Tag Archives: Irish SME’s

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Wednesday 15th June 2016

Mary McAleese warns against a Brexit leave vote result for Ireland

    

Mary McAleese has warned of the dangers of Brexit.

A Brexit vote result would cause turmoil and radically alter relations between Britain and Ireland, said the  former Irish president Mary McAleese.

Mary McAleese has also claimed Ireland’s peace and prosperity would be in danger if Britain votes to leave the European Union next week.

She said: “Reassurances that nothing will change are at best wishful thinking and bluffing most of us at worse.”

Mrs McAleese, who was president from 1997 until 2011, will throw her weight firmly behind the Remain campaign as she launches a new report from the British Influence think tank at Westminster later.

In her speech she will urge British voters to avoid a choice for “drift” and loss of influence in Europe. She will also call for the 600,000 Irish citizens resident in the UK to vote stay.

She will also say that the benefits in Anglo-Irish relations, now taken for granted, could be put in peril while the future of 400,000 jobs and the open road border between Northern Ireland and the Republic would also be uncertain.

“The concerns of Ireland are legitimate and well-founded,” she said.

“They involve the economy, trade, immigration controls, the hardening of the land border, security, the weakening over time of the excellent current relationship between Ireland and the United Kingdom, the impact on the peace process and the impact on European development of Britain’s voice being absent from the European Union table.”

Meanwhile, the British Influence paper, Brexit: The Irish Dimension, outlines the top seven problems that would upset Anglo-Irish relations in the event of Brexit:

They include the impact on Ireland’s economy; disruption of the free movement Common Travel Area and the re-introduction of border controls as well as the ending of current extradition arrangements with the Republic of Ireland.

Other potential difficulties would be disruption to the peace process and the ending of EU-funded programmes while the all-Ireland electricity market and the energy relationship with the UK could also be affected, the report claims.

Peter Wilding, director of British Influence, said: “Vote Leave’s ‘It’ll be all right on the night’ attitude is playing with fire when it comes to the future of our relations with Ireland.

“Our report demonstrates – and Mary McAleese together with the entire Irish Government knows – that Brexit means trouble ahead for jobs, investment and the peaceful stability of the island of Ireland.”

Meanwhile, Anthony Bailey, who sponsored the report, said he did not want to see the progress of the last two decades derailed.

Most minimum wage workers are in the ‘Irish middle income families group’ and just below the poverty line?

    

Increasing the minimum wage will not tackle poverty because the majority of workers earning it actually live in middle-income households, a new study claims.

The startling findings come as the Government is under pressure to increase the €9.15-an-hour statutory rate.

A new report by the ESRI, which is partly State-funded, warns that increases in the basic statutory pay rate will do little for households living below the breadline.

The report, to be published today, questions the impact increases in the statutory wage have on reducing poverty. It finds that recent hikes in the national minimum wage have mainly benefited people in ¬middle-income households.

The economic think tank found the proportion of low-wage employees rose from 20% in 2005 to 23% in 2014. But it added: “Results also confirm that very few low paid individuals are found in households with incomes below the most commonly used poverty line income cut-off.”

The report reveals that ‘Low Pay, Minimum Wages and Household Incomes: Evidence for Ireland’ – says 11 out of 12 low paid workers are living in households above the poverty line.

In most cases, low paid employees are not the sole earners. It finds that even where they are the sole earners, fewer than one-in-five are at risk of poverty.

The report notes that a young adult may be earning a low wage but living in the family home where the parents’ income is enough to keep the household above the poverty threshold. In addition, low wage earners with few dependants will be at lower risk of poverty.

In contrast, employees with an above average wage may be more at risk of poverty when they are the sole earners in the household or have many dependants.

But it notes a young adult may be in a poverty trap at home because they could not afford to buy or rent a home, while other workers may feel they are not earning enough to start a family.

Reducing poverty?

“This is not to say that a minimum wage policy is flawed if it fails to reduce poverty,” says the report. “Rather, it is important to understand the possibilities and limitations of targeted efforts to increase wages.”

It notes that government policy may, of course, be concerned with low individual incomes as well as with low household incomes.

“But it is important to be clear about what minimum wage policy can, and cannot, achieve. It is also important, as recent UK experience illustrates, that the design of tax and welfare policy changes should take such factors into account from the outset,” it says.

The Government has committed in the Programme for Government to a hike in the wage to €10.50-an-hour over the next five years in a bid to reduce “poverty levels” for the 124,000 workers on it.

Unions want the Low Pay Commission to recommend it boosts the rate beyond this when it reports next month due to the economic recovery and a hike in the minimum rate in the UK.

The leader of Mandate trade union said it would be “ill conceived” if the Government does not increase the minimum wage.

“It’s disappointing that a body that would have had a social agenda in the past would come out with a negative statement in relation to pay, particularly low pay,” said John Douglas. “The Low Pay Commission hasn’t come up with any proposal as yet to increase the minimum wage but an increase is vital.”

He said raising the minimum wage was not a “cure-all” to ¬poverty, but an essential part of tackling poverty.

IT Sligo students win Engineers Ireland Innovative Student Engineer of the Year Award

   Students Group Discussing March 2016

Their innovative design, titled ‘Automatically fed post driver’, allows tractor operators to drive posts without having to dismount their tractors, significantly improving the safety and efficiency of the process, and was deemed the best innovation by the Engineers Ireland judging panel.  Previously there had been no post drivers that are able to hold, feed and drive a post without the operator having to dismount the tractor.

A human-powered washing machine, an advanced limb prosthesis, a clean-energy inflatable tower, a flexible robotic arm and a safe-release building hook were other projects also short listed for the final, which was sponsored by Siemens.

The Engineers Ireland Innovative Student Engineer of the Year Award is an annual competition that focuses on showcasing innovation excellence amongst engineering third-level students across Ireland.

Dermot Byrne, Engineers Ireland President, said the innovative skills which engineers possess were becoming increasingly valuable in a world of rapid change.

“Engineering is transforming how people work, live and experience the world.  In energy, transport, health, water, the digital economy and more, engineers are at the heart of the endeavour to improve lives and living standards in complex environments.  It is imperative Ireland can bring new techniques, processes and skills to all sectors so that we can compete on a global stage with our competitors.

I believe the diversity and creativity of contemporary engineering is very much reflected in this year’s projects which span areas such as robotics, clean energy and mechanical engineering.  Congratulations to Colm, Shane, Caolan and Conor for winning the 2016 Engineers Ireland Innovative Student Engineer of the Year Award and praise to all of the participants in this year’s event who have acquitted themselves so well.”

Michael O’Connor, Corporate Communications Manager, Siemens Limited said: “All the projects on show today have taken a unique approach to a challenge through original thinking, technical excellence and hard-work. Developing close links with leading educational institutions and industry partners is a key part of Siemens’ innovation strategy.

“The Engineers Ireland Innovative Student Engineer of the Year Award is a valued initiative in this regard and challenges students to think conceptually and strategically.   Competitions such as this are invaluable to companies such as Siemens, helping us to reach tomorrow’s talent.

“Siemens is very pleased once again to support a competition that engages and encourages young people to develop their engineering expertise for commercial use and the good of society.  It is a fundamental element of our programme of engagement with young people around the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) agenda and of our relationship with Engineers Ireland.

“Congratulations to all of the finalists here today, particularly Colm, Shane, Caolan and Conor for winning the award outright, and based on the quality of submissions we have seen, I have every confidence they will enjoy great success in their respective careers ahead.”

The runners-up in the competition were:

  1. Aisling Lee (DIT) – ‘Actuation and Control of Transradial Upper Limb Prosthesis’
  2. Antara Barbara, Ahmed Kone, Sebastien Course (CIT) – ‘Haelios Solar Technologies™ – Solar Updraft Tower Development’
  3. Ben Frost (DIT) – ‘Design and build of a Human-Powered Washing Machine’
  4. Darren Kingston (CIT) – ‘Construction Sector Safety Hook Design and Development’
  5. Noel Frisby (Trinity College Dublin) – ‘The design and development of a under-actuated, compliant anthropomorphic hand capable of dexterous grasping for a Service Robot’

€10m sought by Minister for Jobs in small business

   

The Minister for Jobs, Enterprise, and Innovation, Mary Mitchell O’Connor (above), is hoping to secure a further €10m of exchequer funding to keep Microfinance Ireland afloat beyond 2017.

Microfinance Ireland is the State-backed project aimed at funding small businesses.

Ms Mitchell O’Connor also said the €11.7m lent by Microfinance Ireland has helped sustain some 2,000 jobs.

In a written Dáil reply to Fianna Fáil’s Niall Collins, she described the output by Microfinance Ireland as “a very satisfactory performance in a difficult market at a very difficult time”.

Ms Mitchell O’Connor said that, since its inception in October 2012, Microfinance Ireland has approved 867 loans out of 1,826 loan applications received.

Some 591 applications were declined with 317 being withdrawn.

Microfinance Ireland was established by the Department of Jobs, Enterprise, and Innovation under the Action Plan for Jobs.

Ms Mitchell O’Connor said: “To secure the future development of Microfinance Ireland my officials are in negotiations regarding securing a tranche of €10m additional exchequer funding required to keep the fund operating as a going concern beyond 2017 in line with company law requirements.

“This equity injection is combined with additional bank funding of €15m.”

Last year, the State-backed, not-for-profit lender had a record 50% rise in the number of loan applications.

Approvals for start-ups, sole traders and small businesses reached an all-time high in 2015 with the lender approving €5.4m in funding to 357 businesses across every county in Ireland, supporting the creation and maintenance of 930 jobs in the process.

A total of 752 businesses applied for loans in 2015, compared with 508 for 2014, an increase of 48%. The average loan size approved during 2015 was €15,190.

Figures provided by Ms Mitchell O’Connor, show the highest number of loan approvals to the end of March this year totalled 196 with the number of loan approvals in Cork at 70, Limerick and Meath at 42, Galway at 38, Tipperary at 33, Wexford at 33, Cavan at 32, Kildare at 34, Mayo at 33, Wicklow at 30, Waterford at 28, and Kerry at 23.

The fund offers business loans of €2,000 to €25,000 to companies with fewer than 10 employees, and with a turnover of less than €2m.

According Microfinance Ireland data on the gender breakdown of those making loan applications, 76% were from males and 24% from females.

Cats can understand the laws of physics, researchers now claim?

    

Using a plastic container, some magnets, three iron balls, two video cameras and 30 cats, researchers from Kyoto University have concluded that felines understand the laws of physics.

The research paper titled There’s no ball without noise: cats’ prediction of an object from noise was published in Animal Cognition.

Twenty-two cats from Japanese cat cafes and eight domestic cats were carried off to separate rooms to take part in an experiment which supposedly tested their abilities to understand gravity.

The researchers rattled a plastic container lined with an electromagnet. Inside was an object made from three iron balls. At the flick of a switch, the magnetic force of the magnets attracted the iron balls – restricting their movement – so the container made no noise when it was shaken.

When the researchers shook the container with the switch turned off, the iron balls rattled against the inside of the container. After the container was shaken, it was turned upside down to reveal the object inside.

The researchers proposed that the event where there was no sound and no object or a sound and an object “matched with physical laws.” They called that a congruent condition. But the events where there was no sound but the appearance of the object, or sound but no object, defied physical laws and was called the incongruent condition.

The cats were required to sit and watch each event and their reactions were filmed with video cameras.

After analyzing each video, the researchers found that the furry creatures stared longer at the container when it made a noise, as they could predict that there was an object inside. But, they also stared at the container even if the events did not make sense to them – the incongruent condition.

“Cats use a causal-logical understanding of noise or sounds to predict the appearance of invisible objects,” said Saho Takagi, lead author of the study.

In the paper, the researchers claimed: “This study may be viewed as evidence for cats having a rudimentary understanding of gravity.”

For those who remain unconvinced that cats can understand physics, since they held their gaze on the container in both the congruent and incongruent condition, the researchers said: “It is not appropriate to directly compare these two conditions because the main effect of object would overshadow the effect of the expectancy violation. Thus, the absence of a difference between these two conditions does not weaken our main conclusion.”

“Expectation violation” is a theory that analyzes how individuals respond when they are faced with unexpected events. The theory was proposed in the late seventies by Judee Burgoon, professor of Communication, Family Studies and Human Development at the University of Arizona.

Unfortunately, the conclusions of this study cannot be compared with other findings since there has been “no study specifically testing knowledge of this fundamental physical rule in cats.”

The ability for cats to predict where objects are fits in with their hunting style, Takagi explained. In the future, he hopes to devise another test to examine if cats can extract information such as the size or identity of an object from the sounds they hear.

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News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Thursday 2nd June 2016

New Minister Harris proposes EU bulk buying of drugs to lower Ireland’s costs

Health authorities were criticised for refusing to fund a ‘game-changing’ cystic fibrosis drug

    

Professor Michael Barry, head of the National Centre for Pharmaeconomics, said the NCPE has a good track record in negotiations with drugs companies.

Minister for Health Simon Harris says he intends to discuss with his European colleagues in the coming weeks the potential to jointly purchase new drugs in order to reduce costs.

He was reacting to controversy over news that the Cystic Fibrosis drug Orkambi had been judged uneconomic by the National Centre for Pharmaeconomics (NCPE), the Government body which evauluates the medical and economic case for new drugs.

The cost of Orkambi is an estimated €158,000 a year per patient.

Mr Harris said that contrary to reports, the drug had not been rejected by the HSE. “The factual position is that the National Centre for Pharmacoeconomics is not in a position to recommend at the current price.”

However, Mr Harris said, “The drug manufacturer has indicated a willingness to negotiate so the process is not over. It will continue as a priority.”

Professor Michael Barry, head of the NCPE said he was hopeful there would be a successful outcome from negotiations with drug manufacturers Vertex.

Speaking on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland he said the NCPE had a good track record in negotiations with drugs companies.

  “We don’t put a price on life, but we believe the manufacturers got the price wrong here. The price is too high, we need a five fold reduction,” he said.

Earlier, the chief executive of Cystic Fibrosis Ireland Philip Watt said he was very disappointed the “game-changing” drug had been rejected by the NCPE.

  • Cost of high-tech drugs is a bitter pill to swallow
  • Cystic fibrosis patients dismayed as Orkambi rejected
  • Cystic Fibrosis drug Orkambi rejected as not cost effective

The centre had advised that the HSE should not cover the drug under State schemes and that the price would have be lower than € 30,000 a year, per patient, to be cost-effective.

Mr Watt said Orkambi had proven to be an innovative and very effective drug and was more important in Ireland than anywhere because more than 50% of the cystic fibrosis population of 500 here would benefit from it.

He said that he did believe the drug company could significantly drop its price and he acknowledged that the drug does cost a lot but it he pointed out that it meant fewer hospital stays for cystic fibrosis patients.

The issue was raised on Thursday in the Dáil where Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald has said the Government wished to ensure people had the medical drugs they needed.

She was replying to Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin who said the programme for government included the commitment of an independent patient advocacy service.

There was also a commitment to providing “appropriate patient care pathways,’’ he added.

Earlier, he said, Jillian McNulty, who has cystic fibrosis, had outlined on RTÉ Radio, in an articulate way, the impact the drug had on her life. She had five weeks’ supply left, he added.

It seemed to him, he said, patient advocacy was not on the high end of the agenda.

Speaking on Morning Ireland, Ms McNulty said “Orkambi means people with cystic fibrosis using it can live a normal life, or as near a normal life, as possible”.

She said the drug, which she had been taking for three years, was “without doubt” a life-saving medication and without it she may not be here.

Mr Harris said Vertex had said it would continue to make the drug available to people in Ireland who are on trials, some of whom are reaching the end of the trial period in the coming weeks.

This, he said, would allow the HSE and the drug manufacturer “space to negotiate”.

He further acknowledged that with a new generation of cancer drugs shortly to become available – many of which will be vastly expensive – the problem presented by Orkambi was likely to reoccur.

“We’re going to have to look at a new policy framework,” he said. He wanted the “voice of clinician at forefront” of decisions about drugs, saying he intended to bring proposals to government shortly

Fianna Fail’s Darragh O’Brien said he was, “bitterly disappointed” to learn the drug had been rejected.

“This drug was approved by the EU Medicines Agency some time ago and has proven to be of major benefit for cystic fibrosis suffererse,” he said.

Sinn Féin Spokesperson on Health Louise O’Reilly TD said that “deciding that a drug is too expensive to be funded, without addressing how costs can be reduced through negotiations with relevant companies and sectors is not a tough policy choice, it is a cop out”.

Mr Harris’s Fine Gael colleague Tony McLoughlin also expressed disappointment at the decision, saying price negotiations with the manufacturer “ must begin immediately”.

OECD tells Government to do more for Irish SMEs

    

OECD the international think tank has said the Government they should do more for Irish indigenous SMEs as it highlighted small firms here pay among the highest borrowing costs in the Eurozone.

Small firms’ industry groups long argued foreign-owned multi- nationals are showered with tax incentives, while Irish-owned small and medium companies are relatively less well supported despite employing hundreds of thousands.

That stance it unexpectedly appears to have won the backing of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, which in its economic update published yesterday, said the Government would be best advised to re-direct its business incentives to local firms.

Government business policies “should aim to make growth sustainable and inclusive”, said the influential think tank.

“Public support to business research and development, which is skewed towards R&D tax credits, should be rebalanced towards more direct support for domestic SMEs,” it said.

The OECD will also please small firms here as it highlights the high costs of their business loans, which it puts down to the still-high levels of bad loans on the balance sheets of the Irish banks.

“Financial conditions have improved on the back of monetary easing by the ECB,” said the think tank.

“The full return to normal credit supply is, however, hindered by the persistence of non-performing bank loans.

“The lending interest rates for SMEs remain among the highest in the euro area. New lending, although accelerating, is still outpaced by debt repayment in both the non-financial corporate and household sectors,” it said.

After the economy surged by 7.8% last year, the OECD projects GDP will grow 5% this year and by 3.4% in 2017.

Those forecasts compare with the Government’s own projections for growth rates of 4.9% and 3.9% in 2016 and 2017.

The OECD warns, however, that if the UK were to vote later this month to exit the EU that in time the Irish economy would be “significantly” hit, if trade barriers were raised across the Irish Sea and sterling were to slump against the euro.

It points out that British markets account for a fifth of all Ireland’s exports of goods and services.

On the theme of spreading the fruits of the economic recovery, the OECD said the Government should “prioritise” reducing unemployment through so-called activation schemes “which would spread the benefits of increased prosperity widely across society”.

It forecasts an average jobless rate here next year of 7.6% — high compared with the rest of the eurozone.

It also gives a nod to the Central Bank’s controls over mortgage lending for having “tempered” property price increases even as “very low interest rates and housing supply shortages risk boosting prices again”.

Global financial panic influenced Anglo Irish Bank conspiracy

McAteer and Bowe’s actions aimed to boost bank’s balance sheet

  

Anglo Irish Bank’s former HQ on St Stephen’s Green in Dublin.

The criminal conspiracy of which former Anglo Irish Bank figures Willie McAteer and John Bowe have been found guilty took place in late September 2008 against a backdrop of international panic in the financial services sector.

The bank was preparing its accounts for the year to the end of September, and felt it had to boost its deposits, which were becoming seriously depleted.

The court heard in detail during the trial about the problems in the international banking system and how this meant depositors were looking for safe harbours.

Anglo Irish Bank was facing difficulties: its share price had fallen sharply and the trial focused on a transaction designed to improve its year-end account for 2008, which the prosecution held amounted to a conspiracy.

Meanwhile, detailed evidence was also given that Irish bankers were getting a clear message from the financial regulator and the Central Bank that they should “put on the green jersey” and help each other get through the storm.

McAteer was at the time Anglo’s director of finance and Bowe was its head of capital markets.

Both men have now been found guilty of being party to a criminal conspiracy for their role in circular transactions whereby Anglo lent a total of €7.2 billion to Irish Life and Permanent, which in turn, via Irish Life Assurance, lent the money back to Anglo.

The net result was to boost Anglo’s balance sheet, making it look more attractive to investors.

Intention to mislead?

The State argued that this was a conspiracy intended to mislead the market and investors.

Lawyers for the Anglo accused argued that their clients believed that the deposits were real deposits and were accounted for correctly on Anglo’s balance sheet and so no fraud was carried out.

The bulk of the money flowed in transactions that took place on September 29th and September 30th, 2008, with the latter being the date on which the Irish government announced its guarantee for the deposits of six Irish banks, including Anglo.

Ironically, the announcement of the guarantee instantly made the Irish banks attractive to depositors.

Also on that day, the Central Bank supplied Anglo with €1 billion in emergency funding after the bank said it might not otherwise be able to meet its obligations.

Neither McAteer nor Bowe gave evidence during their trial. However, Bowe’s work with Anglo meant that all his telephone conversations were recorded and snatches of conversations relevant to the charges were disclosed at the trial.

Discussion of transaction?

In one conversation, on September 29th, 2008, Bowe discussed the largest of the transactions with McAteer and the bank’s then chief executive, David Drumm.

The trial also heard of voluntary statements the accused had given the Garda.Matt Cullen, senior manager at Anglo’s treasury department, gave evidence of discussing the then proposed transactions with both Drumm and McAteer, and their giving their approval.

When an official in Anglo, Tony O’Hanlon, refused to sign off on the transactions,because of their size, McAteer, the trial heard, did so in his capacity as chief risk officer.

The details of an Anglo audit committee meeting on November 18th, 2008,when the transaction was discussed, also featured in the trial.

The two men were charged in 2013 after the Garda Bureau of Fraud Investigation initiated inquiries into the transactions in March 2009.

The trial, before Judge Martin Nolan, began in January of this year and is the longest running trial in the history of the State.

Half of elderly in care in Ireland could stay at home (if the services were available)

     hiqa

Policy officer with Age Action, Dr Marita O’Brien middle picture above>

As much as 50% of older people living in Irish nursing homes could live at home, if the appropriate services were available?

A report published today found that community supports are disorganised, fragmented and underfunded.

Social workers estimate that half of the older people they work with in long-term residential care could live at home.

The report was launched jointly by the Irish Association of Social Workers, Age Action, the Alzheimer Society of Ireland and the School of Social Policy, Social Work and Social Justice in University College Dublin.

It includes a national survey of social workers working with older people, including people living with dementia. There are also in-depth interviews with social workers, employed in a variety of settings across the country.

One of the report’s authors, Dr Sarah Donnelly from the School of Social Policy in UCD, said home care in Ireland was in crisis.

“Acute hospitals and nursing homes are being prioritised over the kinds of community services that enable older people to stay home,” said Dr Donnelly.

Policy officer with Age Action, Dr Marita O’Brien, said: “It has been government policy since the 1960s to support older people to stay at home as long as possible, but this simply is not happening.”

Dr O’Brien said people had a right to a nursing home bed, and it was time they had a right to stay at home.

Advocacy officer with the Alzheimer Society of Ireland, Dr Emer Begley, said geography, not need was deciding who got home help.

Community care services should be reformed and resourced, the report urges.

It also calls on the Government to establish a fair and equitable system of allocating care and support services that is underpinned by legislation.

New evidence sheds more light on the origins of man’s best friend

    

Two separate populations of wolves thousands of miles apart may have befriended humans and given rise to the domestic dog.

New evidence suggests that the first domestic dogs appeared on opposite sides of the Eurasian continent more than 12,000 years ago.

Later, the eastern dogs dispersed with migrating humans and bred with those from the west. Today, most dogs are a mixture of these ancient and once separate descendants of wolves, scientists believe.

The origins of man’s best friend is a hotly debated topic, with experts disagreeing about where and when wolves were first domesticated.

Some have pointed to Europe and others to central Asia or China, but up until now it was thought the transformation of wolves into domestic dogs only happened once.

For the new study, a team led by scientists from Oxford University analysed DNA from 59 ancient dogs that lived between 3,000 and 14,000 years ago.

Researchers also sequenced the full genome, or genetic code, of a 4,800-old-dog from Newgrange, Ireland, using one of the animal’s bones.

Comparing the data with DNA signatures from more than 2,500 previously studied modern dogs, as well as archaeological evidence, revealed a genetic split between modern dog populations from eastern Asia and Europe.

The findings are reported in the current issue of the journal Science.

Professor Greger Larson, from Oxford University, said: “Animal domestication is a rare thing and a lot of evidence is required to overturn the assumption that it happened just once in any species.

“Our ancient DNA evidence, combined with the archaeological record of early dogs, suggests that we need to reconsider the number of times dogs were domesticated independently. Maybe the reason there hasn’t yet been a consensus about where dogs were domesticated is because everyone has been a little bit right.”

Colleague Professor Dan Bradley, from Trinity College Dublin, who led analysis of the Newgrange bone, said: “The Newgrange dog bone had the best preserved ancient DNA we have ever encountered, giving us prehistoric genome of rare high quality.

“It is not just a postcard from the past, rather a full package special delivery.”

Co-author Professor Keith Dobney, who co-directs the dog domestication project at the University of Liverpool, said a “new coherent story” of the origins of the domestic dog was now beginning to emerge.

He added: “With so much new and exciting data to come, we will finally be able to uncover the true history of man’s best friend.”

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Saturday 2nd April 2016

Fianna Fáil now caught between a rock and a very hard place

The party must support a Fine Gael-led government or trigger an election

    

If there is one thing that stirs the political loins of the ordinary Fianna Fáiler, it is the thought of Fine Gael “arrogance”.

Into that always open marketplace walked Richard Bruton this week, when he told RTÉ’s Morning Ireland there was no way Fine Gael would contemplate supporting a Fianna Fáil-led minority government.

“The arrogance,” sniffed one Fianna Fáil figure, summing up the mood that Bruton’s statement had pushed some sort of governmental arrangement with Fine Gael back a few more weeks. “It certainly didn’t soften anyone.”

Bruton was repeating what others including Enda Kenny and Leo Varadkar had said before and what Fine Gael TD Eoghan Murphy defended and repeated later in the week, dangling the political red meat in front of Fianna Fáil noses.

“This thing of ‘any colour as long as it is blue’ is not acceptable’,” said one Fianna Fáil TD. “They need to respect us and respect our voters.”

The reality, however, is that Fianna Fáil sensitivity betrays the truth the party has effectively already come to accept: it will almost certainly have to support or facilitate a Fine Gael-led minority government.

The Dáil numbers are against Micheál Martin and for that reason, the hearts of some Independent TDs might tell them Fianna Fáil – though their heads say Fine Gael.

Fianna Fáil outrage over statements from the mild-mannered Bruton may just be a tactic to delay the inevitable, but there is a genuine feeling that Fine Gael must soften its tone if the two parties are to work together.

Media battle

Martin and Kenny have committed to talking to each other once the Dáil vote on electing a taoiseach on Wednesday is out of the way.

In the likely event of the vast majority of Independents sitting on their hands, Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil will still continue to pursue a minority government while simultaneously talking to each other.

“Some Independents won’t declare at all, some will go to Fine Gael and we may get a very small few,” said a Fianna Fáil source, acknowledging the reality facing the party while predicting a government will not be formed for another three to four weeks.

Fianna Fáil TDs, however, do get a sense that Martin knows what he is doing and, bar some low-level grumbling about initially losing the media battle to Fine Gael, are happy with how the leadership is handling the post-election fallout.

A sizeable cohort of deputies have chosen to stay silent in case they say something that takes the party down a road Martin does not want to travel.

“A lot of us just don’t want to know,” said one. Another said: “There is absolute trust in Micheál.”

There are still some, notably Michael McGrath, the finance spokesman and head of the Fianna Fáil negotiating team, who are believed to be in favour of a full-blown coalition with Fine Gael. Dublin Bay South’s Jim O’Callaghan, who is also on the negotiating team, is another who has previously said he is open to coalition.

O’Callaghan is also understood to be the back channel through which Fine Gael made some sort of initial contact with Fianna Fáil, via a text message from Varadkar.

Party members are open to the idea of supporting a Fine Gael minority government, say TDs, but have not yet digested how it could work in practice.

Members of the parliamentary party admit they haven’t either.

“I don’t think a lot of them have thought it through, and we probably haven’t either,” said one deputy.

Martin this week told some TDs that their workloads will substantially increase in a Dáil with a strengthened committee system, news which will come as a shock to deputies who keenly tend the constituency.

Policy concessions

“I would describe things at the moment as trying to move to a European-style system of government without European-style politicians or voters,” said one party source.

The negotiations with Fine Gael could initially focus on how a minority government may actually work, which Fianna Fáil wants to be taken on a “budget-by-budget, issue-by-issue” basis. TDs believe such an arrangement could last two to three years.

It will also attempt to extract some policy concessions from Fine Gael, the most contentious of which will be on Irish Water.

Figures from both Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil concede the issue has taken on political importance out of all proportion to what it would cost to scrap the charges.

Fine Gael has held fast to its insistence that charging and a single national utility are fundamental issues.

Fianna Fáil maintains its position that water charges must be suspended for five years and Irish Water must be scrapped but party figures and TDs acknowledge that compromise is likely, although the feeling against water charges is stronger among some Dublin TDs.

Dublin Fingal’s Darragh O’Brien, however, said housing, homeless and families in mortgage distress were of paramount importance.

With Sinn Féin waiting to pounce, water will be one of the first issues settled between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil.

“It has to be or the Shinners will bring down the government within one month,” said a Fianna Fáil source.

Second election

There is one thing almost all TDs, within and without Fianna Fáil, agree on: another election must be avoided at all costs?

Carlow-Kilkenny’s Bobby Aylward recently conducted a survey among 500 Fianna Fáil members in his own constituency.

He asked who would favour a possible coalition with Fine Gael and who would favour a second election.

Of the 200 responses, 80 per cent were against coalition and almost 100 per cent were against another election.

“Only two people said to me: go to the country if you have to,” he said.

The gap between the two results of Aylward’s straw poll is the distance over which Martin must bring Fianna Fáil in the coming weeks.

Meanwhile:–

Fine Gael holds very constructive talks with the Independents

   

Talks between Fine Gael and Independent TDs took place yesterday?

Talks between Fine Gael negotiators and Independent TDs on the formation of a new government have been described as “very constructive”.

The Taoiseach said he hopes to have a list of priorities with the Independents by Wednesday.

Enda Kenny said they are working on 15 policy documents. The parties involved discussed economic matters.

No costings were provided but one proposal included the continuation of the phasing out of the USC as part of a medium-term tax plan.

A draft economic paper presented by Fine Gael to Independents at the meeting stated the party will seek Oireachtas approval to continue to phase out the USC.

The document, seen by RTÉ, said a medium term income tax reform plan will be published for consultation with the finance committee by July and approved by the Oireachtas in October.

It will be paid through non-indexation of personal tax credits, removal of PAYE tax credits for high earners, higher excise duty on cigarettes, a new sugar tax and improved tax compliance.

The plan also supports an increase in the minimum wage to €10.50 per hour.

Overall the Taoiseach said he did not know when a deal could be done. But he hoped Fianna Fáil will be responsible when he goes to them. He also again ruled out supporting a minority Fianna Fáil government.

Fianna Fáil have said they want to hold their talks with the Independents and for Wednesday’s vote to take place before talks with Fine Gael start.

It is understood there was a discussion between the participants earlier about credit unions and post offices working together as competitors to the banks.

Minister for Finance Michael Noonan told the meeting money will be tight next year but about €1bn will be available for taxation and spending.

He also referred to challenges such as public sector pay. He said that if all is going well after next year there will be a very strong outcome and more options.

Independents were briefed on a housing document and their feedback will be addressed in a final document.

There were requests to strengthen the role of credit unions in lending and to give NAMA a wider brief on social housing.

Some of the TDs also want the voluntary sector more involved in social housing and more accountability from county managers.

It also emerged this evening that the Independent Alliance will be holding its own talks with Fianna Fáil and not with the other Independents next week.

All 15 Independents have called on Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael to talk this weekend.

Michael Fitzmaurice said it was time for them to stop “pussyfooting”.

Independent Alliance TD Finian McGrath had said the door is “wide open” for a deal to be struck with Fine Gael – if guarantees on policy can be secured.

He described talks yesterday on housing and homelessness as “very constructive”.

Asked if he was confident a deal could be struck, Mr McGrath said he was confident because those sitting around the negotiating table were “serious” about the issues involved.

Asked when a deal could be agreed, he replied: “Monday or Tuesday.”

Independent TD Mattie McGrath said he does not think a deal can be done by Monday or Tuesday but they have spend 50 hours talking to Fine Gael and will talk to Fianna Fáil next week.

Another Independent TD, Denis Naughten, said: “Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael need to talk over the weekend, while the talks are adjourned, because they need to work out in practical terms how a minority government is going to work, and how they are going to get a budget through”.

Michael Harty said it was critical that the two parties stop wasting time and start talking over the weekend.

Central Bank says mortgage lending rules are here to stay

Review of regulations will not lead to their abolition, says the chief economist.

    

The Central Bank chief economist Gabriel Fagan. 

The Central Bank has again robustly defended its restrictive mortgage lending rules, saying they are “permanent”.

At the presentation on Friday of the bank’s quarterly accounts, chief economist Gabriel Fagan said the bank was working on a review of the rules, which will be published in November, but said this review would not lead to their abolition.

Mr Fagan warned against people equating a review with a change in the rules.

“We shouldn’t think of a change taking place,” he said, adding that the rules may not be changed at all or may be tightened.

Introduced in February 2015, the rules limit the amount home buyers can borrow, typically to 3½ times their gross income up to a limit of 80 per cent of the purchase price of the property.

Last month, the Central Bank issued a robust defence of the home loan caps, saying commercial banks and mortgage brokers were unable on their own to uphold “prudent” credit standards.

However, the rules continue to come under increasing criticism.

Addressing the wider economic recovery, the Central Bank revised its growth forecast upwards for the Irish economy for 2016 and is now predicting growth of 5.1 per cent, up from 4.8 per cent previously, “on the back of exceptionally strong rates of growth in domestic demand”.

However, it warned that Ireland’s economic recovery was “not complete” as it forecast “marginally lower growth” for 2017.

Overall the outlook for the economy remained “broadly favourable”, it said.

It is forecasting gross domestic product (GDP) growth of 5.1 per cent for 2016, up by 0.3 per cent from its previous forecast, and 4.2 per cent for 2017, down from 4.4 per cent previously, as it said domestic demand was now firmly the main driver of expansion.

While the economic outlook may be relatively favourable, the Central Bank also noted risks, including levels of public and private sector debt, which remain high.

As such, there is a “strong case for precautionary behaviour and prudence”, Mr Fagan said.

This would allow the next government to build up a buffer should adverse circumstances arise.

Wage growth prediction?

Wage growth was also cited by the Central Bank as a potential risk, as it warned that while there may be some recovery in wage growth, “it is important that that this process does not lead to overshooting”.

Political uncertainty at home may also be an issue.

Five weeks after the general election and with no sight of a new government, Mr Fagan said the uncertainty had so far not had a negative effect.

However, he warned that “protracted uncertainty could lead to an adverse impact”.

On the external front, the regulator said emerging market concerns as well as broader geopolitical factors were potential issues, as was the forthcoming Brexit referendum which “creates uncertainty and is a downside risk factor”.

Pointing to household debt figures, the Central Bank said gross new lending increased in 2015 with households drawing down €4.4 billion in new mortgage loans.

However, the figures also revealed that “a significant degree of deleveraging” was still under way in Irish households as they continued to reduce overall debt levels.

This ongoing decline might suggest that the economic recovery had, to date, been somewhat “creditless”, the Central Bank said.

Irish SMEs told to seek examinership to block vulture funds

Small firms advised to apply for court protection from owners of loans

  

Many funds that bought distressed Irish business, consumer and property loans from Irish-based banks are active in the courts system, filing summary judgment cases to make borrowers pay their debts.

Small businesses whose bank loans were bundled into portfolios and sold to “vulture” funds have been advised to consider going into examiner-ship to protect themselves should the funds call in their loans.

Hughes Blake accountants, which specialises in examinerships for small businesses, said seeking court protection from the funds could be a “valid tactical maneouvre”.

It said many of the funds behave differently from each other so businesses should familiarise themselves with the approach of the fund that bought their loan.

“[Some] are known for their aggressive and predatory style of doing business; others are more mindful of the social issues around their actions,” said Hughes Blake.

  • Tax seems to be optional for ‘vulture’ SPVs

SMEs should research the owner of their loan and plan ahead for when it moves against the business.

Hughes Blake expects to see several smaller businesses use examinership to escape the funds in “coming weeks and months”.

Meanwhile, many funds that bought distressed Irish business, consumer and property loans from Irish-based banks are active in the courts system, filing summary judgment cases to make borrowers pay their debts.

High Court cases

Ennis Property Finance, which is affiliated with Goldman Sachs, has filed several cases in the High Court in recent weeks, as has the US giant CarVal via its affiliates, Emberton Finance, Pentire Property Finance and Stapleford Finance.

Stapleford was very active in the courts in the run-up to Christmas, filing a number of cases against prominent Irish business people and professionals, including barristers and solicitors.

On the consumer side, Cabot Asset Purchases, which is owned by US distressed debt specialist Encore Capital, is prominent among High Court listings for debt cases.

Ulster Bank, meanwhile, is preparing to sell loans attached to a large number of small businesses and their owners, after passing a deadline of last Thursday for the borrowers to indicate if they were able to refinance or face having their loan bought by a fund.

One Munster legal practice said several of its clients were told that even their performing loans would be sold if they were unable to refinance their distressed loans.

The signs of obesity can be identified in early years of children,

Says a new report?

   

The pathway to obesity can be identified in babies as young as six months of age, scientists have shown.

Researchers used simple body mass index measurements to single out infants destined to struggle with weight in later life.

Study leader Allison Smego, from Cincinnati Children’s Hospital in the US, said: “These children have a high lifetime risk for persistent obesity and metabolic disease and should be monitored closely at a very young age.”

Body mass index is a system of relating height and weight and expressed as kilograms per metres squared. In adults, a body mass index of 30kg/m2 or above is classified as obese.

Dr Smego’s team looked at several groups of lean and overweight children under the age of six. They included severely obese children referred to Cincinnati Children’s Hospital for specialised care.

The researchers compared 783 lean and 480 severely obese children, selected on the basis of their body mass index readings between the ages of two and six.

Growth and weight records showed the body mass index trajectories of children who were severely obese by the age of six began to differ from that of normal weight children at about four months of age.

“Body mass index at six, 12 or 18 months of age can accurately predict children at risk for early childhood obesity,” said Dr Smego, whose findings were presented at a meeting of the Endocrine Society in Boston, US.

She added: “It’s not currently recommended to measure body mass index in children under the age of two, but we say it should be because we now know it predicts obesity risk later.

“Paediatricians can identify high-risk infants with body mass index above the 85th percentile (top 15%) and focus additional counselling and education regarding healthy lifestyles towards the families of these children.

“Our hope in using this tool is that we can prevent obesity in early childhood.”

A study published in The Lancet journal on Thursday predicted that if current trends continue more than a fifth of people in the world will be obese by 2025.

The research, led by a team from Imperial College London, showed that over a 40-year period between 1975 and 2014 the global number of obese individuals had soared from 105 million to 641 million.

With each passing decade, the average person had become 1.5kg heavier.

Dopey Dick the so called killer whale that swam into Derry in 1977

Is still alive and very well

Whale experts discover orca they know as Comet is same killer whale that swam into Northern Irish city nearly 40 years ago

Comet the killer whale (aka Dopey Dick)   Killer whale pictured in a previous year

Comet the killer whale (aka Dopey Dick) off the west coast of Scotland.

A killer whale that sparked widespread attention when it swam into a Northern Irish city almost 40 years ago is still alive and living off the west coast of Scotland, experts have found.

The whale was nicknamed Dopey Dick by locals after he made his way up the river Foyle into the heart of Derry in pursuit of salmon in 1977. He is now thought to be at least 58 and was identified when pictures of the Irish incident were compared with images taken of a pod of whales near the Isle of Skye in September 2014.

Known as Comet, the orca is part of the vulnerable west coast community whales – the UK’s only known resident population of killer whales – that are tracked by experts.

Andy Foote, a killer whale expert, said: “When I saw the photos on Facebook, I noticed that the white eye patch of Dopey Dick sloped backwards in a really distinctive fashion.

Ships’ noise is serious problem for killer whales and dolphins, the report finds

“This is a trait we see in all the west coast community whales, but it’s not that common in other killer whale populations. The photographs were all quite grainy, but it was still possible to see some of the distinctive features unique to Comet.

“I couldn’t believe it – he was already a full-grown male back in 1977, when I was just five years old.”

The Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust has been documenting the west coast community’s behaviour since 1994.

The four males and four females are not known to interact with other orca populations in the north-east Atlantic and, since studies began, have never successfully reproduced.

In January this year, one of the females, named Lulu, died after being stranded near Tiree.

The trust said the discovery that Dopey Dick was in fact Comet is significant to understanding the age of the west coast group.

Padraig Whooley, sightings officer of the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group, said: “This match places Comet very much at the upper limits of the typical life expectancy of male killer whales.

“Adult males generally live to around 30 years, but with an upper range of up to 50 to 60 years.

“So, clearly time is not only running out for this individual whale – it is equally running out for whale biologists, who may not have much time left to gather information on this unique local population of killer whales that have made the waters of the British Isles their home.”

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Monday 25th January 2016

Irish emergency care waiting times rated the worst in Europe

  

Lower income countries like Macedonia, Croatia and Slovenia rank ahead of Ireland?

The study by private Swedish firm Health Consumer Powerhouse found waiting times for minor operations and CT scans were among the longest of 35 countries surveyed

Waiting times for emergency treatment in Irish hospitals are the worst in Europe, according to a new report.

It also found waiting times for minor operations and CT scans were among the longest of 35 countries surveyed.

Overall, the Irish health system ranks 21st in the 2015 Euro Health Consumer Index, up one place from 2014 but down from 14th in 2013. Lower-income countries such as Macedonia, Croatia and Slovenia all rank ahead of Ireland in the index, which is led by the Netherlands and Switzerland.

The report analyses the performance of national healthcare systems across 48 indicators, including patient rights, access to care, treatment outcomes, range of services and use of pharmaceuticals.

Compiled by private Swedish firm Health Consumer Powerhouse, it relies on a combination of statistics, patient polls and research.

Waiting times

Ireland scores particularly badly on access to health services, based on feedback provided by patient organisations. Waiting times are found to be “frequently more than three hours” more often here than anywhere else in Europe.

The report is being published today as overcrowding in emergency departments continues to place the health service under strain. The HSE said 391 patients were on trolleys yesterday morning, of whom 210 had been waiting over nine hours.

The second worst?

The index ranks Ireland second worst in Europe for direct access to a specialist, without GP referral. We come fourth last for non-acute operations carried out within 90 days and for the number of cataract operations performed, and eighth lowest for the proportion of non-acute CT scans carried out within a week.

Ireland also ranks worst in Europe for binge drinking and is third from the bottom in terms of the number of hours of physical activity in schools.

However, our smoking rates are among the lowest and Ireland is rated highly for access to essential drugs. The report also praises the “real improvement” and “dedicated effort” involved in halving the rate of MRSA infection in Ireland between 2008 and 2015.

The fact that Ireland has the highest percentage of population purchasing duplicate healthcare insurance “presents a problem”. The report questions whether this should be interpreted as an “extreme case of dissatisfaction” with the public system or one prompted by tax issues.

The report says Ireland no longer has a total abortion ban after the introduction of the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act in 2013, but adds this was a “very minor step”.

Loans cost Irish SMEs twice the Eurozone average rate

   

Irish SMEs are paying more than twice the eurozone average for credit and are faced with the highest interest rates of any country in the currency union.

As businesses continue to pay the price for the lack of competition in the banking sector, they are being forced to fork out far more than their European peers for loans as interest rates remain stubbornly high despite recent improvements in the profitability of the largest Irish lenders.

ECB data shows the average interest rate charged on SME loans — of €250,000 or less — is 6.56% in Ireland. This rate is far and away the most expensive in the eurozone with Slovakia’s 5.07% the next highest among countries for which data is available.

At 2.28%, French SMEs enjoy credit almost three times cheaper than their Irish counterparts, while Austrian rates are lower again.

SME interest rates charged in other countries include the following.

  • Germany: 3.25%

  • Italy: 3.25%

  • Spain: 3.37%

  • Netherlands: 3.61%

  • Finland: 4.03%

At a time when SME lending is becoming cheaper across the EU, Ireland is one of just three countries to see the cost of credit increase in the past year.

Isme chief executive Mark Fielding says banks must be allowed turn a profit and make a proper return on their investments but small business owners should not be picking up the tab for it.

“This should not be at the expense of the Irish SME sector, which continues to be so blatantly exploited by the banks, as confirmed by the interest rate figures,” he said.

“The lack of competition in business banking in Ireland makes small business a soft touch for the banks in their efforts to maintain supernormal profits.”

The European Commission, in its latest post-bailout report, reiterated the poor state of competition in the Irish banking sector.

Along with the large proportion of non-performing loans and low-yielding assets the banks hold, the commission highlighted the lack of competition as one of the main reasons for interest rates being so out of kilter with the European average.

“Business customers are paying the price of the very weak level of competition in the Irish banking sector,” said Fianna Fáil finance spokesman, Michael McGrath.

“With the contraction of the banking market, the dominance of two pillar banks, Bank of Ireland and Allied Irish Banks, is again apparent. This lack of competition is leading to high costs for businesses in terms of interest rates, fees and charges. As AIB is returned to the private sector over the next five years it is vital that there is a parallel strategy to ensure that a dynamic banking sector is in place.

“Eight years on from the onset of the financial crisis there has been relatively little attention paid to the shape of the banking sector which Ireland needs as it emerges from the crisis.”

Not only are the country’s 200,000 or so SMEs paying much more for credit than their European peers, they are also paying a far higher price than bigger companies.

While this is common across the EU, the difference between what large and small companies are charged is greater in Ireland than anywhere else in the eurozone.

Loans worth more than €1m carry an interest rate of 2.62% in the Irish market.

The 3.94% differential between loans worth in excess of €1m and SME loans of less than €250,000 is again more than twice the euro area average.

The Government has attempted to make cheaper credit available to SMEs through the Strategic Banking Corporation of Ireland (SBCI) which began lending last March.

Most addicts who leave drug treatment centre remain clean

Independent study shows success of treatment at Coolmine facility

    

Almost three-quarters of residents who came through the Coolmine’s treatment and rehabilitation programme were drug free after two years, a new study has found.

The independently produced figures collated by Trinity College Dublin (TCD) demonstrate that the treatment programme works, the chairman of the Coolmine Therapeutic Community Alan Connolly has stated.

The Coolmine model of treatment achieves quality outcomes and consequently delivers value for money to Government and state agency funders,” he said.

“It is important that funders can see the value of such funding in terms of outcomes. This independent evidence based research clearly shows that 72 per cent of our clients remain drug-free two years after they commenced treatment,” he said.”

The Minister for Health Leo Varadkar will launch Pathways Through Treatment, the first longitudinal study tracking Coolmine clients, on Monday.

The Therapeutic Community (TC) approach to addiction treatment was introduced in 1973. It is primarily a self-help approach in which residents are responsible for their own recovery with peers and staff acting as facilitators of change. The residents are expected to help each other out in what is known as “community as method”.

It is a lengthy process in comparison with other treatment centres. The study demonstrates that 62 per cent of all clients that entered Coolmine remained in the programme 6 months following intake.

The treatment also showed a dramatic improvement in outcomes for those who leave it. Almost all, 98 per cent of clients, are not involved in criminal activity after two years and employment rose from 3 per cent on entering the treatment facility to 24 per cent. Engagement in education rose from 2 per cent to 17 per cent two years later.

A total of 144 clients participated in the study ranging in ages from 18 to 50 years. The study gathered data on treatment retention, substance use, physical health, psychological health, social functioning and criminal activity of men and women who commenced treatment at Coolmine to overcome their addiction to illicit drugs.

“These results highlight the need for further investment in the treatment and rehabilitation” Mr Connolly said.

Meanwhile:

Irish hospitals brace themselves for a surge of teen drug abusers

Latest synthetic highs can have lethal effects on those using them, consultant says

  

Drugs can have a variety of adverse effects on the mind and body?

Hospitals are braced for a rise in young people in need of emergency treatment who can be left convulsed by fits after taking a form of synthetic cannabis known as ‘Spice’.

It is the latest shady menace which can leave the user fighting for life, causing hallucinations and potentially fatal symptoms, warned Cork University Hospital emergency consultant Dr Chris Luke.

“Artificial cannabis is a big problem coming down the tracks,” he warned.

“I expect to see a steady stream of people who have taken it coming to emergency departments across the country.”

The potent substance, which can be smoked, comes from dried plant leaves which are crushed and rolled.

Dr Luke issued the warning after six young people ended up being rushed to the Cork hospital last week after taking the potentially lethal drug with the street name ‘N-bomb’. One of the six, Alex Ryan (18), tragically died over the weekend.

Very dangerous evidence?

Dr Luke said synthetic drugs bought online or on the street are profoundly dangerous and there is evidence emergency departments are seeing an increase in users suffering severe side-effects.

“There was a surge in attendances of people suffering delirium and psychosis until the ban on head shops a few years ago. The ban reduced the numbers coming to emergency departments, but there is another gradual increase again as people buy them online or on the streets,” he said.

One of the most notorious online drugs is mephedrone, also known as ‘snow blow’ or ‘meow meow’. It can have severe mind-altering effects.

“It has become a really serious killer in Northern Ireland and also in Scotland in the last five years,” Dr Luke explained.

One problem faced by doctors treating users of these drugs, who can be extremely delusional and hallucinating, is the length of time it takes them to come down.

Hospital emergency consultants who are already coping with regular patients on trolleys, many of whom need intensive monitoring, have to care for a young person who is removed from reality and in a highly psychotic state.

Doctors must also treat symptoms without knowing what kind of drug the patient has taken, said Dr Luke.

“People hurt themselves on these drugs. They walk into traffic or walk through windows. They are disconnected from reality,” he said.

Some die and others recover but they are in danger of mental health problems afterwards.

“The scale of drug-taking among Irish people is enormous,” he added. “It is underestimated. In terms of statistics, we are said to be in the top three in Europe and among the most eager consumers of legal highs.”

Dr Luke believes drugs education here has failed and the ‘just say no’ message must be reinforced. He is particularly concerned about the almost religious devotion to cannabis, which he claims “has become the holy communion of the middle classes.”

“They believe in cannabis as a remedy for life ailments,” he said. “I worry about the teenage boys who develop a cannabis habit and smoke it daily.”

He said cannabis skunk is two to three times stronger than normal grass and is more likely to provoke psychiatric problems, psychosis, demotivation and difficulties with learning.

“There are plenty of pro-drug people, but we don’t often hear the voices of mothers and fathers or talk about the people going into clinics,” he added. “The daily use of a joint is a real hallmark of trouble.

“If you dare to suggest cannabis has side effects or is not entirely wonderful, you get a lot of abuse.

“I will be portrayed as some kind of reactionist propagandist. All I am saying is that, just as we have a problem with sugar, sleeping tablets and alcohol, cannabis is also a problem.”

One high-profile case involved Shane Michael (inset left) and Brandon Skeffington.

Shane Michael (20) stabbed nine-year-old Brandon to death with a 19cm knife and then took his own life at their home in Banada, Co Sligo, in July 2014 – two months after he was released from St Columba’s psychiatric hospital.

His inquest was told he suffered cannabis-induced psychotic symptoms.

A recent study also found more than one in three secondary school students aged between 15 and 18 in Cork city and its suburbs has used cannabis at some stage, and a majority were in favour of legalising it.

The Department of Education said drugs education is part of the Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE) course given in schools to help young people develop life skills and improve wellbeing.

However, teens often get information from websites like Spunout.ie. There is also continuing pressure on teens to fit in and be ‘cool’, which leaves many young people vulnerable.

How narcotics can effect the mind and body

  1. Cannabis

Side effects: Lethargy, anxiety, paranoia, psychosis.  It is linked to development of schizophrenia, lung disease and asthma.

  1. Cocaine

Side effects: Overstimulation of heart and nervous system. It can cause heart attack and stroke.

  1. Mephedrone

Side effects: Paranoia and anxiety while causing vomiting and headaches. Blue fingers, fits, agitation, heart attacks.

  1. Ecstasy

Side effects: Memory problems, depression and anxiety. Dangerous overheating and dehydration.

  1. Speed

Side effects: Agitation, aggression, confusion, paranoia and psychosis.

  1. Heroin

Side effects: Respiratory issues, depression, constricted pupils and nausea. It can also lead to muscle spasms, convulsions and coma.

Aldi Ireland to give €840,000 to Foróige

   

The German discounter chain asks staff to get included in philanthropy work. Aldi Ireland is to give €840,000 in backing to youth association Foróige over the span of its present three-year organization.

Aldi additionally affirmed the initiation of a system of more than 120 Charity Champions in its stores to co-ordinate the project, work intimately with neighborhood philanthropies and empower Aldi staff contribution.

Foróige works with more than 56,000 individuals aged somewhere around 10 and 18 years of age and 6,000 volunteers every year through a system of more than 600 youth clubs and cafes, 147 targeted projects, for example, the Big Brother, Big Sister youth tutoring program and national projects, for example, Citizenship, Entrepreneurship and Leadership.

Last year 2015 was the hottest since records began in the 19th century.

  2015 Annual Selected Climate Anomalies and Events Map

A record-breaking string of hot years since 2000 is a sign of man-made global warming, says a new study, and there is a decreasing chance it was caused by random, natural swings.

Last year was the hottest since records began in the 19th century.

All scientists blame the trend on greenhouse gases from burning of fossil fuels, stoking heat waves, droughts, downpours and rising sea levels.

“Recent, observed runs of record temperatures are extremely unlikely to have occurred in the absence of human-caused global warming,” a US-led team of experts wrote in the journal, Scientific Reports.

Written before 2015 temperature data was released, the report estimated the chance of the record run — 13 of the 15 warmest years occurred between 2000 and 2014 — being random, with no human influence, at one in 10,000.

Lead author Michael Mann, a professor of meteorology at Pennsylvania State University, told Reuters that the group’s computer simulations indicated those odds, when 2015 was included, had widened to between one in 1,250 and one in 13,000.

“Climate change is real, human-caused and no longer subtle — we’re seeing it play out before our eyes,” he wrote in an email.

Natural variations include shifts in the sun’s output or volcanic eruptions, which dim sunlight.

“Natural climate variations just can’t explain the observed, recent global heat records, but man-made global warming can,” Stefan Rahmstorf, a co-author from the Potsdam Institute of Climate Impact, said in a statement.

The scientists tried to account for factors including that heat from one warm year spills over into the next.

And temperatures in many years are almost identical, making it hard to rank their heat with confidence.

Last month, 190 nations agreed at a summit in Paris to the strongest deal yet to shift from fossil fuels towards cleaner energies, such as wind and solar power.

This is to limit warming.

Separately, on Monday, the UN’s World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) confirmed US and British data showing 2015 was by far the hottest year on record and noted that a powerful El Nino event, warming the surface of the Pacific Ocean, had stoked extra heat.

“The power of El Nino will fade in the coming months, but the impacts of human-induced climate change will be with us for many decades,” WMO Secretary-General, Petteri Taalas, said.

Zebra stripes are not for camouflaging scientists confirm

‘The results provide no support at all for the idea that the zebra’s stripes provide some type of anti-predator camouflaging effect’

  

Zebra’s (left) pictured drinking from a waterhole and Researchers found no benefit of stripes in a group scenario despite the prediction that stripes should be particularly effective as a group.

For over 100 years the question of why zebras have stripes has proved a perpetual conundrum, even prompting heated debates between revered scientists.

However, the common consensus that zebra stripes are used as camouflage to protect them from predators has been refuted in a new study.

Scientists at the University of Calgary and UC Davis passed digital images of zebras, taken in the fields of Tanzania, through spatial and colour filters, simulating how the animals would appear to their main predators – lions and spotted hyenas – as well as to other zebras.

They also measured the width and luminance of the stripes in order to estimate the maximum distance they could be detected by different species, using information about their vision.

The study, published in the journal PLOS ONE, found stripes are not used for camouflage, or a means of breaking up the outline of the zebra to make it less conspicuous, as at the point at which predators can see zebra stripes they will already have heard or smelled the zebra prey.

Researchers found at beyond 50m in daylight and 30m at twilight, when most predators hunt, stripes could be detected by humans but were hard for predators to distinguish.

On moonless nights the stripes are difficult for all species to see beyond nine metres.

This suggests the stripes do not provide camouflage in woodland areas, where it was earlier thought black stripes mimicked tree trunks and white stripes blended with shafts of light coming through the trees.

In open, treeless habitats – where zebras spend the majority of their time – researchers found lions could see the outline of striped zebras just as easily as they could see similar size prey without the monochrome pattern.

The study also suggests striping does not provide any social advantage by allowing other zebras to recognise each other at a distance.

While zebras can see stripes over further distances than their predators can, scientists noted other species, closely related to the zebra, are highly social and able to recognise each other easily despite having no striping.

Amanda Melin, lead author of the study and an assistant professor of biological anthropology at the University of Calgary, said: “The most longstanding hypothesis for zebra striping is crypsis, or camouflaging, but until now the question has always been framed through human eyes.

“We, instead, carried out a series of calculations through which we were able to estimate the distances at which lions and spotted hyenas, as well as zebras, can see zebra stripes under daylight, twilight, or during a moonless night.”

Tim Caro, co-author of the study and a UC Davis professor of wildlife biology, said: “The results from this new study provide no support at all for the idea that the zebra’s stripes provide some type of anti-predator camouflaging effect.

“Instead, we reject this long-standing hypothesis that was debated by Charles Darwin and Alfred Russell Wallace.”

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Monday 21st December 2015

Almost all private sector staff will get a 2% pay increase next year according

To Mercer consultants

   

Almost all private sector staff, no matter where they work, can expect a salary increase of just over 2% next year, according to a major report published this morning.

The findings from consultants Mercer signal that after the long years of contraction and recession, pay increases are definitely back on the agenda.

Mercer said that surveyed 135 firms and almost all — 97% of the sample — have budgeted to pay out salary increases in 2016.

Workers can expect an average pay rise of 2.2% across most pay grades, and pay in the construction industry, which was particularly battered during the deep recession, is increasing too.

The average pay increases mask a wide range of pay increases which could in time open up big pay differentials for employees, depending on the profitability and growth prospects of their employers.

The survey found that the big winners are likely to be staff working for firms in life-science, high-tech and some non-banking service industries, who may strike pay increases of between 2.4% and 2.8%.

Possibly reflecting longer working hours and a pick-up in retail sales, retail and warehousing firms have “budgeted” for salary increases of 2.4%.

With salary increases of 2%, people working in the energy, consumer goods and manufacturing may fare less well.

Banking and financial services firms have budgeted to pay a 1.9% increase next year.

Noel O’Connor, a consultant at Mercer, said that the fall in unemployment was helping to push up pay.

“After a number of years of consolidation in the jobs market, we are beginning to see more activity as employees are increasingly tempted by new opportunities.

“The competition for talent seems to be particularly aggressive in the high-tech, life science and construction industries.”

CSO figures for average earnings and labour costs published late last month suggest pay may already be rising — but probably from a low base.

Average weekly earnings across many employment sectors rose in the third quarter 2.7% from a year earlier.

The CSO reported average weekly earnings increased in 11 of the 13 main sectors in the year with the largest earnings increases posted in the administrative and support services area, where weekly earnings rose 7.6%.

Over five years, average weekly earnings had fallen 10.6% in human health and social work, and had risen by almost 10% in administrative and support services.

Mr O’Connor said staff will likely also seek other non-income incentives to stay with an individual employer.

Unemployment has fallen sharply from its peak of over 15% in early 2012, but remains high.

The CSO said 191,700 people, 8.9% of the labour force, didn’t have jobs in November.

There are also many thousands of people on training courses who do not count toward the unemployment total.

In Britain, workers’ pay grew at a slower than expected pace in the three months to October, figures published last week by its Office for National Statistics showed.

Regular earnings of British workers — excluding bonuses — rose by 2% in the three months to October, its slowest since the three months to February.

PTSB to offer loans and overdrafts to small businesses

Move marks entry into new market as it seeks to diversify income stream

        

PTSB chief executive Jeremy Masding said its aim was to offer “simple banking solutions” to small business owners.

Permanent TSB has launched a new offering targeted at small businesses with fewer than 50 employees and turnover of less than €10 million.

It marks the entry of the bank into the owner-managed small business market, a move that is aimed at diversifying its income stream away from personal lending and residential mortgages.

And it is the first suite of business banking products launched by PTSB since the financial crisis blew up in 2008.

The business products include overdrafts, loans and mortgages. Overdrafts will attract an interest rate of 8 per cent, loans will be available at 6.5 per cent and mortgages at 4.5 per cent.

PTSB has also launched a Visa business debit card for SME customers and an enhanced BUSINESS24 internet banking service, which will be available from the New Year. Killian O’Flynn has been appointed as head of business banking.

The services were launched today by the Minister for Finance Michael Noonanat its new branch and business centre on O’Connell Street in Limerick.

PTSB chief executive Jeremy Masding said its aim was to offer “simple banking solutions” to small business owners. “We now offer competitively-priced overdrafts and loans, specifically focused on small businesses, and our intention is to expand on these in the coming months,” he said, adding that advisers would be available in each of its 77 branches, supported by SME business managers and a central SME banking team .

Mr Noonan welcomed PTSB’s decision to expand its product range to support small businesses. “With the addition of Permanent TSB as a new lender to this sector, I welcome the benefits that increased banking competition will offer SMEs throughout Ireland,” he said.

PTSB is spending €1.7 million to reconfigure its Limerick branches, including a second new outlet in Castletroy.

New Cross-Border Garda/PSNI task-force will investigate organised crime

Body will tackle tobacco smuggling, fuel laundering, fraud, cyber crime, human trafficking

    

The Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald said issues of tobacco smuggling, fuel laundering, fraud, cyber crime and human trafficking will be dealt with in a more focused way by a new cross-Border taskforce.

A new cross-Border taskforce is to be established to investigate organised crime on both sides of the Border, including paramilitarism.

The new body will be funded by Governments in Dublin and Belfast and will be led by senior officials within An Garda Síochána and the Police Service of Northern Ireland.

Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald said issues of tobacco smuggling, fuel laundering, fraud, cyber crime and human trafficking will be dealt with in a more focused way by the taskforce.

She said: “This arises from the Fresh Start agreement. This is a particular initiative to tackle cross-Border crime.

‘Criminals don’t respect borders’

“We know criminals don’t respect the borders, whether we are talking about in Ireland or internationally, and it is to deal effectively with the disruption to communities.”

The taskforce will work with the Revenue Commissioners and HM Revenue and Customs and will seek to end the exploitation of the borders between the two jurisdictions.

First Minister Peter Robinson said the taskforce will begin its work next month.

He said criminal gangs have used the Border for their benefit, adding that the taskforce would assist in ending paramilitarism.

Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness said the activities of those who attempt to “plunge us back into the past need to be confronted”.

He said: “Criminality is a scourge on our communities, North and South, and we must be both united and relentless in our pursuit of these criminals.

“This Joint Agency Task Force provides renewed energy, focus and additional mechanisms for us to work collectively for the greater good of people across the island of Ireland.”

SuperValu retains Irish grocery market share top spot

Dunnes closes gap on Tesco as Lidl continues to enjoy growth

   

Supervalu has 24.7% of the market compared to the 24.1% which Tesco has. Dunnes Stores has 23.8%.

Tesco is now just 0.3 per cent ahead of Dunnes Stores in the Republic’s grocery share wars and the retailer that once had a commanding lead of more than 5 per cent is now dangerously close to slipping into third place.

The latest supermarket share figures from Kantar Worldpanel show that SuperValu will be Ireland’s largest grocery retailer when Christmas Day dawns although less than 1 per cent now separates first and third.

Supervalu has 24.7% of the market compared to the 24.1% which Tesco has. Dunnes Stores has 23.8 per cent.

“It hasn’t all been plain sailing for SuperValu – over the past six months the retailer has seen falling shopper numbers, but in the past 12 weeks it has managed to get that issue under control,” said David Berry, director at Kantar Worldpanel .

“This has allowed SuperValu to strengthen its position at the top, posting impressive sales growth of 3.7% and increasing its share of the grocery market to 24.7% Alongside a strong performance in its traditional heartland – fruit and vegetables – the grocer also posted excellent sales in confectionery, crisps and snacks and soft drinks during the past quarter.

He said that while value sales may have dipped in Tesco there has been growth in the number of items shoppers are picking up on each trip. “The reduction in value sales is linked to the fact that these items are at a lower price point than last year, leading to a dip in the retailer’s value share of the grocery market.”

Dunnes’ sales continue to grow, with an increase of 3.6% this period to cap off a strong year – the retailer has seen non-stop sales growth for the whole of 2015 and has continually managed to encourage shoppers to spend more per trip, with its Shop and Save campaign helping to create a more loyal customer base and increase its market share to 23.8%.

Elsewhere, Lidl continues to post the strongest growth with sales increasing by 10.6% as 37,000 more shoppers visited the retailer compared with the same time last year.

Dublin has proved a particularly strong region for Lidl, with shopper numbers in the nation’s capital increasing by 10% this quarter. Aldi’s performance remains ahead of the overall market, with sales growth of 2.6% and market share holding at 8.4%.

“While the big Christmas shop has yet to take place there are signs that shoppers may have begun their preparations for the festive season earlier this year,” Mr Berry said.

“Confectionery, crisps and snacks have all seen double digit growth in shopper spend when compared with last year, helping to increase overall grocery sales by 2.5%. Such strong growth is an early indicator that Ireland’s retailers could be in for a bumper Christmas, and we’re sure to see grocers competing eagerly for the biggest slice of festive sales.”

Secret of why birds never grey revealed raising prospect of clothes that never fade

Scientists have disclosed for the first time why birds’ plumage never fades leading to hopes that ‘fade-proof’ clothes could be on the horizon

     

A jay (Left) with not even a hint of grey.

Scientists have discovered why birds never go grey – and the secrets of how our feathered friends fine-tune their plumage could be used to prevent our clothes fading in the wash.

New research has revealed birds use sophisticated changes to the structure of their feathers to create a multi-coloured appearance.

The discovery by Sheffield University could now pave the way for the creation of paints and clothing colours that retain their colour over time.

Examination of the blue and white feathers of the Jay showed rather than dyes and pigments that fade, the birds use well-controlled changes to the nanostructure to create their vividly coloured feathers.

The Jay is able to pattern these different colours along an individual feather barb – the equivalent of having many different colours along a single human hair.

“If nature can assemble this material ‘on the wing’, then we should be able to do it synthetically too.”

The Jay’s feather, which goes from ultra violet in colour through to blue and into white, is made of exactly the same kind of material as human hair and fingernails.

The researchers found that the Jay is able to demonstrate amazing control over the sponge-like structure, which determines the colour when exposed to light.

A flock of goldfinches, with their colourful plumage, will lighten up any garden  Photo: ALAMY

So birds never go grey as they age – unlike humans whose hair is coloured by pigments, which is not produced in the same quantities as we grow older.

If the colours were formed using pigments created from the bird’s diet, the feather colour would fade over time.

Dr Andrew Parnell, from Sheffield’s Department of Physics and Astronomy said: “If nature can assemble this material ‘on the wing’, then we should be able to do it synthetically too.

“This discovery means that in the future, we could create long-lasting coloured coatings and materials synthetically.

“Now we’ve learnt how nature accomplishes it, we can start to develop new materials such as clothes or paints using these Nanostructuring approaches.”

“By adjusting the size and density of the holes in the spongy like structure – that determines what colour is reflected.

“Current technology cannot make colour with this level of control and precision – we still use dyes and pigments.

“Now we’ve learnt how nature accomplishes it, we can start to develop new materials such as clothes or paints using these Nanostructuring approaches.

“It would potentially mean that if we created a red jumper using this method, it would retain its colour and never fade in the wash.”

The research was carried out in France and also used feathers selected from the extensive collection at the Natural History Museum in London.

The findings are being published in Nature Scientific Reports.

Researcher Dr Daragh McLoughlin of AkzoNobel, which makes Dulux paint, added: “This exciting new insight may help us to find new ways of making paints that stay brighter and fresher-looking for longer, while also having a lower carbon footprint.”

 

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Monday 20th April 2015

Strong growth for Ireland sees national debt fall to 109% of GDP

 

The Managing director of the International Monetary Fund, Christine Lagarde, with Minister for Finance Michael Noonan at Government Buildings Dublin.

Figures show Government debt stood at €203 billion in 2014, down from €215 billion the previous year

Government debt as a percentage of gross domestic product (GDP) fell to 109% last year on the back of better-than-expected economic growth.

Figures from the Central Statistics Office (CSO) show Ireland’s national debt stood at €203 billion at the end of 2014, down from €215 billion or 123% of GDP the previous year.

The improvement was put down to a combination of increased GDP and the early repayment of a portion of IMF loans.

The Irish economy grew by 4.8% in 2014, outstripping even the most optimistic predictions. At the same time, the Government secured permission from its bailout lenders to pay off €18 billion of its €22.5 billion IMF debt early.

Minister for Finance Michael Noonan has stated he now expects the State’s debt to be fall below 100% of GDP by 2018, bringing Ireland close to the European average.

Under the terms of the EU’s fiscal compact treaty, Ireland is committed to eventually reducing its ratio of debt to GDP to 60% over the longer term.

The CSO figures show the general Government spending deficit was -€7.6 billion or -4.1 per cent of GDP in 2014, down from the -€10 billion (5.8% of GDP) recorded in 2013.

Government revenue increased by over 6% from €60.9 billion million in 2013 to €65 billion last year, while expenditure increased by 1.7% from €71 billion to €72.3 billion over the same period.

The changes in revenue and expenditure were driven by increased tax and social contribution revenues and increased capital expenditure, the CSO said.

Taxes and social contributions continue to form the largest component of revenue over the period, representing 88% of total government revenue in 2014, with social benefits, the biggest expenditure category, accounting for almost 39% of government spending in 2014.

Tánaiste Joan Burton favours role for local authorities as mortgage providers

  • However, Joan Burton said there had been no discussion at Government level of €5,000 grants for first-time buyers

  

The Labour Party leader says that home ownership being available to young people is a “valuable” part of Irish society.

Tánaiste Joan Burton has said she might favour a return to a situation where county councils acted as low-cost mortgage providers for some households.

Ms Burton said yesterday that county councils in the past had offered different mortgage products to families who were not in a position to get full bank financing.

She said her own preference was that local authorities would explore the possibility of providing such products again.

She was responding to solutions put forward to overcome difficulties with mortgage distress cases, as well as reported difficulties of new home owners in meeting the more stringent deposit requirement of 20 per cent of value.

First-time buyers’ grant

Asked about a suggestion by her colleague Joe Costello that the first-time buyers’ grant be reintroduced, with a value of between €3,000 to €5,000, she said there had been no detailed discussion on the subject at Government level.

“There is agreement about the value to Irish society of home ownership being accessible to young people,” she said on the This Week programme on RTÉ Radio One.

She said the Government had to be prudent in how it approached this issue and that her own preference was for county councils to offer low-cost mortgage products for new home owners, as had been done in the past.

When it was pointed out that local authorities do not have the finances to do that at present, she responded that some of those solutions would become available as the economy continued to recover.

Local authority approval

Some local authorities have continued to approve mortgages during the recessions. Those who cannot obtain a loan from a bank or building society can apply for a mortgage from the local authority.

A total of 110 such approvals were made in 2012, with 174 in 2013.

The loans are available to a maximum value of €220,000. Under the rules, joint applicants must be earning €75,000 or less.

On demands for pay restoration in the public service, Ms Burton said those working in that sector had taken three reductions in pay and there was a case for this issue to be addressed as the economy came into recovery.

She said she did not want to preempt any discussions. On the question of pay increases being linked to productivity, she said more productivity made sense as it would lead to more efficiency and more money for services.

Most Irish SMEs can’t process online sales

   

More than 90% of SMEs cannot process online sales while six in every 10 cannot take orders online either.

The research carried out by Iedr — which manages Ireland’s .ie domain registry — found that the majority of businesses are not equipped to take and process consumer sales online.

Companies are putting themselves at a huge disadvantage in not tapping into the massive online marketplace, according to Iedr chief executive David Curtin.

“What stands out most is the mismatch between business owners’ acknowledgement of what’s important and their actions. Business owners know it’s important, but they haven’t yet acted to sell online, with 73% saying their website is “important/very important” as a driver of generating sales, yet 62% cannot take sales orders via that website,” Mr Curtin said.

“In an ever-more global economy, the absence of an online sales presence puts Irish businesses at a huge disadvantage to competitors. It acts as a major disincentive to attracting customers, for whom buying online is now the norm,” he said.

The report also finds that half of companies lack the capacity to interact directly with customers through social media or web chat; 54% don’t have responsive website designs for tablet or smartphone; and two-thirds don’t host any video content online.

Furthermore, just 4% of those surveyed have the capacity to run analytics on their website’s performance, meaning the vast majority are foregoing huge amounts of valuable information into the effectiveness of their online presence and behaviour of their customers.

501 Irish SMEs — across all domain names, not just those on the .ie registry — were surveyed to examine their online presence, including their e-commerce capabilities.

Mr Curtin was speaking as Iedr launched its €150,000 Optimise Fund 2015 aimed at supporting SMEs and micro-enterprises in enhancing their online presence.

The fund is designed to help drive businesses’ sales offering online. Since its inception in 2011, the optimise Fund has provided funding to 60 SMEs and micro enterprises to improve web and online sales capabilities.

Francis Brennan, owner of The Park Hotel, Kenmare and Ambassador for the Optimise Fund 2015, said “online sales are critical to our hotel business. They are now a significant and growing part of most successful Irish businesses’ sales strategy.

“While having a website is an important shop window for every business, it’s not enough if your customers can’t use it to buy your goods and services online.”

Galway Fine Gael TD slams Taoiseach over Hospice funding

   

Fine Gael TD Brian Walsh has slammed the Government for its continued failure to provide funding to Galway Hospice.

The Galway West Deputy said that provision of monies would also be the first step to addressing the ongoing issue of ‘bed blockers’ at University Hospital Galway.

He branded Taoiseach Enda Kenny’s failure to allocate funding to the Hospice as a “longstanding injustice”.

“There has been much talk in recent weeks about the provision of additional funding for measures to tackle delayed discharges from hospital, in order to free up acute beds and reduce waiting times for admission.

“There is a compelling argument for some of this funding to be used to expand and enhance the services provided by Galway Hospice in order to reduce occupancy of acute hospital beds by patients in the later stages of cancer.

“The acute hospital setting is entirely inappropriate in such cases, both from the perspective of the patient and the health service. Yet, at present, approximately 50% of all deaths that occur at University Hospital Galway (UHG) are cancer related.

“If even a portion of these patients were cared for by Galway Hospice as either inpatients or through the organisation’s home-care service, it would free up a large number of beds at UHG that could be used to increase surgical activity and slash waiting times.

“The cost of providing an acute hospital bed is around €1,000 per night. A care package could be provided at a fraction of this cost by the Hospice, which would allow the patient to be looked after in their own home.

“The recent allocation of delayed-discharge monies, therefore, represents opportunity to address the longstanding injustice in relation to the funding of Galway Hospice; which has constrained its capacity to provide its invaluable services.

“It is another opportunity for the Government to do the right thing, and – after four years of failure on this issue – its last.

“I have fought long and hard for the Hospice to win political support for its bid to secure fair funding for its service and financial aid for its expansion.

“We’ve had some success, but it’s time that the Government stopped dragging its feet and put its money where its mouth is.

“We’ve heard declarations of support from successive health ministers, but we have yet to see the action that’s required to put our hospice on a par with those in other counties.

“There is a common-sense solution to our hospital-overcrowding crisis right in front of us now in the form of Galway Hospice. If this Government fails to see this opportunity or fails to support it, then I think it would raise serious questions about this administration and its commitment to health-service reform in Galway.

“We have heard enough talk, we need to see action and tangible progress in relation to this issue right now,” Deputy Walsh said.

Colour helps our body clock adjust time

  

Ever wondered how animals know when to call it a day and return to their shelters? The colour of light has a major impact on how the brain clock measures the time of the day and on how our physiology and behaviour adjust accordingly.

“This is the first time that we have been able to test the theory that colour affects our body clock in any mammal,” said lead researcher Timothy Brown from the University of Manchester in Britain.

The research can be applied to humans too.
“So, in theory, colour could be used to manipulate our clock which could be useful for shift workers or travellers wanting to minimise jet lag,” Brown pointed out.

The researchers looked at the change in light around dawn and dusk to analyse whether colour could be used to determine the time of day.

Besides the well known changes in light intensity that occur as the sun rises and sets, the scientists found that during twilight, light is reliably bluer than during the day.

The researchers next recorded electrical activity from the brain clock while mice were shown different visual stimuli.

They found that many of the neurons were more sensitive to changes in colour between blue and yellow than to changes in brightness.

New species of frog’s organs are visible through its belly

   

A new species of frog discovered in Costa Rica has such translucent skin on its underside that it’s possible to see its internal organs.

The species, named Hyalinobatrachium dianae, is a type of glass frog, which are only found in regions of South and Central America. In this case, six specimens of the species have been found in the tropical wet forests of Costa Rica’s Caribbean foothills. The nocturnal creature is distinct from other species thanks to skin texture, colouring and the sound of its call.

The glass frog was discovered by zoologists working at the Costa Rican Amphibian Research Centre and has been detailed in a study published in the online journalZootaxa. While bright green on top, the delicate frog’s transparent underside allowed the researchers to study the arrangement of the frog’s internal organs in detail. “The bulbous liver and digestive organs are covered in white peritonea. The heart and ventral vein are blood red. Lungs transparent, but with a network of red blood vessels. The gallbladder is transparent Sulphur Yellow,” they write.

The frog has been named in honour of the senior author Brian Kubicki’s mother Janet Diane Kubicki, and also Diana the Roman goddess of the hunt, wild animals and woodland. “This being in relation to our own ‘hunt’ among Costa Rica’s mountainous forests to better understand the amphibians dwelling within,” the authors explain.

Glass Frogs can be difficult to observe as they tend to inhabit vegetation high above streams and at sites with tough-to-navigate topography. The last glass frog described from Costa Rica was in 1973. The researchers believe the creature faces very limited human threats in the foreseeable future thank to the fact that very few roads grant access to the area it inhabits.

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Saturday 20th December 2014

Enda Kenny puts pressure on Draghi to appear at Inquiry

  

Mario Draghi, president of the ECB

Taoiseach Enda Kenny last night put pressure on European Central Bank (ECB) over its extraordinary refusal to take part in the Banking Inquiry.

Mr Kenny held frank discussions with ECB chief Mario Draghi just days after being lambasted in the Dail over taking a soft stance with the powerful EU institution.

While Mr Kenny stopped short of demanding Mr Draghi’s attendance at the hearings, the Fine Gael leader said he made it clear that the Irish public want answers in relation to the devastating collapse of the banks.

“I met Mario Draghi and I pointed out to him that the people in Ireland were very concerned to understand and to find out what actually had happened during all of this period,” Mr Kenny said.

“And that our economy had a catastrophic collapse, that 250,000 jobs were lost that this had a situation where very many people in our country yet are paying for the consequences of that,” he added.

Mr Kenny accepted that Mr Draghi will now reflect on their “preliminary discussion” adding that he will contact the ECB chief about the issue in the coming weeks.

Meanwhile, the Inquiry was told today that staff in the Department of Finance were ‘out of the loop’ on the night of a Budget and had to go home to see what measures had been announced by Government on TV.

The comments from Canadian finance official Rob Wright come as it has emerged that the inquiry is to again write to the ECB to demand documents relating to the Irish crash. This is after the ECB formally refused to appear before the inquiry.

The ECB is one of a number of institutions that the inquiry is writing to, seeking documents for the “nexus stage” of the inquiry, which will now not begin until after Easter.

This means it will be at least April before many of the key witnesses, including former taoisigh Brian Cowen and Bertie Ahern, former ministers, officials and senior bankers, will be heard from.

At the public hearing, Mr Wright said he found it “incredible” that staff in the Department of Finance were completely out of the loop as to what was in the Budget during the last decade.

He told the 11 members of the inquiry team he was in Dublin working on the report when the Budget was announced.

“People in the Department of Finance went home on Budget night to find out what was in the Budget,” said Mr Wright, who was also known as Canada’s deputy finance minister.

Mr Wright was being pressed on his 2010 report into the failings of the Department of Finance in the run-up to the crash, which stopped short of saying it was not “fit for purpose”.

Ulster Bank cleared of trying to profit by putting viable SMEs out of business

 

Report says bank tried to manage indebted commercial customers through recession

A report into Ulster Bank’s treatment of SME debtors during the recession has cleared it of allegations that it was involved in “systematic and institutional behaviour” to put otherwise viable businesses on a “journey towards administration, receivership and liquidation”.

The 75-page report by Irish law firm Mason Hayes & Curran, which was commissioned by Ulster Bank, found that “on the contrary”, the evidence suggests that its “driving policy” was to manage its indebted commercial customers through the recession.

Ulster Bank “sought to keep faith with the customer, provided that it viewed the customer’s business as viable and was receiving co-operation”.

Last resort

“Invoking insolvency remedies against trading businesses was done only as last resort,” it said, adding that its file review “did not disclose evidence of any viable businesses being forced into insolvency” by a restructuring unit within the bank.

The report into Ulster Bank’s treatment of SME customers between 2008 and 2013 stemmed from the publication of the Tomlinson Report in the UK in November last year.

Tomlinson had investigated the lending practices of UK banks to SMEs, including Royal Bank of Scotland, Ulster Bank’s parent. The report accused RBS, and in some cases Ulster Bank, of deliberately putting customers out of business for profit.

RBS hired law firm Clifford Chance to carry out a review which cleared the bank of these allegations.

The focus of the Mason Hayes & Curran report was on the work of Global Restructuring Group Ireland (GRGI), a division set up to deal with SMEs who had borrowed between €1 million and €25 million and were in distress. About 76 per cent of loans moved to GRGI related to commercial property.

Ulster Bank provided Mason Hayes & Curran with a list of 1,965 customer “connections”, of which the law firm reviewed 32 files. This included customers who had made a complaint on a Tomlinson-related issue.

The lawyers contacted Mr Tomlinson to seek his assistance but he declined because of an ongoing review by the UK’sFinancial Conduct Authority.

Mason Hayes & Curran met with five customers who had made allegations within the scope of the Tomlinson Report. The law firm concluded that while they “genuinely believed” they had been unfairly treated by Ulster Bank, their allegations were “not substantiated” following reviews of the files.

Restructuring

GRGI was established in 2003, under the name of Specialised Lending Services. It engaged in restructuring problem SME and corporate debt. It was rebranded as GRGI in 2009 and its motto was, “Restore, Refresh and Rejuvenate”.

By the end of 2013, GRGI had 248 employees managing more than 2,140 cases with a portfolio value of more than €14 billion.

HSE moves to install cameras in Irish care homes

  

The HSE has taken the first steps towards the possible installation of surveillance systems in its facilities to protect vulnerable patients in the wake of the Áras Attracta controversy.

A tender published this week calls for the installation of surveillance and security systems to protect vulnerable clients, patients, service users and staff members.

The request came a week after an RTÉ Prime Time investigation produced, via hidden cameras, shocking images of alleged abuses at the Áras Attracta care home in Swinford, Co Mayo. A number of staff are still on leave while investigations are being carried out by the gardaí and the HSE.

The prior information notice published this week indicates the HSE will seek surveillance and security systems and devices, security equipment and closed circuit television services.

Earlier this week HSE director general Tony O’Brien said that the body would investigate the possibility of covertly filming residential care services.

“We’ve placed the necessary notices this week to obtain the appropriate advice from specialists as to how we take this forward in terms of both undercover, open filming which is more straightforward, where it can be done in the open and with everybody knowing about it,” he told RTÉ.

“But where we have specific reasons we need to know whether and in what circumstances we can engage in covert filming in order to protect the interests of people who are in fact the most vulnerable clients we have, and it’s no coincidence that what we’ve seen here is the most vulnerable being abused,” he said.

Junior health minister Kathleen Lynch indicated her support for the installation of CCTV in homes earlier this week.

“I am convinced at this stage, as I have always been, that when it comes to protecting vulnerable people, nothing should be above us. RTÉ did it and it wasn’t illegal, why should it be illegal for the HSE?” she told Morning Ireland.

Meanwhile, the HSE has signalled “a more detailed investigation will be required” into complaints at a care unit for people with intellectual disabilities in Co Tipperary. A total of 11 workers have been placed on leave from St Anne’s Centre near Roscrea. The centre is operated by the Daughters of Charity, which said it received complaints from a former worker last Monday about care practices at two units.

“A professional source, that is a person in the profession, who had a complaint, made the complaint known through an intermediary on Monday last, December 15, and that complaint was made known by the intermediary through two different channels. Firstly, to the provider of the service in Roscrea, the Daughters of Charity and secondly, to the regulator, the Health Information and Quality Authority (Hiqa),” a HSE spokesperson said.

Hiqa has carried out an inspection of the centre after receiving complaints about the care of patients. Gardaí have also been notified.

The complaints refer to activity in two units in St Anne’s which operates four houses for long-term residents aged 20 to 60 for people with significant intellectual disabilities.

How cuddles & hugs can help you fight the flu

 

Cuddle for a cure . now hugging is said to help boost your immune system. 

WE know that hugs make us feel warm and fuzzy inside. And this feeling, it turns out, could actually ward off stress and protect the immune system, according to new research from Carnegie Mellon University.

It’s a well-known fact that stress can weaken the immune system. In this study, the researchers sought to determine whether hugs — like social support more broadly — could protect individuals from the increased susceptibility to illness brought on by the particular stress that comes with interpersonal conflict.

“We know that people experiencing ongoing conflicts with others are less able to fight off cold viruses. We also know that people who report having social support are partly protected from the effects of stress on psychological states, such as depression and anxiety,” the study’s lead author, psychologist Dr Sheldon Cohen, said in a statement.

“We tested whether perceptions of social support are equally effective in protecting us from stress-induced susceptibility to infection and also whether receiving hugs might partially account for those feelings of support and themselves protect a person against infection.”

In the experiment, over 400 healthy adults who filled out a questionnaire about their perceived social support and also participated in a nightly phone interview for two weeks.

They were asked about the frequency that they engaged in interpersonal conflict and received hugs that day.

Then, the researchers exposed the participants to a common cold virus, and monitored them to assess signs of infection.

They found that both perceived social support and more frequent hugs reduced the risk of infection associated with experiencing interpersonal conflict.

Regardless of whether or not they experienced social conflicts, infected participants with greater perceived social support and more frequent hugs had less severe illness symptoms.

“This suggests that being hugged by a trusted person may act as an effective means of conveying support and that increasing the frequency of hugs might be an effective means of reducing the deleterious effects of stress,” Cohen said.

“The apparent protective effect of hugs may be attributable to the physical contact itself or to hugging being a behavioural indicator of support and intimacy … Either way, those who receive more hugs are somewhat more protected from infection.”

If you needed any more reason to go wrap your arms around someone special, consider this: Hugs also lower blood pressure, alleviate fears around death and dying, improve heart health and decrease feelings of loneliness.

Ireland may need radical thinking on climate change

  

Mallow Street, Limerick was closed when a tree fell from the Peoples Park during storm Darwin.

Ireland’s moist and equable climate is a function of its location amid the mid latitude westerly wind belt and as an island bathed by the North Atlantic Drift.

Yet while the Atlantic dominates Irish climate, it acts on a rather unusual island topography of coastal uplands and an interior plain.

Many aspects of Irish climate therefore show a contrast between an exposed maritime fringe and a sheltered interior.

The main drivers, though, of the dramatic day-to-day weather changes Irish people are accustomed to result from often rapid changes in airflows between tropical, polar, oceanic and continental origins.

Overall, however, oceanic influences prevail. The moderating influence of the North Atlantic Drift provides Ireland with one of the most equable climates.

It takes around a year to deliver water from Florida to the Kerry coastline at around 10C in February and 16C in August. Mean January temperatures are a mild 7C along the south-west coast, falling to less than 4C in inland parts of Ulster.

The sea is cooler than the land in summer, however, and with a mean July temperature of 16.4C, Shannon Airport is almost 2C warmer than the northern tip of the island at Malin Head.

Oceanic influences discourage extremes in both seasons. The warmest summer of the last century was 1995 when 30.8C was recorded in Kilkenny, while 1962/3 was the coldest winter.

More recently, many readers will remember vividly the cold snap of 2010/11 when temperatures in the border counties dipped below -17C. Such extremes of heat and cold are, however, unexceptional in a wider European context.

The interaction between the topography and Atlantic airflows produces a classic west to east decline in rainfall with some parts of the western mountains receiving over 3,000mm annually while sheltered areas of the east coast only get around 750mm.

Despite our perception, it only rains 6.5pc of the time in eastern parts of Ireland, though rain may fall on 150 days of the year, and up to 225 days in the west.

Snow seldom lingers on the ground. Based on the past 50 years the chance of snow on the ground on a Christmas morning is about one in five.

Ireland has warmed by about 0.8C since the early 1900s. Climate modellers at Maynooth University and Met Eireann expect a further warming of about 1.5C to occur over the next 40 years.

Future rainfall changes are more uncertain, though winter increases and summer decreases are projected by most models, most likely with heavier, more intense downfalls. This has serious implications for flood occurrences in winter and also for water supply in some parts in summer.

The changing climate also has significant implications for agriculture, biodiversity, tourism, forestry and energy demand, and vulnerability in these sectors are being examined in a number of research projects.

A concern is the possibility of more storms, especially in conjunction with a rising sea level.

Last winter was the stormiest on record for this part of the eastern Atlantic. The events are still etched in many people’s memory, particularly the January/February period with its hurricane-force winds and 25-metre waves.

Whether the warmer Atlantic will make destructive winter storms a more recurrent feature, or whether the storm tracks will migrate north is one of the great unanswered research questions of Irish climate at the moment.

A recent sequence of extreme seasons: cold winters, warm summers, cold springs, wet autumns, stormy winters though have heightened concerns that Ireland’s climate is increasingly responding to global greenhouse gas loading of the atmosphere, particularly related to a less reliable westerly airflow in the high atmosphere.

If this turns out to be the case, radical new thinking on how to adapt to Ireland’s changing climate will be required in many key areas.

Professor John Sweeney is a lecturer at the Geography Department of NUI Maynooth

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Wednesday 20th August 2014

At least one fifth of Irish SMEs have direct exposure to property debt

  

At least one fifth of Irish SMEs (small & medium size firms) have direct exposure to property debt and these firms are almost twice as likely to default compared with a similar firm with no property debt according to research [pdf] by Central Bank economists.

Loan-level data show that at least 10% of firms with bank debt have exposure to property investment at the same bank, with this figure rising to 16% when including Buy-To-Let mortgages for a subset of the data.

Data on loan default suggests that property-related borrowing has had a detrimental impact on firms: SMEs with property-related borrowings have a loan default rate of 43%, compared to 23% for those without property exposure.

Fergal McCann and Tara McIndoe-Calder say that the performance of SME loans is of crucial importance from an economic recovery perspective. As identified in the CSO’s Business in Ireland report for 2011, 69% of the 1.2m private sector employees in Ireland, or 828,000 people, work in SMEs. Impairment rates of 25% suggest that there are a large number of employees potentially at risk as these companies may need to cut costs, downsize, or in some cases enter liquidation.

The economic letter says that property borrowing is highest are the business and administrative services, hotels and restaurants and the wholesale and retail sectors, where 30 to 40% of the outstanding bank loans are linked to property.

SME owners with loans for the main family residence are less likely to default compared with firms with no property debt.

SMES are defined as firms with less than 250 employees and whose turnover does not exceed €50m or whose annual balance sheet does not exceed €43m.

The SME lending volumes are dominated by the Real Estate sector, which accounts for €29.8bn of the €67.6bn of total lending. The Financial Intermediation sector is the second largest sector, with €11.6bn of credit outstanding. The economists remove the Real Estate and Financial Intermediation sectors, and plot the same data for the remaining sectors, which they refer to as comprising the “real economy.”

These are firms whose primary business activity does not relate to property investment.

The economists say that firms in the manufacturing and services sectors were least likely to invest in property, while firms involved in agriculture or construction were the most likely to take on property borrowings.

Larger firms were also more likely to be involved in property borrowing, with 25% of firms employing more than 50 people having property exposure, as opposed to 17% of micro firms defined as employing less than 10 people.

Half of Irish teenage drivers on phone talking to a parent

     

New research has found that over half of all teenagers who talked on the phone while driving were talking to a parent. Fewer than half were talking to a friend.

Talking on a phone or texting is regarded as distracted driving, but up to now it was not known that the main cause of distraction for young drivers is the call from home.

Using a mobile phone while driving makes you four times more likely to crash and driver distraction is now reckoned to play a part in up to 30% of all road collisions.

More than half of 408 teenage drivers who took part in a clinical study reported being on the phone with their parents. The findings were presented to the American Psychological Association’s annual convention in Washington.

“Teens told us parents really expected to keep track of them, and they are expected to answer the phone if the parent calls.

“In some cases, the parent might continue to call until the teen answers,” said psychologist Noelle LaVoie, whose research company conducts corporate and government studies.

The research included interviews with drivers from 31 states, aged 15 to18, who have learner permits or driving licences.

It sought to find out why they talk or text while driving. It found that 53% of teenagers who talked on the phone while behind the wheel talked to a parent and 46% talked to a friend. Text messages were more likely to go to a friend than to a parent.

“One of the things teens talked about is the fact that parents used their cell phone while driving,” Ms LaVoie said, adding: “It was just very surprising to see how directly parents are involved.”

“What we do know for sure is if parents would not call their teens while they’re driving, it would reduce teen distracted driving.”

In a separate distracted driving study presented to the National Psychological Association annual convention, researchers at colleges in Missouri and Virginia asked college students about their driving distractions.

A total of 89% made mobile phone calls while driving and 79% texted while behind the wheel, either sending or receiving.

“Younger drivers seemed overconfident in their ability to multi-task,” co-author Keli Braitman, an assistant professor of psychology at William Jewell College in Liberty, Missouri said.

Yesterday, Noel Gibbons, an Irish road safety officer, urged parents to try to ensure that they only call their children when they are not behind the wheel.

“The findings from this study are US figures, but we have no reason to believe that they would be any different here.

“It’s human nature for a parent for a parent to want to keep in touch with their children, but they should be careful not to do so while they are driving,” he said.

From 2008 to 2009, the number of penalty points issued for driving while using a mobile phone increased by 70% — from 44,624 to 75,040.

App that you cannot ignore

Since time began children have found inventive ways to ignore their parents as they in turn tried to find new ways get their attention.

The latest development in this long-running circle of parent-child conflict is Ignore No More, an Android app that allows parents to lock their children’s phones from afar with a password of the parent’s choosing.

After the parent does so, the only way that the child will be able to unlock the phone is to call the parent and ask for the password.

The app was created by Sharon Standifird, a mother who was fed up with being digitally brushed off by her teens. After coming up with the idea, she researched how to code an app and then spent months working with developers to bring it to reality.

Her son, Bradley, is only half-proud of his mother. “I thought it was a good idea,” he told CBS. “But for other people, not me.”

1,000 pubs could close in the next decade in Ireland

  

As many as 1,000 pubs could close over the next decade, according to the author of a new report into the economic impact of the drinks trade on the tourism sector.

Anthony Foley of the Dublin City University Business School said 1,000 pubs, mostly in rural areas, closed between 2007 and the end of last year, sparked by the economic crash.

He said a similar number could be expected to close down over the next decade, as “no magic solution” was likely to be found to retain their economic viability.

“A reasonable figure would be in the past six years we have lost 1,000 pubs, in particularly bad economic circumstances,” he said.

“In the next 10 years I would not be surprised if we lost another 1,000.”

He made his comments following the publication of a report, The Contribution of the Drinks Industry to Tourism, commissioned by the Drinks Industry Group of Ireland.

Using available data, it highlights how 80% of tourists surveyed by Fáilte Ireland said they most wanted to experience a visit to an Irish pub during their stay, while 83% of overseas visitors surveyed on leaving Ireland said they had experienced listening to Irish music in a traditional pub during their stay.

However, while the report highlights how the Irish pub is essentially the country’s top tourist attraction, spearheaded by the Guinness Storehouse in Dublin, which attracted more than 1m visitors last year, the fate of the suburban and rural pub is less certain.

The publication of the report was backed by a seminar in Dublin, launching a new ‘Support Your Local’ campaign.

Mr Foley said: “The first thing we are going to do is recognise that we are not going to save all the pubs.”

Of likely pub closures he said: “That is going to continue — there is not going to be a miracle solution.”

However, he said government could reduce excise duties to give more pubs “a fighting chance” and also urged action to reduce the price gap between alcohol for sale in pubs, and alcohol for sale in off-licences.

He also said education was needed to change attitudes towards alcohol abuse and to allow pubs to be places where drinking soft drinks and coffee was not just “tolerated”.

Bart Storan, campaign manager for ‘Support Your Local’, said “punitive excise increases in the last two budgets” had harmed pubs and thereby the tourism sector and needed to be reversed.

“Pubs are closing and the small businesses that make up the industry are struggling to stay afloat,” he said.

The report also highlighted how the Jameson and Midleton Distilleries, among others, attract thousands of tourists every year.

The research showed that Co Longford had the fewest number of pubs, at 87, from a national network of 7,315. By contrast, Cork has 980 pubs.

The report also listed the range of events sponsored by drinks firms, although Mr Foley admitted that Arthur’s Day had come in for some criticism in recent years.

Breastfeeding link to a mums’ mental health & postnatal depression

  

New mothers who successfully breastfeed their babies are less likely to get postnatal depression, new research suggests.

Expectant mothers who plan to breastfeed after they have given birth but are unable to are at the highest risk of developing the condition, experts found.

Development

Around 13% of new mothers experience postpartum depression within 14 weeks of giving birth.

As well as posing serious mental health problems for the mother, it can have significant effects on the newborn’s cognitive, social and physical development.

Researchers said the effect that breastfeeding has on postnatal depression is not well understood, and they set out to investigate whether there is a link between the two.

The authors, from the UK and Spain, surveyed women who had 14,000 babies in the Bristol area during the 1990s when their children were two, eight, 21 and 32 months old.

They also examined whether the women suffered depression during their pregnancy so they could take into account previous mental health conditions.

Their study, in the journal Maternal and Child Health, found mothers who planned to breastfeed and who went on to do so were around 50% less likely to become depressed than mothers who had not planned to – and did not – breastfeed.

Those who planned to breastfeed but did not go on to do so were more than twice as likely to become depressed as mothers who had not planned to and did not.

“The lowest risk of postpartum depression was found among women who had planned to breastfeed and who had actually breastfed,” the authors wrote.

Neanderthals in Europe died out thousands of years sooner than some people thought

A study reveals

  

the Neanderthals, our heavy-browed relatives, spread out across Europe and Asia about 200,000 years ago. But when did they die out, giving way to modern humans?

A new analysis of Neanderthal sites from Spain to Russia provides the most definitive answer yet: about 40,000 years ago, at least in Europe.

That is thousands of years earlier than some scientists have suggested, and it narrows the period that Neanderthals and modern humans overlapped in Europe.

“After that, we don’t think there are any Neanderthals on the continent anymore,” said Thomas Higham, the deputy director of the radiocarbon accelerator unit at the University of Oxford in England.

The findings, reported Wednesday in the journal Nature, run counter to claims that pockets of Neanderthals persisted in Portugal, Spain and Gibraltar until just 30,000 years ago, even as modern humans spread outward.

“This is a very strong compilation,” said Chris Stringer, who leads research on human origins at the Natural History Museum in London and who was not involved in the research. “I think it kind of replaces the picture we had before.”

In 1995, researchers including Jean-Jacques Hublin, now at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, announced fossil evidence of Neanderthals living 30,000 years ago in a cave near the southern Spanish city of Málaga.

Dr. Hublin said he had changed his mind as better radiocarbon dates became available. “To me, I’m ready to buy the new date,” he said.

Modern humans migrated out of Africa at least 60,000 years ago, and anthropologists have been trying to figure out what happened when the two groups encountered each other.

One of the reasons some researchers think Neanderthals survived longer on the Iberian peninsula is that there are no signs of modern humans living there at that time.

A recent analysis of Neanderthal DNA shows that Neanderthals and modern humans not only crossed paths, but interbred. For non-African people living today, 1 to 4 percent of their genome has Neanderthal origins.

The genetics suggest that interbreeding occurred about 50,000 to 60,000 years ago, somewhere in western Asia.

“You’ve kind of got two parts of the story,” Dr. Stringer said. “There must have been a western Asia coexistence, which included interbreeding. Then there was a later coexistence in Europe, for which we have no evidence of interbreeding but possible evidence of some cultural contact between the groups.”

Dr. Higham, the lead author of the Nature paper, and his colleagues took advantage of advances in radiocarbon dating in testing samples of bone, charcoal and shell from 40 sites, mostly in Western Europe. The dating method takes advantage of unstable, radioactive carbon 14 atoms produced from the bombardment of the atmosphere by cosmic rays from outer space. The radioactive carbon combines with oxygen atoms to form carbon dioxide, and plants and animals take up some of it as long as they are alive.

But when they die, they absorb no additional radioactive carbon, and the carbon 14 disappears over time. The ratio of carbon 14 to carbon 12, which is stable, thus tells the age and can be used to date bones and artifacts up to about 50,000 years ago.

Contaminants containing younger organic molecules can distort the dating. Dr. Higham said just 1 percent of modern carbon infiltrating a 50,000-year-old fossil would make it look 7,000 to 8,000 years younger. The researchers prepared samples that would extract collagen in the bone and remove the contaminants.

“What we find is often the dates get older,” Dr. Higham said. “We’ve managed to chip away at these erroneous younger Neanderthal dates to come up with a more refined, and we think accurate, estimate for when Neanderthals disappeared.”

Dr. Higham said his team would like to expand the research to Neanderthal sites in Eastern Europe and across Russia to Siberia. It is possible that Neanderthals survived later in those areas.

Some of the conclusions are tentative because many of the sites do not have bones of the actual inhabitants, and paleontologists are still debating whether it was Neanderthals or modern humans who made the tools found at some sites.

“This gives us a framework, basically, which allows us to ask more interesting questions,” said William Davies of the University of Southampton in England, who wrote an accompanying commentary in Nature. “About what the tools might mean, how they were used, what they tell us about Neanderthal interactions.”

The findings so far indicate that Neanderthals did not disappear all at once.

“I think we’ll see patchy disappearance prior to extinction,” Dr. Higham said.

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Wednesday 16th July 2014

Joint committee calls for better access to finance for Irish SMEs

 

New report urges independent verification of lending rates across the banking sector

Independent verification of lending rates across the banking sector is one of 25 recommendations contained in a new report on access to finances for SMEs.

The report, which was published by the Joint Committee on Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, said independent verification of rates was necessary to address concerns about availability of finance for small and medium sized businesses in Ireland.

The committee said there is an over-reliance on bank loans and overdrafts currently and called for the development of more non-banking sector funding initiatives for firms.

It also said mechanisms to restrict requests for personal guarantees – a particular bugbear for many small firms – should be considered.

Among other recommendations included in the report are a call to make it mandatory for banks to provide written explanations on why applications for credit have been rejected, the introduction of a guaranteed timeframe for dealing with loan applications and greater support for small businesses to improve their financial literacy.

The committee also said credit unions should have a greater role in supporting SMEs and said consideration should be given to lightening the tax burden on interest made on minor investments in crowdfunding.

“The small and medium sized enterprise sectors are integral and important elements of our economy and if we are serious about our indigenous businesses we need to encourage and help create the best environment for them to operate in. The availability of funding and supports are essential for many small businesses to get up and running, flourish, innovate and expand,” said committee vice chairman John Lyons.

The committee’s recommendations have been largely welcomed by the business community with the Small Firms Association saying that supply of finance is second only to finding more customers as the most pressing issue facing SMEs.

“It is critical that the practical recommendations contained in this report are accepted and acted upon immediately. They have the potential to make a real difference to improving SME financing,” said SFA director Patricia Callan.

Specifically, Ms Callan welcomed the acknowledgement that “a greater diversity of funding such as direct government funding and guarantees, enhanced competition in the business banking market from credit unions and potentially the new Strategic Banking Corporation of Ireland (SBCI), peer-to-peer lending platforms, business angels and venture capital are necessary.”

Separately, Irish peer-to-peer lender Linked Finance’s chief executive Peter O’Mahony described the report as an important step in improving access to lending and the number of channels that SMEs have access to when seeking capital to grow their business.

‘How much do you trust An Garda Síochána?’

Gardaí to start polling the public again

 

The first “Public Attitudes Survey” in six years comes after months of scandal and controversy.

The Garda Siochana are ready to start asking for feedback from the public after months of scandal and controversy, it has emerged.

The force yesterday put out a tender for polling firms to conduct a series of “Public Attitudes Surveys”, which will include questions like “How much do you trust An Garda Síochána?” and “How would you describe crime in Ireland today?”

The document calls for roughly 12 questions on the following general areas:

  1. Satisfaction in An Garda Síochána
  2. Victimisation – if you suffered a crime, how was it handled?
  3. Views on crime – is it increasing or decreasing? How serious a problem is it?
  4. Views on the service Gardaí provide, and how it can be improved.

The survey, the first of its kind since 2008, will seek out the public’s views on how they feel about the force, and what they would like Gardaí in their local community to prioritise.

The tender document also suggests that the questionnaire ask victims of crime “How satisfied or dissatisfied were you with how the incident was dealt with overall?”

Yesterday’s announcement comes after a series of scandals and controversies within the Garda Síochána, culminating in the resignation of Commissioner Martin Callinan, thepublication of the Guerin Report, and the subsequent resignation of Justice Minister Alan Shatter.

A Garda spokesperson did not address the question of whether recent events had prompted the planned survey, but told TheJournal.ie in a statement:

The survey is part of our plans to ensure we are listening to the public about what they want from their police service.

Carrying out such a scientific survey on a regular basis will help us to properly track public sentiment and views so that we can continually improve how we deliver our service.

Several of the questions are focused on victims of crime as we want to ensure that they are being helped to their satisfaction and, if not, how we can improve this.

The Garda conducted Public Attitudes Surveys annually throughout the 2000s, but stopped in 2008.

That year’s poll found 81% overall public satisfaction with Garda service to the community, but eight percent claimed a member of the force had “acted in an unacceptable way” towards them, in the previous 12 months.

A spokesperson for An Garda Síochána did not respond to requests for comment, by time of publication.

“You better believe it” A Banana a day keeps the Doctor away

  

What lies underneath that bright yellow peel? An abundance of nutrients your body needs to stay healthy and functioning at its best!

Turns out, the humble banana is more important for your health than you may have realized, so take a lesson from those energetic apes. Here’s why.

Are you getting enough vitamin C, magnesium, potassium and fiber? You won’t have to worry about it any longer by just eating a banana a day. The yellow fruit is loaded with the essential minerals you require to function daily. And there are so many more benefits that the jungle fruit has to offer.

Whether you pair bananas with peanut butter (the king of rock and roll’s favorite!), slice some up in your cereal or have them solo, you’re doing wonders for your overall health.

Benefits underneath the peel

It seems like there isn’t something that a banana can’t do or help with, from digestion to heart health, to even boosting your mood, the list is almost endless. Here are some benefits that will make you run out and grab a bundle at your local grocer.

Keep your heart happy

Bananas contain all the nutrients you need in order to support your heart. Fiber, potassium, vitamin C and B6 are all known to keep the heart healthy and strong, and can all be found in a banana.

A December 2013 study published in Today’s Dietitian examined potassium’s role in reducing death by ischemic heart disease. Participants of the study who consumed 4,069 mg of potassium (the amount found in about nine bananas) had a significant 49 percent lower risk of death by ischemic heart disease compared to the participant group who only had 1,000 mg.

Potassium has also been linked to reducing risks of stroke, preserving muscle mass and bone density, and the reduction in the formation of kidney stones.

Digestion matters

Whether you can’t go, or go way too often – I’m talking bowel movements – bananas can help you in either case. Its fiber content is helpful for those who are constipated by helping to normalize bowel motility. On the reverse, bananas can help restore lost electrolytes from diarrhea and sooth the digestive tract. Eating a banana daily will also help promote bowel regularity.

Other benefits for your digestion? Bananas are a prebiotic which promotes growth of good bacteria within the digestion tract. They also aid in the absorption of nutrients by producing digestive enzymes.

Boost your mood’s

 Stressed, anxious or just grumpy, bananas have a positive effect on your mood. Bananas contain the natural mood enhancer tryptophan, which is an essential amino acid that your body does not naturally create but must be taken in through diet. Tryptophan helps create serotonin, the feel-good hormone known to give you a good night’s rest as well as stabilize your mood.

Potassium, which helps regulate the heartbeat, is also useful in calming feelings of stress; stress reduces the body’s potassium level. B6 from banana combats feelings of irritability as it regulates blood sugar levels. Studies have noted that a drop in glucose levels can put you on edge and cause bursts of anger.

Bananas are also high in antioxidants. They can prevent muscle cramps caused by exercise or that occur during sleep, and help with anemia, thanks to the iron found in them.

No matter the ailment, it seems that a banana is the way to go for essential nutrients your body needs. They’re easy to transport, don’t leave much of a mess and will keep you energized, uplifted and powering through your busy days.

Next time you head out for a walk or reach for your car keys to leave the house, grab a banana first for overall health benefits.

Six ways to re-use your metal waste

 

Trash is growing to be the main problem for modern day culture. From food containers to commercial shipping units, the amount of waste society creates on a daily basis is growing at an alarming rate.

Packaging is often redundant and most items get discarded, only to find their way to the hundreds of landfills that desecrate our planet. Even biodegradable trash has been found to take longer to decompose inside landfills.

Americans alone create approximately 250 million tons of trash. Many metropolitan areas have adapted recycling programs to help keep some items, like glass, plastics, metals, and paper out of landfills. While this is no doubt helpful, the actual process of recycling may be just a bandage- both economically and ecologically.

Repurposing items has hit modern day society with a vengeance. Home improvement shows and Pinterest boards are rife with various solutions to reuse items, rather than just discarding them. One of the easiest items to reuse is metal containers.

Tin Cans

Tin cans come in various sizes and are mostly associated with canned foods. Options range from a tomato paste or tuna sized can to soup stock or coffee sized cans. The range of sizes opens a world of possibilities. Tin cans have been used for drawer or cabinet storage, planters, or even decoration. Some beautiful options include adding wallpaper or painting to use for table decorations at weddings. They can also be punctured and used for hanging lights or luminaries. Fun projects could also include create a wine rack or tin can creatures with the kids.

Galvanized Tubs

Galvanized metal tubs were originally used with a washboard to wash laundry by hand. They’re still used today but often for more aesthetic reasons. Many washtubs are used for planters. They can be used inside the house or in the garden. Cut a flat round of wood about a foot wider in diameter and it can be used as a table with storage inside.

Wire Baskets

Wire baskets can be mounted to a wall and used for shelving or storage. Stylishly hold books or sporting goods anywhere within the home. Peet moss can be added to the interior walls of the basket, then plants added for contemporary planters. Invert the container and use it for a creative light fixture. Larger baskets can work double duty as storage and display, depending on your needs.

  Steel Rods

Steel rods vary depending on their previous life. Rebar can be reshaped and used to create an industrial style base for tables or chairs. Steel pipes can be reused to create industrial style shelving. Larger hollow tubes can be cut and used for a stylish window herb garden.

Industrial Bins

These large bins and baskets are great for homesteaders. Industrial metal baskets can be used to store grain or farm feed and are the perfect size for composting and vermacomposting. They make fantastic sorting bins for communal recycling as well.

Shipping Containers

The same shipping containers you see on cargo ships, trains, and freight trucks can also be reused. Known as intermodal steel containers or ISOs, these containers are used to transport goods. It’s often cost prohibitive to ship them back so they’re often just discarded. These reuse projects are on much larger scales due to their grand size. These units can be used to create tiny homes or joined together to create a spacious modern house. They can also be used for commercial buildings such as museums, office buildings, and children’s centers.

No matter the home, there is always a use for repurposed metal storage. Whether your intentions are redecorating or simple storage, there are units of all sizes, shapes, and forms. The options are limitless.

How local Solar energy can solve Global poverty

  

Every morning, students from Kunthur village outside Bangalore, India, leave home carrying a battery among their books. At Swamy Vivekananda High School, solar panels charge the batteries during the day so the stored energy can be used to power lanterns when the students return home.

With access to light—and the elimination of dirty and costly kerosene-powered lamps—families save $100 a year and children have more time for work and study, offering them a chance to rise out of poverty. Solar energy is emerging as a way to give power to the 1.3 billion people in the world with no reliable access to electricity without spending billions of dollars to build transmission lines.

Despite that potential, international organizations like the World Bank aren’t investing enough money in the right places to achieve universal electrification, according to a new Sierra Club report.

“The poorest people in the world pay 40 times more for the same energy services but get poor lighting and poor health outcomes,” said Justin Guay, associate director of Sierra Club’s International Climate Program and coauthor of the report. “Instead of building centralized power plants, we need a different approach to solve this problem.”

Guay said the World Bank and other international lenders should start funding projects that provide solar electricity, such as those offered by d.light, a company that develops and distributes products ranging from lanterns to home solar systems in off-grid communities around the world.

The report notes that the World Bank rarely invests in small energy projects, despite its goal of universal electrification by 2030. The bank also does not measure access to energy the right way, Guay said.

“Rather than measuring services provided and new access to energy for poor populations, they look at the supply of energy created and kilometers of energy transmission lines built,” he says. “Just because you build a coal plant doesn’t mean that access lines are extended to poor people and that they can service their needs and repair the grid lines—or that communities can afford the power.”

What the great Apes can teach us about losing weight

  

From Cheerios to Hormel, even the most time-tested American brands have been bulking up their offerings with protein in response to carb-avoidant consumers

It looks like science backs up the weight-loss trend that has fed a profitable grocery store frenzy in recent years.  Nutritional ecologist David Raubenheimer (left) has been studying the eating habits of apes and monkeys and concludes that a high-protein diet could aid weight loss after all.

Of course, no trend is without its detractors, and no science is without its counter-theory. Recently, the benefits of gobbling up the trendy macronutrient have been highly contested. One study links eating a significant amount of protein to a cancer mortality risk akin to that of smoking a pack of cigarettes a day. But Raubenheimer, who teaches at the University of Sydney, says that the behavior of our primate relatives hints that when it comes to weight loss, we’re better off boosting our protein intake instead of counting calories.

Raubenheimer and a team of researchers observed baboons in the wild. They found that no matter what and how much they ate, the monkeys consistently consumed 20 percent of their food in protein.

“This suggests that the baboon values getting the right balance of nutrients over energy intake per se,” he said in a statement from the Society for Experimental Biology, through which the findings were presented. This means no energy or calorie counting—just absorbing the right proportions of nutrients.

Spider monkeys and orangutans also forage for a balanced diet. But when food is scarce owing to seasonal availability, they prioritize eating sufficient amounts of protein, even though it means consuming too few or too many carbs and fats.

The same is true for humans, meaning that if our diet is too low on protein, we overeat calories—including fats and carbs—to hit the right amount of protein.

“We can use this information to help manage and prevent obesity through ensuring that the diets we eat have a sufficient level of protein to satisfy our appetite,” said Raubenheimer. Of course, there’s a caveat: More protein may help us lose weight, but if it causes other imbalances, it can mean a plethora of other health problems.

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Thursday 26th June 2014

One-in-four SME loans to Irish businesses in default at end of 2013

 

New lending to Irish small business sector is static, according to Central Bank report

One in every four loans to Irish small and medium-sized businesses was in default at the end of last year, according to official figures due to be published today.

The amount of money owed by small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to the Republic’s banks has fallen steadily over the last year three years, while new lending to the sector remains static, the Central Bank’s SME Market Report shows.

The study finds that these businesses, responsible for most of the employment in the Republic, owed a total of €21 billion at the end of December 2013, down from between €26 billion and €28 billion in January 2011.

At the end of 2013, the average SME owed its bank €71,101 and was paying interest at 6.41 per cent. The numbers show that just over 26 per cent of all loans to the sector were in default, meaning that repayments on these debts were 90 days or more overdue.

The report states that 41.4 per cent of the total balance owed by the sector was overdue at that time. Default rates were highest amongst building companies, which had fallen behind on more than 60 per cent of the amount that they owed their banks.

The Central Bank states that in most sectors, the balance-weighted default was higher than the share of loans in default, which indicated that borrowers with larger individual debts were most at risk of falling behind with repayments.

Demand is stable: From the beginning of 2010 to the final three months of last year, new lending to SMEs remained between €450 million and €750 million. The Central Bank says that there had been “little discernible upward trend” over that timeframe.

Demand for credit was stable between 2011 and 2014, with 35 per cent to 40 per cent of SMEs seeking loans from their banks. Applications hit a peak of 40 per cent in March 2013 but had slipped back to 35 per cent in March of this year.

Only one-in-four applicants were seeking cash to fund growth and expansion, while 61 per cent cited working capital requirements as the reason for their credit application.

The most commonly requested type of loan was renewal or restructuring of an existing overdraft.

“Irish SMEs’ emphasis on bank overdrafts as opposed to bank loans suggests that credit demand is skewed towards shorter-term,” the report says.

Rejected applications: Between October and March, the rate at which the banks rejected these applications was less than 10 per cent lower than in Italy, France or Spain, according to the report.

However, it states that the percentage of those companies which did not apply for credit as they believed they would be rejected is significantly higher here and in Greece than in other euro zone countries.

The report points out that last month, the Government announced the creation of the Strategic BankingCorporation of Ireland, which has funds of €500 million, and which loan money to a SMEs through resident lending institutions.

May sees another big uplift in beef production in Ireland

  

Irish beef production in May was once again significantly ahead of year earlier levels, according to EBLEX.

It highlights Central Statistics Office figures which show that at 49,100 tonnes, production was up 18%, or 7,400 tonnes, on May 2013. EBLEX says the increased slaughtering’s follow the general trend of the year so far and in the year to date the Irish report that cattle throughputs are up 13% or 85,500 head on last year’s position.

With better conditions resulting in higher slaughter weights at 242,000 tonnes, beef and veal production in the five-month period is up more than 15% year on year.

EBLEX highlights that with the Irish beef industry very reliant on exports and the UK by far the largest destination for Irish beef, the increased imports recorded so far this year look set to continue. However, current indications are that supplies will tighten towards the end of the year will remain tight in 2015 and into 2016.

EBLEX also comments that with Irish supplies still well ahead of year earlier levels, the fact that Irish prices have remained largely stable of late is something of a positive in the current market.

However, it does note that prices do look to be edging back in more recent weeks. With increased Irish supplies, the price differential is making it difficult for UK product to compete. With falling prices in the UK, the price differential has narrowed considerably.

Nonetheless, EBLEX states that the price differential it is still higher than it was for much of the first half of 2013 and is still relatively high in the historical context. As such, it says it remains likely that the pressure on the UK market is set to continue until supplies tighten or demand improves markedly.

There are 14 times more Irish people looking to adopt children than there are children available to adopt

 

However the Children’s Rights Alliance has warned that Ireland must not adopt from countries not inside The Hague recommendations.

Irish politicians heard today that there are 14 times more Irish people looking to adopt than there are children available.

The discussion at today’s Oireachtas Committee on Health and Children centred on the number of couples looking to adopt, which far exceeds the number of children.

Witnesses at the committee were giving evidence about Ireland’s relationship with other countries in terms of adoption. Current legislation only allows for adoptions between certain nations, restricting the number of children that can be adopted into the country.

The Children’s Rights Alliance argued that Ireland must continue to work within The Hague convention countries as adoptions outside of these countries can be perceived as ‘corrupt’.

Maria Corbett from the Alliance said The Hague sets out the minimum requirements for countries that children are being adopted from.

If we go outside these countries, we cannot trust their procedures.

“They can be involved in child trafficking and even deception of parents for profit.”

She said, “I understand the pain of parents and I don’t want to stigmatise children currently living in Ireland who have been adopted from Vietnam or Russia but we are not able to trust policies in non-Hague countries.”

“We have to resist the emotional request from families to move outside of Hague.”

Trish Connolly from the International Adoption Association told the committee, “I have a nine-year-old at home. She can hear the radio, she can watch Prime Time.

On the way into school she asked me, ‘Mummy was I stolen? Mummy how much did you pay for me?’.

The Irish experiences: The TD Clare Daly said there’s no doubt that many of the children who left Irish institutions and were adopted by Americans went into loving homes but that is not the issue.

“The issue is what happens down the line as every child will want to find out about their birth parents.”

Susan Lohan from Adoption Rights Alliance highlighted that we have no idea how these countries will deal with people who come back looking for records.

“If you respect children’s rights we cannot entertain working with countries outside The Hague.

We know all too well that adoption can be corrupted.

Too restrictive: Coming from a different perspective, Ruth Lennon from the International Adoption Association said that the Adoption Act is too restrictive.

“Just over 18 million children worldwide have lost both their parents.

There are still 100,000 children languishing in institutions worldwide.

She added, “We’re concerned intercountry adoption has no direction.”

During his testimony, Kiernan Gildea from the Adoption Authority of Ireland said that there are at least 14 times more couples wanting to adopt children than there are children available in Ireland.

He said that most prospective parents want to adopt young and healthy infants.

However he added that older children and children with disabilities remain in orphanages.

“There is no doubt that there are children available in Ethiopia but they don’t have the infrastructure in place, they have said no to a bilateral agreement.

What can we do in that situation, we can’t force them.

He also added that the number of children available for adoption is decreasing worldwide.

Big concerns at slow progress of Irish ‘digital media strategy policy’ among Irish SMEs

 

Puttnam notes steps forward around education and the elderly but says ‘urgency’ needed

Ireland’s “digital champion” Lord David Puttnam is disappointed with the progress of the National Digital Strategy for small and medium businesses but says the scheme is making good progress in other areas.

  The State’s “digital champion” Lord David Puttnam is disappointed with the progress of the National Digital Strategy among small and medium businesses but says the scheme is making good progress in other areas.

Lord Putnam said the digital strategy has made “pleasantly surprising” progress in education and in helping elderly people to use the internet but “SMEs haven’t done as well as I’d hoped”.

One of the core aspects of the digital strategy, which was launched one year ago, was to provide grants of up to €2,500 to encourage SMEs to build an online presence. Research conducted as part of the strategy found that tens of thousands of Irish small firms do not trade online and were losing valuable opportunities to access larger markets, increase revenue and acquire better market intelligence.

Speaking at the National Digital Strategy update conference in Dublin today (thu), Lord Puttnam said more than 1,000 of these “trade online” grants had been given out so far.

Lord Puttnam, a multi-award winning former film producer, said he was “broadly encouraged” by Ireland’s progress but added “I think we’re being a little slow. I think we could do with more of a sense of urgency.”

But he said this was a common problem in virtually all European governments, with the possible exception of Estonia. “I think the world is changing and individuals are changing much quicker than Government is responding.”

He added: “Many people I talked to, certainly in the UK, kind of wish this wasn’t happening; it’s very inconvenient. The problem is, it is happening.”

Minister for Communications Pat Rabbitte told the conference that some 47,000 small companies in Ireland either don’t have a web presence or do business online.

Addressing the audience via Skype from a school on Arranmore Island, Co Donegal, he announced a further €400,000 in funding for a digital training programme. Digital technology, he said, is “the way of the future”.

New Internet web tool to help manage depression

  

A new internet-based programme that aims to help people manage depression has been launched.

According to the Department of Health, the iFightDepression programme is a ‘guided self-management tool’ for people with mild to moderate depression. It has been developed by the European Alliance Against Depression (EAAD).

The tool is multilingual and will initially be available in English, German, Spanish, Dutch, Hungarian, Bulgarian and Estonian.

“The tool is intended to help individuals with mild to moderate depression to self-manage their symptoms and promote recovery through informative modules, associated worksheets and mood questionnaires to encourage practicing of new skills and self-monitoring.

“The ‘guided’ element to the iFightDepression tool ensures that individuals maintain contact with their GP or healthcare professional throughout their use of the tool. The tool is free to use and is based on principles of cognitive-behavioural therapy,” the EAAD noted.

Speaking at the launch of the tool, Junior Health Minister, Kathleen Lynch, described it as ‘an invaluable resource’ for those with mild to moderate depression.

“The tool offers immediate access to a lower-intensity psychological intervention. It is free to use and comes in two versions – one for adolescents and young adults aged 17-24 years, and one for adults. The tool is implemented through healthcare professionals, who will maintain a recommended level of contact with the patient,” she commented.

Deputy Lynch added that because it is internet-based, it will ‘empower patients by virtue of its accessibility, regardless of time of day, geographical location and financial status’.

Dragon-fish find highlights threat posed by release of exotic species

  

The discovery of the remains of an exotic dragon-fish on the River Suck (above left) has raised concerns over the damage being done to Irish waterways by the release of non-native organisms into the wild.

The dragon-fish may have been brought into the country as pike fishing bait and although it is unlikely that it was brought here alive, Dr Joe Caffrey of Inland Fisheries Ireland said it could still damage our native biodiversity.

“There is a possibility that discarded fish could still have parasites, viruses or bacteria that would be alien to Ireland and if the fish are eaten, they could indeed pass that on to our native species,” he said.

The discovery follows the rescue of a yellow-bellied slider turtle in Co Limerick last week and Dr Caffrey said Ireland has suffered from the introduction of a number of non-native species.

Pointing to a 2005 incident when the introduction of curly leaved waterweed into Lough Corrib caused havoc for native plant and insect species, Dr Caffrey said people need to be aware of the potential damage exotic animals or plants can inflict upon our unique wildlife.

“Very few people would do this on purpose. It really is down to a lack of knowledge and really the message we in fisheries are trying to get across is that non-native species should never be discarded into natural watercourses,” he said.