skills, coming in 20th place with only 53% of people having the required skills to operate effectively online.

At 76%, Ireland exhibits a rate of internet use amongst its population similar to that of the EU average.

With regard to internet connectivity, Ireland ranked 16th among EU countries. According to the index, 96% of Irish households are now covered by fixed broadband – a type of high-speed Internet access where connections to service providers use radio signals rather than cables – and take-up of fixed broadband is at 62%, below the EU average of 70%. This places Ireland in 19th place in terms of fixed- broadband use. Mobile broadband take-up increased from 67% to 82% between 2014 and 2015.

Online news, music, video and games, video calls, social networking, banking and shopping consumption all saw increases over the last year. Music, video and games, rose 20 percentage points from 23% to 43%. Video-on-demand (VOD) declined by 2 percentage points from 70% to 68%. However, VOD use is still very high in Ireland compared to the EU average of 41 per cent, placing Ireland 5th out of 28 countries.

The common (BCG) jab could hold key to finding cure for Type 1 diabetes


Millions of diabetes sufferers worldwide could have fresh hope after research found a commonly used vaccine could “cure” the condition.

The breakthrough could now get rid of insulin injections?

Scientists are convinced the debilitating effects of Type 1 diabetes can be reversed with a cheap jab used to combat tuberculosis.

Unlike lifestyle-driven Type 2 diabetes, which is often linked to obesity, Type 1 is an auto immune disease that, until now, was thought to be incurable.

But a major breakthrough could see the chronic condition – known as early onset diabetes – wiped out within years.

Researchers think the generic Bacillus Calmette–Guerin (BCG) jab, administered to tens of millions of children each year, can help regenerate insulin-making cells, effectively reversing the condition.

The BCG vaccine is up to 80 per cent effective in preventing TB for 15 years.

Results of initial tests in those who had diabetes for an average of 15 years suggest insulin production can be restored, albeit briefly, by a simple booster injection.

This is a cheap and generic drug that could be very effective and we’ve been saying that message over and over ahead since the start

The astonishing outcome is considered so significant £12million is being ploughed into a second five-year trial.

Experts in Britain described the quantum leap as “very exciting”.

Dr Denise Faustman, who is leading the research, said: “We decided to use a safe 100-year-old vaccine to make this happen and we’ve found that it works.

“We saw early signs that even at low doses of this vaccine the bad white blood cells that were killing the pancreas were killed and the good white blood cells that quiet down Type 1 diabetes were up-regulated.

“This is a cheap and generic drug that could be very effective and we’ve been saying that message over and over ahead since the start.”

Diabetes occurs when the amount of glucose in the blood becomes too high because the body cannot use it properly.

The new research could be a medical breakthrough for diabetes

This happens when the pancreas does not produce any insulin (Type 1), or not enough insulin to help glucose enter the body’s cells – or the insulin that is produced does not work properly, known as insulin resistance (Type 2).

Type 1 can develop at any age, but usually appears before the age of 40, particularly in childhood.

Patients lose their ability to make insulin and have to replace it for the rest of their lives.

Sufferers have a relative deficiency in a hormone known as TNF but scientists believe by administering a natural vaccine boosting TNF, bad white blood cells could be zapped and the pancreas regenerated.

Dr Faustman of Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston said: “In long-term diabetics we could see the targeted death of bad T-cells.

“We also saw the beginnings of pancreas regeneration. Sure, no one was throwing insulin syringes away yet, because it was just the beginning…but it showed that this could be done. And importantly, this was in long-term Type 1s with 15 to 20 years – that rattled a lot of people.

“We are going to look at how much BCG is needed and how frequently. That’s the key, the secret: knowing how much to dose.

“These aren’t fast trials by any means. We have a five-year follow-up but that’s important because after more than two years the effects become monumentally more significant.

“We know this is worth it, because data now shows from Europe that using BCG compared to the standard of care is most effective.

“Ten years ago no one used the R-word (regeneration) and we weren’t allowed to use that in our science papers.

“That’s changed over time and now it’s a common concept everyone is going after. We have come a long way in thinking how the human pancreas does this very slowly, like in MS where it takes five years.”

The lives of 4million people are now blighted by diabetes and the scale of the epidemic gripping Britain is so great treating the condition costs the NHS £10billion a year, or £1million an hour.

Diabetes can lead to a number of serious long-term health problems like blindness, heart and kidney disease and stroke and the furring and narrowing of blood vessels.

Karen Addington, chief executive of Type 1 diabetes charity JDRF, said: “Those diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes must inject insulin every day simply to stay alive. It is a serious and demanding condition and it’s on the rise in the UK, especially in children under the age of five.

“Vaccine research holds real potential for helping to delay or even prevent Type 1 diabetes in those at high genetic risk. Achieving this would be an important step towards discovery of the cure for the condition, taking us towards a world without Type 1 diabetes.

Sitting down too much might could be causing you Anxiety


“It’s time to get up and shake a leg you people” because sitting down could be your worst enemy?

Sitting down has been getting a bad rap of late. First we were told that it’s probably killing us (which, you know, is obviously not ideal), and now it’s emerged that sitting down may be affecting our mental health too.

Research by Deakin University’s Centre for Physical Activity and Nutrition Research (C-PAN) in Australia has found that there is probably a link between sitting down and anxiety.

Functional brain abnormalities are evidence in some individuals suffering from anxiety and panic disorders as well as post- traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Many brain disorders are accompanied by abnormal patterns of cortical activity (EEG or brain wave patterns).

Psychiatric treatments often rely on the use of medication for the treatment of anxiety; however evidence suggests that meds are not especially effective in treating this condition. Researchers estimate improvement in OCD from treatment with drugs to only be 30% to 35% only, for instance.

Talking about the motivation behind the study, Megan Teychenne, lead researcher and lecturer at C-PAN, explained: ‘Anecdotally – we are seeing an increase in anxiety symptoms in our modern society, which seems to parallel the increase in sedentary behavior. Thus, we were interested to see whether these two factors were in fact linked.’

In fact, according to the NHS, GAD (generalised anxiety disorder) is estimated to affect about 1 in every 25 people in the UK.

Maybe it’s better to not get a seat on the train after all?

Back to the research the team at C-PAN analysed the results of nine studies looking into the relationship between sedentary behaviour and anxiety, and found that there did seem to be a link.

Talking about the results, Megan Teychenne, said: ‘Our research showed that evidence is available to suggest a positive association between sitting time and anxiety symptoms’

But conceded that more research was needed, saying: ‘however, the direction of this relationship still needs to be determined through longitudinal and interventional studies.’

In the meantime however, it might be worth getting off your backside and taking a walk every now and then. You know, just to be on the safe side.

Humpback whales get friendly in Cork with some paddle boarders 


Humpback whales were spotted near Inchydoney beach, near Clonakilty in West Cork earlier this week.

A humpback whale was seen Inchydoney beach, near Clonakilty in West Cork earlier this week, and even got friendly with a paddle boarder.

According to the website Ireland’s Wildlife, the whales were possibly drawn into the area by the small fish called sand eels, a crucial food source to the whale. While humpbacks are regular visitors to the Irish coast, what was unusual was how close to shore the whale was feeding.

A whale got extremely close to paddle boarder Jason Coniry.

“I still can’t believe this happened but she swam right toward my board, rolled on her back and submersed just feet in front; she lifted me and the board very gently out of the water with her pectoral fin and then circled a few times passing under again,” the Cork man told BreakingNews.ie.

“After being lifted from the water I ended up on the whale’s side for a moment.

They are such a magnificent creature and such a magical experience. I feel very grateful.”

He warned that whales need to be treated with utmost respect.

“It’s not a good idea for everyone to jump in the water with these animals,” said Coniry, a lifeguard who has surfed and paddleboarded regularly for years.

“Instinct guides us as to when it’s unsafe. The whale’s movements are very intentional and accurate. If it did not want us near it, we would definitely have known.”

“We all should be respectful of our own limitations, and we must be respectful of these animals.”

“Our Irish coastline is largely unexplored and untapped, the West coast is one of the best places in the world to explore by paddleboard and we have amazing lakes and waterways all over the country. It’s great to be able to make the most of that,” he said.

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Tuesday 11th February 2014

Irish households will not know the extent of water charges until next August


Fees to be revealed after local and European elections in May, Oireachtas committee told

Regulators will set water charges in August, meaning consumers will not know how much they will have to pay for water until after local and European elections in May.

At a hearing today of the Oireachtas environment committee, energy regulator Paul McGowan said tariffs will be set in August by the Commission for Energy Regulation following its consideration of cost submissions from Irish Water.

For its part, Irish Water has told the committee that it will make an interim price control submission to the regulator “in a few weeks”. This will be followed next month by submissions on the tariff structure and connection charge structure. A water charges plan submission will be made in June, it said.

In its submission to the committee, Irish Water said it has already installed more than 115,000 meters and was meeting a monthly installations target of 27,000 per month. The organisation reported “less than 2 per cent customer complaints”.

It added the metering project had uncovered badly corroded service connections which were leaking heavily and said this provided an opportunity confront the problem in partnership with local authorities.

However, Sinn Féin environment spokesman Brian Stanley said after the committee hearing that it was not clear who would pay for the leakages.

“This has imposed a cost on the local authorities concerned, despite an assurance from Irish Water that the private contractors concerned would be liable for repairs caused by the installation of meters,” Mr Stanley said.

“By my estimation, if the level of leaks caused so far is replicated across the state we will be looking at a final bill for repairs of between €18 and €20 million.”

Irish Water also said it was making major progress in its objective to elimination of boil water notices within 12 months.

Following controversy over the provision for “bonus” payments in the pay structure of Irish Water, the organistaion said a portion of salary was deliberately set “at risk” in its pay system.

“In other words, if targets are not hit, the person loses out on that segment of their salary. This new approach has been pioneered by Bord Gáis and sees each salary broken into two parts: a base pay level; a performance related element which is ‘at risk’.”

The total of the two elements would add up to the “external market pay level” for any given job, Irish Water said. It said the model would drive efficiencies, provide for a pay freeze, eliminate increments and require pay ranges to be externally benchmarked.

New research makes it plain that Ireland is a tax haven


Is Ireland a tax haven? The Irish government bristles at the question, given rising interest in cracking down on offshore financial centers, but research from a Trinity College professor is pretty definitive: Yes, it is.

When Ireland’s leaders defend their country from accusations that global companies like Apple use Irish law to avoid taxes in other countries, they frequently cite a study prepared by the World Bank and Price-Waterhouse-Coopers. It found that Ireland has an effective tax rate of 12.3%, higher than other European countries and places like Bermuda and the Caymans that are traditionally considered tax havens.

The only problem is that the study is based on a hypothetical firm’s hypothetical tax payments. And that hypothetical firm only has 60 employees, is domestically owned, doesn’t import or export anything, and makes ceramic flower pots. That’s not exactly a recipe for identifying the taxes paid by large multinational companies largely engaged in trade and reliant on intellectual property.

So James Stewart, a finance professor at Trinity, looked at data from the US Bureau of Economic Analysis, which reports the actual amount of money US multinationals paid for their operations in foreign countries. Here’s what he found:

Ireland, at a cool 2.2%, is a lot closer to the British Virgin Islands and Luxembourg than it is to larger developed economies. And it certainly shows that the arguments Irish politicians are relying on won’t carry much water with the rest of the world. In fact, it’s strange that Price-Waterhouse-Coopers is involved in creating supposedly objective research about the international tax system: Its top employee in Ireland is a lobbyist focused on helping multinationals reduce their tax burden.

Irish consumer confidence exceptionally high as a result of job’s news


Survey says positive employment news and strong retail sales boosting confidence

The latest Consumer Market Monitor from the UCD Michael Smurfit Graduate Business School and the Marketing Institute of Ireland says consumer confidence is at an exceptionally high level.

Consumer confidence is at an “exceptionally high” level, on the back of positive jobs news, strong retail sales figures and an increase in property transactions, according to a new survey.

The latest Consumer Market Monitor from the UCD Michael Smurfit Graduate Business School and the Marketing Institute of Ireland, shows confidence reached a seven-year peak in December.

The survey said consumer confidence picked up considerably throughout 2013, with confidence up five points in the first half of 2013, compared to the same period in 2012.

UCD professor of marketing Dr Mary Lambkin said consumer spending accounts for over 60 per cent of GNP in Ireland and is a critical factor in driving any recovery of the economy.

“Disposable incomes for households are still under pressure but a number of factors have led to an increase in consumer confidence. Positive news in the employment and property markets, strong retail sales in December, better economic stability following our exit from the bailout and an easing of fears about austerity measures are all starting to filter through to the economy,” she said.

The Monitor uses quarterly data collected from sources including the Central Statistics Office (CSO), the Central Bank, the European Commission, and various other secondary sources.

Up to 10% of young Children have mental health problems that need treatment


Thousands of children younger than 10 treated for depression as ‘toxic’ culture of online bullying fuels an epidemic 

  • More than 4,000 under-10s treated by two major NHS trusts over five years
  • True scale of the problem is likely to be much higher with 10% of children believed to suffer from mental health issues
  • Experts blame bullying, internet culture and pressures of school exams
  • Despite the epidemic, councils are slashing spending on mental health

Thousands of children aged 10 and younger are so depressed, anxious and stressed out that they require medical treatment, it has emerged.

Up to 10 per cent of schoolchildren are believed to be affected by some form of mental illness, according to campaigners.

And it has now been revealed that worrying numbers of young people are being treated for serious mental issues in hospitals and other NHS centres.

Experts blame the ‘toxic climate’ of the bullying culture on websites popular among the young, as well as other pressures of modern life, for fuelling the spate of anxiety.

Despite the epidemic of mental health problems among children and young people, two thirds of councils have cut spending on services intended to tackle the issue.

A total of 4,391 children aged 10 or below have been treated for depression, anxiety or stress in the past five years at two of Britain’s biggest NHS mental health trusts.

The figures from South London and Maudsley trust and South Essex Partnership University trust were revealed following a Freedom of Information request from the Daily Mirror.

They cover just two out of 60 mental health trusts in England alone – meaning that the true number of children affected is undoubtedly much higher.

Children’s mental health charity Young Minds estimates that 96,000 children aged between five and 10 suffer from an anxiety disorder, while 8,700 are seriously depressed.

Overall, more than half a million children and young people up to the age of 16 are affected by a diagnosable mental health disorder, according to the charity.

The problems are significantly worse for children in care, three quarters of whom suffer from behavioural or emotional issues.

Young-Minds has previously forecast that by 2020, 100,000 children could be hospitalised every year due to self-harming.

‘An increase in under-11s needing mental health services is a sad and very worrying indictment of the society we live in and the pressures children face,’ the charity’s Lucie Russell told the Mirror.

‘Every day we hear about the unprecedented toxic climate young people face in a 24/7 online culture where they can never switch off, where they experience constant assessments at school, bullying, sexualisation, consumerism and pressure to have the perfect body at a young age.’

A survey by YoungMinds revealed that 34 out of 51 local councils had cut spending on mental health services for children and teenagers since 2010.

Former Health Secretary Alan Johnson called for an investigation into the new findings, describing the number of children requiring treatment as ‘shocking’.

He told the Mirror: ‘It is clear children are increasingly having to receive NHS care because of cuts to child and adolescent mental health budgets.’

Health minister Norman Lamb said: ‘Children’s mental health is a priority for this Government and we are investing £54million over this Parliament into improving access to therapeutic treatments for children.

‘I have always been clear that mental health must be treated with equal importance as physical health and it is totally unacceptable to disadvantage mental health when allocating local funds.’

A number of tragic suicides among children have recently been linked to online bullying as well as websites which are accused of glamourising self-harm.

The mother of 15-year-old Tallulah Wilson, who threw herself under a train 16 months ago, blamed her daughter’s death on ‘a toxic digital world’.

Newly-found Star could be the oldest one in the Universe


The ultimate age barrier has been broken. The oldest living star in the entire universe may have been discovered—one formed only one or two hundred million years after the Big Bang itself.

The ancient star, born some 13.6 billion years ago, bests the previous record handily, by 400 million years, and offers a unique view into what the universe looked like soon after its birth.

“This is the first time that we’ve been able to unambiguously say that we’ve found the chemical fingerprint of a first star,” said the lead author of the new study, astronomer Stefan Keller of the Australian National University Research School of Astronomy and Astrophysics.

“What this star has enabled us to do is record the fingerprint of those first stars.”

The record-breaker was first spotted as part of a million-star survey using the SkyMapper Telescope at the Australian National University’s Siding Spring Observatory in New South Wales, Australia. In high-resolution follow-up observations by the Magellan Telescopes in Chile, astronomers next noticed that one faint star, called SMSS J031300.36-670839.3, possessed unusually low levels of heavy metals such as iron.

According to current theories, astronomers can estimate the age of stars by the amount of iron that they contain. The unexpected lack of metal in the aged star indicates it was born out of the remnants of a very short-lived, primordial supernovae that had a mass 60 times that of our sun’s.

Remnant of a supernova known as Cassiopeia A in its namesake constellation, located about 11,000 light-years from Earth.

“What happened was that one first star dies in a supernova and then the gas that was thrown out mixed in with the surrounding pristine gas. Then later that gas cooled and formed a star. And so this is the star we are observing now,” said Keller.

What is puzzling researchers is that these first-generation supernovae blasts were thought to pollute their surroundings with a lot of iron.

But these new findings show that this ancient star shows no sign of these pollutants.

“This indicates the primordial star’s supernova explosion was of surprisingly low energy. Although sufficient to disintegrate the primordial star, almost all of the heavy elements, such as iron, were consumed by a black hole that formed at the heart of the explosion,” said Keller.

Galaxy Building Block

The new stellar old-timer calls our own Milky Way galaxy home, and it is located just 6,000 light-years away in the far southern constellation Dorado. But it is thought to be even older than the galaxy.

Keller and his team believe that the stellar old-timer may have formed in an isolated gas blob in the early universe. Later on, it was incorporated into our galaxy.

“Stars are like time capsules; they lock away a chunk of the universe as it was when the star formed,” he says. ”This is an important time in the evolution of the universe—our Milky Way is formative, the first stars have switched on, and the first heavier elements, which we need for life, are starting to disperse.”

Even with the largest telescopes, we have not yet been able to study the light directly from this time, he adds.

Despite its age, the ancient star can still be spotted from the Southern Hemisphere with a large backyard telescope.

Because the star glows at a feeble 14.7 magnitude, Keller estimates that to see it visually a sky-watcher will need to peer skyward under dark skies through an instrument at least 16 to 20 inches. However, much more modest scopes outfitted with digital cameras should have an easier time capturing the star’s subtle glimmer.

Even if you don’t have the astro-gear to hunt this cosmic old-timer down for yourself, it’s amazing to just look up at this one spot in the sky and ponder that this intriguing record-breaker lies in our own galactic backyard.

News Ireland daily BLOG Thursday

Thursday 1st August 2013

Irish Parents having to take on extra debt to fund bill of €800 school costs


Irish parents will have take on extra debt to fund their children’s return to school.

They are fearful that their children will miss out unless they have all the books and other items recommended by the school.

It now costs €800 to kit out a child for their first year in secondary school, a new survey from children’s charity Barnardos shows.

This is roughly the same cost as last year, but parents are under huge pressure to fund back-to-school costs because their incomes have collapsed.

And the survey found that parents are angry that they are forced to go to expensive, specialised shops to buy uniforms instead of being able to buy them in better-value chain stores.

Crested jumpers are €45, more than three times the cost of a plain jumper in a department store, the survey found.

Getting a child equipped to go into junior infants is setting the average parent back €350. For a child going into fourth class in primary school, the cost is €400.

School books and uniforms continue to pose the highest cost to parents, although voluntary contributions and school transport costs also weigh heavily on parents’ budgets.

Barnardos’ boss Fergus Finlay said that prices had stabilised since last year, but at the same time parents’ incomes had reduced.

But the State’s Back-To-School Clothing and Footwear Allowance was virtually halved in the last Budget, putting huge pressure on unemployed parents.

Mr Finlay said: “There continues to be an expectation that parents can afford these costs, but the survey paints a different picture.

“It is a hugely stressful time for parents as many are forced into debt, forgo bills and take out loans in order to meet these costs. They are afraid their child’s education will suffer if they don’t have everything they need.”

Huge frustration among parents was uncovered in the survey over the inability to pass on books because of new editions being printed.

Parents are also annoyed about different books being chosen by teachers, and the use of expensive workbooks that can’t be recycled.

Barnardos said more than half of parents have access to a book rental scheme at primary level. Four out of 10 parents have a rental scheme in their children’s secondary school.

But the schemes need to be extended to all schools, Mr Finlay said.

Close to seven out of 10 parents with children in both primary and secondary level have been asked for a voluntary contribution. Many schools chase parents for the payment, Barnardos said.

 Schools were called on to:

* Introduce more book rental schemes.

* Reduce the uniform items with the school crest on them or switch to a plain uniform.

* Eliminate the 23pc VAT applicable on e-textbooks so that it is on par with printed textbooks which are exempt from VAT.

Unless this happens Barnardos said the switch to digital learning was outside the reach of most parents.

IMF warns Irish Coalition Government not to let up on austerity


The IMF has warned the Irish Government that they must implement the full €3.1bn in cuts and taxes in the Budget.

The stern message comes as ministers continue to send out mixed messages on whether there will be any ease up in our austerity.

Peter Breuer, the IMF’s resident representative in Ireland, says the Coalition must stick to its plan of bringing in cuts and taxes worth a total of €5.1bn over the next two years.

This means sticking to the original plan of having a €3.1bn adjustment in October and €2bn for 2015.

And he warned the Coalition poorer than expected growth figures are a “wake up call” it cannot rely on exports to drive economic recovery – and more must be done to stimulate the domestic economy.

Mr Breuer’s intervention comes as Education Minister Ruairi Quinn accused the Troika of being “intrusive” in its insistence that the full cuts must be implemented.

But Fine Gael junior Finance Minister Brian Hayes said the Coalition should actually go further to create market confidence in Ireland.

Labour in particular have argued the €1bn benefits achieved through the promissory note deal should be used to ease the October Budget.

It also claims there is enough wriggle room to ease up on austerity but still stay on target to bring the deficit down to 5.1pc, with the ultimate target of getting it to 3pc the year after.

But, speaking at the MacGill Summer School in Glenties, Co Donegal, Mr Breuer has urged the Government to “keep the momentum”.

“Why? To ensure that the benefits of all the efforts and sacrifices made are secured and put Ireland firmly on the path of sustained recovery.”

“We continue to support a total effort of €5.1bn during 2014-15 to maintain the credibility that has been built-up painstakingly over the last few years and help ensure durable market access.

“This scale of effort will also help reach the government’s 3pc of GDP target by 2015.”

His comments will be seen as a setback to members of the Coalition – particularly Social Protection Minister Joan Burton who wants to use the promissory note proceeds to ease up on cuts.

While Mr Breuer said economic growth has been disappointing, he said some economic indicators are positive, like the housing market and employmentfigures.

He said the challenge is to promote “sustained recovery amid ongoing fiscal consideration”.

Mr Breuer also said slower than expected growth this year “was a wake-up call” which made it clear “Ireland cannot rely on export led growth”.

“Overall, we are expecting modest positive growth this year as the external environment improves and the domestic economy stabilizes.

“Sustained recovery will increasingly require a job-creating revival of domestic demand,” he said but added a worldwide recovery is a “vital ingredient for domestic recovery”.

“Continued stabilization in employment and house prices would support incomes and net worth. A sense that the crisis is being overcome could allow some easing in precautionary savings.”

But he insisted fixing the banks remains the Government’s most important task, and he also said the IMF wants the loan and mortgage arrears crisis to be resolved by the end of next year – which he acknowledged will not be easy – to avoid a prolonged process that will delay economic recovery.

However, he added that the debt burden must be brought down to ensure market confidence in Ireland.

“Currently the state still spends €1bn every month more than it takes in while its debt burden is high at just over 120pc of GDP. Confidence that Ireland will reduce that debt burden over time is needed for durable market access.

“Since the outset of the program the IMF team has urged a focus on steady predictable budgetary adjustment as being least harmful for growth.

“To help protect the fragile economic recovery we have repeatedly urged that if growth is weaker than expected, that additional measures are not taken just to meet a particular target for the headline deficit as a share of GDP.”

But Mr Quinn said the Troika are being “intrusive” in their insistence and said they were “moving beyond” what is needed.

But Mr Hayes said: “I think we should stick to our targets and if anything we should try to be more ambitious. This would give a strong signal to the market that we are intent on correcting the public finances and bringing it under control.”

Asked if the public could shoulder a heavier burden, the junior Finance Minister suggested the domestic economy is strong.

40% of Irish households struggling to their bills – CSO figures tells us


82% of households have reduced their spending as a result of the economic downturn.

Figures from the CSO show that in the third quarter of the year, 66% of people cut back on going out to pubs and restaurants.

65% spent less on clothing and footwear, and just over half cut back on groceries compared to the previous 12 months.

14% of mortgage customers surveyed were unable to meet repayments on time at least once in the previous twelve months due to financial difficulties while more than 40% of households had experienced difficulties in keeping up with their bills and debts.

Ireland reviews wind energy export rules


EU Energy Commissioner, Guenther Oettinger (L) and Minister for Communications, Energy and Communications Pat Rabbitte address the media after attending an informal meeting of EU energy

 The Irish government expects to develop a policy framework by next year to give wind energy planners a sense of confidence, Energy Minister Pat Rabbitte said.

Rabbitte ordered work to start on a policy framework to guide an independent statutory agency, An Bord Pleanala, guidelines when it considers plans to export energy generated from wind projects.

Rabbitte said the framework would be developed over the next year. It will give local authorities, local leaders and potential project developments an opportunity to weigh in on national wind energy policies.

Ireland since 2003 has installed approximately 150 wind farms with a total electricity capacity of 1,738 megawatts. Irish companies are expected to develop plans to export energy to the United Kingdom.

Rabbitte said a national framework would be integrated with relative requirements in the European Union.

“By the end of this year we hope to make an agreement with the British side,” he said in a statement Wednesday. “By this time next year, we will be finalizing a planning framework that will give confidence and certainty to all stakeholders.”

Rabbitte in March said Ireland was falling behind in its efforts to meet a 2020 benchmark for 20 percent renewables on its grid.

Tracing germs through the aisles of Supermarkets


Bacteria growing in a dish at a lab in Flagstaff, Ariz., studying grocery meat

Twice a month for a year, Lance Price, a microbiologist at George Washington University, sent his researchers out to buy every brand of chicken, turkey and pork on sale in each of the major grocery stores in Flagstaff, Ariz. As scientists pushed carts heaped with meat through the aisles, curious shoppers sometimes asked if they were on the Atkins diet.

In fact, Professor Price and his team are trying to answer worrisome questions about the spread of antibiotic resistant germs to people from animals raised on industrial farms. Specifically, they are trying to figure out how many people in one American city are getting urinary infections from meat from the grocery store.

Professor Price describes himself as something of a hoarder. His own freezer is packed with a hodgepodge of samples swabbed from people’s sinuses and inner ears, and even water from a hookah pipe. But the thousands of containers of broth from the meat collected in Flagstaff, where his nonprofit research institute is based, are all neatly packed into freezers there, marked with bar codes to identify them.

He is now using the power of genetic sequencing in an ambitious attempt to precisely match germs in the meat with those in women with urinary infections. One recent day, he was down on his hands and knees in his university office in Washington, studying a family tree of germs from some of the meat samples, a printout of more than 25 pages that unfurled like a roll of paper towels. Its lines and numbers offered early clues to Professor Price’s central question: How many women in Flagstaff get urinary infections from grocery store meat? He expects preliminary answers this fall.

Researchers have been warning for years that antibiotics — miracle drugs that changed the course of human health in the 20th century — are losing their power. Some warn that if the trend isn’t halted, there could be a return to the time before antibiotics when people died from ordinary infections and children did not survive strep throat. Currently, drug resistant bacteria cause about 100,000 deaths a year, but mostly among patients with weakened immune systems, children and the elderly.

There is broad consensus that overuse of antibiotics has caused growing resistance to the medicines. Many scientists say evidence is mounting that heavy use of antibiotics to promote faster growth in farm animals is a major culprit, creating a reservoir of drug resistant bugs that are finding their way into communities. More than 70 percent of all the antibiotics used in the United States are given to animals.

Agribusiness groups disagree and say the main problem is overuse of antibiotic treatments for people. Bugs rarely migrate from animals to people, and even when they do, the risk they pose to human health is negligible, the industry contends.

Scientists say genetic sequencing will bring greater certainty to the debate. They will be able to trace germs in people to their origins, be it from a farm animal or other patients in a hospital. Representative Louise Slaughter, a Democrat from New York who has pushed for legislation to control antibiotic use on farms, said such evidence would be the “smoking gun” that would settle the issue.

Professor Price is seeking to quantify how extensively drug-resistant bugs in animals are infecting people. He is trying to do that by analyzing the full genetic makeup of germs collected from both grocery store meat and people in Flagstaff last year. The plummeting cost of genomic sequencing has made his research possible.

He is comparing the genetic sequences of E. coli germs resistant to multiple antibiotics found in the meat samples to the ones that have caused urinary tract infections in people (mostly women).

Urinary infections were chosen because they are so common. American women get more than eight million of them a year. In rare cases the infections enter the bloodstream and are fatal.

Resistant bacteria in meat are believed to cause only a fraction of such infections, but even that would account for infections in several hundred thousand people annually. The E. coli germ that Professor Price has chosen can be deadly, and is made even more dangerous by its tendency to resist antibiotics.

The infection happens when meat containing the germ is eaten, grows in the gut, and then is introduced into the urethra. Dr. Price said the germ could cause infection in other ways, such as through a cut while slicing raw meat. The bugs are promiscuous, so once they get into people, they can mutate and travel more easily among people. A new strain of the antibiotic-resistant bug MRSA, for example, was first detected in people in Holland in 2003, and now represents 40 percent of the MRSA infections in humans in that country, according to Jan Kluytmans, a Dutch researcher.

That same strain was common in pigs on farms before it was found in people, scientists say. Dr. Price, 44, began his career testing anthrax for resistance to the Cipro antibiotic for biodefense research in the 1990s. His interest in public health led him to antibiotic resistance in the early 2000s. It seemed like a less theoretical threat.

First line antibiotics were no longer curing basic infections, and doctors were concerned. “I thought, ‘Wow this is so obviously crazy, I have to do something about this,’ ” he said. He has done his research on antibiotics at a nonprofit founded in 2002, the Translational Genomics Research Institute, in Phoenix. His lab in Flagstaff, an affiliate, is financed mostly by federal sources, including the National Institutes of Health and the Defense Department.

Dr. Price, trained in epidemiology and microbiology, has been sounding the alarm about antibiotic resistance for a number of years. He recently told a Congressional committee that evidence of the ill effects of antibiotics in farming was overwhelming.

He thinks the Food and Drug Administration’s efforts to limit antibiotic use on farms have been weak. In 1977, the F.D.A. said it would begin to ban some agricultural uses of antibiotics. But the House and Senate appropriations committees — dominated by agricultural interests — passed resolutions against the ban, and the agency retreated. More recently, the agency has limited the use of two important classes of antibiotics in animals. But advocates say it needs to go further and ban use of all antibiotics for growth promotion. Sweden and Denmark have already done so.

Ms. Slaughter said aggressive lobbying by agribusiness interests has played a major role in blocking passage of legislation. According to her staff, of the 225 lobbying disclosure reports filed during the last Congress on a bill she wrote on antibiotic use, nearly nine out of ten were filed by organizations opposed to the legislation.

But the economics of food presents perhaps the biggest obstacle. On large industrial farms, animals are raised in close contact with one another and with big concentrations of bacteria-laden feces and urine. Antibiotics keep infections at bay but also create drug resistance. Those same farms raise large volumes of cheap meat that Americans have become accustomed to.

Governments have begun to acknowledge the danger. The United States recently promised $40 million to a major drug company, GlaxoSmithKline, to help it develop medications to combat antibiotic resistance. But Dr. Price says that new drugs are only a partial solution.

“A lot of people say, ‘let’s innovate our way out of this,’ ” he said. “But if we don’t get a handle on the way we abuse antibiotics, we are just delaying the inevitable.”

Bengal tiger numbers increase by 63.6% & leap to 198 in Nepal

  The number of wild royal Bengal tigers in Nepal has increased to 198, a 63.6 per cent rise in five years, a survey of the big Cats shows.

The findings are crucial for the protection of endangered tigers facing the threat of extinction from poachers, encroachment of habitat by villagers and loss of prey.

Conflicts between people and wild animals are frequent in Nepal, which has pledged to double the population of tigers by the year 2022 from an estimated 2010 level of 125.

“This is very encouraging,” said Maheshwar Dhakal, an ecologist with Nepal’s National Parks and Wildlife Conservation Department, adding that the Himalayan nation was on target to achieve its goal ahead of the deadline. “But the increased numbers have also added to our responsibilities and challenges for the conservation of tigers.”

Conservation experts credit the increase to effective policing of national parks, stronger anti-poaching drives and better management of tiger habitats in Nepal, where forests cover 29 per cent of the land.

However, as the number of tigers has increased over the years, so have incidents of conflict with villagers. Seven people were killed in attacks by tigers around national parks last year compared with four in 2011, park officials said. Villagers are also seeking better protection.

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Tuesday 11th June 2013

Irish households paying down bank debts and saving more now


Total credit to households on the balance sheets of the main banks was down 3.7% in the year to the end of March

Irish households are continuing to pay down their debts to the banks and are saving marginally more, new figures show.The total credit to households outstanding on the balance sheets of the main banks was down 1.5% in the first quarter of 2013, or 3.7% in the year to the end of March.

Figures from the Central Bank show that the total credit outstanding stood at just over €100bn at the end of March.

The total amount of loans outstanding to private households, including loans that have been securitised and continue to be serviced by resident credit institutions, stood at €141.8bn at the end of March.

Loans for house purchases were down 1.9% in the year to the end of March.The decline for the first quarter stood at 0.8%, the 13th consecutive quarterly decline in loans for house purchases, and the largest quarterly decline since the end of June 2010.

Variable rate, trackers or one year fixed-rate mortgages accounted for 92% of all outstanding loans for house purchases on balance sheets at the end of March.

Total deposits held in resident credit institutions by Irish private households was €87.2 billion at end-March 2013.

That represented a quarterly increase of 0.2% and an annual increase of 0.3%.

Irish Communion spending drops by 4% on last year

As parents spend more than €700 on average


Parents spend an average of €713 on their children’s Holy Communion, according to a study from Ulster Bank.

That is a drop of 4% on what they spent last year on clothes, entertainment and food for family and friends.

The study also shows that while the average spend is falling, children make more money than ever.

They receive an average of €521, 42% of which is spent of video games.

Just 10% of children do not spend any of their money and opt to save it instead.

Irish men at greater risk of cancer and mortality than women


A landmark report from the Irish Cancer Society shows that men are at higher risk of getting cancer and dying from the disease than women.

The study of cancer incidence and mortality from a gender perspective in Ireland, the first of its kind, found that men were more likely to die from all cancers examined – including melanoma, a skin disease that develops more frequently in females.

Male mortality rates ranged from between 1.6-2.7 times that of women, according to the report launched to mark Men’s Health Week 2013, with colorectal and lung cancer presenting the highest risks.

An executive summary that accompanies the Excess Burden of Cancer Among Men in the Republic of Ireland report refers to projections that the number of invasive cancers is to increase by 7% annually for men compared to 6% annually for women.

Further to lifestyle decisions such as smoking, excess drinking and unhealthy eating, other mitigating factors for the figures include the traditionally poor patterns of help seeking behaviour among men.

Dr. Noel Richardson director of the Centre for Men’s Health at the Institute of Technology Carlow said: “Cancer represents a significant proportion of what Ireland’s National Men’s Health Policy describes as ‘the burden of ill-health’ experienced by Irish men. Lifestyle factors account for a large proportion of this excess burden and are particularly crucial for men in lower socio-economic groups.”

“The publication of today’s report gives a solid evidence base for what action needs to be taken by both policy makers and service providers so they can engage more effectively with all men, to improve health and well-being and to bring down the incidence of cancer and the number of men dying from cancer.”

A single serving of salad dressing a day could help men beat prostate cancer


A spoonful of salad dressing a day may improve a man’s survival chances after being diagnosed with prostate cancer, research has shown.

The finding is the most striking result from a study linking consumption of healthy vegetable fats with a reduced risk of deadly cancer and death.

One serving of oil-based dressing a day – equivalent to one tablespoon – was associated with a 29pc lower risk of potentially lethal prostate cancer and a 13pc lower chance of dying from any cause.

The US authors stressed the research involving 4,577 prostate cancer patients had revealed an association and not a causal link.

In an online paper published by the journal ‘JAMA Internal Medicine’, they wrote: “Overall, our findings support counselling men with prostate cancer to follow a heart-healthy diet in which carbohydrate calories are replaced with unsaturated oils and nuts to reduce the risk of all-cause mortality.

“The potential benefit of vegetable fat consumption for prostate cancer-specific outcomes merits further research.”

Of the male health workers with prostate cancer enrolled into the Health Professionals Follow-up Study, around a fifth (21pc) died from the disease over a period of about eight years. Another 31pc died from heart disease and almost 21pc from other cancers.

At the time they were recruited, all the men had non-metastatic prostate cancer, meaning the disease had not yet spread to the bones or other parts of the body.

ANTIOXIDANTS: Information about the patients’ dietary habits was collected from food questionnaires.

Swapping animal fats and carbohydrates for healthy vegetable fats, including olive and canola oil as well as oils from nuts, seeds and avocados, was found to have a significant impact on disease progression and death.

Men who replaced 10pc of their total daily carbohydrate consumption with healthy vegetable fats had a 29pc lower risk of developing deadly prostate cancer and a 26pc reduced risk of dying from any cause.

The study also showed that eating an ounce of nuts a day led to an 18pc lower risk of lethal prostate cancer and an 11pc lower risk of death.

Lead scientist Dr Erin Richman, from the University of California at San Francisco , said: “Consumption of healthy oils and nuts increases plasma (blood) antioxidants and reduces insulin and inflammation, which may deter prostate cancer progression.

“The beneficial effects of unsaturated fats and harmful effects of saturated and trans-fats on cardiovascular health are well-known. Now our research has shown additional potential benefits of consuming unsaturated fats among men with prostate cancer.”

The study took into account factors such as age, medical treatment, body mass index (BMI), smoking, exercise, blood pressure, cholesterol levels and other aspects of diet that may have influenced the results.

Three (dolphins) discovered alive and living happily in the deep waters of the Shannon Estuary


Three Shannon dolphins, who captured the publics imagination earlier this year when they took up residence in shallow waters close to Bunratty, were discovered safe and well over the weekend.

The Shannon Dolphin and Wildlife Foundation (SDWF) have been attempting to locate the dolphins since they were last sighted in Bunratty in April.
The “Bunratty Three” were spotted by a monitored dolphin tour boat in the deep water of the Shannon Estuary on Friday.

The dolphins were last spotted in Bunratty on April 13 and the SDWF and other dolphin group were keen to confirm that they had managed to reconnect with their main Dolphin population.

“The SDWF carry out annual monitoring of the dolphins from dolphin tour boats operating from Kilrush and Carrigaholt, and during dedicated boat transects,” said a spokesperson from SDWF.

“During the first monitoring trip from Kilrush this week, three dolphins were recorded by the SDWF. Each dolphin in this small, discrete population is important and it is reassuring to know that the ‘Bunratty Three’ are healthy and have rejoined the Shannon population.”

Thousands of people traveled to see the dolphins during their two week long stay in Bunratty earlier this year.
It was originally thought that the dolphins were trapped in the shallow water in Bunratty and were unable to swim underneath a nearby bridge because of the sound of heavy traffic.

A rescue attempt was planned but an expert assessment of the dolphins condition revealed that the animals were in good condition and in no immediate danger.
The dolphins eventually left the shallow estuary but were unaccounted for for the three months leading up to last weeks confirmed sighting.

Drink licences granted for Westport festival of music & food


Special exemptions and an occasional licence were granted for the serving of alcohol at upcoming Westport festivals at last Thursday’s sitting of Westport District Court. An occasional licence and a special exemption was granted for the Westport Festival of Music and Food while special exemptions were also granted for Reek Sunday weekend and the Gael-force West adventure festival.

An application for a special exemption for the Sea2Summit festival was adjourned because its November date falls outside the time frame for a joint application with the other festivals.

An application for an occasional licence for the Westport Festival of Music and Food at Westport House by Tom Dickinson, a bar-licence holder in Limerick.
Judge Mary Devins asked why last year’s music festival had operated without an occasional licence. She was told by solicitor Dermot Morahan that an ‘entertainment’ licence was received last year but a certain size of crowd must be in place for such a licence. The court was told that, this year, organisers are expecting 5,000 to 7,000 at the festival.

Judge Devins asked why Mr Dickinson was applying as it was ‘very unusual’ for an outside licencee to apply to the district court for an occasional licence. Dermot Morahan told the court that Mr Dickinson’s daughter, Ashley, had operated such bars at various music festivals all over the country and was doing the same in this instance.

M/s Dickinson told the court that she had worked at the Westport Music Festival last year and the promoter, Darryl Downey, had asked her to run the bars this year. She said that this festival would be ‘family orientated’ and anyone who looked under 21 years of age would be asked for identification if they sought to purchase alcohol at the festival.

Superintent Aiden Foley said Gardaí had a number of meetings about the situation and they are happy with the arrangement.
Judge Devins also granted special exemptions for the Westport Festival of Music and Food, for the Croagh Patrick annual pilgrimage and for Gael-force West.

News Ireland daily BLOG Thursday

Thursday 9th May 2013

Emigration exodus of 300,000 people from Ireland in the past four years  

A survey shows


Over 300,000 people have emigrated in the last four years. 

Over one quarter of Irish households have seen a close family member emigrate in the past two years, according to a survey commissioned by the National Youth Council of Ireland. 

Half of those aged between 18 and 24 have considered emigrating. 

Four out of ten adults aged between 25 and 34 have also considered leaving the country.

The survey is part of a new report on emigration and its impact on young people. 

It suggests that emigration is not just a matter for the country’s youth, as over one quarter of those aged between 35 and 54 have also considered moving abroad.

One in ten Irish people had seen a close family member emigrate and had considered doing the same thing themselves.

In the past four years, over 300,000 people have emigrated from Ireland; 40% were aged between 15 and 24.

The NYCI, an umbrella body which represents over 50 youth organisations around the country, is calling for the Government to develop and implement a strategy for Irish emigrants.

It also wants to see the appointment of a dedicated minister with responsibility for emigration policy and for the Irish abroad.

Speaking on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland, Deputy Director of the National Youth Council of Ireland James Doorley said that many young Irish people emigrating to Australia, Canada and elsewhere faced issues when they arrived in a new country such as accessing health services or looking for work. 

Mr Doorley said that the experience of emigration for many young Irish people was often positive but there was a need for a Government strategy to assist those who struggled after emigrating.

The survey also shows that most young Irish people intended to return home to Ireland after five years abroad. 

Mr Doorley said that some young people travel to Canada with enough money in savings to support themselves financially for one month without realising that it can take six months to get a job.

He said in other destinations people struggle with loneliness and other issues. 

He said the NYCI wanted the Government to engage with young Irish people abroad who may be having difficulties adapting to their new homes.

NUI Galway nominated among the world’s top universities


Academics and employers gathered to announce the world’s top universities in 30 individual disciplines as part of the 2013 QS World University Rankings by Subject.

NUI Galway, along with eight other Irish institutions appeared on the list of the world’s top 200 universities. And considering that some 678 third level education facilities were ranked in total, Galway’s overall positioning should boost its credentials as a university worth attending. 

The subject area ranking, which covers mathematics, economics, history, environmental sciences, and 25 other distinctions, is based on last year’s rankings data. NUI Galway featured in five of the 30 subjects including English language and literture (151 – 200), history (101 – 150), computer science and info systems (101 – 150), pharmacy and pharmacology (151 – 200), and law (151 – 200)

Speaking of the announcement, president of NUI Galway, Dr Jim Browne, said: “This is very good news for NUI Galway as the QS World University Rankings by Subject series takes into the account the opinion of academics and employers via a global survey confirming that our position globally is on the rise.

We operate in a global market, competing for students and research support on an international playing field, and this international recognition of the quality of our research and teaching from academic and employer opinions around the world are very significant.” 

Now in its third year, The QS World University Rankings by Subject series is the only internationally approved evaluation that allows prospective students to compare universities in their particular area of interest.

The 2013 QS World University Rankings by Subject evaluated 2,858 universities and ranked 678 institutions in total. 

Ireland’s headline inflation rate remained flat last month just as it did twelve months ago, according to new data from the (CSO). Inflation as measured by the consumer price index was 0.5 per cent on an annual basis.

The CSO data shows the most significant annual price increases were in increases in alcoholic beverages & tobacco (+5.3 per cent), education (+4.8 per cent) and miscellaneous goods & services (+2.5 per cent). There were decreases in communications (-4.6 per cent), furnishings, household equipment & routine household maintenance (-3.4 per cent) and clothing & footwear (-1.8 per cent).

Irish rate of inflation continued to fall for April 


Services saw inflation of 1.7% but price of goods fell by 1%

The annual rate of inflation for services was 1.7 per cent to the end of April although the price of goods decreased by 1.0 per cent. When mortgage interest repayments are stripped out services increased by 2.5 per cent in the year since April 2012.

Isme, the Irish Small and Medium Enterprises Association, warned the Government against complacency over the figures which it said masked real increased government costs.

“If we are serious about making the transition from a reliance on domestic demand to a sustainable export-led growth, we must bring all of our costs in line with our trading partners,” said ISME chief executive, Mark Fielding.

“The reality, from a business viewpoint, is that state cost increases, in particular, utility costs, local authority rates and charges continue to negatively impact businesses, who themselves have cut their manageable costs to the bone.”

€1.4m Illegal cigarettes seized in Galway and Louth


400kg of tobacco and counterfeit vodka also discovered by gardaí and Revenue officials

Black market cigarettes and tobacco valued at more than €1.5 million have been seized in counties Galway and Louth.

A search by Revenue customs officials at a commercial property in Athenry, Co Galway yesterday yielded a haul of some 2 million Benson & Hedges brand cigarettes, which were valued at €950,000.

The cigarettes were brought into the State from Belgium through Dublin Port, Revenue said.

Separately, gardaí and Revenue officials discovered a haul of 1.2 million cigarettes, valued at €550,000, and 400kg of tobacco, valued at €180,000, during a search of a property at Faughart near Dundalk. Counterfeit vodka was also discovered during the search.

Nobody has been arrested in connection with the hauls, which Revenue said if sold on the black market would have resulted in a loss of more than €1.3 million to the exchequer.

Genetic Test Helps Predict Risk of Prostate Cancer Recurrence


Prostate cancer ranks as the most common internal malignancy diagnosed in men in the United States, but often does not require extensive treatment.

A study using tissue samples from men who underwent surgical removal of the prostate at UC San Francisco confirmed that a genetic test that measures cell cycle progression (CCP) — an indicator of how rapidly cancer cells are growing and dividing — can be a useful tool for predicting who will have a recurrence of the disease, especially when combined with existing information from laboratory and pathology tests.

The CCP score provides a biomarker that eventually might help guide decisions about whether to pursue additional treatment after surgery, such as radiation therapy.

The study, published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology (2013 Apr 10;31(11):1428-34), used the UCSF Urologic Oncology Database to access tissue samples and medical records from men who had undergone prostatectomy at UCSF and been followed for at least five years after surgery.

A commercial laboratory operated by Myriad Genetics, the company that developed the test, conducted genetic analysis of the tissue samples to determine a CCP score in 413 patients. The researchers at UCSF then examined how well the CCP score predicted which men had a recurrence of their disease after surgery.

The CCP score was also evaluated with another validated predictive score, the Cancer of the Prostate Risk Assessment post-surgery score (CAPRA-S). The CAPRA-S score is based on preoperative PSA levels and information gleaned from surgery, including how much the tumor has invaded tissues surrounding the prostate and how aggressive he cancer cells look when examined under a microscope.

Investigators found that the CAPRA-S and CCP together they were more useful than either alone, and that adding the CCP was especially helpful in men who appeared to have low-risk disease based on the CAPRA-S score alone.

In addition to the 413 patients in the UCSF group, the researchers also looked at the predictive results of the CCP combined with the CAPRA-S in a group of patients previously studied at the Scott and White Clinic in Georgetown, TX, for whom longer-term follow-up was available. The combination of the CCP and CAPRA-S again accurately predicted recurrence in this group.

“One of the big challenges in prostate cancer is knowing when and how aggressively to treat patients,” said Matthew R. Cooperberg, MD, MPH, lead author of the study. “Biomarkers such as the CCP can provide valuable data to guide treatment decisions.”

The UCSF Urology Department is currently running additional studies with the CCP score, as well as other promising biomarkers and imaging tests, in men who have not undergone surgery or other treatments.

“Our hope is that these tests will help more men with low-risk prostate cancer avoid unnecessary treatment, while ensuring that those with more aggressive cancers do not miss the window of opportunity for cure,” said Cooperberg.

This research was funded by Myriad Genetics and by grants from the Department of Defense and National Cancer Institute.

Southampton scientists climb Everest for study


Scientists and medical staff from Southampton are tackling one of the harshest environments in the world to study the impact of low oxygen levels on the human body.

The University of Southampton team has travelled to Nepal to carry out vital research into hypoxia – which is a common problem for patients in intensive care.

They are climbing to base camp of Mount Everest.

The scientists hope the expedition will give them a better understanding of why the condition can lead to death.

News Ireland daily BLOG Wednesday

Wednesday 8th May 2013

Kidnap victim American Amanda Berry hailed as the ‘Real Hero’ in rescue of three young Women


Having the Courage to Scream for Help and Escape

Police in Cleveland America today lauded Amanda Berry as a “real hero” for breaking free after 10 years of captivity and rescuing herself and two other women held as prisoners in a Cleveland house.

Berry’s bolt to freedom Monday night revealed a shocking case of three women abducted as long as 11 years ago and held in a modest house where neighbors and relatives never suspected anything was wrong.

Three brothers have been arrested in the case and are awaiting charges.

Police are unable to supply any details of what went on the house for past decade because they have yet to interview any of the victims or the suspects.

“We wanted to give them a day or two to decompress,” Cleveland Police Deputy Chief Ed Tomba said, referring to the three women who emerged to freedom and their families after such extreme isolation.

Tomba said the women would be interviewed today and the suspects would be grilled on Wednesday.

The cops do know, however, that it was Amanda Berry’s bold escape that set the women free.

“The real hero here is Amanda. She’s the one that got this rolling. We’re following her lead,” Tomba said at a press conference this morning. “Without her we wouldn’t be here today.”

Berry broke through a door with the help of a neighbor and called police on Monday evening. Within minutes, police were at the modest two-story home on Seymour Avenue. There authorities found two other missing woman, Gina DeJesus, 23, and Michele Knight, 32 who were also abducted in separate cases years ago, just miles from where they had each disappeared.

“I believe, out of the three of them, Amanda’s the key,” chief said.

Neighbors said they heard cries for help coming from a house just before 6 p.m., and when they went to investigate, helped kick open the door of the home to get the women out.

Berry, police said, “broke out of the lower part of screen door” to freedom. Frantically, she called 911. “I’ve been kidnapped, and I’ve been missing for 10 years,” Berry told a 911 operator. “And I’m here. I’m free now.”

“Due to Amanda’s brave actions, these three women are alive today,” Tomba said.

All three women were taken to Metro Health Medical Center on Monday night where they were examined and reunited with their families. Berry and DeJesus was discharged this morning.

Tomba said authorities asked the hospital to keep Knight at the facility for another day because they “had some trouble locating family for her.”

FBI sources tell ABC News the victims are being cared for at an undisclosed location and an FBI agent has been assigned to each victim.

“This is the ultimate definition of survival and perseverance,” said FBI Special Agent in Charge Stephen Anthony. “Our prayers have been answered. The nightmare is over.”

Police arrested three brothers in connection with the women’s alleged kidnappings Ariel Castro, 52, Pedro Castro, 54, and Onil Castro, 50.

The house where the women were held belongs to Ariel Castro, a Cleveland school bus driver who was fired last year after being suspended several times. Police said they had twice been called to the house, once in 2000 and again in 2004, after the women had vanished.

Cops said Castro was questioned in 2004 about leaving a child on a school bus after completing his route and taking a lunch break. The incident was declared an accident and he was not charged with any crime.

In recent years they had dug up two yards in Cleveland looking for the women’s remains.

Authorities said they had routinely received tips about Berry and DeJesus who disappeared as teenagers, but none had led them to the Castros. Berry went missing at 16 in 2003 while on her way home from a job at Burger King. DeJesus went missing when she was 14, a year later while walking home from school.

Knight vanished first in 2002, when she was 20 years old. She was considered a runaway and her case received less media attention than the other women.

Police said they were giving the women time with their families before beginning to question them about their time in captivity. A special team of investigators from the FBI, “child forensic examiners and victim-witness specialists” has been brought in to question them today.

Net worth of Irish households increasing again


Central Bank says households saw wealth increase by 1 per cent in the last quarter of 2012

Irish households are getting richer again

Irish households are getting richer, according to the Central Bank, with the net worth of households increasing by 1 per cent to € 461.6 billion in the last quarter of 2012. This means that the average wealth of an Irish household now stands at € 100,674, having risen for the second consecutive quarter.

The Central Bank’s quarterly financial accounts for the fourth quarter of 2012 also show that the debt burden is in decline, with household debt to disposable income, an indicator of debt sustainability, falling to 201.6 per cent, its lowest level since the fourth quarter of 2006. In addition, household debt as a proportion of total assets also fell during the fourth quarter, down to 27 per cent.

Government liabilities rose again during Q4 2012, reaching € 214.4 billion. This represented an increase of 1.4 per cent or € 3 billion, and was largely due to further funding of € 2.8 billion received as part of the EU/IMF bail-out programme. As of the end of 2012, the total value of EU/IMF loans stood at € 57.9 billion.

Private sector non-consolidated debt fell “significantly” in the quarter, down by 16.4 per cent to stand at 289.9 per cent of GDP. This represents the largest decline to date and shows that private sector debt is now at its lowest level since the second quarter of 2009.

The decline in debt was due to a reduction in both household, and business debt, with households cutting their debt to 2.2 per cent of GDP, and businesses, excluding financial institutions, to 14.2 per cent of GDP. According to the Central Bank, the reduction in debt outstanding amongst the corporate sector “largely reflected the relocation of some multinationals”.

Physical Activity Reduces Breast Cancer Risk


Breast cancer risk can be reduced through physical activity, according to new data published in a journal of the American Association for Cancer Research, called Cancer Epidemiology.

Aerobic exercise may prove to be a very effective means of lowering one’s risk of developing breast cancer.

Breast cancer is the most common invasivecancer in females worldwide. It accounts for 16% of all female cancers and 22.9% of invasive cancers in women.

Recently, researchers in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute identified analteration in a gene, which affects the breakdown of estrogen and is also related to a modest reduction in breast cancer risk in pre-menopausal women.

The authors discovered that one of the ways in which aerobic exercise reduces the risk of developing breast cancer is by altering the way that estrogen is broken down and metabolized.

Aerobic exercise increases the ratio of “good” to “bad” metabolites of estrogen.

Mindy S. Kurzer, Ph.D., professor in the Department of Food Science and Nutrition at the University of Minnesota in Saint Paul, said:

“Observational studies suggest physical activity lowers breast cancer risk, but there are no clinical studies that explain the mechanism behind this. Ours is the first study to show that aerobic exercise influences the way our bodies break down estrogens to produce more of the ‘good’ metabolites that lower breast cancer risk.”

The researchers conducted a clinical trial called “Women in Steady Exercise Research (WISER)”. The trial included a total of 391 young and healthy premenopausal women.

They split the women into two groups with matching age and body mass indexes (BMIs).

The control group (179) led a sedentary lifestyle throughout the whole study period, whereas the intervention group (212) did half an hour of aerobic exercise five times a week for a period of 16 weeks.

The researchers made sure that the intensity of the exercise was the same for all the women. As part of their workout routine, the women used treadmills, stair steppers or elliptical machines.

Most of the participants completed the study (86% from the control group and 78 percent from the intervention group).

24-hour urine samples were collected on three consecutive days before the study and on three at the end. The researchers used a novel technique for measuring the estrogen levels, called liquid chromatography/tandem mass spectroscopy, to identify the quantity of three parent estrogens (E1, E2 and E3) as well as nine metabolites.

A reduction of breast cancer risk has been associated with the increased production of a metabolite called 2-hydroxyestrone (2-OHE1) as opposed to one called 16alpha-hydroxyestrone (16alpha-OHE1).

The researchers found that aerobic exercise caused an increase in the amount of 2-OHE1 and a decrease in amount of 16alpha-OHE1, which subsequently meant that their risk of breast cancer decreased.

Kurzer concluded:

“Exercise, known to favor fitness and improve heart health, is also likely to help prevent breast cancer by altering estrogen metabolism. It is very important, however, to decipher the biological mechanisms behind this phenomenon.”

A previous study published in the journal CANCER similarly identified a link between physical activity and a reduced risk of breast cancer, which showed that women can reduce their breast cancer risk by exercising and maintaining their body weight.

Ireland has highest rate of ovarian cancer in Europe


376 new cases every year of the West’s ‘silent killer’

Ireland has the highest mortality rate from ovarian cancer in Europe, according to a report from the National Cancer Registry.

Today, on the first world ovarian cancer day, awareness is being raised about the West’s ‘silent killer’.

In Ireland, an average of 376 new cases present each year.

That makes us the 4th highest for incidents of the cancer, of 30 countries surveyed between 1994 and 2010.

Symptoms include increased abdominal size and persistent bloating along with abdominal pain, and women are asked to be aware of these conditions.

Sharon O’Toole is a scientist doing research in the area in Trinity College Dublin.

Ovarian cancer is diagnosed annually in nearly a quarter of a million women globally, and is responsible for 140,000 deaths each year. Statistics show that just 45% of women with ovarian cancer are likely to survive for five years compared to up to 89% of women with breast cancer.


Experts now believe it is the frequency and combination of symptoms that can help doctors distinguish between ovarian cancer and other conditions. If a woman experiences one or more of the following symptoms on most days within a three week period, they should discuss their concerns with their doctor:
· Increased abdominal size / persistent bloating (not bloating that comes and goes)
· Difficulty eating/feeling full quickly
· Abdominal or pelvic pain
· Needing to pass urine more urgently or more frequently

Women with ovarian cancer are most likely to have one or more of the above symptoms on a frequent basis. There can be other symptoms too, including change in bowel habits, abnormal vaginal bleeding, fatigue, and unexpected weight loss or weight gain around the abdomen.

Dr Noreen Gleeson, Gynaecological Oncologist at St James Hospital and a member of the medical panel of ovarian cancer charity OvaCare welcomed the global initiative and its aim to raise awareness of ovarian cancer in Ireland. “Currently, unlike cervical cancer, there is no reliable screening test for ovarian cancer.

Although ovarian cancer can be a deadly disease, if it is diagnosed at the earliest stage it can be treated effectively with surgery and chemotherapy, leading to survival rates of up to 90%. If we are to improve on poor outcomes for our women, ovarian cancer needs to be detected earlier. That means that women and GPs need to be on the lookout for early signs and symptoms. The National Cancer Control Programme are currently putting measures in place to address the poor outcomes in Ireland and we look forward to the implementation of these at the earliest possible opportunity.”

World Ovarian Cancer Day is being promoted in Ireland by three Ovarian Cancer charities Ova-Care, Supporting Ovarian Cancer Knowledge (SOCK) and the Emer Casey Foundation which provide vital nationwide support services for those affected by ovarian cancer as well as funding research with the DISCOVARY consortium.

White-tailed eagle chicks born in Ireland for the first time in over a century


An adult White-tailed Eagle is seen catching a fish on Lough Derg, Co Clare

Three baby white-tailed eagles have been born in Ireland for the first time in 100 years.

A proud pair of eagles hatched a chick at a nest in Killarney National Park, Co. Kerry, having laid eggs in late March.

A second pair has also successfully hatched two chicks near Mountshannon, Co Clare.

These are the first chicks of the high profile reintroduction programme which began in 2007 with the release of young Norwegian eagles in the park as part of the white-tailed eagle reintroduction programme.

So far, some 100 birds have been released.

The project has been dogged by controversy, with some 27 birds found dead. Twelve were confirmed as poisoned and one was shot dead.

Project director Dr Alan Mee told Independent.ie today : “ We are very excited as this is a huge breakthrough. Hopefully the chicks will survive and fly.”

However, Dr Mee warned bird lovers not to approach the baby eagles.

“ Disturbance, particularly during the early stages of nesting when the birds are on eggs or have small chicks, would be detrimental to the pair’s success,” he said.

“ I would stress that it is an offence under the Wildlife Acts to willfully disturb white-tailed eagles at the nest.

“ We would caution people not to approach the nest area but instead avail of the unique opportunity to watch from Mountshannon pier.”

Heritage Minister Jimmy Deenihan said today : This is a momentous occasion in that we are now witnessing the first white-tailed eagles born in the wild in Ireland in over 100 years.”

“ The birth of these chicks gives a great boost to the reintroduction project initiated by my Department in conjunction with the Golden Eagle Trust.”

“ The principal aim of this project is to re-establish a viable breeding population of  white-tailed eagles and today’s events are the big step towards achieving that goal.

White-tailed eagles can live for 25-30 years and generally mate for life with adult pairs remaining within their home range throughout the year.

First time breeders, especially young birds, often fail at their first attempt.

Nesting began in late March with pairs laying eggs in nests in Clare and Killarney.

The Mountshannon breeding pair, a five year old male and four year old female, was collected on the island of Frøya off the west coast of Norway.

This pair laid eggs in 2012 but failed to hatch chicks.

However by January 2013 had already built a new nest.

The Killarney breeding pair, a six year old female and five year old male, were collected on islands in Flatanger and Hitra, Norway, in 2007 and 2008.

The Killarney female spent part of the winter in early 2009 in the Scottish Highlands before returning to Kerry.

Several pairs have now established themselves in counties Kerry, Cork, Clare and Galway at coastal and inland lake sites.

White-tailed Sea Eagle was once a respected and conspicuous part of the Irish landscape before being hunted to extinction more than a century

News Ireland daily news BLOG Monday

Monday 14th January 2013

Ireland’s shortage of skilled workers see’s 36% of company bosses hire from abroad


Employers are mostly satisfied with Irish graduates but more than a third are still recruiting overseas because of skills shortages.

The findings from a survey of more than 400 Irish and foreign-owned companies were welcomed by the Higher Education Authority, which commissioned the study to help inform changes needed in the third-level sector. 

   Three-quarters of companies were confident that graduates have the right workplace and transferable skills, and have knowledge of the relevant subjects or disciplines for their jobs. Despite many public concerns from industry leaders of recent years, more than 80% of firms said they were satisfied with the calibre of science and maths graduates. 

However, half of the companies surveyed want to see more engagement between higher education and industry, and 36% said they have recruited graduates from non-Irish colleges. Many blamed an insufficient number of Irish graduates, particularly in computing, as the main reason for doing so. 

Concerns were identified about graduates’ abilities to effectively communicate, especially in writing, and about graduates having the “right attitude”.  The report for the HEA was designed with the help of employers’ bodies Ibec, Isme, Small Firms’ Association, Chambers Ireland, and American Chamber of Commerce Ireland. 

HEA chairman John Hennessy, also chair of telecoms company Ericsson Ireland, said the results indicate the Irish education system is producing the kind of skilled people needed to underpin future development.  “It is particularly welcome that industry recognises this, but we can’t be complacent and it is clear that higher education and industry must find more and better ways for communication and collaboration between the sectors,” said Mr Hennessy. 

The findings emerge as future graduates weigh up their options for the completion of CAO forms ahead of the Feb 1 deadline. With thousands likely to apply for college courses by next Sunday to avail of a reduced fee of €25,

the National Association of Principals and Deputy Principals is advising them to pick carefully.  “Students should choose courses that best suit their skills and interests, rather than opting for high-points programmes to impress family and peers and even courses that offer the most direct route to today’s jobs market,” said NAPD director Clive Byrne. 

“In three or four years, the jobs market could be very different so, unless students are especially interested in specialist courses, a more generalist programme such as humanities or science can keep their options open at this stage.”

Wave of aggravated burglaries across rural Ireland targeting the elderly


An elderly woman was pushed to the ground while her rural home was ransacked for the second time in two months.

The 78-year-old Donegal pensioner was targeted on Saturday night by three hooded men who fled in the direction of Pettigo, close to the border with Northern Ireland. A spate of aggravated burglaries have been carried out on older people across the county in recent weeks, including on a 96-year-old woman punched and gagged in her home near Buncrana last weekend.

Similar attacks have also happened in Raphoe, Donegal town and Convoy. Sinn Fein’s Padraig MacLochlainn said gangs are putting terror in pensioners across the north west, and appealed to householders not to keep large sums of money in their home. “Clearly, we have different gangs of scumbags who are targeting the most vulnerable of people in their home,” the TD said.

“That’s not a term I like, but if the shoe fits. They are willing to punch a 96-year-old woman and leave her to die, only for she hit a panic alarm button. “It’s causing terror throughout the county.” MacLochlainn said some of the attacks have been carried out by a cross border gang.

“The gardai and the PNSI have a joint responsibility protect us,” he added. Gardai in Ballyshannon have appealed for information on the latest incident, which happened shortly after 10pm in the townland Belault on the outskirts of Pettigo. Three thieves, aged in their 20s, threw the woman to the ground and raided her home before they fled in a car with cash. The victim made her way to the road and flagged down a passing motorist who took her to a neighbour’s house and raised the alarm.

Elsewhere campaign groups and opposition parties said a Government U-turn not to make cuts to the senior alert scheme will come as a relief to older people nationwide. Fianna Fail‘s Barry Cowen said it would have been an incredibly cruel and potentially dangerous cut when rural garda stations are closing. “It would have been completely wrong to take security supports from older people who are already feeling more vulnerable than ever in their homes,” he said.

Burglary Protection Tips for Ireland’s elderly


14 Tips to protect and make your home Burlgar-Proof

Don’t make your home an easy mark for burglars. Take simple steps to keep your home secure: Here are some tips for protecting your home and property from common burglaries:

  1. Keep doors locked. Whether you are home or leaving the house to run a quick errand, it’s a good practice to keep doors locked.
  2. Walk around your house, and go room to room to look for easy ways for intruders to gain entry. Opportunity and access can make your home a target.
  3. Buy timers that automatically switch lamps and radios on and off when you’re not at home. Install a motion detector light over your garage, and at entryways. At night, the lights will go on when you arrive home, or if someone walks up to your house.
  4. When you move into a new home, have the locks changed immediately. Get a deadbolt lock system. Your installer will provide a lock system for all doors that use the same key.
  5. Avoid giving copies of your house keys to service providers, such as housekeepers or dog walkers.
  6. Trim overgrown trees and shrubs around your house that may shield an intruder from view.
  7. It’s never a good idea to allow a stranger into your home, whether the person is asking you to sign a petition or offering to trim your trees. The person may be trying to “case” your home and return later to steal valuables.
  8. If you are going on holidays, make sure you stop the newspaper and mail delivery, or ask a trusted neighbor to collect the items, so they do not pile up at your house.
  9. Add an alarm system that has sensors you can place on windows. If a ground floor window is opened, a siren will go off.
  10. Elderly people and single women may be perceived as vulnerable by burglars. Don’t make it known to strangers that you live alone.
  11. Drip solders the screws of window locks, which will prevent a burglar from removing them.
  12. Consider installing a burglar alarm, whether it’s a simple device with a siren or a monitored system. Amateur burglars seek quick and easy targets. They will not try to break into homes if they think they will be caught. Amateurs look for opportunity — an open window or a door that is ajar.
  13. Semi-professional burglars case houses. They may drive back and forth for a week, or bicycle through a neighborhood to pick the “right” house — a property that seems vulnerable to break-in or forced entry.
  14. Burglars don’t waste time. Thefts occur in a matter of minutes, so lock your doors and arm your security system, even if you are leaving the house for a short time or run a quick errand.

Disposable income for Irish household’s rises by 2.2% for third Quarter of 2012


Irish households’ disposable income rose by 2.2 per cent in the third quarter of 2012, when compared with the same period in 2011.

This was an increase of €487 million, according to quarterly institutional sector accounts published today by the Central Statistics Office. Household spending climbed by €127 million in the third quarter when compared with the same period in 2011.

However, spending levels in the third quarter of 2012 were lower than they had been during the previous six months. The institutional sector accounts, which brings together information on the activities of households, businesses and the Government, show that the gross amount of household savings was €11.92 billion for the first three quarters of 2012.

This is more than the €9.3 billion of total savings recorded during 2011. The derived gross savings ratio increased by 14.5 per cent in the second quarter to 16 per cent in the third quarter last year. This ratio expresses household savings as a percentage of gross disposable household income.

Meanwhile, Government borrowing has fallen from €10.4 billion in third quarter 2011 to €5 billion in the same period in 2012. This represents a reduction of 52 per cent, in net borrowing. Meanwhile an Irish survey finds:

Irish peoples attitudes to saving getting worse


Some 48 per cent of Irish people are not putting any money aside for emergencies or unforeseen circumstances. Irish consumers are becoming less optimistic about their personal finances, with some 48 per cent of people not putting any money aside for emergencies or unforeseen circumstances.

This figure has increased by 6 per cent since November, when some 42 per cent of people were not saving, according to the latest Nationwide UK (Ireland) Savings Index.

The savings index fell from 98 to 81 in December, the lowest ever level since the index’s inception in April 2010, as increased negative sentiment towards the economic environment discouraged saving.

Some 65 per cent of people believe that they are saving less than they should while only 13 per cent say they are saving more than they think they should. A record 60 per cent of Irish people said government policy discourages saving.

The environment for savers has become more negative, according to Brendan Synnott, Managing Director of Nationwide UK (Ireland). “During 2012 people have found it increasingly difficult to save while at the same time, deposit interest rates have fallen thereby reducing their return for saving.”

Ireland’s health inflation third-lowest in the EU’


Ireland recorded the third-lowest rate of inflation in the health category in the EU in November, according to Minister for Health Dr James Reilly. Greece and Portugal were the countries that recorded lower figures, he revealed.


The type of prices included in the health category included medical products, appliances and equipment, hospital charges and outpatient services supplied by doctors, dentists, opticians, physiotherapists and practitioners of alternative and complementary medicine.

The Harmonised Index of Consumer Prices (HICP) for November 2012 indicated that Ireland had the second-lowest inflation rate in healthcare costs in the EU, behind the Netherlands, over the past six years. Figures for the UK are not available, but it is normally slightly better than Ireland, which would indicate that Ireland has the third-lowest rate.

The HICP is based on the Consumer Price Index (CPI) survey, which is designed to measure the change in the average level of prices (inclusive of all indirect taxes) paid for consumer goods and services by all private households in the country and by foreign tourists holidaying in Ireland.

Therefore it did not reflect price changes in the cost to the HSE of providing treatment, Dr Reilly said in response to Dáil questioning prior to the Christmas break.

Donie’s news Ireland daily BLOG

Tuesday 11th December 2012

ESRI study reveals over 20% live in jobless households


A new report from the Economic and Social Research Institute has found that 22% of the Irish population is living in jobless households, which is double the average across Europe.

The study says household joblessness should be recognised as a risk factor for poverty, and found that welfare payments were the most effective way of reducing poverty.

The ESRI focused on working age adults and their dependent children and the effects of the recession on them.

The report found that the percentage of people in jobless households increased from 15% in 2007 to 22% in 2010.

It says the high rate was partly due to the level of unemployment, but jobless adults in Ireland were more likely to live with children.

And the risk of living in a jobless household was higher for people with low levels of education, in lone-parent households and in households where an adult had a disability.

The report highlighted what it described as the “vital” role played by welfare payments in lifting these households out of financial poverty.

The research also looked at in-work poverty, where people have a job but are living in poor households.

This figure stood at 8% in 2010, similar to the European Union average.

The risk was higher for the self-employed, the report said, as well as for those in a low-skilled occupation, part-time workers and those with no educational qualifications.

Speaking on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland, Associate Research Professor with the ESRI Dorothy Watson said there are some unique factors which makes Ireland different than other European countries.

“We’re not just talking about unemployment when we’re talking about joblessness in households because there are other statuses…apart from unemployment that people who are not currently in employment might have.

“For instance they may be caring, they may be looking after young children, they may consider themselves unable to work because of disability and so on”, she said.

Prof Watson added that “the distribution of work across households isn’t random.

“There’s a tendency in Ireland for employment to be concentrated to some extent in some households and unemployment to be concentrated in others.”

Health service to hire 1,000 nurses


The health service is to recruit up to 1,000 graduate nurses and midwives next year at lower pay rates.

The move is aimed at reducing the reliance of hospitals and other health agencies on more expensive staff provided by agencies and is expected to save up to €10 million.

The HSE said that the graduate nurses and midwives would receive a two-year contract and be paid 80 per cent of the first point of the salary scale for a staff nurse.

The general secretary of the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) Liam Doran said the union was “shocked” at the idea of paying the staff concerned 80 per cent of the rate and would be seeking talks with management on the issue.

The HSE said that it had received approval from the Government to recruit up to 1,000 graduate nurses and midwives to the public health service next year.

It said under the new initiative the graduate nurses would be deployed across the many specialities within HSE and HSE-funded services, which currently relied on agency staff and overtime in order to maintain services.

“The graduate nurses will receive a two-year contract and will be paid at a rate of 80 per cent of the first point of the salary scale for a staff nurse. “

“Those recruited can earn approximately €26,000 per annum including basic pay and premium pay.”

The HSE said the new initiative would allow it to reduce its reliance on agency nurses and overtime which it described as “unsustainable”.

The HSE said the new graduate nursing programme was expected to realise cost savings for the HSE in the region of €10million in 2013.

“It also provides 2012 nursing and midwifery graduates with an opportunity to gain substantial clinical experience to further their career and professional development, with the security of a 2 year contract and salary.”

Mr Doran said: “The INMO welcomes the recruitment of 1,000 new graduates on a two year contract. However the organisation is shocked at the idea of 80% of salary and will be having further discussions on this. The INMO also wants clarification on the educational dimension of the scheme.”

Population gap between Protestants and Catholics is closing Northern Ireland

Says the latest census. 


It was published against the backdrop of continuing violence, which last night saw a policewoman attacked with a petrol bomb.  Scenes of violence on the streets of Belfast that many had hoped were in the past. 

Young Loyalists clashed with police again in parts of the east and south of the city.

They’re angry over a Belfast City Council vote to limit the number of days the union flag will be flown over Belfast city hall.

The violence took a more serious turn when a gang of around 15 protesters targeted an unmarked police car, smashed the windows and threw a petrol bomb inside the vehicle.

The female police officer inside was unharmed but police are treating the incident as attempted murder.

New Census figures show the demographic makeup of Northern Ireland, which has divided the region for so long is changing.

Last year, 48% of people identified themselves as Protestant, that’s down 5%.

While the number of Catholics rose by one per cent to 45%.

And seven per cent were neither Catholic nor Protestant.

For the first time, people were asked about their national identity.

40% say they consider themselves British Only.

While only 25% say they see themselves as Irish only and 21% Northern Irish Only.

The Loyalist protests are now in their second week and tensions are high on the streets of Belfast this evening.

Although most of the protests over the union flag decision have passed off peacefully, people here know that it only takes a few violent individuals to cause immense harm.

Ireland’s learner drivers face more penalty points


Learner motorists caught driving unaccompanied will shortly face a sanction of two penalty points with a further two for failing to display L-plates.

A new range of penalty points for motoring offences has been approved by Cabinet in the latest iteration of the Road Traffic Bill.

The Bill specifically outlaws the sending of text messages by motorists while driving, making it an offence to use or handle the keypad of a mobile phone for the purpose of sending or receiving information.

Penalty points for mobile phone use, including the new provision related to texting, will rise from 2 to 3 points (5 on conviction) under the 2012 Bill, Minister for Transport Leo Varadkar confirmed this afternoon.

Learner motorists caught driving unaccompanied will shortly face a sanction of two penalty points with a further two for failing to display L-plates.

For each offence the penalty is increased to four if the driver is convicted in court. At the end of 2011 there were more than 271,000 learner permit holders in the State, equivalent to one in 10 drivers.

The new Bill also halves from 12 to six the number of penalty points a learner motorist can accumulate within a three-year period before losing their licence. It is expected this provision will apply only to learner permits issued or renewed after the legislation is enacted as new sanctions cannot be retrospective.

For all motorists the penalties for speeding, failing to wear a seatbelt or using a mobile phone will increase from two to three points and, upon conviction in court, to five.

Mr Varadkar said that the new Bill would also address the anomaly that the legality of texting was unclear. This would become a specific offence he said. Current legislation makes it an offence to hold a mobile phone while driving and the new Bill clarifies that this also relates to texting.

“Ireland has made huge strides in reducing road deaths, under successive governments. However, we can never become complacent about road safety”, Mr Varadkar said.

“My Department is also bringing forward a range of other long-term measures in the Road Traffic Bill 2012. Ireland is currently ranked sixth in the EU for road safety. I want us to become the safest country in Europe,” he added.

The repair and resale of a written-off vehicle will be prohibited by a new provision which will see a vehicle deemed unroadworthy by the NCT being removed from the national vehicle file and barred from passing an NCT test.

The Bill also contains a provision for roadside impairment tests to detect drug driving. This was originally provided for in the 2010 Road Traffic Act and gardaí have been trained in those techniques.

Concerns over the robustness of the power of arrest provisions of the Act meant it was never enacted and has been rewritten.

Under the new legislation medical professionals will be allowed to take a blood sample from an unconscious driver which will not be tested until they can give consent.

To encourage the uptake of electric vehicles the Bill contains enabling legislation to allow local authorities provide parking and charging bays in public places, as well as parking bays for car club vehicles.

Since 2008, all learner drivers, including those on a second provisional licence, are required to be accompanied by a fully qualified driver.

Currently, those found in breach face a fine of up to €1,000. However, a recent Garda operation targeting unaccompanied driving found almost half flouted this requirement.

Gardaí stopped 2,200 learner drivers in March and found 43 per cent were unaccompanied. Some 30 per cent were not displaying L-plates.

Last year 3,150 learner drivers were summonsed for driving unaccompanied and of these 854 were convicted, with an average fine of €150. The maximum fine of €1,000 was not imposed.

There have been 154 deaths on Irish roads this year, 20 fewer than the same period last year.

Loneliness increases risk of dementia


Feeling lonely can increase the risk of Alzheimer’s in later life, a study suggests.

Researchers who found the link drew a distinction between being alone and loneliness.

The Amsterdam Study of the Elderly (Amstel) looked at risk factors for depression, dementia and high death rates among 2,000 men and women aged 65 and older.

Participants who felt lonely were more than twice as likely to develop Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia as those who did not.

When influential factors including mental and physical health were taken into account, loneliness was still associated with a 64pc increased risk of the disease.

But other aspects of social isolation, such as living alone and being widowed, had no impact.

At the start of the Dutch study, 46pc of participants were living alone and half were single or no longer married. About one-fifth said they felt lonely.

 The findings were reported in the ‘Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery & Psychiatry’.


The authors, led by Dr Tjalling Jan Holwerda from VU University Medical Centre in Amsterdam, wrote: “These results suggest that feelings of loneliness independently contribute to the risk of dementia in later life.

“Interestingly, the fact that ‘feeling lonely’ rather than ‘being alone’ was associated with dementia onset suggests that it is not the objective situation, but, rather, the perceived absence of social attachments that increases the risk.”

The researchers speculated that loneliness may be an effect of early dementia rather than its cause.

“We hypothesise that feelings of loneliness may . . . be considered a manifestation of the deteriorating social skills that are seen as part of the personality change accompanying the process of dementia.”

Another possibility was that loneliness signified extra sensitivity to distress, which is a known risk factor.

British expert Professor John Bond, from the University of Newcastle, said: “This is not the first paper to be published on this subject. However, this is a soundly conducted study and an important confirmation of the association.”

Jessica Smith, research officer at the Alzheimer’s Society, said: “More research is needed to determine whether it is a risk factor or, in fact, an early symptom. There is strong evidence to suggest that the best way to reduce your risk of dementia is by regularly exercising, eating a diet rich in fruit and vegetables and not smoking.”

Secret space-plane blasts off for mystery mission


The military’s small, top-secret version of the space shuttle rocketed into orbit Tuesday for a repeat mystery mission, two years after making the first flight of its kind.

The Air Force launched the unmanned spacecraft Tuesday hidden on top of an Atlas V rocket. As if on cue, clouds quickly swallowed up the rocket as it disappeared out over the ocean.

It is the second flight for this original X-37B spaceplane. The craft circled the planet for seven months in 2010. A second X-37B spacecraft spent more than a year in orbit.

These high-tech mystery machines — 29 feet long — are about one-quarter the size of NASA’s old space shuttles and can land automatically on a runway. The two previous touchdowns occurred in Southern California; this one might end on NASA’s three-mile-long runway once reserved for the space agency’s shuttles.

The military isn’t saying much if anything about this new secret mission known as OTV-3, or Orbital Test Vehicle, flight No. 3. In fact, launch commentary ended 17 minutes into the flight and a news blackout followed.

But one scientific observer, Jonathan McDowell of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, speculates the spaceplane is carrying sensors designed for spying and likely is serving as a testbed for future satellites. He dismisses rumors of “exotic ideas” for the X-37B as weaponry or shadowing a Chinese satellite.

While acknowledging he does not know what the spaceplane is carrying, McDowell said on-board sensors could be capable of imaging or intercepting transmissions of electronic emissions from terrorist training sites in Afghanistan or other hot spots. “All the sorts of things that spy satellites generally do,” he said.

The beauty of a reusable spaceplane is that it can be launched on short notice based on need, McDowell said.

What’s important about this flight is that it is the first reflight.

“That is pretty cool,” McDowell said, “reusing your spacecraft after a runway landing. That’s something that has only really been done with the shuttle.”

Now retired museum pieces, NASA’s space shuttles stretch 122 feet long, and have 78-foot wingspans and weights of more than 170,000 pounds. They were launched, from 1981 to 2011, with two strap-on booster rockets and an external fuel tank feeding three main engines. The X-37B wingspan is 15 feet, and the 11,000-pound, Boeing-built vessel requires the United Launch Alliance’s hefty Atlas V for hoisting. It is solar powered.

The two previous secret X-37B flights were in 200-plus-mile-high orbits, circling at roughly 40-degree angles to the equator, as calculated by amateur satellite trackers. That means the craft flew over the swatch between 40 degrees or so north latitude and 40 degrees or so south latitude.

That puts Russia’s far north out of the spaceplane’s observing realm, McDowell noted.

“It might be studying Middle Eastern latitudes or it might just be being used for sensor tests over the United States,” he said.

McDowell speculates that this newest flight will follow suit.

The International Space Station, by comparison, orbits about 250 miles (400 kilometers)high but at a much steeper 51.6-degree inclination, or angle to the equator, that covers more territory.

The X-37B program, which dates back to 1999, is operated by the Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office and geared toward space experimentation.

Some scientists – like Laura Grego of the Union of Concerned Scientists – argue the Air Force could accomplish the same objectives by using cheaper, more efficient spacecraft that either burn up on entry or parachute down.

“The ability to return to Earth carries a high price,” Grego said in a statement.